Colebrooke's Gatton 1751 - 1774

James Colebrooke left his Arundel seat to his brother George, taking his Gatton seat in the 1754 elections. His elder brother, Robert, was MP for Maldon, so the three had a firm base for securing government supply contracts for their firm, especially as the Seven Years War broke out in earnest in 1756. For his wartime procurement services, James acquired a baronetcy of Gatton in 1759. On his death in 1761 - at only 39 - his brother, now Sir George, bought Gatton off his inheriting nieces.

Curiously, a new law at this time required all elections to take place within an official roofed building. So, to preserve Gatton’s parliamentary status, Colebrooke erected a “town hall” at Gatton for its handful of voters – incidentally its pillars represent one of the earliest uses of cast iron – and the ironically-enscribed voting urn probably dates from this same period. It may also have been a way to emphasise the borough was in Gatton, rather than Upper Gatton, given constituencies were yet to be formalised.

John Tattershall, the heir to Upper Gatton, was not about to give up its main asset, however, and for the 1768 election, while Colebrooke placed a fellow banker, Joseph Martin, as one Gatton member, Tattershall sold his nomination to John Damer, son & heir to Lord Milton. Eight years later this profligate rake reached the limit of his wife and father’s patience. He pestered his wife by appearing in 3 new sets of clothes each day. When his father refused to bail him out, he decided to go out in style – after a night at the Bedford Arms in Covent Garden “with four common women and a blind fiddler” he blew his brains out. His wardrobe fetched £15,000 at auction! His wife, Ann Conway, went on to be a sculptress of some note.

Apart from his family’s banking and army contractor business, Sir George Colebrooke was elected a Director of the Hon East India Company in 1767 and 2 years later was elected Chairman of the EIC at a crucial stage in its history. Lord Clive had returned from India and built Claremont in Esher in similar style to the Colebrooke’s Gatton estate. Both employed Capability Brown. In 1771 Colebrooke speculated in Lanarkshire lead mines (and bought an ancient Scottish title while he was at it), and added plantations to those he already had in Grenada and Dominica.

In the meantime the worst famine ever known hit Bengal and the EIC took the blame for the inadequate relief and mismanagement. It was Colebrooke who appointed Warren Hastings to sort it, but the political vultures were gathering and a Select Committee started to investigate the Company. Colebrooke had more personal concerns at this time as he had to cover losses of £190,000 from dealing in the flax market. He completely restored St Andrew’s church at Gatton as a sign of confidence in 1772, but he was already overstretched financially. His bank failed in 1773 and the India bill came before Parliament the same year. Colebrooke had no option but to sell Gatton and it was put on the market in 1774, for £75,000. He had made it a superb estate, the landscaping of which survives to this day, and increased its value. Coincidentally the EIC ship Colebrooke with a cargo of coins was lost in 1778.


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