Monthly Archives: November 2012

Turmoil in Ipswich

The subscribers to works such as Kirby’s Historical Account came mostly from the ranks of the clergy, professionals, and minor gentry. These were the very same people involved in local politics and quite a number of Kirby’s subscribers turn up as Bailiffs and Portmen in Ipswich. In the mid 18th-century, politics in Ipswich was a mess. This was a legacy of the Civil War, when Ipswich had been firmly Puritan. It had not fared well under the Restoration, and in the 1750s there were competing charters for the municipal corporation. The situation did not get resolved until the 19th century.

We have already seen the contentious election on 1754, but there was more. The whole situation has been thoroughly researched by Susan Mitchell Sommers, from whose book, Parliamentary Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century this summary is largely drawn. At the center of the political drama was a fairly small group of men. During the 1740s, the two annual posts of Bailiff were shared between only 9 people; in the 1750s, as the political winds changed, these were joined, and supplanted, by 10 more.

The central event was the 1754 election. Before the election the Yellow (Whig or Liberal) party was ascendant, and the Yellow portmen would not allow the creation of a group of new Blue (Tory) freemen. After the election, the Blue victory allowed the party to created a new group of 127 freemen as supporters and put itself in an invincible position. But, as Sommers tells the tale, “by refusing to attend the Great Court, the portmen put the creation into a legal limbo”. With the “flame of discord raging furiously in the corporation” (Clarke, 98), rancorous advertisements were placed in the local newspaper, and in September 1755 the election was attended by only one portman. As a consequence of their refusal to attend the Great Court, the remaining portmen were dismissed from their posts and replaced with a new slate of men more acceptable to the new leadership. Thus was the coup carried out.

According to Sommers, the portmen removed were: Sir Richard Lloyd, John Sparrow, William Hammond (the Apothecary), Goodchilde Clarke, Samuel Tuffnell, John Tuffnell, George Foster Tuffnell, Michael Thirkle, Humphry Rant, Ellis Brand, and John Firmin.

They were replaced by Thomas Richardson, John Gravenor, Lark Tarver, Thomas Bowell, Samuel Hamblin, William Truelove, Thomas Burwell, John Dade, William Hammond, Charles Walford, and Robert Edgar.  A full 13 of these 22 men were subscribers to one or more of Kirby’s books.

Clarke, G.R. (1830). The History & Description of the Town and Borough of Ipswich.

Sommers, S.M. (2002). Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century.

Humphry Rant

Humphry Rant was one of the two men on the losing (Yellow or Whig) side of the 1754 election for Bailiff of Ipswich that saw John Gravenor elected. Rant was an Ipswich lawyer about whom I know very little. He was born about 1709, the son of William Rant, rector of Bunwell in Norfolk, and went to Botesdale School. Following in the family footsteps, he attended Caius College in Cambridge, graduating in 1730. He then went to the Middle Temple for legal training and was called to the Bar in 1736. He was one of the two Portmen on the Committee investigating the Ipswich Charities, whose work Richard Canning reported. He was elected Bailiff of Ipswich six times, and ended up as Recorder in 1776. He married Mary Life and died at Dickleburgh in Norfolk in 1779.

According to Venn’s Biographical history of Gonville and Caius College, “He got into trouble for his opinions when a student, being rusticated, and required (June 3 1727), together with R. Fuller, `to make a public recantation’, and to translate into Latin the first two of Tillotson’s sermons”.

He subscribed to both Kirby’s Historical Account and his Method of Perspective.

Richard Canning

The Revd Richard Canning (1708—1775) was a Suffolk clergyman, and author of several books. He was the (anonymous) author of An account of the gifts and legacies that have been given and bequeathed to charitable uses in the town of Ipswich; with some account of the present state and management and some proposals for the future regulation of them, published in Ipswich in 1747. This was not a completely disinterested account, as a careful parsing of the title shows. Back in 1743, a commission had been set up to investigate the various charitable donations that had been given to be used in Ipswich, and to check that the conditions of these donations were being properly fulfilled. Clearly, such an investigation would be unnecessary unless there was a sense, in certain quarters, that there was a certain amount of misdirection going on. The investigation was partly an attack on the current political powers in Ipswich. Canning collected 113 subscribers, mostly from local people, among them Kirby. Canning himself took six copies of the book, as did his friend Rev. Henry Hubbard.

Canning was actually born in Plymouth, but moved to Suffolk at a young age when his father retired to Ipswich after a career as a naval commander. He went to Westminster School, and on to St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, graduating in 1729, and gaining a master’s degree from Peterhouse in 1735. He married Cordelia Westhorp in 1739 and they had two children, a son Richard, and a daughter Cordelia. Canning’s wife died in 1751, but he never remarried. His first clerical appointment was as curate at St Lawrence, Ipswich, in 1734, and he gradually gathered other livings, maintaining a plurality of up to four at times.

According to his DNB article, “Canning was a pillar of Anglican life in Suffolk, and a leading member of the clerical, literary, and musical circles to which the young Thomas Gainsborough belonged until he left for Bath in 1759”. Gainsborough painted a portrait of Canning about 1757.

(This picture is from The Art Fund, and is reversed).

Canning gave the picture to Henry Hubbard, and in return, Hubbard had his own portrait done by Gainsborough and gave it to Canning. Hubbard’s portrait is very similar, but he is facing the other way (i.e., to the right, whereas Canning is looking to the left).

