BRIDGES, George (?1762-1840), of 25 Crutched Friars, London and 34 Portland Place, Mdx.
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Family and Educationb. ?1762, s. of George Bridges of Gloucester.1 educ. by Rev. William Downham at Salton, Yorks.; Ripon; Leeds. m. 16 Jan. 1802, Frances, da. of Henry Delamain, wine merchant, of Berners Street, Mdx., 2s. (1 d.v.p.). d. 13 Mar. 1840.
Alderman, London 1811-26, sheriff 1816-17, ld. mayor 1819-20.
Dir. Grand Junction Waterworks Co. 1814-d.; vice-pres. Watch and Clockmakers’ Benevolent Institution c.1829-33.
Little is known of Bridges’s antecedents. He was said to have been born in Leeds (where his education was completed) into a family ‘more distinguished for worthiness of character than for extent of property’;2 but when he was admitted to the livery of London in 1791 his father’s place of residence was recorded as Gloucester. By then Bridges, who had previously worked in the counting house of the London North American merchants Watson and Rashleigh, was established as a wine merchant at 38 Mincing Lane. When he signed the London merchants’ declaration of loyalty in 1795 his premises were in Water Lane, Thames Street. For a few years from about 1803 he was in partnership with John Reay. He moved to 32 Fenchurch Street around 1814 and by 1819 was operating from 25 Crutched Friars.
He was elected an alderman of London in May 1811. In the summer of 1816 he was twice an unsuccessful candidate for the office of sheriff, to which he was eventually appointed later in the year. He subsequently claimed that he had been ‘so engaged in commercial concerns’ at the time that he had paid the fine to be excused, but had been persuaded by his political associates to take office ‘as a counterpoise’ to the other sheriff, the radical Robert Kirby. The demagogue Henry Hunt* subsequently alleged that Bridges had been keen ‘to order the troops to charge upon the people and to cut them down’ at the first Spa Fields meeting, 15 Nov. 1816, but had been restrained by his colleague.3 In 1818 Bridges chaired the election committee of Sir William Curtis*, one of the unsuccessful ministerialist candidates for London.4 The following year, having been summoned back from the Malvern waters by the lord mayor, he voted in the minority in common council against addressing the prince regent for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 9 Sept.5 At the end of that month he stood for the mayoralty and, despite being denied a hearing by a rowdy meeting worked up by Hunt and others, easily defeated his two liberal rivals. He reckoned afterwards that ‘I was necessitated to abandon my own concerns at a most crucial period to the care of others whilst my time was wholly and indispensably devoted to the duties of my office’.6 In common council, 6 Dec. 1819, he was one of the six aldermen who voted against the adoption of petitions against the current coercive legislation.7 He was a founder member and inaugural chairman of the Society for the Relief of the Homeless Poor in January 1820.8 At the general election a few weeks later he came forward for London and was narrowly returned in fourth place, claiming to be ‘free and independent’ and promising to pay ‘all possible deference to the wishes of my constituents, in promoting economy and retrenchment in the public expenditure’.9
Bridges gave general support to the Liverpool ministry, but cast isolated wayward votes. He was appointed to the select committees on agricultural distress, 31 May 1820, 7 Mar. 1821, 18 Feb. 1822. As ex-officio chairman of a London common council meeting requisitioned by supporters of Queen Caroline to vote a supportive address to her, 14 June 1820, he tried in vain to have the business deferred, voted in the hostile minority and then gave his view that the meeting had ‘acted very wrong’. He incensed the livery by having a troop of Guards stationed at Holborn when common hall met to vote a queenite address, 30 June. Attempting to justify his action in the House, 7 July, he was initially silenced by opposition mockery, but he at length obtained a hearing for his explanation that his object had been to ensure preservation of the peace at a tense moment ‘when speeches of an extraordinary kind were delivered and when placards of a most inflammatory and atrocious nature were exhibited in every part of the town’. On 13 July 1820 a censure of his action was carried in common council, who the following year voted to have its words inscribed and fixed to the wall of the Guildhall.10 Bridges voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July 1820.
