BRYDGES, Sir John William Head (1764-1839), of Wootton Court, nr. Dover, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Constituency

Dates

22 Feb. 1823 - 4 Aug. 1831
25 Aug. 1831 - 1832

Family and Education

bap. 5 July 1764,1 3rd but 2nd surv. s. of Edward Brydges (d. 1780) of Wootton Court and Jemima, da. of Rev. William Egerton, LLD, rect. of Penshurst, Kent; bro. of Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges†, 1st bt. educ. King’s sch. Canterbury; Trinity Coll. Camb. 1782; M. Temple 1786. m. 14 Apr. 1812, Lady Isabella Anne Beresford, da. of George, 1st mq. of Waterford [I], 1s. 2da. kntd. 12 June 1822. d. 4 Sept. 1839.

Offices Held

Capt. New Romney fencible cav. 1794, lt.-col. 1795-1800; lt. 14 Drag. (half-pay) 1802; lt. 30 Ft. 1814; capt. (Portuguese army) 1814, half-pay 1816; maj. (half-pay) 1818-d.

Capt. Sandgate Castle 1820; commr. Dover Harbour.

Biography

Brydges was descended from a humble Kentish family, although his elder surviving brother, the fanatical genealogist Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, always insisted on his being related to the last duke of Chandos (d. 1789) and claimed the barony of Chandos of Sudeley. His mother’s family were also from Kent, and John, who was born in July 1764, was presumably named after his maternal great-uncle, the Rev. Sir John Head, 5th baronet (c.1702-69), rector of Ickham and prebend of Canterbury.2 He may have been educated at Maidstone grammar school, like Egerton (as he was called), as well as in Canterbury; but unlike his distracted and literary brother, John seems to have taken after their father, who was described as ‘a stern-minded man, a severe reasoner and a man of business, but grave and unimaginative’.3 Although he enrolled at an inn of court, he entered the army, commanding a locally raised regiment until its disbandment in Ireland in 1800.4 He was subsequently on the half-pay list of the regular army and presumably held commissions in the Kent militia, as in 1808 he unsuccessfully applied for the command of the East Kent regiment.5 On his father’s death in 1809 he was one of seven younger children to receive a portion of £3,000 and a bequest of £1,000, and it was perhaps at this time that he took up residence at Wootton Court, while Egerton resided at Lee Priory.6

Like his brother, Brydges had parliamentary ambitions. He offered for Hythe in 1807, but, having withdrawn in favour of another local gentleman, was too late in re-entering the field to secure sufficient support. He contested the by-election there in March 1810, claiming to be independent of party, but came second. He issued another address to the Hythe electors, but withdrew after illness prevented him from canvassing, at the general election of 1812, when Egerton was returned for Maidstone.7 In April 1812 he married into the powerful Irish family of the Beresfords, the service being taken by his bride’s brother, then bishop of Raphoe.8 It was probably through his wife’s illegitimate brother William Carr Beresford†, later Baron Beresford, that he achieved his desired military promotion, being attached to the Portuguese army in the last stages of the Napoleonic Wars.9 In 1819 he applied for the vacant receiver-generalship of Kent, but instead was given the captaincy of Sandgate Castle. His requests for further patronage were usually rebuffed by Lord Liverpool, the prime minister, but his claims were partially satisfied by the award of a knighthood in 1822.10 In February 1823 he was returned by his brother-in-law the 2nd marquess of Waterford for Coleraine, and he was thereafter listed in the London directories as resident at 106 Gloucester Place, the home of Lord George Thomas Beresford*. In the House he followed the Beresford line of supporting ministers, notably against opposition motions on economies and other issues, and resisting Catholic relief.11 He made his maiden speech in defence of the Irish volunteer corps, 10 Mar., and criticized the Irish tithes composition bill as an attack on the established church, 4 July. He divided against reform of the Scottish representative system, 2 June 1823, and against altering the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr. 1826. He voted to abolish flogging in the army, 15 Mar., and opposed the game bill, 14 May 1824. He expressed his ‘hearty concurrence’ with the Irish unlawful societies bill, 15 Feb. 1825, and voted for it that day and on the 25th. He divided against Catholic claims, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and the related franchise bill, 26 Apr., 9 May, and spoke in condemnation of relief, 26 Apr. He objected to the game bill, 17 Feb., and moved (and was a teller for the minority for) the wrecking amendment against its second reading, 7 Mar. 1825. He praised ministers for abolishing small bank notes, 14 Feb., and defended the laws relating to Irish tolls and customs, 16 Feb. 1826. He divided against condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar., but spoke and voted for ending corporal punishment in the army as a dishonourable practice, 10 Mar. On 8 May he stated that he would have divided against government three days earlier if the first resolution on the corn laws had not been changed and vindicated agricultural protection. At the general election that summer he was returned for Coleraine, although in October 1826 Lord Beresford applied to Liverpool for a place for him, in order to release the seat for Lord George, who had been defeated in county Waterford.12

