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Thomas Duffield

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Thomas Duffield

1782 - 1854

Biography

(see long history)

Thomas Duffield, Abingdon’s MP from 1832 to 1844, was born in 1782 at Syston, Lincolnshire, second son of Michael Duffield. The family moved in 1805 to a new seat at Sunninghill, Berkshire. Thomas seems to have been intended for an academic career; he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1800, and in 1807 gained his MA and took up a fellowship at Merton.  However, his ambitions were for a higher station in life. Emily Frances Elwes was the only child of George Elwes of Marcham Park, and sole heiress to a fortune said to be of almost a million pounds.  Her father might reasonably have hoped for Emily to marry into the nobility, but in 1810 she and Thomas eloped and were married at Gretna Green. The elopement was widely and sensationally reported in the newspapers.

When George Elwes died in 1821 Thomas became the owner of Marcham Park, which he rebuilt and modernised. An interest in politics developed slowly; in 1825 he publicly supported the Tory candidate for one of the Berkshire county seats. In 1826, Abingdon Conservatives, who included most of the Corporation, invited him to stand against their incumbent, the Liberal John Maberly, but he decided that Maberly was too well entrenched and withdrew.

Nonetheless, he continued to be active in public affairs and to nurse the constituency. He was High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1827. He donated very generously to local social and charitable funds, and subscribed £100 of the £1700 cost of widening Abingdon Bridge in 1829, the largest contribution by any individual. He was a signatory to the 1831 Berkshire petition, where some 150 of the most prominent residents of the county publicised their opposition to the proposed parliamentary reforms and extension of the franchise.

In 1832, Maberly became bankrupt and had to flee abroad to avoid the debtor’s prison.  Duffield was the obvious man to succeed him and had the support of most members of the Corporation. The Liberal candidate, Thomas Bowles of Milton Hill, was supported by ‘some of the gentry and nearly all the respectable tradesmen’ but withdrew, hinting at large-scale bribery by the wealthy Duffield with which he could not compete. He was replaced as candidate by a son of Maberly without local connections. Duffield won the seat by 157 votes against 43. He became as entrenched in Abingdon as Maberly had been, and was returned unopposed at the elections of 1835, 1837 and 1841.

Duffield was never an active parliamentarian and there is no record of him speaking in the House of Commons. His main political interest was in agricultural matters. He strongly opposed repeal of the Corn Laws. However, he also worked hard in support of local interests and, in particular, helped to defeat an early attempt in the Berkshire Quarter Sessions to close the Abingdon gaol and remove the convicts there to Reading. The Corporation trooped in a body to Marcham Park to thank him.

It may have seemed that Duffield would hold the Abingdon seat for a very long time, but in 1844 he unexpectedly resigned and was replaced by another Conservative, Frederick Thesiger. The Abingdon Corporation, nearly all Conservatives, manipulated the election so that it was impossible for the Liberals to field a candidate, and Thesiger walked over.

Thesiger was solicitor-general, and had lost his seat at Woodstock because the Duke of Marlborough wanted it for his son. The coup at Abingdon came about because the government needed to keep his services. It was speculated, probably rightly, that Duffield had received a payoff of £7500 or thereabouts from the Treasury.

Duffield’s motives remain a mystery – he plainly didn’t need the money – but it is possible that he was simply tired of parliamentary duties and anxious to spend more time with his young second wife and their growing family. His first wife, Emily, had died in 1835 after bearing ten children, eight of whom survived infancy. In 1838, he married Augusta Elizabeth Rushbrooke, daughter of a fellow-MP. His oldest son had died tragically in a shooting accident in 1833 at the age of twenty, and a daughter at the same age in 1841. Augusta died in 1846, probably after the birth of their fifth child.

In the summer of 1847, Duffield left Marcham Park and moved with his younger children to a new home, the Castle Priory in Wallingford. He continued active in public affairs, and was soon made High Steward of the town. He died in 1854.

