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WEST, James (1703-72), of Alscott Park, Glos.
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Family and Education
b. 2 May 1703, o.s. of Richard West of Priors Marston, Warws. and St. Swithin’s, London by his w. Mary Russell of Strensham, Worcs. educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1719; I. Temple 1721, called 1728, bencher 1761; L. Inn 1738. m. 15 Aug. 1738, Sarah, da. of Sir Thomas Steavens, timber merchant, of Eltham, Kent, and h. of her bro. Thomas, 1s. 2da.
Sec. to chancellor of the Exchequer, Dec. 1743-May 1752; jt. sec. to Treasury May 1746-Nov. 1756, July 1757-May 1762; recorder, Poole 1746-d., St. Albans Apr. 1758-July 1760; high steward, St. Albans 1759-d.; treasurer, R. Soc. 1736-68, president 1768-d.
West came of a Warwickshire family, descended from Thomas West, 8th Lord de la Warre.1 His father, who seems to have gone into business as a packer in London, left him £1,000 a year.2 As a young man, practising at the bar, he became known as an antiquary, amassing a valuable collection of manuscripts, deeds and charters, many of which perished in a fire at his chambers in the Inner Temple in 1736. Next year, at the request of his friend and fellow collector, Edward Harley, 2nd Earl of Oxford, he became one of the trustees in whom Lady Oxford’s estates were vested for the payment of debts totalling nearly a quarter of a million. In this capacity he was responsible for the sale of the Harleian manuscripts to the British Museum in 1753 for £10,000.3
In 1738 West married a wealthy timber merchant’s daughter, who ultimately brought him a fortune of £100,000.4 At the next general election he was recommended by Thomas Martin to Walpole as likely to be ‘of great use to you, having a very large clear fortune and a very extensive acquaintance’.5 Returned unopposed for St. Albans, which he represented for the next 27 years, he was included by Pelham in the court list for the secret committee set up to inquire into Walpole’s Administration, to which he was not elected. He was also one of the court Members chosen to serve as commissioners of public accounts under an opposition bill, which was rejected by the Lords.6 On Wilmington’s death in 1743, he sent Pelham an anonymous letter urging him to accept the Treasury,
as it is the only means of calling back the wavering and fixing the minds of the old and constant friends of the government which have been not a little warped by seeing men in opposition too much supported by yours and your family’s interest ... It is this, Sir, will give strength to your party (for parties there must, there will, and for the safety of this country, there always ought to be) will inspire them with industry and courage. They will be convinced that to preserve themselves they must follow and adhere to you and the others will in time learn that a faithful service of their King and country may be as beneficial as an unwearied opposition to both. The strength of opposition will decline and you will have the power by reasonable means to lead them to reasonable ends. Forgive me, Sir, for this trouble and this presumption, which nothing should have extorted but love to you and love to my country. I have the honour to sit in Parliament with you and though I sometimes wait on you, have not the honour of an intimacy sufficient to mention these things to you. I should set my name but some impressions may make you think that the effect of flattery which is the result of my truest judgement.7
The anonymity was merely formal; the letter, in West’s handwriting, is endorsed in Pelham’s papers as from West.
In December 1743 West became secretary to Pelham as Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the understanding that he should be made joint secretary to the Treasury as soon as alternative provision could be found for John Jeffreys. On the reconstruction of the Government at the end of 1744 he pressed Pelham to fulfil his promise:
I hope you will forgive me if upon learning Mr. Jeffreys is the only person of that set in the House of Commons who is to continue his employment and from a thorough conviction that his being kept in your own department by your own power and authority is of great disservice to you in the thoughts of many men as well friends as others, I represent to you what is said. Almost everybody asked yesterday in the House and more will ask tomorrow what public reason could be given for keeping in a friend of Lord Bath’s that does not hold as strong for any person displaced. Whether the same interest exerted for any other might not have kept them in, or whether his merit, peculiar abilities in his province, skill in figures, or interest and credit with the moneyed part of this kingdom have supported him when no other could stand. The regard and countenance you have been so good to honour me with has given foundation to many of my friends in both Houses of Parliament, in the law, and in the city to look upon me as intended by you for something in the Treasury, and though I have never suffered anything to drop from me yet perhaps the nature and condition of the place you gave me was by them thought some earnest of the other. Should I be so happy to succeed, as gratitude was ever the strongest passion of my heart, I should think myself obliged to obey every command of yours; and though I would pawn my life to you to make myself absolute master of the business in a very short time, yet my behaviour to Mr. Scrope should be such in every instance as you should dictate and approve.
