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Alcock, Thomaslocked

  • Patrick Woodland

Alcock, Thomas (1709–1798), Church of England clergyman and writer, was baptized at Aston by Sutton, Cheshire, on 27 October 1709, the third son of David Alcock (bap. 1675, d. 1750?) and Mary Breck (d. 1747), of Aston and Higher Runcorn, Cheshire. He matriculated from Brasenose College, Oxford, on 1 March 1728 and proceeded BA in 1731 and MA in 1741. Although he was instituted as vicar of Runcorn on 17 July 1756 and became a Cheshire JP, all but his final years were spent in the Plymouth area of Devon. He was licensed as curate of Stonehouse on 30 December 1731, but in November 1732 began acting as minister of nearby St Budeaux to which he was officially licensed on 29 December 1733. In 1769 Alcock was disappointed in his expectations of succeeding to the vicarage of St Andrew's, Plymouth, which carried with it the nomination to St Budeaux. He thereafter refused to comply with the custom to preach in St Andrew's every ninth Wednesday, but on 21 May 1790 was prompted by an archidiaconal visitation there to deliver his hour-and-a-half long sermon 'An apology for Esau' which was subsequently published.

On 5 December 1737 Alcock married, at St Budeaux, Mary Harwood (bap. 1702, d. 1777), the only child and heir of Philip Harwood (d. 1713) of Ernesettle, Plymouth. Through this marriage, which was childless, Alcock obtained considerable property in St Budeaux. His local popularity was ensured when he ceased to collect tithes for the remainder of his life. Contemporaries noted his eccentric habits, spartan lifestyle, and kindness to the poor to whom he also acted as doctor and lawyer. In 1752 he published two pamphlets, Observations on the Defects of the Poor Laws and Remarks on Two Bills for the Better Maintenance of the Poor. In 1771 he contributed to the purchase of land at Weston Peverel to provide a master for the St Budeaux charity school and to clothe the poor. With his two elder brothers, Matthew (1705–1785) and Nathan Alcock, the eminent physician, he similarly endowed Alcock's Charity at Runcorn which was also designed to promote psalmody in Runcorn church.

Alcock farmed at Ernesettle and in 1763, describing himself as 'A Cydermaker', he wrote Observations on that Part of the Late Act of Parliament which Lays an Additional Duty on Cider. As well as attacking the excise system, this pamphlet outlined the anticipated detrimental economic consequences of the measure and contributed to its repeal in 1766. Alcock's pamphleteering skills were also deployed in defence of local cidermakers in 1767 when George Baker suggested that the severe colic then peculiar to Devon was the result of lead poisoning from the presses, pipework, and storage vessels. Cursory Remarks on Dr. Baker's Essay on the Endemial Colic in Devon (1767) was followed by The Endemial Colic of Devon not Caused by a Solution of Lead in the Cyder (1769). Baker's empirical evidence was refuted by the assertion that the colic resulted only from the small shot used in bottle cleansing. These writings probably contributed to the decision to present Alcock with the freedom of the borough of Plymouth in a silver box on 16 October 1769.

When Nathan Alcock died in 1779 he left the residue of his estate, estimated at £15,000, to be divided equally between his surviving brothers, Matthew and Thomas. The latter produced Some Memoirs of the Life of Dr Nathan Alcock the following year and in 1796 also arranged the publication of Nathan's The Rise of Mahomet, Accounted for on Natural and Civil Principles. Thomas Alcock died at Runcorn on 24 August 1798 and was buried there three days later.


Wealth at Death

over £7500?; incl. property in Plymouth area: will, Nathan Alcock, Ches. & Chester ALSS, WS 1780

Cheshire and Chester Archives and Local Studies Service
J. Foster, ed., , 4 vols. (1887–8), later edn (1891); , 4 vols. (1891–2); 8 vol. repr. (1968) and (2000)