METCALFE, Philip (1733-1818), of West Ham, Essex and Hawstead, Suff.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer



1784 - 1790
1790 - 1796
22 Nov. 1796 - 1802
1802 - 1806

Family and Education

b. 29 Aug. 1733, 2nd s. of Roger Metcalfe, MD, of London by Jemima, da. of Sir Philip Astley, 2nd Bt., of Melton Constable, Norf. unm.

Offices Held


Metcalfe, the close friend and executor of Sir Joshua Reynolds and a travelling companion of Dr Johnson, had grown rich as a partner in and eventually head of a West Ham distillery. In 1790 he bought a seat for Plympton (Reynolds’s birthplace) from Paul Treby Treby, who sold only to supporters of Pitt. He paired on the ministerial side in the division on the Oczakov question, 12 Apr. 1791, and was listed an opponent of the repeal of the Test Act in Scotland that month, but no other trace of his parliamentary activity in this period has been found. He was friendly with Burke and Windham and in 1792 became a founder member of the committee for the relief of French refugees.1

Marked ‘pro’ in the government’s election forecast compiled in 1795, he was mentioned to Pitt by Sir Francis Bassett* among those he would be willing to return for Penryn at the next general election.2 The eventual choice fell on others and in 1796 Metcalfe contested Tregony unsuccessfully on the Barwell interest. He soon found a seat at Malmesbury, as a paying guest on the Wilkins interest. In 1797 he subscribed £20,000 to the loyalty loan. In 1802 he was in negotiation with the 2nd Earl of Radnor for a seat at Downton, for which he was willing to pay £4,000. Informing Radnor, 28 June, that he had had a letter from Charles Long and a conversation with George Rose, two of Pitt’s men of business, he commented resignedly that ‘thus I found myself thrown into the very channel I wished to avoid’; but his terms, which included a free re-election in the event of a premature dissolution and the right to nominate his successor if he retired, were evidently rejected and it was for Plympton, again on the Treby interest, that he came in.3 He was classed as a supporter of Pitt’s second ministry in the government lists of September 1804 and July 1805. At the general election of 1806 he was replaced as Member for Plympton by Castlereagh and there is a suggestion of disgruntlement in his observation to Rose, 18 Nov., that he had paid £4,000 for the seat in 1802, twice as much as had his colleague, the 2nd Earl of Mount Edgcumbe’s nominee.4

Soon after leaving Parliament Metcalfe went blind, but he continued to entertain lavishly at his house in Brighton during the season, undeterred by the ‘coldness’ towards him of the Prince of Wales, once his friend, who was said to have cut him in the 1780s after a third party had reported Metcalfe’s derogatory comments on his extravagance, made while eating at his table.5 According to Farington, Metcalfe and James Boswell, who in 1792 had commented sourly on his ‘boisterous puppyism’, did ‘not always go on pleasantly together’: ‘Metcalfe would call him "Bozzy" which the other would only willingly permit from Dr Johnson, but Boswell in return called Metcalfe "Mettie", which was equally disagreeable for him'.6 Farington too noted that his 'habitual petulance and overbearing have been universally remarked', but also paid tribute to his 'good qualities', particularly his generosity and the cheerfulness with which he bore his blindness.7 From 1812 until its disappearance from the directories after 1835 the distillery, previously 'P. Metcalf & Co.', was styled 'Metcalf & Co., mealman and distillers, Bromley, near Bow'. Metcalfe died 26 Aug. 1818.8

Ref Volumes: 1790-1820

Authors: P. A. Symonds / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Burke Corresp. vii. 198, 235.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/111, f. 418.
  • 3. Wilts. RO, Radnor mss, 490/1373.
  • 4. Add. 42774, f. 201.
  • 5. Glenbervie Jnls. 134-5, 139; Farington, iv. 5, 190.
  • 6. Farington, i. 95-96; Boswell Private Pprs. xviii. 175.
  • 7. Farington, i. 273; ii. 188; vi. 72; vii. 89-90.
  • 8. Gent. Mag. (1818), ii. 379. Burke LG (1849) gives 10 Aug.