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John Maberly

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John Maberly

1770 - 1839

Biography

(see long history)

John Maberley, Abingdon’s MP from 1818 to 1832, was an entrepreneur and a businessman before he became a politician. Born in London in 1770, he started working with his father as a currier (a tradesman who finishes and dyes leather), invested in steam engines, and, with the outbreak of the Napoleonic wars, became a supplier of uniforms and clothing to the army. This made him a very rich man, but it was his dissatisfaction with the inefficiency and corruption of the military supply chain that brought him into contact with government figures and tempted him in 1816 to enter Parliament.

This was before the reforms of the 1830s; his first seat was in Rye, a pocket borough where he was obliged, against his principles, to support the government. He began nursing the Abingdon constituency. In 1817 he gave ‘a splendid dinner’ to Abingdon voters at the County Hall and made generous donations to local charities. In the next year, he was elected without a contest.

Maberly was the sort of active independent back-bencher that ministers hate. He believed that all that was wrong with the British economy was that the government was spending and taxing too much, and was a fanatical opponent of almost all government spending. He was passionate, well informed and highly numerate. He spoke frequently and at length in debates, and was assiduous in committees.

On non-financial matters, he generally followed the moderately reforming agenda of the Whigs. He favoured the abolition of rotten boroughs and redistribution of their seats to the newly expanding industrial towns, but not extension of the franchise. The Corn Laws, protecting agriculture at the expense of townspeople, should be loosened but not abolished. This was broadly acceptable to Abingdon voters, and his local support was much increased when he voted for the repeal of the Test Acts which had kept religious Dissenters, who in Abingdon were numerous and generally prosperous, out of public affairs. There was anger at his support for Catholic emancipation which was popular neither with Anglicans nor with Dissenters. The Abingdon corporation, mostly Tory, produced a petition opposing the measure; he took it into the House of Commons as he had to, but made clear his dissent.  There were limits on how far he was willing to compromise his principles to please his electors; when they complained to him of the decline of their hemp industry, he told them frankly that the fault was in their lack of skill and energy, and offered to send some of them to his factory in Aberdeen for training. Nonetheless, it is plain that he kept the confidence of the Abingdon voters; on the one occasion when there was a contest for his seat, in 1830, he easily saw off an outsider by 159 votes to 94.

In spite of his intense parliamentary activity, Maberly continued as an entrepreneur. This would be his undoing. His factory in Aberdeen, weaving jute and linen, was suffering from the excessive charges levied by the Scottish banks. In 1818 he opened a bank of his own, halving and then quartering the cost of transferring money between London and Scotland. The Scottish banks were furious, and determined to bring him down. They succeeded, and in 1832 he was made bankrupt and moved abroad to avoid the risk of imprisonment for his debts.

It was the end of Maberly’s parliamentary career, but what was possibly his greatest business achievement was still to come. Until 1834 he is heard of occasionally in Brussels or Madrid acting as foreign correspondent for the Morning Chronicle. But at some later time he settled in Amiens, a French industrial centre striving to catch up with the British lead in the production of specialty textiles. With local entrepreneurs, he set up a joint stock company, then still a rarity both in France and England, with himself as managing director. He introduced linen spinning to the region, building a large factory equipped with the latest English machinery that had to be assembled locally with expatriate labour to avoid British export restrictions. The business was in rapid expansion when he died in 1839. His memorials are a Maberly Street in Aberdeen and a Rue Maberly in Amiens.

Maberly married in 1796 Mary Rose Leader with whom he had eight children. She died in 1812, and in 1813 he married Anne Baillie, who would give him a further five. Maberly and his second wife are buried in Amiens.

 In his public activities, Maberly was a conviction politician, who wined and dined his voters but followed his own principles. Yet he seems to have been well accepted by his electorate, and even after his disgrace there were some who wanted to retain his services. He was long remembered as an outstanding figure among Abingdon MPs.

