POLHILL, David (1674-1754), of Otford, Kent

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



11 Jan. - 21 Sept. 1710
18 Feb. 1723 - 1727
1727 - 1741
22 Feb. 1742 - 15 Jan. 1754

Family and Education

bap. 22 Apr. 1674, 2nd s. of Thomas Polhill (d. 1683), Merchant Taylor, of Clapham, Surr., by Elizabeth, da. of Maj.-Gen. Henry Ireton†, of Attenborough, Notts.  educ. travelled abroad (Hanover, Brunswick, Zell, Austria, Geneva, Italy, United Provinces), 1693–6; Padua Univ. 1694.  m. (1) 3 Sept. 1702, Elizabeth (d. 1708), da. of John Trevor of Glynde, Suss., sis. of John Morley Trevor*, s.p.; (2) 20 Aug. 1713, Gertrude (d. 1714), da. of Thomas Pelham I*, 1st Baron Pelham, sis of Thomas Pelham Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, s.p.; (3) 28 July 1719, (with £5,000), Elizabeth (d. 1785), da. and h. of John Borrett of Shoreham, Kent, 4s. (2 d.v.p.) 1da.  suc. er. bro. aft. 1683.1

Offices Held

Freeman, Dover 1697, Sandwich 1701, Rochester 1710; freeman, co. of free fishermen of Thames and Medway 1705; steward honour of Otford, 1700–5; sheriff, Kent 1714–15; warden, Rochester Bridge 1716; keeper, Walmer Castle 1718.2

Keeper of recs. in Tower of London 1730–d.3


Polhill was the second son of Thomas Polhill, a Merchant Taylor, who fined off for alderman in 1669. In 1665 Thomas had succeeded his brother to estates in Kent, where he henceforth resided. By his will he left his eight children under the guardianship of his wife, until they attained their majority. Subsequently, Polhill’s elder brother died, leaving him in possession of the inheritance. In December 1692, he was granted a licence to travel to Holland. This was the start of an extended grand tour which lasted until his return to England in the autumn of 1696.4

Shortly afterwards, on 30 July 1697, Polhill was added to the Kentish lieutenancy (although he had to wait until March 1699 for his name to be inserted into the commission of the peace). He immediately set about seeking election to Parliament. His first target was the by-election at Dover caused by the death of James Chadwick* in May 1697. Despite a recommendation from the lord warden of the Cinque Ports, the Earl of Romney (Henry Sidney†), Polhill faced formidable opposition from the more entrenched interests in the borough. Moreover, he was a little late into the field, and so did not contest the poll in December 1697. The following January his supporters were again reported to be treating in Dover, in preparation for the general election later that year, though again he appears not to have gone to the polls. A further attempt was made at the Sandwich by-election of April 1701, which led to a petition against his opponent. Before this could be considered, Polhill achieved notoriety as one of the five Kentish gentlemen ordered into custody by the Commons on 8 May 1701 for presenting a petition urging unanimity on the House and the swift vote of supplies, a petition which was voted ‘scandalous, insolent and seditious; tending to destroy the constitution of Parliaments, and to subvert the established government of the realm’. His lineage, as the grandson of Henry Ireton and great-grandson of Oliver Cromwell†, may well have helped to sustain him, and to encourage his sturdy defiance while in confinement.5

Following his release, Polhill was reported in November 1701 to have set his sights on Rochester at the next general election, but once more withdrew a month before the poll. The years following his first marriage in 1702 (on which over £1,000 was spent) appear to have been relatively quiet: he lost his place on the county bench in May 1701, and presumably on the lieutenancy as well. However, in 1705 the accession of Lord Rockingham as lord lieutenant of Kent saw him reappointed a deputy, and restoration to the bench followed in March 1706. At the 1705 election Polhill contented himself with spending money on other candidates’ behalf at ‘Rochester and other places’, and undertook a ‘journey to Lewes when sent for by Mr Pelham [Thomas II*]’ on finding himself opposed by Thomas Fagg*. In 1705 he also lost the honorary stewardship of Otford, which was granted to the 5th Earl of Leicester (Hon. Philip Sydney*), on the grounds that the grant to Polhill in 1700 had expired at King William’s death.6

