Prof George Pryme MP – The man who smashed the Rutland stranglehold on Cambridge

I picked up a copy of his biography written by his daughter Alicia, who wrote it following a series of extensive interviews with her father, the first MP for Cambridge following the passing of the Great Reform Act 1832, which legally did away with the Rotten Boroughs.

George Pryme – from the History of Economic Thought‘s profile page of Pryme.

Unfortunately it would be many years before the blatant corruption would be driven from Cambridge’s elections, and 160 years after the passing of that Act which vanquished the Conservative parliamentary presence in Cambridge for its longest time period to date. 2022 will make it 30 years since Cambridge last had a Conservative MP, an astonishing feat given that the town was once a safe-as-castles Conservative constituency.

Alicia’s biography of George Pryme has been digitised on the Internet Archive – you can read it here. What follows is the obituary in the Cambridge Independent Press digitised by the British Newspaper Archive. I have transcribed it below.

DEATH OF GEORGE PRYME, ESQ. It with deep feelings of regret that we have to announce the death of this gentleman, which event took place on Wednesday last, at his residence, at Wistow, Huntingdonshire. Mr. George Pryme was the eldest son of Christopher Pryme, Esq., of Cottingham, in the county of York, by Alice, daughter of George Dimsdale Esq., and was born in 1782.

“He was educated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he eminently distinguished himself. 1801 he obtained Sir William Browne’s Medal, for an Epigram, and in the following year, was awarded Sir William Browne’s Medal for a Greek Ode.

“In 1803 he took his degree of 8.A., when he was sixth Wrangler; the celebrated James Parke, afterwards Lord Wensleydale, graduating as fifth Wrangler the same year. he obtained the Member’s Prize; was elected a Fellow of his college; took the degree of M.A., in 1806; and finished his University career in 1809, by obtaining the Member’s Prize.

“1806 he was called the Bar by the Honourable Society of Lincoln’s Inn, being at the time of his death the senior barrister of that society. He joined the Norfolk Circuit, and soon obtained a good practice—always being engaged in any case where the public interests of the locality were involved. At one time he was leader of the Circuit, but for many years he had relinquished the active pursuit his profession, contenting himself with occasionally appearing at the Court when the Assizes were being held in the immediate neighbourhood of his residence; but up to the very last he was an active Magistrate for the county of Huntingdon.

“During the great portion of his life Mr. Pryme resided at Cambridge, and he will be remembered by its inhabitants—particularly by his Parliamentary connection with them. Although member of the University, he took from an early period very keen interest in the affairs of the town, and reformer, wished for the abolition of the abuses which then existed in parliamentary and municipal matters.

“At a time when Toryism of the worst type was rampant in the University, Mr. Pryme joined himself to the rapidly rising sections of Liberals, and was rewarded for his exertions in the cause of progress, being placed head of the poll at the first election, after the passing the Reform Act of 1832.

“To illustrate how devoted his time to the furtherance of his political opinions we find from his pen in 1823, a letter to the freemen and inhabitants of the Borough Cambridge on the state of the Borough, a production which caused considerable excitement, and attracted public opinion to inquire into the abuses so ably pointed out by the learned writer.

“About this time instituted a course of lectures in the University upon the subject “Political Economy,” and on the May, 1828, a Grace passed the Senate [of the University of Cambridge] conferring upon him the title of Professor of Political Economy, which office held without emolument until his resignation in 1063, when chair Political Economy was endowed and filled the election of Professor [Henry] Fawcett [Husband of Millicent Garrett Fawcett the Suffragist campaigner].

“In Dec. 1832 first contested the Borough of Cambridge in the Liberal interest, having for his colleague Mr. Spring Rice, afterwards Lord Monteagle. The election was contested in the Conservative interest by Sir Edward Sugden, afterwards Lord Saint Leonards, the result of a two days’ poll being Pryme, 979; Bice, 709; Sudgens, 540.

“At the General Election in 1835 he was again returned by the narrow majority five votes over Mr. Knight Bruce; but at the election in 1837 he succeeded in increasing his majority to 64. He represented the Borough until 1841, when retired.

“In the House of Commons he steadfastly and consistently adhered to Liberal opinions, and was very active in promoting the interests of the town, and reforming the abuses of the University. In he moved for a Commission to inquire into the state of the University; but the opposition to the measure was too strong, and it was ultimately withdrawn.

“Upon the subject of the restriction of religious tests he also was a formidable opponent, and as far back 1833 proposed two Graces in the Senate, having for their object the modification of the then existing subscription from graduates, a result attained by Act of Parliament some years later.

“He was an earnest supporter of the [secret] ballot, and in 1831 and 1837 advocated its adoption at the public meetings held at Cambridge in furtherance that object.

‘Mr Pryme was too actively engaged during the whole of his life to spare much time to literature, and, beyond a few pamphlets, cannot be reckoned as an author. Although during the last few years the increasing infirmities of age compelled him to lead life of comparative idleness, his interest in political events was by no means quenched. As a member of the University, his name will long live associated with its great reforms, and more especially as being the founder of the chair of Political Economy—a science quite neglected until he first commenced course of lectures upon the subject.

“As a barrister, his fame belongs more to the past generation than the present; but as a politician, he lived to see the Liberal views of his early manhood generally adopted the majority of his countrymen.

“The first member for the Borough under the Reform Act of 1832, he survived to witness the defeat of the Conservatives consequent upon the extended Act of 1867, and the townspeople Cambridge have to thank him for vast improvements secured by his instrumentality in municipal affairs.

“Mr Pryme married, in 1813, Jane Townley, daughter of Thomas Thackeray, Esq., by whom he had issue, daughter, Alicia [who wrote his biography in 1870], and a son, Mr. Charles De La Pryme, who was educated Trinity College, Cambridge.

“Soon after the first election of Messrs Pryme and Rice as Members of Parliament for the Borough, their portraits were painted in oil by Thomas Henry Gregg, Esq., and the picture presented to the Corporation. It now hangs in the Aldermen’s Parlour at the Guildhall.”


Note to self – try to find out what happened to the portrait by Thomas Gregg!

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