 

 

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2016

 

(see short history)

John Maberly [1]

John Maberley, Abingdon’s MP from 1818 to 1832, was an entrepreneur and a businessman before he became a politician. He was born in London in 1770. His father Stephen was a currier, finishing and dyeing leather for its end-use, and he initially joined him in the family business. In 1796, he married Anne Rose, daughter of William Leader who had prospered as coach maker to the Prince of Wales and no doubt used leather for the upholstery.  William died two years later, leaving the couple a legacy of £35,000. John dabbled in steam engines, but, with the Napoleonic wars in progress, became a contractor for the supply of military clothing to the army and navy. [2]

This very soon made his fortune, but he was made aware of the corruption and inefficiency of the military supply chain. Typically, uniforms for army regiments were bought by their colonels. The government would issue payments according to the theoretical strength of the regiment, but the number of uniforms needed depended on the actual strength which was generally much lower. Colonels had become accustomed to working the system and had a positive incentive to keep their regiments under strength.

Maberley could see that reform might bring him even better business opportunities, and began a series of contacts with government figures. This came to a head in 1811 with a 75-page letter addressed to Spencer Perceval, who was both Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer.  The text was turgid and repetitive, but the proposals were clear enough: purchasing and quality control should be centralised; only as much should be bought as would be needed, and no more should be paid for than was bought; officers who had benefitted from the system should have their pay increased in compensation. The letter was printed and made public in 1813, when Perceval had been replaced by Lord Aberdeen. There were official enquiries and reports, but it does not seem that any significant reform resulted.[3]

It was perhaps this experience that led Maberly to consider an entry into politics. His brother-in-law, William Leader, was already an MP. [4]

This was before the parliamentary reforms of 1832. Maberly’s first seat was in Rye, a pocket borough where the few voters were under the control of the Lamb family who in turn were subsidised by the Treasury. His tenure soon broke down, under circumstances that are less than clear. His own explanation was that he had been prepared to buy out the Lamb interest, but decided that he no longer wished to support the government.[5]

His search for a new seat led him to Abingdon. Sir George Bowyer was in financial difficulties, and in 1817 Maberly began nursing the constituency. He gave ‘a splendid dinner’ to Abingdon voters at the County Hall which, according to the newspapers, most of them attended. He made liberal donations to local charities, and let it be known that the town could expect to benefit from his election. His opponent, the town’s recorder Charles Saxton, had the support of the Corporation but realised he had no chance of success and withdrew.[6] Maberly was elected without a contest. He made good his promise; each summer thereafter his agent would buy £100-worth of coal while it was cheap, and give it to the poor of the town in the winter.[7]

Maberly was not a party man, though he was often listed as a Whig. He was not a Radical, though he often supported his friend Joseph Hume, MP for Aberdeen, who was.  He shared with the Radicals – and many others at the time – the belief that all that was wrong with the British economy was that the government was spending and taxing too much. After the wars, the army and navy had been run down to a level of dangerous weakness, but Maberly wanted them cut even further. They were still needed for defence of the colonies, but he felt that colonies that could not defend themselves should be let go. Much money went to former officers entitled to half-pay for the rest of their lives. Nothing could be done about this without unfairness to the beneficiaries, but he advocated that future commissions should be on a short-term basis with the holders responsible for their own superannuation. There was a plan for public money to be used to build Anglican churches in the growing industrial towns, but he opposed it. The churches were badly needed, but should come from private investment with the incentive for the patrons that they would be able to choose their own clergy.[8] In a major debate in 1824, he and Hume attacked the currently fashionable idea of a sinking fund, where surpluses of taxation over expenditure would gradually eliminate the national debt. The money left in private hands, he asserted, would contribute to expanding the economy, and the national debt would soon become insignificant in proportion to national income. [9]

He seems to have taken many of his ideas from the political economist David Ricardo, who sat in the same parliament and with whom, according to hostile rumours, he combined to manipulate the market in government bonds to their joint benefit.[10]  Value, said Ricardo, was created by labour on raw materials; thus, said Maberly, raw materials should be as cheap as possible and free of tax.[11]

Maberly was passionate, well informed, highly numerate, a very frequent speaker both in the House and in committees, and an effective lobbyist. Given twenty such back-benchers, groaned one minister, the work of the House would be at a standstill.

