Samuel Whitbread

Samuel Whitbread

Samuel Whitbread, the only son and third child of Samuel Whitbread, and Harriet Hayton, was born in Cardington near Bedford in 1758. His mother died three months after he was born. His father was a highly successful businessman and was the owner of the Whitbread Brewery. His father married Mary Cornwallis, younger daughter of Earl Cornwallis, in 1769. Tragically, the following year, Mary died in childbirth.

According to his biographer, D. R. Fisher: "The younger Whitbread's upbringing was largely joyless, and great care was lavished on his education by his well-meaning but overbearing father." When Samuel was sent to Eton College he was accompanied by his own private tutor. At Eton he met his lifelong friends, Charles Grey and William Henry Lambton. Samuel continued his education at Christ Church and St. John's College.

After university Samuel Whitbread sent his son on a tour of Europe, under the guidance of the historian, William Coxe. This included visits to Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Prussia, France and Italy. When Samuel returned in May 1786, he joined his father running the extremely successful family brewing business. The Whitbread Brewery was making an average yearly profit of £18,000. Whitbread had purchased a Boulton & Watt steam engine to grind malt and to pump water up to the boilers. This enabled the brewery to increase production to 143,000 barrels a year. This established Whitbread as the largest brewer in Britain. Peter Mathias argues: "Public renown came on 27 May 1787 with a royal visit to Chiswell Street - by the king and queen, three princesses, and an assembly of aristocrats in train - with James Watt on hand to explain the mysteries of his engine."

In 1789 Samuel Whitbread married Elizabeth Grey, the sister of Charles Grey. The two men were deeply interested in politics. Grey was already MP for Northumberland and in 1790 Whitbread was elected MP for Bedford. In the House of Commons, Whitbread and Grey became followers of Charles Fox, the leader of the Radical Whigs. Whitbread soon emerged in Parliament as a powerful critic of the Tory Prime Minister, William Pitt. A passionate supporter of reform, Whitbread argued for an extension of religious and civil rights, an end to the slave-trade, and the establishment of a national education system.

In April 1792, Whitbread joined with a group of pro-reform Whigs to form the Friends of the People. Three peers (Lord Porchester, Lord Lauderdale and Lord Buchan) and twenty-eight Whig MPs joined the group. Other leading members included Charles Grey, Richard Sheridan, John Cartwright, John Russell, George Tierney, and Thomas Erskine. The main objective of the the society was to obtain "a more equal representation of the people in Parliament" and "to secure to the people a more frequent exercise of their right of electing their representatives". Charles Fox was opposed to the formation of this group as he feared it would lead to a split the Whig Party.

On 30th April 1792, Charles Grey introduced a petition in favour of constitutional reform. He argued that the reform of the parliamentary system would remove public complaints and "restore the tranquillity of the nation". He also stressed that the Friends of the People would not become involved in any activities that would "promote public disturbances". Although Charles Fox had refused to join the Friends of the People, in the debate that followed, he supported Grey's proposals. When the vote was taken, Grey's proposals were defeated by 256 to 91 votes.

In 1793 Samuel Whitbread toured the country making speeches on the need for parliamentary reform. He encouraged people to sign petitions at his meetings and when he returned to London they were presented to Parliament. Whitbread also campaigned on behalf of agricultural labourers. In the economic depression of 1795, Whitbread advocated the payment of higher wages. When Whitbread introduced his minimum wage bill to the House of Commons in December 1795 it was opposed by William Pitt and his Tory government and was easily defeated.

Whitbread was a strong supporter of a negotiated peace with France and supported Fox's calls to send a government minister to Paris. Whitbread argued for Catholic Emancipation and opposed the act for the suppression of rebellion in Ireland. His friend, Samuel Romilly, said that Whitbread was "the promoter of every liberal scheme for improving the condition of mankind, the zealous advocate of the oppressed, and the undaunted opposer of every species of corruption and ill-administration." Whitbread's attempts in 1796 to empower magistrates to fix a minimum wage was unsuccessful.

Whitbread supported Grey's protest against the renewal of war on 24 May 1803, and was active in the combined attack on Henry Addington in 1804. The following year he charged Viscount Melville with alleged financial malpractice during his tenure as First Lord at the Admiralty. It has been argued by D. Fisher: "Whitbread gained much credit for the tenacity with which he conducted it. Its initial success helped to stimulate a revival of radicalism in the country, as well as fatally weakening Pitt's feeble second ministry. Whitbread regarded it as a considerable personal triumph, though Melville's acquittal in June 1806 and the ridicule excited by lapses of taste and judgement in his own concluding speech of 16 May detracted from it."

In 1807 Samuel Whitbread proposed a new Poor Law. His scheme not only involved an increase in the financial help given to the poor, but the establishment of a free educational system. Whitbread proposed that every child between the ages of seven and fourteen who was unable to pay, should receive two years' free education. The measure was seen as too radical and was easily defeated in the House of Commons.

Whitbread refused to be disillusioned by his constant defeats and during the next few years he made more speeches in the House of Commons than any other member. Sometimes his attacks on George III and his ministers were considered to be too harsh, even by his closest political friends.

Unable to persuade Parliament to accept his ideas, Whitbread used his considerable fortune (his father, Samuel Whitbread had died in 1796) to support good causes. His net income from land (about £12,600 a year) almost always exceeded brewery profits (about £8,000). Whitbread gave generous financial help to establish schools for the poor. An advocate of the monitorial system developed by Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster, he helped fund the Royal Lancasterian Society that had the objective of establishing schools that were not controlled by the Church of England.

When the Whigs gained power in 1806, Whitbread expected the Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, to offer him a place in his government. He was deeply disappointed when this did not happen. Some claimed it was because Whitbread was too radical. Others suggested it was due to snobbery and the aristocrats in the party disapproved of a tradesman entering the cabinet. Grenville did promise the post of secretary of war as soon as the incumbent, Richard Fitzpatrick, could be moved to another position. However, nothing had been done about this when the ministry fell in March 1807.

After this rejection, Whitbread consoled himself with his involvement in the Drury Lane Theatre. In 1809 the theatre was destroyed by fire. Already over £500,000 in debt, the theatre was in danger of going out of business. Whitbread became chairman of the committee set up to rebuild the theatre. With the help of his political friends, Whitbread managed to raise the necessary funds and the Drury Lane Theatre was reopened on 10th October, 1812.

In May 1812 Whitbread split with the Whigs when Lord Grenville renounced all future political co-operation with him. He did work fairly closely with Henry Brougham but as his biographer, D. Fisher, points out: "For the rest of his life Whitbread was an outcast from the main body of opposition. He kept up his obsessive demands for peace negotiations and sought, to a limited extent, to promote economic and parliamentary reform. His involvement in 1813 in the campaign on behalf of the princess of Wales, in which he acted as Henry Brougham's lieutenant, was a waste of his talents.... He renewed his efforts in Caroline's cause in 1814, but only succeeded in playing into the hands of ministers and exasperating Brougham."

Robert Heron, the MP for Great Grimsby, commented: "Though his harsh and overbearing manners had, for a long time, been obnoxious to many of all ranks, and particularly to the poor, even whilst they received benefits from him; yet, the experience of his honesty, his enlightened benevolence, and his indefatigable exertions in almost every department of town and country business had, at length, procured for him universal respect, and, out of Parliament, almost universal acquiescence in his measures; and, probably, few men have been so extensively useful to the country… In Parliament, his bad taste and, what is perhaps the same thing, want of judgment, above all, his impractical disposition, diminished greatly the advantages which might otherwise have been derived from his great ability as an orator, his experience, and his incorruptible firmness. Samuel Romilly was more complimentary, "the only faults he had proceeded from an excess of his virtues."

In 1815 Whitbread began to suffer from depression. Over the years he had been upset by the way he was portrayed by the political cartoonists such as, James Gillray and George Cruikshank. He also began to worry about the brewery business and the way he was treated in the House of Commons. After one debate in June he told his wife: "They are hissing me. I am become an object of universal abhorrence." On the morning of 6th June 1815, Samuel Whitbread committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor at his London house at 35 Dover Street, Mayfair.

Though his (Samuel Whitbread) harsh and overbearing manners had, for a long time, been obnoxious to many of all ranks, and particularly to the poor, even whilst they received benefits from him; yet, the experience of his honesty, his enlightened benevolence, and his indefatigable exertions in almost every department of town and country business had, at length, procured for him universal respect, and, out of Parliament, almost universal acquiescence in his measures; and, probably, few men have been so extensively useful to the country … In Parliament, his bad taste and, what is perhaps the same thing, want of judgment, above all, his impractical disposition, diminished greatly the advantages which might otherwise have been derived from his great ability as an orator, his experience, and his incorruptible firmness.


WHITBREAD, Samuel Charles (1796-1879), of Grove House, Kensington Gore and 33 Maddox Street, Mdx.

