Electoral Reform, Liberalism & Art Funded by Jamaican Slave Sugar – The Beckfords Part I – Alderman William Beckford (1709 – 1770)


Read by Sir John Stuttard
31 October 2016

Mr President, Fellow Historians

Since 1189 almost 690 men and just two women have served as Lord Mayor of the City of London but only one, William Beckford, is commemorated by a marble statue in Guildhall, a place for civic meetings, City elections, state banquets, the seat of the City’s Parliament, known as the Court of Common Council, and, in former times, a court of law.

Beckford’s monument is the work of John Francis Moore who was commissioned by the City’s Court of Common Council to express “the high esteem in which the corporation of London held the memory of Mr. Beckford for his great abilities and steadfast attachment to the interests of his fellow-citizens”. It shows the figure of Alderman Beckford, as Lord Mayor, dressed in Mayoral attire, gesturing as he is speaking. He is flanked by two Amazonian figures: Trade & Commerce on the right and the City of London weeping on the left. Under the statue is a reproduction of the key extract of his celebrated speech to George III on 23 May 1770.

William Beckford (1709-1770) JP, MA (Oxon), MP was Lord Mayor twice: in 1762/63 and from November 1769 until 21 June 1770 when he died in office of rheumatic fever, having caught a chill while visiting his country estate, Fonthill Splendens, in Wiltshire. His imposing memorial is situated at the south side of Great Hall in Guildhall in the City.

Known as “The Alderman”, with the additional sobriquet of “Alderman Sugarcane”, Beckford was descended from a family which had large estates in Jamaica. His wealth was enormous and, on his death in 1770, it is said that he left £1 million which has been estimated to be over £6 billion in today’s money. The Alderman was not short of money – or ambition.

Born in Jamaica, young William was sent to England at the age of nine to be educated at Westminster School. From thence in 1725 he went up to Balliol College, Oxford, where he obtained an MA. He moved to Leiden in Holland and then to Paris, to study medicine. Then in 1736, after the death of his father, he returned to Jamaica to secure and manage the family’s estates which accrued almost entirely to William Beckford after his elder brother Peter died in 1737.

As a sugar planter owning over 10,000 acres William was prosperous, with an income of some £12,000 a year and a workforce of nearly 1,000 slaves. These holdings were increased in later years to 22,000 acres of sugar plantation and 3,000 slaves, making him the largest landowner on the island. He obtained experience as a local politician after election to the island’s assembly and he sought to enhance the transatlantic sugar trade and to secure the defence of the islands from invasion by Spain and France.

His father and grandfather had built up the family’s wealth and prominence on the island. They clashed frequently with successive Crown appointed Governors. This family trait of anti-establishment behaviour and excitable temperament may well have passed down to young William who exhibited similar tendencies, particularly in his later life, in England.

It seems clear that Jamaica was too small to match Beckford’s ambitions and he also realised that to protect his West Indian interests he had to be based in England. So in 1744 he crossed the Atlantic again and travelled to London. Shortly afterwards, in 1745, he acquired Fonthill Estate in Wiltshire for £32,000, mainly with borrowed money, repaying it over four years from his sugar earnings which grew to an average of £14,000 a year during the 1760s. He was aware that political influence would enhance his business interests. His determined ascent in British politics was rapid. In 1747 he sought and gained the support of the Earl of Shaftesbury who was patron of the pocket borough of Shaftesbury in Dorset, not far from Fonthill, and he was duly elected as Member of Parliament, serving that constituency until 1754 when he became one of the City of London’s four MPs.

Beckford realised that his influence would be enhanced by political positions in the City as well as in Westminster – and he was a networker par excellence. His distant Beckford cousins operated the London end of the Caribbean trading business from an address in Mincing Lane. Over three or more generations the Beckfords had been members of the Worshipful Company of Clothworkers, providing several Masters and two Aldermen in the City of London. One of these, Sir Thomas Beckford, became Sheriff and was reported to be earning £2,000 per year in 1670 from his Jamaican property. William Beckford used these connections to promote himself as part of an established City family who had served the City in senior positions. He gained from the knowledge and contacts that these relations provided. After becoming a member of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers in 1752 he was elected as Alderman for Billingsgate, a ward neighbouring Mincing Lane and Clothworkers Hall. He sought to raise his profile in the City and acted as a Steward for the London Lying-In Hospital for Married Women (at Shaftesbury House) in Aldersgate Street and for the Corporation of the Sons of the Clergy. In 1753 he became Master of the Ironmongers. He was elected Sheriff of London in 1756, prior to his first term of office as Lord Mayor in 1762.

Politically very smart, The Alderman took every opportunity to progress, assisted, not least, by the enormous wealth and income from his Jamaican estates. To become Lord Mayor in the 18th century was an expensive endeavour, requiring the funding of entertainment as well as the employment of staff and the provision of one’s own furniture at Mansion House. Beckford did not stint in meeting these obligations and, it is reported, he acquired a “fine set of Flanders mares” from the Dutch ambassador to pull the Lord Mayor’s Grand State Coach which had been newly built in 1757. Writing in 1859, in a book about Beckford’s son, the author Cyrus Redding records that “He [the father] gave no less than four entertainments, having been sworn in Lord Mayor on 9 November 1762. These had not been equalled in the city before, from the time of Henry VIII, in splendour and extent of hospitality. He entertained on one occasion the Emperor of Germany and the King of Denmark accompanied by the Dukes of York and Cambridge. The costly magnificence he displayed astonished the public. He was himself remarkably moderate in eating and drinking, always living with great temperance, and hence somewhat out of place in City epicurism.

The Alderman became a firm friend of William Pitt the Elder (1708-1778) who is also commemorated in the City’s Guildhall by a marble memorial opposite those of his son, William Pitt the Younger (1759-1806), and of William Beckford. The Elder Pitt had consistently argued for protection and expansion of the country’s colonial interests, against the Spanish and the French, in the War of the Austrian Succession (1740-1748) and later in the Seven Years’ War (1756-1763). Thus The Alderman, who championed the colonies as an integral part of Great Britain, became Pitt’s natural supporter. They were also united in their loathing of the practice of patronage by the land owning families and by the Monarch. They spoke up for the country’s commercial interests and claimed to represent the “Voice of the People”. In 1764, they were further united in condemning the expulsion of John Wilkes (1725-1797) MP for Aylesbury from the House of Commons for seditious libel and, later, when Parliament refused to accept him as the duly elected member for Brentford. Beckford welcomed Wilkes’ election as an Alderman (representing Farringdon Without) in 1769. And, on the release of Wilkes from prison in April 1770, The Alderman celebrated by decorating the front of his London home, in Soho Square, with a banner described by Horace Walpole as being “embroidered with ‘Liberty’ in white letters three feet high. Luckily the evening was very wet, and not a mouse stirred”. John Wilkes, whose statue stands today in Fetter Lane, was later to progress within the City and served as Sheriff in 1771-72 and as Lord Mayor in 1774-75.

