KEMP, Thomas Read (1782-1844), of Dale Park, Lewes Castle and Brighton, Suss.

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



10 May 1811 - 28 Feb. 1816
21 Feb. 1823 - 1826
1826 - 14 Apr. 1837

Family and Education

b. 23 Dec. 1782, o. surv. s. of Thomas Kemp† of Lewes and Ann, da. and h. of Henry Read of Brookland. educ. Westminster 1797; St. John’s, Camb. 1801; M. Temple 1804. m. (1) 12 July 1806, Frances (d. 8 Mar. 1825), da. of Sir Francis Baring†, 1st bt., of Stratton Park, Hants. 4s. 6da.; (2) 26 Nov. 1832, Frances Margaretta, da. of Charles Watkin John Shakerley of Somerford, Cheshire, wid. of Vigors Harvey of Killaine Castle, co. Wexford, 1s. suc. fa. 1811. d. 20 Dec. 1844.

Offices Held

Lt. Ringmer yeoman cav. 1804-7.

Commr. Brighton 1825-7.


Kemp had resigned his Lewes seat in 1816 to join his brother-in-law the Rev. George Baring in founding a religious sect, which ‘attracted notoriety, chiefly from the rank and fortune of some of ... its most prominent members’. Doctrinal details are sketchy, but it appears that Unitarian sentiment motivated their secession from the established church. As the ‘leading citizen’ in Brighton and Lewes, Kemp provided places of worship there and was a regular preacher, though he was no great orator. Disillusion with the vagaries of some of his co-religionists seems to have prompted his return to the Anglican fold in 1823, when he resumed a fashionable lifestyle and his political interests; the sect disintegrated two years later.1 It was also in 1823 that work began on ‘Kemptown’, a development of over 100 large houses to the east of Brighton on land which Kemp held as joint lord of the manor. Financial necessity may have given rise to this speculation, as he had apparently run though much of his personal fortune as well as his wife’s. The Nash-inspired estate was subsequently described as ‘one of the most magnificent assemblages of private dwellings in the kingdom’, but the houses were not taken up in large numbers until after 1830, by which time Kemp had been obliged to sell many of them incomplete, leaving others to realize the profits. Lack of funds prevented the completion of the project on the grand scale first envisaged, and scuppered plans for a similar venture on the other side of Brighton, giving credence to one historian’s assessment that Kemp possessed ‘no business capacity whatsover’. Similarly uncompleted was ‘The Temple’, the Brighton house where he resided after selling Hurstmonceaux Park in 1819. Replete with architectural eccentricities, this was built to the dimensions of Solomon’s Temple, perhaps betraying the enthusiasm for freemasonry which led to his appointment as deputy grandmaster in Sussex. By 1827 he had ceased to live there, having adopted one of the Kemptown houses as his Brighton residence.2 In 1822 he purchased Dale Park, possibly with a view to cultivating an interest at nearby Arundel. A vacancy for the borough occurred the following year and Kemp, professing ‘the moderate principles of a Whig’, was comfortably returned ahead of a radical.3

He was a fairly regular attender who voted with the Whig opposition to Lord Liverpool’s ministry on most major issues. He would have divided for parliamentary reform, 24 Apr., had he not been shut out,4 but did so, 2 June 1823, 27 Apr. 1826. However, he voted against Catholic relief, 21 Apr. 1825, as he had during his previous spell in the Commons. On 4 May 1824 he introduced a bill to establish a national registry of births, marriages and deaths, but it did not progress beyond its first reading.5 Later that year he declined an invitation to contest New Shoreham and signalled his intention of returning to his former seat at Lewes, where his strong interest ensured that he topped the poll at the general election of 1826.6 Having severed his connection with Arundel, he sold Dale Park to John Smith* the following year. He presented a Lewes anti-Catholic petition, 2 Mar.,7 and divided against relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He presented a Sussex petition for relief of the landed interest, 27 Mar.,8 and voted for information on the conduct of the Lisburn magistrates towards an Orange march, 29 Mar. 1827. He divided for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., but against Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He opposed the duke of Wellington’s ministry by voting against restricting the circulation of Scottish and Irish small notes, 5 June, and the additional churches bill, 30 June 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, but in fact he continued to vote or pair against it, 6, 18, 30 Mar. 1829. He voted to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 May. He said he was ‘not unwilling’ to support a grant for the ‘much criticized’ improvements to Buckingham House, 12 May, but took the opportunity to condemn the window tax as a general cause of ‘architectural deformities’. He presented a Sussex petition for inquiry into the state of the wool trade, 14 May 1829. He divided for Knatchbull’s amendment to the address on distress, 4 Feb. 1830, and acted regularly with the revived Whig opposition later that session, particularly on economy and tax cutting motions. He voted for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb., inquiry into the Newark petition complaining of the duke of Newcastle’s interference, 1 Mar., to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 5 Mar., and for Russell’s reform motion, 28 May. He maintained that the agricultural interest would be ‘exceedingly gratified’ by the sale of beer bill, 23 Feb. He presented a Brighton petition in favour of Jewish emancipation, 13 May, and voted accordingly, 17 May: his earlier gift of land in Brighton for a Jewish cemetery is further indication that his ‘rational’ religious outlook found Judaism doctrinally more acceptable than Catholicism.9 He voted for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June 1830. Reports that his support for the sale of beer bill had placed his seat at Lewes in jeopardy proved groundless, and he topped the poll again at the general election that summer. At a celebratory dinner, he informed his audience that in Catholic countries ‘they would see houses falling into decay and other effects of ignorance and superstition, whereas in a Protestant country all wore the appearance of cheerfulness and prosperity, resulting from the industry of the inhabitants’. At the election for Sussex he seconded Herbert Barrett Curteis, the successful Whig-inclined candidate.10

