HEYGATE, William (1782-1844), of Chatham Place, Blackfriars, London; Holwood, Kent and Southend, Essex

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



1818 - 1826

Family and Education

b. 24 June 1782, 1st s. of James Heygate, hosiery manufacturer, later banker, of Hackney, Mdx. and Southend and Sarah, da. of Samuel Unwin of Sutton-in-Ashfield, Notts. m. 19 May 1821, Isabella, da. of Edward Longdon Mackmurdo of Upper Clapton, Mdx., 4s. cr. bt. 15 Sept. 1831; suc. fa. 1833. d. 28 Aug. 1844.

Offices Held

Common councilman, London 1809-12, sheriff 1811-12, alderman 1812-43, ld. mayor 1822-3, chamberlain 1843-d.

Dir. Eagle Insurance 1811-14, Grand Surr. Dock Co. 1813-d., Phoenix Fire Office 1819-42, Pelican Office 1823-d., South Sea Co. 1823-9, 1832-d., W.I. Dock Co. 1824-30, Revisionary Interest Soc. 1825-d.; commr. exch. bill loan office 1823-d.


Heygate, whose family owned estates in Essex and Leicestershire and property in London’s Aldermanbury, was a City alderman and partner in his father’s Leicester bank of Pares and Heygate. Prominent as a Merchant Taylor, company director and founder member of the Hampden Club to promote parliamentary reform, he had declined to contest London as a Whig moderate in 1817, but came in for the venal borough of Sudbury on the interest of the predominantly Tory corporation at the general election of 1818, and topped the poll there in 1820.1 Taking an independent line, he had distinguished himself as an opponent of the resumption of cash payments by the Bank of England, supported burgh and criminal law reform and pressed in vain for three-year restrictions to the 1819 blasphemous libels and seditious meetings bills.2

Heygate spoke in favour of transferring Grampound’s franchise to Leeds, 12 Feb. 1821,3 and voted for reform, 9 May 1821, and against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May 1825.4 His commitment to promoting his views on finance and measures affecting his London and commercial interests tended to make his parliamentary conduct unpredictable and when he defended or amended his early stance as an anti-bullionist he was frequently at variance with all parties. He voted with the Whig opposition for deferring the civil list report, 8 May, on tax collection, 4 July 1820, and against the war office grant, 6 Apr. 1821; but with government against the additional malt duty repeal bill 3 Apr. 1821. He considered the decision to prosecute Queen Caroline ‘impolitic’ and detrimental to the country and ‘all parties’ concerned; but, once commenced, he said that he wished her trial to proceed until the evidence on both sides had been heard, 18 Sept. 1820.5 In common council, 21 Nov., he expressed delight at the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties, but opposed the queen’s proposed procession through the City to a service of thanksgiving at St. Paul’s, and was one of the ‘seven wise aldermen’ (and was lampooned as such) who refused, as a magistrate, to sanction it.6 On 8 Dec. 1820 he signed the corporation’s loyal address to the king, deprecating the ‘torrent of impiety and sedition’ which the episode had produced.7 Presenting a petition from Sudbury censuring ministers and calling for the restoration of the queen’s privileges, 24 Jan. 1821, he created a stir by declaring that she had ‘rendered herself unworthy of any mark of grace or favour by her scandalous letter to the king and ... treasonable answers to the addresses’ from Nottingham and Cripplegate.8 He insisted that he was ‘no supporter of ministers, nor an enemy to the queen’, and his condemnation of Lord Archibald Hamilton’s ‘milk and water’ motion regretting the omission of her name from the liturgy, 26 Jan., as ‘a measure ill advised and inexpedient’, whose ‘maxims were true in the abstract but mischievous in the application’, dismayed the Whigs, who had deliberately refrained from requesting that her name be restored, in a bid to ‘capture his vote’.9 He divided with government against a motion censuring their handling of the affair, 6 Feb. 1821.

