CALCRAFT, John (1726-72), of Rempstone, Dorset and Ingress, Kent

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer



22 Apr. 1766 - 1768
1768 - 23 Aug. 1772

Family and Education

bap. 4 Sept. 1726, 1st s. of John Calcraft, attorney, town clerk of Grantham, by his w. Christian Bursbie. educ. Leicester. m. 1744, Bridget,1 s. p. legit.

Offices Held

Clerk in the pay office c.1745-57; clerk in the War Office 1747-56; paymaster of widows’ pensions (W.O.) 1757-62; dep. commissary of musters 1756-Dec. 1763.


Calcraft set out under the patronage of Lord Granby, M.P. for Grantham, and still more under that of Henry Fox, to whom he was related—it is never stated how. At 19 he became deputy-pay-master to Cumberland’s army, at 40s.a day for 476 days (25 Nov. 1745-15 Mar. 1747), besides £358 in extraordinary expenses2—i.e. at nearly £1,000 p.a., omitting less overt occasions for enrichment. When William Pitt succeeded Winnington as paymaster general, Calcraft wrote to him, 9 May 1746: ‘As I am a relation to Mr. Fox he was so kind as to recommend me to Mr. Winnington and I flatter myself has now done to you.’3 There is nothing to bear out the allegation that he was Fox’s son,4 but the terms in which the young man wrote about him were certainly remarkable. To general Wentworth, 16 May 1746: ‘Mr. Fox who is my particular friend ...’ To Hesse of the pay office, 26 Aug. 1746, on differences with a senior official: ‘I think it would be best for me to apply to my friend the secretary-at-war for an order from him.’ On 23 Nov., to a colleague at the pay office: ‘... if I don’t succeed Mr. Sawyer, [I] expect a transfer to the War Office which I wish may prove, as you say, to [be] a bishopric. I’ve to acquaint Mr. Fox ...’ On Calcraft’s return to London a clerkship in the War Office was added to that at the pay office—Fox’s private letter books as secretary-at-war, 1746-55, are still among Calcraft’s papers at Rempstone. And he thus figures on 10 Sept. 1749 in Fox’s semi-humorous record of sporting pursuits: ‘Jack, alias Ld. William, alias Sportly, alias Vermin, alias Beau Calcraft, alias Squire Calcraft of the Grange, alias Mr. John Calcraft’; and on 10 Sept. 1750: ‘Mr. Calcraft as bad ... a companion a-shooting as he is clever in all other things’.5

Lucrative employments continued to come his way: the paymastership of widows’ pensions (on 9 Mar. 1762 a letter from Calcraft was read at the Treasury Board ‘giving reasons why he does not pay in the balance in his hands upon the widows’ pensions’); he was employed in connexion with the rebuilding of the Horse Guards; held contracts for delivering coal to Gibraltar;6 and in 1748 started on what was to be his chief concern, regimental agencies. He first acted as agent to some independent companies;7 1752-4, to one regiment; in 1754 to two. Now his progress became more rapid, helped also by the expansion of the army during the seven years’ war—here is the number of his regimental agencies (besides those of independent companies and garrisons) during the years 1755-62: 19, 23, 28, 28, 37, 44, 52, 57—the last figure covers about half the army. Whenever a new colonel was appointed Calcraft would pull wires to obtain his agency, even approaching him through his superiors.8 Or he would bargain beforehand: thus on 28 July 1757 he wrote to Lt.-Col. Oughton that he was likely to get a regiment soon, and asked him for a promise of his agency9—would it have been wise to refuse it to a man so close to Fox and Granby? ‘Seniority or services promoted men slowly, unless they were disposed to employ Mr. Calcraft’, wrote Horace Walpole.10 The official duties of a regimental agent were administrative and financial; he arranged contracts for the regiment’s clothing; dealt with the Board of Ordnance; had to draw the money due to the regiment and keep track of its expenditure. What his profits were it is difficult to ascertain, but they were such that a share in them was sometimes allowed to the colonel—thus Lord Blakeney billeted his late secretary on Calcraft for £100 p.a.11 Mrs. Bellamy claimed to have secured four agencies for Calcraft, and in the balance sheet she drew up against him she put the value of two at £500 p.a. each and of the other two at £300.12

