Reg Mayhew's Family History

HEWETT COBB (c1764-1822) - SOLICITOR & OWNER OF THE BRIGHTON THEATRE

Portrait of Hewett Cobb

Hewett Cobb (my 4 x Great Grand Uncle) was born about 1764 (estimated from age at death given in parish register of All Saints, Fulham, London), the son of Hewett and Mary Cobb of Richmond in the County of Surrey. Hewett, unlike his elder brothers and sisters, doesn't appear to have been baptised in Richmond parish church.

At the age of 17, in a letter to his cousin William Cobb (Steward at Felbrigg Hall, Norfolk) dated 22nd April 1781, Hewett recounts his early career moves and aspirations. "In my last (19th January 1780) I believe I mentioned my expectations of a place in the Bank but in which I have not yet succeeded nor am I very anxious about the matter. Soon after I wrote last to you, I was so fortunate as to get employed as a Junior Clerk in a Master-in-Chancery's Office in Lincoln's Inn (and although not so lucrative a place as I could have wished yet it was a very reputable beginning and in the which I continued about 15 months then left it at the request of the Gentleman I served who recommended me to an imminent Attorney in Cary Street in whose office I now am and have made tolerable proficiency in the business and by close application am in hopes of being enabled still to advance myself in that line or at least to qualify myself for some other employment of the kind so as to obtain a decent livelihood." - (Norfolk Record Office ref. WKC 7/139)

By 1783, in another letter to his cousin at Felbrigg (dated 14th January), he had obviously found favour with a patron at the highest level, through circumstances we can only guess at. "The expectations I have of a favourable change in my circumstances is in consequence of a promise from the Earl of Shelburn (William Petty, Prime Minister (1782-83)); that he would procure me a place in some of the Depts. of State......How far distant such an event may be, I can not ascertain: for as prime minister his time is so much taken up in repairing the breaches in this almost disjointed State......suffice it to say that he has entered me upon the list of his pensioners." - (Norfolk Record Office ref. WKC 7/139). Unfortunately, this particular hope of advancement may have been dashed within 2 months, when Prime Minster Shelburne tendered his resignation. He retired to his estates and never held office again.

On 14th April 1783, Hewett was articled as a Clerk to Francis Martin Hamilton, Solicitor of Wych Street, London, for a term of 5 years. (Affidavit of Due Execution of Clerkship held by The National Archives, ref. KB105/2/5087).

Roy Porter in his "English Society in the 18th Century" provides an insight into Hewett's chosen profession - "Apothecaries and attorneys (solicitors) were trained like craftsmen, on the job by apprenticeship. Though many attorneys were the younger sons of gentlemen, the occupation had little eclat. Dr. Johnson once remarked that he "did not care to speak ill of any man behind his back, but believed the gentleman was an attorney". Yet attorneys, their fingers in every pie, fixing mortgages and acting as bankers and political agents as well as handling litigation, were indispensable to local communities. Outside the courts, they were much in demand as informal arbitrators, conciliators, and honest brokers. Their numbers expanded and many got rich. The Sheffield attorney Joseph Banks put £40,000 into land between 1705 and 1727".

In 1788, Hewett completed his Clerkship and was admitted as an Attorney to the Court of Kings Bench (Roll of Attorneys held by The National Archives, ref. IND1/4583).

In 1789, Hewett found himself unusually in the role of victim in court, bringing an action, on his own behalf, in the Court of Kings Bench for damages for an assault and imprisonment, in a case foreshadowing the 21st century "Plebgate" (2012), thankfully without the violence in the latter case. See "Scoundrelgate"

By 1790, life was sweet for Hewett, as this extract from a letter to his cousin William Cobb (dated 6th November) shows - "As for myself, I have the good fortune to say that my friends increase and consequently my business and as nothing particularly occurs to disturb my mind, I may with great truth call myself a happy man and have neither a wish or a want unsatisfied." - (Norfolk Record Office ref. WKC 7/141)

From c1811 (possibly earlier), Hewett was employed by the artist J M W Turner as his solicitor. Hewett's nephew, George Cobb, said in 1852 that he himself knew Turner "for forty years down to the time of his death but I had not seen him since 1837 but I heard from him as late as October 1840. I was his solicitor from 1822 up to 1837....My uncle whom I succeeded in business was his solicitor before me."(The National Archives, ref. PROB 37/1547)

Extracts from the Pension Book of Clement's Inn (Edited for the Selden Society by Sir Cecil Carr 1960)

"The records are the domestic annals of a cloistered fellowship."

"St. Clement Danes church served as the Chapel of the Inn"

"Clements Inn consisted of a Principal, a limited number of Ancients and a residue of Companions. The Pension (the governing body) consisted of the Principal and Ancients. Companions, though they may subscribe to some common object, have no share in the administration except to vote at the election of a Principal".

Note:- In the following entries taken from the Pension Book, the first named is a newly admitted resident of the Inn and the second named was his surety.

1784 - Hewett Cobb, Clements Inn, g. - Edward Bullock, Chidley Court, Pall Mall, esquire

1787 - Edward Bullock, Clements Inn, g. - Hewett Cobb, Clements Inn, g.

1792 - Henry Gregory, Clements Inn, g. - Hewett Cobb, a Companion

1796 - Joseph Sheppard Munden*, Kentish Town, g. - Hewett Cobb, Clements Inn. g.

* Munden (1758-1832), a leading comedian in north-country theatres, came to London 1790, acting at Covent Garden and (1813-24) Drury Lane: see Dictionary of National Biography. In July 1797 he appeared at Cobb's Brighton Theatre, when "The Way to Get Married" and "Lock and Key" inaugurated the session.

Hewett Cobb and the Brighton Theatre

Hewett was the owner of the Theatre Royal, Brighton, Sussex from 1794 until his death in 1822

Information from Lewisham Local Studies and Archives - 1998

Hewett Cobb lived in Sydenham from 1798 or earlier until his death. He leased a villa in Sydenham Road known, later at least, as Clune House. Note:- With no prior warning, the house was demolished in July 2005.

Death Notice in "The Times", Wednesday 23rd January, 1822

"On Monday last, after a short illness, highly respected by his friends, Hewett Cobb Esq., of Clements-Inn and of Sydenham in Kent, many years a respectable solicitor, and proprietor of the Brighton Theatre".

Monumental Inscription - All Saints Church, Fulham, Middlesex

"Here lies the Remains of Hewett Cobb Esquire of Clements Inn London and Sydenham in the County of Kent who died January the 21st 1822". Note:- Hewett's grave is no longer identifiable from its inscription, but is situated in Plot H, tomb number 606.

Will - Ref. PROB11/1653/66

PROVED at London with a Codicil l6th February 1822 before the Worshipful Samuel Rush ? Doctor of Laws and ? , by the oath of George Cobb the younger, the nephew and sole Executor to whom admon was granted having been first sworn duly to ?

The Family Name of Cobb(e)

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