London

Four Members 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 livery

Number of voters:

about 7,000

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
7 May 1754Sir John Barnard3553
 Slingsby Bethell3547
 Sir Robert Ladbroke3390
 William Beckford2941
 Sir Richard Glyn2655
 Sir William Calvert2650
30 Nov. 1758Sir Richard Glyn vice Bethell, deceased 
4 Apr. 1761Sir Robert Ladbroke4306
 Thomas Harley3983
 William Beckford3663
 Sir Richard Glyn3285
 Sir Samuel Fludyer3193
25 Mar. 1768Thomas Harley3729
 Sir Robert Ladbroke3678
 William Beckford3402
 Barlow Trecothick2957
 Sir Richard Glyn2823
 John Paterson1769
 John Wilkes1247
11 July 1770Richard Oliver vice Beckford, deceased 
23 Dec. 1773Frederick Bull vice Ladbroke, deceased2695
 John Roberts2481
18 Oct. 1774John Sawbridge3456
 George Hayley3390
 Richard Oliver3354
 Frederick Bull3096
 William Baker2802
 Brass Crosby1913
 John Roberts1398
19 Sept. 1780George Hayley4062
 John Kirkman3804
 Frederick Bull3150
 Nathaniel Newnham3036
 John Sawbridge2957
 Richard Clarke1771
28 Nov. 1780John Sawbridge vice Kirkman, deceased 
2 Oct. 1781Sir Watkin Lewes vice Hayley, deceased2685
 Richard Clarke2387
26 Jan. 1784Brook Watson vice Bull, deceased2097
 Brass Crosby1043
7 May 1784Brook Watson4776
 Sir Watkin Lewes4541
 Nathaniel Newnham4467
 John Sawbridge2812
 Richard Atkinson2803
 Samuel Smith286
 William Pitt56

Main Article

London was probably the most politically conscious constituency in Great Britain, and political movements emanating from London affected the neighbouring constituencies of Westminster, Southwark, Middlesex, and Surrey. The franchise was not as wide as that of the freeman boroughs, and did not include the labouring classes; but only Westminster, among the urban constituencies, had a larger electorate. In its court of aldermen and common council London had an elective system of local government, which could be used to organize and channel political agitation. Because of the concentration of population and the relatively selective franchise, London was peculiarly susceptible to political movements.

Its electorate was divided almost on a class basis. The larger merchants had an intimate connexion with the Treasury, and in politics they and their adherents were usually to be found on the Government side. They were the principal subscribers to Government loans, and tendered for Government contracts for remitting money and victualling troops abroad. They controlled the three great joint-stock companies: the Bank of England, the South Sea Company, and the East India Company; and many of them were financiers rather than merchants. It was essential for the Treasury to work closely with the chief sources of credit in the City of London, and the alliance between the Government and the ‘monied interest’ was natural and advantageous for both.

The mass of smaller merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans, could not aspire to these profitable financial connexions with Government. Jealous of the larger merchants and the monopolizing companies, and traditionally hostile to the court, they were almost always in opposition to Government. The political history of London during this period turns on the careers of their three successive leaders: Sir John Barnard, William Beckford, and John Wilkes; and its theme is the growth of urban radicalism.

Sir John Barnard had represented London since 1722 and in 1754 was returned head of the poll. But he was then nearly seventy; the period of his greatest influence was over; and new men were becoming prominent in City politics. The fourth candidate on the poll in 1754 was William Beckford, a wealthy West Indian planter, who had only taken out his freedom two years previously in order to stand for London. Beckford was the first politician from outside the City to use it as an instrument in national politics, and his example was later to be followed by Wilkes. Beckford was searching for a national leader to whose standard he could rally City opinion; and in 1754 he was allied with the Duke of Bedford, leader of the only Whig group then in opposition.

Barnard had one brief moment of influence before he was finally superseded by Beckford. As the spokesman of the smaller merchants and traders, Barnard had long advocated open subscriptions to Government loans instead of the Treasury practice of raising loans by closed subscriptions from wealthy individuals and the great joint-stock companies. Henry Bilson Legge, chancellor of the Exchequer in the Devonshire-Pitt Administration, tried to raise the loan of 1757 by an open subscription, but the money did not come in fast enough and after Legge’s resignation the Duke of Devonshire reverted to the normal method of a closed subscription. Politically, this was a victory for the ‘monied interest’ and a defeat for Barnard; and it marks the end of his career as a popular leader.

Meanwhile Beckford had found in William Pitt the national leader for whom he was searching, and during the period of the Pitt-Newcastle coalition the City found itself for once supporting an Administration. Colonial and maritime wars were always popular with the commercial classes in the eighteenth century, and Pitt’s successful leadership during the seven years’ war made him the idol of the popular party in the City. Of the successful candidates at the general election of 1761, Beckford and Glyn were both followers of Pitt and only Harley was truly representative of the ‘monied interest’.

Pitt lost a good deal of his popularity in London after his resignation in 1761, partly because he accepted a pension and peerage for his wife, but more because he did not trouble to cultivate his party. Beckford too was losing some of his influence. The end of the seven years’ war was followed by a period of bad harvests, a rise in the cost of living, and a sudden influx of demobilised soldiers and sailors into the labour market. There was severe rioting among the silk weavers in 1765 and further large-scale disturbances in 1768. Beckford, a wealthy man, was unsympathetic to the economic grievances of the lower classes. Amongst the smaller merchants and shopkeepers there was towards the end of the ’60s a good deal of malaise, part economic, part political in origin, which had not yet found expression in a clearly defined political programme.

At the general election of 1768 the successful candidates were: Harley, a supporter of the court; Ladbroke, independent, but generally voting with the Opposition; Beckford; and Trecothick, a friend of Lord Rockingham. John Wilkes came bottom of the poll. Yet twelve months later, after he had been returned for Middlesex and declared by the Commons incapable of being elected, he was well on the way to superseding Beckford as the leader of popular opinion in London. In January 1769 he was elected an alderman; the Society of Supporters of the Bill of Rights was founded to secure redress of his grievances; and in July 1770 a follower of Wilkes was elected unopposed M.P. for London.

To begin with, Wilkes had neither a programme nor a party, nor was he capable of forming either. The political ferment which spread through the metropolitan area was not of his making. Wilkes’s case turned a mass of inchoate, deeply-felt discontent into political channels; and the new political force of