HODGES, Thomas Law (1776-1857), of Hemsted Place, Benenden, Kent
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Family and Education
b. 3 June 1776, 1st. s. of Thomas Hallett Hodges of Breedy, Dorset and Dorothy, da. of William Cartwright of Marnham, Notts. educ. Tonbridge 1783; Harrow 1786; L. Inn 1793; Emmanuel, Camb. 1796. m. 16 Feb. 1802, Rebecca, da. of Sir Roger Twisden, 6th bt., of Bradbourne Park, nr. Maidstone, Kent, 5s. (4 d.v.p.) 6da. (3 d.v.p.).1 suc. fa. 1801. d. 14 May 1857.
Capt. W. Kent militia 1798, maj. 1804, ret. 1805.
Hodges was a member of a gentry family which had long resided in Dorset and Gloucestershire. His great-grandfather, Thomas Hodges of Breedy, had a son Thomas, who married a Miss Hallett and died in 1771 while governor of Bombay. His son, Thomas Hallett Hodges, who was born in 1754, married in 1775, and in 1780 purchased an estate in Kent, where he was appointed sheriff in 1786 and deputy lieutenant in 1793.2 Hodges, the eldest of seven children, was made captain of Harrow, which, he informed his father, ‘during a laborious process of eight years, I have had continually before my eyes, and has been no small spur to my industry’.3 He was an ‘indulgent master’ to his fag, Lord Althorp*, and Denis Le Marchant† recorded that, ‘one of the best specimens of the old English country gentleman’, ‘even after the lapse of many years, Mr. Hodges could not speak of him to me without emotion’.4 Having entered Lincoln’s Inn in 1793, he was admitted to Emmanuel College, Cambridge, as a pensioner in 1794, but did not matriculate until 1796, taking his degree in 1799. In April 1798 he was given command of a new supplementary company of the West Kent militia, and served with them during the rebellion in Ireland until July 1799. His diary recorded his official duties and social life, as well as his fear that because of religious divisions and agricultural backwardness
it will require many years even of the most profound peace completely to restore cordiality to this country. If a person has never been in Ireland, he can have no conception of the deplorable condition of the lowest orders, their wretchedness and misery is only equalled by their extreme ignorance and brutal savagery.
He therefore welcomed peaceable Union, as a means of improving the well being of the poor and reconciling them to government from England.5 After coming into a valuable inheritance from his father, he concentrated on ameliorating the condition of his own labourers and gained a reputation as an agricultural improver.6 He consolidated his position within the local gentry by marrying into the Twisden family, and he took a principal part in enforcing his wife’s claim to a £10,000 portion from her grandfather, Sir John Papillon Twisden, which was ordered by chancery, 6 Mar. 1804. Several of his daughters also married into well-to-do neighbouring families, and he gradually expanded his local influence as he became increasingly active in county affairs.7
Although Hodges voted for the ministerial candidates, Sir William Geary† and Sir Edward Knatchbull†, for Kent at the 1802 general election, he always claimed to be a reformer.8 No doubt he was strongly influenced in this by his maternal uncle, the radical John Cartwright, who in 1814 sent him his pro-reform epistles with the injunction
not only to give them your attention, but to read with the pen in your hand, noting particularly such arguments as do not convince. Although the final effect on your mind may not be complete till you shall have gone through the series, yet, by criticizing each letter as it appears, and putting down your remarks in writing, you will best make yourself master of the question.9
He nominated Geary, who, although independently minded was certainly not the Whigs’ preferred candidate, at both the 1812 and 1818 general elections, but in 1820 he proposed a Whig, William Philip Honywood*, and thereafter consistently adopted an ardently Whig, occasionally radical, stance in politics.10 He refused to stand for Maidstone in 1820 and, although he had acted as a steward at a reform meeting in 1811, he declined Cartwright’s invitation to do so at his gathering on Spain, Naples and Portugal in September 1820. He argued that those who knew him in Kent
will never doubt the rectitude of my principles, nor shall they ever have reason to be ashamed of my conduct. For whenever the time of action comes I shall be found on the side of those who defend civil liberty. I have prescribed this for my own conduct, but I have not confidence enough in my own abilities to stand forward as a leader, and therefore I shall decline such posts at public meetings, and content myself with doing my duty as well as I can when the crisis arrives.11
