Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER II.: LANGPORT AND ITS SURROUNDINGS. - The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life)
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CHAPTER II.: LANGPORT AND ITS SURROUNDINGS. - Mrs. Russell Barrington, The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, vol. 10 (The Life) 
The Works and Life of Walter Bagehot, ed. Mrs. Russell Barrington. The Works in Nine Volumes. The Life in One Volume. (London: Longmans, Green, and Co., 1915). Vol. 10.
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LANGPORT AND ITS SURROUNDINGS.
Langport,1 Walter Bagehot’s birthplace, is a small, ancient town on the river Parret in the centre of that part of England which narrows between the Bristol and the English Channels before it again widens out into Devonshire. Langport is thirteen miles from Taunton, thirteen from Bridgwater, thirteen from Glastonbury, thirteen from Yeovil, thirteen from Crewkerne, and five from Somerton, formerly the capital of Somerset. It is quite unique—unlike any other place in England. It reminds one rather of certain small foreign towns. Viewed as a town it is tiny, and the inhabitants do not now number eight hundred. Yet it cannot be called a village; it has a market. Its importance in history and its commercial prosperity are the results of its being the first ford from the mouth of the river Parret.2 It is like a town stopped short in the making, never having expanded beyond restricted limits. For these limitations there are physical causes. Two hills rise out of the moors half a mile apart. The moors mean in Somerset those wide stretches of meadowland, flat as a lake, from which dead level rise the Mendip, the Quantock, and the Black Down Hills. They include the famous Sedgmoor, the scene of the defeat of Monmouth by Marlborough. One of the two hills was formerly covered by the ancient town of Langport, a crowded mass of houses, within fortified walls, interlaced with narrow alleys, and crowned by a grand early perpendicular church built on the site of a yet earlier Norman church. The town was entered on the eastern side through an archway under the Hanging Chapel, built in the latter part of the thirteenth century as the Merchants’ Guild Chapel. These and the church still exist as they were in olden times. The opposite hill, Herd’s Hill, is crowned by groups of huge elm trees, whose rounded masses of foliage rise with stately effect against the western sky.
As a child in arms, little Walter Bagehot was taken up from the Bank House in the town, where his parents lived during the life of his grandfather, to lay the foundation-stone of the existing house on the summit of the hill.1 Between the two hills runs the present street of Langport which dates from some centuries back. One end is called Bow Street, Bow being the Saxon word for bridge, the other Cheapside. It owes its existence to the Romans who found it necessary to make a causeway over the moors at this point between the two hills when constructing a highway from the West Country to London. They built nine bridges to carry the road and to lift it over the swamps. This viaduct, the work of Roman engineers, was solidly constructed, and houses were gradually erected here and there on each side of it. Eventually these houses formed a street, continuing half way up the hill towards the church. It included the Bank House where Walter Bagehot was born. This is a large, six-windowed, solidly built residence with spacious rooms and wide staircases next door to the Bank. The ancient town on the hill surrounding the church has disappeared with the exception of a trace here and there of a narrow alley or a relic of the old fortification walls embedded in some new structure. Covering the space occupied by the ancient buildings now stands Hill House, the residence first of the ancestors of the Bagehots, and subsequently of the Stuckey family, from about 1750 till ten years ago, together with various smaller residences and gardens.
The unsafe moor reaches close up to the backs of the houses, and prevents any expansion of the town behind the street of Langport. Till within the last few years the floods would mount so high that the street itself was invaded, the water rising to the first floor of the houses and turning the street into a Venice-like canal. Means have been found to stop this mischievous invasion of the water into Langport itself, but no steps have been taken to stop the flooding of the moors. The mind of the West countryman is an economical mind. It distinctly has its limitations, and is not hastily progressive. Where economy could be effected, Walter Bagehot pointed out how the Langportians could, on the contrary, be retrogressive. Mr. Hutton writes: “In early days (Langport) returned two Members to Parliament until the burgesses petitioned Edward I. to relieve them of the expense of paying their Members, a quaint piece of economy of which Bagehot frequently made humorous boast”. Long ago means might have been found of draining the moors and preventing their being flooded, had not the native mind been bent another way. These floods are potent fertilisers of the soil, and the farmer, being anxious to fertilise his land without expense, does not desire that the floods should be restrained. To his mind any advantage which might accrue to the neighbourhood from developing industries through extending the town of Langport was problematical and far off; whereas the expenditure which would be necessary in order to manure his land would be a matter of immediate and disagreeable importance to him. These moors give their name to the county, sea-moor-settlers-Somersetee. There is a something curiously soothing and romantic in the feeling which these widespreading lonely lands inspire. Free, far-reaching, and almost uninhabited, like the sea they are absolutely untormented by any innovation of modernity. Rows of pollarded willow trees are planted along the edge of the rough roadways that now and then cross the moors, and by the side of the rhines, ditches which gleam in water tracks among the meadows. Like the olive of the South, their pointed-leaved foliage turns from grey-green to silver as they are swept by “the everlasting wash of air” which rushes over the flat plains from the far-away sea. Growing as luxuriantly as they like, all kinds of lovely things flourish and bloom undisturbed in the water or on the edge of these rhines—bull-rushes, the flowering rush of the delicate pink asphodel-like flower, yellow irises, forget-me-nots, willow weed, loose-strife, and meadow sweet, and countless other rare delights, many of them treasures to botanists. Here and there, at long intervals, a farmstead has found a little rise in the moor whereon to perch itself. There is hardly a view over these stretched-out lands which does not include at least one or two of the beautiful square church towers for which Somerset is famous, rising massively out of clumps of elm trees, or from low-thatched roofs of village cottages nestled around them. They strike the welcome note of an art allied in its quality to all this unspoilt nature. But such incidents are but as a ship on the wide waters of the sea; a spot which only marks more distinctly the contrast between the amount of work done by nature in the scene, and that constructed by human hands.
