BRIDGES, William (d. 1714), of Wallington, Surr. and the Tower of London
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Family and Education
s. of Robert Bridges by his w. Mary Woodcock. Prob. unm.1
Farmer, hearth tax by 1681–4; clerk of deliveries, Ordnance 1682–Aug. 1683, storekeeper Aug. 1683–5, surveyor-gen. 1702–d.; ?sec. to commrs. of accts. and council of trade [I] 1683; commr. excise and hearth money 1684–5.2
Freeman, Portsmouth 1702; stannator, Foymore 1703; commr. Greenwich Hosp. 1704, fortifying Chatham, Harwich and Portsmouth 1709.3
Bridges was one of four brothers, offspring of the younger son of a minor Warwickshire landowner, and first cousins of John Bridges, the county historian of Northamptonshire, all of whom gained wealth and regained social position through active careers in business and subsequently in government service. The first of the quartet to establish himself in office was Robert Bridges, who worked under Lord Ranelagh (Richard Jones*) during the 1670s in the farm of the Irish revenue, before serving as a revenue commissioner in Ireland from 1682 until removed in 1687 at the behest of Lord Tyrconnel, as ‘a damned fanatic’. William, whom we first encounter in 1671, lending the crown the sum of £200, partnered Robert in 1677 in advancing a much greater loan to the Irish military establishment, and in 1679 was granted a licence in his own right to import arms into Ireland. Four years later he seems to have bought a minor place in the Irish administration. The fact that a copy of his will was to be proved in Dublin indicates that he retained interests there. But thenceforth he pursued his career chiefly in England, where there were other connexions to be exploited, perhaps most notably his cousin Brook Bridges, auditor of the imprest and a founding director of the Bank of England. To begin with, however, brother Robert’s help was crucial. Having acted as clerk to one of Robert’s closest associates, Lemuel Kingdon†, as paymaster of the forces in England, Bridges joined the farmers of the hearth tax in about 1680, alongside Kingdon and another of Robert Bridges’ Dublin colleagues, Patrick Trant. He took a leading part in managing that farm, and was named to the joint commission on the excise and hearth money in 1684 when the King resumed direct administration of the collection of the tax. By this time he had also acquired a place in the Ordnance office, possibly through Kingdon’s influence, only to lose both these English posts in February 1685, after investigations into the conduct of the hearth money farm exposed corruption. Bridges and his colleagues were pardoned in March 1688, and after the Revolution he resurfaced as a contractor supplying transport and provisions to the troops on the Irish campaigns, and later still as a regimental agent. Although he was pursuing payment of arrears on Ordnance office payments, and another debt persisting since the days of the hearth-tax farm, he was sufficiently prosperous to become an early subscriber to the Bank.4
Bridges came into Parliament in 1695 through his friendship with Edward Dennis, a Cornish attorney (father of George Dennis, MP for Liskeard 1734–40), who ‘governed’, or claimed to be able to ‘govern’, the borough of Liskeard. During the greater part of his parliamentary career Bridges’ activities in the Commons can seldom be distinguished from those of the several members of the Brydges family (with whom he seems to have been distantly connected), except for his appearances on parliamentary lists. He was classed as likely to oppose the Court in the forecast for the division on the proposed council of trade on 31 Jan. 1696, but he signed the Association promptly, and seems to have gravitated towards government. In the 1697–8 session he evidently opposed Country party manoeuvres to reduce the size of the standing army, dividing against the motion of 10 Dec. 1697 for the disbandment of all forces raised since 1680, a political indiscretion (so far as the voters in his constituency were concerned) that was thrown in his face when he sought re-election at Liskeard in 1698. He had also been included in a ‘black list’ of office-holders and Court pensioners published before the poll, but this was an error, the result of confusion with a ‘William Brydges, jnr.’, who held the post of secretary to the stamp duty commissioners. Though evidently one of Nature’s placemen, Bridges’ personal circumstances promoted a certain ambivalence at this time in his dealings with administration. His position as a regimental agent, and his dependence at the 1698 general election on the backing of the Trelawny interest at Liskeard, inclined him towards the Court, and especially a defence of the standing army, since his principal advocates at the hustings had been the brothers Charles* and Henry Trelawny*, both of them serving officers. At the same time he held no significant government appointment himself as yet, and indeed was still seeking the settlement of the debts due to him from his earlier involvement in the service of the crown. In a comparative analysis of the old and new Parliaments drawn up in about September 1698 he was classed as a Court supporter, but with some reservations, and he was also forecast as likely to oppose a standing army. In an analysis of the House into ‘interests’ in 1700 he was classed as doubtful or opposition, but after an unopposed re-election at Liskeard in January 1701 he supported the Court in February over the ‘Great Mortgage’. He headed the list of defeated candidates for the abortive accounts commission in June. In Robert Harley’s* analysis of the new Parliament of December 1701 he was classed with the Tories, and he voted on 26 Feb. 1702 in favour of the motion to vindicate the proceedings of the Commons in the impeachments of the four Whig lords.5
