MAYHEW, William (1788-1855), of 54 Crutched Friars, London and Coggeshall, Essex

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



9 Apr. 1831 - 1832

Family and Education

bap. 2 Mar. 1788, 1st s. of William Mayhew of Coggeshall and w. Hannah.1 m. Sophia, 1s. and other issue.2 d. 26 Apr. 1855.

Offices Held


Mayhew belonged to a family who had established themselves in eastern Essex and southern Suffolk by the early eighteenth century. He was descended from Augustine Mayhew (1622-93), an attorney and lord of the manors of Great and Little Coggeshall. Another of his ancestors was William Mayhew (?1736-87), of Colchester, a barrister and a bencher of Gray’s Inn, high steward and recorder of Colchester and recorder of Ipswich and Aldeburgh, who died without legitimate issue.3 His father, a freeman of Colchester, lived at Coggeshall, where he evidently earned his living as a woolcomber before becoming a victualler and innkeeper around the turn of the century. His sons William, Thomas Eaton (b. 1790) and James (b. 1792) and his daughter Anne (b. 1797) were baptized at Great Coggeshall Independent chapel.4 Thomas Eaton Mayhew became a cabinet maker in Coggeshall, while William and James migrated to London. James was described as a brandy merchant there in 1818, and was probably in partnership with William, who by 1816 was operating as a wine, spirit and beer merchant from 106 Fenchurch Street.5 In about 1827 he moved to 54 Crutched Friars.

The Mayhews plumped for the ministerialist sitting Member standing on the True Blue corporation interest at the 1820 general election in Colchester.6 William chaired the anniversary dinner of the Chelmsford Pitt Club, 28 May 1823, and at the Colchester celebration of the return of the True Blue Sir George Smyth in 1826 either he or James was toasted.7 At the by-election of April 1829 precipitated by Smyth’s retirement in disgust at the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation the Mayhew brothers, protesting that his replacement Richard Sanderson had been foisted on the electors by the corporation, made the gesture of having William proposed as the champion of ‘independent principles’. He did not go to a poll, but announced the imminent creation of a new London freemen’s club to promote the cause of ‘independence’ and to challenge the hegemony of the corporation and the radical sitting Member Daniel Harvey, who had defied most of his constituents by supporting emancipation.8 This London club flourished during the next year, and at the general election of 1830 William Mayhew was put up as its candidate against Harvey and the corporation nominee Andrew Spottiswoode, a supporter of administration. Mayhew described himself as ‘a liberal Blue’, who had he been in Parliament would invariably have voted with Harvey, attacked Spottiswoode as ‘a cat’s paw of the corporation’ and insisted on his own independence. He finished a distant third after keeping the poll open for six days, at considerable personal cost.9 Mayhew, who was involved in the formation of the New Colchester Independent Club in London in November 1830, had Spottiswoode’s election declared void the day before the second reading of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 22 Mar. 1831, on the ground of his ineligibility as king’s printer.10 He came forward at the ensuing by-election as ‘ever the enemy of corruption, profligacy and oppression, and the fearless advocate of the people’s rights’. At a meeting of his London supporters, 28 Mar., he said:

There was a time when I was against reform. I allude to that reform which was advocated when Mr. [Henry] Hunt* was lord of the ascendant. I have all along thought that some reform must take place, and the plan of reform brought forward by ministers is an exceedingly good one ... I think, however, that the clause which takes away the franchise of the present burgesses ought not to stand in its present form ... He could not vote for the measure as it now stood without first endeavouring to maintain the rights of all the freemen. He did not think the independent out-voters should be disfranchised.

He resisted pressure to pledge himself to support the bill without reserve, arguing that disfranchisement of non-resident freemen was ‘little short of a robbery’; but he gave an assurance that he ‘would not endanger the bill by persevering in his opposition to the objectionable clause’. The corporation, whom he accused on the hustings of corruption and misappropriation of municipal revenues, vindictively put up an absentee candidate against him and challenged his qualification. After an eight-day poll, which further drained his resources, Mayhew, whose brother died during the election, was comfortably returned. He proclaimed himself ‘the friend of the people, not only from principle, but because he prided himself in belonging to the middle class’.11 He took his seat in time to vote in the ministerial minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr. 1831.