In a postscript he wrote:
May I add Mr. Jeffreys in the time he has had his place has received more from it than the value of mine in perpetuity. Happy man! Would be continued by Lord Bath, is continued by you. Is not Jeffreys kept in to keep West out in complaisance to the froward unreasonable temper and views of Scrope; if so must wait till Scrope dies. The party are determined to force Jeffreys out.8
Pelham replied from Esher on 26 Dec.:
I received your letter yesterday morning, not long before I set out for this place and as it gave me the greatest concern I can assure you, it made my short retreat here much less agreeable to me. I never thought the little employment you held under me, gave me any merit with you, but have always declared, that I thought your acceptance of it entitled you to all the regard and assistance from me that my public station could enable me to shew you. Confidence and friendship I have demonstrated in its full extent, and whenever I shew that, I want nothing but opportunity to extend it further to the advantage of the man I wish well to. But to be told that I must displace a man so immediately under my direction as the secretary of the Treasury, and that there are even those who resolve to unite, till they can force me to it, is not a way of working upon my temper. If those who ask what public reason is to be given for my keeping in Mr. Jefferies, would by that insinuate that there may be a private one, you know me enough to answer yourself; that such insinuations I most heartily despise; but for your own private information, I can tell you, that no one, except Lord Harrington, and he very slightly, has said one word to me about him. It was not out of any personal regard to others that made me keep him in, when I first came at the head of the Treasury, nor will that have the least share in influencing me, in case I should continue him now. I have known the man long, I think him a good retired inoffensive creature, and as such had no desire to shew resentment to him on the account of others; nor did I imagine the public could think itself at all interested in his situation one way or other. That I always intended you should succeed whenever any vacancy was made there, is undoubtedly true, but to be told I must make one whether I will or no is a little hard; and let the person who is the object of these gentlemen’s resentment be never so inconsiderable, you cannot but see, it is I am struck at, and were I to yield upon such sort of threats I had much better give up the game at once, and retire where I have long wished myself to be. You see, Sir, I write to you with openness and freedom, I have always valued your friendship, and shall continue to do so, but hope you will not exact that of me at present, which I think, in these circumstances, I cannot do with honour. I am exceedingly concerned to hear that your being with me should at all lessen your practice in the profession of the law, I truly thought it was not the employment, but your own option that led you to another course of life. I must entreat you to reflect upon what has passed, see how I stand, either complying or refusing, one way contemptible, the other unkind. Neither of which I wish to be, for let your reputation be what it will, I cannot bring myself to think you mean what others say, nor shall I easily persuade myself that you have in the least changed that favourable opinion which you voluntarily have shown of me.9
It was not till 1746 that West succeeded to the post, and then only on condition that he allowed Jeffreys £1,000 p.a. till Pelham could provide for him, meanwhile retaining his secretaryship to the chancellor of the Exchequer (£500 p.a.) as compensation. This arrangement lasted till Scrope’s death in 1752, after which Jeffreys was quartered on the new joint secretary, Nicholas Hardinge.10 After Pelham’s death West attached himself to Newcastle. He died 2 July 1772.
Ref Volumes: 1715-1754
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. Blore, Rutland, 101.
- 2. Foster, Al. Ox. 1715-86, iv. 1527; Gent. Mag. 1731, p. 500; Brooke, Chatham Administration, 287.
- 3. West to Lord Oxford, 6 Jan. 1736, Lady Oxford to West, passim, West mss at Alscott.
- 4. Brooke, loc. cit.
- 5. Martin to Walpole, 27 Dec. 1740, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
- 6. Walpole to Mann, Apr. and 26 May 1742.
- 7. Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
- 8. West mss. The letter exists in draft only.
- 9. Ibid. 26 Dec. 1744.
- 10. West to Newcastle, 17 Jan. 1758, Add. 32877, f. 168.