Life beyond Elmbridge
The History of Parliament 1820 -1832 records that John Easthope was a man of 'vulgar origin' who had been 'the architect of his own fortune'. His father, Thomas, was a barge master and John, his parents' third son, was born in Tewkesbury on 29 October 1784. He began his career as a clerk in Cobb's banking house at Banbury, Oxfordshire before moving to London. By 1818 he was a stockbroker of Threadneedle Street and by 1841 had built up a fortune of about £150,000. This success was the core of a business career that saw him become chairman of the London and South-Western Railway Company, a director of the Canada Land Company and chairman of the Mexican Mining Company. It also enabled him to enter politics.
John Easthope became the Member of Parliament for three constituencies: St.Albans 1826-1830, Banbury 1831-1832 and Leicester 1837-1847. He made his first attempt to enter Parliament in 1820 when the Whig member for St.Albans died. His written appeal to the voters shows he intended to be a diligent guardian of public expenditure and a cautious constitutional reformer, ' ... the first duty of an honest Representative is to watch with utmost jealousy over the Public Expenditure..........I believe a temperate and constitutional reform of the Commons House of Parliament is indispensable.' Easthope came third in the ballot but he had done well enough to suggest that he could be a successful candidate in the future.
In his fifteen years as an MP John Easthope supported a raft of reforming measures. He was devoted to the Protestant religion but acknowledged his commitment in 1826 for 'extending to those who conscientiously differ from us, every manifestation of kindness and conciliation that is compatible with national security'. To this end he presented petitions from Dissenting congregations for the repeal of the Test Acts in 1827, fervently supported the Church Rate Abolition Bill as an act of justice to Dissenters and he presented petitions from Sheffield Dissenters in 1830 for the abolition of the death penalty for forgery and for action against suttee. Easthope was in favour of the extension of the franchise and voted for the second and third readings of the revised Reform Bill in 1831 and 1832. He was a convert to the use of the secret ballot having become convinced that corruption and intimidation could not be avoided in any other way. He supported Free Trade and thus opposed the Corn Laws, appearing at an anti-Corn Laws demonstration in Leicester in February 1840. As a believer in self-reliance he supported the Poor Law Bill (later the Poor Law Amendment Act, 1834) which established workhouses but he argued for a less harsh regime which would not condemn those in temporary difficulties to the workhouse and would not separate married couples on entering the institution. John Easthope favoured reform by peaceful, constitutional means: when he was a parliamentary candidate in Leicester in 1837 the Leicester Chronicle reported that 'He is devotedly attached to the cause of Reform, both civil and religious.......Mr Easthope is moreover a gentleman of strict integrity and good judgement....' In 1841 James Grant noted that although John Easthope was not a frequent speaker in the House of Commons, 'not only is he listened to with attention, but he speaks with great ease, and usually with much effect', by virtue of 'the strong good sense' which he purveyed and 'the lucidness with which he arranges his ideas and facts'.
For much of his parliamentary career Easthope was also a newspaper owner; he was persuaded by Whig ministers to be the principal of a small group of businessmen to purchase the The Morning Chronicle in 1834. He invested £16,500 in the paper that had a history of supporting parliamentary reform and employing radical journalists such as William Hazlitt and Charles Lamb. This tradition was continued by Easthope's editor, John Black who recruited Henry Mayhew, John Stuart Mill and the young Charles Dickens. Claire Tomalin, in Dickens: A Life (2011), asserts that Black '....ran the Morning Chronicle as a reforming paper, and set out to rival The Times, encouraged by a tough new owner, John Easthope......' He was regarded as a difficult employer and was given the nick-name 'Blast-hope' by his journalists and in February 1836 Dickens led a successful strike against him over terms of employment. Easthope found it very difficult to be a businessman, a politician and a journalist. He did not know how to manage a newspaper successfully; keeping the acerbic John Black as Editor for so long was a mistake as was the decision to reduce the price of the paper in June 1847. His biggest problem, however, was pleasing the Whig government and its supporters described by the Duke of Bedford as 'a noisy and turbulent pack of hounds...' A decision to support one politician inevitably alienated many others; for example, Lord Palmerston once complained, 'Mr Easthope Intrigues against my policy.' Easthope was probably relieved to sell the Morning Chronicle to a group of Peelites in 1848.
As a man of wealth and position he was involved in charitable enterprises such as being Chairman of the London Coffee-House Keepers Benevolent Association (1842) and vice-president of the Orphan Working School, City Road, London for 1843-44. John Easthope was a keen supporter of horse-racing and within a week of the London and Southampton Railway, of which he was chairman, opening the line from London to Kingston in 1833 the company scheduled eight special trains to take people to the Derby. Such was the popularity of this service that after the seventh train had left Nine Elms station in south London five thousand spectators were still waiting to board the final train and a riot ensued!
