Double Member County

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

Number of voters:

about 8,000


1 May 1754Lewis Watson5235
 Robert Fairfax5137
 Sir Edward Dering2959
18 June 1760Sir Wyndham Knatchbull Wyndham vice Watson, called to the Upper House 
7 Apr. 1761Robert Fairfax 
 Sir Wyndham Knatchbull Wyndham 
30 Nov. 1763Sir Brook Bridges vice Knatchbull Wyndhall, deceased 
30 Mar. 1768Sir Brook Bridges 
 John Frederick Sackville 
15 Feb. 1769Sir Charles Farnaby vice Sackville, called to the Upper House 
19 Oct. 1774Charles Marsham 
 Thomas Knight 
13 Sept. 1780Charles Marsham 
 Filmer Honywood 
21 Apr. 1784Charles Marsham 
 Filmer Honywood 

Main Article

Kent was one of the largest of the county constituencies, and its independence was jealously guarded. The Duke of Dorset, the leading peer in the county, had considerable influence, and there was a Government interest, based on the revenue officers in the ports; but neither was effective without support from the country gentlemen. It was the custom to elect one Member from east Kent and the other from west Kent.

The sitting Members at the dissolution in 1754 were two Tories, Sir Roger Twisden and Sir Edward Dering. The Kent Whigs, long disunited, found in Robert Fairfax and Lewis Watson two candidates in whose support all sections of the party could join. The Tories were badly handicapped when Twisden declined to stand again on grounds of health, and Dering was unable to find a suitable partner. His overwhelming defeat marks virtually the end of the Tory interest in Kent. At the by-election of 1760 Dering again came forward as a candidate, but failing to find sufficient support declined the poll.

Difficulties arose in 1761 when it was feared that Fairfax, in desperate financial circumstances, did not possess the property qualification for a knight of the shire. Several other possible candidates were proposed, but none of them aroused much enthusiasm, and it soon became clear that the only way to preserve the peace of the county was to re-elect Fairfax, bankrupt though he was. When in February 1761 Fairfax was able to tell the county that he was qualified to serve, the feeling was one of relief. A similar unanimity marked the election of Sir Brook Bridges in 1763 and of John Frederick Sackville in 1768.

By then the old Whig-Tory antagonism was dead in Kent, and during the American war new issues arose to divide the county. John Robinson noted about Kent in his survey for the general election of 1780:

Mr. Knight [a Government supporter] declines. Mr. Marsham and Mr. Honywood have been nominated at a patriotic meeting. Mr. [Lewis Thomas] Watson is proposed to stand. He is not very averse to Government, and it is hoped he will succeed, as he is the most moderate and in time may not be averse.

But Watson did not stand, and Marsham and Honywood, both strong supporters of the Opposition, were returned unopposed. Towards the end of this period political issues were beginning to shape Kentish politics but not yet on party lines. At the general election of 1784 Marsham and Honywood gave a declaration that they would allow measures, not men, to direct their conduct in Parliament.

Author: John Brooke