DAY, Sir Thomas (c.1628-1709), of Tilly’s Court, Barton Hill, Bristol

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1695 - 1700

Family and Education

b. c.1628; m. Anne (d. 1722) da. of Capt. Roger Richards, 5s. (2 d.v.p.) 2da.  Kntd. 28 Nov. 1694.1

Offices Held

Common councilman, Bristol 1661–84, 17 Oct. 1688–d., sheriff, 1670–1, alderman Mar.–Sept. 1681, 8 Aug.-17 Oct. 1688, 5 Aug. 1689–d., mayor 4 Feb.–Sept. 1688, 1694–5; gov., corporation of the poor, Bristol 1701–2.2


At the height of his public career in the 1690s, Day was one of the most influential Whigs in Bristol’s political life, and a model of pious-minded civic virtue. His background and rise remain obscure. According to one corporation chronicler he was by trade ‘a soapboiler’, but he is also described as a merchant and had considerable interests in the local sugar-refining industry. Despite his wealth, much of which was invested in property in and around the city, he maintained a retail shop on the ground floor of his ‘great house’ which stood at the south end of Bristol Bridge. His longstanding friendship (and possible kinship) with the philosopher John Locke undoubtedly influenced his Whiggish outlook and his approach to civic affairs.3

He was first elected to the Bristol common council in 1661 after a purge of Cromwellians. In March 1681, during a fierce quarrel in the corporation, he was co-opted onto the aldermanic body by a faction opposed to the Tory mayor, Sir Richard Hart*. Hart had not forgiven Day for voting against him in favour of the moderate Tory candidates in the recent parliamentary contest, and in September engineered Day’s displacement. Under the new charter, obtained for the city in 1684, he was one of 19 Whigs dismissed from the common council. Keeping discreetly out of public life over the next few years, he came back to the centre of Bristol politics in 1688, assuming almost immediately a pre-eminence among the leading Whigs in the city. In accordance with James II’s edict of 14 Jan. 1688, he was elected mayor and shortly afterwards was chosen an alderman for a second time. Though he had at first responded in the negative to the King’s ‘three questions’ on the repeal of the Penal Laws and Test Act, he was found by the royal agents in April 1688 to be ‘very popular’ and ‘right’ and certain to carry an election. The restoration of the old charter in October of that year simultaneously removed him from the aldermanic bench but restored him to the common council. He was unsuccessful in the election to the Convention in 1689, but was re-elected alderman in August.4

In September 1694 Day became mayor, and two months later was received and knighted by the King at Kensington, a token of royal gratitude, it would seem, for the part he had played in breaking down Tory domination over the corporation. In 1695 he successfully contested for Bristol in the general election, and was returned with his ‘good friend’ and business associate, Robert Yate. In partnership with Yate and others in 1695, Day obtained a lease of the Hot Well in Bristol in order to build a pump-room and lodging-house for visitors to the spa which was completed two years later. Shortly after taking his seat in November, Day expressed pious gratitude that his none-too-robust health had so far withstood the long hours of attendance: ‘I trust in the Lord that he will continue it.’ Almost immediately, he and Yate became embroiled with Bristol’s merchants over the administration’s plans for a council of trade, and there was a swift exchange of correspondence on the subject. The Merchant Venturers’ Society of Bristol were generally in favour of a council, but were anxious that the new board be fully representative of all the kingdom’s main ports, and not dominated by courtiers or by the mercantile interests of the capital. In mid-December they were alarmed at reports that nominations were to be made by the King, and asked to be allowed to recommend one or two names. Day and Yate jointly replied on the 19th that the matter remained to be properly debated, but ‘we did not find that the House were inclinable’ to nominate anyone but MPs. However, they promised to join with Members from other ports to protect Bristol from the growing dominance of London. On hearing the names of the proposed commissioners, ‘men, according to our judgment, altogether improper for such an undertaking’, the Bristol merchants sent up a petition on the 28th, asking that the council be filled with men experienced in trade. In their reply the two Members were non-committal, agreeing on the one hand that the council should be ‘made up of honest and experienced persons’, but pointing out that if the advocates of such a commission insisted on powers to deploy ‘all carriers and convoys’, not only would the King be unlikely to give his assent, it would be unsafe ‘to lodge such a separate power in time of war in any number of persons, however so honest or skilful they may be’. It is not unlikely that Day was influenced in the matter by his friend Locke, whose advocacy of a committee of experts and statesmen, in preference to a board of narrow-minded merchants or parliamentarians, had been instrumental in determining the Court nominees. Having obtained a fortnight’s leave on 10 Jan., Day was absent on the 20th when ministerialists attacked the opposition’s proposal for a ‘parliamentary’ council and was therefore saved the embarrassment of displaying to his constituents his pro-Court stance on the issue. However, he was not expected to change his views, being forecast as likely to support the Court on 31 Jan. in a division over the same issue. Day was back in the House by 15 Feb. when he presented a petition from the mayor, aldermen and other city worthies requesting a bill ‘for erecting hospitals and workhouses’ in Bristol. His concern for the relief of the poor was a long-standing one. Over recent weeks he and Yate had been kept informed of the progress of local discussions on a project ‘for the better maintenance of the poor’, based upon proposals published at the beginning of the year by John Cary, a prominent Bristol merchant and writer on trade and social problems. The basis of Cary’s proposal was to remove responsibility for the poor from the parishes to civic level. The petitioners submitted to Day and Yate their request for legislation, ‘not doubting but that you will promote a thing so suitable to the common good of this city and so agreeable to the inclination of all honest men within the same’. It would appear that Day took the lead in securing a draft bill in accordance with the promoters’ instructions, he being the only Member ordered by the House to prepare it. On 4 Mar. he duly presented a bill for establishing a ‘corporation of the poor’. Although its later stages were managed by Yate and others, Day clearly played a key part in commending to the Commons what was to become a prototype for workhouse institutions in many other localities.5