Whitbread, a member of the brewing dynasty, was raised in London and Bedfordshire, where his father, a leading Foxite Whig, inherited the family&rsquos recently purchased estate of Southill in 1796.1 His parents&rsquo favourite, he was educated with his elder brother William and sent to Cambridge to prepare him for a career in the church or politics. Little is known of his reaction to his father&rsquos suicide in July 1815. His uncle Edward Ellice*, who now oversaw the Whitbreads&rsquo troubled finances, dismissed the brothers&rsquo private tutor Sam Reynolds, who &lsquogoes about as an idle companion to the boys&rsquo, and pressed their continued attendance at Cambridge.2 Whitbread joined Brooks&rsquos, 22 May 1818, and became a trustee the following month of his father&rsquos will, by which he received £5,000 and £500 a year from the age of 21, £5,000 in lieu of the church livings of Southill and Purfleet (Essex) reserved for him, and was granted the right to reside at Cardington when the house fell vacant.3 William came in for Bedford at the general election of 1818 and Samuel was now suggested for Westminster and Middlesex, where he nominated the Whig veteran George Byng* in a speech proclaiming his own credentials as a candidate-in-waiting.4 Encouraged by his mother, who took a house in Kensington Gore after William came of age, he fostered his connections with the Westminster reformers, purchased a £10,000 stake in the brewery and in 1819 joined their controlling partnership, which was then worth £490,000 &lsquoon paper&rsquo and dominated by his father&rsquos partners Sir Benjamin Hobhouse&dagger, William Wilshere of Hitchin and the Martineau and Yallowley families.5 Maria Edgeworth, who now met Whitbread for the first time, described him as a &lsquogood, but too meek looking . youth&rsquo.6

Whitbread grasped the opportunity to contest Middlesex at the general election of 1820, when, backed by his relations, brewing partners, the Nonconformists and the Whig-radical coalition campaigning in Westminster (which he denied), he defeated the sitting Tory William Mellish in a 12-day poll to come in with Byng.7 His lacklustre brother had shown none of their father&rsquos talent and energy, but Samuel impressed with his enthusiasm and appealed throughout to his father&rsquos reputation as a reformer and advocate of civil and religious liberty.8 Ellice praised his common sense and popularity and surmised that Parliament &lsquomay save him by throwing him into society and engaging him in politics, although possibly the situation he will occupy will be rather too prominent for either his abilities or experience&rsquo. He later informed Lord Grey:

He was caricatured as a phial of &lsquoWhitbread&rsquos entire&rsquo - the blue to John Cam Hobhouse&rsquos* red in Sir Francis Burdett&rsquos* tricolour.10 He declined attendance at the &lsquoWestmorland&rsquo dinner at the Mermaid Tavern, Hackney, to fête Henry Brougham&rsquos* supporters, 17 Apr. 1820, and Ellice had to reassure Grey that they &lsquodid not intend to enlist ourselves under Burdettite banners&rsquo.11 As a main speaker with Hobhouse at the Middlesex &lsquoIndependence&rsquo dinner that Henry Grey Bennet* chaired at the Freemasons&rsquo Tavern, 3 June 1820, he reaffirmed his commitment to reform, praised the &lsquounion of the friends of freedom and reform at the late election&rsquo and was commended by Burdett for his &lsquopromising start&rsquo in the House.12

Except for occasional lapses to go hunting, Whitbread attended unstintingly until 1827, when he became seriously ill with scrofula, &lsquothe Grey disease&rsquo, from which his mother had suffered intermittently since 1798.13 Demonstrating greater commitment than his brother, he voted with the main Whig opposition on most major issues and aligned with Hobhouse, Hume and the &lsquoMountain&rsquo, in whose small minorities for retrenchment and lower taxes he was frequently listed. Attempting to take the House by storm, he made major contributions to the 1820-21 debates on the Queen Caroline affair and reform. He left most constituency business to Byng, invariably defended Whitbreads in discussions on brewing, the Excise Acts and the licensing laws and could be relied on to criticize the game laws. He promoted Ellice&rsquos interests in the 1823-5 select committees on the London and Westminster gas light bills and resolutely opposed the 1824 and 1825 Equitable Loan bills, whose defeat contributed to the collapse of several &lsquobubble companies&rsquo and ruined his erstwhile political ally Peter Moore*. Whitbread presented and endorsed a petition for the restoration of Sligo&rsquos chartered privileges, 28 Apr., and another from the Thames watermen complaining that London Bridge was unsafe, 4 May 1820. He commented briefly on the Newington church bill, 19 May, and pressed the radical George Dewhurst&rsquos allegations of ill-treatment by his Lancaster gaolers, 31 May 1820.14

Queen Caroline visited Whitbread&rsquos mother directly she returned from the continent and, assuming his father&rsquos mantle, he became one of her staunchest partisans.15 He voted against Wilberforce&rsquos compromise resolution, 22 June 1820, and seconded Western&rsquos adjournment motion on the 26th, when he argued that by requesting the queen to submit to a trial &lsquowhich must have the effect of degrading her for ever&rsquo, ministers &lsquowere endeavouring to delude the House into some sort of sanction of what they had done&rsquo. He addressed her Middlesex supporters, 8 Aug., and accompanied their delegation to Brandenburgh House on the 15th.16 His attendance at the Paddington Green ladies&rsquo meeting, 11 Sept., together with false reports of his sisters&rsquo presence, prompted the Evangelical vicar of Harrow John Cunningham to write a pamphlet denouncing his conduct.17 Whitbread countered that it had been his duty as a Member to attend and he highlighted errors in the newspaper reports cited by his absent critics.18 Before voting in Hobhouse&rsquos minority of 12 for an immediate prorogation, 18 Sept., he spoke again of the &lsquocalamitous consequences&rsquo of proceeding with the bill of pains and penalties and restricting inquiry to the queen&rsquos morals. Later that day the leader of the House Lord Castlereagh scotched his attempt to obtain detailed accounts of expenditure on her prosecution since 1814. He joined the queen&rsquos procession to St. Paul&rsquos, 29 Nov., for a service of thanksgiving when the proceedings were suspended, and pressed for county meetings in Bedfordshire and Middlesex to petition for reform and the restoration of her name to the liturgy.19 He presented her supporters&rsquo petitions, 26 Jan., 13 Feb., and protested at the change in procedures that reduced the time accorded to them, 21 Feb. 1821.20 On 18 June he presented and endorsed a St. Pancras reform petition deprecating &lsquonew taxes&rsquo and urging the &lsquorestoration of the queen to her rights&rsquo.21 He divided for Catholic relief, 28 Feb. 1821, 1 Mar., 21 Apr., 10 May, and against the attendant Irish franchise bill, 26 Apr. 1825.

He voted for a scot and lot franchise for Leeds under the Grampound disfranchisement bill, 2 Mar., and to disqualify civil ordnance officers from voting in parliamentary elections, 12 Apr. 1821. Seconding Lambton&rsquos reform motion, 17 Apr., he testified to Middlesex&rsquos support for the scheme, including triennial parliaments, and compared the &lsquoHouse, as present constituted . [to] a woman of bad character, with whom you might take any liberty, but that of telling her of her frailty&rsquo. He denounced electoral abuses, &lsquocontempt of the standing orders . rotten boroughs . corruption in the returns&rsquo and the sale of seats, and cited Parliament&rsquos indifference to distress petitions as &lsquothe strongest argument in favour of reform&rsquo. He was a minority teller when the motion was rejected (55-43) in a snap division, 18 Apr., and warned of a possible backlash to its summary dismissal.22 He divided again for reform, 9, 10 May 1821, 25 Apr. 1822, 20 Feb., 24 Apr., 2 June 1823, 13, 27 Apr. 1826. He spoke against considering the army estimates in committee, 9 Mar. 1821, presented petitions for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre, 15 Apr., and divided accordingly next day.23 He voted to make forgery a non-capital offence, 23 May, 4 June. Targeting the Constitutional Association, and backed by petitions presented by Hobhouse and Colonel Davies, on 3 July 1821 he proposed an address praying that the king would &lsquoorder a nollo prosequi to be entered in every case where the Association were prosecutors&rsquo. This, Londonderry (as Castlereagh had become) informed the king, &lsquogave rise to a long debate in which the attorney and solicitor-general spoke with much ability in maintenance of the legality of the Association&rsquo.24 The Mountain&rsquos spokesman Henry Grey Bennet commented: &lsquono division took place, but the "loyalists" were very roughly handled, and I hope shamed in some degree out of their scandalous proceedings&rsquo.25 Henceforward &lsquoWhitbread&rsquos entire&rsquo was used to caricature &lsquofactious froth&rsquo and Whitbread kept a lower profile on radical causes.26

Representing local interests, he raised objections, 21 Mar., and presented petitions against the Stoke Newington select vestry bill, 14 May, and the metropolis road bill, 27 Mar., 9 May 1821.27 He candidly acknowledged that the critics of the Middlesex court of requests, whose complaints were taken up by the Ipswich Member Barrett Lennard, had not consulted him, 19 June, and vainly opposed the Highgate Chapel bill promoted by Byng, 5 July 1822.28 He presented the silk weavers&rsquo petitions and argued against repealing the Spitalfields Acts on their behalf, 21 May, 2 June 1823.29 He refrained from commenting on the reciprocity duties when presenting the Thames shipwrights&rsquo hostile petition, 1 July, so his declaration for them on the hustings in 1826 was something of a surprise.30 He endorsed the petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery he presented, 23 May, 2 June 1823, 17 Mar. 1826, and voted in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 11 June 1824, and of the Jamaican slave trials, 2 Mar. 1826.31