With the new reign Bridges at last returned to office; more specifically he returned to the Ordnance, where he was appointed surveyor-general, with an additional allowance of £200 p.a. over and above his salary (itself augmented by £100), and a residence in the Tower. He regularly presented accounts, estimates and papers to the House on behalf of the Ordnance office, and as a placeman served the Court with a faithfulness that rarely faltered. He was forecast as likely to oppose the Tack, and indeed did not vote for it on 28 Nov. 1704. On 24 Feb. 1705 he reported on a private bill. He was described as ‘Low Church’ in an analysis of the 1705 Parliament. He voted on 25 Oct. for the Court candidate as Speaker, and supported the Court in the proceedings on 18 Feb. 1706 over the ‘place clause’ in the regency bill. Although described as a Tory in early 1708, he was classed as a Whig in 1710 in the ‘Hanover list’ of the newly elected Parliament, but subsequently changed sides once more, being included in 1711 among the ‘worthy patriots’ who in the 1710–11 session exposed the mismanagements of the previous ministry. After presenting Liskeard’s loyal address on the peace in 1713, he was marked as a Tory in the Worsley list.6
In failing health since at least the summer of 1712, when he had spent five months convalescing in the country, Bridges died on 30 Oct. 1714, and was buried in the church of St. Peter-within-the-Tower. His entire estate, including the manor of Wallington, purchased at some point after 1683, and at least £4,000 in Bank stock, passed to his unmarried sister Elizabeth, and eventually (in 1745) from her to a great-nephew, Sir Brook Bridges, 3rd Bt.† The monument raised by Elizabeth to William’s memory noted in particular his tenure of the surveyor-generalship of the Ordnance, and added that he had been
in that and other considerable offices, through which he passed at different times, a diligent and faithful servant to the crown and to his country in Parliament; assiduous in public business, and in his private life possessing an happy equality of temper, adorned with exemplary sobriety and virtue.7
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. Playfair, Brit. Fam. Antiquity, vi. 797–8; Manning and Bray, Surr. i. 270 (cf. Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxx), 87); St. Paul’s, Covent Garden (Harl. Soc. Reg. xxxv), 67.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Bks. vii. 297, 1074, 1485; xxiii. 224; H. C. Tomlinson, Guns and Govt. 224–5; CSP Dom. Jan.–June 1683, p. 6; 1684–5, pp. 302, 309; Luttrell, Brief Relation, i. 326.
- 3. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 373; J. Tregoning, Laws of the Stannaries, 118; Daily Courant, 8 Aug. 1704.
- 4. Cal. Treas. Bks. iii. 634, 808; iv. 603; v. 744, 746, 748, 966; vi. 202, 626; vii. 297, 1074, 1447, 1485, 1517; viii. 4–5, 11, 265, 747, 1607, 1817; ix. 1089, 1092, 1100, 1114, 1139; x. 1046; xv. 132; xvi. 507–10, 1194; Cal. Orrery Pprs. ed. Maclysaght (Irish Mss Commn.), 197; HMC 11th Rep. VII, 41; HMC Ormonde, ii. 274–5; n.s. iv. 49, 103, 124, 133, 154, 363; v. 438; vi. 10, 226, 233; viii. 349; Liber Munerum Publicorum Hiberniae ed. Lascelles, i(2), p.133; Clarendon Corresp. ed. Singer, i. 311, 323, 332, 513; ii. 138; Index to Prerog. Wills in Ire. ed. Vicars, 53; Luttrell, i. 326; C. D. Chandaman, Eng. Public Revenue 1660–88, p. 105; HMC Lords, n.s. i. 333–4; CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 167; 1690–1, pp. 264, 270, 279; HMC Finch, ii. 389, 398; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland (Harley) mss Pw2 Hy 455, list of regimental agents; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 202; DZA, Bonet’s despatch 6/16 July 1694.
- 5. C. H. C. Baker and M. I. Baker, James Brydges, 1st Duke of Chandos, 116; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. v. p.clxxi; Cal. Treas. Bks. x. 618; xv. 132; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 356; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1557–1696, p. 202; Yorks. Arch. Soc. Copley mss DD38, box H–J, poll for commrs. of public accts. [16 June 1701].
- 6. CSP Dom. 1703–4, p. 470; Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1708–14, pp. 144–5; London Gazette, 23–26 May 1713.
- 7. Tomlinson, 68; Le Neve, Mon. Angl. 1700–15, p. 393; Manning and Bray, 270; Egerton 3359 (unfol.); PCC Aston; Maitland, Hist. London (1756), i. 150.