The ministry regarded Kemp as one of the ‘bad doubtfuls’, but he was absent from the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, having ‘retired to dinner, not anticipating so immediate a division’.11 He presented anti-slavery petitions, 9 Dec. 1830, 15 Mar. 1831. At the Lewes meeting on parliamentary reform, 26 Jan., he declared his support for the ballot and remarked that, while ‘he had never belonged to any party’, he was proud that Lord Grey’s ministry had solicited his support for their forthcoming measure;12 he presented the resulting petition, 3 Feb. He proclaimed the ‘general satisfaction of all classes’ in Sussex with the bill and added his personal approval, 9 Mar. On presenting a friendly petition from Lewes, 15 Mar., he repeated his preference, shared with a ‘great body’ of his constituents, for the ballot, but accepted that the ministerial plan was sufficient. He also spoke in favour of extending that evening’s session to allow more time for petitions to be received. He divided for the bill’s second reading, 22 Mar. Attending the Sussex meeting on reform, 9 Apr., he praised those borough owners who were willing to sacrifice their influence and support the bill.13 He voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, when he dismissed Hardinge’s claim that opinion in Lewes had turned against the bill and maintained that his own conduct had brought ‘the most satisfactory assurances of success on all sides’. The ensuing dissolution apparently prevented him from presenting a Brighton petition for two Members to be given to the town. He was returned unopposed for Lewes, although he had been obliged to curtail his canvass owing to ‘an affliction of the eyes’.14

He divided for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and steadily for its details. He voted against the complete disfranchisement of Saltash, on which ministers declined to give a lead, 26 July. He believed the people of Brighton were ‘too sensible of the benefit of the reform bill to the country at large to throw any obstacle in its way by making any unreasonable demands for themselves’, 5 Aug. He defended the right of urban freeholders to vote in counties, 17 Aug., disputing the assertion that the Birmingham Political Union had wielded a disproportionate influence in recent Warwickshire elections. He voted for the bill’s passage, 21 Sept., and Lord Ebrington’s confidence motion, 10 Oct. He divided with the minorities for O’Connell’s motion to swear in the Dublin election committee, 29 July, and for printing the Waterford petition urging that the Irish yeomanry be disarmed, 11 Aug. At a Sussex meeting on reform, 4 Nov., he expressed regret at the delay in settling the matter but was consoled that this had ‘generated a more deep rooted and extensive conviction of its justice and expediency and had served to draw a palpable line between those who were friends of the people and those who were not’.15 He divided for the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and steadily for its details, the third reading, 22 Mar., and Ebrington’s motion for an address asking the king to appoint only ministers committed to carrying an unimpaired measure, 10 May 1832. He voted for the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May. He divided with ministers on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 20 (paired), 26 July, and relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. However, he was in the minority for the immediate abolition of colonial slavery, 24 May 1832. At the general election later that year he was returned unopposed for Lewes.

Kemp’s second marriage late in 1832, like his first, was to ‘a lady of fortune’, but this could not halt his slide into deep insolvency, which obliged him to resign his seat in 1837 and live abroad; most of his Brighton property was sold in 1842. He was declared an outlaw in January 1844 after failing to surrender to a suit brought against him. The family historian postulates that his sudden death in Paris in December 1844 may have been by his own hand, but this is contradicted by other sources. He made arrangements for clearing his debts and left his remaining Brighton estate to his son from his second marriage, Frederick Shakerley Kemp. While his ‘mania for building’ had ruined him, it left Kemptown as an enduring monument, and his ‘many philanthropic acts’ also helped shape the growth of Brighton.16

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Howard Spencer


  • 1. R.H. Carne, The Proper Deity (1818); A. Dale, Fashionable Brighton, 51-52, 61; C. Musgrave, Life in Brighton, 194; Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 442.
  • 2. Dale, 53-58, 61-62, 78; Musgrave, 178-81; E.W. Gilbert, Brighton, 18-19; Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 442.
  • 3. Brighton Gazette, 13, 20, 27 Feb. 1823.
  • 4. The Times, 26 Apr. 1823.
  • 5. Ibid. 5, 6 May 1824.
  • 6. Horsham Mus. mss 185, Kemp to Medwin, 13 Dec. 1824; Brighton Gazette, 6 Apr., 8, 15 June 1826.
  • 7. The Times, 3 Mar. 1827.
  • 8. Ibid. 28 Mar. 1827.
  • 9. A. Dale, Brighton: Town and People, 179.
  • 10. Brighton Gazette, 8 July, 12, 19 Aug. 1830.
  • 11. The Times, 16 Nov. 1830.
  • 12. Ibid. 28 Jan. 1831.
  • 13. Brighton Gazette, 14 Apr. 1831.
  • 14. Ibid. 21, 28 Apr.; Brighton Guardian, 11 May 1831.
  • 15. The Times, 5 Nov. 1831.
  • 16. Dale, Fashionable Brighton, 56, 65-69; F.H. Kemp, Hist. Fams. Kemp and Kempe, 27; PROB 11/2010/49.