Demonstrating a diehard attachment to the views he had expounded in 1819, he maintained that the resumption of cash payments was responsible for the depressed state of trade and agriculture, and said that he would oppose any increase in corn prices or tax on mercantile capital, 30 May 1820.10 In the committee of ways and means, 9 June, he praised Pitt’s wartime sinking fund, but spoke against issuing £17 million in bills to repay the Bank under the government’s consolidated loan scheme, ‘as this would of necessity produce a reduction of the circulating medium, which must be attended with increased distress throughout the country’; the political economist Ricardo and the radical Hume insisted that he was mistaken. He spoke again of the folly of the loan and proposed, but could find no seconder for a resolution ‘regretting, in the fifth year of peace, the adoption of any measures tending to augment the public debt, and recommending such a system of economy as should eventually lessen the burdens of the people’, 19 June. He stressed the monetary causes of the depressions in trade and agriculture, when the Birmingham merchants’ petition was presented, 9 Feb. 1821, and now maintained that ‘there should be an option of paying in either silver or gold’ to facilitate foreign trade and assist the Bank. He interpreted the 1821 bank cash payments bill as a currency question, voted in his fellow banker Alexander Baring’s minority of 27 for inquiry, 9 Apr., and complained that the bill would create an acute shortage of specie and induce country banks to withdraw their small notes, thereby reducing forgeries while increasing the incidence of highway robberies, 9, 13 Apr. On 14 May 1821, shortly before his marriage, he received six weeks’ leave to attend to urgent private business and is unlikely to have returned to the House that session.

He voted with ministers against more extensive tax reductions, 11, 21 Feb., and spoke against repealing the tax on salt, 28 Feb., but cast a wayward vote for a reduction in the junior admiralty lordships, 1 Mar. 1822.11 Although ‘no advocate for [Henry] Hunt*’, he expressed regret at the commissioners’ findings at Ilchester gaol and thought his treatment and conditions there merited immediate redress, 4 Mar. His speech opposing the vote of thanks to the court of proprietors of the Bank at their dinner, 21 Mar., was deliberately omitted from but made the subject of a hostile editorial in The Times, correcting his ‘vulgar error’ that the Bank had ‘greatly contracted its issues on the resumption of cash payments’. In the version printed on the 23rd (The Times claimed there were two different ones) he blamed Peel and the select committee for the shortcomings of the 1819 Act and exonerated the Bank’s directors, who ‘had been so often violently attacked and feebly defended in the ... House’.12 When the agriculture committee report was considered, he criticized and voted against the leader of the House Lord Londonderry’s relief proposals, 9 May, and said that he was ‘most inclined’ to favour Curwen’s, but would ‘vote for no plan which did not contain a clause to remit the duty in the event of the price of corn raising so high as to indicate the approach of scarcity’. He indicated that his preferred concession would have been repeal of the window tax, 24 May. He complained that he was shut out from the division on the cost of the Swiss embassy, 15 May, a veiled attack on the Grenvillite accession, which government supporters were summoned to oppose.13 Backing the Essex county Member Western’s motion for inquiry into the resumption of cash payments, 12 June, he conceded that much of his opposition to the 1819 Act derived from its timing, the predominance of bullionists on the committee, and their adherence to a ‘false theory ... that gold was the exact index of the depreciation of our currency’; but he remained convinced that distress was partly attributable to the premature restoration of the gold standard. Notwithstanding his support for Western, he expressed reservations on the use of silver as an alternative, 12 June, 10 July. He presented a petition against the Highgate chapel bill, 5 July,14 and divided with government for the aliens bill, 19 July 1822.

Following his election as lord mayor of London, 28 Sept. 1822, Heygate equipped himself with lavish livery, and wrote to Lord Liverpool requesting the baronetcy he thought his rank, lineage and property merited

because, however frequently I have both in and out of Parliament supported at critical moments the great measures of your ... administration, believing them to be wise and just, I am not aware that I have ever asked or received for myself or for any of my connections a single favour of any kind from ... government.15

Partly on account of the precedent it might set and tensions between the City and the king, who had declined to attend civic functions, his request was refused, as was his application as retiring mayor in September 1823, which the duke of York, the godfather of his first-born son, had endorsed.16 The common council and corporation commended Heygate as a popular and diligent mayor and he had written:

