Wallingford

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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 200

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
15 Apr. 1754John Hervey 
 Richard Neville Aldworth 
 Thomas Sewell 
 John Wandesford, Visct. Castlecomer 
25 Mar. 1761John Hervey 
 Sir John Gibbons 
15 Jan. 1765Sir George Pigot vice Hervey, deceased 
16 Mar. 1768John Aubrey69
 Robert Pigot67
 Sir John Gibbons38
27 Jan. 1772John Cator vice Pigot, appointed to office90
 Robert Pigot80
8 Oct. 1774John Cator 
 Sir Robert Barker 
 Thomas Francis Wenman 
 William Nedham 
8 Sept. 1780John Aubrey 
 Chaloner Arcedeckne 
15 July 1782Aubrey re-elected after appointment to office 
30 Dec. 1783Aubrey re-elected after appointment to office113
 Thomas Keating58
31 Mar. 1784Sir Francis Sykes 
 Thomas Aubrey 

Main Article

Wallingford was a venal and expensive borough. In 1792 Oldfield wrote bluntly that ‘the highest bidder is always chosen ... Corruption is brought there to such a system that a legal discovery is not likely to be made, unless by a difference among the interested parties.’ The historian of the borough declared that the poorer classes ‘regarded any attempt to bring about a reformation of the borough as an attack upon their vested interests, deserving of determined, if not vindictive, opposition’.1 Half the elections during this period were contested, and Members came and went in rapid succession. In the reign of George II Wallingford was electorally the haunt of London brewers and merchants; later it fell into the hands of East and West Indians. The Earls of Abingdon were high stewards from 1694 to 1799, and their supporters, William Blackstone and Thomas Francis Wenman, were recorders from 1749 to 1784; yet the Bertie interest was always precarious. Government had some influence and the corporation much more.

In 1752 the corporation offered their interest at the forthcoming general election to Richard Neville Aldworth and John Hervey. Their avowed motive was ‘to recover the credit of the borough, and to get it out of the hands of the lower people’. Hervey was a friend of Lord Hardwicke, Aldworth a follower of the Duke of Bedford, then in opposition. Henry Pelham determined to oppose them, despite Hervey’s support of Administration; and Thomas Sewell, a lawyer, and Lord Castlecomer, an Irish peer, were selected as Government candidates. Sewell lost some support because of his part in drafting the Jew Act, but there is no other evidence of political issues playing much part in this election. The campaign was extremely costly. Sewell agreed to spend £1,000 of his own money, and also received at least £1,250 from Government. Castlecomer, who paid his own expenses, claimed that he spent £5,000. Where the money was going can be gauged from a letter from Aldworth to the Duke of Bedford, of 11 Apr.:

[Sewell and Castlecomer] talk of £400 or £500 a man if they can find enough to turn the election ... They have indisputably offered one of our fellows 200 guineas this very night. The poor fellow was staggered at the sum, but he has as yet refused it; he says they told him they wanted but three more to secure their election, but I am confident they must buy off ten at least to get a majority.

In their turn the Government candidates complained that the corporation was juggling with the poor book and threatening publicans with the loss of their licences. In the end, the corporation candidates carried it by nineteen.2

Hervey retained his seat in 1761, the second seat going to Sir John Gibbons, a West Indian. When Hervey died in 1764 Grenville gave the support of Administration to George Pigot, assuring Blackstone that he would ‘not be deterred by any reasonable expenses’.3 Gibbons held his seat for one Parliament, and at the general election of 1768 was forced to decline after an hour’s polling; John Aubrey, a local gentleman, was elected in his place. George Pigot, on standing for Bridgnorth in 1768, yielded the seat at Wallingford to his brother Robert. Robert Pigot survived only a few years. In 1772 he was appointed warden of the mint, came down to the borough for re-election, and was defeated by John Cator, a Southwark timber merchant. Cator’s success showed the decline of the corporation interest and was hailed as a victory for ‘independency’. At the general election of 1774 Cator and Sir Robert Barker, an Indian general, defeated the corporation candidates, Wenman and Nedham, who declined soon after the poll began.4

Barker retired from Parliament at the general election of 1780; and Cator, confident of being able to carry both seats, asked Government to provide him with another candidate. Just the right man was discovered in Richard Barwell, who had arrived home a few weeks earlier from India, where he had made a large fortune. The opposition was provided by Aubrey and a Suffolk gentleman, Chaloner Arcedeckne, backed by Lord Abingdon. No details of the contest survive, but Aubrey and Arcedeckne were returned without a poll, ‘after Cator and Barwell had marched off without drum or colours’. Cator wrote ruefully to Charles Jenkinson that he hoped Lord North would remember ‘that I have lost my election by endeavouring to defeat Lord Abingdon, who sent and would have compromised me if I would’. It was another example of Wallingford’s fickleness.5

Aubrey was re-elected unopposed on taking office in July 1782. In January 1784, however, when he was appointed to the Treasury Board by Pitt, his re-election was opposed by Thomas Keating, who cheerfully admitted that he was a ‘total stranger’ to the borough, but nevertheless polled 58 votes against Aubrey’s 113.6 At the general election of 1784 both sitting Members found other constituencies. Lord Abingdon hoped at first to carry both seats, as he had done in 1780, but overtures had been made by some persons in the borough to Sir Francis Sykes, another East Indian. A compromise seems to have been reached, and Thomas Aubrey, Abingdon’s candidate, and Sykes were returned unopposed.7

Author: J. A. Cannon

Notes

  • 1. J. K. Hedges, Hist. Wallingford, ii. 203.
  • 2. Add. 35592, ff. 6, 23; 32995, ff. 112, 227; 32862, f. 307; 32852, f. 128; HMC Carlisle, 207; Bedford mss.
  • 3. Grenville to Blackstone, 31 Aug. 1764, Grenville letter bk., Grenville mss (HL).
  • 4. Jackson’s Oxf. Jnl. 19 Mar. 1768, 2 Feb. 1772; London Chron. 8-11 Oct. 1774.
  • 5. Robinson’s