From official business there was an easy transition to the private business of the colonels. The agent would advance money to a needy client. Granby was heavily in debt to Calcraft (so much so that on 4 Nov. 1758 Calcraft, when asked to advance £3,000 more, wrote that he could not spare the money: ‘I really distressed myself more than I will mention to lay down that sum which was so necessary for Lord Granby before he went abroad’13). Or to Brigadier-General Robert Monckton, in Nova Scotia, 19 May 1759: ‘By your account ... you will see how considerably you are overpaid and that I could not with propriety go further’; this time he has managed to arrange matters but—‘in future, do, dear Sir, pull up a little.’14 Some friends he would advise how to carry on—thus Colonel Sandford, I June 1758: ‘Don’t let Mr. Wolfe’s folly sway you to give up part of your profits, but make what you can properly and handsomely.’ Of his 57 colonels in 1762, 17 were M.P.s ;in their absence he looked, if necessary, after their borough interests;15 also after his colonels’ wives and children, their mistresses and bastards.16 He kept them informed of military vacancies; of changes in Government and in commands; and he tried to influence their politics in a sense favourable to Henry Fox. He advised colonels at a distance how to trim their sails to the prevailing wind, while those within easy reach of London he informed beforehand when their attendance in Parliament would be required. In short, he was the parliamentary whip of an army group. Besides, he had round him a group of army commissioners and army contractors;17 and missed no chance of enrichment. On 6 May 1760 he asked Peter Taylor to find ‘a well-informed and clever correspondent at The Hague’ who would write Calcraft news directed to a friend in the Post Office, so that it might reach him early enough ‘to be useful in the Alley’18—part of the news service which, with so many friends in the army administration, Fox and Calcraft were able to establish to help them in their speculations. These it is not easy to follow, especially as they were often undertaken under cover-names, and only investments of some duration, not ‘stagging’ operations, reached the Bank of England register. There Calcraft appears at various times for smaller though substantial sums; but on 12 Feb. 1761 he acquired ‘by subscription’ £160,000 of Government stock, to which he added between October 1762 and June 1763 £63,800 ‘by various purchases’. On 5 July 1763 he still held £192,900—which gives an idea of the wealth of the man who, moreover, during the preceding few years had laid out considerable sums in purchases of land. According to the North Briton, no. 42, March 1763, of the loan of that year Calcraft had £70,000, netting a profit of about £7,000. He also held notable amounts of East India stock, operating at India House, first in conjunction with Fox, and next with Shelburne—when creating votes for the election of April 1765, he split £15,000, one of the biggest holdings.19

In 1757 he purchased Rempstone, within walking distance from three parliamentary boroughs, Corfe Castle, Poole and Wareham, and at once set out to build up an interest in them: he managed to have his brother Thomas returned for Poole in 1761 and 1768; captured Wareham outright by 1768; but had to renounce his attempts and claims at Corfe Castle. Some of these transactions can be followed in his letter books: his drive and ruthless energy, his unflagging perseverance and robust self-confidence are as striking as is his brazen, insensitive egotism.20 Allegations against him by Mrs. Bellamy must be treated with the utmost reserve; yet there is truth in the following passage:21

He had naturally a sound understanding. His mental faculties were strong. And, had they been properly cultivated, he would have been a dangerous member of society. For he was ambitious to a degree; and cared not at what expense or risk he carried his ambitious views into execution. In the same manner he gratified all his passions.

He had the makings of a modern dictator or financial buccaneer, and although he associated with the first statesmen, Fox, Shelburne, Pitt, Temple, etc., his most congenial companion was perhaps Richard Rigby, another homme d’affaires who made politics and money his pursuit. ‘You are ... the best friend, and the best man in the world, there is absolutely nobody to equal you’, wrote Calcraft to him, 26 Aug. 1760.22