Whitbread&rsquos unexplained absence from the minorities against the Irish insurrection bill, 8 Feb. 1822, &lsquoenraged&rsquo his mother, but he was soon forgiven, and in March he took a party of her friends to the ventilator to observe the debates.32 In his only major speech that session, he defended Whitbreads&rsquo policy of discouraging tied houses, 6 May. He voted to consider criminal law reform, 4 June 1822. He hosted a grand dinner at the Chiswell Street brewery in May 1823, and divided with Maberly for alterations in the beer and malt duties, 28 May (and again, 15 Mar. 1824).33 Pressing for major changes, he condemned the current game laws as &lsquoa disgrace to the national character, and a great cause of the demoralization of the poorer classes&rsquo that encouraged the poaching they were calculated to suppress, 2 June 1823. He lent his support to measures promoted by Hume in opposition in 1824, but became increasingly preoccupied with changes proposed in the beer duties, on which he spoke as the unofficial representative of the licensed victuallers, 24 May. He also presented their petitions, 16, 27 Mar. 1824.34 Tussles involving Ellice and Moore over the London and Westminster oil gas bill and the Equitable Loan Society bank bill compromised him personally and politically from 1824 to 1826. Assisting Ellice, he secured the committal of the oil gas bill (by 74-71), 12 Apr.,35 but, despite support from Sir George Robinson, Burdett and Hobhouse, he failed by 52-12, 26 May, and by 40-32 and 44-5, 2 June 1824, to prevent the passage of the Equitable Loan bill, which later foundered in the Lords. (He presented petitions, 15 Mar., and was a minority teller against the third reading of the 1825 bill, 24 Mar.).36 He voted against the Irish insurrection bill, 14 June, and funding new churches, 9 Apr., 14 June 1824. Acquaintances considered Juliana Brand, whom he married that month, pretty and good-natured, and although his mother did not immediately welcome the connection, she was soon reconciled to it.37

A radical publication noted that Whitbread &lsquoattended constantly&rsquo in 1825 and &lsquovoted with the opposition&rsquo.38 He brought up petitions against the St. Katharine&rsquos Docks bill, 16 Mar., 19 Apr., handled the abortive sea baths bill, 17 Mar., and the Hyde Park turnpike bill, 18 May, and supported the St. Olave (Hart Street) tithe bill on his constituents&rsquo behalf, 30 May. He brought up the shipwrights&rsquo hostile petition, 19 Apr., and voted in a minority of 15 against permitting factory masters who were magistrates from enforcing the provisions of the revised Combination Act, 27 June.39 As chairman of the select committee on the reintroduced oil gas bill, he protested at length at the manner of its defeat on the floor of the House, by individuals who knew nothing of the bill or his committee&rsquos deliberations, 2 June 1825.40 He presented a petition for a new corn market for his county, 21 Feb., and voted for corn law revision, 18 Apr. 1826.41 He supported inquiry into the silk trade, 24 Feb., and voted against increasing Huskisson&rsquos board of trade salary, 7 Apr. Drawing on his recent experience of the oil gas, Equitable Loan, and metropolis road bills, he seconded Littleton&rsquos resolutions regulating the composition of select committees on private bills, 19 Apr. He voted for Hume&rsquos state of the nation motion, 4 May, and was in a minority of 13 for reducing the salaries of Irish prison inspectors, 5 May 1826. A campaign to unseat &lsquoSolon&rsquo Whitbread had been under way since October 1825, but no suitable candidate was forthcoming and his return at the general election of 1826 was unopposed.42 On the hustings, he criticized the government, spoke proudly of his opposition to &lsquojobbing&rsquo speculations in joint-stock companies, and maintained (untruthfully), when pressed, that he &lsquohad supported ministers on every motion for the introduction of free trade&rsquo, together with the tax reductions necessary to make it effective.43

Whitbread voted for Catholic relief, 6 Mar., and to disfranchise Penryn for corruption, 28 Mar. 1827, but otherwise kept a low profile pending the appointment of a successor to Lord Liverpool as premier. He presented petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, 6, 7 June.44 He was caricatured with Matthew Wood* and Lord Lansdowne at &lsquothe installation of the new deputy grand master of the most venerable order of the red halter&rsquo, 10, 19 July, 1827.45 He voted to repeal the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and paired for Catholic relief, 12 May 1828, but missed most of that session and the next following a life-threatening bout of scrofula. He had constantly ignored medical advice to conserve his strength.46 His Bedfordshire neighbour and political ally Lord William Russell* commented that he had &lsquosacrificed his health to fox-hunting, and neglected his duty as Member for Middlesex&rsquo.47 He divided for Catholic emancipation as expected, 6, 30 Mar., and voted to permit Daniel O&rsquoConnell to sit without taking the oath of supremacy, 18 May, and for the Ultra Lord Blandford&rsquos reform proposals, which most Whigs considered absurd, 2 June 1829. He presented a handful of petitions backing the Independent Gas Light Company bill, 12 May, for amending the East London waterworks bill, 14 May, and repeal of the window tax, 2 June 1829.

Whitbread delayed his return to Parliament in 1830 at Lord Tavistock&rsquos* request to attend to the affairs of the Oakley Hunt, of which he was secretary, and in particular their differences with its master Grant Berkley. These were essentially political and almost caused a duel between Berkley and Whitbread.48 He divided with Hume for tax reductions, 15 Feb., and on the estimates, 22 Feb., voted for Blandford&rsquos reform scheme, 18 Feb., and paired for the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. He voted to transfer East Retford&rsquos seats to Birmingham, 5, 15 Mar. He divided against the Bathurst and Dundas pensions, 26 Mar., and fairly steadily with the revived Whig opposition until 13 July, including for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, repeal of the Irish coal duties, 13 May, and to consider abolishing colonial slavery, 13 July. He introduced a petition against the watching and parishes bill, 5 Apr., but otherwise made no reported speeches that session. He had discussed his impending retirement at the general election with Hobhouse on 15 June and was prepared to support Hobhouse, Hume or Lord John Russell as his successor.49 Nominating Byng, 5 Aug. 1830, before returning to Bedford to assist his brother, he spoke of his regrets on resigning and the poor health that had marred his performance.50 He sponsored the successful candidate, the Whig lawyer William Baker, at the hotly contested Middlesex East coroner&rsquos election in September, when, countering criticism of his own parliamentary record, he insisted that he had not been &lsquodriven out&rsquo of the county.51

Out of Parliament, Whitbread acted to combat the &lsquoSwing&rsquo riots in Bedfordshire in December 1830, attended the Bedford reform meeting in January 1831, and addressed the Middlesex meeting at the Mermaid with Charles Shaw Lefevre*, 21 Mar. He declared for the Grey ministry&rsquos reform bill, notwithstanding the omission from it of the ballot.52 As sheriff, he assisted his brother and the Bedford reformers in the county and borough at the May 1831 general election, when both constituencies were contested.53 He continued to promote reform and the ministerial bill at district meetings in Middlesex, where he turned down a requisition to contest the new Tower Hamlets constituency at the 1832 general election.54 A lifelong Liberal, Whitbread did not stand for Parliament again, but from 1852 took a keen interest in his son Samuel&rsquos political career as Member for Bedford. His health remained erratic, and he increasingly devoted his time to business and scientific pursuits. As a fellow since 1849 of the Royal Astronomical Society, and treasurer, 1857-78, he built the Howard observatory at Cardington (1850), and became a founder member that year of the British Meteorological Society and a fellow of the Royal Society in 1854. In 1867 he succeeded his childless brother William to the family estates and as head of the brewery and trusts, and in 1868, almost ten years after Juliana&rsquos death, he married into the Albermarle family, making Cardington available for Samuel, who had inherited his uncle&rsquos shares in Whitbreads&rsquo. He died in May 1879 at his town house in St. George&rsquos Square, survived by his second wife (d. 20 Sept. 1884) and four of his six children.55 According to his obituary in the Bedford Mercury

His will, dated 30 Nov. 1875, was proved in London, 24 July 1879. By it he confirmed Samuel&rsquos succession to the entailed estates and several family settlements, ensured that the non-entailed estates, including the brewery&rsquos Chiswell Street premises, passed to his younger son William, and provided generously for other family members.57


July 6 1815: Suicide of the Honourable Samuel Whitbread

“[Samuel Whitbbread] spent the evening of 5 July [1815] in frenzied discussion of the finances of Drury Lane with his solicitor, and on the morning of the 6th, after a badly disturbed night, killed himself by cutting his throat.

The surviving evidence seems to suggest that while Whitbread retained his sanity until the moment he took his own life, he suffered from a severe physical disorder of the brain which, with the immense exertion required to fulfil his manifold commitments, destroyed his metabolism and deeply disturbed his mind. As a result, he began to exaggerate his financial problems and became increasingly prone to unreasonable agitation over trifles. Whether he was driven to suicide by a sense of guilt over the failure of the Drury Lane venture to realize the expectations of the investors, or by a paranoiac belief that the fall of Buonaparte symbolized the failure of his own career, must remain a matter for speculation.

