PITT, Joseph (1759-1842), of Cirencester, Glos.; Eastcourt House, Crudwell, Wilts. and 36 Great George Street, Mdx.
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Family and Educationbap. 27 Nov. 1759,1 4th but 2nd surv. s. of Joseph Pitt, carpenter, of Badgeworth, nr. Cheltenham, Glos. and w. Ann Golding of Brokenborough, Wilts. m. (1) 29 Aug. 1786, Mary (d. 1788), da. of Cornelius Robbins of Didmarton, Glos., 1s. d.v.p.; (2) Ann (d. 13 July 1792), da. of Andrew Daubeny of Bristol, s.p.; (3) Ann, da. of Joseph Orlidge of Bristol, 4s. 2da. (?1 d.v.p.).2 d. 6 Feb. 1842.
Bailiff, Cirencester by 1790, steward 1793; high steward, Cricklade 1812-26; capital burgess, Wootton Bassett 1814-30.
Pitt, who came from an obscure family on the Gloucestershire and Wiltshire border, was one of the few first generation self-made men to enter Parliament during the early nineteenth century.3 His paternal grandfather, Joseph Pitt of Brokenborough, married Elizabeth Brown at Malmesbury, 16 Sept. 1723. Their son Joseph, who was baptized 7 Oct. 1724, married Ann Golding and moved to Little Witcombe in the parish of Badgeworth, where they had four sons: John (d. 1 May 1776, aged 22); Isaac (d. 6 May 1808, aged 52); Joseph (d. 12 Feb. 1758, aged 14 days); and another Joseph, who was baptized in late 1759. This Joseph Pitt’s first two wives died soon after their marriages, the second from swallowing some loose hairs from her toothbrush while pregnant. His third wife died, 11 July 1819, in Clarges Street, where he occasionally resided when in London.4 His friend the Rev. Francis Witts wrote in 1825 that Pitt was
one of those fortunate members of the legal profession, whom great sagacity, lucky opportunity and the skill of seizing on favourable circumstances have elevated from a very humble to a very prosperous situation in life. His enterprises as attorney, banker, speculator in land, and many other ways of gaining or losing fortunes, have been eminently successful.5
As a boy he ‘used to hold gentlemen’s horses for a penny’, but he was bred to business by an attorney and established a successful practice in Cirencester.6 It was there that he became a partner in the bank of Pitt, Gardner, Croome, Bowley and Wood, which had branches in Tetbury and Cheltenham, where he was a partner in the brewery of Gardner, Pitt and Company.7 He was also a partner in the London bank of Bosanquet, Beachcroft, Pitt and Anderson.8 Pitt invested speculatively in land, purchasing the manor of Minety, Gloucestershire, from Lord Rivers for £21,000 in 1791, and the neighbouring estate of Eastcourt, which he made his principal residence, from the Earle family for £28,000 in 1807. Both properties were improved by the passage of Enclosure Acts (in 1811 and 1816 respectively), and the same was done (in 1801) at Cheltenham, where in 1800 he acquired a considerable area of agricultural land, known as the Marsh, to the north of the town, from the earl of Essex. His first contribution to the architecture of Cheltenham was the Royal Crescent of 1812, and in the early 1820s he began to develop his estate there as the new spa of Pittville.9
In 1812 Pitt sold his legal practice to Joseph Bevir and, although he used his services occasionally, he mostly relied on another Cirencester attorney, Joseph Randolph Mullings†. Pitt had long been connected with the householder borough of Cirencester, and as bailiff and returning officer, appointed by the patrons, the Earls Bathurst, he evidently had some influence over elections there. It was, however, for the enlarged freeholder borough of Cricklade, where he had purchased the lordship of the manor from the 2nd earl of Carnarvon the year before (and was to purchase the rest of his interest in 1815), that he was first returned to Parliament, at the general election of 1812. He was usually credited with the control of one seat on the ministerial interest, which he occupied himself until 1831. It was also in 1812 that he bought outright the patronage of the rotten corporation borough of Malmesbury from Edmund Estcourt, and he returned its two Members without any serious threat to his position until 1832. His interest at Wootton Bassett, a scot and lot borough, which he had acquired from James Kibblewhite in the early 1810s, did not last into the following decade, as his candidates were unsuccessful at the general elections of 1820 and 1826. Nevertheless, he had proprietorial control over more seats than any of the aristocratic boroughmongers of Wiltshire.
