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A Biography of Sir John Barnard
(1685-1764)

Stowe: The Temple of British Worthies



The following account is taken from the Dictionary of National Biography (1921-22 edition) and the contributing biographer is listed as William Prideaux Courtney:
Sir John Barnard was born of Quaker parents at Reading in 1685. When only fifteen he was placed in the counting-house of his father, who was engaged in the London wine trade. . . . For many years he remained in private life, but public attention was drawn to his talents by the skill which he displayed in guarding the interests of his colleagues in business during the progress in Parliament of a measure affecting their trade. He filled in turn a variety of civic offices. From 1728 to 1758 he was alderman of Dowgate ward; a distinction which in course of time gave him the title of father of the city; he was sheriff in 1735, Lord Mayor in 1737; and was knighted on 28 September 1732, on the presentation of an address to George II. The citizens of London elected him as their representative in Parliament in 1722, and he continued their member until 1761.

He was numbered among the opponents of Sir Robert Walpole, who, in an oft-quoted anecdote, acknowledged that he had frequently felt the power of Sir John Barnard's speeches, and from the first he took high rank as an authority on financial questions. In March 1737 he brought forward a scheme for the reduction of interest on the national debt, by which money was to be borrowed at 3 percent, and applied in the redemption of annuities at a higher rate of interest. It was at first coldly supported by the Prime Minister, and when public opinion declared against it Walpole secured its rejection for a time, but the plan was not long afterwards carried out by Henry Pelham. Many pamphlets were published on this matter, as on a subsequent scheme for raising three millions of money for the state in 1746. His efforts in opposing Walpole's excise bill were only exceeded by those of Pultney, but he did not approve of the action taken by the select commission on Walpole's resignation, and he refused to Chancellor of the Exchequer in Lord Bath's short-lived ministry of 1746.

He took an active part in the attempts which were made to ameliorate the condition of the poor debtors and to raise the character of the London police, and during his mayoralty he endeavored to suppress mendacity and to procure a better observance of the Sunday, but he naturally incurred considerable odium among the nonconformists by nominating to the office of sheriff five of their number, who were compelled to serve or to pay a fine of £400 each towards the building of the Mansion House.

When public confidence was declining in the Bank of England during the panic of 1745, Sir John Barnard was instrumental in procuring the signatures of the leading city merchants to an agreement to receive the bank-notes, and for his services on this and other occasions his fellow citizens erected, though in opposition to his wishes, his statue on the Royal Exchange in May 1747. He was President of Christ's Hospital from 1740 until his retirement from the corporation and from public life in 1758. He died at Clapham on 29 August 1764, and was buried in the chancel of Mortlake Church on 4 September.

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John D. Tatter, Birmingham-Southern College, jtatter@bsc.edu