PHILLPOTTS, John (1775-1849), of Bear Land, Gloucester

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

Constituency

Dates

1830 - 1831
1832 - 1834
1837 - 1847

Family and Education

b. July 1775, 1st s. of John Phillpotts of Langaren, Herefs. and Sibella, da. and h. of Samuel Codrington Glover of Bridgwater, Som. educ. Gloucester Coll. sch.; called, I. Temple 1822. m. 19 Sept. 1797, Sarah, da. of Thomas Chandler of Ashcroft House, Glos., 1 surv. s. suc. fa. 1814. d. 29 June 1849.

Offices Held

Mayor, Gloucester 1819-20.

Biography

Phillpotts’s father sold his family estate in Herefordshire and bought a pottery and brick factory at Bridgwater, but moved in 1782 to Gloucester, where he became the landlord of the Bell Inn, the headquarters of the Tory True Blue Club, and land agent to the dean and chapter. His younger brother Henry (1778-1869) was the high church bishop of Exeter, 1831-69.1 He practised as an attorney in Gloucester, serving as registrar to the dean and chapter, before being called belatedly to the bar in 1822, after which he went the Oxford circuit and Gloucester sessions. He had acted as agent for the Tory 6th duke of Beaufort in the Gloucestershire and Monmouthshire elections of 1812, but in 1816 he performed the same role for the victorious Whig candidate for Gloucester, Edward Webb, and two years later for Webb and Frederick Berkeley*.2 He served as mayor of Gloucester and became an increasingly prominent figure in the city, helping to complete the vitally important Gloucester-Berkeley canal project, promoting the building of Worcester Street and a new cattle market and organizing the rescue of the Turner and Morris bank in the winter of 1825-6.3 His enhanced local status encouraged his political ambitions, and there was pressure on him to offer for the city at the general election of 1826. He declined, but appeared on the hustings where he angrily repudiated accusations of disloyalty levelled against him by Webb’s supporters and made it clear that he felt free to stand in future.4 In evidence before the select committee on borough polls, 15 May 1827, he made several practical suggestions to help shorten the duration of contests.5 At the general election of 1830 he offered for Gloucester, championing the cause of ‘independence’ and claiming that as a local man he could better represent the city’s interests. His politics were ambiguous, for he could not see ‘where the line of distinction’ between Whig and Tory was to be drawn, but he confirmed his opposition to the game laws and support for retrenchment and tax cuts. He was returned in second place behind Webb, defeating the Tory sitting Member Cooper, and at a subsequent dinner he adopted a more radical tone, declaring that ‘my cause shall be the cause of the people’ and ‘the aristocracy have too great an ascendancy’, and welcoming the recent events in France.6

In the Wellington ministry’s list of September 1830 Phillpotts was placed among the ‘good doubtfuls’, with the additional note that ‘surely he will be a friend’, which was presumably based on the impending announcement of his brother’s appointment to Exeter.7 Henry Brougham*, on the other hand, counted him as a gain for the Whigs. His vote with ministers in the crucial civil list division, 15 Nov., provoked outrage in Gloucester, where effigies of him were burned in the streets and accusations made that he had been influenced by his brother’s appointment.8 It is more likely that he was anxious not to offend ministers at a time when controversy raged over his brother’s retention of the living of Stanhope. He defended Henry’s position in the House, 17, 22 Nov., but ascertained from Lord Grey’s new government that they would not permit such an act of pluralism, 15 Dec.; an alternative arrangement was later made.9 He complained that the membership of the select committee on the reduction of salaries consisted of former and current ministers and others hostile to economy, 10 Dec. 1830. He presented Holderness and Gloucester petitions for tax cuts, 4, 9 Feb. 1831. He moved for the separation of pensions from the civil list, 25 Mar., claiming that he was trying to assist ministers in overcoming the vested interests of the aristocracy, ‘the influential vampires of the state’, which was essential at a time when the people were ‘groaning under the weight of excessive taxation’. He explained that his earlier vote on the civil list had been determined by his wish to have the subject considered by a committee of the whole House rather than by a select committee. The motion was withdrawn for procedural reasons. He presented a Gloucester petition for reform and the ballot, 26 Feb., expressed his ‘entire concurrence’ in Gloucester corporation’s reform petition the same day, and presented petitions from Gloucester and elsewhere in favour of the government’s bill, 9, 28 Mar., 18 Apr. He voted for the second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing dissolution he announced that he would not stand again for Gloucester, where continuing anger over his civil list vote made his return doubtful, but his friends persuaded him to offer on the understanding that he would be put to no expense. He denounced the ‘coalition’ entered into by Webb and Berkeley ‘for the purpose of crushing and putting him down’, defended his parliamentary record and ‘undeviating attention’ to the interests of the city, claiming that ‘he had never received a letter which was not answered by return of post’, affirmed his support for the reform bill and ‘urged the necessity of Gloucester being represented by two citizens’. He came bottom of the poll by a very large margin.10

Phillpotts was conspicuous at Gloucester reform meetings in 1832, and at the general election that year he was returned in second place behind Berkeley but ahead of a Conservative.11 He held the seat, with one interruption, until his retirement in 1847, sustaining a ‘reputation as a consistent politician of a somewhat ultra school’, who favoured ‘extension of the franchise [and] vote by ballot’ and was ‘one of the earliest advocates for ... repeal of the corn laws’. According to an obituarist, he was ‘at all times bland, courteous and laboriously attentive to his duties’ and ‘had the art of inspiring his ... supporters with a very large amount of personal regard’.12 He died in June 1849 and left his entire estate, including land at Porthgwidden, Cornwall, to his only child, the Rev. Thomas Phillpotts (1807-90), vicar of St. Feock, Cornwall.13 His wife died shortly after him, but an election verse of 1830 claimed that he had turned her out of his house ‘with a pair of black eyes’, and local directories confirm that they had lived at separate addresses.14

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Terry Jenkins

Notes

  • 1. Oxford DNB; R. Shutte, Life of Dr. Phillpotts, i. 4-5. Phillpotts senior left all his property to his wife, whose will has not been found; his personalty was sworn under £3,500 (PROB 11/1557/369; IR26/1620/452).
  • 2. Gent. Mag. (1849), ii. 205; Gloucester Jnl. 7 July 1849; Badminton mss Fm M 3/6/1; G. Goodman, ‘Pre-Reform Elections in Gloucester City, 1789-1831’, Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. lxxxiv. (1965), 148-50, 154-5.
  • 3. VCH Glos. iv. 136-7, 153; Gloucester Jnl. 26 Dec. 1825, 9 Jan. 1826; Glos. RO, Counsel mss D6330, f. 21.
  • 4. Gloucester Jnl. 29 May, 12 June 1826.
  • 5. PP (1826-7), iv. 1128-32.
  • 6. Gloucester Jnl. 3, 10, 31 July, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 7. Henry Phillpotts accepted the offer of a bishopric in July, which was confirmed as Exeter in Sept. (Wellington mss WP1/1127/5; 1140/27).
  • 8. Gloucester Jnl. 20, 27 Nov., 14 Dec. 1830.
  • 9. Shutte, i. 282-95.
  • 10. Gloucester Jnl. 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 11. Ibid. 21 Jan., 19 May, 14 July, 1, 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 12. Ibid. 7 July 1849.
  • 13. PROB 11/2096/538; IR26/1846/398.
  • 14. Gloucester Pub. Lib. Glos. Coll. NF 10.16 (5).

Go To Section