In 1760 Calcraft bought Lord Bessborough’s estate of Ingress, near Dartford, with ‘house and furniture’; and during the next few years added further extensive purchases in the neighbourhood.23 In the new reign Calcraft’s politics changed with those of Fox. ‘You will be happy to hear that the Duke [Cumberland] and his friends meet with the greatest civility from his Majesty’, he assured Jeffrey Amherst, 13 Dec. 1760; but by 4 Dec. 1762: ‘Opposition grows more and more violent, the Duke makes his servants in it, but notwithstanding all, things go most favourably for the court.’24 When after Devonshire’s dismissal both sides were seeking support, Newcastle wrote to Hardwicke, 9 Nov. 1762: ‘The Duke [Cumberland] lays vast stress upon the Duke of Rutland’s quitting. That devilish Fox, and Calcraft get in everywhere. The Duke apprehends Calcraft will do great hurt with Granby.’25 On 13 Nov.: ‘I hear both friend and foe put the whole upon the Duke of Rutland’s quitting; and his Grace has certainly left it with the King, that he leaves that to be determined by my Lord Granby.’26 Granby was about to return from Germany; and on 18 Nov. Thoroton, Rutland’s ‘man of business’, told Newcastle that Rutland advised him to have a letter delivered to Granby on landing,27

to desire him, however waylaid, to give no promise or answer till he sees his father. As Lord Granby’s arrival is uncertain, I fear Calcraft would get much earlier intelligence of it than I possibly could, and would consequently out run me.

And the King, writing to Bute, 4 Nov., remarked on ‘the weight Calcraft’s language had with the Duchess [of Rutland]’.28 Rutland and Granby were secured for the court.

‘I am glad you like Lord Fitzmaurice’, wrote Calcraft to a friend, 9 Dec. 1760. ‘He is a great favourite of mine and is an acquisition to the army.’29 In 1761-2 Fitzmaurice, by then Shelburne, closely collaborated with Fox and Bute, and when early in March 1763 Bute decided to relinquish the Treasury, Calcraft was much consulted and employed in the ensuing negotiations. During these a dislike of Fox creeps into Calcraft’s letters to Shelburne: when Fox hesitated to accept the Treasury, Calcraft charged both Bute and Fox with thinking only of themselves ‘without considering what becomes of those who supported them’.30 He seconded Shelburne’s endeavours to make Fox give up the pay office, ‘a measure on which his credit so much depends’.31 And when next Fox was trying to get the offer of the Treasury renewed through Shelburne, Calcraft wrote to Shelburne not as ‘a man whose fortune is made by Mr. Fox, but as your well-wisher at this juncture’, and begged him to think impartially ‘on the good or bad consequences that may attend Mr. Fox’s being minister’. ‘We both know Mr. Fox in lights I should rejoice we did not.’32 By the middle of April the breach between Fox and Calcraft was complete over the question whether Fox was pledged to leave the pay office when made a peer; and Fox, in his ‘Narrative for Lord Kildare’, asked himself what could have been Calcraft’s view in the matter. Was he taken in ‘by Lord Shelburne’s romantic nonsense’ of the lustre which quitting the pay office would add to Fox’s character?

But then, when things turned out as they have done, why has he lived with Lord Shelburne ever since (they are inseparable), and hardly ever called upon me, and now quitted all acquaintance with me for ever? Can there be any other reason than that I am certainly for ever out of power or possibility of it, and that he can scheme with Lord Shelburne all day long? ... indeed I do not know one man in the world so much obliged to another, as he has been to me. I loved him; I did not expect this, and I have not yet left off thinking of it.

For once opinion tended to side with Fox: ‘this tool, this mushroom overdunged, rose against him’, wrote Walpole.33 ‘Fox ordered Calcraft to make up his accounts, dismissed him worth near £300,000, and though so rich himself, grew almost justified; and though so hated, grew almost pitied.’34 But Philip Francis wrote about the two: ‘If either of them had common honesty, he could never have been the friend of the other.’35 Nor of Francis.