Pitt and Beckford championed reform and liberty as well as the importance of England’s rise as a global economic power. But Pitt was obliged to resign as Prime Minister in 1761 after failing to persuade his colleagues to go to war with Spain and to continue the Seven Years War. He saw the Treaty of Paris in 1763 as a failure by the new administration to secure Britain’s military achievements. In this he was joined by The Alderman who, as Lord Mayor, opposed the peace preliminaries and spoke against them, in line with City sentiment. The City’s Court of Common Council refused to agree to the customary address to the Monarch in grateful thanks for the peace. In the end, only eight Aldermen presented the Address to the King at St James’s Palace. They were not accompanied by the Lord Mayor Alderman Beckford, who claimed that he was indisposed.

An indefatigable, fiery and frequent speaker in the House of Commons, The Alderman’s political stance was based, at least initially, on his desire to protect the interests of the sugar planters in the West Indies as well as of those absentee landlords based in London. He argued against proposed duties on the sugar trade. His public speaking and private conversation were, according to critical comments recorded by James Hogg writing in 1869, marred by “impetuous animation, accompanied with an inharmonious voice and vehemence of action” and were prevented “from receiving that attention and that pleasure which, from his knowledge and abilities, they might supposed to have deserved and produced”. In his speeches in the House “he oftentimes called forth the laughter, and frequently promoted the languor, of his audience, from no other cause than the neglect of digesting and arranging the matter he delivered”. Nevertheless, he gained support from different interest groups, for example by representing the colonial sugar industry as similar to the domestic wheat trade, which would suffer from a levy of taxation. He argued for military protection and favourable trading terms for the West Indian Islands. In later life he also spoke in favour of lower duties on, and lower taxes of, the American colonies and of enhanced rights for their inhabitants. He understood and promoted the value to the mother country of prosperous and harmonious colonies.
But his attitude to English politics and social life was also undoubtedly influenced by the fact that he had difficulty in being accepted by the traditional landowning classes. He was a sugar planter from Jamaica where his family had made good – “a vulgar colonial”. He was “new money” and had a Jamaican accent to boot, which even the years at Westminster and Oxford had not fully eradicated. He was ruthless and commanding and he had money – lots of it – and was rumoured to be the richest man in England. Beckford tried to make up for his lack of social standing by hosting lavish banquets, particularly at Mansion House during his first term as Lord Mayor, and by acquiring property and art. When Beckford’s house at Fonthill burned down in 1755 the total loss was estimated to be £30,000 of which only £6,000 was insured. The Alderman was reported as saying “Oh! I have an odd fifty thousand pounds in a drawer: I will build it up again.” And so he did. He created
a Palladian mansion, which became known as Fonthill Splendens, a gracious house modelled closely on Houghton Hall, the creation of Great Britain’s first Prime Minister, Sir Robert Walpole, in Norfolk. The ornamental lake was enlarged, a grand archway, bath house and grotto were built and the church near the old house was demolished and a new one constructed further away. Beckford filled his grand house with magnificent treasures, a large library and many art works. These included over 40 decorative schemes by the 18th century painter Andrea Casali; Gobelin tapestries from France; eight canvases of Hogarth’s “The Rake’s Progress”; busts of Homer and Virgil; and a grand organ to replace the one destroyed in the fire of 1755. He had extravagant taste and he created a magnificent country gentleman’s retreat. His library had over 1,500 volumes. Fonthill Splendens, its artefacts and contents were said to have cost Beckford around £240,000 against the very modest £9,000 which was estimated to have been realised when the contents were sold at auctions in 1801 and 1807 and when the house was pulled down by his son, William Thomas Beckford. The younger William had even grander ideas and constructed a neo-Gothic extravaganza which resembled a cathedral and was named Fonthill Abbey, of which more anon.
In 1756, in an effort to achieve respectability, after siring at least eight illegitimate children, The Alderman married Maria March, daughter of the Hon George Hamilton MP, who was the second son of James Hamilton, the 6th Earl of Abercorn. Maria was the widow of Francis March, a Jamaican planter, and would have had a small fortune in her own right. [Horace Walpole alleged that Beckford had told him that he had sired 30 illegitimate children but this was probably an amusing exaggeration by either Beckford or Walpole. In his will The Alderman acknowledged eight]. Maria was to prove a loving and supportive wife and, coupled with her aristocratic ancestry, a great asset to The Alderman in his efforts to achieve respectability. She organised grand parties at Fonthill and in London at Mansion House where, on one occasion in February 1770, the guest list comprised a huge gathering of peers, including six dukes. At another ball in March of that year, it was reported that almost 50 peers attended among around 700 guests.
Beckford’s wealth and his lifestyle did not, however, bring universal social approbation. Horace Walpole, a consistent critic, described him as a “noisy good humoured flatterer, vulgar and absurd, pompous in his expense, and vainglorious”. This was quite ironical given Horace’s father, Sir Robert Walpole’s, grand statement of Houghton Hall in Norfolk as a mark of his life’s achievement. Beckford’s political opponents referred to his “ugly Jamaican malapropisms, fragmented grammar, craggy looks, violent temper, noisy flattery and uncouth gestures”. Some local gentry in Wiltshire considered The Alderman a “nouveau riche radical” and one commentator referred to Fonthill Splendens as having “the utmost profusion of magnificence with the appearance of
immense riches, almost too tawdrily exhibited”. Whilst somewhat unfair, since Fonthill was indeed a splendid house, these comments showed the difficulty that Beckford encountered in being universally accepted, without a title or an English landowning pedigree. Perhaps this rejection encouraged the anti-establishment spirit in him. If so, it certainly came to the fore in his support for parliamentary reform and libertarian causes. In a much quoted speech in November 1761, Beckford said “When I talk of the sense of the people, I mean the middling people of England, the manufacturer, the yeoman, the merchant, the country gentleman, they who bear all the heat of the day and who pay all taxes to supply all the expenses of court and government. They have a right, Sir, to interfere in the condition and conduct of the nation which makes them easy or uneasy who feel most of it, and, Sir, the people of England in this limitation are a good-natured, well intentioned and very sensible people, who know better perhaps than other nation under the sun whether they are well governed or not”. Today’s commentators or psychoanalysts might well have concluded that The Alderman had a “chip” and that this might have been a key driver of his ambition, his accumulation of status symbols, his desire for approbation and his causes.
In expounding libertarian and democratic principles, and in common with the contemporary mindset on the matter, The Alderman did not find any conflict with his ownership of plantations which employed over 3,000 slaves – the source of his wealth and power. Yet he was, by all accounts, caring in his attitude towards his slave workforce, although he did not espouse the abolitionists’ cause when directly confronted with this issue. The real movement to abolish the slave trade was to postdate Beckford.