Canning also appears to have been the editor who prepared the much revised and enlarged 1764 second edition of John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveller, although a number of other people also had a hand in the work.

Canning’s DNB article is here.

John Gravenor

John Gravenor (1700—1778) of Ipswich was an apothecary and a steady supporter of Kirby’s work. He subscribed to both the Historical Account and the first edition of the Method of Perspective, as well as the second edition of John Kirby’s Suffolk Traveler. He also, unsurprisingly, subscribed to Richard Canning’s Account of the Gifts and Legacies that have been given and bequeathed to Charitable Uses in the Town of Ipswich.

Gravenor stood for bailiff of Ipswich in the bitter election of 1754. Although the election was decisive, with Gravenor and Thomas Richardson gaining 363 and 362 votes respectively to 237 and 236 for the opposing ticket of Humphry Rant and William Hammond, the outgoing bailiffs Michael Thirkle and John Sparowe refused to concede. Susan Mitchell Sommers, in her Parliamentary Politics of a County and Its Town: General Elections in Suffolk and Ipswich in the Eighteenth Century explains that they would not hand over their offices and town records until a royal order forced them to comply. Sommers also notes that such was the depth of party loyalty that only one voter split the ticket (the delightfiully-named William Scarlet). Among other offices, Gravenor was re-elected bailiff in 1757, 1760, 1762, and 1764. Rant, Hammond, Thirkle and Sparowe were all among Kirby’s subscribers, presumably indicating that Suffolk antiquities transcended party politics.

At a similar time, around 1752 to 1754, Gainsborough painted the Gravenor family of John, his second wife Ann Colman (whom he had married in 1739), and their daughters Ann and Elizabeth.

Although this conversation piece comes after the famous Andrews portrait, Gainsborough had some difficulty with the figures. Malcolm Cormack, in The Paintings of Thomas Gainsborough, refers to “the faint air that the sitters are pushing their heads though a seaside photographer’s canvas, while they fall gently sideways”. However, Cormack also points out that “Gainsborough has achieved a dazzle of shot silk and surface flicker by the most complicated means”, and Rosenthal draws attention to the motif of the crossed trees representing marriage. I like the way he sets off each face with a dark background: the dark foliage behind John Gravenor; the tree trunk behind his wife; the darkest cloud behind Ann, and the shadowed dress behind Elizabeth.

Sir Joseph Ayloffe (1709/10—1781)

Sir Joseph Ayloffe, 6th (and last) Baronet, of Braxted Magna, Essex, was Kirby’s first patron, and something of a mystery to me. I can’t quite tell whether to celebrate his achievements or see him as a rather sad case of someone who did not have the success he desired. Nor can I see exactly how he and Kirby got together, nor precisely understand his passion for the antiquities of Suffolk.

Ayloffe was born in 1709 as the only son of Joseph Ayloffe, a barrister (lawyer), of Gray’s Inn, London, and Mary Ayliffe. As a child he went to Westminster School and Lincoln’s Inn. He went up to Oxford in 1726, the same year his father died, but left in 1728 without taking a degree. Following his father, he became a barrister in 1730, and that year his unmarried cousin, Sir John Ayloffe, died, and he succeeded to the baronetcy. He married Margaret Railton, a widow, in 1734 and they had one son, Joseph, who died of smallpox in 1756 at Cambridge.

Ayloffe was one of those eighteenth-century passionate antiquarians. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1731, and of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1732; he was also a member of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society. He was appointed clerk to the commissioners for building Westminster Bridge in 1736, and held the post for the 15 years it took for the bridge to be constructed.

Felicity Owen is quite harsh on Ayloffe. She says that he and Kirby met, presumably in the early 1740s, through Kirby’s father’s connections with the Suffolk gentry, although the details are not clear. She characterizes him as someone who “fancied himself as the Montfaucon of England and, like the French savant, was determined to encourage the appreciation of antiquities by publishing their topographical and historical description.” He asked Kirby to make some engravings of Suffolk buildings and monuments to illustrate the intended work, but, “A solicitor, without credentials as a writer, Ayloffe failed to obtain financial backing for his project” and it never appeared. Ayloffe seems to have continued working on the project and had another proposal to publish a history of Suffolk in the 1760s, but once again could not get support. In between he had failed at a number of other projects. He started a review journal, the Universal Librarian, but only one issue appeared. He had a proposal to publish parliamentary debates from before the Restoration, but that did not happen. He had a plan to issue a translation of Diderot’s Encyclopédie, but the first number was mocked so badly that it was the last.

He did have later successes. In 1770, he read a paper to the Society of Antiquaries on the painting of the Field of the Cloth of Gold at Windsor, and that appeared as a book, An historical description of an ancient picture in Windsor Castle in 1773. In 1772, he supervised the opening of the tomb of Edward I in Westminster Abbey and 10 days later he reported on the discoveries to a packed meeting of the Society. His 1774 edition of the Calendars of the ancient charters, and of the Welch and Scotish rolls, now remaining in the Tower of London, completed a task begun by Philip Morant.

The engravings Kirby made for Ayloffe’s abortive history of Suffolk in the 1740s became the basis for his own Historical Account, the book that launched Kirby’s career, and for which Ayloffe headed the subscriber list.

Sir Joseph Ayloffe has a substantive and judicious DNB entry.