WHITBREAD, Samuel I (1720-96), of Bedwell Park, Herts. and Cardington, Beds.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1768 - 1774
23 Mar. 1775 - 1790
7 May 1792 - 1796

Family and Education

b. 20 Aug. 1720,1 5th s. of Henry Whitbread of The Barns, Cardington, receiver of land tax for Beds., by 2nd w. Elizabeth, da. of Philip Read of Salisbury, Wilts. m. (1) 7 July 1757,2 Harriet (d. 22 Apr. 1764),3 da. and coh. of William Hayton, attorney, of Ivinghoe, Bucks., 1s. 2da.; (2) 13 Aug. 1769,4 Lady Mary Cornwallis, da. of Charles, 1st Earl Cornwallis, 1da.

Offices Held

Sheriff, Herts. 1767-8.


On his 71st birthday Whitbread, a deeply devout man, composed the following prayer:

may I never forget my God, beware of covetousness and be mindful of the wants of others and never turn my face from any poor man that the face of God may never be turned from me ... I pray for opportunity to take leave of my poor children and recommend them to the mercy and favour of God and advise them against waste of time especially in bed as incompatible with duty to God and man.

Little of his own time had been thus wasted since his apprenticeship into the London brewing trade, with a patrimony of £2,000, in 1736. By 1790 his capital in his Chiswell Street porter brewery, the largest and technically most advanced in the country, was £271,240. At the same time, he invested heavily in land in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and six other counties, paying over £100,000 for estates of 4,500 acres between 1760 and 1785. In the last ten years of his life, when the brewery profits were at their highest, he quadrupled his Bedfordshire holdings with purchases at Warden, Elstow and finally, in 1795, at Southill, which later became the family home, though Whitbread himself never lived there.5

These last additions to his landed property, which took his total ownership to over 12,000 acres, were probably partly inspired by his growing and painful awareness that his only son, whom he had provided with the conventional formal education which he had never had himself, was unlikely to devote his whole life to the brewery as he had done. The strains in their relationship after the younger Whitbread came of age in 1785 were intensified by political differences. Whitbread senior was a supporter of Pitt, but his son, influenced by his friends Charles Grey and William Lambton, became a staunch Foxite. Whitbread’s insensitive attempt to make his son reconsider his intended marriage to Grey’s sister by sending him abroad in 1787 was unsuccessful. At the general election of 1790 Whitbread initially offered himself again for Bedford, where he had sat on his own interest for over 20 years and where a contest was in the offing between himself, another ministerialist and the candidate of the Whig Duke of Bedford, but at the last minute his son brusquely shouldered him aside. It was put out for public consumption that Whitbread had decided that he was ‘unequal to the scene of business’, but in truth he was deeply hurt by the episode, complaining to a friend that he had ‘lost by too much kindness’ and, a few days later, that he had still ‘not recovered [from] the storm to my soul, and my son is not kind nor respectful’.6

In March 1791 Whitbread stood on a vacancy for Steyning, where the right of election was in dispute, on the supposedly dominant interest of Sir John Honywood*, but was beaten at the poll by the candidate of Honywood’s rival, the Duke of Norfolk. His second wife’s brother Lord Cornwallis, governor-general of Bengal, would gladly have returned him for Eye in the event of a vacancy,7 but he was seated for Steyning on petition in May 1792, by which time his son was well established as one of the leading spirits of the advanced wing of the opposition.

Whitbread sat on the other side of the House. In December 1792 he chaired a London parish meeting to declare support for government in the current crisis and observed regretfully afterwards that his son was ‘very very very much with Fox and co.’. He was a defaulter ordered to attend, 24 Nov. 1795. In his only reported speech in this Parliament, 24 Feb. 1794, he made a plea for leniency for his old Bedfordshire acquaintance Thomas Fyshe Palmer, sentenced to transportation for treason, on the ground of his insanity which, he claimed, was common knowledge in the county. His son firmly denied the truth of this allegation in the House, 10 Mar. Whitbread, who had thought of standing for Bedfordshire on a vacancy in August 1794, did not seek re-election in 1796.8

A close friend of John Howard, the prison reformer, Whitbread was noted for his generosity to charitable causes and was said to have expended over £3,000 a year in ‘private benevolence’. At the time of his death, 11 June 1796, his annual income from property, exclusive of the brewery profits, was almost £22,000 and he was reputedly ‘worth a million at least’. His will ran to 126 pages and detailed a multitude of charitable bequests, annuities and legacies amounting to some £124,000. In 1819, Sir Robert Heron wrote of Whitbread:

[He] possessed a great deal of industry, much singularity of character, possibly some talent ... He was indefatigable in his business; and there was no hour, day or night, when those he employed could rely upon his absence. His manners and his ideas were vulgar, and he had a great deal of unintelligible superstition; but he was generous and charitable.9

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. D. Baker, Inhabitants of Cardington (Beds. Hist. Rec. Soc. lii), 131.
  • 2. London Mag. (1757), 363.
  • 3. Baker, loc. cit.; Gent. Mag. (1764), 198 gives 17 Apr.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. (1769), 414.
  • 5. R. Fulford, Whitbread, 8; D. Rapp, ‘Social Mobility in 18th Cent.’, Econ. Hist. Rev. (ser. 2), xxvii (1974), 380-94.
  • 6. Fulford, 31-47; Sunday Chron. 20 June; Public Advertiser, 21 June 1790.
  • 7. Cornwallis Corresp. ii. 104.
  • 8. Fulford, 67; CJ, li. 104; Add. 38458, f. 167; PRO 30/8/164, ff. 187, 189; Rapp, 391.
  • 9. Gent. Mag. (1796), i. 531; ii. 611; Rapp, 383; Fulford, 88-91; Heron, Notes (1851), 100.