There are three points from which the characteristic features of this scenery can be most clearly viewed. Two of these are specially associated with Walter Bagehot, and the third, perhaps more particularly in my mind, with his friend, Richard Hutton. Standing by the grave of Walter Bagehot, but a few yards distant from the south side of Langport Church, and looking over the low wall which separates the grave from the steep southern side of the hill, you see the river Parret gliding away towards Muchleney Abbey, the child of the famous Glastonbury Abbey, nestled with its church tower among trees and thatched cottages. Past Muchleney, away stretch the moors with their rows of pollarded willows, with here and there a cluster of elm trees, moor and trees softening from green into a purple middle distance; then they melt into a blue which gets misty and far away before the rising ground is reached, topped by three hills marking the domain of Montacute, the beautiful home of the Phelips family. One of these three hills is verily a Somerset Pentelicus. From its side is quarried the famous Ham-Hill stone which for centuries has made beautiful many churches, mansions, and cottages all over this part of the world. Quaintly enough it is now to be found also in Piccadilly! Away past Montacute again the flat land stretches, now a faint silvery mist with here and there a blotch of azure to show it is earth not sky, away till the blue line of the Dorset hills determines the horizon.
On leaving the churchyard and turning to the right, passing Hill House and through the archway surmounted by the thirteenth-century Hanging Chapel, one sees rising straight from the ground one of the great glories of this country-side—the almost unrivalled tower of Huish Episcopi Church, a treasured feature from many points in the grounds of Herd’s Hill. Like Langport Church, it stands on the site of an older Norman edifice. The chief entrance is still through a fine Norman doorway. When Walter Bagehot was young one vicar served the two churches, and the afternoon Sunday services, to which he was taken as a boy by his mother, were held alternately at Langport and at Huish Episcopi. Following a road which rises from Huish on to high ground to the north you look down on Low Ham, its ancient church and the ruined walls of the mansion of romantic traditions, across valleys to the Tor at Glastonbury and to ranges of the Mendip above Wells. After passing again another very fine church, that of High Ham, most notable for the exquisite carving of its old oak screen, the road leads along a ridge to a point of view over the moors called Turn Hill. This is the widest and most extended view which can be got of the moors. It includes the whole of Sedgmoor and, among many other churches, that of Chedzoy, where part of the King’s Army slept before the day of the battle of Sedgmoor. Still to be seen on the porch are the slashes inflicted on the stone where the soldiers whetted their swords before going forth to war.
That battle seemed very remote and out of the scene on the afternoon when Walter’s friend, Richard Hutton, sat with us on the fine close turf of Turn Hill on a day in August, six months after Walter’s death, and gazed over vast stretches of level moor, sunlit air and space all steeped in a dreamland charm. At one point or another, over the Quantock range, some twenty miles away, a faint hint of Welsh mountains could be traced. The Quantocks themselves were but toned sunshine, such a flood of light was over it all! It twinkled here and there into bright distinctness as a sunray caught the glass in a building, glistened on the water in a rhine, or struck a cloud of steam bounding upwards from an express train far away. Great Western expresses rush to and fro all day from Paddington to Plymouth and from Plymouth to Paddington past Bridgwater and Taunton along that far away distance. Viewed from our headland, their volumes of rolling steam were but as clouds floating across the distant landscape; they did not disturb the dream. In the dazzling air high above us skylarks were pouring their
From low down—very far down on the moors—the sound of the lowing of kine was wafted up with a faint echo of farm life—a life in its reality as remote from the feeling inspired by the place that afternoon, as are hints of the like mundane occupations when you come upon them in a verse of Greek poetry. We sat long, drinking in the loveliness of this strange country—Walter Bagehot’s country. These Somerset moors have a strong character of their own. They give you Nature under an aspect very gentle, but very vast. A whiff from the sea, mingling with the delicious velvety softness of West Country air, stimulates the quality of the breezes: it exhilarates while it soothes.