Beckford was more popular in the City of London than in Westminster. His unpruned eloquence was more to the taste of the mercantile classes than to the House of Commons or the gentle folk of the West End. His genuine honesty and stout love of English liberty were better liked by citizens than by the courtiers of the House of Hanover. He made a point of not canvassing for elections and of saying that he would never canvass. Despite this he was elected four times as an MP for the City.
He was good at building relationships. He was popular with the livery movement and the City merchants but not always with his fellow Aldermen.
At Common Hall on Michaelmas Day 1769 a poll was demanded for the election of the next Lord Mayor as Sir Henry Bankes, the next Alderman in line, was not well liked by the Livery. On 6 October, Alderman William Beckford and Alderman Barlow Trecothick, an American merchant, were convincingly chosen by the liverymen as the two names from whom, by law, the Court of Aldermen would make the final choice. Although Beckford had held the office of Lord Mayor in 1762-63, in those days, despite an Act of 1545 to the contrary, it was still possible for an Alderman to serve for more than one term.
The 1545 Act was passed by the Court of Common Council and is recorded as follows:
“…Be yt ordeyned inactyd and establysshed by the Lord Mayer Aldermen and Comens in this present comen counsell assemblyd and by aucthorytie of the same that no Alderman of this Cytie which at eny tyme heretofore hath bene or herafter shalbe Mayer of the same Cytie by the space of one hole yeare shall at eny tyme fromhensfurth be elygyble to the seid offyce or Rome of Mayeraltye for one other hole yeare ….” [Journal of Common Council Volume 15, fo.190).
Yet 11 Lord Mayors served the Office more than once in the period 1591 to 1885, the last being Sir Robert Fowler in that year. The question of Beckford’s eligibility was raised in 1770 and it was judged that precedents in 1690 and 1741 rendered the 1545 Act obsolete. Thus it would appear that, today, a Mayor may consent to serve a second term but cannot be compelled so to do. This has not been tested for over 130 years.
The votes cast by liverymen in the poll of 6 October 1769 are recorded as follows:
William Beckford 1967
Barlow Trecothick 1911
Sir Henry Bankes 676
Beckford had made it clear that he did not wish a second term as Lord Mayor because of his age and infirmities. Recognising his popularity with the Livery but believing that he would not accept the invitation, at a meeting of the Court of Aldermen on 10 October, 16 Aldermen voted for Beckford and 6 for Trecothick. The Alderman pleaded again that Barlow Trecothick should be Lord Mayor instead of him. At a reconvened Common Hall the City Recorder reported that the choice of the Court of Aldermen had fallen on Alderman Beckford. Then, after a long interval of shouting and clapping from the hustings, the Recorder added that Mr Beckford had refused to serve. This was received by the Livery with “every mark of discontent”. Liverymen continued to shout “Alderman Beckford, Alderman Beckford” until, again, The Alderman begged to be excused on the grounds of age. After further pleading to the Livery, Beckford retired exhausted and Common Hall was adjourned. Some two days later about “fifty of the Livery formed a handsome procession of fourteen coaches, preceded by the Sheriffs in their State chariots, to wait on Mr Beckford”. The delegation implored Beckford to serve the Office of Lord Mayor and, finally with this pressure and no doubt the flattery, The Alderman relented. But his fellow Aldermen were not amused. They had preferred Trecothick and felt thwarted by this change of mind. A majority of the Court of Aldermen later
declined his invitation to the prestigious Lord Mayor’s Banquet and none of them joined him at Westminster Hall for the swearing of the oath of allegiance to the Crown.
The Alderman is perhaps best remembered for his role in supporting the radical journalist and politician, John Wilkes, both in the City and later, most memorably, before King George III in May 1770.
With mutual encouragement from the livery, on 14 March 1770 he led a delegation to St James’s Palace to make a “remonstrating address and petition” to the King. Court protocol at that time required the address to be sent to the Monarch in advance of the audience so that the King could prepare his reply. The authors of the petition arraigned the conduct of the Ministry; they questioned the legality of the existence of the House of Commons, after its decision to bar John Wilkes following his election as MP by the people of Middlesex; they demanded of the King that he should dissolve Parliament forthwith; and they insinuated that the King could not, without violating his Coronation oath, refuse to comply with their demand. As reported by the Public Advertiser of March 1770, “His Majesty replied with firmness: blaming, without anything of impudent violence, the audacity and unreasonableness of the demands in the petition; and asserting his unalterable vigilance to preserve the genuine principles of the constitution, free from all violation.” The King is also reported to have said “I cannot attend to your Remonstrance! Do you not see that I have been employed in business of more Consequence?” These comments led to an amusing cartoon entitled The Button Maker, by a satirist of the day in support of Beckford and his followers, denigrating the response of the Monarch who was portrayed as a button maker. One of Beckford’s entourage is seen in the cartoon commenting on the King’s reply with the bubble “He does not care a Button for our Remonstrance”.
At a further audience with the King on 23 May 1770 Lord Mayor Beckford was joined by three other Aldermen, the two Sheriffs and 75 Common Councilmen. The Recorder of London, the senior judge at the Old Bailey, refused to attend as he had advised that some parts of the Address were libellous. It is reported that he was later “called to account for his disobedience”. The remonstrance was read by the City’s Town Clerk and concluded with the following words, “we implore with most urgent supplications the dissolution of the present parliament, the removal of evil ministers, and the total extinction of that fatal influence, which has caused such a national discontent. In the meantime, Sire, we offer our constant prayers to heaven, that your majesty may reign as kings can only reign, in and by the hearts of a loyal, dutiful, and free people” The Sovereign’s reply was curt, expressing his dissatisfaction with the address and declining to use his Royal prerogative in the matter.
There then followed an extraordinary moment of bravado on Beckford’s
part. No follow up address was typically allowed under Court protocol but, unabashed, The Alderman sailed forth with an impromptu speech in a courteous tone highlighting the danger that George III might be facing if he did not adhere to the constitutional rights of his people. This speech has become immortalised and is repeated beneath Beckford’s monument in Guildhall, precisely as follows:
WILL your MAJESTY be pleased so far to condescend, as to permit the MAYOR of your loyal CITY of LONDON to declare in your ROYAL PRESENCE, on behalf of his FELLOW CITIZENS, how much the bare Apprehension of your MAJESTY’S Displeasure would, at all times affect their Minds: the Declaration of that Displeasure has already filled them with inexpressible Anxiety, and with the deepest Affliction. Permit me, SIRE, to assure your MAJESTY that your MAJESTY has not in all your Dominions any Subjects more faithful, more dutiful or more Affectionate to your MAJESTY’S PERSON and FAMILY or more ready to sacrifice their Lives and Fortunes in the Maintenance of the true Honour and Dignity of your Crown. We do therefore, with the greatest Humility and Submission, most earnestly supplicate your MAJESTY that you will not dismiss us from your PRESENCE, without expressing a more favourable Opinion of your faithful CITIZENS, and without some Comfort, without some Prospect, at least, of Redress. Permit me, SIRE, farther to observe, that whoever has already dared, or shall hereafter endeavour by false Insinuations and Suggestions to alienate your MAJESTY’S Affections from your loyal Subjects in general, and from the CITY of LONDON in particular, and to withdraw your Confidence in and Regard for your People, is an Enemy to your MAJESTY’S PERSON and FAMILY, a Violator of the public Peace, and a Betrayer of our happy Constitution as it was established at the glorious Revolution.”
