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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 150


13 Apr. 1754Ralph Verney, Earl Verney 
 John Calvert 
30 Mar. 1761Richard Cavendish 
 Verney Lovett 
23 Dec. 1765Edmund Burke vice Lovett, vacated his seat 
16 Mar. 1768Edmund Burke 
 Sir Robert Darling 
6 Sept. 1770Joseph Bullock vice Darling, deceased 
8 Oct. 1774Joseph Bullock 
 John Adams 
24 Dec. 1774Henry Drummond vice Adams, chose to sit for Carmarthen 
14 Mar. 1775Thomas Dummer vice Bullock, vacated his seat 
9 Sept. 1780Richard Smith 
 John Mansell Smith 
31 Mar. 1784Robert Burton109
 John Ord104
 Ralph Verney, Earl Verney19
 William Jolliffe14

Main Article

In 1754 Lord Verney, a large property owner at Wendover, was the patron of the borough. According to Oldfield, his tenants lived rent-free ‘on condition of giving their votes to such gentlemen as his Lordship should nominate’. Verney was careless and easy-going, and in 1768 an opposition was declared against him. Here is the story as told by Oldfield:

A Mr. Atkins, a considerable lace manufacturer in this place, had undertaken, by a coup-de-main, to carry the election against his Lordship’s interest, and conducted his measures with such secrecy, that no opposition was expected until the day of election. At this moment, to the astonishment and confusion of Earl Verney and his agents, Sir Robert Darling ... was proposed, and immediately returned by a considerable majority.1

Verney is then stated to have ejected the voters from their houses, and only reinstated them ‘on a promise of good behaviour in future’. The story sounds credible but there are difficulties about it: no details of the poll have been discovered; the correspondence of Edmund Burke, the successful candidate on Verney’s interest, contains nothing about the election; nor is the name of Verney’s other candidate known. So much is clear, however, that Verney lost one seat, largely through neglect.

On Darling’s death in 1770 an opposition was again threatened, but not pressed to a poll. ‘Things are now put in better order’, wrote Edmund Burke (to Charles O’Hara, 9 Aug.), ‘and I trust there can be no further danger.’ Still, in 1774 (9 Oct., to Rockingham) Burke wrote about Wendover: ‘I am extremely anxious about the fate of Lord Verney and that borough. It is past all description, past all conception, the supineness, neglect, and blind security of my friend in that and everything that concerns him.’ However in 1774 and 1780 Verney’s candidates were returned without opposition.

In 1784 he lost both seats. ‘The electors’, writes Oldfield, ‘well knowing the deranged state of his Lordship’s private affairs would oblige him to sell, very shortly, his property in the borough, took the opportunity of again putting up their suffrages to the highest bidder.’ £6,000 is said to have been asked for the two seats. In 1787, when Verney was trying to sell, he had not regained control of the borough. ‘We have not a day to lose’, wrote John Philipps, Verney’s attorney, to the Rev. Luke Heslop, one of his trustees, 5 Sept. 1787, ‘to break a combination which has been so well formed amongst the independent electors that it threatens to defeat the principal end of the purchase.’2 Wendover was sold in 1788 to J. B. Church, an adventurer who had made a fortune in American land speculations.

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Boroughs, i. 40-41.
  • 2. Verney, Verney Letters of 18th Cent. ii. 292-3.