OFFLEY, Joseph (d. 1721), of the Middle Temple, London
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Family and Education
14th but 4th surv. s. of John Offley (d. 1667) merchant, of St. Benet’s, Gracechurch Street, London, by Elizabeth, da. of Robert Moore, Goldsmith, of London. educ. M. Temple 1669, called 1675, bencher 1699, reader 1701, treasurer 1710. unm.1
Freeman, Rye 1698.2
Offley was born into a mercantile family which for several generations had resided in the London parish of St. Benet Gracechurch, and which enjoyed a distant cousinage with the Offleys of Cheshire and Staffordshire. Apparently the youngest of his father’s large brood of sons, but one of the few to survive, he was entered at the Middle Temple almost certainly under the tutelage of his eldest brother Robert, already an experienced barrister at the Temple. In due course Offley became a prosperous lawyer and an active figure in the administration of his inn of court. By 1692 his professional and social standing had gained him nomination as a j.p. for Westminster and Middlesex, and in 1697 he was added to the Middlesex lieutenancy. At some point in the 1690s, or earlier, he acquired property at Icklesham and Guestling in the vicinity of Winchelsea and Rye, and it was presumably on this interest that he secured his election at Rye in 1698. Although there was no question about his Whiggish identity, which soon came into view, his standpoint in relation to the government was initially difficult to divine. An addendum to an analysis of the House, compiled in around September 1698, seems to note him as a possible opponent. No further evidence occurs, however, until a list of ‘interests’ in the Commons compiled during the first half of 1700 in which Offley is shown as a supporter of the Junto Whigs, though there is no indication that he was associated with any particular Junto lord. Analysing the House on the eve of the December 1701 Parliament, Robert Harley* listed him with the Whigs.3
Offley was typical of the class of lawyer-MPs who were as busy in their parliamentary work as in their legal business. His collection of parliamentary impedimenta, which included sets of rolls and manuscript journals of both Houses, suggests a deep interest in the workings of Parliament as well as a professional determination to grasp its procedures. An instinct towards certain issues of ‘moral reform’ is apparent from his role as an instigator of the bill to outlaw lotteries, moved for on 11 Feb. 1699, while later in the session, on 13 Apr., he was named to its second-reading committee. He was probably also an author of the bill he presented on 23 Feb. to enable judgments from the English courts of law to be executed in the American colonies; after this point, however, the measure was pursued no further. On 24 Apr. he reported from a select committee which had examined and dismissed allegations of corn forestalling made against certain shipowners. One of his more demanding and lengthier preoccupations during 1699, however, was with the investigation into the mistreatment of debtors incarcerated in the King’s Bench and Fleet prisons. Though not actually appointed by name to this committee on 2 Jan., Offley was qualified to participate by virtue of its membership being thrown open to the ‘gentlemen of the long robe’. The committee’s proceedings ran on for four months, as various cases of complaint were received and examined, and Offley himself made the final report on 4 May, a clear indication that he had been heavily involved, and may even have acted as deputy to the main overseer of these inquiries, Lawrence Carter II*, another barrister. The drafting of a bill to regulate the two gaols on lines agreed by the House was entrusted to Offley, Carter and another committee colleague, Thomas Brotherton*. But with the prorogation due the same day, this outcome was no more than an acknowledgment that the matter would have to be raised afresh in the next session. Accordingly, Offley was (with Carter) named on 14 Dec., in the next session, to reintroduce the bill, but it was later dropped after completing its committee stage.4
Later that session Offley was concerned with legislation bearing directly upon the interests of his constituency, presenting on 5 Mar. 1700 a bill designed to prevent the deliberate stopping up of tidal flows in harbour areas such as Rye, though after achieving a first reading for it three days later he made no further headway with it. He was presumably deputizing for another Member on 9 Mar. when he made an interim report from the committee dealing with a bill for making the River Avon navigable between Bristol and Bath. It was not until the beginning of 1702 that Offley featured once more in proceedings, this time in relation to a bill to facilitate the repair of Rye harbour. This he presented on 15 Jan., and on the 23rd was named in first place to the second-reading committee, but progress was afterwards hampered by disagreement between the interested parties. He was teller on 6 Feb. for the majority in favour of referring to the supply committee an army officers’ petition for payment of arrears, and again on 13 Mar. for the majority against a bill ‘for the more effectual punishment of felons and accessories’. On 10 Apr. he reported a private bill to enable the bishop of Gloucester to make leases of diocesan lands.
Offley was returned a fourth time for Rye in the election of 1702, but was unseated in December by his Tory rival, Edward Southwell*. He thereafter made no further attempt to re-enter Parliament. In 1710, the year in which he became treasurer of the Middle Temple, it was reported that his annual income amounted to £800. He was also by that time a modest investor in Bank of England stock. At the Hanoverian accession he was continued in the Middlesex lieutenancy, and seems to have retained his legal practice in London for the rest of his life. Dying unmarried on 3 July 1721 at his ‘lodgings’ in Kentish Town, he left his London property and other estates in Bedfordshire and Essex to a cousin, Stephen Offley of Norton, Derbys., while to his inn he bequeathed his collection of parliamentary manuscripts and books. One of the trustees he appointed was his ‘good friend’ and fellow Middle Templar, James Lowther, the Member for Cumberland.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Author: Andrew A. Hanham
- 1. The Gen. n.s. xix. 218–21, 227–8.
- 2. E. Suss. RO, Rye assembly bk. RYE 1/17, p. 232.
- 3. The Gen. 218–21, 227–8; M.T. Recs.: Mins. Parl. 1304, 1308, 1320–1, 1341; CSP Dom. 1691–2, pp. 165, 220; 1697, p. 504; 1702–3, p. 395; PCC 60 Marlborough.
- 4. PCC 60 Marlborough.
- 5. Verney Letters 18th Cent. i. 383; Egerton 3359 (unfol.); The Gen. n.s. iii. 141; PCC 60 Marlborough.