The King was so astonished at this outburst that he did not reply, although the City delegation was permitted to kiss his hand. Beckford’s supporters, the City liverymen and the critics of the Ministry were ecstatic. Pitt the Elder, now Lord Chatham, was full of praise, as was John Wilkes. A vote of thanks was passed at the next Court of Common Council on 30 May. The City’s reputation was never higher and Beckford was celebrated as a great libertarian and reformer and a true man of the City.
Just one month later, after catching a chill during a visit to his Wiltshire estate Fonthill Splendens, Beckford died of rheumatic fever at his London home in Soho Square.
His critics and supporters of the Ministry breathed a sigh of relief. But Chatham, Wilkes and the City mourned. Mementoes were produced to
commemorate The Alderman, which made reference to “the zealous advocate & invariable protector of the rights, privileges & liberties of the people”. Benjamin Franklin described his death as “a loss to the general interest of America”. Indeed later in 1765 on the Repeal of the Stamp Act, American patriot Paul Revere included an image of Alderman Beckford in his list of friends of American liberty in a design for an obelisk to be erected in Boston. Even Horace Walpole, his arch critic, wrote “it looks as if Beckford had been the firebrand of politics, for the flame has done out since his death”. Writing in 1859 the author, Cyrus Redding, made his own tribute opining that “He possessed an undaunted spirit, and great democratic pride”.
At a meeting of the Court of Common Council on 5 July 1770, a motion was passed unanimously that a statue of the late Right Honourable William Beckford, Lord Mayor, should be erected in Guildhall with an inscription containing his memorable speech, for a sum not exceeding £1,000. [The final cost was £1,300]. It was judged that this would be an example to inspire future Lord Mayors. A second marble statue, sculpted earlier also by John Francis Moore, was presented by Beckford’s son to the Ironmongers Company in 1833 and stands today in Ironmongers Hall in the City of London.
Apart from these statues, The Alderman’s enduring legacy was the start of the process of achieving electoral and parliamentary reform. He had campaigned for liberty and supported “the manufacturer, the yeoman, the merchant, the country gentleman, they who bear all the heat of the day and who pay all taxes to supply all the expenses of court and government”. He had championed the City, its commerce and trade. He had helped build the “great” in Great Britain. William Beckford was recognised as one of the City’s most effective Lord Mayors and is deemed so today.
The Alderman was buried at the new church he had built on the Fonthill Estate, a part of which was acquired by the Marquis of Westminster some years later. The Marquis demolished Beckford’s Georgian church to create a new Victorian neo-Gothic replacement. In doing so, traces of the graves of Beckford and his wife Maria vanished. Perhaps the aristocracy and the traditional landed gentry, with their rotten boroughs, had claimed their revenge against this wealthy, anti-establishment, libertarian, nouveau riche, absentee slave-owning landlord. The only reference to The Alderman can be seen in the vestry wall of the new church where there is a dedication stone of the old church inscribed “18 May 1748 / Will Beckford / Esqr Founder”.
The Alderman was, indeed, a controversial figure. He was never granted a title by the Monarch who might well have been tempted to buy him off. If offered an honour he might well have refused. On the other hand he might well have accepted. He was a man of principle but he was also someone who enjoyed flattery and the approbation of the class and the society into which he was not
born. Who knows? But he was loved by the City and those politicians who espoused Liberty. His monument in Guildhall ensures that his place in history is secure.
I am grateful to Sidney Blackmore, lecturer and writer and Secretary of the International Beckford Society, for his guidance when researching published material. I am also grateful to the City Remembrancer, Paul Double, for researching the City’s legislation and facts relating to a Lord Mayor being elected for Office on more than one occasion.
• A History of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers of London, William Herbert, 1837, republished by Kessinger Publishing, 2010
• A History of Wiltshire Volume XIII, edited by DA Crowley, The University of London, Oxford University Press, 1987
• Alderman William Beckford, Famous Londoner, Jerry Nolan, The Beckford Journal, Volume 15, Spring 2009
• A New History of London Including Westminster and Southwark – Book 1, Chapter 25: 1769-1770, John Noorthouck, originally published by R Baldwin, 1773
• A New and Universal History, Description and Survey of the Cities of London and Westminster, The Borough of Southwark and their Adjacent Parts, Walter Harrison, London, 1776
• Beckford of Fonthill, Brian Fothergill, Faber and Faber, 1979
• Beckford, William (1709-1770), of Fonthill, Wilts, Lucy S. Sutherland, published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, edited by L. Namier and J. Brooke, Boydell and Brewer, 1964
• Capitalism and Slavery, Eric Williams, The Great Library Collection by RP Pryne, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 2015
• Commemorative Medals of Alderman Beckford, The Beckford Journal, Volume 10, 2004
• Famous London Merchants: A Book for Boys, HR Fox Bourne, Harper & Brothers, New York, 1869
• Fonthill Gifford Church and the Beckford Family, Michael Ranson, The Beckford Journal, Volume 17, 2011
• History of Parliament Online
• Legacies of British Slave-ownership, UCL Department of History, 2016
• London in the 18th Century – A Great and Monstrous Thing, Jerry White, published by The Bodley Head, London, 2012
• Memoirs of William Beckford of Fonthill, Author of “Vathek” – Volume I, Cyrus Redding, published by Charles J Skeet, London, 1859
• Monument to William Beckford, Great Hall, Guildhall, written and published by Public Monuments & Sculpture Association
• Old and New London, British History Online, originally published by Cassell, Petter & Galpin, 1878
• Public Advertiser, March and May 1770
• Soho Square Area: Portland Estate, No. 22 Soho Square, British History Online
• Some Account of the Worshipful Company of Ironmongers, John Nicholl, 1866
• The Fonthill Estate, an illustrated talk by Professor Caroline Dakers. 2016
• The Fonthill Estate website, 2013
• The Fonthill Splendens Demolition Sale of 1807, Robert J Gemmett, The Beckford Journal, Volume 17, 2011
• The Gentleman’s Magazine and Historical Journal, Volume 39, Sylvanus Urban, 1769
• The Letters of Horace Walpole, edited by Mrs. Paget Toynbee, Volume VII, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1903
• The Modern History of South Wiltshire, Volume IV, Sir Richard Colt Hoare Bt, 1829
• The Oxford Magazine, by a Society of Gentlemen, Members of the University of Oxford, Volume III, July 1769 (A gift to Harvard College, 1928, by Chester Noyes Greenough, Class of 1898, Professor of English)
• The Pursuit of Glory: Europe 1648-1815, Tim Blanning, Allen Lane, an imprint of Penguin Books, 2007
• The Richest of the Rich: The Wealthiest 250 People in Britain since 1066,
Philip Beresford and William D Rubenstein, published by Harriman House, 2011
• The Sugar Barons – Family, Corruption, Empire and War, Matthew Parker, published by Hutchinson, 2011
• The V&A’s Collections, British Galleries, 2016
• William Beckford and the City of London, Perry Gauci, The Beckford Society’s 14th Annual Lecture at the Travellers Club, November 2009, The Beckford Society Annual Lectures 2007-2010, edited by Bet McLeod
• William Beckford 1760-1844: An Eye for the Magnificent, edited by Derek E Ostergard, The Bard Graduate Center for Studies in the Decorative Arts, Design and Culture, Yale University Press, 2001
• William Beckford, First Prime Minister of the British Empire, Perry Gauci, published by Yale University Press, 2013
• William Beckford’s Paternal Half-siblings and Their Descendants, Mike C Fraser, Danae E Beckford Stanton & John W Fox, The Beckford Journal, Volume 10, Spring 2004
• William Pitt the Elder, Vera Muriel White, Encyclopaedia, 2016

