Patronage in Newark of the Eighteenth Century

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Report on an address by Professor Stanley Chapman


2nd July 2012

Power and Patronage in Newark during the Eighteenth Century

Professor Stanley Chapman, addressing the Society, explained how patronage, especially during the years between the Restoration of King Charles II in 1660 until the Reform Act of 1832, was an inherited position of authority that was prominent in Newark, but also found elsewhere. Family lines, based on the ownership of property or land, tended to take status and hence high office, because the less fortunate majority lived on their land by assent, and were required to return that privelege by esteem and respect (as well as rental dues). The wealthiest landowner in Newark at that time was the Duke of Newcastle, who possessed most of the town's expanse, and consequently most of the buildings, many of which had been erected by his jurisdiction.1

The speaker then gave a definition and a broad outline of his subject. Patronage is a concept of history, in that it speaks much of the social outlook of its time, but its influence was based more on viewpoint than on factual events. Certainly, at its highest level, patronage began in the leadership of the nation, and had done so since the Dark Ages. During mediæval times, its antecedent was known by the name of the Feudal System.2 By this, the monarch, who in theory inherited all the land by the divine right of God, was at the uppermost pinnacle of a pyramid of power. He could grant lesser power to others in such forms as bishoprics, earldoms, dukedoms, lordships, and so on. With this would go land, and hence power over those subjects who lived on that land. Beneath this strata lay those who had no monetary resource, nor any means of earning it, but survived a meagre living for their families, usually by working on the land for payment in kind. They were the poor of the land, subject by circumstance to the abuse of the landed gentry.

Whilst one no longer talks in terms of the Feudal System in England beyond the fifteenth century it must be remembered that history, in practice, knows no sudden transformation boundaries. A hierarchical society by no means ceased at this date; indeed, it must be doubted whether it has ever done so completely. A patronage system was certainly alive in eighteenth-century Newark, to return to the central theme of the address. By that year, the monarch no longer dominated, even though this nation was, and is, still a monarchy, and kings and queens command respect by rank. But the English Civil War had diluted the overall influence of the monarch, and actual power had passed to Parliament. Political parties, then, headed by individual Members of Parliament, had begun to take centre stage. But politicians also have tended to descend from distinguished family lines, and still do. Recommendation went a long way, but in practice, commendation depended on being ‘in the know’. If one was to be nominated for high office, it was necessary to be acknowledged by another who already held it, and to be deemed worthy. Land ownership, as already stated, was the initial key; those awarded positions of patronage included local gentry, professionals, leading retailers and, towards the close of the century, industrialists.3 All were many of high, sometimes exceptional, incomes. Thus kinship, connections and access to capital were more likely to open doors to social promotion than was merit. As noted earlier, the most prominent of landowners, so far as Newark was concerned, was the Duke of Newcastle. From his nominations, or those of people like him, were appointed the Mayor, aldermen and councillors, and even their official stewards. The motivating principle was in no doubt. The message to each resident was: support this person by your vote . If he didn't comply – and ballots were not then secret, but openly recorded and even published - then the poor unfortunate would have been ‘out on his ear’!

Newark, traditionally, was a Royalist borough, the ‘Reds’ Party, as they were known. They supported the conservative4 strategy of patronage as descended from the monarch, and most of the offices of Newark Corporation, where patronage bred, were held by Reds. Other names that became key in Newark included the Middletons, who owned property such as the ancient White Hart inn, The Twentyman dynasty arose, and featured widely through the century. Later, they were succeeded by the Tomlinsons. So, too, rose the name of Handley. William Handley introduced brewing to Newark, and brewing escalated to replace the now-declined wool trade as the town's fame and fortune. Handley became a recognised name; they had representatives in farming, banking, clergy, wool, merchants, cotton-smilling and brickmaking – and this may not have been a complete list! Today, it would be said that Handley became a household name. But individual names, appointees, rose to fame too. In many cases, pluralism of office occurred; such was the esteem in which these persons were held. This might broaden the geographical scope of a person's patronage, or it could increase his influence within the one town, or both. If one looks beyond the Georgian years into the next century, then the number of instances of power by patronage, often triggered by the benefice of a public building to the town, are multiple. Perhaps the most remarkable and familiar case was William Ewart Gladstone, then a Conservative politician, who became Newark's Member of Parliament in 1832. He achieved status that ultimately escalated him to the position of Prime Minister on four occasions between 1868 and 1894, although by then he had come to support the Liberal cause. In this way it worked; power and patronage, achieved in Newark, spread across the land. Earp, Gilstrap, Ossington, Hole, Warwick (of brewing fame) were but a few more nineteenth-century examples. Newark in the eighteenth century was but a small borough, having 500 or so voters in a population of little over 3,000. This gave far more opportunity for local appreciation than did the larger cities, although Newark's expansion from the mid-eighteenth century, and especially during the Victorian years was to change this dramatically. It has to be said, though, that ‘the Blues’, the more radical Party of Parliamentary supporters, was not unrepresented in eighteenth-century Newark. In particular, the Rev. Dr. Bernard Wilson, D.D. was a case in question. An ambitious man, born in 1689, he married into the Twentyman family, and he took up the offices of Vicar, Canon and Prebend; he held incumbencies both within Newark, where he became Vicar in 1719, and in other parishes, such as Bottesford. He did not begin life as an affluent man, but inherited his wealth in the form of an estate worth £100,000 left to him in 1720 by Sir John Markham, a Grantham baronet who became M.P. for Newark, a member of the gentry whom he had served as steward. Wilson served several posts simultaneously, not all of them appropriate for a ‘man of the cloth’. His inheritance enabled him to purchase property in Newark, hence expanding his patronage and power. His career was more secular than spiritual. He at one time conducted a business in financial markets, gaining new patronage holders through clients. His patronage circle of connections grew to surpass that of the Duke of Newcastle; thus began the Party system in Newark's politics, as Blues challenged Reds. Nor did he hesitate to restrict the use of Church-sponsored charity funds to causes which served his own interests. Wilson's motivating principles – lust, greed and personal ambition – hardly seem compatible with the Christian cause of self-giving and brotherly love!

