1st Baronet Lethbridge of Westaway House, Devon
John Lethbridge Esquire, born 12 March 1746, was the only son of John Lethbridge Esq. of Westaway House and Winkleigh Court, Devon and Grace Carder, his wife. His paternal grandmother Sarah, wife of Thomas Lethbridge Esq. of Westaway House, was the daughter of John Periam Esq. of Milverton, Somerset. The house at Sandhill Park was built by John Periam in 1720 and from there came into the possession of the Lethbridge family. John Lethbridge succeeded his father in 1761.He was Sheriff of Somerset 1788-9, and a Captain of the Somerset Fencible Cavalry Regiment, a militia regiment of light dragoons, from 1794. He was also a Magistrate. (No portrait of Lethbridge exists: the picture at left is an impression of a gentleman of Lethbridge's age, character and era).
In June 1776, Lethbridge married Dorothea Buckler, eldest daughter and co-heir of William Buckler of Boreham, Wilts. They had one son, Thomas Buckler Lethbridge, b. 1778, and two daughters, Frances Maria and Dorothea.
The Lethbridge children, by Charles Gill, 1785
Lethbridge appears to have been a man determined to have his own way, and ready to use all of the means available to him to do so. He was described as a very rich man, and appears to have succeeded in expanding the fortune he inherited, through acquisition of various properties. A profile of Lethbridge in The House of Commons, 1790-1820 Vol. 1. by R. G. Thorne, records that Lethbridge introduced himself to Lord Southampton in 1786 in these terms:
At that time, Lethbridge offered several thousand pounds to the extravagant and debt-ridden Prince of Wales, “out of concern for the dignity of the Royal family and the country and with no ulterior motive” [Thorne, p.420].
Later, in 1802, Lethbridge equally disinterestedly offered to cover for, and meet the expenses of, a friend, John Fownes Luttrell, who had been caught out in the practice of “treating” during a fiercely contested election for the seat of Minehead in 1796. His generosity eased the way to a baronetcy (he was created Baronet Lethbridge of Sandhill Park in 1804), and to the Parliamentary seat of Minehead, which he occupied from 1806 to January 1807 when he stood aside to allow his friend Luttrell to once more take up the reins.
According to Thorne, in his later years Lethbridge had hopes that the by then Prince Regent would recall his earlier generosity and grant his petition to revive the barony of Fitzwarren, to which he had some claim through his great-grandmother. However, this did not eventuate, and Sir John died in December 1815.
Of his personal character, I have been able to discover little information other than that provided by Thorne, who quotes Lady Spencer’s description of him under the transparent disguise of “Sir Richard Lethmore”:
-- Lady to Lord Spencer, 3 Nov. 1806, cited in R. G. Thorne, p.420
Lady Spencer recounted gleefully how Lethbridge’s neighbour (named Winter) countered the Baronet’s scheme to baffle his imitator by the construction of a magnificent ornamental lake. Winter installed his own “frightful piece of water” and adorned it with an ugly statue holding out a sign reading “The Way to Harlots Hall”.
The collection of Lethbridge legal papers, deposited by Dodson and Pullman Solicitors of Taunton at the Somerset Record Office, contain a number relating to various legal actions involving Lethbridge and Winter, including charges of assault against both. [Somerset Record Office, DD/DP 17/1 – 17/3]
On Lethbridge’s death, said Joseph Jekyll in 1816:
-- Cited in R. G. Thorne, p.420
Sir Thomas married twice: first, in 1796, to Jacintha Catherine Hesketh of Rufford Hall, Lancs., who died in 1801; and second, to Anne Goddard, of Swindon, Wilts. Dorothea Lethbridge married Capt. (later Sir) Henry Powell Collins in 1800. Frances married Capt. Charles Henry Rich in 1804.
Sir John’s wife Dorothy died in 1831.
R. G. Thorne, The House of Commons, 1790-1820 Vol. 1. (London: History of Parliament Trust, Secker & Warburg, 1986)
John Preston Neale, Jones' views of the seats of noblemen and gentlemen in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland, Volume 2 (London: Jones and Co, 1829)
Records of Dodson and Pulman, Solicitors of Taunton, and Successors, 13th Cent – 2004: Lethbridge family legal papers. (Taunton: Somerset Record Office)
— DD\DP 17/1 to 17/3 Legal papers
— DD\DP 17/11 Correspondence concerning Mary Jane Vial
Leigh Rayment, “Lethbridge of Westaway House, Devon”, Baronetage. http://www.leighrayment.com/baronetage/baronetsL2.htm
John Burke Esq., A General and Heraldic Dictionary of the Peerage and Baronetage of the British Empire, Vol. 2. 4th ed. (London: Henry Colburn and Richard Bentley, 1832)