Magna Carta, The City of London, and the ‘Special Relationship’

by Sir Robert Worcester, KBE DL

I am delighted to be here in the City of London and honoured by its Guildhall Historical Association to share with you my thoughts as we start the 800th Anniversary Year of Magna Carta. I would speak about three things: Why me and why now? Second, Why are you here? And third, why commemorate the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Charter of the Barons as some call it, others Magna Carta, Great Charter?

But first, much thanks to the City Corporation for its support of the Magna Carta Trust over many years, and especially for the help and advice of Tony Halmos who sits on the 800th Committee, the Anniversary Day Senior Project Board, and the Chancellor’s Grant Allocation Committee and who also chairs the Communications Sub-Committee.

Why me, why now?

Growing up in America I had a pretty thorough schooling in English history, English literature and not least English cinema (that was before television), which began with the Angles, Saxons and Jutes, then 1066 and all that, in 1215, the Great Charter, later Magna Carta.

From an early age it was “Good” King Richard the Lionheart, “Bad” King John “Lackland” (and Robin Hood and his merry men, Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlet and all), Henry VIII and Elizabeth the Virgin Queen, Shakespeare, 18th century Georgian elegance in costume, in architecture and music. And as a teenager, the Ealing comedies, Lavender Hill Mob, Kind Hearts and Coronets, Whisky Galore, and the rest. Must have seen them all, and some four or five times.

I grew up with the belief that ‘the sun never sets on the British Empire’. And did I collect stamps from all over the British Empire!

All Americans knew then and now that George Washington, John Adams, John Jay, Benjamin Franklin and nearly all the Founding Fathers were at the time Englishmen (Alexander Hamilton was a Scot).

I first saw Magna Carta at the New York World’s Fair at the British Exhibition where Lincoln’s 1215 copy was displayed. I was 7 years old. On my first visit to Britain, in 1957, I was a serving officer in the US Army Corps of Engineers, returning to America to be discharged after serving in Korea, my tour of duty completed.

On my first day in London I went first to the British Museum to see two things, the Magna Carta and the Rosetta Stone, which to me represented the two icons of civilised society: the rule of law and communication outside the village.

I became a Trustee of the Magna Carta Trust 21 years ago (when I became Chairman of the Pilgrims Society). The Chairman of the Trust, by Charter was the Master of the Rolls, first the late great Tom Bingham, Lord Bingham, then Lords (Harry) Woolf, (Nicholas) Phillips, (Anthony) Clarke, (David) Neuberger and now (John) Dyson, all distinguished jurists. First under Lord Neuberger and now Lord Dyson, I now serve as Deputy Chairman of the Trust. It was Tony Clarke and David Neuberger who ganged up on me and gave me responsibility for organising the 800th Anniversary Commemorations.

How could I refuse?

Magna Carta and the City of London

We sit but a shout away from the City of London’s 1297 exemplar of Magna Carta in its position of pride in the new Guildhall Heritage Gallery. You are Historians, some perhaps even educated in medieval history, others interested in other aspects of the City of London heritage and history of different periods, yet others, like me, educated in other, if allied, social sciences. But all of us here today pleased to have the advantage unavailable a century ago when the 700th anniversary of the sealing of Magna Carta wasn’t commemorated in 1915 due to the War, other than in the excellent, but long out of print, Royal Historical Society produced book of Magna Carta Commemoration essays, edited by Henry Malden, Hon. Fellow, Trinity Hall, Cambridge and Hon. Secretary, Royal Historical Society.

My predecessor, the then Chairman of the Magna Carta Celebration 1915 Committee 100 years ago, was The Rt. Hon. Viscount Bryce, OM, DCL, LLD, FRS, FBA. Today I stand on the shoulder of a giant. While the war on terrorism goes on today, it is a far cry from the depths of 1915, and reminds us that the link between the military and other security forces and Magna Carta is the defence of liberty and the rule of law.