Both friends and opponents acknowledged his outstanding qualities of honesty, courage and humanity. He had, in the words of Lord Glenbervie, a ‘powerful coarse intellect’ and, as Holland noted, an ‘extraordinary readiness and indefatigable application in business’. The remarkable range of the interests and causes which he espoused prompted Sir Robert Heron to judge that ‘few men have been so extensively useful to the country’. His passionate oratory and fearlessness in debate made him one of the half-dozen dominant figures in the House after 1807. Williams Wynn wrote that when he got hold of ‘the right nail’ he ‘drove it with a sledge-hammer, in a manner which no other man in the House of Commons could reach’. But there was an unfinished quality about Whitbread, whose coarseness more often than not intruded into his speeches. Byron called him ‘the Demosthenes of bad taste and vulgar vehemence, but strong, and English’, and William Wilberforce recalled that ‘he spoke as if he had a pot of porter at his lips and all his words came through it’.

More serious defects in Whitbread as a politician were vanity, arrogance, lack of judgment and wilfulness. Holland wrote that ‘vanity made him impracticable’ and that ‘flatterers and dependants engrossed his society, and not infrequently perverted his manners and judgment’. Williams Wynn commented:

I have seen him repeatedly quit a strong question which he could have urged with great power to run after some tub which had been purposely thrown out for him by his adversaries, and which he struck at totally without effect.

Heron’s observations on the same theme were:

In Parliament, his bad taste, and, what is perhaps the same thing, want of judgment: above all, his impracticable disposition, and total want of co-operation, diminished greatly the advantages which might otherwise have been derived from his great ability as an orator, his experience, and his incorruptible firmness.

Romilly was more charitable and thought that ‘the only faults he had proceeded from an excess of his virtues’.

Whitbread’s career ended in political failure and personal tragedy. It might have been otherwise had he obtained office with the ‘Talents’, though this can hardly be taken for granted. By 1808 the breach which had been opened between him and Grey was being inexorably widened by the intrusion of basic differences in their political attitudes. Whitbread’s personal disappointment and political extremism became mutually sustaining. It would be unfair to question the sincerity of his espousal of reform, even more so that of his campaign for peace but his motives were complex, his emotions tangled, his ties with orthodox Whiggism too close to be severed completely and his ambitions for office still keen. Consequently, his extremism was fitful, erratic and often equivocal and his radical potential was never fully realized. He might well have been able to make a valuable contribution to the development of the Whig party, but such opportunities as occurred after 1808 to re-establish a durable working relationship were lost as a result of his own wilfulness, his jealous resentment of Grey, his susceptibility to the flattery of the mischievous and largely insignificant men with whom he surrounded himself and, not least, Grey’s failure to assert his authority over Whitbread, whose waywardness was a symptom as much as a cause of the disarray of opposition in this period.

As a parliamentarian, he certainly made his mark. Holland wrote at the time of his suicide that

it is no slight homage to his character that at a moment when the grief of everybody seemed to be engrossed by some loss in the battle of Waterloo, his death should have made so deep and so general an impression. Truth is that, with all his failings—and some he had—he was not only an able and honest, but a most useful public man.

Wilberforce commented that Whitbread, ‘with all his coarseness, had an Anglicism about him, that rendered him a valuable ingredient in a British House of Commons’.”

— “WHITBREAD, Samuel II (1764-1815), of Southill, Beds” by David R. Fisher. Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986


The Launch and Sinking of a Flagship

Burger King, Leicester Square, by Matt Brown, from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Next time you find yourself picking the gherkins out of a Whopper® in the Burger King® on Leicester Square in central London, take a moment to appreciate the building’s place in British pub history.

In the 1950s, Whitbread, like many other breweries, were desperate to revive enthusiasm for the public house — to show that it could be part of modern life alongside satellites, pop music and trendy coffee bars, and wasn’t just a quaint relic of a bygone time.

They commissioned architects T.P. Bennett & Son to design a brand new pub which wouldn’t look out of place alongside the planned housing estates and brutalist office blocks which were appearing across the post-Blitz capital.

Bennett came up with a multi-storey block with a curved frontage which looked like anything but a pub — a department store, perhaps?

Whitbread decided to go for it, investing £150,000 (£3m in today’s money) in what Colonel T.H. Whitbread, company chairman and managing director, declared ‘a most audacious undertaking’.

During its construction, there was, according to Alan Reeve-Jones, author of London Pubs (1962), disquiet among enthusiasts of more traditional drinking holes:

[The] fitful muttering could be heard as far away as Oxford Circus… An oval-fronted building lapped in sheets of glass. Broad acres of naked tippling, spilling their familiarity on to the pavement. No Public Bar, as such. No Jug and Bottle. Little wonder heads shook doubtfully and thirsty tongues were arched and moist in readiness to phrase a protest.

It opened in December 1958, and was named after the brewery’s founder. Reeve-Jones again:

[When] someone pulled a string that brough the dust-sheet fluttering to the ground the doubters could see that they had suffered from a needless anxiety… the Samuel Whitbread is just as much a fine old English public house as any from the past.

Another writer, Denzil Batchelor, went further in his book The English Inn in 1963, declaring the Samuel Whitbread to be ‘the supreme creation in the world of inns… the last word in English pubs at the time of writing’.

So impressive an exterior meant plenty of space inside to cater for different tastes, and interior designers Richard Lonsdale-Hands Associates created four distinct spaces.

The cellar was given over to a dive bar (obviously a trendy turn of phrase back then) with a more-or-less traditional pub feel. The ground floor housed the Zodiac Bar, an early example of the theme pub, and also a small but luxurious pre-dinner cocktail bar. The dining rooms, on the upper floors, looked out over the busy square and had yet another colour scheme and style.

These days, ‘British food with a contemporary twist’ has become a cliché, but the Samuel Whitbread’s offer of Victorian beef stew, Yorkshire apple pie with Wensleydale, and Stargazy Pie, was rather original for the time.

The beer was, of course, from Whitbread, but here too, the boat was pushed out: the pub was the first (and for a time only) outlet for the premium Britannia Bitter, developed for the Brussels World Fair.

Whitbread were extremely proud of the Samuel Whitbread. They used it as the setting for corporate and PR events, such as their annual barmaid of the year competition, and the 1964 edition of the short official company history includes a glamorous full-page photo of the pub glittering in the London night.

But, slowly, as the 1960s wore on, the Samuel Whitbread lost its edge. The interior design began to look old-hat without the saving grace of being traditional, and the architecture, which had once seemed so bold, began to seem a bit Festival of Britain.

In around 1970, Whitbread gave up on the project and sold the pub to Forte. They obviously had to rename it and, for some reason, chose the bizarre Inncenta. (Half inn, half placenta?) At least for a time, they also gave it a pirate themed makeover. (Pirates? In Leicester Square? Really?)

It slowly went downhill under their management until, by the late 1970s, it was infested with mice and other vermin, while Leicester Square itself had become a place no true Londoner would be seen dead in — the perfect tourist trap.

Nowadays, though the elegant curve of the frontage remains, there’s no Poacher’s Soup, and certainly no Britannia Bitter.


Samuel Whitbread - History

THE WHITBREAD ROUND THE WORLD RACE

YACHT RACES SAILING AROUND THE WORLD USING FREE WIND ENERGY

The Whitbread story begins in August 1720 with the birth of Samuel Whitbread. He was apprenticed as a brewer in 1736 and founded his first brewery six years later. In 1750 Samuel Whitbread moved his brewing operations to premises in Chiswell Street on the eastern rim of Georgian London, establishing the first purpose-built mass-production brewery in Britain. Samuel's family name quickly became synonymous with the brewing industry he came to lead. The company he founded, and the beer it produced in ever-increasing quantities, entered the national consciousness, laying the foundations for one of Britain's most enduring business success stories.

The end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st marked a watershed in the company's history, as Whitbread sold its breweries and then exited its pubs and bars business. After several decades of diversification, during which the beer and pubs giant branched out into new markets (including brief yet lucrative flirtations with wines, spirits and night clubs), Whitbread re-focused its business on the growth areas of hotels, restaurants and health and fitness clubs. The reinvention of Whitbread as the UK's leading leisure business naturally coincided with the end of the brewing and pub-owning tradition which Samuel Whitbread had begun over 250 years earlier.

HOW DID WHITBREAD COME TO SPONSOR AN OCEAN RACE

When deep-ocean sailors gather to down a few pints, the conversation inevitably turns to tales of passages made, races won, and colleagues lost. It was at just such a gathering in 1971 that the discussion turned to thoughts of staging the ultimate race around the world -- a trip of nearly 27,000 miles. It would be a race that pushed the endurance of the crews and boats to the outer limits as they navigated sweltering Doldrums, freezing oceans filled with icebergs, and gales that blew unabated for weeks on end -- a race that would be considered the Mt. Everest of ocean racing.

Such a race, if it could be arranged, would have no equal in sports. No other competition would ask so much of both man and equipment. No other event would put so many competitors at such risk, for so long, so far from help.

