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Number of voters:
|24 June 1790||GEORGE VANSITTART|
|WINCHCOMBE HENRY HARTLEY|
|16 Sept. 1794||CHARLES DUNDAS vice Hartley, deceased|
|1 June 1796||GEORGE VANSITTART||1332|
|Edward Loveden Loveden||846|
|12 July 1802||GEORGE VANSITTART|
|6 Nov. 1806||GEORGE VANSITTART|
|11 May 1807||GEORGE VANSITTART|
|12 Oct. 1812||CHARLES DUNDAS||1717|
|HON. RICHARD NEVILLE||1374|
|25 June 1818||HON. RICHARD NEVILLE||1224|
There was no commanding aristocratic presence in Berkshire; large landowners were few, and there was a comparative absence of propertied and traditional influence. The 6th Lord Craven, a Whig, had had a major say in the disposal of one seat until 1784, when the Coalition sitting Members were ousted by two ministerialists. He died abroad in 1791 and there is no indication that his successor sought to restore the family interest to its former strength. The Berties, earls of Abingdon, had some weight, but on the death of the 4th Earl in 1799 and his succession by a minor, their influence seems to have waned. Craven’s lord lieutenancy went to the 2nd Earl of Radnor, who held it until 1819, but his long-established interests in Wiltshire amply fulfilled his electoral needs. The lieutenancy was also sought by Richard Aldworth Neville, Member for Reading, who claimed to be second only to Craven in point of acreage and who assumed the trappings of aristocracy when he succeeded his cousin as 2nd Lord Braybrooke in 1797.1
In 1790 one of the sitting Members, George Vansittart of Bisham Abbey, a wealthy nabob, stood again, but his colleague, Henry Pye of Faringdon, retired and was quietly replaced by Winchcombe Hartley of Bucklebury, the former Whig Member defeated in 1784. Hartley fell seriously ill in 1793 and Edward Loveden of Buscot, Member for Abingdon, evidently secured Pitt’s approval for an unspecified ‘arrangement’ for the county and borough in the event of his death. When it occurred in August 1794, however, Loveden encountered a rival in Charles Dundas of Barton Court, who had sat in the previous Parliament as a Foxite. Dundas’s friend Earl Fitzwilliam described the campaign as
the oddest contested election ... that ever was: the two candidates go about in couples: they really go together and desire to be seen together ... Dundas, however, seemed to manage the best, as he was first spokesman, where I heard of him.
While Loveden was thoroughly unpopular in some parts of the county, Dundas was handicapped by his Scottish blood and by uncertainty as to his political views, which were thought to be still sympathetic to Fox, although his cousin Sir Thomas Dundas* had just gone over to government. He was nevertheless assumed to have ministerial approval and commanded far wider support than Loveden, who withdrew on the eve of the election.2
Loveden prepared to come forward at the next opportunity and evidently revived the Yale Club, a former focus of opposition to the Craven interest. He came to suspect Vansittart and Dundas, who was voting sporadically with the Foxite opposition, of collusion in a scheme to thwart him in the county and to embarrass him at Abingdon in collaboration with disaffected elements in the town. He was duly threatened with an opposition at Abingdon by a rich nabob, and having failed to find a suitable substitute he abandoned the borough and stood for the county, accusing his opponents of forming an unnatural alliance and portraying himself as the choice of the ‘respectable and independent’ small farmers of the Vale. On the other side it was alleged that Loveden was prepared to spend £30,000 to carry the county, and his tactics of keeping the poll open and insisting on the administration of oaths were seen as an attempt to overwhelm one of his opponents with expense. Vansittart and Dundas formally announced the junction of their committees and subscriptions on the third day, and Dundas later thought that by persuading ‘above three hundred of my neighbours who came in one body as plumpers for me’ to give their second votes to Vansittart, he had effectively ended Loveden’s hopes.3 While Vansittart and Dundas shared 72 per cent of their votes with each other, 44 per cent of Loveden’s were plumpers. One third of his votes were split with Vansittart and a quarter were shared with Dundas. Vansittart’s support came mainly from the eastern end of the county, where Bisham lay. Dundas did best in the south-western area round Hungerford and Newbury, which was on his doorstep, and Loveden culled over 70 per cent of his support from the Vale of the White Horse in the north.