I need not impress upon your lordship how laborious, responsible and frequently unpleasant are the duties which are performed by the aldermen of the City of London (as magistrates, sheriffs and mayors) not only without any expense to the public but with a great sacrifice, in general of money and always of time, nor the importance and at the same time the difficulty of procuring men of property, education and respectable situation in life to take upon themselves the offices. It is now, I believe, ten years since a magistrate of London had the distinction of the baronetage. In that time, and indeed very recently, it has been conferred frequently on merchants, Bank directors, etc., whose fortune and standing have not been superior to those of many of the aldermen and who have shrunk in many instances from undertaking a public duty. I am far indeed from wishing to question the disposal of honours of the crown, but I am quite sure your lordship would regret that it should be imagined (as it is beginning to be) that a laborious and gratuitous public duty should operate rather as a bar than as a recommendation to them and this at a time when it has just been so largely augmented by the legislature ... I may perhaps appear to ... attach too much importance to a mere distinction, but it is desirable to me holding an official situation in the City for various reasons. Were I to relinquish that, it would be of little or no value.17

He had supported the establishment of a parliamentary reform subcommittee of the common council, 23 Jan., but corrected reports that he had voted in Lord John Russell’s minority for reform, 20 Feb. 1823, when he was ‘absent through indisposition’.18 He convened a meeting of City merchants, bankers and traders to petition for changes in the legislation governing insolvent debtors, and presented the 1,600-signature petition, which called for restrictions on the powers of detaining creditors, 27 Mar.19 He brought up others against the London Bridge bill, 14 May, 16, 20 June, and criticized it as a measure which empowered government at the corporation’s expense by deploying £150,000 from the consolidated fund, 16 June, and granting the treasury the right to appoint an engineer, 20 June. He failed to kill it that day (by 4-71), or to carry a rider authorizing the corporation to choose an engineer (by 16-78). He briefly expressed his support for the government amendment commending ‘strict neutrality’ before the House divided on Macdonald’s motion censuring their failure to intervene on behalf of liberal Spain, 30 Apr.; while in the City, he consulted the corporation’s lawyers and investigated the legality of common council’s resolutions committing funds to the Spanish and Greek loans, on which opinion was divided, 13, 23 June.20 He beat London’s boundaries with great pomp the following month, and presided over the Auxiliary Missionary Society’s meeting there, 24 Sept.21 At the sheriffs’ dinner, 30 Sept. 1823, he paid tribute to their guest speakers, Canning and Huskisson.22