While Shelburne was still being considered for a secretaryship of state in the new Government, Calcraft, writing to him on 15 March, claims to have told Fox: ‘Was you [i.e. Shelburne] out of the question, I would carry all force I could to Hayes [i.e. to Pitt], but you and you only should be my standard’36—an accurate forecast of what was to follow. When in August 1763 Bute tried to form a new Government for the King, and Shelburne was employed in the attempt, Calcraft was sent to Pitt and the Bedfords.37 On the failure of these tangled negotiations, Shelburne resigned from the Grenville Government, while the Bedfords joined it; Calcraft, wrote Sandwich to Holland, 26 Sept. 1763, ‘declares that he will stick to Lord Shelburne at all events, for which Rigby and Gower and all the rest of his friends give him up’.38 But on the day after negotiations were broken off, Pitt and Temple, having attended the King’s levee, ‘went to visit Mr. Calcraft in Parliament Street’.39 ‘I never can forget the confidence you have placed in me’, wrote Calcraft to Pitt, 2 Sept.,40 ‘or be insensible to your approbation of my conduct.’ And at Ingress, about 12 miles from Hayes, he was henceforth a link between Shelburne and Pitt. Even while Shelburne still averred that he would ‘support the Government out of employment’, Sandwich thought he was underhand ‘working with Calcraft to secure what followers he can’;41 and on 24 Nov., over Wilkes, the Shelburne group joined the Opposition. In the dismissals that followed Calcraft lost his place of deputy commissary of musters. ‘I cannot help returning to the thought of getting some colonels to dismiss him from his agencies’, wrote Holland to Sandwich, 8 Dec.42

Towards the end of November 1764 Calcraft informed his colonels that at Christmas he would retire from the agency business. ‘He is supposed to have made half a million’, wrote the Public Advertiser on 3 Dec., ‘and wants to be a Member of Parliament.’ On 21 Nov. 1765 a vacancy occurred at Rochester, where Calcraft had ‘been laying on them for these three years’;43 he immediately came forward, ‘most handsomely invited’ and ‘honourably supported’ by his friends; by these he claimed he had to stand44 when a letter from Shelburne conveyed to him the disapproval of Pitt, at that moment in secret talks with Rockingham. And Rockingham, complaining to his wife of the ‘hurry of a contested election’, in which his secretary to the Treasury was a candidate, added: ‘Calcraft is the opponent—a less rich man would have no chance—and though it is reckoned a wild attempt in him I shall be glad to hear that he has found it so, and that he retires.’45 He did not, but was defeated by a narrow margin. Next he was nibbling at the Cust interest in his native Grantham—‘we have had much talk about Calcraft who is expected at Grantham tomorrow’ wrote Francis Cust to his brother John in January 1766. ‘I wish you could determine about the purchase of the houses: if you don’t buy ’em Calcraft will get ’em.’46

On 22 Apr. 1766 Calcraft was returned by Shelburne for Calne; but no vote or speech by him is recorded during the remaining weeks of the Rockingham Administration. Under Chatham, he naturally voted with the Government, but again no speech is recorded. In 1768 he stood for Rochester with Government support, jointly with Admiral Geary; he carefully organized his election and was returned, while his fellow-candidate was defeated by the independent interest. But on Shelburne’s dismissal and Chatham’s resignation, Calcraft went into Opposition.

Eight interventions in debate by Calcraft are recorded in the Parliament of 1768: mostly brief and none of importance; all on the Opposition side; the last on Sawbridge’s motion for shorter Parliaments, 26 Apr. 1771.47 Junius treated him as a mute: ‘Even the silent vote of Mr. Calcraft is worth reckoning in a division.’48 What now mattered was his endeavour to unite and consolidate the Opposition round Chatham, to whom he firmly adhered. ‘I follow no man or set of men’, Calcraft declared in the House on 22 Nov. 1770.49 Much truer was what he said in letters to Chatham: ‘Mr. Dowdeswell has desired me to attend a meeting at his house tomorrow ... I presume your Lordship would wish me there’, 23 Jan. 1771; ‘My endeavour was to keep as much as possible to your Lordship’s line’, 26 Mar.; ‘I opposed ... on your Lordship’s ground’, 28 Mar.; ‘if your Lordship has any hint to give ... I will endeavour to get it adopted by every channel that has confidence in me’, 8 Apr.50 He was at Chatham’s beck and call; was a link for him with the outer world; reported to him parliamentary debates, political events, etc.; promoted movements and actions which had Chatham’s approval (e.g. the Kent petition of November 1769); co-operated with the City radicals, in fact with anyone he could enlist under Chatham’s banner: his aim was to bring about Chatham’s return to the head of affairs. It is difficult to assess the share he had in effecting the reconciliation between Chatham and Temple in November 1768—he certainly worked for it; also with George Grenville; even with the Rockinghams. ‘The interest of all parties evidently required a coalition’ wrote Philip Francis in his autobiography,51 ‘and Calcraft was again the mediator; at least he told me so.’ He certainly played a considerable part in persuading Granby to resign in January 1770: the Opposition now seemed near to victory, but their fortunes ebbed, especially when the Falkland Islands dispute was settled without war. ‘Opposition are in great want of a leader and a general system’, wrote Calcraft to Chatham, 26 Mar. 1771. ‘One set are so candid, another so violent, a third so dissatisfied, that the scene is dreadful.’52 Even Calcraft’s activities slackened; especially as he was by now a sick man.