The City of London has for over 1,000 years made those links. Certainly 800 years ago this coming June. Professor McKechnie, whose Magna Carta address (1215 – 1915) is in the Malden book, put it this way. (Malden, pp. 4 – 5)

“On 5 May (1215) the barons, having chosen as their leader, Robert Fitzwalter, acclaimed by them as “Marshal of the Army of God and Holy Church,” performed the solemn feudal ceremony of diffidatio, or renunciation of their fealty and homage, a formality indispensable before vassals could, without infamy, wage war upon their feudal overlord. Absolved from their allegiance at Wallingford by a Canon of Durham, they marched on London, on the attitude of which all eyes now turned with solicitude.

“When the great city opened her gates to the insurgents, setting an example to be immediately followed by other towns, she practically made the attainment of the Great Charter secure. The Mayor of London thus takes an honoured place beside the Archbishop of Canterbury among the band of patriots to whose initiative England owes her Charter of liberties.”

Arlidge and Judge (2014) develop the scenario and add colourful detail.

“London did not institute the rebellion, but effectively joined it on 17 May 1215 when the rebel barons were admitted within its walls. It already had … an eye for the main chance. … When Richard I came to the throne in 1189, he almost immediately departed on crusade, leaving his Chancellor, William Longchamps, at the head of the government. When John and a party of barons opposed his rule, the citizens of London supported John and recognised him as supreme governor of the realm; they swore that if Richard died without issue they would support John’s claim to the throne. In return he recognised their commune. When Richard returned from the Holy Land, the citizens politically offered 1,500 marks towards his ransom. In 1215 they again turned turtle and supported the baronial rebels against John.”

Hindley (1991) developed the story in his earlier, most detailed especially about London, book.

“From the moment they occupied the city, the opposition barons found firm friends and allies among London’s leading men. The Articles of the Barons contained important clauses aimed to protect London interests, and most of these are to be found in the Great Charter, if in modified form. There were omissions, the most serious concerning the Londoners’ liability to tallage. This was the purest form of protection money, levied at will and without appeal by king or lord from townsman or serf, village or city. It was particularly loathed because it was arbitrary, could be extortionate, and was a badge of inferior status.”

You believe in freedom. When I mention Magna Carta to people who believe in freedom, anywhere in the world, their eyes light up. I’d like to start by testing your knowledge of Magna Carta. Who can tell me where it was signed? How many agree?

[Wrong, it wasn’t, it was ‘sealed’!]

There are many myths which surround the Magna Carta. That it was only a fight between the Barons and the King. It certainly was, but not only that.

It was the beginning of the spread of modern democracy. Magna Carta was the overturning for the first time of ‘divine rule’ (King John, and somewhat later, King George III’s power over the American colonialists), the beginning of representative democracy, and as Lord Judge, the former Lord Chief Justice of the United Kingdom, recently quoted:

“Nullum scutagium vel auxilium ponatur in regno nostro nisi per commune consilium regni nostri”, which very roughly translated into American means ‘No taxation without representation’. Now which historian, which lawyer, which American, hasn’t heard that phrase before?

Did you know that Americans abroad were the last to be franchised? And when? On 7 January 1977 President Ford signed (not sealed) the Overseas Citizens Voting Rights Act after we lobbied Tip O’Neill, then Speaker of the House, when we got five minutes with him in 1974, and pleaded ‘no taxation without representation’. Before 1977, Americans abroad still had to pay taxes, but had lost the right to vote by moving overseas.

And it was the foundation of human rights, under threat now at home and abroad, as we consider how to cope with the threats which face us in the 21st Century. And civil liberties, as protected in the American Constitution.

Magna Carta enshrined the Rule of Law. It limited the power of authoritarian rule. It paved the way for trial by jury, modified through the ages as the franchise was extended.

Magna Carta proclaimed certain religious liberties,The English Church shall be free”.

Magna Carta is England’s greatest export.

Now affecting the lives of nearly two billion people in over 100 countries throughout the world. For centuries it has influenced constitutional thinking worldwide including in many Commonwealth countries, even in France, Germany, and Japan, and throughout Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Over the past 800 years, denials of Magna Carta’s basic principles have led to a loss of liberties, of human rights and even genocide, taking place yesterday, this morning, today and tomorrow.

It is an exceptional document on which all democratic society has been constructed, described by the former German Ambassador when he said to me that everybody in Germany knows about the Magna Carta, it is “The Foundation of Democracy”.

Thirty-eight years ago, in all their splendour, the House of Commons Speaker and House of Lords Speaker, MPs and Peers, Law Lords, Ambassadors and High Commissioners, the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, met with the senior members of the American Congress and Senate assembled in the 1,000 year old Palace of Westminster’s Westminster Hall to deliver a gold-embossed reproduction of the Magna Carta. Then, in June 1976, representatives from England travelled to the Capitol to present Congress with an additional gift: a one-year loan of an original 1215 Magna Carta to be displayed in the Rotunda of the Congress of the United States. I was there.

This time the plan is to have the Supreme Court organise a ‘mock trial’ with judges, jury and advocates, mainly from Commonwealth countries, judging barons and bishops in the dock on the charge of treason to be telecast and broadcast on BBC World. This will be on 31 July, the night before the Supreme Court Magna Carta Exhibition opens for August and September. Prior to this, starting in March, the British Library will have the biggest exhibition it’s ever held.

There will be exhibitions and demonstrations, pageants and concerts, sound and light shows, seminars and symposiums, open lectures and plays in the Magna Carta Towns, in cathedrals and castles, town halls and town squares throughout the land here. There will be many exhibitions and events in Canada and the USA, France and Germany, Poland and Trinidad and throughout the Eastern Caribbean, in southern Asia, Africa, Australia and New Zealand, and everywhere that values the principles that the Barons wrenched from the King at Runnymede. They had to fight for it, and we are the beneficiaries of their fight. The ever expanding list of events is kept up to date at www.magnacarta800th.com/Events.

You can follow the commemoration of the 800th by signing up to the Magna Carta Newsletter at our website and tell us if you’d like to get involved, at www. magnacarta800th.com. And I hope some of you will be with us at Runnymede and some as well in Westminster Hall for the mock trial at the end of July, or at least watching it on BBC World and I hope PBS in the USA, ABC in Australia, and in Canada on CBC as well as well as in many countries’ TV stations, on the Internet, and elsewhere throughout the world.

