Sir Richard Neave 1st Bt. (1731-1814)
The ancestors of Sir Richard Neave (1731-1814) originated from Norfolk settling in Essex in the 18th century. The foundation of the family’s wealth stemmed from their extensive interests trading with the colonies, Sir Richard’s father and grandfather having both been successful merchants. These interests are evident from the directorships held by Sir Richard during his life time. He served as sometime chairman of the Society of West Indian Merchants, the Ramsgate Harbour Trust, was a director of the Hudson Bay Company and served as a director of the Bank of England for nearly half a century becoming Governor in 1783. These extensive connections made him the natural choice for chairman of the London Dock Company when it was founded by Act of Parliament in 1806.
Sir Richard's interests extended far beyond business. As an architectural patron he commissioned George Gibson to design his office in Broad Street, his London residence, 6 Albemarle Street, and a new mansion for his country estate Dagnam Park which he acquired in 1772. He commissioned works by Zoffany, Gainsborough, Lawrence and Wilkie. It is no surprise that Gainsborough depicted him as a connoisseur in the double portrait with his wife Frances Bristow, as he was a Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries.
The London Dock Company
On 20 June 1800, an Act of Parliament was passed, establishing the London Dock Company. The first meeting of the committee was held on 9 July the same year. It was at this meeting that Sir Richard Neave was elected chairman. In 1802 the foundation stone for the West India Docks was laid in the presence of the Prime Minister William Pitt and the Lord Chancellor Lord Loughborough, the architect being John Rennie. At a time when twenty-five percent of the Britain's income was derived from the West Indian trade a secure and efficient dock system was vital if business was to thrive and expand. The company was given a twenty year monopoly. The first and largest of the docks opened in 1805.
A notice was published in The Times on 21 July 1806 announcing the Special General Meeting 'in consequence of a Requisition signed by Nine Proprietors, to consider the propriety of expressing Gratitude of the Proprietors for the Services to the Company by the Director's. No doubt the decision to recognise Sir Richard's efforts with a gift of plate was passed at the meeting and the centrepiece was subsequently presented.