 

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2016

(see short history)

Thomas Duffield, Abingdon’s MP from 1832 to 1844, was born in 1782 at Syston, Lincolnshire, son of Michael Duffield. The family seems to have been wealthy, and moved in 1805 to a new seat at Sunninghill, Berkshire. Thomas was a second son, and would not expect to inherit the family property. [1]  He seems to have been intended for an academic career; he matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1800, and in 1807 gained his MA and took up a fellowship at Merton.[2] Like many of the richer Oxford men, he rode with the Old Berkshire Hunt and in 1808 joined with the Master, Robert Symonds of Hinton Waldrist, in the purchase of a pack of hounds.[3] We may speculate that it was at a hunt ball that he made the acquaintance of Emily Frances Elwes, whose father George Elwes was lord of the manor of Marcham; but both families had town houses in Marylebone and it may have been there that their relationship developed.[4]

Emily was an only child and sole heiress to a fortune estimated by the newspapers at almost a million pounds.[5] George Elwes might reasonably have hoped to secure for her a glittering marriage into the aristocracy, and Thomas’s suit was rejected. We cannot know whether it was Emily’s person or her prospects that provided the greater incentive, but one morning in February 1810, he collected her from her house and they eloped. They drove the three hundred miles from London to Gretna Green in a highly creditable thirty-seven hours and were married on arrival by the drunken Parson Joseph, known as the Blacksmith, who took £50 for his pains.[6]

The elopement was a sensation. If we can believe a widely disseminated newspaper report, it had been carefully planned. Two of Thomas’s friends and the fiancée of one of them visited the Elwes residence on Marelybone High Street.  The woman took Emily’s mother away on a shopping expedition. Thomas arrived outside in a four-horse chaise. His friends shepherded Emily towards the door. Her father was suspicious, but she said something vague about her mother calling her, and was in her indoor clothes. The friends saw her into the chaise and, when it had driven off, went back to break the news to her father.

When her mother returned, both parents set off in pursuit, but soon realised that it was hopeless and they would have to make the best of the situation.[7] On the couple’s return to London, Emily, at least, was welcomed by her family and congratulated, and a more conventional ceremony was hastily arranged at Marylebone Church.[8] What was said to Thomas by her family and by his is not recorded.

The young couple first resided at Compton Beauchamp in the Vale of White Horse. Duffield’s connection with the Old Berks Hunt ceased, but he was named a Berkshire deputy-lieutenant in 1817.[9] When George Elwes died in 1821 he became the owner of Marcham Park, which he rebuilt and modernised.[10] An interest in politics developed slowly; in 1825 Duffield publicly supported the Tory candidate for one of the Berkshire county seats.[11] In 1826, Abingdon Conservatives, who included most of the Corporation, invited him to stand against their incumbent, the Liberal John Maberly, but he decided after canvassing that Maberly was too well entrenched and withdrew.[12] The exercise had been expensive; he had donated 200 guineas to the Abingdon poor, and given each voter a one-guinea voucher with which he could dine at a local inn.[13]

Nonetheless, he developed his involvement in public affairs and nursed the constituency. He was High Sheriff of Berkshire in 1827, which involved giving ‘a most sumptuous public breakfast’ at six different inns on the occasion of the Reading assizes.[14] He donated very generously to local social and charitable funds, and subscribed £100 of the £1700 cost of widening Abingdon Bridge in 1829, the largest contribution by any individual.[15] He was a signatory to the 1831 Berkshire petition, where some 150 of the most prominent residents of the county publicised their opposition to the proposed parliamentary reforms and extension of the franchise.[16]

In 1832, Maberly became bankrupt and had to flee abroad to avoid the debtor’s prison.  Duffield was the obvious man to replace him and again had the support of most members of the Corporation. He donated 23 acres of land in Conduit Field as allotments for the Abingdon poor, and hired Maberly’s team of election managers.[17] The Liberal candidate, Thomas Bowles of Milton Hill, was supported by ‘some of the gentry and nearly all the respectable tradesmen’ but withdrew, hinting at large-scale bribery by Duffield with which he could not compete. At the last minute, a son of Maberly entered the contest and seems to have had the tradesmen’s support, but tradesmen could not vote and Duffield won the seat by 157 votes against 43.[18]