Finally, I did want to share with the Historians, who represent literarily hundreds of years of service to the City and to this country, my belief as a true Anglo-American that the values enshrined in the Magna Carta and its legacy are largely the reason for the existence of the ‘Special Relationship’ that bonds my two countries, Britain and America, two countries which have fought two World Wars and many other, smaller, conflicts shoulder to shoulder in defence of liberty. The City of London over centuries has fostered the Special Relationship.

President Obama observed in 2011 in a speech to the British Parliament:

“our system of justice, customs, and values stemmed from our British forefathers. Our relationship is special because of the values and beliefs that have united our people throughout the ages. Centuries ago, when kings, emperors, and warlords reigned over much of the world, it was the English who first spelled out the rights and liberties of man in Magna Carta.”

Thank you.

Sir Robert Worcester, KBE DL

The Campaign to save Wanstead Flats from Development

by Wendy Mead

The late 19th century battles to prevent the enclosure of our much prized open spaces at Epping Forest and Burnham Beeches are well documented and fairly well known. However, a more recent campaign was mounted in the mid 1940s when the pressure to find homes for bombed-out victims of the Second World War became intense and Wanstead Flats was, once again, targeted for development.

The Flats are the most southerly area of Epping Forest and provide much needed recreation for the densely populated parts of London to the west and south of the Forest, in Forest Gate and in West and East Ham.

Victorian expansion had always looked greedily at the Flats. Landowners in the 1850s and again in the early 1870s made attempts at development, despite vociferous local opposition including, in July 1871, a huge demonstration on the Flats which required police intervention and ended with the demolition of illegally erected fencing. This initiated the legal action against enclosing landlords by The City of London Corporation, leading to the Epping Forest Act of 1878.

Up to the start of the Second World War the Flats became popular with large numbers of East Enders for a wide variety of leisure activities including many sports pitches, a model yacht pond, a bandstand and holiday fun fairs, providing the open space lacking near their homes. By the 1930s over 100 football clubs were regularly using the Flats.

During the Second World War the Flats were requisitioned for military purposes with anti-aircraft batteries throughout, causing the Flats and surrounding areas to become prime targets for enemy action. The North-West side where the guns were concentrated became known as ‘Hell Fire Corner’. In the summer of 1944 the Flats were used as an important transit point for the D-Day invasion and then, for a short time at the end of the war, as a prisoner of war camp.

By 1945 the Flats were in a poor state with remains of gun emplacements and buildings, rusting barbed wire, bomb and rocket craters. Much of the ground had been dug for trenches and allotments or churned up by military boots and vehicles. In addition, the local boroughs of East and West Ham had claimed sections of the eastern and southern Flats for temporary housing for a ten year period.

Enemy action throughout the War had destroyed 14,000 houses in West Ham alone and those untouched required urgent repair, compounding the difficulties of overcrowding, poverty and the slums of the inter-war years. The British population had increased by over a million during the War followed by a baby boom and the need for housing was so immense that a West Ham County Borough Housing Committee meeting on 4th March 1946 declared the ‘present housing situation…is such as to warrant drastic action’.

In the run up to the 1945 General Election housing was seen by many as the key issue and the Labour Party made extravagant claims for their building plans, Ernest Bevin promising 5 million homes in the shortest possible time but queues for housing grew longer still after their landslide victory.

In 1946, to ease their own very pressing housing shortage, West Ham Council proposed to acquire a large tract of the Flats by Compulsory Purchase Order. On the face of it they had a strong case given the destruction across the Borough but as those opposing the building plans pointed out, West Ham’s housing problem was not entirely clear. From a pre-war peak in 1929 their population had been steadily falling. Younger generations moved further out of London as major employers such as the docks and railway works at Stratford began to decline and many residents had been evacuated during the war.

During the war the Corporation of London had allowed temporary housing as an emergency for bombed-out families and three respite camps were set up in Epping Forest to receive 7,000 evacuees but were never used. The Corporation offered no objections to the Flats being used for temporary homes on a strict two year time limit. However, the post-war plans of the two Councils were giving cause for increasing concern and a letter from three Verderers published in the Walthamstow Guardian in February 1946 stated “their growing conviction that once temporary houses are erected in the 23 acres requisitioned by East Ham Corporation… the land so occupied will be lost to the public forever.” The letter goes on that once one authority was allowed to raid the Forest in this way others would follow. Their concerns were well founded: the Walthamstow Guardian had earlier reported that in view of East Ham’s success, Walthamstow Council was considering reapplying for other Forest land. East Ham’s claim was followed shortly after by a demand from West Ham Corporation for a compulsory purchase of 163 acres to house 7,400 people. Of the land claimed, only 17 acres lay in the boundaries of West Ham but their new plans would mean that much of the central area of the Flats would be covered in housing and shops.

As expected, West Ham Corporation received strong support from the new Labour Government, itself determined not to repeat the failure of successive Governments to provide decent housing after the First World War and was even considering nationalisation of land to prevent the obstruction of development by private landlords. Aneurin Bevan, now in charge of the housing programme, declared that landlords’ interests must be secondary to the needs of the nation and, referring particularly to the Flats, he said he regretted very much the need to do it but “…the Commoners of Epping Forest must surrender to the overwhelming needs of the people of East Ham”.

In a typical political ploy responsibility for housing was handed over to local authorities who would become the driving force in the housing market claiming “if Councillors wanted votes, they would have to supply the housing”.

Alarm grew rapidly as the plans became known through the local press and it became clear that the argument was far from over. Typical letters of the time express the view that the Flats were not being taken from a wealthy landowner but from the working man and his children, and many references were made to the dedication of Wanstead Flats to the people forever as part of Epping Forest and enshrined in the 1878 Act. Letters to local MPs made clear the incalculable recreational value to the people, particularly the youth, of the thickly populated areas of East London.

At a council meeting, the Mayor of Wanstead and Woodford produced the axe presented to his ancestor George Burney for his part in demolishing enclosures in 1882 and promised to lead another axe squad with it, should one be required.

A vociferous group of home-owning residents of Park Ward, made up of estates north of Wanstead Flats, became the focal point of the opposition. They had formed in 1945 as the War Damage Organisation, helping local people whose homes were bomb damaged. In its newsletter, attention had already been drawn to the danger to the Flats and led by a committed secretary, local school teacher Stanley Reed, a Defence Committee was formed.

