SMITH, Christopher (?1749-1835), of 7 Adam Street, Adelphi, Mdx. and Starborough Castle, Lingfield, Surr.
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Family and Educationb. ?1749, s. of a farmer at Harwell, nr. Abingdon, Berks. m. (1) 6 Sept. 1785,1 Catherine (d. 10 Feb. 1802)2, da. of James Church of Norwich,3 2s. 1da.4; (2) 22 Oct. 1807, Eleanor Wilkington.5 d. 20 Jan. 1835.
Common councilman, London 1800-7, alderman 1807-d., sheriff 1807-8, ld. mayor 1817-18.
Pres. St. Thomas’s hosp. 1818-d.
Dir. Atlas Assurance Co. 1812.
Smith had risen from humble and obscure rural origins to become a prosperous London wine merchant, with premises at 20 and 21 Queen Street, Cheapside. He took in his sons as partners on their coming of age, and in about 1820 added Edward Woodhouse, who married his only daughter Catherine Ann, with £12,000, in 1828. His own active involvement in the business had ceased by early 1825.6 An alderman of London for almost 28 years, he had purchased the estate of Starborough Castle in eastern Surrey from Sir Thomas Turton, Member for Southwark, in 1812.7 At the general election of 1820, when he was about 70 years of age, he stood again for the open and venal borough of St. Albans, where he had been turned out after one Parliament in 1818.8 He comfortably topped the poll in a contest with two rivals.
As in the 1812 Parliament, Smith, who had a distant radical past, gave general support to the Liverpool ministry, though he occasionally took an independent line on specific issues. In the words of an obituary, ‘he was no orator’, and lacked ‘the art of speechifying’; but he was by no means a silent Member. He voted against economies in revenue collection, 4 July, and voiced his support for the aliens bill, 12 July 1820. He ‘deprecated the language of the answers’ which Queen Caroline had returned to addresses of support for her, 31 Jan., voted in defence of ministers’ conduct towards her, 6 Feb., and on 12 Feb. 1821 objected to the proposed grant of £50,000 to her, which he thought her unscrupulous advisers would use ‘to increase that ferment, and perpetuate those disturbances, which had so long injured the public interests’. He also reproved the government for offering so large a sum at a time of economic distress, and complained of the ‘immense annuity’ enjoyed by the prince of Saxe Coburg. In a discussion on agricultural distress, 20 Feb., he took Sir Isaac Coffin to task for facetiously advising farmers to stop aping gentlemen: they were already in ‘a state of sufficient difficulty’.9 He divided, as previously, against Catholic claims, 28 Feb. He suggested his notion of a fair price for bread in current circumstances, 15 Mar. He voted against parliamentary reform, 9 May, and paired against mitigation of the punishment for forgery, 23 May. He approved the principle of Martin’s bill to prevent cruelty to horses, 1 June, and successfully proposed that asses be brought within its scope; but he failed in his attempts to amend Smith’s bankruptcy bill, 4 June, and the metropolis gas light bill, 6 June 1821.10 He supported Alderman Curtis’s motion for inquiry into the orphans’ fund coal duties, 20 Feb. 1822.11 Although he voted with government against the opposition call for further tax reductions, 21 Feb., he said on 28 Feb. that the country was ‘disappointed’ that they had offered no remedy for agricultural distress other than a small diminution of the malt duty. That day he divided in the minority for inquiry into the assault on Alderman Waithman* at the queen’s funeral. He spoke and voted against abolition of one of the joint-postmasterships, arguing that concession on this point would invite attacks on all offices held under the crown, 13 Mar. He voted against Canning’s bill to relieve Catholic peers, 30 Apr. On 24 May he presented a petition from the guardians of Charlton against the poor removal bill and two London parish petitions in favour of the cruelty to animals bill. Later that day he objected to the principle of Bennet’s public house licensing bill,12 which he again opposed on its third reading, 27 June, when he said that it ‘pressed too heavily on the publicans’. He divided with government on the lord advocate’s dealings with the Scottish press, 25 June, and spoke against reduction of the salt duties, 28 June;13 but he voted in the minority for inquiry into the Calcutta bankers’ grievances, 4 July, and expressed his anxiety that nothing beyond the ‘just debts’ of the late queen should become a burden on the public, 31 July 1822.14
