Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 2,000


15 Apr. 1754Charles Barrow 
 George Augustus Selwyn 
29 Dec. 1755Selwyn re-elected after appointment to office 
25 Mar. 1761Charles Barrow1012
 George Augustus Selwyn981
 Powell Snell583
16 Mar. 1768Charles Barrow 
 George Augustus Selwyn 
7 Oct. 1774Charles Barrow 
 George Augustus Selwyn 
14 Sept. 1780Charles Barrow 
 John Webb 
31 Mar. 1784Sir Charles Barrow 
 John Webb 
5 Feb. 1789John Pitt vice Barrow, deceased837
 Henry Howard836

Main Article

No family succeeded in establishing a permanent interest at Gloucester, though the Selwyns of Matson held one seat from 1727 to 1780. The corporation had some influence through its power to create freemen. The out-voters were a considerable element in every contest, and added greatly to the expense. The recorder had also some influence, depending upon his stature and the part he took in civic life. In the 18th century the Members for Gloucester were always local men, and the city had a reputation for fidelity to them: between 1727 and 1832 there were only 13, five of whom died in possession of their seats.

‘The distinctions of Whig and Tory are not as yet worn out’, wrote John Pitt, Lord Hardwicke’s steward at Gloucester, on 15 Nov. 1760. Throughout the 18th century the Tories were strong in the city. At first they controlled both seats, but in 1727 had to yield one to the Whigs; and their constant endeavour was to regain the second seat. ‘The corporation is in the Whig interest’, wrote the Rev. Henry Gally, prebendary of Gloucester, to Newcastle on 9 Nov. 1751,1 ‘but the contrary interest prevails in the city.’

At the general election of 1747 Benjamin Bathurst, a Tory, and John Selwyn, a Whig, were returned without opposition. On Selwyn’s death in 1751 the Whigs approached his son George Augustus Selwyn, who preferred to wait until the general election; and in the absence of a suitable Whig candidate Charles Barrow, a Tory, was returned. At the general election of 1754 the Tories wished to try to retain both seats; but Barrow, on being informed by the corporation that if he stood alone they would support him, refused to join with Bathurst. The Tories, disgusted at his conduct, put up Powell Snell; but on the eve of the poll Barrow and Selwyn announced their junction, and Snell was forced to decline.

Similarly in 1761, Barrow preferred to join with Selwyn, and the Tories again set up Snell. After a disorderly contest Barrow came out head of the poll, and Snell was badly defeated.2

John Pitt, in a letter to Hardwicke of 15 Nov. 1760,3 wrote about Barrow and the Tories:

Mr. Barrow, conscious of the smallness of his own fortune, and sensible that that party was always a dead weight on the leaders, endeavoured to shift it by raising a party to himself, which Mr. Selwyn’s absence from Gloucester enabled him to do, for he was always ready and sought every opportunity of obliging them who he imagined would be grateful and had it in their power to serve him, so that his interest is supported by those out of gratitude who otherwise would not have troubled themselves with elections.

Selwyn, on the other hand, found election business distasteful and visited his constituents as little as he could. After 1761 his interest was losing ground; and he, rather than Barrow, began to gain from their alliance. Similarly, Barrow, rather than Selwyn came to be regarded as the corporation candidate.

In 1768 the Tories were reduced to supporting two outsiders, neither of whom could be called a Tory: John Roberts, a director of the East India Company, and John Cator, a Southwark timber merchant. Roberts soon declined, but Cator persisted a little longer. ‘Though the blow is aimed at Barrow’, wrote John Pitt, ‘yet the contest will lie between Selwyn and Cator.’4 But Cator declined before the poll. In 1774 Barrow and Selwyn were re-chosen, no other candidate appearing against them.