The Committee played a key role in co-ordinating scattered local opposition particularly from East and West Ham, Reed fearing that the West Ham politicos who initiated the development plans would represent objections from Wanstead as the “snobbish fears among the Wanstead well-to-do of working class penetration of their preserves”. The Committee mounted a petition, held public meetings and declared itself to be “prepared to do all that lies in its power to harness the indignation that will undoubtedly be widespread when the implication of these schemes is fully realised”. Naturally, as anger grew the debate became increasingly bitter with a public meeting in Leyton attracting 250, where Leah Manning the first Labour MP to be elected for Epping told the meeting she had received letters from servicemen in the desert and the jungle begging her to preserve the land where they had spent their childhood. She went on to propose that, if all legal means failed, she was prepared to spend as many nights needed out on the Flats organising pickets to prevent the first step to build.

Her involvement in the protest campaign was significant for, not only as a Labour MP she may have favoured house building over open spaces, but later she worked equally hard for the development of Harlow New Town despite vociferous local opposition. In her autobiography she writes that the need for housing “was desperate and urgent”, and building in the New Town “should override the need to preserve the natural beauty of village country life”.

Councillor Burgess of Wanstead and Woodford raised an issue that became central to the protestors’ case when he said, at a public meeting, that powers were being claimed which infringed public rights, and if councils were allowed to build on one part of Epping Forest it would let loose development over the whole Forest. He went on to declare that the councils were approaching Hitler’s methods of using the law to carry out schemes and when the laws didn’t fit, changed the laws. In 1945, this accusation carried force but West Ham Council’s response, in a letter to the Stratford Express, urged the ‘Hands off the Flats party’ to look at the problems facing the thousands of homeless or face appearing indifferent to their needs. East Ham Council weighed in to accuse The City of London Corporation of badly neglecting the Flats which ‘had been a disgrace for years before the war’. The general feeling locally was strongly opposed to the proposals and other local boroughs, even those with acute housing needs of their own, were highly critical. Suggestions such as building in the bombed docks were put forward and Leyton Town Clerk suggested that if West Ham need houses they should use a park of their own. By the summer of 1946 published plans revealed West Ham Council’s true motives and the real reason for development, according to protestors, was to increase local population which would in turn decrease the cost per head of local services. On top of this the published minutes of the Housing Committee included a report of officers meeting to discuss a proposal to extend the existing boundary, so that the whole of the development would be in West Ham, otherwise West Ham would be the landlord but the local authority would be Wanstead and Woodford and decrease in service costs could not be achieved. This situation could only be resolved by a public inquiry to hear West Ham Council’s application for a compulsory purchase order but by December 1946
when the inquiry opened, the Council probably knew their proposals would fail. 379 formal objections had been received by the Council and a petition of 60,000 signatures was presented to Parliament by Leah Manning. Forceful groups opposing the proposals included The City of London Corporation, Wanstead and Woodford Borough Council, the Commons, Open Spaces and Footpaths Preservation Society, the National Playing Fields Association and Ilford Trades Council. Each was represented by Counsel. Such was the interest in the case as a test for other development proposals for protected land, the inquiry, which received national press coverage, heard vehement opposition and, amid catcalls and shouts, West Ham’s Town Clerk declared it to be a battle of the haves and have-nots and accused protestors of prejudices against people from West Ham coming to live amongst them, just as Stanley Reed predicted. Citing the 16,000 people in urgent need of housing, the Town Clerk went on to declare that the Flats were only technically part of Epping Forest and described them as “flattish, bleakish and unattractive open space, where only a lunatic would travel from surrounding areas to play football.” This view was endorsed by West Ham’s Borough Engineer, who declared that most of the Flats consisted of “a gravel which did not retain moisture or manure and was incapable of supporting healthy vegetation and would not sustain grass strong enough for football pitches”. Since these views were in direct contrast to the experience of pre-war users of the Flats they were met with derision and a reply from Sir Edward North Buxton, one of the Forest Verderers, and possibly with a little exaggeration, claimed that during the 1930s it was not unusual to see up to 5,000 playing and a further 2,000 watching football. Objectors pointed out that the proposals were at odds with Government’s own Greater London Plan which emphasised keeping as much open space as possible and even if building were allowed on the Flats it would not solve local housing problems. In support of all this evidence the tireless Stanley Reed presented the petition of 60,000. He had been granted unpaid leave by his employer, none other than West Ham Corporation, to attend the inquiry, a pretty fair minded gesture. The opposition took differing but complementary approaches. The City of London Corporation concentrated on the legal aspect, leaving local campaigners to focus on the public protest. Despite the formidable legal arguments from both sides, the most effective testimony, according to Stanley, came from a bus driver who described his dismal progress through Hackney, Homerton and Leyton to the point where the houses ended and he and his bus emerged into the light and air of Wanstead Flats, with their trees, grass and grazing cattle.
The Minister for Town and Country Planning gave his verdict rejecting the Application to West Ham’s Town Clerk in a letter dated April 1947, but made it clear that the Ministry did not accept the argument that the Flats, as part of Epping Forest under the Act of 1878, was necessarily protected from compulsory purchase for building land. The rationale for rejection was, that due to shortage of labour and materials, West Ham would be limited to building on land it already had. He went on to add “it is most undesirable to permit building on Wanstead Flats … it is not necessary to contemplate sacrifice of some of this open space for housing”. He described the Flats as “part of a well-established wedge of public open space extending into the densely built up area of London”. West Ham Council declared itself without means to appeal and would “loyally accept the decision” and immediately began lobbying the Minister to help them find alternative land and to encourage the City of London Corporation to fulfil its undertaking to develop the Flats as a public open space on modern lines. The phase “on modern lines” veiled another potential threat to the Flats as a relatively undeveloped space. West Ham’s Town Clerk wrote to Wanstead and Woodford and Leyton Councils proposing a committee be formed to meet with Epping Forest Conservators and draw up plans for the development of the Flats as a leisure amenity. Elaborate plans were drawn up, including a swimming pool, 9 hole golf course and an open air theatre. These plans came to nothing but the City Corporation perhaps stung by criticism at the public inquiry, embarked on a major restoration programme to which the Park Residents Association, successor to the Defence Committee, contributed to the planting of a grove of trees on the Aldersbrook side of the Flats. Today, the Flats provide 47 football pitches suitable for different ages, plus designated areas suitable for sport. Walkers, with or without dogs, funfairs and circuses, joggers and picnickers all enjoy this well-loved green space on the edge of London. Incidentally, local hero Stanley Reed did not lose his week’s salary. He notes in his memoirs that an envelope with his exact wages dropped through his letter box one evening and other anonymous packages, containing minutes of various West Ham Council Committees dealing with the compulsory purchase application, had been similarly delivered during the campaign. I am indebted to Mark Gorman and the Leyton and Leytonstone Historical Society for all their work and research into this remarkable story