The third notable view of these moors, three miles to the west of Langport, is perhaps the most beautiful of its kind in Somerset. Here they are seen from a headland where stands a landmark prominent and seen from all the country round, the monument erected by Lord Chatham in memory of Sir William Pynsent about the year 1759, after the property was left by Sir William to the statesman in recognition of his public services. On its base Lord Chatham inscribed: “Sacred to the memory of Sir William Pynsent
Virgil’s lines addressed by Æneas to the Shade of Marcellus. It was on the top of this column, 150 feet high, that Walter Bagehot performed, as a young man, the rash feats which so terrified his mother. Till quite lately, from the hill where rises this column, half a mile away, a lonely remnant of the great mansion pictured in Collinson’s Somerset could be seen, embedded among great cedar trees; purple-shaded walls of a deserted dwelling built by Lord Chatham as a wing to the older lordly structure. This wing was the only portion of the mansion spared by the creditors when Lady Chatham died and the rest of the building was pulled down for its material! We of this generation owe the magnificence of the timber in the Burton Pynsent Woods to “the prophetic eye of taste” (Chatham’s words about his planting mania), likewise to the extravagant tendencies which led, alas! to the demolition of the great mansion. Still we ought to feel grateful. If he recklessly threw his bread upon the waters, it is we, after many days, in this twentieth century who are still reaping the benefit. In Lord Rosebery’s Life of Lord Chatham is the following account of why and how the hill was planted:—
“Pitt, debarred from the sports of the field, had always taken a lively interest in the laying out of land, in planting, in landscape gardening. He had, to use his own felicitous expression, ‘the prophetic eye of taste’. He utilised it freely and indeed extravagantly at his own homes, for in the pursuit of this hobby he disdained all limitations. Once, when Secretary of State, he was staying with a friend near London whose grounds he had undertaken to adorn, and in the evening was summoned suddenly to London. He at once collected all the servants with lanterns, and sallied forth to plant stakes in the different places that he wished to mark for plantations. In later life he ran to still greater extremes. At Burton Pynsent a bleak hill bounded his view and offended his eye. He ordered it to be instantly planted with cedars and cypresses. ‘Bless me, my Lord,’ said the gardener, ‘all the nurseries in the County would not furnish the hundredth part required.’ ‘No matter; send for them from London.’ And from London they were sent down by land carriage at a vast expense.”
Besides this planting, Lord Chatham erected small temples in the Renaissance style of architecture along a wide grass terrace which he made on the hill-side, leading from the house to the Monument. A lordly revelling went on under his reign, and the place is still haunted by a feeling of the grandeur and reckless magnificence of the past. This extravagance brought the property eventually into the possession of Walter Bagehot’s cousin, the daughter of the last Vincent Stuckey. It was recently sold again, and the deserted wing erected by Lord Chatham was added to and restored by the present owner, Mrs. Crossley, who purchased the property. There exists an important fact in Walter Bagehot’s family history which links him to the Chatham reign at Burton Pynsent. His uncle, a notable personage, Vincent Stuckey of Hill House, started his singularly successful career in life through the patronage of Lady Chatham, who, after Lord Chatham’s death, much favoured the Stuckey family. As a youth Vincent Stuckey asked her for an introduction to her son, the great Pitt. She willingly gave it, and this introduction obtained for him a clerkship in the Treasury and the post of Private Secretary to Pitt. This official life he deserted in order to found the famous Stuckey Bank.