He was one of the seven aldermen who advised Queen Caroline not to attend St. Paul’s to offer her thanks for her release from prosecution in November; voted against common council’s address to the king for the dismissal of his ministers, 2 Dec., and spoke and voted in the court of aldermen for their loyal address, 5 Dec. 1820, when he said that it was ‘shocking to see so much disloyalty, and so many addresses and petitions going up every day, and people hired and paid to dress and go up with them’.11 He signed the London merchants’ loyal declaration of 11 Jan.,12 divided in defence of ministers’ conduct towards Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821, and on the 13th opposed the ‘disgrace’ of restoration of her name to the liturgy. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. He was in a minority of 27 for inquiry into the currency, 9 Apr., but sided with ministers on the ordnance estimates, 11, 12 Apr., and the barracks grant, 28 May. On 6 Feb. he defended the rates charged by metropolitan waterworks companies, including his own, against Fremantle’s criticisms; but he supported the subsequent regulation bill, 14 June.13 He spoke and was a teller for the minority for the Blackfriars Bridge bill, 3 Apr., and was a minority teller against the metropolitan gas light bill, 9 May, when he supported a petition for the punishment of servants who maltreated horses.14 In July 1821 he applied to Lord Liverpool for a baronetcy, on the strength of his having been lord mayor at the time of the king’s accession. To bolster his case, he recited his services and personal and financial sacrifices as sheriff and mayor, claiming that in the latter capacity ‘I strove to the very utmost of my power to abate the feverish feelings of many of my fellow citizens, to reconcile parties, and to produce as far as practicable concord and good humour’. Liverpool had to disappoint him, explaining that ‘numerous applications’ for baronetcies had had to be turned down and that there would be ‘the greatest difficulty’ in honouring Bridges while ignoring some of his predecessors, but pointlessly adding that had he been the current lord mayor an ‘exception’ might have been made on the pretext of the coronation.15 By this time, possibly earlier, Bridges had handed over his business to his ‘reputed son’ Francis Freeling Tuke, whose birth must have predated Bridges’s marriage, and whose mother, Mrs. Louisa Tuke, occupied a house on his property at Chigwell, Essex.16 He voted with government against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb. 1822. On 2 Apr. he maintained that the City petition for parliamentary reform to relieve distress, from which he dissented, did not reflect majority opinion in the livery.17 He voted against Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers, 30 Apr. He said that only well conducted public houses should be licensed, 17 May; opposed Scarlett’s poor removal bill, though he professedly favoured ‘some alteration’ of the poor laws, 31 May; presented a petition from London watch and clockmakers against the warehousing of foreign articles, 12 June, and on 17 July brought up one from London publicans against the beer retail bill, which he criticized next day.18 He voted to refer the Calcutta bankers’ petition to a select committee, 4 July, but divided with ministers for the aliens bill, 19 July, and the grant for the publication of Irish proclamations, 22 July 1822. In the autumn he renewed his application for a baronetcy, but to no avail.19
