GYE, Frederick (1780-1869), of 38 Gracechurch Street; 141 Fleet Street, London and Wood Green, Mdx.
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Family and Educationbap. 4 Dec. 1780, 2nd but 1st surv. s. of William Gye, printer and bookseller, of Bath, Som. and w. Mary Batchelor. m. 7 July 1804, Sarah Dicks of Bath, 1s. 2da. (1 d.v.p.).1 suc. fa. 1802. d. 13 Feb. 1869.
Gye’s family origins are obscure, though they probably came from the West Country where the surname was a common variant of Guy; he may, for instance, have been related to one Waldern Gye, a Bath apothecary, who died in 1760.2 His father, William Gye, was born in 1750 and worked in his father’s printing works at 4 Westgate Buildings, Bath, before opening an establishment at 13 Market Place. An active and successful printer and bookseller, and sometime publisher of the Bath Courant, he was highly respected for his attempts to improve the conditions of the city’s poor.3 It was through his efforts that a clause setting out summary fines for using seditious language was incorporated into the rules of all the local trades’ benefit societies, which allowed magistrates to issue them with licenses.4 His greatest philanthropic endeavours were connected with the relief of the prisoners in the county gaol at Ilchester, of which he was once described as the agent, and which he visited every week with food, clothing and money. He issued trade tokens, and when they were redeemed in his shop, it was his custom to point out the inscription on them (‘Remember the debtors of Ilchester gaol’) in order to elicit donations.5 He died of an apoplectic fit in 1802, and was remembered for his ‘strict integrity and unblemished reputation’. His wife Mary, whom he had married in 1774, inherited his printing and stationery business, which was managed by her and then by their third son, Henry, who also had an outlet in Clare Street, Bristol.6
Frederick Gye, the third of 13 children, was educated at Chippenham and apparently came to like the town during his sojourn there.7 He probably worked initially in the family business, but he settled in London and in 1807 entered a partnership with Giles Balne, a master printer, of 7 Union Court, Broad Street. They established their printing and stationery office at 38 Gracechurch Street the following year, and continued to operate from there, despite its being destroyed by fire in 1820.8 Gye had a contract with Thomas Bish, the lottery agent, for printing state lottery tickets, some of which on one occasion passed into his hands and won him a prize of £30,000.9 With the proceeds he established in 1817 at 44 Southampton Row the London Wine Company, which moved to 141 Fleet Street in 1822. The following year, in partnership with Richard Hughes, he founded the London Genuine Tea Company, marketing a high quality and well-packaged product. The provincial wholesale tea trade was run from Fleet Street, and shops were opened at 8 Charing Cross, 148 Oxford Street and 23 Ludgate Hill.10 His most renowned venture was his management of the famous Vauxhall Gardens, which he purchased with Bish and Hughes in 1821, for £28,000. Reopened under the title of ‘The Royal Gardens, Vauxhall’, with the approval of George IV, 3 June 1822, they then entered on a period of expansion and improvement. As well as promoting major refurbishment and the construction of several new arenas for ballet, concerts, fireworks and all manner of performing artists, he also presented special events, such as a spectacular re-enactment of the battle of Waterloo in 1827.11 His theatrical zeal was not universally popular, however, and following complaints from local residents, he was forced to attend the Surrey sessions, 18 Oct. 1826, when he protested that the dark walks had by then been suitably lit, that improper women and disorderly dancing had never been allowed, and that the gardens should be permitted to remain open past midnight.12
Perhaps because of his earlier connection with the town, Gye accepted the invitation of a deputation from Chippenham to stand on the independent interest at the general election of 1826. He initially eschewed financial inducements, and, in an address, 25 Mar., promised to raise the matter by petition if he were defeated. But he did reluctantly engage in treating, and it was asserted that he ‘has not a leg to stand upon; nor would all the champagne in his cellars in Fleet Street afford him one’.13 He soon made more explicit his promise to procure sales of cloth in order to provide employment for the town’s distressed workers, and by early June he had actually purchased large quantities of wool so as to restart production in the factories. One of the sitting Members, John Rock Grosett, therefore retired in his favour, and Gye was duly elected unopposed.14 At a dinner, 13 June, he declared that
although strictly independent in his political creed, he should enter the House of Commons with a strong feeling in favour of the present [Liverpool] administration, because he considered that they had obtained, and justly deserved, the confidence of the country.
In Bath, where he was ‘universally known and respected’, he was praised for having overturned the long established ‘burgage-tenure-thraldom’ at Chippenham.15 He fulfilled his pledge by purchasing one of the largest businesses in his constituency, and on his next visit, in May 1827, he reiterated his promise to keep the inhabitants fully employed.16 He was largely inactive in the House, where he is not known to have spoken, except in presenting two constituency petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June 1827, 22 Feb. 1828.17 He voted for this, 26 Feb. 1828, and for Jewish emancipation, 17 May 1830, but against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827, 12 May 1828 and steadily throughout March 1829. His only other reported votes were against transferring East Retford’s seats to Birmingham, 11 Feb., to abolish the death penalty for forgery, 7 June, and for prohibiting the sale of beer for on-consumption, 21 June 1830. He was thought to be opposed to the New Sarum poor bill that session.18
Possibly because his cloth concerns were a failure and, as one election poster put it, ‘cash is scarce (on the Surrey side of the water)’, but mainly because the borough had completely fallen under the control of a single patron, Gye withdrew from Chippenham at the dissolution in 1830.19 He offered instead for Berwick, and asked Thomas Gladstone*, who described him as ‘an inferior sort of person’, for a ‘few lines of introduction or recommendation’ from his father, John, a former Member.20 He claimed to have elicited such support, but as a stranger he failed to gain widespread acceptance in his attempt to oust the Whig Sir Francis Blake. He was depicted as a ‘commercial gentleman of the highest respectability’, but had to defend his character on the hustings, 31 July, when he stated that
in nine cases out of ten I have gone into the House of Commons not knowing how I should divide. I confess I have generally divided on the same side as Colonel [Marcus] Beresford: but whenever I have on any occasion differed from the ministers, I have fearlessly divided against them.
