Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Myddelton, Hugh
MYDDELTON or MIDDLETON, Sir HUGH (1560?–1631), projector of the New River, born at Galch Hill in the parish of Henllan, Denbigh, near North Wales, in 1559 or 1560, was sixth son of Richard Myddelton, M.P., governor of Denbigh Castle, by Jane, daughter of Hugh or Richard Dry hurst, alderman of Denbigh (Burke, Extinct Baronetage, p. 351). Sir Thomas Myddelton [q. v.], lord mayor of London, and William Myddelton [q. v.] were brothers. He was sent up to London to learn the trade of a goldsmith, which then embraced banking; and he carried on business successfully in Bassishaw or Basinghall Street through life. He also embarked in ventures of trade by sea, being probably encouraged thereto by his intimacy with Sir Walter Raleigh and other sea captains, including his brother, William Myddelton [q. v.], who made profitable speculations on the Spanish main (Williams, Ancient and Modern Denbigh, p. 105). There is a tradition that Myddelton and Raleigh used to sit together at the door of the former's shop and smoke the newly introduced weed tobacco, greatly to the amazement of the passers-by. He likewise entered into the new trade of clothmaking with great energy, and followed it with so much success, that in a speech delivered by him in the House of Commons between 1614 and 1617 on the proposed cloth patent, he stated that he and his partner employed several hundred families.
Myddelton continued to keep up a friendly connection with Denbigh, and he seems to have been mainly instrumental in obtaining for the borough its charter of incorporation in 1596. In recognition of this service the burgesses elected him their first alderman, and in that capacity he signed the first by-laws of the borough in 1597. About the same date he made an abortive attempt to sink for coal in the neighbourhood. He was subsequently appointed recorder of Denbigh, and in 1603 he was elected M.P. for the borough, and again in 1614, 1620, 1623, 1625, and 1628. He was frequently associated with his brother Robert on parliamentary committees of inquiry into matters connected with trade and finance.
London had now far outgrown its existing means of water supply, but although complaints had been constantly made, and even acts of parliament had been obtained in 1605 and 1606, authorising the corporation to remedy the want by bringing in a stream from the springs at Chadwell and Amwell, Hertfordshire, no steps had been taken to carry them out. At length Myddelton, who had already paid considerable attention to the subject as a member of the committees of the House of Commons, before whom the recent acts had been discussed, offered to execute the work. The corporation readily agreed to transfer to him their powers on condition of his finishing the work within four years from the spring of 1609. The first sod upon the works of the proposed New River was turned on 21 April 1609. With untiring energy Myddelton persevered in his undertaking, despite the opposition of the landowners through whose property the stream was to pass, and who complained that their land was likely to suffer in consequence by the overflow of water. In 1610 his opponents carried their complaints before the House of Commons, and a committee was directed to make a report upon their case as soon as the house reassembled in October.
When that date arrived, the members had more important matters to attend to, and Myddelton's hands were soon set free by the dissolution of parliament. The opposition of the landlords was so annoying, and the demands which were made on his purse were in all probability increased so largely thereby, that Myddelton in 1611 was compelled to apply to the corporation for an extension of the stipulated time, which was granted by indenture dated 28 March, and to the king for assistance in raising the capital. James had already had dealings with Myddelton as a jeweller. Moreover he had become interested in the works from observing their progress at Theobalds, and he now agreed, by document dated 2 May 1612, to pay half the cost of the work, both past and future, upon condition of receiving half the profit, and without reserving to the crown any share in the management of the work, except that of appointing a commissioner to examine the accounts, and receive payment of the royal share of the profit. On Michaelmas day 1613 the work was complete ; and the entrance of the New River water into London was celebrated at the new cistern at Clerkenwell by a public ceremony, presided over by the lord mayor, Sir Thomas Myddelton, the projector's elder brother. A large print was afterwards published by George Bickham in commemoration of the event, entitled ' Sir Hugh Myddelton's Glory.' The statement that Myddelton was knighted on the occasion is erroneous.
The New River, as originally executed, was a canal of ten feet wide, and probably about four feet deep. It drew its supply of water from the Chadwell and Amwell springs, near Ware, and followed a very winding course of about thirty-eight miles and three-quarters, with a slight fall, to Islington, where it discharged its water into a reservoir called the New River Head. In more recent times its channel has been widened, shortened, and otherwise improved ; larger reservoirs have been constructed, and a great additional supply of water has been obtained from the river Lea, and from numerous wells in the chalk ; but the general course and site of the works are nearly the same as in the time of Myddelton. While superintending the works Myddelton lived at a house at Bush Hill, near Edmonton, which he afterwards made his country residence (Robinson, Edmonton, p. 32). Monumental pedestals have been erected to his memory at the sources of the New River at Chadwell and Amwell. There are also statues to him at Islington Green, on the Holborn Viaduct, and in the Royal Exchange.