He deprecated any interference with the wartime sinking fund, 10 Feb., and denied reports on 4 Mar. that he had supported the government’s resolutions for a national debt reduction bill, which he had opposed ‘as inconsistent with the former pledges of Parliament in passing the original Acts’, 3 Mar. 1824.23 He presented protectionist petitions from Sudbury’s silkworkers against repeal of the Spitalfields Acts, 21 May, but failed to kill the measure by adjournment or to secure its recommittal for tradesmen’s evidence to be heard, 11 June 1824.24 (He supported inquiry into the silk trade on his constituents’ behalf, 24 Feb. 1826.) He was in the small minority against permitting long wool to be exported, 21 May 1824. Overcoming his dislike of the assessed taxes, ‘which brought the people in more direct collision with government’ (4 Feb. 1825), he declared that he would not vote for their repeal lest the sinking fund be endangered, 10 May 1824, but he voted to reduce taxation on houses and windows, 3 Mar. 1825, ‘under [the] conviction that even without it ministers would be able to reduce the expenditure to the limits of the income’.25 He considered the usury laws ‘salutary’ despite their flaws and, ‘although indisposed’, 27 Feb., he spoke and was a minority teller against their repeal, which he criticized as ‘necessary only to satisfy the lawyers’, 31 Mar. 1824. He maintained that the current laws served the landed interest by limiting the size of the national debt, but conceded that supplementary legislation to regulate ‘penalties and forfeitures’ was necessary, 31 Mar., 8 Apr. He received leave to introduce a remedial bill, 26 May 1824, but abandoned it after a second repeal bill was defeated, 17 Feb. 1825.26 His stake in the Grand Surrey Dock Company and the West India Dock Company made him a natural advocate of reduced tariffs on waterborne and coastwise coal, 12 Feb. 1824, and an opponent of the bill authorizing the construction of the rival St. Katharine’s Docks, which he criticized as unnecessary and condemned as ‘one of those projects which had grown out of the high price of stocks, which, if stocks fell again, would disappear like the South Sea Bubble’, 2 Apr. 1824. With his fellow directors John Smith and William Manning, he spoke and presented petitions to the Commons against it, 25 Feb., 2 Apr., 3, 6, 12, 17, 28 May, 2 June 1824, and again, 22 Feb., 11 Mar. 1825, when he complained that the select committee had been packed with the bill’s supporters.27 He similarly opposed the South London Dock Company bill, 28 May, 2 June 1824.28 He presented anti-slavery petitions from Sudbury, 16 Mar. 1824, 21 Feb. 1826, and Chichester, 29 Mar. 1824, and divided for Brougham’s motion criticizing the indictment of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824, but voted against condemning the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826. He supported reform of London’s tithes, as lord mayor, and in the House, 14 Feb. 1825, and called for inquiry into the operations of turnpike trusts in the metropolis, 17 Feb. 1825.29 He voted against the duke of Cumberland’s annuity bill, 30 May, 10 June 1825. A radical publication classified him as a Member who had ‘attended very infrequently’ that session and ‘voted in general with ministers: a fastidious speaker’.30 Heygate’s bank survived the 1825-6 crisis, and speaking on the proposed Bank Charter Act, 13 Feb. 1826, he poured scorn on Horne Tooke, Ricardo, McCulloch and pamphlet writers and political economists generally, and was criticized by the home secretary Peel for arguing that the measure posed a threat to country banks. Commenting privately on the disappointing contribution of the bankers to the debate, George Agar Ellis* noted that Heygate had been ‘unbearable’.31 Hume criticized him the next day for ‘abusing the system of political economy’ through his opposition to free trade, but, undaunted, he continued to call for ‘the amount of notes in circulation to be laid before the public’ and demanded that £1 notes be issued on government security rather than that of the Bank of England or any other bank, 27, 28 Feb., 7 Mar. He praised the report of the select committee on banking in Scotland and Ireland and commended both systems, 26 May. As seconder, he tried to adjourn proceedings on Hume’s state of the nation motion ‘to prevent the premature conclusion of the debate’ on a ‘most interesting’ subject, 4 May 1826.

