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The Whitbread Family

 Samuel Whitbread I by Sir Joshua Reynolds
Samuel Whitbread I by Sir Joshua Reynolds

There have been Whitbreads in Bedfordshire since at least 1314 when a Peace Roll reveals John Whytbred as an elector for the Biggleswade Hundred and Richard Whytbred an elector for the Flitt Hundred [Bedfordshire Historical Records Society Volume XXXII pages 37-38]. The ancestors of the Whitbreads of Southill Park seem to have come from the hamlet of Ion in Gravenhurst. In the Whitbread archive [W3150] William Whitbread is recorded as selling Ion Manor in 1639 to his son Henry. In the same year the family began to buy property in Cardington (W263-266). In the 18th century the great philanthropist and prison reformer John Howard was also building himself a Cardington estate, John Byng remarking of Cardington: "a Village of much Neatness, with all Houses so smart, and the Green so nicely planted…for Messrs Whitbread and Howard being at variance (luckily of the Village) strive which shall most benefit and adorn it" [Torrington Diaries Vol.IV p.109].

memorial of Samuel Whitbread I inside Cardington church March 2007
Memorial to Samuel Whitbread I in Cardington Church March 2007

Samuel Whitbread [1720-1796] was born in Cardington, the seventh of eight children. At 14 he was sent to London to become apprentice to a brewer, John Witman and in 1742 went into partnership on his own account with a Thomas Shewell; they had two breweries but consolidated on a site in Chiswell Street in 1750. In 1752 Whitbread bought property in Potton [W2107]. In 1765 Whitbread bought Shewell out and by 1800 the brewery was the largest in London. Due to his success Samuel Whitbread was able to enter politics, being elected Member of Parliament for Bedford in 1768, a seat he held until 1790. In the year before his death Samuel Whitbread bought Southill Park, a 17th century house, remodelled by George Byng, 1st Viscount Torrington and later members of the Byng family [W2200-2222]. He also bought land in Old Warden from 1773 [W2223-2413] and purchased Elstow Manor in 1792 [W2809-2810] and other land in Elstow between 1792 and 1796.

 Samuel Whitbread II by John Opie 
Samuel Whitbread II by John Opie

Samuel Whitbread's son, another Samuel [1758-1815] is probably the most well known member of the family. He was born in Cardington and entered the family brewing business in 1786. He entered parliament as member for Bedford, his father's old seat, in 1790. Whereas his father had been a Tory, Samuel junior was a Whig. In 1800 he exchanged land acquired in Old Warden between 1783 and 1799 with the 2nd Baron Ongley for Ongley land in Southill [W2584-2589]. Between 1796 and 1804 he bought land in Wilshamstead [W2721-2799]. He purchased land in Bedford, Saint Mary in 1799 [W3024-3067].

memorial of Samuel Whitbread II inside Cardington church March 2007
Memorial of Samuel Whitbread II inside Cardington church March 2007

A zealous reformer Whitbread campaigned for the abolition of slavery and for a national system of education. He became the leader of the Whigs, the opposition, in parliament after the death of Charles James Fox in 1805. He made the mistake of championing Napoleon's reforms in France and came to be seen as a supporter of his. During 1814 Whitbread began to suffer depression. This ultimately led to his suicide, by cutting his throat, on 6th June 1815, just twelve days before the battle of Waterloo.

The Whitbread family continue to live at Southill Park. They also continue to take an active interest in Whitbread Group Plc. This firm no longer has any interest in brewing but does own a number of well known brands including Premier Inn, Brewers Fayre, Beefeater and Costa Coffee. A number of members of the family have been members of Parliament, Lords Lieutenant and High Sheriffs for Bedfordshire.

 William Henry Whitbread by William Bradley
William Henry Whitbread by William Bradley

Members of Parliament

  • Samuel Whitbread I; Tory; Bedford: 1768 to 1790;
  • Samuel Whitbread II; Whig; Bedford: 1790 to 1814;
  • William Henry Whitbread; Whig; Bedford: 1814 to 1835;
  • Samuel Whitbread; Liberal; Bedford: 1852 to 1895;
  • Samuel Howard Whitbread; Liberal; Luton: 1892 to 1895.

graves of Samuel Whitbread died 1915 and Samuel Howard Whitbread March 2008
Graves of Samuel Whitbread died 1915 and Samuel Howard Whitbread March 2008 

Lords Lieutenant

  • Samuel Howard Whitbread: 1912 to 1936;
  • Simon Whitbread: 1957 to 1978;
  • Samuel Charles Whitbread: 1991 to the time of writing [2008]

 Simon Whitbread as Lord Lieutenant 1969
Simon Whitbread as Lord Lieutenant 1969 [Z50/142/1]

High Sheriffs

  • William Henry Whitbread: 1837 to 1838;
  • Simon Whitbread: 1947 to 1948;
  • Humphrey Whitbread: 1962 to 1963;
  • Samuel Charles Whitbread: 1973 to 1974