Professor Chapman considered the merits and demerits of the patronage system. Of course it is still in evidence, not just in politics, but also in the Army, Law, the Church of England, the Civil Service, Medicine and most other professions. The rise of Nonconformist Churches was largely fuelled by people of patronage. Professor Chapman did not dwell on the subject of Education, but here the writer would like to add a view of his own. Recognition and status are often affected by the school or university that one attended, certainly in the eyes of England's public. Certain ‘top’ schools carry fame by reputation, and can lead to patronage-type appointments endorsed by the nomination of ‘Old Boys’ (or, nowadays, Old Girls) of reputed educational institutions. This is certainly so nowadays, and undoubtedly the same would be true in the eighteenth century. Then, of course, both schools and universities were far fewer, and no schooling was compulsory. It was offered only to those who could afford it; hence schooling in general had common roots with patronage.

Obviously, there can be no meaningful comparison between then and now. Today, Oxford and Cambridge graduates receive favour over those qualified from elsewhere. Those who attended Public Schools, such as Eton, or certain Grammar Schools – including Newark's own Magnus School – have tended to be most elible for patronage. The writer notes (the speaker did not) that the growth of the Labour Party and Socialism during the twentieth century has sought to transfer power to a classless society of all people, with the Trade Union movement and the system of lay committees. But it cannot really be said to have succeeded, although the Premierships of Harold Wilson, between 1964 and 1977, did make strong gestures in this direction. But was this short-lived? One would perhaps hope the answer to be no, but seemingly the highest offices, even within the unions and the Labour Party itself, continue to be occupied by those who have achieved recognition through patronage Patronage is too deep-rooted to be eradicated, artificially, by legislation. It had been insipient long before its Georgian heyday. However, at the end of the eighteenth century, its popularity as a channel for individuals met challenges from entrepreneurs, who realized that they could accumulate personal finances, and hence power, by their own personal approaches. As such, they were subjected to no terms outside their own control. This undermined the patronage system. In this way – effectively by default - its practice became eroded, but continued less openly behind the scenes.

Unequal, yes. Frustrating to those who could not achieve it owing to lack of family status, which denied them acquaintance with the more fortunate aristocracy. Ambition, and often potential talent, were often stifled. Yet those who become professionals in their chosen line are still mainly those from notable, usually affluent backgrounds, whilst the less fortunate still struggle to acquire the most basic of employment. But, whatever one thinks of the system, patronage has produced some remarkable breakthroughs in Science, the Arts and Technology, and some gifted administrators. Newark benefitted by bequests, architectural and otherwise, left to the town by men of patronage with connections in the building and brick-making industries. Dr. Wilson, for example, commissioned the construction, amongst other provisions, of Wilson Street alongside St. Mary's Church. So, in the end, it is not all unworthy. The question must remain, though: is the system really fair? That is too big an issue to be answered here, and there will always be two differing opinions.

© Roger Peacock for NALHS: 2 nd July 2012

N.B :The above article represents mainly the explanations and details expressed by Professor Philip Chapman to the Society, but also includes some points added by the writer of the article, namely those dealing with the Feudal System, the growth of the Labour Party, and Education..

The Professor is thanked for his presentation of this most interesting address, and for his permission to publish this article. The Thoroton Society Transaction referred to in footnote 3, page 1 of this report, is available for reference in Newark Library.

1 The illustration at the head of this article is of the Duke of Newcastle, reproduced from .

2 NB: The references to the Feudal System, with some of the terminology following in this paragraph, were not part of Professor Chapman's address, but have been added by the writer as his own impression of the patronage concept.

3Professor Chapman explained, with illustration, how lists of patronage-holders had been prepared for the Duke of Newcastle in 1765 and 1795, charting the profession of each one, along with his sponsor. See the full report of the Professor's talk in The transactions of the Thoroton Society: vol. CXV (2011): pp 95–117, where patronage lists, along with biographical notes of several holders, are also included.

4A small ‘c’ for conservative has been used here, as the patronage system had been extant since long before the Conservative Party was established to supercede its right-wing, mainly Tory, predecessor.

This page was added by ROGER PEACOCK on 08/07/2012.

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