Brydges divided for the grant to the duke of Clarence, 16 Mar., and, stating that he would not vote against the measure outright, deplored proposed ministerial changes to the corn laws, 19 Mar. 1827. He spoke in praise of the Indian army, 8 May. Having approved of the appointment of the duke of Wellington as prime minister, 6 Feb., he told the House that he would not bring forward his resolutions on the Irish yeomanry because the subject had been taken up by government, 25 Feb. 1828. He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and voted (as he had on 6 Mar. 1827) against Catholic relief, 12 May, speaking in this sense, 13 May, 10, 12, 23 June, 3 July. He argued that East Retford should be thrown into the hundred of Bassetlaw, 7 May, defended the coastal blockade service, 16 May, vindicated the Irish yeomanry, 13 June, and supported the additional churches bill, 30 June. He opposed the committal of the game bill, 13, 26 June, when his amendment to put it off for three months was negatived without a division. At a meeting in Maidstone on 16 Sept. he seconded the motion for the establishment of a Brunswick Club, declaring that ‘there must be no surrender; it would be nobler to die in the trenches’. He attended the monster Kent county meeting on Penenden Heath, which agreed an anti-Catholic petition, 24 Oct. 1828.13

In January 1829 Wellington lamented that after the abolition of the board of hackney carriages and

taking into consideration the whole state of the patronage of the government, I really believe that if I was to be in office for ten years I should not be able to perform the only engagement which I have made, viz., to give Sir John Bridges an office in consequence of the arrangement which imposed Sir Ulysses Burgh* [as secretary] upon Lord Beresford [master-general of the ordnance].14

Planta, the patronage secretary, expected Brydges to be ‘absent’ on the Catholic question, but in fact he condemned ministers for their about-turn on the issue, 9 Feb., and voted steadily against emancipation throughout March. He presented anti-Catholic petitions from county Waterford, 9 Mar., and Bridport, 10 Mar., and supported those from Kent and county Londonderry, 16 Mar. He justified the conduct of the Brunswick Clubs, 17 Mar., and divided against allowing Daniel O’Connell to take his seat unimpeded, 18 May. He said that he would again vote against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 2 June. In August he was considered by the Beresfords as a possible alternative to the now pro-Catholic George Dawson as their candidate for county Londonderry. Henry Barré Beresford described him as ‘a public [man] known, tried and approved’, and Lord Beresford thought that ‘certainly he would be the fittest person to oppose Dawson in Derry’ at the next election. Nothing came of this, presumably because the family still expected him to be given an office which would deprive him of his seat.15 In November 1829 Brydges attended the Kent dinner for its Ultra Member Knatchbull.16

He spoke for relieving economic distress, 4 Feb. 1830, but apparently did not divide for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address that day. He voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He baldly stated his opposition to Jewish emancipation, 4 May (when he objected to O’Connell’s marriage bill), and voted against it, 17 May. He supported Londonderry petitions against higher Irish stamp duties, 6 May, 14 June, and presented and endorsed Coleraine ones against the duties on stamps and coastwise coal, 25 May. He voted against abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. Hurriedly brought over for the first time to Coleraine in order to be elected a freeman of the borough, a requirement which had not previously been fulfilled, he stood again at the general election in August. He was applauded for his conduct on emancipation and was returned as a ministerialist after a challenge had been got up by the unfranchised freemen and the Irish Society; a petition against him was lodged but not pursued.17 Listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, he spoke in praise of their efforts to make economies and called on them to help relieve agricultural distress, 15 Nov. 1830, when he divided in their minority on the civil list. The outgoing prime minister had still been unable to provide for him, and on the 21st he wrote to Wellington demanding the baronetcy which he claimed Liverpool had once promised him.18

