WEST, James (1703-72), of Alscott Park, Glos.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1741 - 1768
1768 - 2 July 1772

Family and Education

b. 2 May 1703, o.s. of Richard West of Priors Marston, Warws. by his w. Mary Russell of Strensham, Worcs.  educ. Balliol, Oxf. 1719; I. Temple 1721, called 1728.  m. 15 Aug. 1738, Sarah, da. of Sir Thomas Steavens, timber merchant, of Eltham, Kent, and h. of her bro. Thomas, 1s. 2da. His da. Sarah m. Andrew Archer 1761.

Offices Held

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.; bencher I Temple 1761, reader May-Nov. 1767, treasurer 1767-8.

F.S.A. 1726, vice-president 1750- d.; F.R.S. 1727, treasurer 1736-68, president 1768- d.


West came of a Warwickshire family, descended from Thomas West, 8th Lord de la Warre. He inherited from his father an income of £1,000 per annum, and began to practise at the bar. His wife brought him £30,000, and on her brother’s death in 1759 she succeeded to her father’s fortune: in all, West estimated that he had received £100,000 through his marriage.1 As a young man he travelled in France and the Low Countries, and acquired a taste for antiquities. He collected books, manuscripts, pictures, medals, etc.; and became well-known as an antiquarian and amateur scientist.

At St. Albans, a difficult and expensive borough, he built up his own interest. He also had some influence at Evesham and Poole, but in neither borough was he very active. For eleven years he served Henry Pelham faithfully, and on Pelham’s death transferred his attachment to Newcastle, placing at his disposal an unequalled experience in Treasury business and whatever information he had of Pelham’s plans and arrangements for the impending general election.2 He resigned with Newcastle in November 1756, and was granted the reversion of the place of auditor of the land revenues (said to be worth £2,000 per annum) for his life and that of his son. He returned to office with Newcastle in July 1757, and resigned with him again in May 1762.

There are hundreds of letters from West in the Newcastle papers: yet his personality eludes delineation, restrained and reticent as he is about himself. Although able and well-connected, industrious and perseverant, he eschewed a political career; and all his ambition and devotion seemed to centre in his work. Most of his letters are dry, business communications, often written in the third person. He was sincerely attached to Newcastle yet never obtruded himself; and the Duke tended a little to take him for granted.

At the Treasury he was concerned mainly with financial business. Newcastle wrote about him in 1765:

During my time at the Treasury he has served with great ability and attention, and has been particularly useful in the several branches of the revenue, the raising the taxes, etc., and the proceedings in Parliament in all revenue affairs; and has a peculiar knowledge of the characters and dispositions of the several considerable men in the City.

When Newcastle wanted a City man to stand for Camelford in 1759, he turned to West for a review of possible candidates; and during the financial crisis of that year asked West ‘to talk to the most knowing people in the City ... upon the present state of credit and the surprising fall of the stocks’. And in September 1759 he directed West ‘to consider of proper persons ... to be turning their thoughts for raising the money the next year’.3 Another of his duties was to send Newcastle reports of debates in the Commons; clear, full yet concise, and objective, they provide most valuable information, especially on the inadequately reported Parliament of 1754-61.

During the seven years’ war West came to feel the burden of his office; and according to Sir George Colebrooke,4 he ‘always looked frightened’ at Pitt’s imperiousness. In 1759 he asked Newcastle for the place of postmaster general, excusing his wish to leave Parliament because of his health;5 but Newcastle could not spare him. In 1761 he had a difficult and expensive election at St. Albans.

West’s only recorded speech during over thirty years in the House was to move a financial resolution, 31 Mar. 1762.6 He voted with Opposition on the peace preliminaries and in all the recorded divisions on general warrants, and belonged to Wildman’s Club. He made himself responsible for the parliamentary attendance of his son-in-law Andrew Archer, and Archer’s brother-in-law Lord Winterton. Loyalty to Newcastle dictated his going into opposition, yet he was not cut out for the work and was hardly ever consulted by the Opposition leaders.

When the Rockingham Administration was being formed in July 1765 Newcastle urged West’s claim to be restored to his old place, but found Rockingham unwilling to comply. ‘Is it not possible to accommodate Mr. West without his being at the Treasury?’, he wrote to Newcastle on 8 July; and on 11 July: ‘I shall be as glad as your Grace when Mr. West can be provided for, but I really could not bring my mind to put him in the Treasury after hearing what I had heard.’ What Rockingham had heard about West does not transpire from his correspondence. In a letter to West of 13 July Newcastle probably indicated the fear behind Rockingham’s scruples:

I will do my utmost, and if I find it necessary I will even go into the King to speak to him about it. Nothing has been or shall be omitted on my part. I think your services to the public for so many years and your particular attention and goodness to me lay me under the strongest obligations to do what is due to you on so many accounts.
Young men think they don’t want the advice of us old ones, and often don’t like to have us among them or at their Boards, lest we should appear to know more of their business than they do themselves. This may be the reason that they don’t wish to have you in the Treasury.