In the Commons, Day’s political allegiances remained with the Court. He signed the Association and voted with the administration in March 1696 on fixing the price of guineas at 22s. These pro-government sympathies doubtless helped him to prevail on the Treasury by June 1696 to agree to the corporation’s request that Bristol provide the location for one of the new provincial mints. Day himself was a beneficiary in these arrangements, since it was from him that the corporation rented premises for the coining apparatus. In the next session he voted on 25 Nov. 1696 for the attainder of Sir John Fenwick†. On 11 Jan. 1697 he was granted three weeks’ leave, the second in a regular pattern of January absences from the House that enabled him to carry out what he described on one occasion as ‘my pressing occasions’ in Bristol. He spoke in the House on 6 Mar. 1697 against a draft clause intended for the bill for preventing exports of wool. He felt that the proposed impost of ‘ten per cent on the woollen manufacture would not proceed by reason . . . it would put a great stop to the work of many poor people these hard times’. In August 1697 his son Samuel was appointed governor of Bermuda ‘in consideration’, it was minuted by the lords justices, ‘of the merit of Sir Thomas Day, his father, and the good service he has done his Majesty at Bristol’. However, Samuel Day’s dictatorial rule on the island soon resulted in his dismissal, and subsequently involved the elderly Sir Thomas in lengthy proceedings on his son’s behalf before the lords of Trade. It was no doubt in recognition of his previous experience in providing for Bristol’s poor that Day was included on the committee appointed on 8 Dec. 1697 to consider how the poor in the nation at large might be ‘better provided for and employed’, one of the very few such inquiries to which he was appointed. The following month he was forced to obtain three weeks’ leave of the House in order to attend his wife during a serious illness. Following his re-election in 1698, he was classed as a Court supporter in a comparative analysis of the old and new House of Commons, though on an associated list this ascription appears to have been questioned, with his name being marked ‘q[uery?]’. An analysis of the House according to ‘interests’, compiled in 1700, identifies Day as a Junto supporter. He was granted a month’s leave on 12 Jan. 1699, but minor committee appointments indicate that he was back in the House by 28 Feb., and continued his attendance until April. After the session closed, early in May, he was reported by the London press to be seriously ill. He was well enough to attend the next session, however, and was granted three weeks’ absence on 13 Jan. 1700, in order to attend corporation business in Bristol. After briefly attending the House during February, he returned to Bristol a month before the session closed and on 8 Mar. was present at a meeting of 55 leading citizens whose design was to inaugurate a society for the reformation of manners ‘out of a sense of duty we owe to almighty God’. Day played a central part in furthering the aims of the society, and, until it ceased in 1705, chaired many meetings of its steering committee.6

Advancing years and poor health, coupled with the difficulties of long-distance travel, were probably the chief reasons for Day’s retirement at the January 1701 election, though his active involvement in civic affairs continued. As a senior alderman he deputized on several occasions during mayoral absences in London, while in September 1702 he played host to the Queen at his ‘great house’ at Bristol Bridge during her tour of the West. He also enjoyed a term of office in 1701–2 as governor of the corporation of the poor which he had helped to found in 1696. Day died on 17 Dec. 1709, aged 81, and was buried at St. Thomas’ church, Bristol. In addition to his property in Bristol, he left land at Westbury leased from the bishop of Bath and Wells, and a farm at Congresbury in Somerset. He also bequeathed £30 to provide bread for the poor and £50 towards rebuilding an almshouse in his native parish of St. Thomas’.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. Procs. Clifton Antiquarian Club, iii. 74; PCC 12 Smith.
  • 2. A. B. Beaven, Bristol Lists, 186, 187, 201, 207–8, 225, 286.
  • 3. Bristol AO, ms ‘calendar hist. of Bristol 1067–1724’, [sub. 1697]; J. Latimer, Annals of Bristol in 17th Cent. 473, 478; PCC Smith 12; Locke Corresp. iii. 752–3; iv. 249–50; vii. 431–2.
  • 4. Latimer, 310, 401, 424, 447, 449, 453–4; Duckett, Penal Laws and Test Act (1883), 228.
  • 5. Luttrell, Brief Relation, iii. 405; Latimer, 472, 479; ms ‘calendar hist. of Bristol’, [sub. Sept. 1697]; EHR, liv. 58–61; Wm. and Mary Q. ser. 3, xiv. 394–5; Min. Bk. of Men’s Meeting of Soc. of Friends in Bristol 1667–86 (Bristol Rec. Soc. xxvi), 85; Add. 5540, ff. 81, 100.
  • 6. Add. 5540, f. 92; Bristol AO, common council procs. 1687–1702, ff. 134, 192; CSP Col. 1700, pp. 63–64, 1702, pp. 383–4; Portledge Pprs. 253; CSP Dom. 1697, pp. 258, 288; Post Boy, 13–16 May 1699; Reformation and Revival in 18th Cent Bristol (Bristol Rec. Soc. xlv), 15–41.
  • 7. Bristol common council procs. 1687–1702, f. 219; 1702–22, pp. 89, 120; J. Latimer, Bristol in 18th Cent. 45; Procs. Clifton Antiquarian Club, 74; PCC 12 Smith.