ASHURST, Henry (1669-1705), of St. Augustine’s, London
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Family and Education
bap. 4 Mar. 1669, 1st s. of Sir William Ashurst*. educ. Wickhambrook, Suff. (Samuel Cradock); I. Temple 1685, called 1693. m. by 1699, Elizabeth, da. and h. of Edward Grace of Eltham, Kent, 2s.1
Commr. hackney carriages 1694–5; attorney and serjeant, duchy of Lancaster 1697–1702; High Easter steward, duchy of Lancaster 1697–1703.2
Freeman, Preston 1697; town clerk, London 1700–d.3
Member, New England Co. 1698. 4
Although the son of a highly successful woollen-draper, Ashurst declined to enter business in preference to a legal career. However, he clearly shared his family’s Nonconformist sympathies. He attended the academy of the ejected minister Samuel Cradock at Wickhambrook, and later joined the New England Company, an institution with strong Dissenting links. Possibly aided by his father’s influence in the City, Ashurst gained his first public appointment in May 1694 as one of the commissioners to regulate hackney carriage licences. Within a year the commission had been rocked by allegations of corruption within its membership, but Ashurst denied involvement in corrupt practices and was cleared on 20 Mar. 1695 by the report of a Commons committee. Despite exoneration, only two months later he resigned office, reportedly in response to the government’s decision to halve the commissioners’ salaries.5
Ashurst’s association with this scandal did not impede his advancement in legal circles. When the Whig Lord Stamford was appointed chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in May 1697 he quickly appointed Ashurst attorney for the duchy, a post which proved to be the making of his political career. The chancellor’s interest was clearly instrumental in Ashurst’s victory at the Preston poll of August 1698, although his familial ties to the north-west may have smoothed his recommendation. Such success came in marked contrast to his cousin and namesake, Henry Ashurst† of Waterstock, Oxfordshire, who failed to be returned for the Cornish borough of Fowey.6
Soon after entering the House Ashurst was listed by one political commentator as a supporter of the Court, while another cited him as a placeman. Ashurst was an inactive Member. He told against referring to committee a petition to establish Norfolk and Hornsey land lotteries on 18 Dec. 1699, perhaps betraying a sympathy for the campaign for moral reform consistent with his Dissenting background in doing so, and on 13 Feb. 1700 spoke against the motion to resume all royal grants. In early 1700 he was classed by a parliamentary analyst as belonging to the interest of Lord Stamford. His opposition to the resumption suggested strong support for the Court, for neither Ashurst’s patron nor family were beneficiaries of a royal grant. In July 1700 he emerged victorious from a keenly contested election for the town clerkship of London, an office reputedly worth £1,000 p.a., and he subsequently proved an active supporter of the City’s interests, his name appearing on several petitions submitted to Parliament. Despite securing successive victories at the Preston contests of January and December 1701, however, Ashurst’s contribution to parliamentary business was slight. The accession of Anne spelt the end of his parliamentary career. With his patron Stamford removed as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in May 1702 in favour of the Tory Sir John Leveson Gower, 5th Bt.*, Ashurst was dismissed as attorney in June 1702, and his lack of any personal interest at Preston meant that he was unable to mount any challenge at the Preston election the following month.7
Even though Ashurst had lost his seat, the responsibilities of his civic office ensured that he maintained some prominence at the centre of City affairs. Any political ambitions he may have harboured were, however, thwarted by his premature death at Bath on 30 Oct. 1705. His body was laid to rest in the family vault at St. Augustine’s and his estate passed to his two sons, neither of whom aspired to enter Parliament.8
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. IGI, London; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 414; Calamy, Life, i. 134–5.
- 2. CSP Dom. 1695, p. 254; Somerville, Duchy of Lancaster Official Lists, 51, 101, 207–8.
- 3. Lancs. RO, Preston bor. recs. CNP 3/1/1 p. 506.
- 4. W. Kellaway, New England Co. 289.
- 5. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. 896; Post Boy, 4–6 June 1695.
- 6. Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/63, James Vernon I* to Duke of Shrewsbury, 30 July 1698.
- 7. Som. RO, Sanford mss DD/SF4107(a), notes on debate, 15 [sic. 13] Feb. 1699[–1700]; London Post, 1–3 July 1700; Luttrell, Brief Relation, iv. 661; HMC Lords, n.s. iv. 158, 273; v. 8, 173, 229, 235, 238, 267.
- 8. Post Man, 1–3 Nov. 1705; Le Neve, Mon. Ang. 1700–15, p. 108; PCC 1 Eedes.