CAPEL, John (1767-1846), of 96 Cornhill, London and 32 Russell Square, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1830
2 Dec. 1830 - 1832

Family and Education

b. 31 Oct. 1767,1 1st s. of James Capel of Shoreditch, London and Sarah, da. of Thomas Dunford of Andover, Hants. m. (1) 19 Apr. 1794, Eleanor (d. 18 Dec. 1831), da. of Richard Morse of Faringdon, Berks., 2da. (1 d.v.p.); (2) Frances Ralley, s.p. d. 12 Dec. 1846.

Offices Held

Gov. Foundling Hosp. 1791-1832, v.-pres. 1832-d.


Capel came from a large extended family, many of whose members had financial or business interests in London. His great-grandparents, John and Mary Capel of Droitwich, Worcestershire, had eight children between 1710 and 1730. The eldest, John, married Mary, only daughter of John and Mary Chamberlain of Kempsey, Worcestershire, 29 Oct. 1735. Their third son, James, who was christened in Kempsey, 13 Mar. 1740, moved to the capital and was employed by the East India Company and later in the pepper office of the Royal Exchange. He married, 27 Sept. 1764, at St. Paul’s, Covent Garden, Sarah Dunford, with whom he had five children. Capel, their second child and eldest son, who was christened at St. Leonard’s, Shoreditch, 9 Nov. 1767, married Eleanor Morse (bap. 15 Apr. 1773) in April 1794, at Great Coxwell, Berkshire.2

He was initially employed by John Bruckshaw of Wood Street, Walthamstow, Essex, who worked as a stockbroker in the Royal Exchange and had premises at 96 Cornhill. Both men signed the London merchants’ declaration of loyalty in 1795. At about that time they must have entered into a partnership, since from then on the firm is listed in the London directories as Bruckshaw and Capel, stockbrokers and lottery office keepers. They attended the first known meeting of the managing proprietors of the stock exchange at the Antwerp, 4 Mar. 1801, and were instrumental in the regularization of the new financial institution which was established in Capel Court, Bartholomew Lane.3 They briefly employed Capel’s first cousin, James Capel (1789-1872), who then joined the firm which, as Marjoribanks, Capel and Company and later James Capel and Company, was to become one of the leading stockbroking firms.4 Bruckshaw died at Bristol Hot Wells, 17 Aug. 1810, and bequeathed to Capel his house and household goods in Walthamstow, as well as £1,000 and a joint residuary legacy of £1,242.5 Capel then took in Henry Cuerton as his partner, and in about 1820 brought his nephew, John William Cundy (whose brother Stephen was also a stockbroker), into the firm as another partner. He was one of the four stock exchange managers who supervised the establishment of a foreign dealing room in 1823.6 From about 1839 the firm is listed in the directories as operating from 7 Pope’s Head Alley, and in about 1845 Thomas Acland Lawford replaced Cundy. Capel remained a partner until his death, after which the firm continued to operate as Steer, Cuerton and Lawford. Capel’s brother, John Durnford Capel (d. 1844) of Grove Cottage, North Brixton, Surrey, was for many years one of the cashiers at the bank of England, and had a son, Thomas Spencer Capel, who established a firm of coal merchants at Bridewell Wharf, Blackfriars.7