The 1802 and 1806 elections were uneventful. In 1807, when Dundas and Vansittart differed over the fall of the ‘Talents’, an invitation was extended to Braybrooke’s son Richard Neville, Lord Grenville’s nephew and a supporter of the late administration. Neville, who was provided with a safe seat by Lord Buckingham, made no move, possibly because the sense of the county, as expressed at a county meeting, was in favour of the King’s dismissal of the ‘Talents’, although it was also reported that he had made ‘a sort of promise not to oppose Vansittart upon condition of receiving notice from him in the event of his resigning’.4
Early in 1812 William Hallett of Denford, a radical reformer and founder member of the London Union Society, announced his intention of standing at the next election. Vansittart immediately decided to retire and William Congreve of Aldermaston agreed to come forward in his place, only to decline after having second thoughts. Neville was then approached and accepted the invitation. While Radnor was against him on ‘High Church and high government principles’, he had, so his father claimed, the support of the Bishop of Durham, Lord Falmouth, the Vansittarts, Bowyer of Radley, Lord Craven and ‘many other persons of distinction’. He was also expected to be popular with the dissenters, being ‘the greatest friend to toleration’.5
Hallett, who combined a purity of election campaign with demands for fundamental, though unspecified, constitutional reforms, was backed by John Berkeley Monck, another local reformer and unsuccessful candidate for Reading at the same election. His attack was directed against Neville alone, as the son of a peer and nephew of those ‘noble paupers and titled mendicants’ the Grenvilles. When called on to declare themselves on reform, both Dundas and Neville pledged themselves to support a moderate instalment, but Dundas, who had voted for reform in the House, carried more conviction than Neville, who seems to have prevaricated. Hallett kept the poll open for the duration, but was never in serious contention.6
Hallett received a vote from one in four of those who polled, but only a quarter of his votes were plumpers. Almost all the rest were shared with Dundas, over half of them (54 per cent) being culled from the area around Hungerford and Newbury where Hallett, like Dundas, had his property, with another 21 per cent coming from the territory between Wantage and the Wiltshire border. In the case of most of these split votes, the first preference was almost certainly for Hallett, the second for Dundas on an anti-Neville basis. At the same time Dundas had a solid basis of positive support in these areas and Neville benefited from second votes. Dundas did well all over the county and only in the hundred of Faringdon, where one in four voters plumped for Hallett, did less than 70 per cent of the voting freeholders record a vote for him. The area of Neville’s strength was more clearly defined, being concentrated in the east in the hundreds surrounding Wokingham of which Braybrooke, seated three miles away, was high steward. There was a distinct, though not overwhelming, urban element in Hallett’s support: almost half his votes came from the towns, as opposed to 38 per cent of Dundas’s and 33 per cent of Neville’s. Of Hallett’s urban votes, 74 per cent were split with Dundas, the bulk of them (59 per cent) coming from Hungerford, Newbury and Wantage, the first two of which had reputations for political radicalism and religious dissent. Of the towns in general, Faringdon supplied Hallett with the largest proportion of single votes (56 per cent). He fared badly in the parliamentary boroughs: from Wallingford and Windsor he mustered three votes, in Abingdon he was supported by 14 per cent of the voters and in Reading by 29 per cent, half of them plumpers.