He signed the requisition for a county meeting on the Queen Caroline affair in late 1820. He spoke in favour of one about distress at a meeting of agriculturists in Maidstone, 13 Dec. 1821, and supported a petition calling for relief and reform when it finally took place, 11 June 1822.12 Having appeared at least once before a select committee of the Commons (to give evidence on Gibbon’s charity school at Benenden, 6 Nov. 1818), he attended the committee on the encouragement of emigration, 27 Apr., 4 May 1826, when he described his own successful scheme for giving financial incentives to potential local emigrants, thereby reducing the number of dependent paupers and the poor rates.13 A rumour briefly circulated that he would offer for Kent at the 1826 general election, but he again nominated Honywood.14 He advocated petitions for continued protection at meetings in Maidstone, 20 Mar., 29 Apr. 1828.15 After repeated interruptions from the Brunswickers at the county meeting on the Catholic question, 24 Oct., he was eventually given a brief hearing, in which he moved an unsuccessful pro-Catholic amendment that the best way to support the Protestant establishment would be by allowing ministers to decide on the issue and suppressing the Catholic Association. In a letter complaining of his treatment, 29 Oct., he reiterated his concern over the desperate state of the poor in Ireland and urged the introduction of poor rates there.16 He was a steward at the anti-Brunswick dinner at Maidstone, 22 Dec. 1828, when he called for the removal of the grievances of the Irish Catholics, argued that they did favour reform, else he would not have supported their claims, and stated that reform was the ‘great panacea for all the evils under which the country labours’. He spoke in favour of reform and against tithes at a county meeting, 12 Mar. 1830.17
Both the Tory Sir Edward Knatchbull, son and namesake of the former Member, and Honywood offered again at the general election in 1830, but the Whigs were dissatisfied with the latter, who was non-resident and in poor health, and approaches were made to Hodges. He was initially diffident, telling one correspondent, 9 July, that he was ‘thoroughly aware of what must be expected and required of any man who is placed in that situation, and therefore I cannot think of voluntarily putting myself forward as a candidate’. However, he promised to discharge his duties ‘diligently and conscientiously’ if Honywood resigned and he received enough promises of support.18 Although a meeting in Hodges’s favour broke up without even appointing a chairman, 2 Aug., Honywood was evidently persuaded to withdraw shortly before the election. Lord Darnley informed Lord Holland, 4 Aug., that he had ‘left the field open to a very respectable successor, Mr. Hodges, a good and liberal politician’, while his son, Lord Clifton*, told Honywood of his delight at having ‘so efficient and valuable a man as Hodges in your place’.19 On the hustings, 9 Aug., Hodges advocated economies and reform, declared that he would never have stood had Honywood been able to continue and promised to be as active and impartial in handling county business as Knatchbull, with whom he was duly elected unopposed, at very little expense.20 At a dinner in Hawkhurst, 8 Sept., he spoke against involvement in a foreign war, and at another in Rochester, whose corporation had agreed to make him an honorary freeman, he pledged himself to work on behalf of the city and the county, taking ‘spectemur agendo’ (‘let us be judged by our deeds’) as his motto, 20 Oct.21 The Wellington ministry listed him among its ‘foes’ in September. That autumn his tenants refused to pay their rents because of the prolonged distress, and, as a magistrate, he was involved in attempts to quell the ‘Swing’ riots that subsequently occurred.22 In his maiden speech, made on the first day of the session, 2 Nov., he noted that the ‘disturbed condition of Kent is a matter of general notoriety. It is occasioned by the general distress of the labouring population of the country’. He added that nothing but a great remission of taxation would solve the problem, which could only be effected by a reformed Parliament, thus linking the two issues which were to dominate his activities in the Commons. The following day he made the first of several motions for returns of the poor rates, and from then on he brought up numerous local petitions. He presented and endorsed one from Tenterden complaining of distress, 11 Nov., and others from Hawkhurst and Goudhurst against the malt duty, 15 Nov., when he voted against government on the civil list. He brought up, and fully concurred with, a Kentish petition for agricultural relief and the abolition of tithes, 6 Dec. In evidence before a Lords select committee on the poor laws, 7 Dec., he defended his experiment in encouraging emigration, but argued that distress, which was largely caused by over-population, was nevertheless acute and had led to a number of disturbances in his neighbourhood.23 He presented and endorsed four other Kentish petitions in favour of relief and reform, 10 Dec. 1830, when he argued that the appointment of a new ministry under Lord Grey had had a good effect by calming the minds of the people. On the 11th he corrected a misinterpretation of this speech, by denying that he had said that magistrates had refused to carry out their duties under the former government.
