Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Sawbridge, John

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SAWBRIDGE, JOHN (1732?–1795), lord mayor of London, son of John and Elizabeth Sawbridge, born about 1732, was descended from an ancient and wealthy Kentish family, settled at Olantigh in Wye. His grandfather Jacob was one of the directors of the South Sea Company, and on the bursting of the bubble in 1720 was allowed by the House of Commons 5,000l. for his support out of his estates, which amounted to 77,254l. John inherited the fortune and position of a country gentleman, but in politics was always opposed to the aristocratic party. In 1768 he successfully contested Hythe in opposition to this interest, and at once exerted himself in the House of Commons on behalf of Wilkes, who had been declared incapable of sitting for Middlesex. With Horne, Townshend, Oliver, and others, he helped to form the society known as the Supporters of the Bill of Rights. In recognition of the assistance he had given to Wilkes, Sawbridge, who was a liveryman of the Framework Knitters' Company, was unanimously elected, with Townshend, as sheriff on midsummer day 1768, and in the following year (1 July) he was elected alderman for the ward of Langbourn. During his shrievalty he five times returned Wilkes as duly elected for Middlesex, in defiance of the house, and was threatened with a bill of pains and penalties from the government.

In August 1771 Junius, in a secret correspondence with Wilkes, urged him to procure Sawbridge's election as lord mayor on the ensuing Michaelmas day. Brass Crosby was reported to be desirous of re-election, and Wilkes, who had quarrelled with Sawbridge, refused to desert Crosby. At the election the show of hands was declared in favour of Sawbridge and Crosby, but a poll was demanded for four other candidates, Bankes, Nash, Hallifax, and Townshend. In spite of Junius's appeals, the livery returned Nash and Sawbridge to the court of aldermen. The former, the ‘ministerial candidate,’ was elected.

Sawbridge obtained the mayoralty chair in Michaelmas 1775, the year following Wilkes's mayoralty. During his year of office by his severe denunciation of press warrants he succeeded in keeping press gangs out of the city. He was elected M.P. for London in 1774, and re-elected in 1780, 1784, and 1790. In April 1782 he strongly opposed the grant of a pension of 100l. a year to Robinson, one of the secretaries of the treasury, and boldly charged Lord North with indolence and a share in the secretary's alleged malversation of funds (Wraxhall, Memoirs, vi. 295). Wraxall describes his invectives against Lord North as coarse (ib. p. 367).

In May 1783 Sawbridge introduced a motion to shorten the duration of parliaments, and, although the motion failed, it was strongly supported by Pitt and other leaders of the house. Wraxall describes him as a stern republican in principles, almost hideous in aspect, of a coarse figure and still coarser manners, but possessing an ample fortune and a strong understanding. He was the greatest proficient at whist to be found among the clubs in St. James's Street, and since the death of Beckford, and with the exception of Crosby and Wilkes, no lord mayor had attained greater popularity (ib. iii. 423). In the general election of July 1784 Sawbridge's attachment to Fox nearly lost him his seat for the city, which he retained only by seven votes. He was a magistrate of Kent, and for many years colonel of the East Kent regiment of militia.

He died on 21 Feb. 1795 at his town residence in Gloucester Place, Portman Square, and was buried in the parish church of Wye. His will, dated 8 Sept. 1791, was proved in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury 16 March 1795 (Newcastle, 211). He was possessed of several manors in Kent, some of which he inherited (Hasted, History of Kent, ii. 598, 665, 668, 671, &c.).

Sawbridge married, first, on 15 Nov. 1763, Mary Diana, daughter of Sir Orlando Bridgeman, bart., who brought him a fortune of 100,000l. On her death within a few months, he married, secondly, in June 1766, Anne, daughter of Alderman Sir William Stephenson. By his second wife he had three sons and one daughter. There is a fine full-length mezzotint portrait of Sawbridge, engraved by Thomas Watson, from a painting by Benjamin West. He is represented in the costume and with the surroundings of a Roman senator, holding a scroll in his left hand, and with his right laid on a written charter.

[Gent. Mag. v. 65, i. 216–18, 253; Return of Members of Parliament, 1878; Sharpe's London and the Kingdom, vol. iii. passim; City Biography, 1800, pp. 87–90; Annual Register, 1795; Wilson's History of St. Lawrence Pountney, pp. 250–2; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

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