Bridges, who in common council, 27 Feb., approved their proposal for a ‘conciliatory adjustment’ of London tithes,20 voted with administration against inquiry into the parliamentary franchise, 20 Feb., the production of information on the Dublin Orange theatre riot, 24 Mar., and investigation of chancery delays, 5 June 1823. He called for repeal of the Spitalfields Acts restricting the silk trade, 9 May, and for inquiry into its current difficulties, 9 June. He supported a London merchants’ petition for revision of the law of principal and factor, 12 May, and spoke for the capital punishments repeal bill, 25 June.21 He was in the minority of 16 against the clause of the London Bridge bill which gave the treasury control over the appointment of its engineers, 20 June. He was a teller for the majority for a Lords’ amendment to the prisons bill, 7 July. He was ‘decidedly for immediate investigation’ of the charges against chief baron O’Grady, 9 July. He was one of the seven aldermen who voted against common council’s vote of £1,000 to assist Spanish patriots in their struggle against France, 10 June 1823.22 In December that year, when he was again at Malvern, he complained to Liverpool of the excessive importation of French eggs, to the ruin of Leadenhall market dealers.23 He presented London petitions for repeal of the coal duties, 11, 17 Feb., but on 1 Apr. 1824 he stated that the City wished part of the London port levy to be retained because it was used to finance street improvements.24 On 5 Mar. he argued that even a 50 per cent duty on imported French silk articles would not adequately protect domestic workers, whose ‘misery and distress’ he urged on the attention of government. He was dubious about the merits of their silk trade bill, 22 Mar. Warmly supporting Martin’s bill to curb the maltreatment of animals, 9 Mar., he reflected on the morally corrupting effects of cruelty. He presented a London ward petition for repeal of the duty on publicans’ licences, 17 Mar., and wine merchants’ petitions for, 30 Mar., and against, 7 May, the St. Katharine’s Docks bill. He opposed and was a teller for the minority against the London and Westminster oil gas bill, 12 Apr.25 Supporting a motion for an advance of capital to create employment in Ireland, 4 May, he lamented the ‘melancholy fact’ that ‘while loans could be had in England for people in the remotest corners of the world, not a shilling could be raised for Ireland’. He was in the minorities of 20 against repeal of the prohibition on the export of long wool, 21 May, and of 32 against the beer duties bill, which he said was ‘fraught with evils of great magnitude’, 24 May. Next day he was a teller for the minority against a clause of the Islington improvement bill stipulating the triennial election of trustees; and on 2 June he was a teller for the majority in favour of the orphans’ fund debt bill. He voted with ministers against inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June, and for the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June 1824.
Bridges spoke in favour of a revision of London tithes, 14 Feb., 17 May 1825. He introduced the St. Olave tithe bill, 18 Mar., and voted for its second reading, 6 June.26 He divided against repeal of the usury laws, 17 Feb., and approved Martin’s bear-baiting bill, 24 Feb. He paired against Catholic relief, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., and voted against it, 10 May. On 10 Mar. he urged ministers to alter the duties on foreign spirits, ‘which now served as bounties to the contraband traders’. He presented petitions against the Oil Gas Company bill, 15 Mar., for the Equitable Loan bill, 18 Mar., and against the Thames Quay bill, 22 Apr.27 He defended the Peruvian Mining Company, 16 Mar., and the London Milk Company, 18 Mar. His attempt to wreck the Hampshire and Berkshire canal bill was negatived, 22 Apr., when the Speaker refused to let him move an additional clause to the St. Katharine’s Docks bill.28 He voted for the duke of Cumberland’s annuity, 10 June. He divided against the spring guns bill, 21 June 1825. A radical review of that session noted that he had ‘attended seldom, and voted with government’.29 He was in the minority of 39 against going into committee on the Bank Charter Acts, 13 Feb. 1826, and the following day he blamed distress on free trade and the recent financial crash on over-trading encouraged by ministerial inflationary policies. He called for an issue of exchequer bills, and