Wool, perriwigs and rotten boroughs: the Gorgeous Georgians

The rebuilt Parish Church as it looked more than 100 years ago, before the six-lane dual carriageway bulldozed through the neighbourhood, including part of the churchyard

MARVELS OF THE MINSTER: Many old memorials for rich, influential families placed in the Parish Church were destroyed by fire 150 years ago. But DAVID MORGAN has managed to track down the story of one of the lost tombs of Croydon

Among the lost memorials in the fire of 1867 were tablets to a Member of Parliament, Samuel Marsh, and his family.

Marsh was the MP for Chippenham from 1774 to 1780, at the time of King George  III, the “mad” king, and during a period which included the American War of Independence.

Sir Samuel Flodyer, Lord Mayor of London in 1761

Marsh was buried here in Croydon, along with both of his wives Annabel and Frances, a son, Captain John Marsh of the 66th Regiment of Foot, and his father, William, a notable London merchant. The Marsh family pre-date the era of Bridgerton, but they are very good examples of what the Horrible History series calls “Gorgeous Georgians”.

Samuel Marsh was a wealthy figure, from a wealthy family. William Marsh, his father, was a Blackwell Hall factor, an agent who dealt in woollen cloth that was brought from all over England to be traded in this main London market at Blackwell Hall, situated beside the Guildhall.

In the 16th Century, there were many agents to handle a trade which had been a source of great wealth in England since the Middle Ages, but during the 17th Century those numbers declined until there were just a few. With most of the English woollen trade passing through the hands of these few agents, each was able to become very wealthy.

Samuel was born in 1736, the only son of William Marsh and his wife, Anne Fludyer. The marriage into the Fludyer family was certainly good for the cloth trade business. Anne was the daughter of Samuel Fludyer, another cloth factor at Blackwell Hall.

The Lord Mayor’s Parade,1760s-style

Anne had a brother, Simon, who set about expanding his father’s business until he was one of the City’s foremost merchants and made a baronet for his efforts. Sir Samuel Fludyer was Lord Mayor of London in 1761; the wig he wore for the swearing-in ceremony was depicted in Hogarth’s engraving Five Orders of Perriwigs.

After Sir Samuel Fludyer died in 1768, the mercantile house in Basinghall Street was run by his younger brother, Sir Thomas Fludyer. Thomas’ death, just a year later, provided Samuel Marsh with a business opportunity, as he was invited into the company. It would now trade as Fludyer, Hudson and Marsh.

The links between the families ran deep. First, Sir Samuel Fludyer and then briefly his brother were MPs for Chippenham. When Sir Thomas died, it was Samuel Marsh who effectively inherited the seat, being elected unopposed, alongside Sir Edward Baynton, of Spye Park. This was the time of the original “rotten boroughs”.

Perriwigs… even in the 1760s, Town Halls’ out-dated traditions and pomposity was being satirised by the likes of William Hogarth for being out-of-touch

Apparently, Marsh had canvassed for Parliament in 1769 after the death of Sir Thomas but didn’t gain the seat. He certainly benefited from the support of the Fludyer name five years later.

The words from Sir Joseph Porter from Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore come to mind:

“I grew so rich that I was sent
By a pocket borough into Parliament.
I always voted at my party’s call
I never thought of thinking for myself at all.”

Chippenham, in Gloucestershire, was a wool town.

Samuel Fludyer was first elected in 1754, promising to pay the best prices for wool to the local landowners and ensuring they were well looked after. He would then be able to get top prices, in turn, in the Blackwell Market. Marsh just had to maintain those links, and the prices too.

The Fludyer wool trading dynasty is remembered to this day

Marsh was a stopgap MP, until Sir Samuel’s Flodyer’s sons were old enough to stand. When Marsh stepped down in 1780, the Fludyer boys were still not ready to be elected and the seat was taken by another acquaintance, Giles Hudson, the other name on the trading company door. Two years later, and George Fludyer, the younger of Sir Samuel’s sons, became MP for Chippenham.

