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William Baker, M.P.

The next tenant of Fords was another member of Parliament, a William Baker. He was born in 1705, the son of a London draper. He entered business as a merchant importing and exporting goods to the American colonies, at a time when rich pickings were to be made in this trade. He was described as "one of the foremost merchants trading with America, his interests extending over the whole length of the seaboard"(62); and as "the chief man in the Carolina trade". He also purchased large tracts of land in the colony.

His merchantile activities brought lucrative offices in the commercial world, including a governorship of the Hudson's Bay Company and a directorship (later chairman) of the East India Company.

From all of which he amassed a considerable fortune, and gained an entry into politics. He sat on the Corporation of the City of London, firstly as a councillor and then as alderman, for a total of almost forty years. For twenty-one years he was a member of Parliament.

Looking for a country retreat he came to Thames Ditton. Probably influenced by its proximity to Esher, where dwelled the brothers, Henry Pelham (Esher Place) and the duke of Newcastle (Claremont), respectively prime minister and secretary of state. Who between them had the control of political affairs and patronage tightly in their grasp; and with whom Baker was on friendly terms. They found him his seat in Parliament, and also considered bringing him into the government. In 1748 Newcastle wrote to Pelham: "Baker would certainly make the best commissioner of trade in all England". However, he was not appointed on that occasion, and when later he was offered a position he declined it. Which prompted the riposte from Pelham: "My friend Baker, though a very sensible fellow, is a coxcomb, and has been flattered by some people till he does not know where his arse hangs".

In 1757 Baker was in his fifties, his political advancement was frustrated, he turned his ambition in another direction. He fancied being a country squire in his own right, not the tenant of somebody else in a a rather old-fashioned house. Looking around for a somewhat grander mansion he found a manor at Bayford in Hertfordshire, which he purchased, had a brand new house built, and surrounded it with a large park(63). Thus suited he moved away from Fords and Thames Ditton.

To heighten his new status, and possibly as a belated reward for his support of the government, he was not long after raised to the knighthood(64), but by then he was far removed from this district and its history, and a new tenant was installed at Fords.

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