Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Harley, Thomas
HARLEY, THOMAS (1730–1804), lord mayor of London, third son of Edward Harley, third earl of Oxford, and Martha, eldest daughter of John Morgan of Tredegar, Monmouthshire, was born on 24 Aug. 1730. Edward Harley (1664-1735) [q. v.] was his grandfather. He was educated at Westminster School, and afterwards entered the office of a London merchant. A wealthy marriage in 1752 enabled him to set up in business as a merchant at 152 Aldersgate Street, and in 1778 he joined Sir Charles Raymond in establishing a banking firm at George Street, Mansion House, under the style of Raymond, Harley, Webber, & Co. With Mr. Drummond he obtained a contract for paying the English army in America with foreign gold, and shared the profits, which are said to have amounted to 600,000l. He was also a clothing contractor for the army. In 1761, at the age of thirty-one, he was elected alderman of Portsoken ward, and at the general election in the same year he became M.P. for the city of London. In March 1761 he was made free of the Goldsmiths' Company by redemption, and on 6 May following was admitted to the livery and court of the company, serving the office of prime warden in 1762-3. On Midsummer day 1763 he was elected sheriff of London and Middlesex. As sheriff he carried out on 3 Dec. the orders of parliament for burning No. 45 of the 'North Briton' by the hands of the common hangman at the Royal Exchange. The mob came into collision with Harley's officers, and the window of his state carriage was broken. They afterwards carried off a portion of the paper, and burnt a boot and petticoat at Temple Bar in derision of Lord Bute and the princess-dowager. Parliament voted Harley their thanks, but a similar vote from the corporation was vetoed by the lordmayor (Cormick's continuation of Hume and Smollett, History of England, ii. 60). Harley became lord mayor on Michaelmas day 1767. Early in the following year a severe frost and the long depression of trade caused great distress in London, and a serious riot occurred among the weavers. Harley established a system of bounties for bringing mackerel and other fish into Billingsgate Market, to be sold to the poor at cheap rates. At the general election in March Wilkes, just returned from France, offered himself as a candidate for the city of London. Wilkes was defeated, and Harley was re-elected (23 March) at the head of the poll. This produced two satirical pamphlets, 'A Letter [and 'Second Letter'] to the Right Hon. Thomas Harley, Esq., lord mayor . . . By an Alderman of London,' London, 1768; the former is known to have reached four editions. Five days later Wilkes was returned for Middlesex, and in the riots which followed the mob avenged themselves on Harley for his successful opposition to Wilkes at the poll in the city by breaking the windows of the Mansion House and doing other damage (Hughson, Hist. of London, i. 573-5). Harley displayed much vigilance and ability throughout the Wilkeite riots, and was thanked for his services by the House of Commons at the close of his mayoralty. The popular party ridiculed him in an illustrated lampoon entitled 'The Rape of the Petticoat,' dated 9 May. He was shortly afterwards appointed a privy councillor, an honour which had not been conferred upon a lord mayor of London since the time of Sir William Walworth. The 'North Briton,' No. 55, of 1 July, contains a letter to Harley from William Bingley, occasioned, as the writer alleges, 'by some cruel reflections' of Harley's (Nichols, Lit. Anecd. iii. 632). At the close of his mayoralty a laudatory poetic effusion was addressed to him ('To the Right Honourable Thomas Harley, late Lord-Mayor of London; an Ethic Epistle,' London, 1769, 4to). Harley, though a consistent supporter of the ministry, occasionally voted against them. He declined in 1763 to vote for the obnoxious cider tax. The popular party in London always resented his adherence to unpopular opinions, but Wilkes is said to have recognised the manliness and consistency of his public conduct. In 1770, when accompanying a deputation from the city to address the king on the birth of Princess Elizabeth, Harley was intercepted by a mob, dragged from his carriage, and prevented from proceeding to St. James's. On the dissolution of parliament in 1774 he resigned the representation of the city in 'An Address to the Livery of London' (folio sheet, undated), and unsuccessfully contested his native county of Hereford. Harley, however, held the seat from 1776 to 1802, when he retired from parliamentary life. On the death of Alderman Alsop in 1785 he removed to the ward of Bridge Without becoming father or senior alderman of the city. When public credit was shaken by the threatened invasion by France in 1797, Harley's bank suffered seriously. Harley thereupon retired from business, and devoted his private fortune to the discharge of his partnership liabilities, the whole of which, both principal and interest, he paid in full. In 1798 he declined a general invitation to become a candidate for the lucrative office of chamberlain (vacant by Wilkes's death), on the ground that he had previously promised his support to Richard Clark (1739-1831) [q. v.] Harley bought a large estate at Berrington, near Leominster, in Herefordshire, and is said to have spent extravagant sums in building a mansion there. He died there, after a lingering illness, on 1 Dec. 1804.
Harley was colonel of the Yellow regiment of the London militia, and president of the Honourable Artillery Company (Raikes, History of the Company, ii. 20, 73) ; president of St. Bartholomew's Hospital ; governor of the Irish Societ}' from 5 March 1793 to 17 Dec. 1797; lord-lieutenant of Radnorshire ; and, in 1786, president of the patrons of the anniversary of the charity schools at St. Paul's Cathedral. He married, on 15 March 1752, Anne, daughter of Edward Bangham, deputy auditor of the impressed and M.P. for Leominster. His only son, Edward, died, when eleven years old, in 1768, the year of his father's mayoralty (Gent. Mag. 1768, p. 350). Of his other children some died in infancy, but five of his daughters survived him. Of these, Anne married George, second lord Rodney: Sarah married Robert, ninth earl of Kinnoull ; and Margaret married Sir John Boyd, bart. There is an engraved portrait of Harley by J. Hall (Evans, Catalogue, ii. 190).
[Gent. Mag. 1804, pt. ii. pp. 1175, 1237-40 ; Burke's Peerage ; Goldsmiths' Company's Records ; Hughson's (i.e. Pugh's) Hist, of London, i. 573-33; Price's Handbook to London Bankers, p. 73; City Biography, 1800, pp. 1-15; Royal Kalendar, 1772, p 210; Kent's London Directory: Baldwin's Complete Guide, 1763; Watt's Bibl. Brit, v. 3, s.v.]