RIDGE, Thomas (c.1671-1730), of Portsmouth, Hants.
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Family and Education
b. c.1671, 1st s. of Richard Ridge, brewer, of Portsmouth by Jane Fox of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, Mdx. m. lic. 6 Jan. 1697, Elizabeth, da. of Humphrey Ayles of St. Botolph’s, Aldgate, London, 5s. 1da. suc. fa. 1691.1
Freeman, Portsmouth 1695, alderman 1710–11.2
Ridge was the son of a Portsmouth brewer who had served the town both as alderman and mayor. He inherited his father’s business in 1691, which included cooperage works and a number of malthouses. Sir Stephen Fox* was one of his father’s executors, and thus Ridge himself may have had the backing of at least one important financier. In addition to participating with London merchants in a number of trading and fishing ventures in the 1690s, Ridge was one of the main contractors supplying beer and casks to the navy. The trade had increased enormously as a result of the French wars during which Portsmouth became the rendezvous for the main fleet, and his business interests made him one of the most prominent townsmen. Indeed, when the Queen of Portugal came to Portsmouth in 1708 she stayed at Ridge’s house.3
In 1708 Ridge successfully contested Poole. He had no connexions there but was put up by the local Whigs with the support of the 2nd Duke of Bolton (Charles Powlett I*), the lord lieutenant of Hampshire and Dorset. He was not particularly active in the Commons, but his Whig views are indicated by his votes for naturalizing the Palatines in 1709 and for the impeachment of Dr Sacheverell in 1710. In that year he was again returned for Poole and was classed as a Whig in the ‘Hanover list’. By this time he had become involved in the longstanding political feuding at Portsmouth, being one of a number of Whig aldermen enrolled in 1709. At the 1710 election it was claimed that Ridge had voted in Portsmouth without having taken the oaths, and the next year, following a writ of quo warranto, he was turned off the bench.
Soon afterwards Ridge was also in trouble in Parliament. On 3 Jan. 1711 the chancellor of the Exchequer reported to the House that in examinations before the Treasury a number of abuses in the victualling department, in which Ridge was concerned, had been discovered. A committee was set up two days later to examine the allegations and on the 9th Ridge was summoned to attend the committee to present his defence. The accusation against him was that having contracted to supply the navy at Portsmouth with 8,217 tuns of beer, for which he had been paid in victualling bills at the agreed rate of 56s. per tun plus an extra 6s. per tun for making and shipping the cask (he also had the cooperage contract at Portsmouth), he had only delivered 4,482 tuns, compounding for the rest in a private agreement with the pursers at the rate of 30s. per tun. The total loss to the crown for undelivered beer was estimated at £18,846, although there were also suspicions that he had defrauded the government by up to £12,000 p.a. for more than a decade. In his evidence before the committee Ridge maintained
that he must have been a great loser by his contract, had it not been for compounding after this manner with the pursers; that it was a very common practice and that he had a regard to the advantage he might have by it, when he made the last contract, otherwise he would not have contracted at the price he did.
The victualling commissioners denied that they countenanced any such practices, and produced a letter from Ridge in which he himself had suggested the price in his last contract. However, Ridge did perhaps have some reason on his side in that during the financial crisis of 1709–10 victualling bills were carrying a 35 per cent discount. Others, too, spoke in his defence at this time: William Lowndes* asserted that the practices Ridge was being accused of ‘had always been usual’, and were not fraudulent, and William Brydges observed that the affair was ‘no more than an empty vessel for the whale to play with lest he should fall upon vessels of more bulk . . . Mr Ridge’s crime is no more than what had been done by others these 20 years, and is what has been generally looked upon to be a perquisite’. Ridge, by now a focus of a general attack by members of the newly formed October Club on the mismanagement of the previous administration, was further implicated when a commissioner in Portsmouth gave evidence to the committee that there were no checks upon him should he have chosen to defraud the government, and that his brother was the officer gauging casks in the port. According to one observer, Horatio Walpole I* suggested that Ridge was ‘the more severely dealt with, being a Whig’. The case against him led to examinations which highlighted frauds by brewers in five other ports amounting to £55,435, and on the orders of the Commons writs were issued against Ridge and several others accused of the same practice. The committee’s report was presented on 15 Feb. 1711. Ridge made a speech in his own defence, but the House ‘finding all he said . . . was only pleading custom for the ancient usage of cheating the Queen’s government’, passed a resolution that he was guilty of ‘notorious embezzlements and scandalous abuses’ and he was accordingly expelled. The House also ordered that Ridge be prosecuted, and although in the following July the attorney-general found against him, the case never came to court even though Ridge had offered to repay the crown an unspecified sum. Ridge continued to supply the navy with beer, but subsequent investigations revealed further malpractices, involving his exchanging beer for wine by private contract with pursers on navy ships bound for the Mediterranean.4
The episode evidently damaged any immediate parliamentary ambitions which Ridge may have entertained, for he did not sit again until 1722. In the intervening years he managed his Portsmouth businesses and invested in ships operating privateering runs. His will, made in January, was testament to his continued success as a brewer. He held £5,000 in South Sea Company stock, which he placed in trust for one of his sons, while the dividend of a further £8,000 in stock was secured on his wife. He was also able to leave a further £22,000 to other children, together with annuities amounting to £100 and gifts of £575 to relatives and the poor in Portsmouth. The brewing stores, buildings and equipment were given to his eldest son, also Thomas, while his other children were given his remaining real estate, including 15 tenements in Portsmouth and farms in Sussex and Hampshire. He died on 10 Feb. 1730, and was buried at Portsmouth.5
Ref Volumes: 1690-1715
Authors: Paula Watson / Henry Lancaster
- 1. PCC 148 Vere; Mar. Lic. Vicar-Gen. (Harl. Soc. xxiii), 188.
- 2. R. East, Portsmouth Recs. 330, 371.
- 3. PCC 148 Vere; East, 316, 329; J. S. Bromley, Corsairs and Navies, 1660–1760, 471; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 355.
- 4. Bodl. Ballard 31, ff. 89–90; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 998–9, 1001; Chandler, iv. 181–3; Pittis, Present Parl. 67–68; NLS, Advocates’ mss, Wodrow pprs. letters Quarto 5, ff. 103, 130; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Manvers mss 4376/56, Charles Bisset to (Sir) William Gifford*, 14 July 1711; SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/808/2, 19, Mungo Graham* to Duke of Montrose, 4 Jan., 16 Feb. 1711; Impartial View of the Two Late Parls. 304–5.
- 5. Bromley, 177; PCC 76 Auber; London Evening Post, 12 Feb. 1730.