Pitt, who in late 1819 signed the Wiltshire requisition against the holding of a county meeting on Peterloo, was an almost silent general supporter of the Liverpool administration in the Commons, where he served on a fair number of select committees.10 He was granted three weeks’ leave on urgent private business, 22 June 1820. He divided with ministers against the motion censuring their conduct towards Queen Caroline, 6 Feb. 1821. He voted against Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 30 Apr. 1822. He divided against Maberly’s motion on the state of the revenue, 6 Mar., and reducing the barracks grant, 28 May, but was listed as voting with opposition for repealing the duty on husbandry horses, 5 Mar., and the additional malt duty, 21 Mar. 1821. He voted against disqualifying civil officers of the ordnance from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr., and parliamentary reform, 9 May. He was actively involved in the progress of the Malmesbury enclosure bill, which received royal assent, 8 June 1821, and he was probably involved in the passage of other pieces of local legislation.11 He voted against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, 13 Mar. 1822. He sided with ministers against abolishing certain taxes, 12, 18 Mar., and repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr. 1823. He divided in the minorities for inquiry into the East Indian sugar duties, 22 May, and for recommitting the silk bill, 9 June 1823. He presented a petition from the licensed victuallers of Cheltenham against the beer bill, 11 May, and voted in the minority against going into committee on the beer duties bill, 24 May 1824.12 Having voted against the usury bill, 17 Feb., he divided for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb. 1825. He was not listed as voting on the Catholic question, 1 Mar., but divided against relief, 21 Apr., 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825. The foundation stone of his most grandiose project, the Pittville Pump Room, was laid on 4 May. His bank survived the financial crisis of late 1825, but only through the action of John Gardner, who made a very fast return journey to London to collect sufficient specie to prevent the branch from defaulting. Yet the crash spelt the end of the speculative boom, and the building operations at Pittville were soon said to be ‘in abeyance’.13 He was credited with an opposition vote against receiving the report on the salary of the president of the board of trade, 10 Apr., but he voted with ministers against reforming the representation of Edinburgh, 13 Apr. 1826.
Pitt, who divided in the protectionist minority against the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827, voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828. The duke of Wellington, the prime minister, visited Pittville in August 1828, and ‘expressed himself in very high terms as to the beauty of this delightful spot, and the manner in which the property had been laid out’.14 Although Pitt was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, as likely to side ‘with government’ on Catholic emancipation, he wrote to Thomas Henry Bucknall Estcourt*, 6 Feb. 1829, that
I lament extremely that Wiltshire and other counties were not more forward in signifying their desires. If they had, I think that that which passed last night in our House [the address confirming ministers’ intention to propose emancipation] would not have taken place, and I fear that we shall now have increased difficulties to contend with, for you know how many persons are governed more by the opinion of others than their own. I ... concur with those who think that admitting Catholics to place and power [is] open to great danger to our church and state.
He signed the Wiltshire anti-Catholic declaration (as Walter Long† informed Bucknall Estcourt a few days later), and divided against emancipation, 6, 18 Mar. 1829.15 He voted against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb. 1830. He divided against Jewish emancipation, 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. At the Wiltshire Society dinner, 19 May, he declared that ‘there was no man, not excepting the county Members, who felt more interest for the county of Wiltshire than he did’.16 At about this time he sold his remaining property in Wootton Bassett to the 3rd earl of Clarendon, and he left the corporation in June 1830.17
A gala opening ceremony was held for the Pittville Pump Room, 20 July 1830, but Pitt stayed away, possibly because he was already disillusioned with an enterprise which he later claimed had cost him £40,000.18 He was elected for Cricklade for the last time at the general election the following month, when he was unable to ‘find an opening’ for Thomas Gladstone*.19 He was listed by ministers among their ‘friends’, but was absent from the division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, which led to their resignation. He was granted a fortnight’s leave because of the disturbed state of his neighbourhood, 25 Nov. 1830, and again, on urgent private business, 16 Feb. 1831. He voted against the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar., and for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution. Pitt, who signed the requisition for the return of Lord Robert Edward Henry Somerset* for Gloucestershire, retired at the subsequent dissolution. In an address to the electors, 25 Apr. 1831, he declared that ‘it has required much resolution to make me decline soliciting to be replaced in the honourable situation to which you elevated me, but I find its arduous duties beyond my strength, at my advanced age’.20 The real reason for his withdrawal was said to be his increasing unpopularity and failing fortunes. However, he put up (and voted for) a supposed opponent of reform, the former Member Thomas Calley, who was elected with the other sitting Member, Robert Gordon, against another reformer after a sharp contest.21 On 30 May he apparently attended the reform dinner in Malmesbury, where his interest, which was challenged that month, collapsed after the passage of the reform bill the following year.22 Illness prevented him from presiding at the Wiltshire Society’s annual dinner, 23 June 1831.23 His influence elsewhere had been eclipsed, but he may have retained a partial interest at Cricklade for a few years.
