John Hatsell's
Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons
(1776-1818) 

A man unafraid of 'universal approbation' ... 

The 'Success which I have had in the World, that universal approbation which I pride myelf in having receiv’d from all Parties.' Hatsell then concluded this passage (from his Memorabilia) as follows:  'The foregoing Reflections I wrote on Sunday morg of 5th Feby 1775.' Entry No. 1, Memorabilia, unpublished MSS, Huntington Library, San Marino, California 

'His Royal Hss, the Prince of Wales, did me the honour to walk the streets [of Bath] & converse for half an hour; He combin’d, in this short space, to talk of Mʳ Pitt of Chas Townshend The Chanc of the Exchr & paid me Complmts on The Parly Proceeds, which He had often look’d into ... '. Item_ Sidmouth_152 M C 1797 OZ 17, 1797.01.21, unpublished letter, Devon Heritage Center; emphasis in original. 

'Sir F. B. has 5 large Sons here, One married to the daughter of Mͬ Bingham, a great American merchant. — He has been Speaker of the Congress at Philadelphia, & told me, They did not get thro’ a day, without referring to one of the Vol. of Precedents — so this was very flattering— ' Item_Sidmouth_152 M C 1801 OZ 87, 1801.12.30, unpublished letter, Devon Heritage Center.

What is the significance of Hatsell's Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons? Is this work deserving of its own website, dedicated to all things Hatsellian, especially documents and analysis centred on the Precedents? To answer these questions, I turn to the ‘inner history of Parliament and its procedure’.  This quotation brings in two studies composed by Orlando Cyprian Williams: 

O.C. Williams, The Clerical Organization of the House of Commons 1661–1850 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954).

O.C. Williams, The Historical Development of Private Bill Procedure and Standing Orders in the House of Commons (London: HMSO, 1949; 2 vols.).

Williams expressed the hope that ‘at some future time, it may be possible to produce an edition of Hatsell’s letters’. (82-83). The hurdle, Williams concluded, is the monument that Hatsell left as his legacy work.  He is ‘generally reputed’, Williams declared, to be ‘the leading authority on parliamentary procedure’, despite the ‘four volumes of his rather ponderous book’. Clerical Organization 87.  In another work Williams added his regret that the ‘inner history of Parliament and its procedure is still so fragmentary’. Historical Development 2:iii.

Williams deserves a page honouring his contributions to parliamentary history and, in the course of time, this website will do that.  Williams (1883-1967) served the House of Commons in the Clerk's office for 41 years. Williams's war service includes postings in Gallipoli and Palestine. Williams travelled to the Devon Record Office (the Exeter City Archives at the time) and read every piece of the Ley-Hatsell correspondence (112 letters). At the British Library, Williams read about 80% of the Hatsell-Eden correspondence (by my computation), making notes along the way and cross-referencing points in the Ley and Eden letters. 

Is it possible that Williams had in mind a comprehensive study of Hatsell's Precedents of Proceedings in light of points that Hatsell's private correspondence might bring to light? What homage to The Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons would have pleased him?  Perhaps these pages will suggest such a design-in-progress. On the other hand, Exeter offers its charms to those entertaining a tour of the West Country.  The Ley Arms (still in the family) was (and is) a short ride from the Exeter City Archives (or today) the Devon Heritage Centre ... located in an industrial park in Exeter's suburbia. Williams, no mean tourist (see war record above), enjoyed reading John Hatsell's private correspondence and making a barrow-full of notes for the sake of pleasures retrievable only in Devonshire. Trollope and Hardy would surely understand such a venture.  


What's new? As of 9 September 2019 I have 11 of the 16 versions of the four volumes of the Precedents of Proceedings in the House of Commons posted and available for downloading.  See Links page in this website. All four of the 1818 editions are posted and all four of the first editions are posted.  Since the 1786 Dublin versions are reprints of the first three volumes (in the 1785 versions), there are 13 discrete versions of the four volumes of the Precedents of Proceedings, of which I have posted 11. Missing: the two 'inner' versions of Privilege of Parliament published in 1785 and 1796. In addition:  My recent postings include all six of the Letters Patent issued to Clerks of the House of Commons from 1742-1820. 
Next up:  I plan to post the complete downloadable text of the Standing Orders of the House of Commons 1678-1801 ... and after that a complete text of the Standing Orders of the United States Senate 1789-1801.