He also stressed that a port required an active Member resident in London, and boasted that he had been in trade for 27 years and was still ‘a man of business and always at my post’. He was disappointed in his promises and withdrew from the contest.21 He did not sit in the Commons again, although he was approached by the reformers of Shaftesbury in 1831.22
Always anxious to extend his multifarious business interests, Gye proposed a plan to increase the number of horse-drawn carriages in London in 1828 and was also the owner of the Portugal Hotel in Fleet Street. He had a brief association with the Mirror of Parliament, taking it over from Henry Winchester*, but reportedly ‘lost a good deal of money by it’.23 However, the Vauxhall Gardens remained his principle concern. Among his innovations in the 1830s were the introduction of illuminations and optical illusions, ascents by the Great Nassau balloon, and day-time opening. But not all them were successful, as was proved in 1837 by the unfortunate death of Robert Cocking, whose experimental parachute failed to operate properly on his descent from a balloon. Gye was also faced by mounting financial problems. His printing business seems to have been dissolved soon after 1830, his wine company failed in 1836 when a speculation was made in what turned out to be a bad vintage of port, and a number of wet seasons contributed to the decline of Vauxhall Gardens, which closed for the last time under his management, 5 Sept. 1839. He and his partners were declared bankrupt in May 1840, with debts of about £20,000, and the tea company and gardens were sold.24 He retired to Brighton, where he died of influenza in February 1869, leaving what property he had to his daughter Letitia Scalding Gye (b. 1810). Her twin brother and Gye’s only son, Frederick, who had managed the Vauxhall Gardens for his father in the 1830s, and had later become the proprietor of the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden, and one of the leading theatrical impresarios of the nineteenth century, died as the result of a shooting accident, 4 Dec. 1878. His eldest son Ernest (?1839-1925), one of several successful children, was also an operatic manager, and married the celebrated singer Madame Albani.25
Ref Volumes: 1820-1832
Author: Stephen Farrell
- 1. IGI (London, Som.); Gent. Mag. (1853), ii. 102.
- 2. PROB 11/856/238.
- 3. W. Longman, Tokens of 18th Cent. 57-58; P.J. Wallis, 18th Cent. Book Trade Index, 18; Census of British Newspapers and Periodicals ed. R.S. Crane and R.B. Kaye, 118.
- 4. S. Poole, ‘Radicalism, Loyalism and "Reign of Terror" in Bath’, Bath Hist. iii (1990), 123.
- 5. Longman, 58; J.S. Cox, Ilchester Mint, 68; Gent. Mag. (1807), ii. 723; Printers’ Reg. 6 Jan. 1879.
- 6. Longman, 58-59; PROB 11/1383/823.
- 7. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 30 Oct. 1826.
- 8. W.B. Todd, Dir. of Printers, 9, 86.
- 9. H.S. Edwards, Lyrical Drama, ii. 15-17.
- 10. Oxford DNB.
- 11. Ibid.; The Times, 14 Mar. 1822; W. Wroth, London Pleasure Gardens, 316-22; J.G. Southworth, Vauxhall Gardens, 21-22, 61-69, 92-110.
- 12. The Times, 18, 19, 26 Oct. 1826.
- 13. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 27 Feb., 3 Apr.; The Times, 25 Mar. 1826; Wilts. RO, Bevir mss 1171/9, address.
- 14. Devizes Gazette, 27 Apr., 8, 15 June; The Times, 3 June 1826.
- 15. Bath Herald, 17 June; Bath Gazette, 20 June 1826.
- 16. Devizes Gazette, 3 Aug. 1826, 31 May 1827.
- 17. The Times, 8 June 1827.
- 18. Wilts. RO, Peniston mss 451/59, Peniston to Baker, 2 Apr. 1830.
- 19. Wilts. RO 740/49; G19/1/43.
- 20. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 195, T. to J. Gladstone, 26 June, 27 July 1830.
- 21. Berwick Advertiser, 10, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 22. Dorset RO, Rutter mss D50/3, Chitty to Gye, 13 Apr., reply, 23 Apr. 1831.
- 23. Wellington mss WP1/937/6; Hist. of ‘The Times’, i. 428; J. Grant, Great Metropolis (ser. 2), ii. 217.
- 24. Oxford DNB; The Times, 27 May, 22 July, 9 Nov. 1840, 5 June 1841.
- 25. DNB; Oxford DNB; Edwards, i. 17-30; Sir H. Keppel, Sailor’s Life under Four Sovereigns, iii. 25-26; The Times, 6 Dec. 1878, 13 June 1925.