But who would sponsor it? Besides its inherent dangers, such a race would require a worldwide support system. Ports of call would have to be established, rules, scoring systems, and boat specifications would have to be determined. Sponsors would have to be convinced to finance what would be an enormously expensive event.

Many in the sailing establishment believed that even to try such a race was folly. At that time, fewer than ten private yachts had rounded Cape Horn -- in one piece. Moreover such a race already had been tried, and had ended badly. In 1967, "The Sunday Times" of London had put up money to sponsor what it called The Golden Globe Race. Eight boats entered, but only one finished. The others either gave up after near catastrophic equipment failures, capsized, or sank. One crewman became so despondent, he committed suicide. These were not the sorts of events race sponsors were eager to have associated with their names. However, these brave racers had blazed a trail for 'round the world sailors, providing an inspiration to others who heard the call of a challenge.

In order to give the new race the credibility needed to attract financing, a significant, high-profile backer had to be found. Whomever it was, this backer had to have a name and reputation so well-respected that it alone would reassure the most nervous of the doubters. This proved a hard sell. Sponsors of other ocean races expressed little enthusiasm for the around-the-world marathon envisioned by the organisers. The objections especially revolved around the well-documented dangers involved in sending such small boats into seas that have swallowed galleons.

There, the plans might have died, had it not been for the Royal Navy, which had open-ocean sailing plans of its own. What private sector sponsors had viewed as risks, the Royal Navy saw as assets. Seeing open-ocean racing as a way to teach teamwork and build pride within its ranks, the Royal Navy recently had taken delivery of several Nicholson 55s. A global race seemed a good way for the Royal Navy to become involved with the ocean-racing community. In April 1972, while organisers continued to search for private sponsors, the Royal Naval Sailing Association announced that, even if no private underwriter was found, it would support the race the following year.

The RNSA's embrace proved to be the deciding factor. In short order, contacts were made between the Royal Naval Sailing Association and the corporate giant Whitbread PLC. Almost as much a part of British history as the Royal Navy, Whitbread's roots in British commerce reached back to 1742. Over the centuries, the company had grown to become one the world's most respected purveyors of food, drink and leisure products -- employing over 70,000 people in 1997. In addition to its sterling reputation, the Whitbread company also had the real sterling -- the financial underpinnings -- to instil faith in sponsors. With worldwide income exceeding 2.7 billion pounds, Whitbread had the financial wherewithal to underwrite such an ambitious race.

The RNSA and Whitbread provided race organisers with the administrative and financial critical mass they needed to push the event from the drawing boards to the oceans. Each brought unique resources to the table. Whitbread lent its enormous prestige and underwriting muscle. The Royal Naval Sailing Association provided the spacious and secure Portsmouth Naval Base as a pre-race staging area and starting line. For the race, the naval facility seemed made to order. It comfortably could house the large and expensive boats during the pre-race period, while also providing military-base-type security. In addition, the RNSA also could provide the worldwide communications network to allow racers to communicate from the farthest oceans to race headquarters in Southampton.

But those were just the tangible benefits Whitbread PLC and the RNSA provided. Each also delivered intangible benefits by wrapping the new race in an aura of tradition. No other navy in the world had a richer seafaring history than the Royal Navy it had for so long ruled the world's seas, while sustaining Britain's global colonial empire.

Whitbread PLC, on the other hand, represented British mercantile history, reaching back to times when British commerce stretched itself around the globe.

By mid-1973, the first Whitbread Round The World Race was ready to begin. On 8 September, 17 boats, carrying 167 crew members hoisting sails in a blizzard of colour, jockeyed to the starting line in Portsmouth Harbour. With the shot of a simple starting pistol, the writing of the first Whitbread saga began.


Historic Beer Birthday: Samuel Whitbread II


Today is the birthday of Samuel Whitbread II (January 18, 1764-July 6, 1815). Despite being the son of Whitbread Brewery founder Samuel Whitbread, he is most remember for being a politician. According to Wikipedia:

Whitbread was born in Cardington, Bedfordshire, the son of the brewer Samuel Whitbread. He was educated at Eton College, Christ Church, Oxford and St John’s College, Cambridge, after which he embarked on a European ‘Grand Tour’, visiting Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Prussia, France and Italy. He returned to England in May 1786 and joined his father’s successful brewing business.


“Samuel Whitbread Esqr. M.P.” by Samuel William Reynolds after John Opie, 1804. This is the painting’s description. “A fine full length, seated portrait of the brewer, philanthropist and Whig politician Samuel Whitbread (1758-1815). He sits at his desk, wearing a dark suit and hessian boots, before an open window, his hand resting on a piece of paper. In the background is a draped curtain and on the floor is a pile of books.”

For over two decades he was a Member of Parliament:

Whitbread was elected Member of Parliament for Bedford in 1790, a post he held for twenty-three years. Whitbread was a reformer — a champion of religious and civil rights, for the abolition of slavery, and a proponent of a national education system. He was a close friend and colleague of Charles James Fox. After Fox’s death, Whitbread took over the leadership of the Whigs, and in 1805 led the campaign to have Henry Dundas, 1st Viscount Melville, removed from office.

Whitbread admired Napoleon and his reforms in France and Europe. He hoped that many of Napoleon’s reforms would be implemented in Britain. Throughout the Peninsular War he played down French defeats convinced that sooner or later Napoleon would triumph, and he did all he could to bring about a withdrawal of Britain from the continent. When Napoleon abdicated in 1814 he was devastated. Whitbread began to suffer from depression, and on the morning of 6 July 1815, he committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.


This portrait of Whitbread was done in 1806.

Samuel Whitbread, the son of the brewer Samuel Whitbread, and Harriet Hayton, was born in Cardington, Bedfordshire in 1758. His mother died when he was a child and his father took great care over his only son. When Samuel was sent to Eton he was accompanied by his own private tutor. Samuel continued his education at Christ Church, Oxford and St. John’s College, Cambridge, where he met his lifelong friend, Charles Grey.

After university Samuel Whitbread sent his son on a tour of Europe, under the guidance of the historian, William Coxe. This included visits to Denmark, Sweden, Russia, Poland, Prussia, France and Italy. When Samuel returned in May 1786, he joined his father running the extremely successful family brewing business.

In 1789 Samuel Whitbread married Elizabeth Grey, the sister of Charles Grey. The two men were deeply interested in politics. Grey was already MP for Northumberland and in 1790 Whitbread was elected MP for Bedford. In the House of Commons, Whitbread and Grey became followers of Charles Fox, the leader of the Radical Whigs.

Whitbread soon emerged in Parliament as a powerful critic of the Tory Prime Minister, William Pitt. A passionate supporter of reform, Whitbread argued for an extension of religious and civil rights, an end to the slave-trade, and the establishment of a national education system.

In April 1792, Whitbread joined with a group of pro-reform Whigs to form the Friends of the People. Three peers (Lord Porchester, Lord Lauderdale and Lord Buchan) and twenty-eight Whig MPs joined the group. Other leading members included Charles Grey, Richard Sheridan, Major John Cartwright, Lord John Russell,George Tierney, and Thomas Erskine. The main objective of the the society was to obtain “a more equal representation of the people in Parliament” and “to secure to the people a more frequent exercise of their right of electing their representatives”. Charles Fox was opposed to the formation of this group as he feared it would lead to a split the Whig Party.

On 30th April 1792, Charles Grey introduced a petition in favour of constitutional reform. He argued that the reform of the parliamentary system would remove public complaints and “restore the tranquillity of the nation”. He also stressed that the Friends of the People would not become involved in any activities that would “promote public disturbances”. Although Charles Fox had refused to join the Friends of the People, in the debate that followed, he supported Grey’s proposals. When the vote was taken, Grey’s proposals were defeated by 256 to 91 votes.

In 1793 Samuel Whitbread toured the country making speeches on the need for parliamentary reform. He encouraged people to sign petitions at his meetings and when he returned to London they were presented to Parliament. Whitbread also campaigned on behalf of agricultural labourers. In the economic depression of 1795, Whitbread advocated the payment of higher wages. When Whitbread introduced his minimum wage bill to the House of Commons in December 1795 it was opposed by William Pitt and his Tory government and was easily defeated.

Whitbread was a strong supporter of a negotiated peace with France and supported Fox’s calls to send a government minister to Paris. Whitbread argued for Catholic Emancipation and opposed the act for the suppression of rebellion in Ireland. His friend, Samuel Romilly, said that Whitbread was “the promoter of every liberal scheme for improving the condition of mankind, the zealous advocate of the oppressed, and the undaunted opposer of every species of corruption and ill-administration.”

In 1807 Samuel Whitbread proposed a new Poor Law. His scheme not only involved an increase in the financial help given to the poor, but the establishment of a free educational system. Whitbread proposed that every child between the ages of seven and fourteen who was unable to pay, should receive two years’ free education. The measure was seen as too radical and was easily defeated in the House of Commons.

Whitbread refused to be disillusioned by his constant defeats and during the next few years he made more speeches in the House of Commons than any other member. Sometimes his attacks on George III and his ministers were considered to be too harsh, even by his closest political friends.

