PAGE, John (?1696-1779), of Watergate House, nr. Chichester, Suss.
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Family and Education
b. ?1696,1 s. of Edward Page of Chichester by his w. Mary. m. (1) Catherine (d. 1736), da. of Robert Knight, cashier of the South Sea Co., sis. of Robert, Lord Luxborough and Earl of Catherlough, 1da.; (2) 25 June 1741, Anne, da. and h. of Francis Soane of Stockbridge, nr. Chichester, 1da, who m. George White Thomas.
Director, E.I. Co. 1730-3; dep. paymaster-gen. 1755-7; searcher of the customs at Chester and Liverpool 1761- d.
John Page came of an old Chichester family, and was very proud of his native city. As a young man he served as a clerk in the South Sea Company, but shortly after 1720 retired and settled at Watergate House.2 He had a considerable interest at Chichester, and in 1754 was regarded as an independent supporter of Government.
At the general election of 1754 he wished to retire from Parliament; Henry Pelham, to induce him to stand, promised him a share in recommendations at Chichester. The Duke of Richmond, intent on controlling both seats at Chichester, claimed for himself the exclusive right of recommendation; and a quarrel developed between him and Page, while Newcastle, an uneasy referee, was anxious to placate both parties. ‘I had served near 30 years in Parliament’, Page told Richmond in 1758, ‘... I could prove myself a poorer man by 14 or £15,000 in consequence of it ... I had never had any employment under the Crown, nor any private pecuniary reward from any minister, though in general a friend to them.’ But Richmond did not abandon his demand, and the quarrel dragged on until Page left Parliament.3
Newcastle had great respect for Page’s judgment on matters of trade and finance, and consulted him frequently—on the plate tax of 1756, the loan of 1757, etc.4 Page, ‘a willing and devoted friend’,5 never resented being summoned to Claremont to consult with the Duke; and gave him sensible advice. Thus, in October 1757 he argued in favour of taxing the rental of houses instead of the number of windows, and opposed taxes on consumption. Newcastle also consulted him on general political issues—in 1761, on Choiseul’s peace proposals, and the choice of a Speaker (‘My earnest wishes are for an old Whig’, Page replied). Their minds were cast in the same mould: both disliked Pitt’s wooing of the Tory country gentlemen, his alliance with the City, and his support of the militia; but Page was more realistic: he thought Newcastle should have retired in 1761, and in 1762 advised him against going into opposition.6
Page seems to have been indifferent to office, which did not prevent Newcastle trying to find for him a suitable place. ‘I have found out something’, he wrote on 19 Nov. 1755, ‘where you may be of service to the public with great ease to yourself.’ Page accepted the office of deputy to Lord Dupplin as paymaster-general, but did not worry when he lost it. He wrote to Newcastle on 10 Sept. 1757: ‘When your Grace’s kindness to me induced you to express your desire to serve me ... I ... said that, as I did not choose any employment for myself, it could only be by giving some relation or relations of mine a sinecure place.’ In 1760 Newcastle offered him the place of receiver-general of the customs, worth over £1,700 per annum; which was refused because the attendance required was ‘no ways agreeable to Mr. Page’s age and situation in life’.7
Again in 1761 Page stood at Chichester only to prevent Richmond engrossing both seats. ‘I shall make it my business’, noted Newcastle on 15 Mar. 1761,8 ‘to find out something agreeable to him as soon as possible.’ In June Page accepted the place of searcher of the customs at Chester and Liverpool, ‘one of the most valuable sinecures in the gift of the Treasury’,9 which, since it was not tenable with a seat in Parliament, was held for him in trust.
After Newcastle had resigned Page was one of the very few who remained faithful to him. ‘I have myself always thought it my greatest pride to be reckoned in the list of your Grace’s steady friends’, he wrote to Newcastle on 1 June 1762; and on 6 Jan. 1764 described himself as ‘attached to your Grace and absolutely detached from everybody else in a political connection’.10 He voted against the peace preliminaries, 9 and 10 Dec. 1762; and against Grenville’s Administration on Wilkes, 15 Nov. 1763, and general warrants, 18 Feb. 1764. ‘Of the few honourable friends which I have left’, Newcastle wrote to him on 12 Dec. 1765, ‘you are one of the first.’11
By then Page was weary of Parliament. ‘The air of the House of Commons I own I dread’, he wrote to Newcastle, 6 Jan. 1764, ‘... It has not been with my inclination that I have breathed in it within the last 17 years.’ And on 16 Jan. 1765, after having excused himself on grounds of health from attending the opening day of the session: ‘Nor can the absence of a man who has attended so very little as I have done for many years last past be much speculated upon ... or really blamed by any of my friends.’ ‘I could not attend a long day without hazarding my life’, he wrote on 15 Dec. 1765. He hoped that Newcastle too would at last see the wisdom of retirement, and when the Rockinghams broke with Chatham wrote to the Duke, 30 Nov. 1766:
I have been long anxious and solicitous for your Grace’s happiness and ... have thought that was nowhere to be found but in retirement ... it will be difficult to make me feel a liking for the late measure ... if it leads to an opposition in which your Grace is to embark.12
In September 1767 Page wrote a letter, to be distributed to every voter in Chichester, announcing his retirement from Parliament at the forthcoming general election, because ‘my age and constitution do not allow me to live in the air of London and discharge my duty as one of your representatives’. He extolled ‘the spirit of liberty and independence’ which had animated the citizens of Chichester ‘to make choice of me for what they then called (being born amongst them) their own Member’; and concluded: ‘I found you free, and masters of your own choice; and so, for any act of mine, you remain.’ Richmond, provoked by this letter, described it as ‘invidiously drawn’ and ‘full of vanity’; and Newcastle, now closely connected politically with Richmond, was hurt at not having been consulted—‘I should ... have endeavoured to have prevailed upon you to have omitted some expressions which seem to me not necessary in any view whatever.’ But Page defended himself: ‘If the Duke of Richmond complains of me he does it without cause. I have left the field open to him. I have nowhere stood in his way.’13 He kept his word, and took no further part in Chichester politics: where for the next 14 years Richmond reigned supreme.
Page died 26 Jan. 1779.
Ref Volumes: 1754-1790
Author: John Brooke
- 1. Add. 32980, f. 242.
- 2. Namier, England in Age of American Rev. 39.
- 3. Add. 32885, ff. 174, 507-8.
- 4. Add. 32863, f. 370; 32876, f. 127.
- 5. Page to Newcastle, 22 July 1758, Add. 32882, f. 41.
- 6. Add. 32875, ff. 340-54; 32926, ff. 144-6; 32929, ff. 238-9; 32944, f. 7.
- 7. Add. 32861, f. 27; 32873, f. 566; 32900, f. 452.
- 8. Add. 32920, ff. 233-4.
- 9. Newcastle to Page, 26 June 1761, Add. 32924, f. 267.
- 10. Add. 32939, f. 144; 32955, f. 107.
- 11. Add. 33972, f. 224.
- 12. Add. 32955, f. 107; 32965, f. 234; 32972, f. 253; 33071, f. 63.
- 13. Add. 32985, ff. 245, 249, 258, 291.