On a midsummer evening it is good to linger into the twilight hours seated on the fine turf, embroidered with many-coloured tiny blossoms, on the foremost point below the Monument jutting out over the moors, and watch, as it were from the prow of a ship, all the wonders of light and colour that creep over the moors as the sun sinks behind the faint line of Devonshire hills in the west. This particular point is sentinelled by a group of seven wind-blown Scotch firs, clinging on with naked, claw-like roots to the precipitous fall of the hill-side. Sweeping backwards, and rising from the moors in undulating folds, slopes covered by masses of the magnificent timber of Lord Chatham’s planting, roll away towards the west, past the Vale of Taunton, into Devonshire. On one distinct promontory far away rises the Wellington Monument above the town of Wellington. These lesser spurs of the Brendons are surmounted on the horizon by the Blackdown and Dartmoor heights—the country of Lorna Doone; to the right, in the distance, these are joined to the heights of Exmoor and the Quantocks, the whole forming one vast amphitheatre of hills sweeping down into the widely spread basin of the moors. As we watch the sun sinking, a dazzling mist, a sort of sky repeated on the earth, divides the far distant moor from the rise of the Devonshire hills. With a delicate gradation the glow of fiery gold intensifies as it creeps along, touching with a yet more vivid hue each incident of the landscape as it travels forward, till the Burton Monument is reached. Then the full glory of colour and light bursts forth over the foreground, turning to scarlet the stems of the Scotch firs close by, and to brilliant orange the gravelly hill-side from which they spring. Fierce, fiery light burns into everything for a space, then subsiding into a carmine glow, loses itself in a sheen of dove-breast silver and pink, fading into silent shade as the curtain of night begins to fall. As a thought of Pentelicus is suggested by the quarried hill of Montacute, so the Roman Campagna, as seen from the Albano hills, is recalled here in the heart of rural Somerset from the heights of Burton Pynsent. There is something that associates the dignity of a classic world with these West Country scenes, the dignity arising, maybe, from a feeling that all this vast unspoilt nature is the ruling spirit presiding nobly over mundane matters. The great spaces of uninterrupted air and sky make these ordinary sunset effects uncommon and impressive. Certain it is that from childhood it was on no ordinary views of English landscape that Walter Bagehot’s eye was fed. A pathos doubtless, no less than a romantic delight, is attached to these typical scenes of his native country. To the few inhabitants who dwell on the moors, these wide expanses of sky and field must feel at times solitary and lonely. A corresponding pathos existed also in his life. Though the joys of genius were very generously allotted to him, the anxious family trouble caused by his mother’s illness, about which a certain reserve had to be maintained, proved an ever-present cloud hanging over his life.
But besides the Roman Campagna-like tracts of land, where “Nature has its way” freely and unrestrainedly, corresponding to the happy and wholesome spirit in Walter Bagehot’s nature, the surroundings of Langport abound in delightful rural and domestic spots, the Chaucer-like element in English scenery. Out-of-the-way villages, such as Muchelney, Aller, Pitney, Othery, Middlezoy, Weston Zoyland, Long Sutton, all these and many others belong to the rural picture-esque England of olden times, cosy villages nestled round beautiful churches, for the most part grand, imposing structures. Farmsteads and cottages, lovable in their old-world fashion, are met with at every turn of the road and lanes. Modest manor houses of yore, still retaining much architectural charm, are now used as farm-houses, being perhaps the more attractive, to the artist at least, owing to the transformation. The beautiful remnant of the once great Abbey of Muchelney is now inhabited by a farm labourer. The damp in the atmosphere of these parts gives a softened intensity to the colouring of everything. This is a distinct beautifier. The homeliest dwelling, the most insignificant feature in the landscape, is made notable to those who love colour when coming under its spell. Twigs of trees in winter, elsewhere grey or black, put on in these parts a juicy pink and a raisin purple. The arbutus, decorated at Christmas-tide alike with fruit and flower, and the leaves of the bay and myrtle trees that grow happily in the West Country, recall the quality of jewelled enamel, so brilliant is the green of their foliage when seen against the deep blue of the atmosphere. In stormy weather, when the sun burns hot between the showers, the hills will seem to draw quite close and appear like walls of pure lapis lazuli, intensely blue against golden inlets that break a light through the storm-clouds in the sky. The colouring of flowers, the apples in the orchards, all growth is beautified by this soft damp which saturates the air. It tones the amber Ham-Hill stone with broideries of gorgeous orange moss and full-tinted lichen; it gives to the thatch of cottage roofs a peculiarly pleasant raw-umber and purple hue. In the wunderschonen Monat Mai, when in shaded orchards gay apple blossoms sprinkle the boughs with a lively sparkle of pink and white; when bushes of lilac, that love this damp, and grow abundantly in it, toss their festive plumes up against the purple-brown of a thatched roof; when the juicy amber of young leaves on walnut trees contrasts with the full azure blue of moorland and hill, and every cottage garden is bedecked with bright spring flowers, all the world in this sweet country in the west seems to be revelling in a sport of colour, and to have become the stage for an ideal May Day Festival.
Such is the land in which Walter Bagehot was born and bred, and died—the land he pined for when a boy student at the Bristol College, and still pined for when a youth at University College in London; the country he rode about, hunted over, and loved; the world of sweet natural beauty that early tuned his eager imagination to the inspirations of Wordsworth, Shelley, and Keats.