Capel lived at 8 Artillery Place in the City, but in the 1810s moved to 32 Russell Square, Middlesex, where he held a private concert in May each year.8 His first known venture into politics was in May 1821 when he reluctantly came forward on the corporation interest to oppose William Venables* in an aldermanic by-election in Queenhithe, during which he was described as a rich and very charitable man. After a fierce three-day contest, and an intensive scrutiny, he was defeated by 50 votes to 31.9 He was reluctant to stand for Parliament, but was persuaded to do so by the urgent request of the freemen of Queenborough, who were suffering deplorable oppression at the hands of the mayor, Thomas Young Greet.10 Capel’s independent candidacy was declared in mid-1825, and ministerial divisions seriously threatened the ordnance’s control of the borough. The duke of Wellington complained, 24 June, that the ‘under house officer at Queenborough is to set up a Member against the interest of the master general of the ordnance, and ... is to be assisted by the secretary of state for the home department’, Robert Peel.11 The Times reported on 23 July 1825 that Capel had strengthened his cause by generously treating the freemen resident in Queenborough and Dover with roast beef, plum pudding, speeches, harangues and music. At the general election of 1826 he stood as a Whig in opposition to the ordnance Members, Lord William Frederick Cavendish Bentinck and Lord Downes, but in unison with the principles of Lord Liverpool’s ministry. He was returned at the head of the poll and apparently showed his gratitude by kissing the freemen’s wives and daughters.12 Wellington was furious with the treasury and home office for allowing subordinate officers to use their influence in support of Capel. Stephen Rumbold Lushington*, the joint-secretary to the treasury, blamed the outcome on Capel having exploited the resentment of the fishing community against the corporation. He added: ‘Indeed I am not without suspicion that if Mr. C[apel] had not come forward they would have invited two other candidates of a much worse description. It is some consolation to know that he is a Tory and a Protestant’.13 The inhabitants were delighted with Capel’s victory and commemorative medals were struck to celebrate it.14

Capel divided with ministers for the duke of Clarence’s annuity, 16 Mar. 1827. He was in the minorities of five who voted against unseating John Gladstone in the Berwick election committee, 19 Mar., and of 18 in favour of the spring guns bill, 30 Mar.15 He divided against the Coventry magistracy bill, 18 June. He presented a petition from the Protestant Dissenters of Queenborough in favour of repealing the Test Acts, 6 June 1827, but voted against their repeal, 26 Feb. 1828.16 He divided to allow the use of ribbons at elections, 21 Mar., for the usury bill, 19 June, and with the Wellington government on the silk duties, 14 July 1828. He had voted against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828, and in February 1829 was listed by Planta, the patronage secretary, among those ‘opposed to the principle of the bill’ to emancipate the Catholics, which he duly divided steadily against the following month. He voted against parliamentary reform, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. On the chancellor’s announcement of his intention to reduce the interest rates on government stock, 26 Mar., Capel stated that he owed it to the stockholders to give the fullest information he could of the details of the plan. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and against reducing the grant for South American missions, 7 June, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 7 June. He presented petitions from the Foundling Hospital against the lighting of parishes bill, 29 Mar., and the parish vestries bill, 27 July. He was in the minority for postponing authority to sell beer on the premises, 1 July 1830, and may have been the ‘Mr. Capel’ who helped to persuade Lord Ellenborough, 27 Apr. 1831, that the granting of such permission had done considerable harm.17

During the 1826 Parliament Capel was heavily involved in the cause of the oyster-fishing community at Queenborough against the select body of the corporation. The mayor’s policy of excluding fishermen from the dredging grounds, unless they agreed to abide by certain oppressive by-laws, had created widespread unemployment and poverty. Capel paid for Edward Skey’s successful defence against a charge of illegal dredging at the assizes at Maidstone, 24 Aug. 1827.18 He visited the town that winter, was active in organizing subscriptions to relieve distress and promised legislative assistance.19 It was almost certainly he who, on 15 Feb. 1828, presented the petition of the burgesses praying for leave for a bill to confirm that the borough’s charter vested the fishery’s profits in the whole corporation of mayor, jurats, bailiffs and burgesses, not just in the select body. He and one of the county Members, Sir Edward Knatchbull, were given leave to bring it in, 14 Mar. On the corporate funds bill, 10 July, he gave a long recital of the grievances of the freemen against their mayor and supported the bill on the grounds that Greet, who was also the treasurer, had unlimited control over the borough’s accounts and could deny the burgesses any recourse in law by threatening to saddle them with all the resultant legal costs; he was a teller for the bill in two divisions. He gave notice, 17 July 1828, that the following day he would move for an address to the king for a return of the names of the mayors and jurats at Queenborough since 1812, but he apparently did not pursue the matter further. On another visit to his constituency, 6 Sept., he explained that having been reliably informed that a material objection would be made to his bill in the Lords, he had thought better to withdraw it rather than incur a pointless expense.20 He chaired a meeting in London, 19 Jan. 1829, to raise additional subscriptions to the £1,100 that had already been spent on food, clothes, medicine and fuel for the impoverished freemen.21 A letter from ‘Q’ to the editor of the Age that month attacked Capel for encouraging the burgesses to idleness and rebellion, and promised to contest any attempts to alter the borough’s charter.22

