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PITFIELD, Alexander (1659-1728), of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, London
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Family and Education
b. 14 Apr. 1659, 2nd but o. surv. s. of Sir Charles Pitfield of Hoxton, Mdx. by his 1st w. Winifred, da. and coh. of John Adderley of Coton, Staffs. educ. privately; Merchant Taylors’ 1671–4; Sidney Sussex, Camb. 1676; L. Inn 1676. m. (1) 20 Apr. 1680, Elizabeth (d. aft. 1695), da. of Richard Waller, merchant, of St. Martin’s, Ironmonger Lane, London, 1s. d.v.p. 4da. (2 d.v.p.); (2) 3 Sept. 1703, Dorothy (d. 1726), da. of Thomas Boone of Mount Boone, nr. Dartmouth, Devon and coh. to her bro. Charles, wid. of Robert Boddington, Haberdasher, of St. Magnus, London, s.p. suc. fa. 1680.1
FRS 1684, council 1693–?d., treasurer 1699–d.2
Cursitor, Kent and Devon by 1700–bef. 1707; commr. sewers, Tower Hamlets 1712.3
Pitfield came of an old Dorset family, resident near Bridport since at least the early 16th century. His father had retained links with the town long after purchasing the manor of Hoxton (in 1648), and in 1675 established a charity there, dispensing some £15 p.a. to the ‘honest’ and ‘industrious’ poor. A formidable character, Charles Pitfield spent some time in prison in the early 1670s, accused of speaking ‘evil words, tending to incite the people to a dislike of the King and his government’ during a dispute over land rights with the Finsbury Archers, a club of gentleman-toxophilites who at one point dubbed their antagonist ‘the minotaur of Finsbury’. However, he had recovered royal favour by 1675, when he was named to the Middlesex recusancy commission, and the following year was knighted. No direct evidence has come to light to reveal his political opinions: a kinsman had fought for Parliament in the Civil War, and had even been associated with ‘godly reformation’ under Cromwell, but he himself had been a beneficiary of the Restoration in so far as he had been granted a customs office in London. At his death he left property in the City and in Essex, as well as the Hoxton estate, together with East India stock and other financial securities.4
Alexander Pitfield was best known as an active fellow of the Royal Society, publishing one work on natural history which he had translated from French, and serving for many years on the society’s council and as its treasurer. As his father had been, he was a conscientious magistrate, and appears to have been involved in the early stages of the movement for the ‘reformation of manners’, for he was a signatory in 1692 to proposals from the Middlesex commission of the peace for ‘methods . . . for the encouragement of informers’. After his election at Bridport in 1698 he was classified as a supporter of the Country party and forecast as likely to vote against a standing army when that issue came up in the new House. In early 1700 he was listed as either doubtful or, perhaps, opposition. Later that year he was added to the Middlesex lieutenancy and by then had also been appointed to a minor Chancery office. In the 1701 Parliament he reported and carried to the Lords a private naturalization bill. Robert Harley’s* analysis of the 1701–2 Parliament classed him with the Whigs. On 13 Mar. 1702 he told in favour of the second reading of the bill for the more effectual punishment of felons, a measure to which he may have been attracted through his concern for moral reform. Retaining his seat in the first two Parliaments of Anne’s reign, he was forecast in October 1704 as a likely opponent of the Tack and did not vote for it on 28 Nov. An analysis of the 1705 Parliament consequently classed Pitfield as ‘Low Church’, but though he voted on 25 Oct. 1705 for the Court candidate for Speaker, Pitfield was absent from the list of those who in February 1706 supported the Court in the proceedings on the ‘place clause’ of the regency bill. Another tellership occurred on 7 Jan. 1707, when he opposed a bill to suppress all new glasshouses, brewhouses, dyeing- and smelting-houses erected since the beginning of the Parliament within a mile of the Palace of Westminster. Later in the same session he assisted in the management of two further bills promoted by interests sympathetic to the reformation of manners: for encouraging the arrest of house-breakers, and for regulating the nightly watch. A list from early 1708 described him as a Whig, though he may still have been on the Country wing of his party. Some time before this he had lost his Chancery post.5
Pitfield did not stand for election again, though his Whig sympathies were evident in 1710 when he signed the London lieutenancy’s address condemning the Sacheverell riots. In his latter years he was taken up with schemes for poor relief in his father’s parish of Shoreditch, in particular the building of a workhouse in Hoxton. He died on 19 Oct. 1728 and, after his body had lain ‘in state’ in Upholders’ Hall, was buried at Shoreditch. His will, drawn up in the preceding July when he was ‘somewhat indisposed in body’, included bequests to the Hoxton workhouse, to a charity school and to ‘the poor charity children’ of the parish of St. Benet Fink, amounting in all to £350; with over £12,000 in other legacies, to his grandchildren, his ‘book-keeper’, ‘clerk’ and so on. The personalty comprised property in London and Essex, and various stocks in the Bank (where already in 1710 he had held enough to qualify for a vote in directorial elections), and in the East India and South Sea Companies. He was succeeded by a grandson.6
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Cox, Annals of St. Helen’s, Bishopsgate, 95; London Rec. Soc. ii. 233; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 262, 308; Vis. Mdx. ed. Foster, 73; The Gen. i. 40–42; info. from Mr Michael Pitfield; Merchant Taylors’ Sch. Reg.; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 34.
- 2. Rec. R. Soc. 341, 385; M. W. Hunter, R. Soc. and Fellows, 76.
- 3. HMC Townshend, 211.
- 4. Info. from Mr Pitfield; Survey of London, viii. 77; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 35; CSP Dom. 1670, pp. 245, 285, 303, 319, 324, 330, 349; 1672, p. 313; Cal. Treas. Bks. i. 10; iv. 790; PCC 132 Bath.
- 5. Hunter, 149; A. Pitfield, Natural Hist. of Animals (1702); Craig thesis, 100–1; CSP Dom. 1699–1700, p. 394; Party and Management ed. C. Jones, 54, 71, 77, 81.
- 6. Add. ch. 76120; J. Ware, Shoreditch Charities and Estates, 90–91; Hist. Reg. Chron. 1728, p. 56; The Gen. n.s. vii. 244; PCC 301 Brook; Egerton 3359 (unfol.); Hutchins, iii. 128.