Unable to persuade Parliament to accept his ideas, Whitbread used his considerable fortune (his father, Samuel Whitbread had died in 1796) to support good causes. Whitbread gave generous financial help to establish schools for the poor. An advocate of the monitorial system developed by Andrew Bell and Joseph Lancaster, he helped fund the Royal Lancasterian Society that had the objective of establishing schools that were not controlled by the Church of England.

When the Whigs gained power in 1806, Whitbread expected the Prime Minister, Lord Grenville, to offer him a place in his government. He was deeply disappointed when this did not happen. Some claimed it was because Whitbread was too radical. Others suggested it was due to snobbery and the aristocrats in the party disapproved of a tradesman entering the cabinet.

After this rejection, Whitbread consoled himself with his involvement in the Drury Lane Theatre. In 1809 the theatre was destroyed by fire. Already over £500,000 in debt, the theatre was in danger of going out of business. Whitbread became chairman of the committee set up to rebuild the theatre. With the help of his political friends, Whitbread managed to raise the necessary funds and the Drury Lane Theatre was reopened on 10th October, 1812.

In 1815 Whitbread began to suffer from depression. Over the years he had been upset by the way he was portrayed by the political cartoonists such as, James Gillray and George Cruikshank. He also began to worry about the brewery business and the way he was treated in the House of Commons. After one debate in June he told his wife: “They are hissing me. I am become an object of universal abhorrence.” On the morning of 6th June 1815, Samuel Whitbread committed suicide by cutting his throat with a razor.

And if that’s not enough, the “Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 61” also includes a biography and Encyclopedia.com has an overview of the company, as does AIM25.


This is a political cartoon featuring Samuel Whitbread entitled “The Brewer and the Thistle.” It was drawn by James Sayers, and published by Hannah Humphrey, June 26, 1805. The people in the cartoon include Charles James Fox (1749-1806), James Maitland Lauderdale (1759-1839), William Wilberforce (1759-1833), Sir Home Riggs Popham (1762-1820), Samuel Whitbread (1758-1815) and Henry Dundas Melville (1742-1811). While I’m sure you need to be a historian specializing in this period of British history, the Royal Collection Trust gives this description. “Whitbeard in costume of beer casks, attacks thistle with Melville’s head. (r) alehouse Fox and Launderdale (in tartan) laugh. Wilberforce leans out of window dressed as Puritan. (l) blunderbuss fired at sign of St.Vicent.”


Finally, here’s the Whitbread Brewery on Chiswell Street in London as it appeared around 1900.


Getting Lunatics into the Asylum

In 1808, the Lunacy Act, also known as Wynn’s Act, was passed, enabling counties to establish their own lunatic asylums, with their own money. Although private hospitals, and those such as St Luke’s, had existed for decades, this act heralded a sea-change in how the mentally ill poor were dealt with by society, from being largely looked after within their own community to being institutionalised.

One rural county was particularly keen to set up an asylum. In April 1812, Bedfordshire became the second county – behind Nottinghamshire – to open a county asylum.

This was primarily due to one local magistrate and politician – Samuel Whitbread, of the famous brewing family.

Whitbread undoubtedly had a strong charitable streak, dealing with the many local people who visited him in his capacity as JP in a highly individual way. He was seen as a friend of the poor, looking carefully into each person’s background and case before making decisions.

He may also have wanted to have a lasting memorial to him in his community. Prone to depression – which led to him committing suicide in 1815 – he was no doubt aware of the fragility of life, and perhaps wanted something concrete as a legacy to his life and work. In this light, he was keen to get an asylum built in his county and for people to associate it with him.

St Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics

This, perhaps, explains the two cases that he recorded in his notebook of out-of-sessions work in September 1811.

The first case involved Elizabeth Barber of Biggleswade. She approached Whitbread on 13 September, asking when the new county asylum might be ready for patients. Her husband was currently housed in the ward for the insane at St Luke’s Hospital in London, which had been the first such ward in the country when it opened in 1751.

However, her husband wasn’t allowed to stay there ad infinitum he was due to be discharged in January 1812, and Elizabeth was unwilling for him to return home for her to look after. Whitbread was unable to give her the information she was obviously hoping for all he could do was suggest that she arrange for a private madhouse to take her husband.

Just over a week later, on 22 September, Mr Little, a gentleman again from Biggleswade, came to visit Whitbread. He had a more urgent case he needed advice about a local woman, Susanna Simpson, had become insane three months earlier. Obviously, the local asylum was not ready, so could she gain admittance to St Luke’s? Whitbread said he would enquire, although he does not record whether Mr Little’s request was successful.

Bedford Lunatic Asylum, 1820

What these cases show is that when local residents had an issue they needed resolving, they went to the magistrate who they thought would be most sympathetic to their cause. Whitbread’s support for a new asylum was widely known, and so those needing friends and relatives taken care of approached him in the hope that he would be sympathetic.

But Whitbread’s sympathies were tempered with his own ambitions, which resulted in the asylum being built as a showpiece even when Bedfordshire was not overwhelmed by lunatics.

Roy Porter has noted that local overseers had to be “bullied” into putting people into the asylum, when they had previously been looked after by friends and family, and that in 1806, Bedfordshire magistrates had told a Select Committee that there were no lunatics in the county at all!

Yet this is to underestimate the use that people did get from the asylum when it opened. It ended up being overcrowded, with people from neighbouring counties – without their own asylum – being admitted. It closed in 1860 – to be replaced by an even larger asylum.

Cases taken from Samuel Whitbread’s notebooks, edited by Alan F Cirket (Bedford Local History Society, 1971).


Samuel Whitbread - History

The Foundation was originally formed by Geoffrey Farr MBE DL during his term of office as High Sheriff, Sir Samuel Whitbread KCVO during his tenure as Lord Lieutenant and Bishop John of Bedford. During 1999 and 2000, they developed a Board of Trustees and Officers to implement their key charitable objectives which were:

The Promotion of any charitable purposes for the development of the community in the geographic County of Bedfordshire and in particular the advance of education, sport and recreation, social and racial harmony, the protection of good health both mental and physical and the relief of poverty, sickness and social deprivation.

Other exclusively charitable purposes in the United Kingdom and elsewhere which are in the opinion of the Trustees beneficial to the community including those in the area of benefit.

During 2000 and 2001, the Trustees made several successful bids for funds to develop an endowment and to gain income for core costs. This endowment fund started generating income which allowed our first awards to be made in 2002-2003.

In November 2002, a Director of Administration was appointed to develop the Foundation further and to establish a base for award giving throughout the county. This role was extended in November 2005 and renamed Chief Executive.

In August 2008, following the award of the Grassroots Grants Contract, core costs were stabilised and an Awards Manager appointed on a part time basis. However in 2013, two new significant contracts were finalised with London Luton Airport which facilitated the expansion and development of the Foundation. Later in March 2014, a further new contract was gained to run the Luton Youth Fund and this enabled the Foundation to employ a second Awards Manager. At the same time, three additional funds were granted to the Foundation, namely the Big Local, the School Uniform Fund and the LuDun fund. Since 2014 a number of new funds have been placed with the Foundation including from Whitbread plc, London Luton Airport Operations Limited and the Jane Cart Trust. In addition some national funding streams from Comic Relief to Home Office funds have also been distributed through the Foundation in recognition of its local expertise and efficient grantmaking.


Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Whitbread, Samuel

WHITBREAD, SAMUEL (1758–1815), politician, was only son of Samuel Whitbread (d. 1796) of Southill, Bedfordshire, by his first wife, Harriet, daughter of William Hayton of Ivinghoe. Samuel Whitbread the elder came of a nonconformist family in Bedfordshire, where he inherited a small property. As a young man he entered a London brewery, in the first instance as a clerk, and in course of time became possessor of the whole brewery through hard work and good luck. After realising a large fortune he purchased Lord Torrington's Southill estate in 1795 ( Lysons , Bedfordshire, p. 134), and for a time supported the tory interest in Bedfordshire (Cornwallis Corresp. ii. 104).

Samuel Whitbread the younger was born at Cardington, Bedfordshire, in 1758. His early home education was remarkable for strictness approaching severity, and a strong religious character. An only son, he was the object of great parental care at Eton, where he was a contemporary and friend of Charles Grey (afterwards second Earl Grey) ​ he was accompanied by a private tutor thence he was sent to Christ Church, Oxford, and matriculated in July 1780. His progress at Oxford not satisfying his father, he was removed to St. John's College, Cambridge, whence he graduated B.A. in 1784, and was then sent on a foreign tour throughout Europe, under the charge of William Coxe [q. v.] the historian. He returned in May 1786. For the next three years he completely devoted himself to the business of the brewery. His marriage in 1789 with Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Sir Charles (afterwards first Earl) Grey, and sister of his old schoolfellow, inclined his interests to politics, and at the general election in 1790 he was elected as a whig to represent Bedford. Almost immediately he began to take a prominent part in the debates in the house, and in November 1790 energetically attacked the government for waste of money on military preparations. A speech on 12 April 1791, in which he severely and powerfully criticised the ministerial policy, attracted public attention. From the first he attached himself closely to Fox, who soon admitted him to his confidence in foreign affairs, and in June and July 1791 he took a part in the correspondence with Fox's emissaries at St. Petersburg, who, if not actually assisting in bringing about, were rejoicing at, the failure of Pitt's negotiations. Well qualified by the special information he possessed, he was entrusted with one of the opposition motions in the debate on the Russian armament, and, though the motion was lost by a considerable majority on this occasion, he greatly distinguished himself. Whitbread now rapidly developed into a leading spirit in opposition, and an earnest opponent of everything savouring of oppression and abuse. He proved himself a constant advocate of negro emancipation, the extension of religious and civil rights, and the establishment of a form of national education. He consistently cherished a belief in the possibility of maintaining peace with France, and on 15 Dec. 1792 strongly supported Fox's motion for sending a minister to negotiate with France. In the beginning of 1793 he presented petitions in favour of reform from Birmingham and other great towns in the north of England, and he expressed his conviction of the necessity for reform on 7 May 1793. Towards the end of 1795, when there was great distress and the wages of agricultural labourers were at the lowest point, Whitbread brought in a bill (9 Dec.) to enable the magistrates to fix the minimum as well as the maximum wage at quarter sessions this proposal was opposed by Pitt and defeated. In 1790 he was one of those who left the house with Fox on the occasion of the seditious assembly bill being referred to the committee of the house, and the following year he moved an inquiry into the conduct of the administration (3 March 1797) and a vote of censure (9 May).