At the subsequent general election enthusiasm for reform temporarily masked the differences between Mayhew and Harvey and their supporters and produced an uneasy coalition which enabled them to defeat the corporation nominee. As well as reiterating his support for the bill, on the same terms as before, Mayhew renewed his attack on corporation ‘corruption’.12 He voted for the second reading of the reintroduced reform bill, 6 July 1831, and was for the most part a steady silent supporter of its details, though he voted for the total disfranchisement of Saltash, 26 July, against the proposed division of counties, 11 Aug., for the enfranchisement of £50 tenants-at-will, 18 Aug., and, in accordance with his election pledge, to preserve freemen’s voting rights, 30 Aug.13 He voted for the passage of the measure, 21 Sept. He divided with government on the Dublin election controversy, 23 Aug., but was in the minority for ending the Maynooth grant, 26 Sept. He rallied to ministers on the vote of confidence after the reform bill’s defeat in the Lords, 10 Oct. 1831. Mayhew, who signed the requisition for a county meeting to support the government, 10 Dec., but evidently did not attend it,14 voted for the second reading of the revised reform bill, 17 Dec. 1831, divided for its details and voted for the third reading, 22 Mar. 1832. He voted against government on the Russian-Dutch loan, 26 Jan., 12 July, and for inquiry into distress in the glove trade, 31 Jan.; but he was in their majority on relations with Portugal, 9 Feb. He presented Coggeshall petitions against the factories regulation bill, 8, 16 Mar. He divided for the address calling on the king to appoint only ministers who would carry the reform bill unimpaired, 10 May, and the second reading of the Irish bill, 25 May, and paired against a Conservative amendment to the Scottish measure, 1 June. He was in minorities for the immediate abolition of slavery, 24 May, an Irish absentee tax, 19 June, and representation for New South Wales, 28 June. He voted to make coroners’ inquests public, 20 June 1832. He lost his seat at the general election in December, when he finished a poor third behind Harvey and a Conservative.15

Nothing has been discovered of his subsequent life until he was declared bankrupt on 9 Jan. 1843, when he had an address at 2 De Crespigny Place, Camberwell, Surrey, as well as that of his business in Crutched Friars. A second and final dividend of one halfpence in the pound was declared on 15 Feb. 1844.16 Mayhew died intestate at the home of one Edward Mayhew at 7 Park Terrace, Old Ford Road, Bow, London in April 1855, leaving a widow and an unknown number of ‘natural and lawful children’. Administration of his estate, which was sworn under a derisory £20, was granted to his son William.17

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. IGI (Essex).
  • 2. PROB 6/232/386.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. (1787), ii. 1128; PROB 11/1161/32.
  • 4. Colchester Pollbook (1781), 8; (1788), 10; (1790), 8; (1796), 8; (1806), 9; (1807), 8; (1812), 20; IGI (Essex).
  • 5. Colchester Pollbook (1812), 20; (1818), 22; (1820), 31.
  • 6. Ibid. (1820), 31.
  • 7. Colchester Gazette, 31 May 1823, 22 July 1826; M.E. Speight, ‘Politics in Colchester’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1969), 147.
  • 8. Colchester Gazette, 25 Apr. 1829.
  • 9. Ibid. 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830; Speight, 192-3.
  • 10. Colchester Gazette, 12 Nov., 11 Dec. 1830, 1 Jan., 12, 26 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 110-2, 411.
  • 11. Colchester Gazette, 26 Mar., 2, 9 Apr. 1831; Speight, 48-49, 103-4, 236.
  • 12. Colchester Gazette, 30 Apr. 7, 14 May 1831.
  • 13. The Times, 13 Aug.; Colchester Gazette, 3, 24 Sept. 1831.
  • 14. Colchester Gazette, 3, 17 Dec. 1831.
  • 15. Ibid. 15, 22 Dec. 1832.
  • 16. London Gazette, 17 Jan., 17 Mar., 25 Apr., 19 May, 26 Dec. 1843, 23 Feb. 1844.
  • 17. Gent. Mag. (1855), ii. 216; PROB 6/232/286.