Samuel Marsh married twice. His first wife was Annabella Graeme, whom he married in 1762. She died 10 years later and was the first of the family to be buried in Croydon Parish Church in the newly created family tomb. He married Frances Elizabeth Bennet in 1773. Their son, John, was born in 1777. A commission was bought for him to become a Lieutenant in the 66th Regiment of Foot.

A sum of £500 was taken from John’s inheritance, as this was the sum his father said that he had spent on the commission, his uniform and kit.

No date can be given when he joined up, but the regiment’s movements can be traced. In 1793 they were in Gibraltar, before transferring in early 1796 to the West Indies to take part in the ill-fated invasion of French-held Saint Domingue, what is modern-day Haiti.

Here, many of the troops caught fever and died. John Marsh, having received a promotion to captain, survived this tour of duty, but he died in February 1798. His death was reported in The Gentleman’s Magazine as occurring at “the Hot Wells, Bristol”.

It was customary in Georgian times for people to take the waters of various spas round the country, more for their healing properties as much for the kind of relaxation we might seek today. From the 1830s, Croydon had its own spa – Beulah Spa, in Upper Norwood.

Bristol’s hot wells were situated in what we now call Clifton, on the banks of the River Avon, with lodgings for visitors built above the pump rooms. We can only speculate as to whether or not John had returned from the West Indies with an illness or wound of some kind and died in Bristol, when aged just 21, as he was looking to the spa waters to help aid his recovery.

His body was brought back to be buried in Croydon.

John outlived his father by only three years. Samuel had died on March 18,  1795, aged 78.

The memorial in church said he lived at “Bellemont House, near Uxbridge Middlesex.”

We know he hadn’t always lived in this mansion, though. Prior to 1774 when he became an MP, he and his family were living in a new house built by Robert Lovelace, a partner in Child & Co bank. It was one of two large houses on Clapham Common, near Battersea Rise, on ground that later would become part of the Chatto Estate.

The children of Samuel Marsh, in a portrait from the 1770s

Samuel’s second wife Frances died on October 27, 1811. She was 64. She was the fifth and final family member to be buried in Croydon. Exactly why they ended up in Croydon isn’t clear. Most likely it was status. It was more prestigious to be buried in Croydon, the most important church in the whole of the area, by far.

An examination of the Marsh wills reveals more about the family. In Samuel Marsh’s very long and legalistic will he talks of the four children from his first marriage but only names two, Caroline and Samuel. A portrait of his children painted by the Scottish artist Catherine Read in the 1770s shows a third child, Catherine.

Samuel Graeme followed the path of many sons of wealthy merchants. He went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge, took holy orders and was ordained in 1792. He was the vicar of Manewden, in Essex, at the time of his death on February 4, 1803. The Marsh family certainly knew how to use their business contacts to best effect. The patrons of Samuel’s church in Essex were Henry Marsh and Thomas Rashleigh. These two gentlemen were also the executors of Samuel Marsh’s will. Rashleigh, of Hatton Gardens, was also the executor of Capt John Marsh’s will.

Capt Marsh’s will also reveals the names of his siblings. He had two sisters, Frances and Mary and a brother, William. The three siblings were bequeathed equal shares in their brother’s estates, with William receiving an additional £2,000 – equivalent of more than £250,000 today.

In Croydon Parish Church, the Marsh family memorials were positioned on the south wall of St Mary’s Chapel. Corbet Anderson’s book on the old church memorials in Croydon stated that only Samuel, Frances and John were remembered inside the church. William and Annabel had their memorials in the churchyard.

They certainly did well in life but could never quite keep up with the Fludyer’s, who even had a street name after them, now in SW1. Samuel Marsh climbed the slippery pole to success using his money, his status and his contacts. It was his second wife Frances, though, who had to grieve the early deaths of a young man who joined the church and the son commissioned into the army.

She could, however, delight in Caroline’s family and lived out her days in a comfortable fashion, thanks due, in part, to the price of wool.

About insidecroydon

News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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2 Responses to Wool, perriwigs and rotten boroughs: the Gorgeous Georgians

  1. Ian Kierans says:

    Very informative and interesting – thanks

  2. Lewis White says:

    How dull and insipid seems our own era– unless you read Inside Croydon .

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