The last years he had lived at Ingress with Mrs. Elizabeth Bride, and had by her four sons and one daughter. In his will of 9 July 1771 he made the eldest, John Calcraft, his main heir; to each of the other four he left £10,000; to his children by Mrs. Bellamy, Henry Fox Calcraft and Elizabeth, £5,000 each. In a codicil of 23 Jan. 1772, he stated his intention, from the esteem he had for his friend Philip Francis and a sense ‘of his real ability to be an useful representative in Parliament’, to return him at Wareham, and bid his executors to do so should his own sons be still minors. In a second codicil he left Francis £1,000. In a memorandum of July 177253 Calcraft adds: ‘At Rochester I hope to be chose: but I will also be elected with Mr. Francis at Wareham.’

On 17 Aug. Chatham wrote to congratulate Calcraft on his recovery ‘from so tedious and anxious an illness’.54

Do you still continue, my dear Sir, in your purpose of changing climate? If you leave England ... you are ... pretty sure not to meet a more corrupted people, or more contemptible country ... You carry with you, within, an English heart—a more valuable collection than our boasted virtuosi ever import, with all their profusion of expense and waste of time.

Calcraft replied on the 21st:55

Your Lordship’s testimonial is the greatest, if not the only honour an Englishman has now to wish for; and I pity my poor countrymen, who can be deluded by such a court ... My plan is to leave England the middle of next month, and winter at Naples.

He meant to join there Philip Francis. But he died at Ingress on 23 Aug. ‘I knew what I had to expect’, writes Francis in his autobiography, ‘and was not much disappointed at hearing that he had left me nothing but a thousand pounds, and an injunction to his trustees to bring me into Parliament for Wareham during the minority of his sons.’56 In lack of gratitude Calcraft was repaid by at least one member of Fox’s deplorable set.

Contemporary sources allege that Calcraft aspired to an Irish peerage. Walpole, writing to Montagu,14 Apr. 1763, treats the creation as imminent; Lady Mary Coke, in her Journal (i. 102), 17 Nov. 1766, recounts having heard at James Stuart Mackenzie’s that Shelburne insisted on Calcraft being made an Irish peer; Walpole has it that Calcraft aspired by ‘Grafton’s favour to the title of Earl of Ormond’;57 and Junius, on 5 Oct. 1771, that Calcraft ‘only determined to be a patriot, when he could not be a peer’. Yet the subject never appears in the voluminous correspondence of the people concerned.