Duffield became as entrenched in Abingdon as Maberly had been. In spite of the political differences between the men, there was a feeling of continuity; the MP’s annual gift of coal to the poor that Maberly had inaugurated now became a local institution. Duffield was returned unopposed at the elections of 1835, 1837 and 1841.[19]

Maberly, in spite of mostly following the Liberal line, had always emphasised his independence of party. Duffield, though a Conservative, did the same. But in his case, the independence was much less marked. He denied opposing parliamentary reform, but the particular reform under discussion at any time he always saw as unsatisfactory.[20] Although sitting for a borough, he was at heart a country squire and his greatest interest was in agricultural matters. He was bitterly opposed to the repeal of the Corn Laws. He was never an active parliamentarian and there is no record of him speaking in the House of Commons.

It may have seemed that Duffield would hold the Abingdon seat for a very long time, but on 4 May 1844 the people of the town were surprised to learn that he had applied for the Chiltern Hundreds, the traditional way of resigning from the House. The same day saw the arrival of the new candidate for his seat, Frederick Thesiger, who was escorted by the leading local Conservatives and proceeded to canvass for votes. It was a Saturday, a day on which no post left Abingdon, and the poll was fixed for the following Saturday, so that it was practically impossible for the Liberals to organise any opposition. ‘Retainers’ – bribes – were offered, but proved unnecessary; Thesiger walked over. His political principles were not discussed.[21]

Thesiger had lost his seat at Woodstock because the Duke of Marlborough wanted it for his son, just turned twenty-one and ready for a political apprenticeship in the Commons before replacing his father in the House of Lords. The coup at Abingdon came about because Thesiger was solicitor-general and the government needed to keep his services. There was much discussion as to the incentive that must have been offered to Duffield to vacate his seat. No honours were seen to come his way, and the final consensus was that he must have received a payoff of £7500 or thereabouts from the Treasury. [22]

Duffield’s motives remain a mystery, but it is possible that he was simply tired of parliamentary duties and anxious to spend more time with his young second wife and their growing family. His first wife, Emily, had died in 1835 after bearing ten children, eight of whom survived infancy. In 1838, he married Augusta Elizabeth Rushbrooke, daughter of a fellow-MP. His oldest son had died tragically in a shooting accident in 1833 at the age of twenty, and a daughter at the same age in 1841. Augusta died in 1846, probably after the birth of their fifth child.[23]

Even though he was no longer in Parliament, Duffield’s political activities continued unabated. Later in 1844, there was something of a crisis in the Quarter Sessions which administered the county of Berkshire, and of which Duffield, as a county magistrate, was a member. A new large county gaol had been built in Reading, and magistrates from the south of the county wanted to close the gaol in Abingdon and move its inmates to the new facility. If that were to happen, Abingdon would lose its annual assizes and its regular Quarter Sessions, and the money that they brought in to the town.

It was Duffield who took the lead in opposing the proposal, and at the sessions of January 1845 it was – temporarily, as it turned out – defeated and laid to rest. The Abingdon Corporation was elated and trooped off in a body to thank Duffield formally at his Marcham home.[24]

Duffield may have regretted his absence from the House of Commons when, in 1845, the Peel government repealed the Corn Laws. He was a principal speaker at the various protest meetings that were called in Abingdon and Reading.[25] Abingdon people who shared his opinions will have become aware of the disadvantages of having a member of the government as their representative, for Thesiger continued to support the Peel administration and only narrowly survived the next election.

In the summer of 1847, Duffield, again a widower, left Marcham Park and moved to a new home, the Castle Priory in Wallingford. He continued active in public affairs, and was soon made High Steward of the town. The 1851 census shows him as aged 68, living with four of the children of his second marriage – the oldest, Thomas jnr, was presumably away at school – a governess, a female visitor, and seven servants. He died in 1854.