did so again, 23 Feb., when he endorsed the London merchants’ relief petition presented by his colleague Wilson. He hoped that some better method of dealing with juvenile offenders than imprisonment, which was ‘calculated to corrupt and demoralize them’, could be devised, 9 Mar. The next day he may have voted with Hume for the abolition of army flogging. He welcomed the plan for a new London corn exchange, 17 Apr., presented and supported a petition from Thames watermen for the removal of Sabbath restrictions on their employment, 18 Apr., and pressed the claims of the parishioners of St. Olave for an ‘amicable adjustment’ of their tithes, 25 Apr.30 He did not stand at the general election in June 1826, having decided by early March to retire from public life ‘as quietly as possible ... as the state of parties no longer requires that he should apply his talents to the service of his country exclusively’.31
Bridges resigned his aldermanic gown in October 1826 and apparently resided thereafter at Brent Lodge, Hanwell, Middlesex, and Brighton, where he bought a freehold house at 30 South Parade, Old Steyne. His elder legitimate son, George, died there, ‘in his 20th year’, 28 Apr. 1837, and Bridges followed suit, ‘in his 78th year’, in March 1840.32 By his will, dated 21 Nov. 1837, he left his wife an annuity of £2,000, in addition to her entitlement under their marriage settlement, and the Brighton house. To his surviving legitimate son Edward, a minor, he bequeathed an annuity of £700 and the Chigwell estate. Louisa Tuke received an annuity of £50 and their son got Bridges’s farms in the Maldon area of Essex, houses and property in Fenchurch Street and Crutched Friars, plus a half-share with John Gray, another London wine merchant, in real estate in New Brunswick and Canada and in the residue of the personal estate. Gray’s wife Amelia and her children were to benefit from the sale of the Hanwell property and rents from farms at Stoke, near Rochester, Kent. By a codicil of 8 Dec. 1839 Bridges left Chigwell to Tuke rather than to Edward, but devised a recently acquired house in Sussex to his wife, so that their son could continue to live in comfort there. His personal estate was sworn under £90,000 in the province of Canterbury and £3,000 in that of York. There was no residue, the balance of £76,837 being applied to the partial payment of annuities.33 Tuke remained in the wine business at 25 Crutched Friars into the 1850s.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Authors: Robin Healey / David R. Fisher
- 1. CLRO, freedom recs. (13 Dec. 1791).
- 2. Leeds Mercury, 9 Oct. 1819; R.V. Taylor, Biographia Leodiensis, 380-1.
- 3. The Times, 25 June, 6, 31 July 1816, 1 Oct. 1819; Add. 38289, f. 253.
- 4. The Times, 11 June 1818.
- 5. GL MS 493/238; The Times, 10, 16, 28 Sept. 1819.
- 6. The Times, 1, 2, 5, 6, 9 Oct. 1819; Add. 38289, f. 253.
- 7. The Times, 7, 8 Dec. 1819.
- 8. Ibid. 14 Jan. 1820.
- 9. Ibid. 7, 9, 12, 18 Feb., 6, 9, 16, 17 Mar. 1820.
- 10. Ibid. 15 June, 1, 3, 14 July, 3, 20 Oct., 16 Dec. 1820, 11 May, 22 June 1821; GL, MS 3118/368; J. Hone, For the Cause of Truth, 310.
- 11. The Times, 2, 4, 6, 8 Dec. 1820; Ann. Reg. (1820), Chron. p. 499.
- 12. The Times, 12 Jan. 1821.
- 13. Ibid. 15 June 1821.
- 14. Ibid. 4 Apr., 10 May 1821.
- 15. Add. 38289, ff. 253, 255.
- 16. PROB 11/1927/305.
- 17. The Times, 3 Apr. 1822.
- 18. Ibid. 18 May, 12, 18, 19 July 1822.
- 19. Add. 38291, ff. 101, 164.
- 20. The Times, 28 Feb. 1823.
- 21. Ibid. 10, 13 May, 10, 26 June 1823.
- 22. Ibid. 11, 24 June 1823.
- 23. Add. 38298, ff. 16, 49.
- 24. The Times, 12, 18 Feb. 1824.
- 25. Ibid. 31 Mar., 13 Apr., 8 May 1824.
- 26. Ibid. 15 Feb., 19 Mar., 7 June 1825.
- 27. Ibid. 16, 19 Mar., 23 Apr. 1825.
- 28. Ibid. 23 Apr. 1825.
- 29. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 452.
- 30. The Times, 18, 19 Apr. 1826.
- 31. Ibid. 10 Mar. 1826.
- 32. Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 669; (1840), i. 446.
- 33. PROB 11/1927/305; IR26/1538/335.