Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
at least 545 in 1698, rising to at least 1,000 in 1710
|6 Mar. 1690||SIR WILLIAM WHITMORE, Bt.|
|SIR EDWARD ACTON, Bt.|
|11 Nov. 1695||SIR WILLIAM WHITMORE, Bt.|
|SIR EDWARD ACTON, Bt.|
|28 July 1698||SIR WILLIAM WHITMORE, Bt.||521|
|SIR EDWARD ACTON, Bt.||407|
|9 May 1699||ROGER POPE vice Whitmore, deceased|
|7 Jan. 1701||ROGER POPE|
|SIR EDWARD ACTON, Bt.|
|26 Nov. 1701||ROGER POPE||319|
|SIR EDWARD ACTON, Bt.||249|
|21 July 1702||SIR HUMPHREY BRIGGS, Bt.|
|SIR EDWARD ACTON, Bt.|
|11 May 1705||SIR HUMPHREY BRIGGS, Bt.||528|
|10 May 1708||WILLIAM WHITMORE|
|SIR HUMPHREY BRIGGS, Bt.|
|11 Oct. 1710||RICHARD CRESSWELL||520|
|Sir Humphrey Briggs, Bt.||501|
|1 Sept. 1713||WILLIAM WHITMORE|
Two families dominated elections at Bridgnorth: the Whitmores of Apley and the Actons of Aldenham. Both had property within the borough and estates nearby. The influence of the Whitmores was the greater. They owned more of the town and, although no Whitmore ever served as an alderman or a bailiff, the government of the corporation was usually in the hands of their supporters. The Weavers of Morville, another local family with property in the town and influence in the constituency, acted in concert with the Whitmores. There was also a sizable body of Dissenters in the borough.4
At first the representation was uncontested, being divided between Sir William Whitmore, 2nd Bt., and Sir Edward Acton, 3rd Bt., the recorder of the corporation. Both voted with the Tories in Parliament. But in 1698 Acton was opposed by Roger Pope, a former Member. On this occasion the corporation was divided, but among the freemen the combined Whitmore and Acton interests gave Sir Edward a large majority of votes over Pope, who presented a petition which was never reported. This election marked the beginning of a period of political strife in the borough. Between 1698 and 1710, 632 new freemen were admitted (nearly half as many as in the previous 60 years), doubling the size of the electorate. After Whitmore’s death in March 1699 Pope’s son Roger was returned unopposed to the vacant seat. Pope probably represented the Whitmore interest: he was the cousin of the heir to the Apley estate, Sir William’s cousin William Whitmore, who himself was still a minor. In this way the Whitmore and Acton interests continued to share the representation of the borough, easily defeating the challenge of a local man, John Beech of Oldbury, in November 1701, and when Pope retired in 1702 his place was taken by another Whitmore nominee, Sir Humphrey Briggs, 4th Bt., a Whig, who had sat previously for the county.5
By 1705 William Whitmore had come of age, and at the election of that year he stood as a Whig candidate together with Briggs. Both were returned, defeating Sir Edward Acton’s eldest son, Whitmore Acton, who did not petition. The outcome of the election seems to have turned on the issue of the Tack, which Sir Edward Acton had supported in Parliament and Briggs had voted against. At the next election Whitmore, who had now married the daughter of Roger Pope, was returned unopposed with Briggs.6
In 1710 Briggs and Whitmore were opposed by two Tories: Whitmore Acton and Richard Cresswell, the latter a young squire who lived locally. Cresswell’s campaign began early. On 5 July, at his invitation, Dr Sacheverell visited Bridgnorth. The occasion had been well advertised in advance and Cresswell had informed the clergy and gentry thereabouts. Before the doctor arrived there were reports of ‘violent doings at Bridgnorth, both parties making bonfires where about one they drink Dr Sacheverell’s health and the other his confusion’. Then,
when Dr Sacheverell came near the town he was met by Mr Cresswell, at the head of about four thousand horse, and near three thousand foot, most of them with white knots edged with gold, and three leaves of gilt laurel in their hats; the hedges two miles from the town being dressed with flowers and lined with people, and the two steeples adorned with fifty pounds worth of flags and colours.
The welcome was not unanimous, according to the Whig Flying Post, which reported counter-demonstrations and fighting between opposing mobs. During Sacheverell’s stay in Bridgnorth the bailiffs and some of the freemen of the corporation agreed upon an address to the Queen, which was presented by Cresswell at Kensington in July. The signatories pledged to ‘do our utmost endeavours, when your Majesty shall call a new Parliament, to elect such Members as are men of monarchical principles, members of the Church of England, and maintainers of her sound and pure doctrines’. On his way across Shropshire Sacheverell also paid a visit to Whitmore Acton. By contrast, the outgoing Members were slow to get into the field, William Whitmore’s spirits being low following the death of his first-born son, and Briggs resting at Bath. As the election approached, the Tories took pains to publicize the fact that Briggs had voted for Sacheverell’s impeachment. Cresswell and Acton failed to secure the support of the moderate but influential local Tory Sir Richard Myddelton, 3rd Bt.*, who refused their invitation to visit the town immediately before the election. However, in the event their own efforts proved just sufficient. In the six weeks prior to the election some 230 freemen were admitted, and it was said that Cresswell paid the expenses of about 30 non-resident freemen who came up from London and Southwark to vote. Cresswell had little property in the town itself, but his influence with the out-voters brought him to the top of the poll. On the Whig side, Whitmore was said to have impaired his own chances in trying too hard to help his partner. News of the narrow success of the Tories at the poll was greeted in the town with bonfires and ringing of bells. Afterwards a petition charging Cresswell with bribery was presented to the Commons by the defeated Whig candidates, but never reported.7
In the 1713 election there were no Tory candidates: Cresswell had moved his residence to Wiltshire and was returned for a borough there; Acton did not stand. Their places were taken by Whitmore and his Whig ally John Weaver.
Author: D. W. Hayton
- 1. VCH Salop, iii. 276.
- 2. Salop RO, Acton mss from Aldenham.
- 3. VCH Salop, 277.
- 4. Ibid. 276; J. F. A. Mason, Bor. of Bridgnorth 1157–1957, pp. 18, 25–26, 28, 32, 34; R. F. Skinner, Nonconformity in Shropshire 1662–1816, pp. 24, 27, 30, 42.
- 5. Mason, 32.
- 6. HMC Portland, iv. 271.
- 7. Lincs. AO, Monson mss 7/13/123, 124, Gervase Scroop to Sir John Newton, Bt., 26 June, 1 July 1710; NLW, Ottley mss 2565, 2570, 2580, Charles Baldwyn* to Adam Ottley, 30 June, 28 July, 13 Oct. 1710; 2567, Acton Baldwyn* to same, [?12 July 1710]; G. Holmes, Trial of Sacheverell, 246–8; Boyer, Anne Annals, xi. 203–4; A Coll. of Addresses which have been presented to the Queen, since the Impeachment of the Rev. Dr Henry Sacheverell, ii. 14; VCH Salop, 277; G. Holmes, Pol. in Age of Anne, 38; Salop RO, Forester mss, Sir William Forester* to George Weld II*, 31 Aug. 1710; EHR, lvi. 78; NLW, Chirk Castle mss E984, Whitmore Acton to Myddelton, 6 Oct. 1710; E986, Cresswell to same, 8 Oct. 1710; E985, Myddelton to Acton and Cresswell, n.d..