Polhill’s next foray into parliamentary politics was in January 1710, at a by-election to replace the deceased Sir Stephen Lennard, 2nd Bt.* The only candidate, he was duly returned. He took his seat on 19 Jan. 1710, and was on hand to vote for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell. But at the general election he fell victim to the Tory resurgence. He did not stand in 1713, the wooing of ‘Mrs Pelham’ taking up much of his time, according to his account book for April–August 1713. His new wife died, however, early the following year. By May 1714 he had embarked upon a defence of the Dissenters: on the 27th, Grey Neville*, a prominent Nonconformist, complimented him for having ‘dealt roundly with Lord Trevor [Sir Thomas Trevor*, the uncle of his first wife] with relation to our present circumstances as to this impious persecuting bill that is hurried on upon us at this time for which all ranks among our folks return you thanks’. He went on ‘to request the favour of you to come to town forthwith to propose something wherein you may do God and your neighbours good service’. In 1715 Polhill was precluded from entering the contest for knight of the shire by virtue of his appointment as sheriff the preceding November, on the nomination of the Earl of Westmorland, a clever way of removing a potential Whig rival to Westmorland’s brother Hon. Mildmay Fane†. Polhill finally returned to the Commons at a by-election for Bramber in 1723, transferring to Rochester in 1727. His only official reward was an appointment as keeper of the records in the Tower of London, and even then the initial warrant of October 1730 had to be revoked as it incorrectly granted the office during pleasure rather than for life. However, he remained a committed Whig, badgering the Duke of Newcastle with requests for preferment which would have a bearing on electoral politics at Rochester. He continued to sit for Rochester, with one short interval, until his death on 15 Jan. 1754, when he was succeeded in his estates by his son Charles.7

Ref Volumes: 1690-1715

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. IGI, Herts., Kent; PCC 25 Drax, 55 Pinfold; Berry, Kent Gens. 366; Sevenoaks Pub. Lib. Polhill-Drabble mss U1007/C12/1–12 passim; U1007/E134/1, mar. settlement; info. from Prof. R. Walcott.
  • 2. Add. 29625, f. 129; Centre Kentish Stud. Sandwich bor. recs. Sa/Ac8, f. 326; Polhill-Drabble mss U1007/F17, 16, freeman certificates; U1007/O23, grant of office; Cal. Treas. Bks. xv. 268; xx. 378; Arch. Cant. lxviii. 186.
  • 3. Lansd. 1236, ff. 300–1; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1731–4, p. 125.
  • 4. J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London (London and Mdx. Arch. Soc.), 132; Hasted, Kent, iii. 118–20; D. Clarke and A. Stoyel, Otford in Kent: A Hist. 156, 163; PCC 25 Drax; CSP Dom. 1691–2, p. 521; Polhill-Drabble mss U1007/C12/1–12 passim.
  • 5. CSP Dom. 1697, p. 277; info. from Prof. N. Landau; Polhill-Drabble mss U1007/C13/1, S. Mead to Polhill, 28 Oct. 1697; Centre Kentish Stud. Papillon mss, U1015/C44, pp. 46–47, 66–67, 70; HMC Portland, viii. 87, 90–91.
  • 6. Post Man, 15–18, 20–22 Nov. 1701; Polhill-Drabble mss U1007/A1, acct. bk. Sept. 1702, May 1705; U1007/O8/2, lieutenancy appointment; info. from Prof. Landau; Cal. Treas. Bks. xix. 151; xx. 378, 763–4.
  • 7. Huntington Lib. LS 126 (Temple Newsam), newsletter 19 Jan. 1709[–10]; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 536; Polhill-Drabble mss U1007/A1, acct. bk. Apr.–Aug.1713, Feb.–Apr. 1714; U1007/C13/14A, Neville to Polhill, 27 May 1714; U1007/C13/12, Westmorland to Polhill, 9 Sept. 1714; U1007/O/30, grant of office as keeper of records in the Tower; Lansd. 1236, ff. 300–1; Add. 36289, ff. 122–3; 2691, f. 288; 32699, ff. 384–5; PCC 55 Pinfold.