The recent toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol has opened up debate as to the purpose and value of commemorative street furniture.
In Wiltshire there are some fascinating examples: one that springs to mind is the impressive column-mounted statue of Thomas Henry Sutton Sotheron Estcourt which proudly stands above its fountain in Devizes Market Place.
For the Estcourt family, politics was in their blood.
Sir Thomas Estcourt served as MP for Malmesbury from 1673 to 1679, and again from 1685 to 1687. From 1695 to 1698 he was MP for Bath.
On 20th March 1790, another Thomas Estcourt was returned unopposed as Member of Parliament for Cricklade, a seat he was to hold until 1806. On 3rd August 1775 Thomas’s wife Jane, daughter of James Grimston 2nd Viscount Grimston and Mary Bucknall, had given birth to a son, Thomas Grimston Estcourt.
Thomas Grimston Estcourt married Eleanor, daughter of James Sutton of New Park Devizes on 12th May 1800. On 4th April 1801 Thomas and Eleanor’s son, Thomas Henry Sutton Estcourt, was born. The same year, Thomas Grimston Estcourt inherited New Park from his father-in-law.
On 23rd January 1805, Thomas Grimston Estcourt was elected MP for Devizes; following his wife’s uncle, Henry Addington, who had been elevated to the peerage as Viscount Sidmouth.
Thomas Grimston Estcourt was a firm “Tory”; a staunch supporter of the established church and fiercely opposed to reform. In particular, he was determined to maintain the supremacy of the Church of England. When a bill for Catholic Emancipaton came before Parliament in 1829, he opposed it vigorously. Charles Brudenell-Bruce, 1st Marquis of Ailesbury, of Tottenham House, Savernake Forest, near Marlborough, held similar views.
On 20th February 1829 Thomas Grimston Estcourt met the Marquis of Ailesbury who was looking to bring in an anti-Catholic into his “pocket” borough of Marlborough.
On 13th March, Thomas’s son, Thomas Henry Sutton Estcourt, was returned as MP for Marlborough.
Marlborough was not a town that Thomas Henry Sutton Estcourt really felt at home in, despite being one of its two MPs. In 1828 he had been instrumental in founding the Wiltshire Friendly Society in Devizes retaining long-lasting links with that town as the society’s secretary.
On 21st August 1830, Thomas Henry Sutton Estcourt married Lucy Sarah, daughter and heir of Admiral Frank Sotheron, county MP for Nottinghamshire. Thomas lived at New Park Devizes whilst his father resided at the ancestral family home, Estcourt House, near Tetbury.
In 1829 the “Tory” Prime Minister the Duke of Wellington, fearing civil war in Ireland, had allowed Catholic Emancipation to pass into law. The storm that followed over Parliamentary Reform was to prove too strong a wind.
Implacably opposed to any extension of the vote that threatened the dominance of the landowning interest, Wellington found his position as Prime Minister increasingly untenable.
The reactionary monarch, King George IV, died in June 1830 succeeded by his more “liberal” brother, William.
King William IV had not expected to be king but was popular as he had served in the navy and was not averse to considering very limited reform.
In November, the Duke of Wellington resigned over his opposition to Parliamentary Reform. A “Whig” government, headed by Earl Grey, was formed with Reform at the top of its agenda.
Wiltshire, like Brexit two centuries later, was split over Reform. The “Tory” Marquis of Ailesbury of Tottenham House was vehemently opposed whilst the “Whig” Marquis of Lansdowne of Bowood, near Calne, was strongly in favour.
In March 1831 the first Reform Bill was presented to Parliament. Thomas Henry Sutton Estcourt, MP for Marlborough, voted against it. The Bill was rejected, the government resigned, and an election was called.
People in Marlborough had petitioned Parliament for Reform. The Mayor, John Gardner, called a public meeting in the Town Hall to “obtain the real sense of the town on that subject”. Many felt aggrieved that only the twelve members of the Town Corporation had the right to vote for Marlborough’s two MPs. It was also strongly believed that they voted for the Marquis of Ailesbury’s nominees.
The meeting was stormy as demands for reform were loudly made. Mr Estcourt had difficulty making himself heard amongst deafening, “yells and groans”.
When he did succeed in speaking, he made it clear he would not support Reform, at which point the “yells and groans were redoubled”. Mr Estcourt then left the meeting.
William John Bankes, Estcourt’s fellow anti-Reform Marlborough MP, never got a word in as shouts of “Reform”, “Go to Corfe Castle”, “Go to Cambridge”, rang out.
Bankes’s family were originally from Corfe Castle in Dorset before its slighting in the 17th century Civil War caused them to build a new residence at nearby Kingston Lacy. Bankes had previously been MP for Cambridge University.
Despite the tumultuous meeting, both Estcourt and Bankes were re-elected after being proposed by Mr Merriman, one of the town’s corporators.
What followed makes the recent toppling of Edward Colston’s statue in Bristol appear quite a minor incident.
Effigies of Thomas Estcourt and William Bankes were placed on a wagon, surmounted by a placard inscribed, “Enemies to Reform”. The wagon was paraded around the town accompanied by a cacophony of “tin kettles and horns”. At the end of this performance the effigies were publicly burnt and the church bells “rung backwards”. The people of Marlborough were not happy!
The Reform Act was finally passed on 7th June 1832 after huge national disturbances.
Estcourt and Bankes lost their Marlborough seats. Bankes became a Dorset county MP and, in November 1835, Estcourt was elected Conservative MP for Devizes, a town in which his father had served.
Thomas Henry Sutton Sotheron Estcourt, he took the additional name “Sotheron” by Royal License on 17th July 1839, served as MP for Devizes until 1844 whereupon he transferred to MP for North Wiltshire which he represented until 1865. He served as the President of the Poor Law Board from March 1858 to March 1859 and briefly as Home Secretary in Lord Derby’s second administration from March to June 1859. He retired from politics on ill health in 1865. He died in January 1876.
The statue of Thomas Henry Sutton Sotheron Estcourt in Devizes Market Place was paid for by public subscription. The people of Devizes clearly liked him: the same cannot be said of the people of Marlborough!
(Nick Baxter 19/6/20)