On the beer duties bill, 24 Mar. 1823, Smith said that it was desirable to get public houses out of the hands of the brewers. He spoke and voted against the measure at later stages, 12 May, 13 (when he admitted that he was ‘not in the habit of opposing’ the chancellor of the exchequer), and 17 June.15 He presented the petition of St. Albans archdeaconry against Catholic relief, 26 Mar.16 He joined in calls for repeal of the coastwise coal duties, 27 Mar., opposed Bennet’s proposal to abolish punishment by whipping, which he considered a ‘salutary infliction’, 30 Apr., and applauded ministers’ willingness to relax the Acts restricting the silk trade, 9 May.17 He voted with them against repeal of the Foreign Enlistment Act, 16 Apr., and Scottish parliamentary reform, 2 June. He was one of the minority of 16 who opposed the clause of the London Bridge bill which gave the treasury control over the appointment of the engineer, 20 June 1823. He presented a London petition against the coastwise coal duties, 12 Feb., but expressed his dissent from the City petition against the aliens bill, 2 Apr. 1824.18 He brought up a St. Albans petition for the abolition of slavery, 12 Mar.19 He opposed inquiry into the method of collecting the beer and malt duties, 15 Mar. He presented a constituency petition in favour of the county courts bill, 5 Apr., and opposed the Westminster and London oil-gas bill, 12 Apr.20 On the request of London fishmongers for a ban on the sale of mackerel on Sundays, 14 Apr., he observed that the ‘conscientious feelings’ which inspired them ‘could not by any possibility operate upon the Jews’. He opposed Alderman Wood’s Thames navigation debt bill as ‘a mere job’, 14 May, 9 June.21 On 2 June he spoke against the orphans’ fund bill, and was a teller for the minority. Later that day, when the appearance of Graham’s balloon caused an exodus of curious Members, Smith, who, according to Thomas Creevey*, was ‘a furious enemy of the Saints’, had the House counted out after the division on the City bonds interest reduction bill, which he opposed, had revealed it to be inquorate: he thereby prevented the resumption of the debate on Brougham’s motion for inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith for inciting insurrection by slaves in Demerara.22 He said that repeal of the Combination Acts would do more harm than good to trade, 3 June 1824.23 He presented a petition from the Cordwainers’ Company (his own) for a repeal of assessed taxes, 18 Feb., and opposed the London Waterworks bill, 1 Mar. 1825.24 He voted for the Irish unlawful societies bill, 25 Feb., and against Catholic relief, 1 Mar.; he only paired against the relief bill, 21 Apr., 10 May. He spoke and voted for repeal of the beer duties, 5 May, when he declared his hostility to ‘any measure that had the effect of causing the poor to pay more than the rich’. When supporting the provision for the duke of Cumberland’s family, 30 May, he deplored the ‘malevolence’ which had driven him abroad through ‘innuendos and misrepresentations’; he voted again for the grant, 10 June 1825. The only trace of his parliamentary activity which has been found for 1826 is his vote with government against reform of Edinburgh’s representation, 13 Apr. 1826.
He was subsequently returned again for St. Albans after a rare uncontested election, although it had been momentarily supposed there in the previous autumn that he intended to retire. Attacks on him as ‘the complete tool of the ministers’ and a bigot on Catholic relief proved ineffectual. On the hustings, he dealt only in the customary platitudes.25 He duly voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He gave his ‘warmest support’ to the duke of Clarence’s grant, 16 Mar. He favoured taking the corn averages over a period of six weeks to prevent fraud, 26 Mar, and he was in the minority against the corn bill, 2 Apr. 1827. He voted against repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828. He approved of the Wellington ministry’s plan to amend the Stamp Acts as they affected fire insurances, 3 Mar., and he urged them to make a significant reduction in the duty, 25 Mar. He was in the minority of 15 against the motion that William Leadbetter had lied to the inquiry into electoral delinquency at East Retford, 7 Mar. He joined his colleague Easthope and the county Members in pleading in vain for the bill for the construction of a new court house at St. Albans to be sanctioned despite an inadvertent failure to comply with standing orders, 29 Apr. He voted against Catholic claims, 12 May. He supported a petition complaining of monopoly in the system of licensing hackney coach operators, 22 May, but dismissed that of some London bankers and merchants for the relocation of Smithfield meat market, 5 June. He divided against reduction of the salary of the lieutenant-general of the ordnance, 4 July 1828. Planta, the patronage secretary, listed him in February 1829 among those Members who would go ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation; but he is not known to have voted either way in the divisions on the issue. He welcomed the Smithfield market improvement bill as likely to be ‘productive of much practical advantage’, 6 May, and spoke against reception of a petition against the London bridge bill, which he said was groundless, 8 May 1829.