At the 1830 general election Capel united his interest with Gladstone’s eldest son, Thomas Gladstone*, and both stood as independents against the ordnance candidates, William Holmes* and Admiral Sir Philip Durham†. Capel received support for his spirited stand against the select body, and he promised his continued assistance during canvassing in the town, 31 July. He treated the freemen lavishly, and was indifferent to the expense involved. As had been feared, however, the Wellington administration used its ordnance interest to bring in a large number of non-resident electors and, finishing in joint second place with Durham, he was saddled with the inconvenience of a double return.23 John Gladstone commented to William Huskisson*, 2 Sept., that

such of the duke’s friends as I have met with here, seem to despair of his being able to hold his ground. Mr. Capel, Tom’s colleague at Queenborough, came down by the mail this morning. He is a considerable stockbroker and generally voted with him [Wellington] in the last Parliament, though they have used him ill, and he tells me such is the prevailing feeling in the City.24

Thomas Gladstone thought that Capel was characteristically sanguine in thinking they would be seated without much trouble, and that he was too fond of Parliament to retire. However, it was only after a good deal of preparation that they jointly petitioned on the ground of gross corruption, 9 Nov. Their case was not opposed in the subsequent committee, which seated them, 2 Dec. 1830.25 It was alleged that ministers had abandoned their candidates for fear of their electoral malpractices being exposed, and that they had even offered a free seat to Capel elsewhere on condition that he gave up his pretensions to Queenborough.26 Capel had been listed by ministers among their ‘friends’ that autumn, but, not surprisingly, a query was also entered beside his name.

He spoke against the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 4 Mar. 1831, as it would deprive his constituents, and the liverymen of the City of London, of their electoral rights. He presented a Queenborough petition against the bill, 18 Mar., and voted against its second reading, 22 Mar. He objected to the total disfranchisement of his constituency, 30 Mar., because the borough had recently succeeded in making itself independent of its corrupt corporation, and voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831. At the ensuing general election he was easily returned at the head of the poll with another anti-reformer, Sir Colquhoun Grant; they were described in the Tory Kentish Gazette as ‘constitutionalists’.27 He voted against the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July, and for using the 1831 census to determine the boroughs in schedules A and B, 19 July. Having brought up a petition from Queenborough against its disfranchisement, 5 July, he again stressed its newly independent character and ridiculed John Smith for supporting reform when his brother Robert Smith† had received the barony of Carrington for being one of Pitt’s boroughmongers, 26 July. He voted for postponing consideration of the partial disfranchisement of Chippenham, 27 July, and against the third reading, 19 Sept., and passage of the bill, 21 Sept. He voted against the second reading of the revised bill, 17 Dec. 1831, and its committal, 20 Jan. 1832. He was listed in the minority of 11 for Hunt’s motion to give the vote to all tax-paying householders, 2 Feb., but voted against the enfranchisement of Tower Hamlets, 28 Feb., and the third reading of the bill, 22 Mar. He divided in the minority on Waldo Sibthorp’s amendment concerning the votes of Lincoln freeholders, 23 Mar. His only other known votes were against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, crown colonies relief, 3 Aug., and the Greek loan, 6 Aug. 1832. He had continued his generous support of the Queenborough freemen and Thomas Gladstone estimated that disfranchisement, because it would render his property in the town almost worthless, had cost him at least £20,000. Deprived of his seat by the Reform Act, he declined invitations to come forward at Harwich, Southampton and elsewhere, and retired at the 1832 dissolution.28