Brydges voted silently against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. He stood for Coleraine as an ‘uncompromising enemy’ of the bill at the ensuing general election, when he was opposed by Alderman Copeland, but was returned on the basis that he had received the votes of the 16 corporators present.19 He divided against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and at least five times for adjourning the House, 12 July, when, before the last division, he ‘drew ridicule on his party by proposing to draw lots whether or not to adjourn’.20 He defended the grant for the Kildare Place Society, 14 July, and opposed repeal of the corn laws, 25 July, when he advocated the introduction of a form of poor law to Ireland (as he did again, 26 Sept.). He voted to use the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July, and the following day condemned the reform bill for its ‘principle of spoliation’ and asserted that the people had been deluded in their support for it. He congratulated the House on the large minority against disfranchising Downton, 21 July, pleaded for the preservation of New Romney, 26 July, voted to postpone consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and criticized the inclusion of Guildford in schedule B, 29 July. On 4 Aug. 1831 the election committee ruled that the 70 freemen who had tendered for Copeland were indeed legal voters and Brydges was unseated. However, later in August 1831 Brydges was brought in by his brother-in-law, now primate of Ireland, for his pocket borough of Armagh. He denied that Lord Salisbury was guilty of improper interference in the Hertford election, 21 Sept. He voted against the passage of the reform bill that day and against the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., commenting that calls of the House did not disrupt the constituency visits of Irish Members, who could not, in any case, return home during the session. He reprobated unfair attacks on Irish tithes, 9 Dec. 1831, and again, 23 Jan. 1832, when he objected to Copeland’s motion for the production of papers relating to the corporation of Coleraine. He voted against the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and going into committee on it, 20 Jan. 1832. He vigorously denounced the bill, 27 Jan., accusing ministers of legislating on the basis of changeable expediency not immutable principle, and he objected to the partial disfranchisement of Helston, 23 Feb., and voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb. He defended the Irish yeomanry, 23 Feb., and divided against the malt drawback bill, 29 Feb. He again condemned the reform bill, 20 Mar., observing that ‘all that it will do, will be to breed discontent, discussion and confusion, breaking down that just balance of parties which has hitherto been preserved’; he voted against the third reading two days later. He was in the minority against the Irish party processions bill, 25 June, and again spoke in defence of tithes, 10, 24 July, and to end flogging in the army, 23 July. Having voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, he complained that not all the relevant papers had been produced, 20 July. His last known vote was against Hume’s bill to disqualify the recorder of Dublin from sitting in Parliament, 24 July 1832, when he castigated those who believed that they had the monopoly of virtue on Irish matters and remarked that, although not Irish born, ‘I have an Irish heart within me’. He was at one point considered as the Beresford’s candidate for Coleraine, but was left without a seat there or for Armagh at the general election of 1832, when he plumped for Knatchbull in the East Kent contest.21 In December 1834 he wrote to the caretaker premier Wellington that he was doing his best to capture the representation of Hythe, but the sitting Member came forward again at the general election the following January, and he never returned to the Commons.22 Described in 1831 as ‘an incarnation of intolerance, and a thick and thin supporter of abuses and corruption’,23 Brydges died in September 1839.24 By his will, dated 25 July 1825, he made his wife (d. 1850) his sole executor and left his estate, which included personal wealth sworn under £18,000, in trust to his only son John George William (1814-70).25

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell

Notes

  • 1. IGI (Kent).
  • 2. Collins, Peerage, vi. 731-40; W. Berry, Kent Peds. 492.
  • 3. Sir S.E. Brydges, Autobiog. (1834), i. 2-3, 40.
  • 4. E.A.C. Fazan, ‘New Romney Fencible Cavalry’, Arch. Cantiana, lxxii (1949), 12, 14, 18.
  • 5. Add. 38242, f. 223.
  • 6. Brydges, i. 41, 121.
  • 7. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 469; Kentish Chron. 1, 5, 8 May 1807, 13, 20 Mar. 1810, 2, 6 Oct. 1812.
  • 8. Reg. of Marriages of St. Mary le Bone, pt. ix (Harl. Soc. reg. ser. lvii), 92.
  • 9. Add. 38245, f. 307.
  • 10. Add. 38279, f. 361; 38282, f. 131; 38284, f. 74; 38291, f. 6; 38293, f. 188; 38294, ff. 14, 15.
  • 11. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 453.
  • 12. PRO NI, Pack-Beresford mss D664/A/24.
  • 13. Kentish Chron. 23 Sept., 28 Oct. 1828; W. Hinde, Catholic Emancipation, 92.
  • 14. Wellington mss WP1/993/3.
  • 15. PRO NI, Primate Beresford mss D3279/A/4/37, 39, 42; Pack-Beresford mss A/89, 100.
  • 16. Maidstone Jnl. 13 Nov. 1829.