EDWARDS, Thomas (c.1673-by 1743), of the Middle Temple and Filkins Hall, Oxon.
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Family and Education
b. c.1673, 1st s. of Thomas Edwards, attorney-at-law, of Redland, and Broad Street, Bristol by his 1st w. educ. Balliol, Oxf. matric. 29 Oct. 1691, aged 18, BCL Hart Hall 1698; M. Temple 1693, called 1698, bencher 1724. m. c.1703, Mary, da. and h. of Sir William Hayman, merchant, of Bristol, mayor of Bristol 1684, 1s. (d.v.p.) 2da. suc. fa. 1727.1
Edwards’ father was a leading Bristol attorney whose clientele included prominent local gentry and mercantile families. Such was his turnover in fees that in 1690 he was able to purchase for £4,350 the Somerset manor of Clapton-in-Gordano. His prominence as a public figure stemmed in large part from his close association with the wealthy philanthropist Edward Colston II*, whose extensive Bristol interests he managed. Apart from his involvement as legal adviser in Colston’s many charitable ventures, he was involved in the setting up of the corporation of the poor in 1696 and was an active member of the Bristol society for the reformation of manners, though he never held civic office. The bond between the two families was strengthened around 1703 when Edwards’ son Thomas, the future MP, married Colston’s niece.2
Edwards jnr. was sent by his father first to Oxford and then to the Middle Temple, qualifying as a barrister in 1698. The details of his subsequent legal career are not clear, but it would seem likely that he was encouraged by his business-minded father to maintain a practice in London. He kept chambers at his inn of court until the mid-1730s. In 1703 he acquired Filkins Hall, Oxfordshire, probably from Edward Colston II as part of his marriage settlement. When in 1713 the elder Colston signified his intention of retiring as MP for Bristol, the choice of a replacement Tory seems to have fallen quite naturally on Edwards, even though he was much less intimately involved in the city’s affairs than his father. Colston may even have recommended him to the Tory zealots in the Loyal Society who shouldered much responsibility for their party’s campaign in the city. It would appear, however, that Edwards’ Toryism was projected largely through his family tie with Colston, since his own background, given his father’s past links with Whiggery and Dissent, could hardly be regarded as unimpeachably Tory.3
Elected after a stormy and violent contest, Edwards figured in the ensuing Parliament as a Tory who would often vote with the Whigs. On 2 Apr. 1714 he helped promote the corporation’s petition for a new Act to place the workhouse established in 1696 on a sounder financial footing, being one of the three Members named to prepare a bill for the purpose, though it is not clear whether he fell in with the Tory initiative, sponsored by Joseph Earle*, to rid the institution of its Whig bias. He was a teller for the Tory side on 25 June on the disputed Southwark election. Towards the end of the session he took charge of a private bill concerning lands in mid-Somerset. Denied his seat in the 1715 election through the partiality of the Whig sheriff, he and his fellow candidate petitioned three years in succession without receiving a hearing. However, a vacancy arising at Wells in 1719, which Edward Colston’s nephew and namesake (Edward Colston I) had represented until 1713, afforded Edwards the opportunity to return to the House. The earlier connexion between the city of Wells and the Colston family, reinforced by the elder Colston’s possession of the manor of Lydford West, a short distance south of the city, made Edwards an appropriate choice.4
Edwards continued as a Tory MP for Wells until unseated in March 1735. Thereafter he appears to have fallen upon difficult times. His wife had inherited much of her uncle’s considerable fortune in 1721, but when on her death in or around 1736 it passed to his two daughters in accordance with the terms of Colston’s will, he was left in dire financial straits. While his younger daughter, Sophia, was said to be worth £20,000 at the time of her marriage in February 1737, Edwards himself was so deeply in debt that he could no longer afford the £35 rent for his chambers in Middle Temple, and in the same year was forced to sell Filkins Hall. His date of death has not been accurately ascertained but it is clear from an entry in the Middle Temple records that he was no longer alive by May 1743.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. M.T. Adm. i. 231; Add. 36648, f. 126; W. Barrett, Hist. Bristol, 392; London Mar. Lic. ed. Foster, 1481; Vis. Som. (Harl. Soc. n.s. xi), 188; A. S. T. Fisher, Hist. Broadwell, 59; Bristol and Glos. Arch. Soc. Trans. xxxviii. 176.
- 2. Barrett, 392; Reformation and Revival in 18th Cent. Bristol (Bristol Rec. Soc. xlv), 11, 58; Add. 18616, f. 35; Collinson, Hist. Som. iii. 178; Bristol Corp. of the Poor (Bristol Rec. Soc. iii), 174; S. G. Tovey, Colston the Philanthropist, 47.
- 3. Fisher, 58; M.T., mss mins. of parliament, MT.1/MPA, 16 June 1727 passim; Wilkins, Edward Colston: Supp., 21; Reformation and Revival, 11, 58.
- 4. Collinson, ii. 84.
- 5. H. J. Wilkins, Edward Colston, 128–35; MT.1/MPA, 29 Oct. 1736, 13 May 1743; Fisher, 58; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1737, pp. 126–7.