Capel’s younger daughter, Sarah (bap. 30 May 1805), died, 2 Nov. 1822, and his elder, Mary Ann (bap. 24 Apr. 1804), married, as his second wife, Sir Codrington Edmund Carrington*, 2 Oct. 1830. His wife died, in her 59th year, 18 Dec. 1831, and sometime thereafter he married a Miss Frances Ralley. According to the cleric and author Richard Harris Barham, Capel, ‘a stockbroker of great worth as well as fortune’, late in life married one of his first wife’s friends (who Barham calls ‘Miss Putley’), an event ‘which occasioned a good deal of stock exchange waggery, not all of it of the most delicate description; some of the epigrams written on the occasion had point enough, but they will not bear recording’.29 He died in December 1846, in his 80th year, and was buried with his first wife and their younger daughter in the vault of St. John’s, Regent’s Park, Middlesex.30

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. IGI.
  • 2. Ibid. (Berks., Hants, London, Worcs.); GL, James Capel and Co. mss 19567, ms ped. (1861).
  • 3. E.V. Morgan and W.A. Thomas, Stock Exchange, 67-73.
  • 4. M.C. Reed, Hist. James Capel and Co. 19-21; Oxford DNB (sub James Capel).
  • 5. Gent. Mag. (1810), i. 196; PROB 11/1514/410; IR26/162/31.
  • 6. Morgan and Thomas, 84-86; Reed, 24-27.
  • 7. Gent. Mag. (1844), ii. 103; MI (churchyard) Edmonton, Mdx.
  • 8. Bks. of Words of Ten Private Concerts (1817-28).
  • 9. The Times, 23, 25 May 1821; Gent. Mag. (1821), i. 555.
  • 10. Kentish Chron. 1 Jan. 1828; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 521, Saunders and Comyn to Gladstone, 29 Jan. 1831.
  • 11. Wellington mss WP1/822/20; 826/11.
  • 12. Kentish Chron. 9, 16 June; Kentish Gazette 9, 13 June; The Times, 10 June 1826.
  • 13. Wellington mss WP1/857/8, 9.
  • 14. Kent and Essex Mercury, 8 Aug. 1826; J. Castle, Queenborough and its Church, 41.
  • 15. Glynne-Gladstone mss 194, T. to J. Gladstone, 19 Mar. 1827.
  • 16. The Times, 7 June 1827.
  • 17. Three Diaries, 89.
  • 18. Maidstone Jnl. 28 Aug. 1827.
  • 19. Kentish Chron. 1, 15 Jan.; Kentish Gazette, 15 Jan. 1828.
  • 20. Kentish Chron. 9 Sept.; Kentish Gazette, 5 Sept. 1828.
  • 21. Kentish Chron. 20 Jan.; Kentish Gazette, 23 Jan. 1829; Gent. Mag. (1829), i. 77.
  • 22. Kentish Gazette, 27 Jan. 1829.
  • 23. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 12, 26, 27 July; Kent and Essex Mercury, 13 July; Kentish Chron. 27 July, 7 Sept.; The Times, 28 July, 3 Aug. 1830.
  • 24. Add. 38758, f. 267.
  • 25. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 26, 29 Oct.; The Times, 3 Dec. 1830.
  • 26. Spectator, 1 Jan.; Kentish Gazette, 21 Jan. 1831.
  • 27. Kentish Gazette, 6 May; Maidstone Jnl. 10 May 1831.
  • 28. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196, T. to J. Gladstone, 24 Nov. 1830; 197, same to same, 19 Mar. 1831; 522, Capel to T. Gladstone, Dec. 1832.
  • 29. R.H. Barham, Garrick Club (1986), 17.
  • 30. Gent. Mag. (1847), i. 214; MI St. John’s Church, Regent’s Park, Mdx.