BARCLAY, David (1784-1861), of Gloucester Place, Portman Square, Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press



1826 - 1830
1835 - 1837
1841 - Dec. 1847

Family and Education

b. 29 Sept. 1784,1 2nd s. of Robert Barclay (d. 1830) of Bury Hill, Surr. and 1st w. Rachel, da. of John Gurney of Keswick, Norf.; bro. of Charles Barclay*. m. 20 Oct. 1818, Maria, da. of Sir Hedworth Williamson, 6th bt., of Whitburn, co. Dur., 4s. 2da. d. 1 July 1861.

Offices Held

Dir. Bank of England 1821-3, 1824-6.2


In 1781 Barclay’s father became joint owner of Thrale’s brewery in Southwark, the purchase of which, according to Samuel Johnson, conferred ‘the potentiality of becoming rich beyond the dreams of avarice’.3 No details of his education have emerged, though it is possible that like his elder brother Charles he may have gone to school in Wandsworth and afterwards at Alton, Hampshire. The family belonged to the Society of Friends, but Barclay’s upbringing, if it resembled that of his sister Maria, was not in accordance with ‘the strictest of Quaker principles’. When members of the Westminster monthly meeting visited him in April 1817, they discovered that ‘he prefers attending another place of worship’, and his disownment was confirmed the following month.4 In that year London trade directories first recorded the name of Barclay Brothers and Company, at 34 Old Broad Street, the merchant house of which he eventually became head. He was an auditor of the Rock Life Assurance Office, 1821-3, a director of the Anglo-Mexican Mining Association, 1825-8, and had two spells as a director of the Bank of England. Two of his sisters who remained within the Quaker fold married members of the Fox family of Falmouth, Cornwall. This connection may have provided his introduction to the neighbouring borough of Penryn, where he stood at a by-election in May 1824 and was defeated by only six votes. His continued cultivation of this venal borough paid off at the general election in 1826, when he topped the poll.5

Penryn was to prove a troublesome berth for Barclay. A petition alleging bribery and corruption was lodged against the return of his colleague William Manning, a fellow director of the Bank who also shared an interest in the Australian Agricultural Company. As the borough had already come under parliamentary scrutiny on two occasions for similar malpractice, a bill of disfranchisement was brought forward with the blessing of Canning’s ministry. Barclay opposed it in his maiden speech, 8 May 1827, when he absolutely denied any wrongdoing on his own part and protested the innocence of most of the electors. On 18 May he expressed his conviction that the borough had ‘been undergoing a gradual change for the better’ since the first parliamentary inquiry in 1807, a point he endeavoured to illustrate in a question to a witness before the committee. He divided against Lord John Russell’s amendment to transfer Penryn’s seats to Manchester, 28 May, after complaining that enthusiasm for this proposal had led to the conviction of the borough on ‘hearsay evidence’, when there existed ‘a hundred others infinitely more corrupt’. The Whig Lord Milton acknowledged that Penryn had been ‘well defended by its present Member’. Barclay again described its exceptional treatment as rank hypocrisy, 7 June 1827, when he was a minority teller against the third reading of the disfranchisement bill. On its revival next session, he claimed that the original petition had been no more than a device to extort money from Manning and observed that the transfer of Grampound’s seats to Yorkshire had simply subjected two more to aristocratic control, 14 Mar. 1828. Yet he had supported the disfranchisement of East Retford in the belief that ‘the evidence was sufficient, if uncontradicted, to justify the measure’, 11 June 1827. He divided against extending its franchise to Bassetlaw freeholders, 21 Mar., the disqualification of named voters, 24 June, and the recommittal of the disfranchisement bill, 27 June 1828. Instead, he voted for the transfer of its seats to Birmingham, 5 May 1829, 11 Feb. 1830.

Barclay’s general politics are difficult to categorize. Unlike his brother, he divided for Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827. He voted for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb., and paired for Catholic relief, 12 May 1828. He spoke in favour of an overhaul of London policing, 28 Feb., suggesting that reference should be made to a select committee report of 1817. He quoted with evident distaste the opinion of one law officer in favour of public executions as a deterrent to criminals, and for his own part favoured the wider use of informants. He divided against the duke of Wellington’s ministry for a 60s. rather than 64s. pivot price to regulate corn imports, 22 Apr. He presented a Penryn anti-slavery petition, 30 May 1828. In February 1829 Planta, the patronage secretary, predicted that he would side ‘with government’ for Catholic emancipation, and he voted accordingly, 6, 30 May. He suggested that the signatories to a hostile petition from Penryn were prey to groundless fears about the recovery of monastic land, 24 Mar. 1829. He divided against Lord Blandford’s parliamentary reform plan, 18 Feb., and the enfranchisement of Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester, 23 Feb. 1830. He voted in the minority for Harvey’s motion to prevent Members from voting on bills in which they had a personal stake, 26 Feb. He divided against ministers to omit the Bathurst and Dundas pensions from the civil list, 26 Mar., but with them on the grant to South American missions, 7 June. He voted for Jewish emancipation, 5 Apr., 17 May, and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 24 May, 7 June. He was in the minority to prohibit consumption on the premises in beer shops, 21 June 1830. He retired at the dissolution that summer.

Following his father’s death in October 1830 Barclay received a one-eighth share in the family brewery, a legacy of £15,000 and a share in the residue of the personal estate, which was sworn under £160,000.6 In 1833 he purchased Eastwick Park, near Great Bookham, Surrey, a large house surrounded by an ‘uncommonly fine’ estate, the value of which was doubled by his agricultural improvements. So reported his nephew Robert Barclay Fox, who also marvelled at the palatial furnishings of his town house in Belgrave Square and judged him to be ‘a gentlemanly and kind hearted man with good sense’, who ‘lacks force of character’.7 He had offered unsuccessfully for Sunderland, which lay close to his wife’s family estate, in 1832 and at a by-election in April 1833, but was returned as a Liberal in 1835. He joined Brooks’s Club, 12 Feb. 1837, lost his seat at the general election later that year, but regained it in 1841. Disaster struck in 1847 when Barclay Brothers and Company became a casualty of the commercial crisis. It suspended payments on 13 Oct., with liabilities of nearly £390,000, and despite its considerable assets, ‘large engagements’ made for the purchase of plantations in Mauritius made the prospects for liquidation ‘very unfavourable’. The firm was wound up at a meeting on 2 Nov. and paid an initial dividend of 2s. 6d. Barclay resigned his seat the following month.8 He died in July 1861 and left Eastwick to his eldest son Hedworth (1820-73), and his interest in the brewery to Hedworth and his second son Alexander (1823-93), Liberal Member for Taunton, 1865-80.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: Howard Spencer


  • 1. Soc. of Friends Lib. Suss. and Surr. birth reg.
  • 2. W. Marston Acres, Bank of England from Within, ii.625.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1856), i. 189.
  • 4. C.W. and H.F. Barclay, Hist. Barclay Fam. iii. 278; Caroline Fox Jnl. ed. H.N. Pym, 21; Soc. of Friends Lib. mins. Westminster meeting, 1809-18, p. 348; mins. London six weeks meeting, vol. 18, p. 453.
  • 5. Barclay Fox Jnl. ed. R.L. Brett, 30-31; R. Cornw. Gazette, 8, 15 May 1824, 17 June 1826.
  • 6. PROB 11/1778/690; IR26/1218/881.
  • 7. Barclay Fox Jnl. 66, 199, 356, 361, 385.
  • 8. The Times, 14, 26 Oct., 3 Nov., 2 Dec. 1847; D.M. Evans, Commercial Crisis (1849), pp. xxv-xxvi, xc, cii.