West never upbraided Newcastle or urged his claims importunately, but relied on their justice and on the Duke’s good faith. Rockingham treated him very shabbily: he was offered the place of treasurer of the navy, a day was appointed for kissing hands, and then the place was given to Lord Howe. ‘I saw Mr. West yesterday’, wrote Rockingham to Newcastle on 25 July, ‘and must commend his behaviour. I mentioned whether he would like to be at any of the Boards, which he declined, and I must say I was not sorry.’ Newcastle replied, 26 July:

I saw poor West; he was very reasonable, but as you must know very much mortified. He says your Lordship told him he had a great many enemies, but he little thinks (poor man) who they are. He wishes to have some mark of his being not quite disgraced; he goes so low as to propose a groom of the bedchamber for his son, and to pay the salary of it to anybody.

Even this was denied him. ‘I am stopped by every Member I see’, he told Newcastle on 27 July, ‘to know what is done for me, to which I can only answer nothing yet.’7

West wrote about Newcastle to George Onslow in October 1765: ‘I hear how truly employed his Grace is for the public, and ... I am truly and deeply sensible how much trouble his goodness for so insignificant a person as myself has already given him.’ Newcastle praised West’s ‘zealous behaviour, notwithstanding his usage’8—he supported the Rockingham Administration and went into opposition with Rockingham and Newcastle in December 1766. Newcastle appreciated his loyalty and brought his son into Parliament in June 1767.

In January 1768 Newcastle, who had been seriously ill, seems to have pressed Rockingham to a reconciliation with West. West wrote to Hurdis, Newcastle’s chaplain and secretary, on 25 Jan. 1768:

Mr. West received yesterday morning a very obliging message from Lord Rockingham desiring to see him in Grosvenor Square. Mr. West immediately went to wait on his Lordship, who received Mr. West with great condescension and affability, hoped all former matters were forgot, that he had long been very sorry for it, and was ready to make the amende honorable. To which Mr. West replied that he should never think of it more. Lord Rockingham then ... complimented Mr. West for his invariable attachment to Whig principles and to the Duke of Newcastle, and hoped for Mr. West’s and his friends’ support.
Mr. West thanked his Lordship for his kind opinion of him, that he believed Lord Rockingham’s principles and his were the same, that his attachment to the Duke of Newcastle and his obligations to him were such that he could never vary from during life, and that all his actions and interest had and should always be under his Grace’s directions, and assured his Lordship of his respect for him and his principles, and that he should at all times have the greatest pleasure in endeavouring to obey his commands.

West was disinclined to stand for St. Albans at the general election of 1768: though he believed he would be successful, it would require ‘three or four months constant and vigorous attendance’ and considerable expense. ‘If your Grace should have a vacancy to spare’, he wrote to Newcastle on 11 Oct. 1767, ‘I can only say you can never bestow it on a more zealous, sincere, and faithful servant.’ ‘I can’t think of your being out of Parliament upon any account whatsoever’, Newcastle replied on 27 Oct., ‘and therefore I shall certainly take care to have you chose.’9 John Offley, whom Newcastle had arranged to bring in at Boroughbridge, stood instead at East Retford; and Newcastle offered West the vacant seat at Boroughbridge provided he would pay Offley’s expenses at Retford.

After West’s return for Boroughbridge there was a misunderstanding about these expenses, which, since Retford had been contested, came to more than Newcastle had expected. ‘I was truly grieved to see your Grace so anxious about the affair’, wrote West to Newcastle on 23 May 1768, ‘and the more so as your Grace seemed to think my poor services for a long course of years much less meritorious than those of my colleagues.’ But this mood, though justified, did not last long, and the affair ended without ill-feelings on either side. West wrote to Newcastle on 29 May:

Your Grace will never find me swerve in essentials, and I know that the liberty which has at all times been kind to your friends and servants will indulge and forgive any errors that did not proceed from intention of design. Your Grace has had many more able, and I pray God you may find more faithful, servants than myself, and you will forgive me if I say that even your Grace’s unkindness shall never make me otherwise. It is not the politics of the day, it is the heart, that is the Duke of Newcastle’s.10

After Newcastle’s death West continued to vote with the Rockinghams. He died on 2 July 1772. ‘He had a very curious collection of old pictures, English coins, English prints, and manuscripts’, wrote Horace Walpole to William Cole on 7 July, ‘but he was so rich that I take for granted nothing will be sold.’ West seems not to have been as rich as contemporaries believed; his manuscripts were sold to Lord Shelburne, and the rest of his collection by auction.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Add. 32968, ff. 264-7.
  • 2. Namier, Structure, 185-98.
  • 3. Add. 32967, f. 303; 32890, ff. 125, 231-2; 32985, f. 295.
  • 4. Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 63.
  • 5. Add. 32890, f. 239.
  • 6. Harris’s ‘Debates’.
  • 7. Add. 32967, ff. 286, 315-17, 371-2; 32968, ff. 240-1, 264-7, 299.
  • 8. Add. 34728, ff. 103-4; 32975, f. 434.
  • 9. Add. 32988, f. 72; 32985, ff. 443-4; 32986, f. 126.
  • 10. Add. 32990, ff. 117, 121, 129, 133, 140.