This beauty in nature was the world outside Langport; but inside the minute old borough was a world which tuned his mind to many other matters, matters that were treated with vigour and enterprise in this quaint little town, and which fed his mind with food of quite another sort. Those who knew Walter Bagehot in his home, among his own surroundings, cannot fail to find at every turn in his early writings allusions reminding them of the influence these surroundings had on his nature. He begins his essay on Cowper: “We are the English of the present day. We have cows and calves, corn and cotton; we hate the Russians; we know where the Crimea is; we believe in Manchester the great. A large expanse is around us; a fertile land of corn and orchards, and pleasant hedgerows, and rising trees, and noble prospects, and large black woods, and old church towers. The din of great cities comes mellowed from afar. The green fields, the half-hidden hamlets, the gentle leaves, soothe us with ‘a sweet inland murmur’. We have before us a vast seat of interest, and toil, and beauty, and power, and this our own. Here is our home. The use of foreign literature is like the use of foreign travel. It imprints in early and susceptible years a deep impression of great, and strange, and noble objects; but we cannot live with these. They do not resemble our familiar life; they do not bind themselves to our intimate affection; they are picturesque and striking, like strangers and wayfarers, but they are not of our home, or homely; they cannot speak to our ‘business and bosoms’; they cannot touch the hearth of the soul.”1
Mr. Robert Dickinson, grandson of the then, and cousin of the present owner of the large property of Kingweston, eight miles from Langport, and Colonel Batten, a nephew of one of Walter Bagehot’s intimate friends, have been good enough to look up the history of Stuckey’s Bank and to send the following account of it for insertion in this life of Walter Bagehot. Interesting in itself, it is intimately connected with his family and his own career, and therefore finds a place in the record of his life.
“The bank with which Walter Bagehot and his father were so long connected was variously known as Stuckey’s Bank, the Somersetshire Bank, and the Bristol and Somersetshire Bank.
“The premises at Langport, where the bank was founded and in which Walter Bagehot was born, were bought by the Stuckeys in 1741. The business was first established about the year 1772. This is proved by the evidence of Vincent Stuckey in June, 1832, before Lord Althorp, the Chairman of the Committee on the Charter of the Bank of England. Mr. Stuckey stated that his bank had twelve partners with fourteen branch banks and that they had been bankers upwards of sixty years.
“Besides the deeds of the Banking House, there are other deeds in Langport indicating that in 1801 Samuel Stuckey and his brother George Stuckey were bankers in that town.
“There are various deeds of partnerships extant relating to the businesses at Langport, Bridgwater, and Bristol, the partners being generally the Stuckeys and their relatives.
“The name of Thomas Watson Bagehot (father of Walter Bagehot) occurs in a partnership deed dated 30th March, 1825. These family banks were eventually merged into Stuckey’s Banking Company in 1826. The original Deed of Settlement of Stuckey’s Banking Company is dated 1st September, 1831, and is signed among others by Vincent Stuckey and Thomas Watson Bagehot.
“The date of this deed shows that Stuckey’s was one of the earliest joint-stock banks in the country; and it may be noted that in 1836 Vincent Stuckey was called as a witness before the Joint-Stock Bank Committee.
“Besides the family banks the following is a list of the various banks which Stuckey’s acquired at different dates:—
“The growth of the business may be traced in the following circular which was issued in 1836:—
“ ‘Several applications having been made for shares, the Directors think proper to make the following statement:—
“ ‘The company was formed from an old bank established more than sixty years since which uniformly maintained its credit and respectability. As soon as the Act 7 Geo. 4, Cap. 46, allowed more than six partners to form a bank, four other banks were united with the original one, and the company may be stated to have been established by about ten or twelve individuals. The company so commenced has gone on increasing in prosperity and wealth. Its establishments are confined to Bristol and the county of Somerset, for which it has ample resources, having always upwards of half a million sterling at its immediate command.
“ ‘At present the number of proprietors exceed forty, and provision is made by the deed of settlement for the admission of new proprietors of property and respectability, so as always to have a sufficient proprietary to maintain the two great principles of banking—viz. perpetuity and safety.
“ ‘The Directors are elected by the shareholders. New shareholders are required to pay £50 for each share, and on the £50 so paid they will probably get from 7 to 10 per cent, and be entitled to all the privileges of the original proprietors or those who formed the company. As it is not the practice to divide the whole profits of the business, they will also partake of the emoluments of the reserve fund should a bonus be declared, of which there have been two since the establishment of the company.
“ ‘It is not expected that new shareholders will be called on for any payment beyond the sum originally advanced, but in this respect, as in all others, they will stand precisely in the same situation as the original proprietors, and the accounts of the company will be furnished half-yearly for their inspection, so that they may from time to time be enabled to judge of the nature and extent of their responsibility and of the sufficiency of the assets of the company, and that they may rest quite satisfied that their general property can never be called upon for any engagements of the company.
“ ‘Head Office,
“ ‘Langport, 30th April, 1835.’