Hodges, who was elected to Brooks’s on the nomination of Althorp, the chancellor, 12 Feb. 1831, continued to be highly active in presenting various county petitions for reduced taxes and reform throughout the session. He endorsed all their demands, including that for vote by ballot, except those for universal suffrage and repeal of the Union. He and Knatchbull led a Kentish deputation to Althorp at the treasury, 26 Feb., to request the abolition of the malt duty.24 On presenting the east Kent reform petition, 28 Feb., he claimed that he had already brought up between 20 and 30 such petitions from Kent, and was ‘convinced, that the tranquillity of that county, of the whole kingdom, depends upon the nature and successful issue of that great question’. He lodged a Greenwich petition for the town to be separately represented, 10 Mar., when he agreed with Hume that the system for balloting the militia was most objectionable. On 15 Mar. he declared that
the reform bill will have a most beneficial effect, by destroying the aristocratical influence which has too long prevailed in this House and by conferring the elective franchise on a class of individuals whose property will make them feel an interest in the welfare of the country.
He stated that the feeling of Kent was ‘decidedly in favour’ of it, 17 Mar., and duly voted for its second reading, 22 Mar. At another county meeting on the subject, 24 Mar., when he revealed that he had been unable to catch the Speaker’s eye in the preceding debate, he argued that the bill would lead to the ‘moral and political amelioration’ of the people and would prevent anarchy.25 On presenting the ensuing petition to the House, 25 Mar., he commented on the marked lack of opposition it had met with, even from Maidstone freemen who faced disfranchisement. He brought up the reform petition of the sheriff of Sussex, 18 Apr., and voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. Despite fears of a contest in Kent, he offered again, 22 Apr., and there were few doubts about his success. He united his interest with Thomas Rider, another reformer, and they canvassed together in several parts of the county, before Knatchbull finally withdrew.26 On 11 May he spoke of his ambition to finish the work of reform, even if the bill itself was not perfect, and indicated that as a delegate he would be bound to follow his constituents’ wishes and to vote in its favour. He was again returned very cheaply and without opposition.27 Although sceptical about its immediate benefits, he spoke in praise of the bill at reform dinners in Rochester and Cranbrook, 8, 10 June 1831.28
He objected to the London coal bill, 1 July 1831, because it threatened to extend the boundaries of the city into Kent. He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and on the 11th attended the meeting at which Althorp asked Whig Members to support government silently on reform, 11 July, though, according to Edward John Littleton*, he was one of the county Members ‘urging his crotchet’ against the division of counties.29 He later told his constituents that ‘during the late memorable parliamentary campaign, I was favoured with good health, so that I was never absent an hour from the debates’, and ‘when we came to the voting, which after all is the most essential point, I was always at my post’.30 He did, indeed, divide regularly with ministers on the bill’s details, though he voted against the total disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July, when they allowed it to retain one seat. He voted for the enfranchisement of Greenwich, 3 Aug., believing, ‘from the number and respectability of the inhabitants, that it will produce a most unobjectionable constituency’. He spoke and voted in favour of uniting Rochester with Chatham and Strood, 9 Aug., when he commented that ‘considerable disgust’ had arisen in Kent over the delays to the bill. Although it was the feature he liked least, he stated, 11 Aug., that ‘as the country has demanded the whole bill, I am bound to preserve the consistency of the measure and to vote for the division of counties’. The price of his acquiescence, however, was his support for Lord Chandos’s amendment to enfranchise £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., which he argued would increase the constituency of counties diminished by the enfranchisement of large towns, and ‘carries the principle of the bill into more effectual operation’. He added that
when I consider the class of people whom it is proposed to benefit, when I consider the large proportion of the county rates and poor rates which they sustain, I must say that I consider it nothing but an act of justice to confer the elective franchise upon the renting tenantry of England.