In 1818 Hallett conceded that Neville’s progressive line in the 1812 Parliament, when he had voted for inquiry into reform, was satisfactory, but still denigrated him as the son of a peer. He repudiated annual parliaments and universal suffrage, confiding later to a friend his belief that their advocacy would have led to his annihilation at the polls, and declared himself in favour of triennial parliaments and a taxpayer suffrage. Both his opponents made cautious statements in favour of reform. As the poll (which again went the full distance) progressed, Hallett accused them, fairly enough, of combining against him and shifted the direction of his verbal attack from Neville to Dundas, whom he charged with neglect of his parliamentary duties for canal speculation.7
Although Hallett was emphatically beaten, he polled 115 more votes than in 1812 and increased his share of a reduced vote from a quarter to a third. Dundas, on the other hand, received over 550 fewer votes and his share fell from 86 per cent to 63 per cent. Neville’s was reduced by about three per cent. The most striking feature was the dramatic rise in the proportion of plumpers in Hallett’s total vote, from 25 per cent in 1812 to 77 per cent on this occasion. He now shared only 12 per cent of his votes with Dundas, as opposed to 73 per cent in 1812. Dundas and Neville went very much in tandem, having 1,026 votes in common. In the areas around Hungerford, Newbury, Faringdon and Wantage, where Hallett had done comparatively well in 1812, the change in the composition of his vote from splits with Dundas to plumpers was particularly marked, though in these districts combined votes for his opponents also increased. Hallett got varying degrees of support in the east, most notably in Bray, Charlton and Ripplesmere, where he had made little impression in 1812, but Neville remained generally paramount in this territory. While the pattern of voting in 1818 clearly reflects the polarization brought about by Hallett’s two-pronged attack and his opponents’ combination against him, it is less certain how far the change in the proportions of Hallett-Dundas splits and Hallett plumpers represented a hardening of radical opinion in the electorate, for some 60 per cent of those who plumped for Hallett in 1818 had not voted in 1812. Of the remainder, about 17 per cent had previously voted for him and Dundas, about 11 per cent were converts from the Dundas-Neville camp and about nine per cent had cast single votes for Hallett in 1812. There was little change in the percentage of urban votes in each candidate’s total, but Hallett made dramatic gains in plumpers in Hungerford, Newbury, Faringdon and Wantage. He also improved his showing in Reading, Abingdon, Windsor, Maidenhead and Lambourn, but Wallingford and Wokingham remained barren territory.
Hallett announced that he would stand again at the first opportunity, to the surprise of an indignant Lord Braybrooke, who believed that his rantings on the hustings had ensured that ‘no gentleman will ever speak to him again’.8
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. W. Mavor, Gen. View of Agriculture in Berks. (1809), 49-52; N. Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel, 270-1; Essex RO, Braybrooke mss, Neville to Pitt, 4 Oct., to Bulkeley, 22 Oct., Pitt to Neville, 5 Oct. 1791.
- 2. Berks. RO, Benyon mss C9, Fitzwilliam to Benyon, 26,  Aug., Benyon to Fitzwilliam [27 Aug.]; Braybrooke mss, Neville to Grenville, 6 Sept. 1794.
- 3. Berks. RO, Preston mss, Loveden to Sellwood, 22 Jan., 7 Aug. 1795, [29 Apr.], 2, 9, 10, 17, 28 May; True Briton, 24, 28, 31 May; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 21, 28 May, 4, 11 June 1796; Add. 36498, ff. 85, 96.
- 4. Reading Mercury, 4, 11 May; NLW, mss 10804, Williams Wynn to Saxton, 8 June 1807.
- 5. Preston mss, Congreve to Sellwood, 23 Feb., Bowyer to same, 13 Mar.; NLW mss 2791, Lady to H. Williams Wynn, 18 Feb.; Sidmouth mss, Braybrooke to Sidmouth, 8 Mar. 1812.
- 6. Procs. at Berks. Election (Oxford, 1812); Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 3, 10, 31 Oct., 7 Nov. 1812.
- 7. Procs. at Berks. Election (1818); Add. 36457, f. 137; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 27 June, 11, 18 July 1818.
- 8. Berks. RO, Braybrooke mss, Braybrooke to Glastonbury, 12 July 1818.