FYLER, Thomas Bilcliffe (1788-1838), of 19 Dover Street, Piccadilly and Teddington, Mdx.
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Family and Education
b. 12 Sept. 1788, 1st s. of Samuel Fyler, barrister, of Twickenham and 1st w. Mary, da. and h. of John l’Anson, barrister, of St. Margaret’s, Westminster. educ. Winchester 1799-1806; Christ Church, Oxf. 1806; L. Inn 1810. m. 26 Nov. 1828, Dorothea Lucretia, da. of Lt.-Col. Alexander W. Light, 2s. 2da. d. 4 Mar. 1838.
Capt. 5 Ft. 1813, half-pay 1814.
Fyler owed his middle name and much of his fortune to his great-grandfather Thomas Bilcliffe (d. 1773) of King Street, Westminster, a prosperous cabinet maker of Suffolk stock who bequeathed property in Dover Street and elsewhere to his daughters, Mary, the wife of George Fyler, an apothecary, and Elizabeth, the wife of James Chamness, with reversion to his only grandson, Fyler’s father Samuel. In 1787 Samuel married his cousin Mary l’Anson, heiress to her barrister father John and uncle Sir Thomas Bankes l’Anson of Corfe Castle, Dorset.[footnote] Following her death, and before his remarriage, he safeguarded their children’s parental and grandparental inheritances by indentures of 31 May 1800 and 30 Dec. 1802.[footnote] Small in stature and of a ‘delicate constitution’, Fyler trained but was not called as a barrister. He was seconded to the militia after joining the army in 1813, became an active Middlesex magistrate and divided his time between his Dover Street house and his brother James Chamness Fyler’s Woodlands Park estate near Bagshot, Surrey. Contrary to reports in Coventry, which he contested successfully as a ‘No Popery’ Tory on the corporation interest in 1826, his election was not financed by a recent legacy from his father. Samuel Fyler (d. 1825) left his goodwill to the ‘amply provided for’ children of his first marriage and his dwindling fortune to those of his second.[footnote] Noting his brother James’s constant presence, The Times commented that Fyler ‘does not address the freemen, from want of ability’.[footnote]
Relieved not to be unseated on petition, Fyler, whose maiden speech on 13 Feb. 1827 against naval impressment failed to impress his constituents, initially played second fiddle to his colleague Richard Heathcote. He assisted as a speaker and minority teller against the Coventry magistracy bill, which the corporation opposed, and consistently criticized the measure as ‘unwise, unconstitutional and unjust’ and likely to ‘aggravate the evils it was meant to cure’, 8, 11, 13, 15, 18, 19 June. He attributed its passage through the Commons to the sharp practices deployed by its promoter Sir Charles Wetherell.[footnote] He voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and increased protection for barley, 12 Mar., and for the award to the duke of Clarence, 16 Mar., the spring guns bill, 23 Mar., and government expenditure on the Canadian waterways, 12 June. He ‘denied that the manufacturing towns were hotbeds of corruption’ when the possible transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham was broached, 22 June,[footnote] and was sorry to see the Canning ministry’s corn bill defeated in the Lords, 14 July. His parliamentary conduct was invariably closely scrutinized in the Coventry newspapers and, unlike Heathcote, he wrote to them regularly to answer his critics and publicize his achievements. On 15 and 19 June 1827 he claimed the credit for securing concessions to the Holyhead road bill, which had threatened Coventry’s lammas lands.[footnote] In 1828 Fyler established himself as the spokesman of the Coventry silk trade and contributed frequently to discussions on a wide range of issues. He voted to repeal the Test Acts, 26 Feb., but against Catholic relief, 12 May, having defended the double land tax levied on Catholics, 21 Feb. He urged government action on corn law reform when presenting Coventry’s petition, 21 Apr., and voted to lower the pivot price, 22 Apr. He spoke against limiting elections to ‘seven, eight or ten days’ under the borough polls bill, 21 Feb., but supported similar proposals in the amended measure, 6, 15, 23 May, and declared that he would vote for its third reading, 27 June. He divided with Hume for information on civil list pensions, 20 May, and for the second reading of the usury laws amendment bill, 19 June. He voted to disqualify certain East Retford voters, 24 June, and against the recommittal of the reintroduced disfranchisement bill, 27 June. He divided with the Wellington administration against ordnance reductions, 4 July 1828.