Since the mid-1820s Pitt’s speculative ventures had gone awry, not least because of the success of the rival spas in Cheltenham.24 Witts noted of the Pittville Pump Room in 1830 that
the spirited proprietor and projector ... who in the course of a long life has risen from the lowest rank of society to wealth and consequence, must, I fear, find this an unprofitable concern, less advantageous than if the money it has cost had been invested in three per cent annuities.25
His financial affairs became more and more encumbered, with crippling debts being only partially offset by the sale of some of his properties, for example of the manor of Malmesbury to Joseph Neeld* in 1840. He died in February 1842, ‘highly respected by all who knew him’.26 He was buried at Crudwell, where his monument bore the arms of the celebrated family of Pitt, to whom he was not known to be related. It was estimated that he owed £150,000 and that the interest payments on his mortgages came to £6,000 a year, compared to the mere £4,000 he received in revenue from the properties. Another Joseph Pitt, a fox-hunting parson, who was the only son of Pitt’s estranged first son Cornelius (1787-1840), vicar of Rendcomb, began a suit in chancery, on behalf of himself and others, for the settlement of their claims against the estate. Though most had received substantial gifts during their father’s lifetime, there was to be nothing more for Pitt’s surviving sons: his heir Joseph (1796-1869), an attorney; William Gregson (1798-1846), the manager of the County of Gloucester Bank at Cheltenham, into which his father’s bank had been merged; Charles (1803-74), vicar of Malmesbury; and George Hicks, an Indian judge. A ruling was eventually given in favour of the main claimants, especially Mullings, who had lent Pitt over £50,000, and thereby came to purchase and live at Eastcourt. Other properties were sold at auction in 1843 and 1845, Neeld purchasing the manor of Cricklade. The ill-fated Pittville Pump Room, never a great commercial success, was acquired by the town council of Cheltenham in 1890.27
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. IGI (London).
- 2. Wilts. RO, Mullings mss 374/679.
- 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, iv. 806; I. R. Christie, British ‘Non-Elite’ MPs, 18.
- 4. Cricklade Mus. mss 1051; IGI (Glos., Wilts.); Gent. Mag. (1792), ii. 768; (1811), ii. 93.
- 5. Diary of Cotswold Parson ed. D. Verey, 42-43.
- 6. Life of Campbell, i. 286.
- 7. Pitt’s business correspondence can be found among the collections of his associates (Glos. RO D1388, D2025, D3495).
- 8. F.G. Hilton Price, London Bankers (1890-1), 19.
- 9. R. Howes, ‘Joseph Pitt and Pittville’, Glos. Hist. Stud. vi (1974-5), 58-61; R. Howes, ‘Joseph Pitt, Landowner’, ibid. vii (1976), 20-24; S. Blake, Pittville Pump Room (unpaginated); R. Howes, Pittville, 5-9, 11-17, 19-25.
- 10. Devizes Gazette, 4 Nov. 1819; Session of Parl. 1825, p. 480.
- 11. CJ, lxxvi. 48, 115, 118, 125, 249, 336-7, 366, 426.
- 12. The Times, 12 May 1824.
- 13. E. Humphris and E.C. Willoughby, At Cheltenham Spa, 157-8; G. Hart, Hist. Cheltenham, 198; Diary of Cotswold Parson, 53.
- 14. Blake, Pittville Pump Room.
- 15. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 X114.
- 16. Salisbury Jnl. 24 May 1830.
- 17. Warws. RO MI 247, Philips Mems. ii. 112; Wilts. RO, Wootton Bassett borough recs. G26/110/2.
- 18. Blake, Pittville Pump Room.
- 19. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 26, 28, 29 June 1830.
- 20. Gloucester Jnl. 16 Apr.; Devizes Gazette, 28 Apr. 1831.
- 21. The Times, 9, 27 May 1831; Cricklade Pollbook (1831), 22.
- 22. J.T. Bird, Hist. Malmesbury, 160, 214, 229.
- 23. Salisbury Jnl. 30 June 1830.
- 24. Blake, Pittville, 25-43.
- 25. Diary of Cotswold Parson, 86.
- 26. Gloucester Jnl. 12 Feb. 1842.
- 27. Mullings mss 374/373, 679; Blake, Pittville, 45-48; Humphris and Willoughby, 156-60; Cricklade Mus. mss 1051; IGI (Glos.); Diary of Cotswold Parson, 43, 87; Sir R. Graham, Fox-Hunting Recollections, 43-45.