He continued steadily to harass the government, supporting Arthur O'Connor [q. v.] on his trial at Maidstone, May 1798, urging the consideration of the French overtures for peace, 3 Feb. 1800, and opposing (March 1801) the continuance of the act for the suppression of rebellion in Ireland. On the conclusion of peace in 1802, he expressed his approval of the Addington ministry by supporting the address, 17 Nov. 1802. He was quite unable to understand the unstable character of the peace, and even in May 1803 separated himself from some of his own party by imagining that its continuance could be procured through the intervention of Russia.

The report of the commissioners (1805) who had been appointed to inquire into the abuses of the naval department set forth a case of suspicion against Lord Melville [see Dundas, Henry , first Viscount Melville ]. Whitbread was accepted by his party as their instrument of attack on the friend of Pitt. He commenced proceedings by moving a series of resolutions, 8 April 1805, detailing and attacking the whole conduct of the treasurer of the navy, and, despite Pitt's strenuous endeavours to prevent the passing of the resolutions, they were adopted by the house on the casting" vote of the speaker. Encouraged by this success, Whitbread immediately moved, on 10 April, an address to the king to remove Melville from his presence and councils for ever, but after a debate this motion was withdrawn. Whitbread now moved (25 April) for a select committee, and on their report gave notice of moving for the impeachment of Melville, and of resolutions to follow against Pitt. Though Whitbread's motion for the impeachment of Melville was lost in the first instance (11 June), and an amendment in favour of criminal prosecution adopted, it was subsequently agreed to, and on 26 June, accompanied by nearly a hundred members, he carried up the impeachment to the bar of the House of Lords. His name was now placed at the head of the committee appointed by the commons to draw up the articles of impeachment, and he was appointed manager on the nomination of Lord Temple. He entered on the task with the energy of an enthusiast, and the same session moved for a bill of indemnity in favour of those who had been in office under Melville who should ​ give evidence on his impeachment. On 29 April 1806, on the first clay of the trial in Westminster Hall, Whitbread opened all the charges in a speech of three hours and twenty minutes. Later in the trial he offered himself as a witness to prove the substance of the charges before the commons, and was severely cross-examined. He began his reply on the entire case on 16 May, and concluded it on the following day. Melville was acquitted on all the charges on 12 June. In his management of the trial Whitbread appears to have been somewhat masterful, and to have insisted on his own methods in opposition to the general views of the managers and of his friend Romilly in particular ( Colchester , Diary, ii. 58). His diligence in preparing the case was remarkable, but he is said to have been so occupied with displaying his own wit and eloquence, or, as the Duchess of Gordon expressed it, 'with teaching his drayhorse to caper,' that his speeches failed to convince ( Holland , Memoirs of the Whig Party, i. 234). Rowlandson records the result of the trial by his cartoon, 'The Acquittal, or upsetting the Porter Pot' (20 June 1806).

On the approaching death of Fox (September 1806) the inclusion of Whitbread in the ministry was under consideration ( Buckingham , Memoirs of Court and Cabinets of George III, iv. 65), but on this occasion Lord Grey appears without sufficient warrant to have vouched for his brother-in-law having no desire for office (ib.) At this period he certainly deserved well of his party, for his attack on Melville, which he followed up by a vigorous exposure of the conduct of the Duke of York, was popular in the country and improved the position of the whigs ( Le Marchant , Life of Lord Spencer, p. 115 see art. Johnstone, Andrew James Cochrane ).

In 1807 Whitbread brought in a poor-law bill of the most elaborate and unwieldy character. His speech, delivered on 19 Feb. 1807, was published in pamphlet form. His scheme comprised the establishment of a free educational system, the alteration of the law of settlement, the equalisation of county rates, and a peculiar proposal for distinguishing between the deserving and undeserving poor by the wearing of badges. It excited considerable public interest, and was keenly criticised in the press by Malthus, Bone, Bowles, and others. The portions of the main scheme dealing with education and the law of settlement were subsequently converted into separate bills which passed their second reading the parochial schools bill, under which children between the ages of seven and fourteen and unable to pay were entitled to two years' free education, was regarded as such a practical proposal that it was circulated in the country for the consideration of the magistrates. The proposed measures, though containing much that was good and exhibiting political foresight, were hurriedly prepared, and showed want of exact knowledge on the part of their author. They were committed, but subsequently abandoned (29 July).

Whitbread's attitude with regard to the conduct of the war and foreign affairs now began to cause differences of opinion between himself and other leading members of the opposition, and in December 1807 his brother-in-law (now Lord Grey) privately warned him of the dangers attending his peace-at-any-price policy. But he was not to be restrained, and insisted upon moving a peace resolution on 29 Feb. 1808, wherein it was stated that there was 'nothing in the present state of affairs which should preclude his majesty from embracing the opportunity of commencing negotiations.' George Ponsonby [q. v.], acting in concert with Lords Grenville and Grey, moved and carried the previous question by 211 to 58, but Whitbread's following was probably increased by mistake (Life of Lord Grey, p. 183). His action on this occasion caused a party split, which resulted in the practical disbandment of the opposition in 1809. Though Ponsonby had been accepted as leader of the opposition by Whitbread with certain reservations on 11 Dec. 1807 ( Buckingham , Memoirs of the Court and Cabinets of George III, iv. 219), yet a section of the party, following Whitbread, Folkestone, and Burdett, had in 1809 completely asserted its independence (ib. p. 414) and their strongly expressed policy that 'peace should be the cry of the nation' and the furious attack on the Duke of York caused open variance between them and Lords Grenville and Grey in April 1809 ( Colchester , Diary, ii. 177). As the regular opposition relaxed its efforts, so Whitbread and his following redoubled their energies and became the only forcible organs of liberal principles in the house ( Le Marchant , Life of Lord Spencer, p. 115).

From 1809 up to the time of his death Whitbread spoke more frequently than any member of the House of Commons. His opinion that publicity was the very essence of the British constitution accounts for the earnestness with which he attacked abuses of all kinds, and the frequent debates he occasioned on foreign affairs. His criticism of Lord Chatham's conduct with regard to the Scheldt operations was highly successful and greatly inspirited the opposition his ​ motion on 23 Feb. 1810 for an address to the king asking for all papers submitted at any time by the Earl of Chatham was carried by seven votes, and the subsequent motion of censure on Lord Chatham's conduct by thirty-three (2 March 1810). Despite the carrying of this resolution, it is said that Chatham only resigned on Whitbread threatening publicly to ask whether he was still master-general of the ordnance.

On the tumults preceding Sir Francis Burdett's arrest, Whitbread, though generally in sympathy with the extremists, played the part of prudent adviser to his friend, and urged him not to resist the speaker's warrant he also affirmed in the house the legality of the warrant and the consequent proceedings.

He was one of the few who uniformly and on principle expressed disapprobation of the regency bill, and on 25 Feb. 1811 he moved for a committee to inspect the journals of the House of Lords concerning the king's illness in 1804, and condemned the conduct of Lord Eldon in 1801 and 1804. When in 1811 it appeared certain that the whigs would secure office, it was arranged, despite objection to him from the Grenvilles, that Whitbread should be secretary of state for home affairs ( Brougham , Autobiography, vol. ii.) The calculations of the opposition were, however, upset by the abrupt determination of the regent to maintain in office the Perceval administration. After Perceval's death, Whitbread pursued his independent course in opposition, acting separately from the bulk of his party.