Overwhelmed by constituency business, especially petitions, he announced his intention to bring in legislation to repeal the ‘Ribbon Act’ (1827 Election Expenses Act), which Coventry held partly responsible for its depressed trade, 4, 19 Feb., 6 Mar., but, despite favourable petitions from the silk towns, he was refused leave for a bill by 91-9, 20 Mar. 1828. He pestered ministers, 25 Apr., presented hostile petitions, 1 May, 8 July, ordered returns, 12, 21 May, and lobbied the board of trade in protest at the belated renewal of the silk trades bill and for additional protection.[footnote] He complained of the disruption caused by piecemeal and short-term policies and accused government of making it impossible for the trade to compete in an international market, 16 June, 1 July. On the Customs Acts bill, 10 July, he conceded in committee that ‘government could not have done otherwise than to have continued the large duties on foreign silks’, but endorsed the former president of the board of trade Charles Grant’s call for inquiry and spoke against forcing a division on Bright’s amendment. He carried the bill’s recommittal by 37-34, 14 July, and secured concessions in the implementation of ad valorem duties.[footnote] He renewed his plea for inquiry by select committee and criticized the reciprocity duties in further speeches and interventions, 15, 17, 18, 19, 25 July, when he reaffirmed his intention of seeking inquiry next session. He presented and endorsed petitions against the friendly societies bill, 21 24, 25 Apr., slavery, 9 June, the alehouse licensing bill, 19 June, and suttee, 1 July. Drawing heavily on his speeches against the 1827 Coventry magistracy bill, he opposed the corporate funds bill on behalf of the corporation, 12 June, 1, 8 July 1828.
As the Wellington ministry’s patronage secretary Planta predicted, Fyler’s hostility to Catholic emancipation in 1829 was undiminished; and he suspended his campaign against the silk duties pending its resolution. He disputed its promoters’ claims that Catholic relief would ‘produce harmony’ in Ireland, 27 Feb., 3 Mar., and presented and endorsed Coventry’s anti-Catholic petition, 3 Mar., and another 15 Mar. He voted against the measure, 6, 18, 23, 26, 27, 30 Mar. Making silk again his priority, he confirmed the sorry plight of the Coventry weavers he had alluded to briefly on 16 and 27 Feb. in exchanges with the president of the board of trade Vesey Fitzgerald 7, 8, 9, 10 Apr., and prefaced his inquiry motion on the 13th by bringing up numerously signed petitions from Coventry and Macclesfield. In a ‘very able speech’,[footnote] tracing developments in the silk trade since the principle of free trade was conceded in 1824 and illustrated with statistics from official returns, he argued that
free trade is beautiful in theory; yet I do not think that, in a country like this, which is altogether in an artificial state, groaning under a heavy load of taxation, oppressed by an enormous debt, and burdened with onerous poor rates ... there can be free trade with regard to manufactures, while in every other respect, there is a system of monopoly.
He accused ministers of experimenting with the livelihoods of the Coventry weavers. Vesey Fitzgerald hinted at concessions on drawbacks, which Alexander Baring and Huskisson opposed, and the debate was adjourned. Winding up before inquiry was rejected by 149-31 next day, Fyler refused to concede that a committee would delay remedial action: ‘My constituents know, that if Parliament goes into the committee, the question will receive a full deliberation, which will satisfy and appease them’. He ordered further returns, 16 Apr., presented petitions criticizing the proffered drawbacks, 28 Apr., opposed the silk trades bill as a speaker and minority teller, 1 May, and criticized its principle and details at every opportunity, 1-8 May. Commenting on the Spitalfields riots, 2 June, he deplored the way in which the weavers had taken the law into their own hands, but also blamed ministers for failing to concede inquiry. He presented petitions against the truck bill, 11 May, and suttee, 3 June. He made his support for the anatomy bill conditional on its stipulating that dissection was not a punishment for crime, 15 May. In October 1829, contemplating a political realignment, the Ultra Commons leader Sir Richard Vyvyan listed him among the ‘Tories strongly opposed’ to the Wellington administration.