Easthope who received a Baronetcy in 1841 was married twice; first in 1807 to Ann Stokes of Worcester with whom he had a son and three daughters and second in 1843 to Elizabeth Longley, a widow . Both wives predeceased him. His family affairs were made painfully public in 1849 when his son John who was mentally ill died intestate. He had made a will in 1844 but had tried to remove his father as executor in 1846, however, his solicitor refused to carry out his wishes as he believed him to be of unsound mind. On his death no will could be found. Despite a legal challenge from Sir John Easthope's daughter Elizabeth the draft of the 1844 will was upheld and Sir John agreed to honour it. On his own death in 1865 Sir John's chief beneficiaries were his daughter Louisa and her son John Andrew Doyle.
Life in Weybridge
In 1834 a bill was presented to Parliament for the construction of a railway between London and Southampton. By 1837 more than ten miles of line had been constructed including a forty-five feet cutting through St. George's Hill, Weybridge. The London - Woking line opened on 19 May 1838 followed by the Woking-Southampton stretch in 1840. Weybridge Station opened on 21 May 1838 and the cost of a second class ticket for the 59 minutes journey to London was 2s 6d. The impact of these developments changed Weybridge forever. In 1834 the railway company paid £30 per acre. By 1868 the price had risen to £372 per acre and one hundred years later an acre cost £20,000. Sir John Easthope had become chairman of the London & Southampton Railway Company in 1836 and was playing a very active role when the line was driven through Weybridge Heath. This sandy heathland with few trees was transformed by the railway; roads were realigned, new bridges constructed and many tracks across the heath became cul de sacs. Ten acres of the Poor's land was compulsorily purchased by the Railway in addition to land previously owned by Thomas Liberty and his successors.
The impact of the London-Southampton Railway on rural Weybridge was enormous; easy access to London led to an influx of wealthy businessmen and their families which fuelled a property boom of which John Easthope was a part and led to the break-up of the old estates and the quadrupling of the population between 1831 and 1891. Large villas sprang up which Fanny Kemble described as ' A nest of 'villas' made into a suburb of London by the railroads, which intersect in all directions the wild moorland 20 miles from the city (of London)........' Easthope bought two houses and some farmland in Weybridge between 1837 and 1840 in addition to three plots of land on the Heath which adjoined Firgrove House which he bought from the railway company in 1844. He added lodges and other buildings to Firgrove where he was living in 1845. The 1851 Census shows that Easthope owned 200 acres of land but by the early 1850s he was in his late sixties and started to sell off his land and in 1854 sold Firgrove to Albert Wilson. By 1861 he was using Firgrove Cottage (formerly the coachman's cottage) as a weekend retreat.
Sir John Easthope died in Weybridge on 11 December 1865. He was a self-made man who often showed himself to be a shrewd and effective businessman. He realised the transforming potential of the railways which was especially true for Weybridge. At one point Sir John owned or leased virtually all of Weybridge Heath and the layout today is mainly his work. He was laid to rest in the family vault in West Norwood Cemetery; his legacy in Weybridge endures.
- G .C. Boase, 'Easthope, Sir John, baronet (1784-1865)', rev. Anita McConnell, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/8413, accessed 22 May 2012]
- Darwin F. Bostick, Sir John Easthope and the "Morning Chronicle", 1834-1848, Victorian Periodicals Review, Vol.12, No. 2 (Summer, 1979), pp.51-60, pub. by The John Hopkins University Press on behalf of the Research Society for Victorian - Periodicals [www.jstor.org/stable/20081885]
- British Library Newspaper Archive, www.britishnewspaperarchive.org.uk
- John Easthope's appeal to the voters of St. Albans, the Morning Chronicle (London, England), 12 December 1820; issue 16108
- Opinion of John Easthope as a Parliamentary candidate, the Leicester Chronicle: or, Commercial and Agricultural Advertiser (Leicester, England), Saturday, April 29, 1837; Issue 1380
- The Representation of the Borough of Leicester, the Leicester Chronicle etc. (London, England), Saturday, May 06,1837; Issue 1381
- Court case over Sir John Easthope's son's will, the Morning Chronicle (London, England), Wed., Aug. 11, 1852; Issue 26717
- Judith Flanders, Derby Day Riot 1833, Consuming Passions; Leisure and Pleasures in Victorian Britain, pub. Harper Press, 2006, www.epsomandewellhistoryexplorer.org.uk
- David R. Fisher, Easthope, John (1784-1865), of 39 Lothbury, London, History of Parliament Online, www.historyofparliamentonline.org
- Alistair Grant, The Elmbridge Hundred: A lecture to the Royston Pike Group, 9 March 2011, www.elmbridgehundred.org.uk
- Paul & Shirley Martin, Houses on the Heath, Weybridge, Villas' Tales, pub. Shirley Martin, 1995
- The Morning Chronicle, Spartacus Educational, www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk
- Neil White, Weybridge Past, pub. Phillimore & Co. Ltd., W. Sussex, 1999