Smith voted against the transfer of East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb. and paired against the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. The previous day, in what turned out to be his last known contribution to debate, he had exceeded his customary brevity in a speech in support of the army estimates:
That distress prevails in every part of the country no one can doubt; and I admit that economy and retrenchment can alone relieve the people from their present miserable condition. Yet, by reason of the distressed state of the country, it appears to me the more necessary that a proper military force should be kept up, in order to quell any riot or disturbance, which is more likely to occur when the labouring class is out of employment and badly fed. Although ... I readily give my vote in favour of the army estimates, yet I feel equally disposed to support any motion for such retrenchment and economy as can be effected with propriety and justice. There are many sources from which considerable sums can be drawn, without material inconvenience, if ministers are disposed to avail themselves of them.
The only economy to which he could point was abolition of the additional allowances recently awarded to commissioners of excise; and his only recorded attempt in that session to practise what he preached was his vote against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar. He voted for the grant for South American missions, 7 June 1830, and may have paired against abolition of the death penalty for forgery the same day.
Smith retired from Parliament at the dissolution of 1830. He died, ‘aged 85’, at his house in the Adelphi in January 1835, and was buried in the family vault in St. Antholin’s church. It was said that despite his great age, ‘an air of juvenility’ had ‘been always cast over his countenance by means of a curly wig to which he was for many years attached’.26 By his will, dated 10 Feb. 1825, he left £100 and his copyhold orchard and two cottages at Harwell, Berkshire to his brother John Smith, who was then occupying them. (By a codicil of 2 Apr. 1834 he devised this property to John’s daughters Charlotte Shorter, widow, and Rachael Smith, for whom he had made generous provision in his original will.) He created a trust fund to provide his wife with a life annuity of £1,000, and his nephew Abel Smith, the son of his late brother James, one of £35. (He was dead by 20 Feb. 1828, when Smith made the first codicil to his will.) He divided the residue of his personal estate between his sons and daughter, after whose marriage he made an appropriate adjustment to her share to take account of her dowry. He left the business premises in Queen Street to his elder son, and directed that all the rest of his real estate (apart from that at Harwell) should be sold: this included not only Starborough and the Adelphi house, but freehold property at Edmonton, Middlesex and premises at 19 and 22 Queen Street. His personalty was sworn under £90,000.27 His widow died at Brompton, ‘aged 86’, 31 Jan. 1845. Her brief will, dated 17 Feb. 1843, consisted largely of bequests, totalling £1,300, to various London hospitals; by a codicil of 13 Dec. 1843 she left £300 to a charity school at Harwell. Her effects were sworn under £5,000.28 Smith’s wine business was carried on by his son Sebastian and survived into the 1860s.
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Gent. Mag. (1785), ii. 747.
- 2. Ibid. (1802), i. 275.
- 3. IGI (Norf.).
- 4. In HP Commons, 1790-1820, v. 191, Smith’s sons are wrongly given as the issue of his second marriage. Newman Smith and Sebastian Smith were bap. at St. Antholin, Budge Row, London on 27 Mar. 1788 and 3 Dec. 1796 respectively (IGI).
- 5. The marriage took place at St. Michael, Cornhill, London (IGI).
- 6. IGI (London); PROB 11/1843/125.
- 7. VCH Surr. iv. 306.
- 8. Add. 76033, J. Harrison to Spencer, 25 Feb. 1820.
- 9. The Times, 21 Feb. 1821.
- 10. Ibid. 5, 7 June 1821.
- 11. Ibid. 21 Feb. 1822.
- 12. Ibid. 25 May 1822.
- 13. Ibid. 29 June 1822.
- 14. Ibid. 1 Aug. 1822.
- 15. Ibid. 18 June 1823.
- 16. Ibid. 27 Mar. 1823.
- 17. Ibid. 10 May 1823.
- 18. Ibid. 13 Feb., 3 Apr. 1824.
- 19. Ibid. 13 Mar. 1824.
- 20. Ibid. 6, 13 Apr. 1824.
- 21. Ibid. 15 May, 10 June 1824.
- 22. Ibid. 3 June 1824; Creevey Pprs. ii. 76.
- 23. The Times, 4 June 1824.
- 24. Ibid. 19 Feb., 2 Mar. 1825.
- 25. Herts Mercury, 5, 12 Nov., 17 Dec. 1825, 10, 17 June 1826.
- 26. The Times, 22, 28, 31 Jan., 23 Feb. 1835; Gent. Mag. (1835), ii. 669.
- 27. PROB 11/1843/125; IR26/1399/57.
- 28. Gent. Mag. (1845), i. 327; PROB 11/2014/240; IR26/1720/108.