On other matters, he was conventionally liberal. He favoured parliamentary reform, with the abolition of rotten boroughs and prevention of bribery, but did not accept the Radical ‘chimera’ of a universal franchise. Religious Dissenters were numerous in Abingdon and generally prosperous, and he won their support by voting for repeal of the Test Acts which had kept them out of public affairs. This earned him the hatred of traditional Anglicans, and the Reverend Nathaniel Dodson, vicar of St Helen’s, would become one of his major opponents. There was general anger at his support for Catholic emancipation, but he rode out the storm. He challenged his constituents to hold a public meeting at which, if outvoted, he would resign and find a seat elsewhere. They did not do so. A minor crisis erupted when a petition against emancipation was sent to Parliament as from the Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses of Abingdon. One of the two bailiffs wrote to Maberly that he and his fellow-bailiff had in fact dissented. This led to complicated discussions between Maberly, the Corporation and the Speaker; the petition was finally presented in the names of the remaining signatories and Maberly made his disapproval clear. The Mayor and Burgesses were not pleased. [12]

In 1830, Maberley had held the Abingdon seat for twelve years without a contest, and his opponents, who included most of the Abingdon Corporation, dearly wanted a change. The death of George IV meant an election in July. They invited Thomas Duffield of Marcham to stand against Maberly, but he declined.[13]  After much searching, they found another candidate, Fuller Maitland. Maitland had sat in Parliament for twenty years, always for boroughs where the seats were effectively for sale either directly from the proprietor or by bribery among a sufficiently small electorate. His attendance record was poor, his voting record more so, and he had never been known to speak.[14]

Once again Maberly dined 150 of his supporters at the County Hall although only one member of the Corporation turned up. He made a long speech reviewing and justifying his record.[15] A week before the vote, both candidates made their formal entrances to the town with bands and banners; Maitland’s procession was said to be about 40 strong, while Maberly’s was 140. In the evening, it was Maitland’s turn to provide dinner for 150, although only a hundred of them were said to be voters.[16] At the hustings on 30 July, Maberly repeated his speech, portraying himself, reasonably enough, as a man with principles, and challenged Maitland to declare his own. Maitland’s response was short and platitudinous, to the evident dismay of his supporters.  The vote was 159 to 94 in Maberly’s favour. On the next day, the formal ‘chairing’ of the winner was followed by another sumptuous meal, this time at the Crown and Thistle, where Mrs Pope’s excellent wines were particularly appreciated. [17]

maberly_fig_1_0.jpg

Maberly’s Broadford Mill in Aberdeen  after closure in 2006

 © George Wilson and licensed for reuse under a Creative Commons Licence

In spite of his intense parliamentary activity, Maberly continued as an aggressive entrepreneur. He owned a linen and jute mill and a soap works in Aberdeen.  He was granted the freedom of the city, and had a street there named after him.[18]

In 1818, Maberly’s daughter married a son of George Smith, a fellow-MP and a banker.[19] It may have been this that facilitated his own entry into banking. His Aberdeen factory had always had a difficult relationship with the Scottish banks. Among other problems was their rapacious policy of charging forty to fifty days interest when cashing bills drawn on London, as though it took that time for the money to be transported. When remitting government funds to London, they were charging sixty days. This provided a business opportunity. Maberly’s ‘Exchange and Deposit Banks’ opened in 1818 in Edinburgh with branches in Glasgow, Aberdeen, Montrose, and Dundee. They brought the time down to twenty and later to ten days.

Of course, the Scottish banks were furious. High level lobbying kept Maberly out of government business in spite of the improved terms he was offering. He spoke angrily about it in Parliament but to no avail. All sorts of procedural and legal harassments were used to bring him down.  His banknotes were systematically refused or accepted only on onerous conditions, and, fearful of their being used to create an artificial run on the bank, he had them payable in London rather than Edinburgh.