He denied that opinion in Kent had turned against the bill, 30 Aug., or that he had pledged himself to his constituents to support it, 15 Sept. As he had on 18 Mar., he urged the ‘absolute necessity’ of the establishment of a modified system of poor laws in Ireland, 12 Aug., 26 Sept. He voted against ministers on Sadler’s motion on the subject, 29 Aug., but with them on the Dublin, 23 Aug., and Liverpool elections, 5 Sept. He helped to prepare and bring in a bill to amend the laws relating to sewers, 17 Aug., advocated relief of agricultural distress, 13 Sept., and spoke, 16 Sept., and voted in defence of the Deacles, 27 Sept. He divided for the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept., the second reading of the Scottish bill, 23 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He signed the requisition for the Kent county meeting on 30 Sept. 1831, when he advocated reform and claimed that he would have introduced an amendment similar to Chandos’s, had it proved necessary.31
He voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, its committal, 20 Jan. 1832, and again for many of its details. He spoke in favour of reducing the malt duty at a meeting in Maidstone, 5 Jan., and waited on Althorp with a delegation of Kent and Sussex hop-growers to request the reduction or postponement of the hop duties, 20 Mar.32 He denied that landlords had too much influence over their tenants and indicated that he would vote for the retention of Chandos’s amendment, 1 Feb., but he divided with ministers against the production of information on Portugal, 9 Feb. He presented a petition complaining about the poor laws, but refused to endorse its demand for increased emigration unless a system of poor relief was first extended to Ireland, 3 Feb. He urged the use of more national resources to combat the spread of cholera, 14 Feb., and was in the minority of 13 against recommitting the anatomy bill, 27 Feb. He spoke in favour of continuing the informal arrangements which had developed for handling the enormous number of reform petitions coming before the House, 23 Feb., and advocated the inclusion of Ramsgate in the constituency of Sandwich, without forcing a division against ministers, 14 Mar. He voted for Hunt’s motion for inquiry into Peterloo, 15 Mar., and for Buxton’s for a select committee on colonial slavery, 24 May, to which he was named, 30 May. He voted for the third reading of the reform bill, 22 Mar., Ebrington’s motion for an address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry it unimpaired, 10 May, the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and against increasing the representation of Scotland, 1 June, when he agreed that consideration of the corn laws should be postponed to the following session. He voted in minorities against the Liverpool disfranchisement bill, 23 May, Baring’s bill to exclude insolvent debtors from Parliament, 6 June, and for a system of representation for New South Wales, 28 June. He divided for making permanent provision for the Irish poor by a tax on absentees, 19 June, and to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June. He voted with ministers for the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12, 16, 20 July, but against them on the Greek loan, 6 Aug. At a series of dinners to celebrate the success of reform that autumn, he defended his conduct in Parliament, repeatedly rebutted Tory criticisms that he was hostile to the agricultural interest and argued against excessive taxation and colonial slavery.33
At the general election of 1832 he was elected at the top of the poll for Kent West, which remained his seat for much of his life.34 He published his Minutes of Evidence before parliamentary committees and the Use of Pearson’s Plough in 1833, and he became chairman of the Maidstone quarter sessions and deputy lieutenant of Kent. He died in May 1857. His monument in Benenden Church recorded that ‘a true patriot, a kind and liberal landlord, an unfailing friend of the poor, faithful in every relation of public and private life, he served his generation according to the will of God’. He was succeeded by his eldest son, Thomas Twisden Hodges (1804-65), who sat as a Liberal for Rochester, 1835-7 and 1847-52.35
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. Sir J.R. Twisden, Fam. of Twysden and Twisden, 421-2.