Fyler voted for Knatchbull’s amendment criticizing the failure of the address to notice distress, 4 Feb., testified to its prevalence in agriculture and manufacturing in Warwickshire and Coventry, and, confirming his hostility to free trade, called for ‘revision of the commercial code’ and further retrenchment, 8, 9 Feb. 1830. He spoke similarly on presenting distress petitions from all branches of the ribbon trade, 12, 22 Feb., 11 Mar., and on Davenport’s state of the nation motion, 16 Mar. Challenging the political economist Poulett Thomson, he maintained that a recent improvement in Coventry’s silk trade was seasonal and nominal, 6 Apr. He supported the weavers’ petition against shortening their traditional seven-year apprenticeship, 13 May, and tried in vain to legislate to abolish the concurrent system of half-pay apprenticeships, 13, 25 May, 11 June. Writing to his Coventry backers, he attributed his failure to a mistranscription in the printed bill by a ‘fool of a [Commons] clerk’.[footnote] He testified to the continued depression in Spitalfields without endorsing the weavers’ demand for parliamentary reform to alleviate it, 18 May 1830. Yet he saw nothing unconstitutional in enfranchising the manufacturing towns, and voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May 1829, 11 Feb., 5, 15 Mar., to enfranchise Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., and for parliamentary reform, 28 May 1830. He voted to reduce the navy estimates, 1 Mar., and, except on Jewish emancipation, which he opposed, 17 May, he divided steadily with the revived Whig opposition for the remainder of that Parliament. He presented petitions, 30 Mar., 3 May, and voted to make forgery a non-capital offence, 24 May, 7 June. He brought up petitions from Coventry’s influential directors of the poor against the liability of landlords bill, 24 May, and the poor removal bill, 18 June, and cast a hostile vote with the motley crew against the administration of justice bill that day. On the sale of beer bill, 30 Mar., he endorsed the Coventry licensed victuallers’ hostile petition, and advocated further restrictions on on-consumption, 21 June, 1 July. Heathcote ‘retired’ at the general election that month, but his erstwhile supporters, whom he addressed, 5 July 1830, declared that ‘Fyler was eligible for re-election after representing their views’, and a bipartisan compromise secured his return after a token poll with the 1818-26 Whig Member, Lord Grey’s brother-in-law Edward Ellice.[footnote]
The Wellington ministry listed Fyler among the ‘violent Ultras’ and he voted to bring them down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. He cautioned against interpreting the tricolours displayed by the distressed Spitalfields weavers during the London trades procession as signs of disloyalty, 17 Dec. In the first of several speeches on the game laws, he approved the principle of Lord Chandos’s bill, 7 Dec., but criticized its ‘cumbersome clauses’ and threatened to introduce a rival measure ‘reducing the whole to the simple principle of trespass’ should the new Grey ministry, in which Ellice was patronage secretary, fail to do so. For this he was soundly chastised ‘from his own side of the House’ by the Tory Thomas Wood, who could influence Coventry’s London freemen. He declared his support for the leader of the House Lord Althorp’s game bill, 14, 15 Feb. 1831. Responding to constituency pressure, he broached the question of half-pay apprenticeships on seconding Hobhouse’s factories regulation bill, 15 Feb., and would not hear of extending its provisions to silk, where home working and small workshops prevailed, 15 Mar.[footnote] Uncertain and consulted only by the Political Union, whom he snubbed, he wrote to the town clerk of Coventry, 10 Mar., stating his views on the ministerial reform bill:
Though a moderate, I am a very honest reformer, but consider the bill too sweeping and objectionable in many points, though on the other hand it contains many very excellent suggestions. I should be glad to hear your opinions of it. Is there any chance of a public meeting being held at Coventry? I think it should be.[footnote]
He confirmed overwhelming support for the measure and local concern over the voting rights of current apprentices when Ellice presented Coventry’s favourable petition, 15 Mar., and disputed claims made by Hunt, to whom an alternative petition had been forwarded, that the weavers sought annual parliaments, the ballot and universal suffrage. Outlining his own stance, he declared for ‘some disfranchisements and the enfranchisement of great towns’, maintained that the bill tended to increase the power of the landed interest and added, ‘Whether [it] ... should pass or not, I am satisfied that no minister could retain his place, even for a fortnight, who was not prepared to bring forward a sound constitutional, full and effective measure of reform’. He divided for the bill at its second reading, 22 Mar. His vote against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, which his critics expected him to support, 19 Apr., surprised and confounded the Political Union and his Coventry supporters, to whom he had again written candidly of his reservations, fuelling a campaign to oust him.[footnote] Damaging reports that he had voted against the bill persisted.[footnote] In the House, 21 Apr., he explained that he had voted as a decided and sincere reformer who did not want to see the bill wrecked, criticized Hunt and claimed that he would have divided for the bill’s details in committee had it been proceeded with. He issued notices, 22 and 27 Apr., and canvassed Coventry with his brother directly the dissolution was announced, forcing the corporation into a pretended neutrality.[footnote] Despite his many private and public protests at his treatment, bold speeches, expensive canvass and appeals to his 1826 supporters, he was defeated by the reformers Ellice and Henry Lytton Bulwer, who at a private meeting in London, 23 Apr. 1831, had tried to call his bluff by insisting that he should declare immediately and unequivocally for the bill.[footnote]
Fyler rallied his supporters, ‘the 1,151’, at the City Arms, 4 May 1831, and, keeping this party together with dinners and newsletters, he mounted a costly but hopeless challenge at the general election of 1832.[footnote] Grant had recommended him to Grey for a baronetcy in September 1831, but Ellice forbade it.[footnote] He did not stand for Parliament again. He died in Torquay in poor health in March 1838, worth an estimated £4,000 at probate, leaving a widow and four young children, for whom he had nominated guardians and established a family trust. His widow subsequently married Herbert Hore of Pole Hore, county Wexford.[footnote]