It was usual in England, when transporting large parcels of banknotes, to cut them in half and send the parcels separately. If one parcel was lost, the other, on certain conditions, would still be accepted. Maberly introduced this practice to Scotland, but when after a robbery some of the Scottish banks refused to honour the remaining half notes, he was forced to sue. The Scottish judges found against him. He appealed to the House of Lords, who reversed the judgement with some pointed remarks on the ignorance of the Scots. With the whole of the Scottish establishment now against him, failure was only a matter of time. In 1831, he sold his interest in the Aberdeen linen and jute factory for £104,000, maintaining absolute secrecy to avoid damaging what confidence remained in the bank. He embarked on a series of rather desperate speculations, including a visit to Paris where he arranged the purchase of about £200,000-worth of French government bonds with borrowed money. The bonds promptly dropped by some 10% of their value. By year-end, Maberly could no longer meet his obligations, and early in 1832 he was made bankrupt.[20]

It was the end of Maberly’s parliamentary career, but what was possibly his greatest business achievement was still to come. Leaving England to avoid imprisonment for his debts, he went first to The Hague, but what he did there is unknown.  In 1834 he seems to have been living in Paris and travelling widely as foreign correspondent for the Morning Chronicle. In that year, in Madrid, he fought a duel against the Times reporter. Shots were exchanged, but neither man was hurt.[21]

But at some later time, Maberly settled in Amiens, a French industrial centre where a generation of entrepreneurs was striving to catch up with the British lead in the production of specialty textiles.[22] They set up a joint stock company, then still a rarity both in France and England, and employed him on an ample salary as managing director. He built a factory for spinning linen thread, a novelty in the region – ‘l’usine des anglais’. It was equipped with two steam engines and 25,000 spindles, and the machinery alone cost £30,000. The machinery was subject to British export restrictions and had to be assembled locally from imported components by skilled English workers, which resulted in an expatriate community of managers and technicians that would persist for many years. The business was in rapid expansion when he died in 1839. There is still a Rue Maberly in Amiens. [23] Many in England regarded him as a traitor.[24]

maberly_fig_2.jpg

 

 

 

Rue Maberly in Amiens

Photo courtesy of Mark Watson

 

 

Maberly is buried in Amiens. His wife erected a limestone column to mark his grave in the municipal cemetery;the inscription is in English and describes him only as ‘formerly Member of Parliament for the Borough of Abingdon’.[25]

Before 1832, Maberly is usually stated to have been resident at Shirley Park, Croydon, and was active there in local administration as a member of the vestry responsible for roads.[26] However he had London residences also, first in Grosvenor Square and later in Regent’s Park.[27]  These properties, of course, were lost at the bankruptcy. Maberly’s father, Stephen (1745-1831), retired and lived in Reading from about 1801. He became a religious dissenter, building a chapel in Dalston in 1826.

Maberly married in 1796 Mary Rose Leader with whom he had eight children. Her brother William became MP for Camelford and then for Winchelsea.[28] She died in 1812, and in 1813 he married Anne Baillie, who would give him a further five children. One of his sons, William Leader Maberly, entered Parliament in 1819 and sat for various boroughs until 1834. He seems to have cooperated well with his father, although, it was said, never quite fulfilling his parental aspirations.[29] He aspired to follow his father as MP for Abingdon, but lost heavily at the 1832 election to Thomas Duffield.[30]

Commentators had mixed views on Maberly: ‘He was vain, proud, and overbearing … hard headed and hard hearted’ said one, while to another ‘His grasp of mind was as comprehensive as his attention to details was minute’. Both may well have been right.

In his public activities, Maberly was a conviction politician. He saw his wining and dining of the Abingdon electorate as the price of his seat in the House. He remained as independent of the wishes of his constituents as he was of any party. He could talk bluntly to his voters; when they complained of the decline of their hemp industry, he told them that the fault was in their lack of skill, energy and talent, and offered to send some of them to Aberdeen for training.[31] Yet he seems to have been well accepted by them, and even after his disgrace there were some who wanted to retain his services. Whether for the right or the wrong reasons, he is an outstanding figure among Abingdon MPs.