In the summer of 1812 he appears to have made the acquaintance of the Princess of Wales (ib. ii. 148). From the first he deemed it his duty to stand by her, 'considering her as ill-used as possible, and without any just ground' (ib. ii. 165). Although his action was absolutely independent and alienated him from some of his own relatives ( Adolphus , Memoirs of Caroline, i. 561), he was on better terms with the whigs now than in 1809. In the House of Commons he constituted himself champion to the princess, and, with his usual earnestness, attempted on all occasions to do her service. His zeal, however, outran his discretion when, in a long speech on 17 March 1813, he made a groundless charge against Lord Ellenborough and the other commissioners who had inquired into the princess's conduct, of suppressing a portion of Mrs. Lisle's evidence, On this occasion his friends in the commons censured him for his rash credulity, and Lord Ellenborough in the House of Lords on 22 March 1813 denounced the accusation 'as false as hell in every part.' Whitbread with characteristic obstinacy refused to admit himself in the wrong (Hansard, pp. 25, 274). His ardour on behalf of the princess was not checked by this episode, and he continued to exert himself in her support. On her departure from England in August 1814 he wrote expressing 'his unalterable attachment, his devotion and zeal for her re-establishment' ( Adolphus , Memoirs of Caroline, i. 565).

During the last year of Whitbread's life his desire for peace, despite all change of circumstance on the continent, determined his conduct in opposition. He questioned the grounds of war with America on 8 Nov. 1814, urged the maintenance of peace on 20 March 1815 whether the Bourbon dynasty or Napoleon should prove successful, protested on 3 April against the declaration of the allies in congress against Napoleon, and on 28 April moved an address praying the crown not to involve the country in a war upon the ground of excluding a particular person from the government of France. When, however, war was actually entered upon, he supported the vote of credit for its prosecution.

During the last few years of his life the part taken by Whitbread in the rebuilding and reorganisation of Drury Lane Theatre occasioned him great anxiety and annoyance, and is said to have materially affected his health. On the burning down of the old theatre, 24 Feb. 1809, he became a member, and soon after chairman, of the committee for the rebuilding of the theatre. A bill for its re-erection by subscription was passed through parliament, and Whitbread supported the interests of Drury Lane in the commons, successfully opposing the introduction of bills for the establishment of rival theatres, one of his arguments being that the more theatres the worse actors and no one good play (9 May 1811, 20 March 1812). In 1811 and 1812 he was much occupied with the rebuilding and reorganisation of the theatre, which was opened again on 10 Oct. 1812. Innovations which he attempted by beginning the performances at an earlier hour and by playing every night the whole year round involved him in disputes and difficulties with other theatres (Addit. MS. 27925, f. 40), but his monetary relations with Sheridan were to him a source of still greater annoyance. His businesslike abilities enabled him to stand firm against Sheridan's powers of persuasion ( Moore , Life of Sheridan, ii. 443), but there does not appear to be any ground for the suggestion that he treated Sheridan harshly, ​ or that at this time he was suffering from disease of the brain.

Whitbread died by his own hand on 6 July 1815, having cut his throat at his town house, 35 Dover Street. At the inquest, held the same day, the jury found that he was in a deranged state of mind at the time the act was committed his friend Mr. Wilcher gave evidence that his despondency was due to belief that his public life was extinct. He was buried at Cardington in Bedfordshire. His widow died on 28 Nov. 1846. Whitbread died possessed of five-eighths of the brewery, his father by will having made it compulsory on him to retain a majority of the shares" in his own hands. He left two sons William Henry (d. 1867), M.P. for Bedford 1818-37 and Samuel Charles and two daughters, Elizabeth (d. 1843), who married William, eighth earl Waldegrave and Emma Laura (d. 1857), who married Charles Shaw-Lefevre , viscount Eversley [q. v.]

In the opinion of a good judge of character, Whitbread 'was made up of the elements of opposition' ( Ward , Diary, ed. Phipps, i. 403). His eloquence was more suited for attack in debate than defence. Lord Byron considered him the Demosthenes of bad taste and vulgar vehemence, but strong and English his peculiar and forcible Anglicism was also noted by Wilberforce, who, however, thought 'he spoke as if he had a pot of porter to his lips and all his words came through it' ( Wilberforce , Life, v. 339). He was, in the words of Romilly, 'the promoter of every liberal scheme for improving the condition of mankind, the zealous advocate of the oppressed, and the undaunted opposer of every species of corruption and ill-administration' but too vain and rash to acquire any real ascendency over the minds of well-educated men ( Holland , Memoirs of Whig Party, ii. 237). Whitbread was frequently portrayed by both Rowlandson and Gillray in their political cartoons, and is invariably distinguished by a porter-pot or some reference to Whitbread's 'entire.'

A half-length portrait of Whitbread was painted by Thomas Gainsborough. An engraved portrait, from an original drawing, appears in Adolphus's 'Memoir of Caroline' (i. 461) and another engraved portrait, by W. Ward, after the painting by H. W. Pickersgill, was published on 27 June 1820.

[Hansard, 1806-15, passim Annual Register Hone's Tributes of the Public Press to the Memory of the late Mr. Whitbread, 1815 Authentic Account of the Death of Mr. Whitbread, 1815 Sir F. Grey's Life of Lord Grey Le Marchant's Life of Earl Spencer (which contains a short biography of Whitbread, pp. 172-80) Diary and Correspondence of Lord Colchester Edinburgh Review, April 1838 Memoirs of the Life of Sir S. Romilly Moore's Memoirs.]


Gleaning, poor women, and the law

Gleaning was a right of the poor up to the late 18th century, under common law. After a farmer had harvested his crops, local people could gather any leftovers, providing a useful supplement to a family’s income or providing additional food.

As the local poor had the right to glean, it being a long established practice, Richard Burn made no mention of it in his legal handbook The Justice of the Peace, and Parish Officer.

It was so accepted that in villages, a church bell might be rung each day to signal the time period in which the gleaners could operate.

In a society where common pasture and fields were being steadily enclosed, restricting the land that labouring people could use to keep animals or grow their own small crops, gleaning was a much needed source of income.

This much needed right was substantially eroded in 1788, when the case of Steel versus Houghton was determined in the House of Lords. The case centred around a Suffolk woman, Mary Houghton, who was sued for trespass by a local landowner, James Steel, after she gleaned on his farmland. However, the case had followed increasing tension between landowners and farmers and the local labouring population in East Anglia.

The case’s verdict stated that gleaning was not a right of the poor, but a privilege – and so to glean was to trespass on another’s land. Lord Loughborough, who gave the judgement, argued that charitable acts by individual landowners should not be seen as legal obligations, and that the creation of any such obligation would make the poor more ‘insolent’.

In such a way did the gleaning case mark the gradual change in attitude toward the poor that occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, prior to the creation of the 1834 New Poor Law.

Yet gleaning did not die out altogether as a result of the 1788 case. The following year, in Northamptonshire, Mary Tebbutt, a married woman, appeared before local magistrate George Spencer – the 2nd Earl Spencer – to complain that another woman, Elizabeth Loucke, had taken some gleanings off her. Mary had been gleaning in a field belonging to local farmer George Buttons, when Elizabeth – believing she was entitled to glean in the field but Mary wasn’t – assaulted her and grabbed the gleanings.

Spencer was obviously aware of the 1788 precedent, and did not regard either woman as having the right to glean. Instead, he argued that George Buttons had the right to decide who – if anyone – could glean on his land, and that therefore, both women were wrong. He made them acknowledge this, and after they promised to behave better in the future, he dismissed them [1. The papers of the second Earl Spencer, British Library, Add MSS 76337-76340].

But even into the nineteenth century, in rural England, gleaning continued to be debated over in justicing rooms. Samuel Whitbread, dealing with cases in Bedfordshire, dealt with three cases – two in 1811 and one in 1813.

The first two cases again suggested some conflict between local people when it came to the individual’s rights to glean. In the first case, a local farmer came to Whitbread to get his advice on whether the local poor had the right to ‘glean on a farmer’s land without his leave’. Whitbread made clear that they did not. [2. Alan F Cirket (ed), Samuel Whitbread’s Notebooks (Bedford, 1971), 36]

In the second case, this time, a gleaner approached the magistrate. Elizabeth Kilby ‘complained of abuse in the field’ whilst she was gleaning, and Whitbread quickly dismissed the case. [3. Alan F Cirket, Samuel Whitbread’s Notebooks (Bedford, 1971), 44]. The final case, heard two years later, involved a Biggleswade woman, Ann Thomas, who complained that a local shoemaker, James Pope had not paid for her gleaning, owing her over three shillings. [4. Alan F Cirket, Samuel Whitbread’s Notebooks (Bedford, 1971), 89] This shows the value that gleaning had for poor people – often women.

Ann was reliant on selling her gleanings to improve her income, and the fact that she had visited Samuel Whitbread at Southill – a four mile walk away – suggests that the owed money was an important part of this income. She got little satisfaction from the magistrate, though, with Whitbread simply referring her to the local constable for help.

These cases show the continued tension between landowners and the labouring poor after Steel v Houghton had been determined. The poorer members of rural societies clearly continued to glean, and to see gleaning as a valuable source of income and as their right. Conversely, landowners, encouraged by the 1788 case, believed that the poor no longer had such a right – but to ensure that they were within their right to stop them from gleaning, they would seek legal advice if necessary.

Long-established habits died hard, and gleaning took a while to die.

For more on gleaning and the Steel v Houghton case, see Peter King’s article, ‘Legal change, customary rights and social conflict in the late eighteenth century: the origins of the Great Gleaning Case of 1788’ (Law and History Review, 10:1, Spring 1992)


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