“Stuckey’s enjoyed for many years the privilege of issuing notes—at one time one pound notes were issued and afterwards notes of five pounds and ten pounds. This privilege lapsed on the amalgamation with Parr’s Bank in 1909. This issue was the largest in England, after the Bank of England. The local popularity of the notes was great, and is alluded to by Mr. George Sampson in his introduction to Literary Studies by Walter Bagehot as ‘the famous Stuckey’s Bank,’ whose notes were so familiar in the West of England at that time, that Somerset men have been known to reject the foreign and suspicious paper of Threadneedle Street and demand payment in ‘Stuckey’s’.
“At the time of the amalgamation there were seventy branches and agencies, and the Directors were J. R. P. Goodden, H. J. Badcock, H. Cary Batten, R. P. Batten,—Pooll, H. Phelips Batten, R. E. Dickinson, J. M. Heathcoat,—Amory, H. W. P. Hoskyns, C. Lethbridge, C. M. F. Luttrell, and E. C. Nicholetts.
“At Langport the general management of the bank was conducted by Thomas Watson Bagehot, Walter Bagehot, Vincent Stuckey, and Herbert Butler Batten. The latter also worked at Bristol with Walter Bagehot, and joined Stuckey’s on the amalgamation with Batten’s Old Bank at Yeovil. The Head Office of Stuckey’s Bank remained at Langport till 1908 when it was moved to Taunton.
“Before the introduction of the railways, Langport was in communication with the business of the county by the navigable river Parret and by canals, and it was situated on the main coach-road to London.
“In 1892 the bank became a Limited Company.
“In 1909 the bank was amalgamated with Parr’s Bank, Ltd.”
The following account of Stuckey’s Bank at Bristol is from Mr. Charles Cave’s well-known work on Bristol Bankers:—
“The opening of this bank in Bristol is described thus in the diary of a Bristol citizen in 1806:—
“ ‘September 1st. A new Bank opened on the Quay called the Bristol and Somersetshire Bank.’
“The head-quarters of the bank appear to have been Langport from the time the bank started; and, as is generally known, that place is the head-quarters of the bank at the present day.
“Vincent Stuckey was founder of the bank, which consisted at the time of the opening of the Bristol Branch of six partners, George Stuckey, Vincent Stuckey, James Lean, John Hart, John Maningford, and Samuel Stuckey; and, as far as I have been able to ascertain, James Lean and John Maningford were the two who managed the Bristol business.
“The premises of the bank were at 50 Broad Quay, and the London Agents were Rogers, Olding, and Rogers, of 3 Freeman’s Court, Cornhill.
“From the face of a bank-note in my possession, dated 1812, it appears that the bank had a branch at Bridgwater as well as at Langport and Bristol.
“A change of partnership took place this year; George Stuckey’s name disappeared and a new deed of partnership was drawn up, dated 1st July; the partners being Vincent Stuckey, James Lean, John Hart, and John Maningford. No change, however, was made in the management of the Bristol business, James Lean and John Maningford remaining on.
“The same year saw a further change in the London Agents—as we learn from one of the early Bristol Directories that the bank drew on Sir William Curtis, Bart. & Co., of Lombard Street.
“From the face of a bank-note dated this year it appears that the bank had by this time increased its business, as besides Langport, Bristol, and Bridgwater, it had now established branches at Taunton and Wells.
“The year 1826 was an eventful year in the history of this bank, as two events of importance occurred. In the first place the bank was now formed into a Joint-Stock Company; and in the second place the Bristol Branch changed its premises from 50 Broad Quay to the corner of High Street and Wine Street, taking over the house and business of the Castle Bank, Messrs. Ricketts & Co., who relinquished business the same year.
“In 1851 Stuckey’s contemplated moving into more extensive premises.
“ ‘April. The Messrs. Stuckey’s Banking Co. have purchased of Mr. Harrill, auctioneer, the extensive premises known as the City Auction Mart, in Corn Street, for the purpose of erecting an extensive and handsome banking establishment.’
“These premises were originally the Banking House of Messrs. Ames, Cave & Co., and were sold to Mr. Harrill in 1826, when the amalgamation between the Bank of Ames, Cave & Co. and the Old Bank took place.
“It was not till three years afterwards that the new house of Stuckey’s Banking Co. was ready, as we learn that on 5th June, 1854, ‘the new Bank of the Messrs. Stuckey & Co., in Corn Street, opened for business’.
“The same year John Maningford, who had been a manager of the Bristol business since 1806, died; and his death was followed three years later by that of Charles Paul, the management being now left in the hands of P. F. Aiken and W. G. Coles.
“This led to the admission of a new manager the following year, Walter Bagehot, who continued as such until 1861.