Ref Volumes: 1754-1790

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. They seem to have separated soon; she survived him and made a successful claim against his estate (Calcraft Pprs. at Rempstone). He managed to keep dark his wife’s existence: Lady Sarah Bunbury, a niece of H. Fox, writes on 24 Dec. 1762 about Miss Wriothesley being ‘pert ... upon Mr. Calcraft intending to marry her (which is my sister’s intelligence)’, Life of Lady Sarah Lennox, 128-9. Mrs. Bellamy, by whom he had his first illegitimate family, claims not to have known that he was married when she agreed to live with him.
  • 2. T52/45/42-3.
  • 3. Calcraft’s letter bk. 1745-6, at Rempstone.
  • 4. See DNB.
  • 5. Ilchester, Henry Fox, i. 57-9.
  • 6. T52/49/166 (1758); T52/51/26 (1760); Add. 38340, ff. 26-39 (20 Aug. 1767).
  • 7. T54/35/40; T52/45/176; Court City Reg. 1749.
  • 8. See e.g. his letters to Granby, 7 Oct. 1757, and to Loudoun, 8 Oct., Add. 17493, f. 98.
  • 9. Ibid. f. 84.
  • 10. Mems. Geo. II, ii. 42.
  • 11. Add. 17494, f. 36. See also Add. 17493, ff. 175-6.
  • 12. Apology for the Life of Mrs. Bellamy, v. 192.
  • 13. To Thos. Thoroton, Add. 17494, f. 46.
  • 14. Add. 17496, ff. 96-7. See also letter to Hale, ibid. ff. 97-8; a dunning letter to Col. Irwin for repayment; ibid. f. 107; etc.
  • 15. See e.g. CRAUFURD, John, sen. and HARVEY, Edward.
  • 16. See e.g. BURTON, Ralph.
  • 17. See e.g. TAYLOR, Peter; TAYLOR, Robert Paris; LINWOOD, Nicholas; COCKBURN, Sir James.
  • 18. Add. 17495, ff. 12-13.
  • 19. L.S. Sutherland, E. I. Co. in 18th Cent. Politics, 121-2.
  • 20. See e.g. for his attempts to purchase a burgage at Corfe Castle, Namier, ‘So Come and Join the Dance’, In the Margin of History.
  • 21. Apology, iii. 80.
  • 22. Add. 17495, f. 118.
  • 23. See London Chron. 20-23 Dec. 1760; and Hasted, Kent. 2nd ed. ii, v.
  • 24. PRO, Amherst Pprs.
  • 25. Add. 32944, ff. 333-4.
  • 26. Ibid. ff. 354-5; see also Newcastle to Devonshire, 16 Nov., Add. 32945, f. 51.
  • 27. Ibid. f. 76.
  • 28. Sedgwick, Letters Geo. III to Bute , 156.
  • 29. Add. 17495, f. 183.
  • 30. Calcraft to Shelburne, 15 Mar. 1763, Fitzmaurice, Shelburne, i. 147.
  • 31. Ibid. 151, misdated 16 Mar.
  • 32. Ibid. i. 159.
  • 33. Mems. Geo. III: this passage, omitted in the printed text, is reproduced from the original at Chewton.
  • 34. Ibid. i. 208.
  • 35. Parkes Merivale, Mems. Philip Francis, i. 359.
  • 36. Fitzmaurice, i. 147.
  • 37. See Fitzmaurice, i. 199-208; Grenville Pprs. ii. 90-92, 204; Bedford Corresp. iii. 236-7; Walpole, Mems. Geo. III, i. 228, 233.
  • 38. Ilchester, Letters to H. Fox, 179.
  • 39. Grenville Diary, Grenville Pprs. ii. 202; see also Sandwich to Holland, 6 Sept. 1763, Ilchester, 176.
  • 40. Chatham Corresp. ii. 245.
  • 41. Sandwich to Holland, 26 Sept., Ilchester, 179.
  • 42. Sandwich mss.
  • 43. G. Onslow to Newcastle, 30 Nov., Add. 32972, f. 84.
  • 44. Calcraft to Pitt, Rochester, Chatham Corresp. ii. 337-8.
  • 45. Rockingham mss.
  • 46. Recs. Cust Fam. (ser. 3) ed. Cust, 84, 249.
  • 47. Cavendish’s ‘Debates’, Egerton 230, p. 230.
  • 48. Public Advertiser, 5 Oct. 1771.
  • 49. Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 50. Chatham Corresp. iv. 81, 127, 138, 143.
  • 51. Parkes Merivale, Mems. Philip Francis, ii. 302.
  • 52. Chatham Corresp. iv. 127.
  • 53. Parkes Merivale, i. 318.
  • 54. Chatham Corresp. iv. 223-4.
  • 55. Ibid. 224-6.
  • 56. Parkes Merivale, i. 365.
  • 57. Mems. Geo. III, iii. 264-5, n. 3.