It was reported when Heygate visited his ailing father on the continent in the autumn of 1825 that he would stand down at Sudbury at the dissolution, and he did so in June 1826, despite the failure of his canvass at St. Albans.32 The £8,000 he expended in Sudbury between 1818 and 1826 ensured that he was requisitioned when the corporation were short of candidates in 1828 and 1830, and he started there as a Conservative in 1837, but retired before polling commenced.33 The duke of Wellington as premier rejected his application for a baronetcy in June 1829, but he became a coronation baronet in 1831, partly through the intervention of the king, who noticed his omission from a list resubmitted by Lord Grey, from which he had been excluded to dampen aldermanic rivalry in the City.34 He suffered financially after it emerged that his brother James, who was dismissed as a partner in 1830, had embezzled funds from the family bank, which was sold soon after his father’s death in 1833.35 Heygate now moved to the family estate he inherited at Roecliffe, Leicestershire, but he remained committed to metropolitan politics, was talked of as high bailiff of Southwark in 1842, and defeated Sir John Pirie (by 2,374-1,910) to become chamberlain of London, 17 May 1843.36 Sponsoring him, his friend of over 40 years Matthew Wood* noted that he was ‘never tied down to any administration and he always enlightened both sides by his admirable financial speeches in Parliament’.37 He died at Roecliffe in August 1844, possessed of estates in Essex, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and London, and was succeeded as 2nd baronet by his barrister son Frederick William Heygate (1822-94), Conservative Member for county Londonderry, 1859-74. He willed that following his wife’s death his property should be divided fivefold between his four sons, allowing two shares to the eldest.38 His second son William Unwin Heygate (1825-1902) represented Leicester, Stamford, and Leicestershire South as a Conservative.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 192-3; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Sudbury borough recs. EE501/7, 8; Bury and Norwich Post, 8, 15 Mar. 1820.
  • 2. B. Hilton, Corn, Cash, Commerce, 47, 66; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 192-3.
  • 3. The Times, 13 Feb. 1821.
  • 4. Ibid. 4 May 1825.
  • 5. Ibid. 19 Sept. 1820.
  • 6. Ibid. 20, 22 Nov., 2 Dec. 1820; M.D. George, Cat. of Pol. and Personal Satires, x. 14014.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1820), ii. 560.
  • 8. The Times, 25 Jan. 1821.
  • 9. Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 65-66; Colchester Diary, iii. 201; HLRO, Hist. Coll. 379, Grey Bennet diary, 7; Add. 43212, f. 180; Harrowby mss, Harrowby to Sandon, 26 Jan.; Castle Howard mss, G. Howard to Lady Morpeth, 28 Jan.; The Times, 27, 30 Jan. 1821.
  • 10. The Times, 31 May 1820; Hilton, 93.
  • 11. The Times, 4 Mar. 1822.
  • 12. Ibid. 22, 23 Mar. 1822.
  • 13. Ibid. 16 May 1822.
  • 14. Ibid. 6 July 1822.
  • 15. Ibid. 30 Sept., 26 Oct., 6 Nov. 1822; CLRO, LOL/AC/13/001/20; RMD/CE/10/083; Add. 38291, f. 156.
  • 16. Add. 38291, f. 164; 38296, ff. 296-8; The Times, 23 Oct., 30 Nov. 1822.
  • 17. The Times, 20 Dec. 1822, 11 Nov. 1823; Add. 38296, ff. 291-3.
  • 18. The Times, 24, 31 Jan., 10 Mar. 1823.
  • 19. Ibid. 21 Feb., 28 Mar. 1823.
  • 20. Ibid. 1 May, 14, 24 June, 8 July 1823.
  • 21. Ibid. 24 July, 25 Sept. 1823.
  • 22. Ibid. 1 Oct. 1823.
  • 23. Ibid. 4, 10 Mar. 1824.
  • 24. Ibid. 27 May 1824.
  • 25. Ibid. 11 May 1824.
  • 26. Ibid. 27 May 1824, 18 Feb. 1825.
  • 27. Ibid. 18 May 1824; R. Harris, ‘Political economy, interest groups, legal institutions and repeal of the Bubble Act in 1825’, EcHR, l (1997), 675-96.
  • 28. The Times, 29 May, 3 June 1824.
  • 29. Ibid. 8 Jan., 11, 25 Feb. 1823, 15, 18 Feb. 1825.
  • 30. Session of Parl. 1825, p. 468.
  • 31. Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC8/79.
  • 32. Add. 76135, Kinder to Spencer, 6 Jan. 1826.
  • 33. Ipswich Jnl. 15, 29 Oct. 1825; Colchester Gazette, 10 June 1826; ‘Sudbury borough’ (ms penes A.T. Copsey in 1991); NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 77, 82, 83; G35, f. 98; The Times, 12 Dec. 1837.
  • 34. Wellington mss WP1/1023/24; Grey mss, Taylor to Grey, 4 Sept., Ellice to same [Oct. 1831].
  • 35. The Times, 18 Sept. 1830; Derbys. RO, Pares mss D5336/2/6/5, 10, 19; 3/571/7/1-53; Derbys. RO, Wilmot-Horton mss D3155/C6688.
  • 36. The Times, 29 July, 19, 20 Oct. 1842, 11-13, 16, 19 May 1843; B.R. Masters, Chamberlain of the City of London, 1237-1987, pp. 66-67, 73, 113.
  • 37. The Times, 10 May 1843.
  • 38. Ibid. 30 Aug., 24 Sept. 1844; Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 543; GL mss 12,011, f. 137; PROB 11/2005/1707.