The election of 1780 had a political character. Selwyn, a placeman and a constant supporter of North’s Administration, had become very unpopular with those who opposed the American war. They found a candidate in John Webb, a former mayor, whose grandfather had represented Gloucester in Queen Anne’s reign. Webb was supported by the Duke of Norfolk, owner of a large estate near the city, whose son, Lord Surrey, was closely connected with the leaders of the Rockingham party. In April 1780 Barrow broke with Selwyn, and announced that he would stand singly. In July the corporation decided to support Barrow and Webb, who now stood on a joint interest. Selwyn was not at first despondent. He wrote to Lord Carlisle on 3 Aug.:5 ‘There is a great party for me both in the corporation and in the town, and among the gentlemen on the side of Administration, dispersed in the several counties, my interest is not inconsiderable.’ Robinson wrote of Gloucester in his electoral survey: ‘A pity it should be given up quietly, when it has so long returned one friend’; and Selwyn was promised financial assistance. (In all £2,600 was paid from secret service funds for this election.6)

But on 22 Aug. Selwyn wrote to Lord North:7

It is my intention ... to resign all thoughts of being a candidate at the next election for the city of Gloucester ... I ... have subjected myself to the humours of these people till I am quite tired of them. The best and most useful friends to me and my family have been dead some time, and their sons and descendants have not only forgotten the obligations which their relations had to mine, but those favours which I have recently obtained in their behalf from your Lordship. However, it is right to acquaint you that there still remains in this place a number of friends to the present Government, upon whose services I could safely rely if there was occasion for them. This number, upon encouragement, would be increased; and ... I shall take every opportunity of encouraging these dispositions.

These last sentences were seized upon by Robinson. ‘We have much to do’, he wrote to Jenkinson on 28 Aug.,8 ‘to prevent Selwyn throwing up the game at Gloucester, which seems fair to both.’ Perhaps he counted too much on the influence of Lord North, recorder of Gloucester since 1770; but here, as elsewhere, he was out of touch with opinion in the provinces.

Sir Andrew Hamond, a naval officer just returned from America, was persuaded to become Selwyn’s partner. They found their main support in the old Tory interest. Selwyn wrote to Carlisle on 11 Sept.:9

There is a party here called the True Blues, who lead Sir Andrew Hamond and I about as if they had purchased us to show in a fair. They cost me, some years ago, twice two thousand pounds, by opposing me, and now are doing all they can to make me pay four by befriending me ... I may retain my own seat, but to attempt the other does as yet appear a great piece of extravagance, considering the party which we have to contend with, who ... have been very industrious for two years in bringing about this opposition. ... I wish to God that it was all at an end.

Selwyn was loath to admit the extent to which his interest had declined (which may have helped to deceive Robinson), but the canvassing returns10 suggest that Hamond was the stronger Government candidate. Still, neither was strong enough, and on the eve of the poll they declined. In a farewell address to the freemen of Gloucester, Selwyn wrote that he had stood ‘in violence to his own opinion and inclination ... had supported very reluctantly a long, tedious, and painful canvass, and had incurred a vain and not inconsiderable expense’. He had declined only when told there was no hope. But his committee issued a reply insisting that his cause would not have been hopeless had he stood his ground. To his nephew, Charles Townshend, he wrote on 31 Aug. 1780:11

I should have been sorry if any personal behaviour of my own had occasioned this, but as it is agreed on all sides that no objection lies to me, but to my principles and situation in respect to Government... I am content.

There was no contest in 1784, nor any sign of an opposition. On Barrow’s death in 1789 there was a very severe contest. Charles Townshend canvassed the borough; but his uncle’s interest was gone, and he soon withdrew. The Duke of Norfolk, supported by the recorder and the corporation, put forward Henry Howard, the Duke’s nephew. John Pitt, the former client of the Yorkes, stood upon the remnant of the old Tory interest. The contest was very expensive: Pitt estimated that his party had spent £10,000, and their opponents £20,000;12 and Pitt was successful by one vote on a poll of 1,673. It was a remarkable achievement to defeat such a combination of interests; but Pitt was a Gloucester man, and had been concerned in its politics for over 30 years.

Author: J. A. Cannon


This account is based upon J. A. Cannon, ‘Parlty. Rep. City of Gloucester 1727-90’, Trans. Bristol Glos. Arch. Soc. lxxviii. 137-52.

  • 1. Add. 35692, f. 141; 32725, f. 386.
  • 2. Namier Structure, 77-78.
  • 3. Add. 35692, f. 141.
  • 4. Add. 35608, f. 140.
  • 5. HMC Carlisle, 441.
  • 6. Laprade, 58.
  • 7. Jesse, Geo. Selwyn his Contemporaries, iv. 363-4.
  • 8. Add. 38567, f. 66.
  • 9. HMC Carlisle, 442-3.
  • 10. In the Gloucester Ref. Lib.
  • 11. Marsham-Townshend mss.
  • 12. Pitt to Geo. Rose, 27 May 1789, Chatham mss.