“High Sheriffs of Bristol connected with Stuckey’s Bank in late years were:—
“James Lean, 1833.
“William Gale Coles, 1867.
“Alfred Deedes, 1892.
“Herbert Cary Batten, 1904 and 1908.
“The curious old wooden house at the corner of High Street and Wine Street which Stuckey & Co. acquired in 1826 is said to have been brought to Bristol from Amsterdam. It was at one time occupied by John Vaughan the goldsmith, who was one of the earliest Bristol Bankers.
“Another connection with the Bristol Corporation is the legacy of fifty thousand pounds left to it by Vincent Stuckey Lean, a cousin of Vincent Stuckey’s, for the Library. He also left a similar amount to the British Museum.
“Walter Bagehot was associated with the business at various branches besides Langport. The close attention he paid to practical banking may be observed in the various arrangements made as to his work. The following instances of such arrangements may be of interest:—
“In October, 1855—Walter Bagehot was appointed Secretary to the Committees of Management at Langport and at Bristol.
“In December, 1857—with regard to the Bristol Management it was arranged that Walter Bagehot should attend at the Bristol Bank three or four days a week and share in its management and responsibilities and spend the rest of his time at Langport and elsewhere in discharge of his other duties.
“In June, 1858—Walter Bagehot was authorised to sign cash-notes and other such documents as one of the Managers of the Bristol department.
“In December, 1859—a letter was read from Mr. Walter Bagehot stating that in Mr. Wilson’s absence in India he would be required to give some attention to the management of the Economist newspaper, and that his duties connected with it would take him to London perhaps once a fortnight for two or three days which might interfere with the arrangement made with the bank two years ago. His attendance in Bristol would be the same, but he should not be able to be at Langport so often as he had been. His attention when in London would be given to any business of the Bank requiring it.
“1861—Bagehot resigned the local managership of the Bristol Bank in consequence of this change of residence. He continued to be Secretary to the Committee and Directors. It was settled that his attention should be directed to the superintendence of the Bristol Bank.”
“Another Bank Amalgamation.” (The Economist, 30th October, 1909.)
“The amalgamation of Stuckey’s Banking Company with Parr’s Bank closes the separate existence of one of the oldest banking institutions in England. Stuckey’s Bank was founded at Langport, Somerset, early in the eighteenth century. A purely local bank for Gloucester and Somerset—its shareholders being all freeholders in one county or the other—it had from the first a great reputation. Among its customers were many famous men, who came into close and sometimes delicate relations with the managers. The elder Pitt, who inherited a magnificent palace at Burton Pynsent, near Langport, from Sir William Pynsent, who was no relation and a stranger to him, was at least once driven, by his own and his wife’s necessities, to borrow from the neighbouring bankers sums which he was quite unable to pay in cash, but was able (so a well-authenticated story runs) to settle to the satisfaction of all parties by the exercise of a discreet patronage. The later history of the bank contrasts strangely with that of Parr’s. Both businesses were started in the country, the one in Somerset and the other in Lancashire, with its head-quarters at the town of Warrington. But while Parr’s Bank was always pushing forward with the immense expansion of the cotton trade, opening new branches, assimilating older banks, winning for itself a place in London and a position at the Clearing-House, Stuckey’s has hitherto remained a West Country bank, reducing rather than increasing the number of its branches and working until quite recently with its head office at the tiny town of Langport, which has never numbered more than 2000 inhabitants. At the same time, it has remained a strong and wealthy institution. It holds nearly £7,000,000 of deposits; it has a larger note circulation than any other bank, except the Bank of England, and the market value of its capital is £1,751,000. We may be forgiven, too, if we recall the close connection which at one time existed between Stuckey’s Bank and the Economist, when Walter Bagehot filled the two positions of editor and director. His great-uncle, Samuel Stuckey, had founded the bank, of which his father, Thomas Bagehot, was for thirty years managing director and vice-chairman. For several years Walter Bagehot was manager of local branches of Stuckey’s Bank, and on leaving the West Country for London in 1861 he supervised the bank’s London business at the same time that he was writing to such purpose on the theory of banking in the Economist and in his famous book called Lombard Street.”
[1 ] The name Langport stands for Llan—Church, and Porth or borth—harbour.
[2 ] The river Parret was made the western boundary between the Saxons and the Britons by King Cenwalch in 658 after he had gained a victory at the Pens (Penselwood) and “drove the Britons as far as the Parret” (Saxon Chronicle). In 845 is recorded the first inroad of the Danes in the Severn “when the Wessex men made great slaughter and won the battle of the Parret”.
