Tag Archives: bailiff

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.

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.