WESSELL, Leonard (aft.1660-1708), of London and Tadworth Court, Surr.
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Family and Education
b. aft. 1660, 1st surv. s. of Abraham Wessell, Eastland merchant, of London by Anne, da. of John Crawford, leatherseller, of London. m. bef. 1690, Sarah, da. of Joseph Reeve of Aldersted, Surr., 4s. 2da. suc. fa. 1690.1
Freeman, Levant co. 1688.
Sheriff, Surr. 1699–1700.2
Born into a wealthy merchant household of Dutch origin, Wessell used a successful career in trade as a platform for his vigorous pursuit of social acceptance and political ambition. Both of his brothers had died overseas on trading ventures before their father’s own demise, leaving Leonard to benefit financially as the sole male heir. His father had used his accumulated wealth to buy an estate at Acres Fleet in Essex, and his son, in common with other merchants such as his brother-in-law Thomas Scawen*, was quick to plough his commercial profits into landed investment. Having purchased Tadworth Court in 1694, he readily shouldered the burdens of local governmental office, serving as sheriff of his new home county only five years later. He even went to the trouble of petitioning the Commons on 26 Feb. 1700 for a private Act to break the entail on his parental estate in Essex, so that the proceeds from its sale could be used for further property investment in Surrey. Successful in this aim, he started to build a very substantial mansion at Tadworth, the location of which enabled him to maintain his ties with the City.
Wessell’s decision to stand at the 1702 Surrey election confirmed his rapid rise within county society and hinted at the scale of his ambition. Described at the polls as the ‘antagonist’ of the county’s chief magnate, Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, he performed well to oust the thrice-successful sitting Member John Weston, if only by 17 votes. In the subsequent Parliament he did not make any significant contribution to Commons business, but he did reveal Tory sympathies. In March 1704 the Earl of Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) regarded him as a probable supporter, in connexion with proceedings concerning the Scotch Plot, and in November he voted for the Tack. He did not stand at the election of 1705, perhaps overstretched by the expense of electioneering and house building. He died at a relatively young age in 1708, and within only 20 years Tadworth Court had passed out of his family’s hands.3