- 2. Ibid.; IGI (Notts.); London Gazette, 15 Jan. 1793.
- 3. Cent. Kent. Stud. Twisden mss U49 C13/86, 91, 93.
- 4. Le Marchant, Althorp, 32.
- 5. Add. 40166, f. 68; J. Bonhote, Hist. Recs. of W. Kent Militia, 167, 177, 180-6.
- 6. PROB 11/1360/465; IR26/53/78; Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, i. 213; iii. 990.
- 7. Twisden, 417-19, 423-4; Gent. Mag. (1857), i. 735.
- 8. Kent Pollbook (1802), 240.
- 9. Twisden mss C13/5.
- 10. Kentish Chron. 16 Oct. 1812, 23 June 1818, 21 Mar. 1820.
- 11. Ibid. 14 Mar. 1820; Twisden mss C13/7.
- 12. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C190/1, Knatchbull to Stanhope, 14 Dec.; Kentish Chron. 2 Jan., 21 Dec. 1821, 14 June 1822.
- 13. PP (1819), vol. x. pt. a. 371-3; (1826), iv. 133-42, 182-7; Wellington mss WP1/864/23.
- 14. Kentish Chron. 20, 23 June 1826.
- 15. Ibid. 25 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 2 May 1828.
- 16. Kentish Chron. 28 Oct. 1828; Report of Speeches at Kent County Meeting (1828), pp. xi-xii, 30-32.
- 17. Kentish Chron. 9, 30 Dec. 1828, 16 Mar. 1830.
- 18. Twisden mss C13/151.
- 19. Kentish Chron. 3 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 6 Aug. 1830; Add. 51572; Cent. Kent. Stud. Honywood mss U221 O3.
- 20. Maidstone Jnl. 10 Aug. 1830.
- 21. Ibid. 14 Sept., 26 Oct. 1830; Medway Archives and Local Stud. Cent. Rochester city recs. RCA/A1/6, 621.
- 22. J. L. and B. Hammond, Village Labourer, 254; M. McNay, Portrait of Kentish Village, 25-26; Cent. Kent. Stud. Knatchbull mss U951 C14/3.
- 23. PP (1831), viii. 334-45; T.L. Hodges, Letter to Poor Law Commissioners (1843), 2-8; Three Diaries, 30.
- 24. Kentish Chron. 1 Mar. 1831.
- 25. Maidstone Jnl. 29 Mar. 1831.
- 26. Ibid. 5, 12, 26 Apr., 3, 10 May; The Times, 30 Apr.; Kentish Chron. 3 May 1831.
- 27. The Times, 12, 28 May; Maidstone Jnl. 17 May 1831.
- 28. Maidstone Jnl. 14 June 1831.
- 29. Hatherton diary.
- 30. Maidstone Jnl. 8 Nov. 1831.
- 31. Ibid. 4 Oct. 1831.
- 32. Ibid. 10 Jan.; Kentish Gazette, 23 Mar. 1832.
- 33. Kentish Gazette, 22 June; Maidstone Jnl. 17, 31 July, 28 Aug., 18 Sept.; Kentish Chron. 31 July 1832.
- 34. Maidstone Jnl. 18 Dec. 1832.
- 35. F. Haslewood, Parish of Benenden, 2-5; Twisden, 449-50; Cent. Kent. Stud. Cranbrook deeds U78 T335.