Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1858-1859.
PROFESSION:- Solicitor
WARD:- All Saints
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- November 9th 1859.
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Clerk of the Peace from 1879.
RESIDENCE:- Bedford Lodge, West St Fareham
DECEASED:- 14th August 1880 aged 62.
BURIED:- Trinity Churchyard, Fareham
Born in Portsmouth in 1818 Henry Ford was one of ten solicitors to hold the mayoral chair during the C19th. In 1863-64 Henry's brother, Richard Ford, another solicitor, also became mayor. Both were noted 'sanitisers' i.e. supporters of the acceptance of the Public Health Act 1848 (PHA) when such a position might well have drawn general derision. Career wise Henry Ford was regarded as an outstanding solicitor. He was once told by Lord Coleridge (the Recorder at Portsmouth) that had he been at the Bar he would have made QC many years ago. (1) He was recognised a potential mayoral material as early as October 1849 by the Hampshire Telegraph which printed, "H. Ford an aspirant for fame as future alderman and mayor, doubtless a shrewd lawyer and denouncer of bad accounts."
At the electoral meeting future mayor Cllr William Garrington (St George) stood to nominate the man he had nominated the previous year i.e. Cllr Henry Ford. Garrington observed that Ford was a young man, he had youth on his side and under his guidance the proceedings of the council would be conducted in a more orderly manner than had perhaps hitherto been the case. Cllr Sheppard followed to say that though he still held some of the reservations he held the previous year concerning practising solicitors becoming magistrates he would nevertheless vote for Ford this time. There were no other nominations so Ford was elected unopposed.
On November 29th 1858 the new General Post Office opened in the High Street. In the April 1859 General Election the Tories, under Palmerston, were returned. For Portsmouth the elected members were:- Sir J.D. Elphinstone (Conservative) and Sir F.T. Baring (Liberal). Perhaps the major event of the year was the presentation of the Mayor's Chain of office. At the banquet which followed the presentation Mayor Ford reflected on the civic achievements of the year 1859. He noted the council had succeeded during the past year in securing to the inhabitants a complete and direct railway link with London and had accomplished what it was said they would never succeed in carrying out namely that of binding down the railway company to provide as cheap a London fare with as good accommodation as possible. Referring to the Act of Parliament permitting the construction of a Commercial Dock. He commented they had thereby succeeded in obtaining another measure which would secure to the council the warmest regard of those who came after them.
Possibly the tensions created by the potential conflict of interest referred to above were being felt by Mayor Ford. Whatever, he was firm he would not stand again for mayoral office. This was made clear in October during the course of the presentation of the Mayor's Chain when, during his speech, Alderman Crassweller expressed the hope that Ford would hold the mayoral chair for a number of years. The Mayor, without being specific, replied that he felt his position precluded him from standing again.
Due to lack of vacancy, at the end of his mayoral year, Ford was still not an alderman and he would therefore have to rejoin the ranks of the other councillors. This was regarded as not being commensurate with his status as an ex mayor. Consequently, Alderman Sheppard proposed that Ford. though not an alderman, should nevertheless take his seat to the right of the mayor as had been the custom. This was seconded by Cllr Moses Solomon and carried unanimously.
Subsequently, in November 1859, Ford was elected alderman but in August 1871, together with his brother Richard Ford he resigned his place on the council in order to make himself available as candidate for the vacant post of Clerk to the Magistrates - which was a paid position (3). The decision would be made by the local Board of Magistrates. This announcement brought forth some adverse comment from Cllr W. Buckell who suggested that the Fords were seeking preferment and were using their positions as aldermen for their own ends. Whatever they were unsuccessful in their applications. Henry Ford was not long absent from the council. On the 5th September 1871 Cllr William Kent was elected alderman leaving a vacancy for a councillor in St George's ward. Henry Ford stood and was re-elected to the council as of September 18th.
It was generally agreed that the Ford brothers had given sterling service to the council. It was felt that recognition was appropriate. Consequently on the 28th September 1871 the Fords' civic careers were celebrated at a sumptuous dinner given by members of the council at the New Pier Hotel. Mayor Baker took the chair and there ensued the usual galaxy of toasting and speech making.
Henry Ford was again elected alderman on the 18th August 1874. In July 1879, on the death of John Howard, Clerk of the Peace, Ford again resigned his seat on the council and was this time elected to that post but failing health prevented him from giving the job the attention it required. Businesses apart Ford had other interests. He was a founder member of the 5th Hants Rifle Volunteer Corps. He moved rapidly up the promotion ladder. As he reflected himself he held five commissions in two years. Starting as Lieutenant, to Captain, then Major and finally Lt Colonel of the 600 strong Corps.
He died in his bath, following a fit, on Saturday 14th August 1880 and is buried in Trinity Churchyard, Fareham but the grave is no longer visible.
Norman Gordon
1. Obituary. Hampshire Post 20th August 1880.
2. Portsmouth Times 13th November 1858.
3. Portsmouth Times 2nd September 1871 p7
4. Portsmouth Times 30th September 1871.