The political historian Norman Gash compared the careers of Duffield, his predecessor Maberly, and his successor Thesiger to draw conclusions on the nature of Abingdon as a parliamentary constituency.  It was not, like Rye, a Treasury borough where the incumbent was bound to support the government whatever it did. It was not proprietary or seigneurial, like Woodstock which the Duke of Marlborough could present as he pleased. It was not venal, like Wallingford where a vote was simply a saleable commodity, fetching £20 or £30 according to the state of the market.[26] Corruption in Abingdon was significant but not decisive. The town, with some 300 voters, had clearly defined interest groups reasonably well balanced. There were the traditional élites well represented in the Corporation who saw profit in a flourishing agricultural hinterland, and there were the industrialists like John Francis Spenlove, the brewer, who preferred to have cheap food for their workers. There was the embattled Reverend Dodson, struggling to maintain an Anglican monopoly and continually challenged by aggressive Dissenters like the Baptists Dr Charles Tomkins and Reverend Kershaw. Men of integrity who voted in Parliament according to their principles rather than the dictates of party could appeal to all sides. Maberly and Duffield had very different views but were equally acceptable to the Abingdon voting public. It was when Thesiger continued as a government supporter after the policy reversal of the Corn Laws repeal that his incumbency was challenged. It was maintained by a mere two votes, and he was forced to go elsewhere.

The Abingdon electorate, as Gash concluded, was an easy-going one, but could sting if annoyed.[27]

 

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2016

 

[1] Ancestry.com; F C Loder-Symonds and E Percy Crowdy, A History of the Old Berks Hunt 1760-1904, (Vinton, London, 1905), p.209

[2] J. Foster, Alumni oxonienses: the members of the University of Oxford, 1715-1886

[3] Loder-Symonds and Crowdy, The Old Berks Hunt, pp 64, 67, 210.

[4] Ancestry.com, Land Tax Records

[5] Morning Chronicle, 10 February 1810 p. 3

[6] Loder-Symonds and Crowdy, The Old Berks Hunt, p. 66; Morning Chronicle, 1 March 1810, p. 3

[7] Morning Chronicle, 10 February 1810 p. 3

[8] Loder-Symonds and Crowdy, The Old Berks Hunt, p. 67

[9] Loder-Symonds and Crowdy, The Old Berks Hunt, p. 67; Hampshire Chronicle 11 August 1817 p. 2

[10] Victoria County History of Berkshire, vol 4, pp 354-360

[11] Oxford University and City Herald, 2 April 1825 p. 3

[12] Public Ledger and Daily Advertiser, 24 May 1826 p.3

[14] Berkshire Chronicle, 3 March 1827 p. 3

[15] Berkshire Chronicle, 25 July 1829 p. 2

[16] Berkshire Chronicle 16 April 1831 p. 1

[17] Oxford Journal 04 February 1832 p. 3; Oxford Journal 26 May 1832 p.3

[18] Evening Mail 30 May 1832 p. 3; Morning Post 14 December 1832 p. 1

[19] Norman Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel (London, 1953), pp, 275-7.

[20] Morning Post 14 December 1832 p. 1

[21] Morning Post 07 May 1844 p. 4; Oxford University and City Herald 11 May 1844 p.5; Oxford Chronicle and Reading Gazette 11 May 1844 p. 4; Reading Mercury 11 May 1844 p. 3

[22] Reading Mercury 18 May 1844 p. 1

[23] Elizabeth Whitehouse, ‘A Duffield memorial tablet on All Saints Church, Marcham’, Coral Rag Vol 2, Spring 2002, p. 21; Berkshire Chronicle 4 April 1846 p. 3; London Evening Standard 16 January 1833 p. 2; Oxford Journal 29 May 1841 p. 3

[24] Reading Mercury 4 January 1845 p. 2; Berkshire Chronicle, 4 January 1845, pp. 3,4; Abingdon Town Council Archives (ATCA), Abingdon council minutes, 4 Feb 1845; Bromley Challenor, Selections from the Records of the Borough of Abingdon, 1555-1897 (Abingdon, 1898,) p. 265.

[25] Reading Mercury 07 February 1846, pp. 1, 3.

[26] Anon, A full report of the speeches and other proceedings connected with the election of a representative for the borough of Abingdon, on the 30th day of July, 1830 (Abingdon, 1830), p.78

[27] Norman Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel (London, 1953), pp, 275-7.

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