Magazine article History Today

Thomas Neale. (Common Sense)

Magazine article History Today

Thomas Neale. (Common Sense)

Article excerpt

The Revolution of 1688 coincided with a period of rapid development in London's money markets. One consequence was the intermingling of politics and finance; another was the rise of the projector, specialising in finding schemes for investment.

Thomas Neale (1641-99), the son of a Hampshire gentleman, gained a fortune through his marriage, in 1664, to the widow of an exceptionally rich City merchant. By 1688 he had established his reputation as a tireless and ingenious speculator and--from his first securing a seat in the Commons in 1668--a compliant placeman. His reliable support for the ministry in 1678 earnt him the post of groom porter, responsible for the supervision of gambling at court; in 1686 he capped this with the lucrative mastership of the Mint. Neale's capacity for inventing money-making projects was well-known. An inveterate gamester himself, he had helped devise 'a new sort of table to be played on with balls' and a novel kind of dice, known as 'the mathematics', intended to eliminate cheating; after a disastrous early speculation in brewing he had become involved in property deals in Shadwell and Tunbridge Wells and in organising the provision of piped water and street lighting in and around London.

Neale quickly rallied to the regime of William III, and made clear his backing for the Court in the Commons. He wanted something in return: from 1690 he began an extraordinary and prolonged bombardment of ministers with petitions of all kinds, for patents, monopolies, leases, concessions and other privileges from the crown. Between October 1690 and July 1693 he received grants of wrecks off the West Indies, the south coast of England and the west of Ireland; mines in America (yet to be discovered); patents for new processes to manufacture verdigris, steel-wire and cloth, and (in Ireland) leather; a patent for a postal service in the West Indies and America; and land in London on which he began the Seven Dials development.

Neale's projects extended to the public finances--heavily under strain as a result of continental war--as well as his own: in 1691 he used his platform in the Commons to push a pet scheme for a salt tax (although someone in 1695 complained to the Treasury that Neale had stolen the idea from him, after promising to 'keep it secret'). But his most famous contribution was the government lottery. …

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