[1 ] A chronicler of the last century writes: “The modern House stands on the summit of Herd’s Hill whence Richard Baxter on his first campaign as a Chaplain to the Cromwellian Army, must have viewed with Fairfax the flight of the Royalist Army under Lord Goring after the battle of Langport. But from that spot a history of England might be illustrated. There, beneath is Athelney, where Alfred burnt the immortal cakes which he was left to bake. There is Aller whither he took Guthrun, the Danish King, to Christian baptism; Montacute, the home of the Knightly family with its Abbey to which the Rood of Grace was brought from Watham; Sedgmoor with its memories of Monmouth’s rebellion and its terrible sequel; and just the top of Burton Pillar with its story of eighty years of the Chatham reign.”
[1 ] Lord Chatham’s adaptation of Virgil’s lines:—
[1 ] All who are interested in Langport, Walter Bagehot’s birthplace, owe a debt of gratitude to the present Vicar, David Melville Ross, for writing a book entitled Langport and its Church: the story of the Ancient Borough, with references to neighbouring Parishes. “To the people of Langport I dedicate this Labour of Love” is the inscription on the fly-leaf. The learning and research displayed in the work are only equalled by the love and devotion which the author evinces for his subject. The history of Walter Bagehot’s family as connected with Langport is related in the tenth part of the book. The first number opens with a list of portreeves, otherwise mayors, who were elected afresh every year as long as the Corporation existed, namely, from 1456 to 1885. Sad to say in 1886 this Corporation was abolished, for no other apparent reason than that other country town Corporations had spent their substance in too much eating and drinking. The late Mr. Vincent Stuckey headed a deputation which appealed to Sir Charles Dilke to commute this sentence of death, but to no avail. One of the duties of the portreeves was to examine every year the nine bridges which support the present town, to see if any repairs were necessary. There is no record of any of these bridges having fallen in till the year 1911, when the first bridge to the west, “Big-Bow,” collapsed. Other unfortunate events have taken place in the town which would probably not have occurred had the old constitution of the little borough still existed.
The families of Michell, Stuckey, and Bagehot were closely allied through several inter-marriages—Michells held the post of portreeve twenty-two times from 1658 to 1831, Stuckeys twenty-six times from 1708 to 1884, Bagehots fifteen times from 1763 to 1882. The following is the account given by Mr. Ross of the part which the Stuckey and Bagehot families took in promoting the prosperity of Langport: “ ‘The town is described in 1673 as on the river Parret, which is navigable for barges from Bristol from whence it has some trade. It is a well-frequented town, and hath a good market on Saturdays for corn and provisions’ (Blome’s Britannia). We must now point out how largely this trade was increased through the ability and enterprise of the two families Stuckey and Bagehot. These two families dominated Langport for 150 years from the middle of the eighteenth century, first through their river and sea trade, and then through the Bank which the Stuckeys founded. In 1742 the population of England was only six millions, and the superiority of the southern counties was passing to the northern through the rise of manufactures in the north. But the Stuckeys and Bagehots kept prosperity in Langport, and caused a large increase of the population through their carrying trade.
“The Bagehot family are traced back to the days of the Norman William, where the same spelling of the name occurs in the Battle Abbey Roll. From the beginning of the sixteenth century to the nineteenth century they lived at Presbury, near Cheltenham. In the Civil War Captain Thomas Bagehot fought at the first battle of Newbury (1643), and at the Restoration he applied for re-admission to the post of Groom of the King’s Chamber in Ordinary, which he had held under Charles I., reciting his services at Newbury (State Papers, Domestic, Vol. XXII.). Another member of the family, joining the Parliamentary side, withdrew to Abergavenny, where Thomas Bagehot was born in 1717. He was trained for the Ministry at a Nonconformist College. He came to Langport before 1747, and appears to have built a chapel in North Street. But after his migration to Hill House he became a churchman, and in the Churchwardens’ Accounts, 1755, we find ground enough sold in the church to T. Bagehot for a pew about 6½ ft. broad for 3s. on the lives of himself and his wife and children, Anne, Priscilla, Thomas, and Robert. The elder Vincent Stuckey (Walter Bagehot’s uncle) kept a pack of hounds in Whatley, and dwelt in patriarchal style among his people—hospitable, free-handed, and popular. He might be seen at times seated under the great elm on the Hill fronting the west door of the church and chatting with his neighbours. He used to tell how in his Treasury days he had shot snipe in the muddy fields between St. James’ Park and Sloane Street (his home), now called Belgravia. However quiet the little town might be sometimes, its carters and wharf and barge population were early astir; and each day the women and children crowded expectant to their doors and to the entrances of the courts to see the mail coaches dash in and draw up at the Langport Arms, or to watch the banker Stuckey on his return from London driving in with his carriage and postillions. Most people found it too expensive to travel at that time. A journey to London for most of them would be the event of a lifetime. They were content to go short distances by the mail, or to travel by barge to Bridgwater.”