Return again to Whittington

Last month the Bridport Pantomime players presented the pantomime Dick Whittington at the Electric Palace, which they last performed eleven years ago. It was most enjoyable, as usual. “Oh Yes it was”—Pantomime fans will be familiar with this phrase, and “Look behind you”!

Also eleven years ago the Bridport News published my article on a real Lord Mayor of London, a Bridport born man. This was Charles Whetham, born in 1812, the fifth child of nine. His family probably originated in Broadwindsor at Whetham Mill, and his father Stephen was a sail-cloth manufacturer who married Jane Tucker in 1802. Jane’s father was in the rope and twine business. By 1814 trade directories show Tucker and Whetham in the line, twine, shoe thread, net and sailcloth business. In 1823 they had an address in South Street, Bridport and soon they were manufacturing at Wykes Court, in the town. In 1818 Stephen Whetham bought an elegant house at 32 South Street, almost opposite the Museum, also the coach house in Gundry Lane. Presumably the Borough Gardens were then the gardens of the house. Later no.32 became the Bridport Council offices and more recently the building was converted to flats and business premises.

Charles Whetham went to London aged 20 as an auditor. He married Sophie Mary, the daughter of George Langley of Southwark in 1836. The Bridport News reported that Charles became chairman of the board of directors of the Scottish Australian Investment Company, and chairman of both the National Provident Institute and the London and Blackwall Railway. In 1840 he was a member of the Livery of Leathersellers Company, becoming Master in 1873. In 1842 Charles became a member of the Common Council of the Bridge Ward of the City of London. He remained involved with the family business and in 1858 was on the Commission for the Peace for Bridport.

At the time the Lord Mayor was elected from 26 aldermen of the City, by the Common Hall of Liverymen from the 100 Livery Companies. To be elected an alderman it was necessary to be a freeman of the city. Charles Whetham became an alderman in 1871, a sheriff from 1873 to 1874 and was knighted in 1874 for services to the City of London and the Government.

In November 1878 the Bridport News recorded that the Lord Chancellor had received the Lord Mayor elect, Sir Charles Whetham, to express Her Majesty’s assent for the choice of chief magistrate. After shaking hands the loving cup terminated the proceedings.

Sir Charles was not afraid to disobey protocol, as he dispensed with the ceremonial dinner given by incoming Lord Mayors for the previous 200 years and changed the seating arrangements at the Civic Banquet, causing “some distress”.

An account of the Lord Mayor’s Show of 11th November 1878 described flags and bunting, with Venetian masts. Fishmonger’s Hall had a large floral triumphal arch with “Welcome to the Lord Mayor of London”. In Southwark there was a good display as it was the first time the Lord Mayor had crossed the river. At Westminster the Lord Mayor was presented to the Barons of the Exchequer. The police headed the bands of the Royal Horse Artillery, Scots Guards and London Rifle Brigade. Banners were raised for the City Companies, Glass Sellers Co. Worshipful Co. of Shipwrights and Farriers and Leathersellers. The Lady Mayoress was in her State Carriage, with Maids of Honour and Sir Charles Whetham was in his State Coach drawn by six horses. The theme of the display was rope and netmaking, as a tribute to Bridport. Surprisingly there  was no mention of the streets being paved with gold or of his cat!

During his busy year of office Sir Charles provided Christmas Dinner for 400 prison inmates. He was presented in March at a levee held by the Prince of Wales on behalf of Her Majesty. In May the Lady Mayoress was presented to Her Majesty and later, other members of the Whetham family. In July the Mayor entertained Her Majesty’s Judges to a banquet at the Mansion House and a few days later he gave a banquet for the Prince of Wales in the Egyptian Hall, with his Royal Highness the Duke of Cambridge.

In August he returned to Bridport by train, to a crowded platform when “Three Cheers for the Lord Mayor” were given. The crowd removed the horses from his waiting carriage and drew it with ropes to his brother’s house.

On the next Lord Mayor’s Day in 1879 the new Lord Mayor proposed the health of Sir Charles at the Guildhall banquet, and in May 1880 Sir Charles and Lady Whetham were honoured with an invitation to Her Majesty’s State Ball at Buckingham Palace.

In 1885, after failing health for a year, Sir Charles died at his London residence, aged 73. He was stated to be head of S Whetham & Sons and Senior Magistrate of Bridport Borough, but rarely attended. He had been Deputy Lt. of the City of London. So ended our local Lord Mayor of London.

He is commemorated by a photograph in Bridport Museum, showing him robed, with his mayoral chain of office.

Thanks are due to Bridport Library for their records.


Cecil Amor, President, Bridport History Society.

(Next meeting March 8th)