In 1614 Myddelton, who had involved himself in difficulties by locking up his capital in this costly undertaking, was obliged to solicit the loan of 3,000l. from the corporation, which was granted him in 'consideration of the benefit likely to accrue to the city from his New River.' Of the thirty-six shares owned by him he sold as many as twenty-eight, but appears to have repurchased some before his death, when he held thirteen (Wills from Doctors' Commons, Camd. Soc.) The shareholders were incorporated by letters patent on 21 June 1619, under the title of 'The Governor and Company of the New River brought from Chadwell and Amwell to London,' and at the first court of proprietors held on 2 Nov. Myddelton was appointed governor. No dividend was paid until 1633—two years after Myddelton's death—when it only amounted to l5l. 3s. 3d. a share; but after 1640 the prosperity of the company steadily kept pace with the growth of the metropolis in population and wealth.
In 1617 Myddelton took from the governor and company of mines royal in Cardiganshire a lease of some lead and silver mines in the district about Plynlimmon, between the Dovey and the Ystwith, which had been unsuccessfully worked by former adventurers, and were flooded with water. He succeeded in partially clearing the mines of water, and obtained a large profit by working them. While conducting operations he resided at Lodge, now called Lodge Park, in the immediate neighbourhood of the mines. Two cups manufactured by him out of the Welsh silver were presented by him to the corporations of Denbigh and Ruthin, of which towns he was a burgess, and a gold one to the head of his family at Gwaynynog, near Denbigh, all of which are still preserved (Newcome, Denbigh, p. 48). In 1620 Myddelton began the work of reclaiming from the sea a flooded district at the eastern extremity of the Isle of Wight, called Brading Harbour (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1619–23, p. 172). He employed Dutch workmen and some invention of his own for draining land, which he patented in 1621. This undertaking was for a time successful; but in 1624 Myddelton's connection with it ceased, and the works fell into neglect, and were destroyed by the sea. The scheme was revived a few years ago, and completed in 1882.
On 19 Oct. 1622 James created Myddelton a baronet with the remission of the customary fees in recognition of his enterprise and engineering skill (ib. 1619-23, p. 455; Harl. MS. 1507, art. 40; Addit. Birch MS. 4177, art. 220). The king likewise confirmed to him the lease of the mines royal, and exempted him from the payment of royalty for whatever precious metals he might discover.
In these ways Myddelton, though never a rich man, and much impoverished by his work on the New River, was enabled to end his days in comfort, and leave a respectable patrimony to his children. He died in Basinghall Street on 10 Dec. 1631, aged 71 (Probate Act Book, P. C. C., 1631), and was buried in accordance with his desire in St. Matthew, Friday Street, where he had often officiated as churchwarden (will registered in P. C. C. 137, St. John, and printed in Wills from Doctors' Commons, Camd. Soc.) He was twice married, first to Anne, daughter of a Mr. Collins of Lichfield, and widow of Richard Edwards of London, who died childless; and secondly to Elizabeth, daughter and heiress of John Olmested of Ingatestone, Essex, by whom he had ten sons and six daughters. His eldest surviving son, William, married Eleanor, daughter of Sir Thomas Harris, bart., of Shrewsbury. To the Goldsmiths' Company Myddelton bequeathed a share in the New River Company for the benefit of the more necessitous brethren of that guild, 'especially to such as should be of his name, kindred, and country,' a fund that contributed to the support of several of his more improvident descendants.
On 24 June 1632 Lady Myddelton memorialised the common council of London with reference to the loan of 3,000l. advanced to Myddelton, which does not seem to have been repaid ; and on 10 Oct. 1634 the corporation re-allowed 1,000l. of the amount, in consideration of the public benefit conferred on the city by Myddelton through the formation of the New River. Lady Myddelton died at Bush Hill on 19 July 1643, aged 63, and was buried in the chancel of Edmonton Church.
Portraits of Myddelton and his second wife, painted by Cornelius Jansen, belonged in 1866 to the Rev. J. M. St. Clere Raymond (Catalogue of Portraits at South Kensington, pp. 81–2, Nos. 478 and 483). Another portrait of Myddelton by Jansen hangs in Goldsmiths' Hall; it was engraved by George Vertue in 1722, and again by Phillibrown for Lodge's 'Portraits.'
[Smiles's Lives of the Engineers (new edit. 1874), section i.; Biographia Britannica under 'Middleton;' Lewis's Hist. of Islington, pp. 424–30; Stow's London (Strype), bk. i. p. 25, bk. v. p. 60; Lodge's Portraits (Bonn), iii. 267–273; Fuller's Worthies (ed. 1662), 'Wales,' p. 36; Gardiner's Hist. of England, ii. 215; Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1605–31; Granger's Biog.
Hist. of England (2nd edit.), i. 400; Waller's Imperial Dict.; London Society, vi. 455-66; Penny Mag. viii. 36-8; Overall's Remembrancia. The will of Lady Myddelton, which was proved in September 1643, is among the Oxford wills at Somerset House.]