 

See Glossary for explanations of technical terms.

© AAAHS and contributors 2016

 

[1] Background information in this paper is sourced from the History of Parliament articles on Maberly and on the Abingdon Constituency:  http://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1790-1820/member/maberly-john-1840; http://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1820-1832/member/maberly-john-1775-1840http://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1790-1820/constituencies/abingdonhttp://www.histparl.ac.uk/volume/1820-1832/constituencies/abingdon. Since these articles are unpaginated and mutually repetitive, they have not been separately referenced. All websites were accessed on 20 December 2015.

[3] A letter from John Maberly, Esq. to the Right Honourable Spencer Perceval : recommending to his consideration, a system for the better provision of clothing, &c. &c. for the army and militias (London : T. Barnes , 1813) ( http://solo.bodleian.ox.ac.uk/OXVU1:oxfaleph016169812)

[5] (Anon), A full report of the speeches and other proceedings connected with the election of a representative for the borough of Abingdon, on the 30th day of July, 1830, as taken by a short-hand writer; also the names of the electors who polled on that occasion as they appear on the poll book (Abingdon, 1830), pp 43-4.

[6] Oxford University and City Herald - Saturday 25 October 1817 p. 3

[7] Reading Mercury, 10 January 1820 p. 3; Norman Gash, Politics in the age of Peel (London, 1953), p. 275.

[8] (Anon), A full report, pp 22-36

[9] Hansard, HC Deb, 10 May 1824, vol 11 cc 617-28.

[11] (Anon), A full report, pp 30-1

[12] (Anon), A full report, pp 36-42; Bromley Challenor, Selections from the Records of the Borough of Abingdon (Abindon, 1898), pp 247-9.

[13] Berks Chronicle 10 July 1830, p.3.

[15] Reading Mercury, 12 July 1830 p. 2

[16] Oxford University and City Herald, 24 July 1830 p. 2

[17] (Anon), A full report, p 76

[18] Peter Symes, ‘The Exchange and Deposit Banks of John Maberly’, International Bank Note Society Journal, Vol 37 No 3 (1998), http://www.pjsymes.com.au/articles/maberly.htm. On the jute mill, see http://mcjazz.f2s.com/BroadfordMill.htm

[20] Symes, ‘The Exchange and Deposit Banks of John Maberly’; The Times 25 Jan 1832 p. 5; The Jurist, 1841, pp 573-6; Law Journal 1834 Vol XII: New Series vol III, Court of Common Pleas pp 85-98.

[21] Morning Chronicle 2 Sept 1834, pp. 2-3; idem, 25 Sept 1834 p. 2; London Evening Standard 25 Sept 1834 p. 3

[22] Ronald Hubscher (ed), Histoire d’Amiens (Privat, 1986), p. 212

[23] http://www.encyclopedie.picardie.fr/Cosserat.html; M Watson, Broadford to the Somme (online presentation) via http://www.stickssn.org/site/pages/resources.php.; House of Commons Papers: Reports of Committees 1841 Session 1 (201) First report from Select Committee appointed to inquire into the operation of the existing laws affecting the exportation of machinery; with the minutes of evidence, and appendix, pp 85-92; J-M Wiscart, « Les manufacturiers protestants en Picardie au XIXesiècle. », Revue du Nord 2/2012 (n° 395) , pp. 389-410 at p. 399.

[24] Sheffield Iris - Tuesday 24 December 1839 p. 4

[26] Brian Lancaster, ‘John Maberly of Shirley Park’ Bulletin of the Croydon Natural History & Scientific Society, (Issue 153, March 2015): www.cnhss.org.uk

[27] Evening Mail 6 May 1818 p. 4; Thomas H Shepherd, Metropolitan Improvements of London (1827), p.24

[30] Norman Gash, Politics in the age of Peel (London, 1953), p. 275

[31] (Anon), A full report, pp 45-6.

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