Chippenham

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in burgage holders

Number of voters:

129

Population:

(1801): 3,366

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
17 June 1790GEORGE FLUDYER 
 JAMES DAWKINS 
27 May 1796GEORGE FLUDYER 
 JAMES DAWKINS 
6 July 1802JAMES DAWKINS108
 CHARLES BROOKE59
 John Maitland57
 MAITLAND vice Brooke, on petition, 28 Mar. 1803 
3 Nov. 1806JOHN MAITLAND59
 CHARLES BROOKE58
 James Dawkins53
 DAWKINS vice Brooke, on petition, 23 Feb. 1807 
15 May 1807JOHN MAITLAND59
 JAMES DAWKINS58
 WILLIAM BLAKE58
  Double return for the second seat. DAWKINS declared elected, 5 Feb. 1808 
7 Oct. 1812CHARLES BROOKE 
 ROBERT PEEL II 
19 June 1817 JOHN MAITLAND vice Peel, vacated his seat 
20 June 1818WILLIAM MILES82
 GEORGE SPENCER CHURCHILL, Mq. of Blandford52
 John Rock Grosett34

Main Article

Chippenham escaped the fate of most burgage boroughs and never became a close borough, thanks to the vigilance of the local clothiers, who, however, controlled the corporation, with ‘an effect little short of what in other places has been attributed to the ipse dixit of some lord’.1 The Members returned in 17902 certainly represented the two leading property interests in the borough, George Fludyer relying on that established by his father, Sir Samuel, an eminent cloth merchant; and James Dawkins on that of his father Henry; but the corporation took steps to prevent them from monopolizing the borough after the election and an agreement was entered in the corporation books, 2 June 1791, whereby both parties engaged not to purchase any more burgages and to grant seven-year leases to their tenants subject to inspection by either side.3

Before the election of 1802, the agreement was jeopardized by mutual accusations, and the corporation, in arbitrating, acquitted Dawkins and censured Fludyer for non-compliance with the agreement on leases. The corporation also apparently encouraged the emergence of an independent candidate. Benjamin Hobhouse* declined, but they found one in Charles Brooke, a London wool broker. Rather than face a contest, Fludyer withdrew in favour of John Maitland, his family’s London business associate in Basinghall Street, so the first of three contests ensued.4 One of Maitland’s supporters, the local attorney and clothier Henry Guy, attempted to discredit Brooke in December 1801 by circulating charges of professional malpractice against him. Brooke, in an action of 28 Apr. 1802, failed to prove libel against him, but in a pamphlet of 4 June 1802 alleged that he was the victim of an electioneering device and was confident of independent support. In reply to Brooke, Guy on 2 July informed him that he was surprised he dared to show his face at Chippenham and protested against the ‘combination’ (of Brooke and Dawkins) against his friend Maitland. To this Brooke alleged that there was no time to reply before the election.5

Brooke defeated Maitland for second place. The latter complained of desertion at the poll and, alleging bribery and corruption, went on to unseat Brooke on petition, the committee having rejected Brooke’s contention that the franchise lay in inhabitant householders paying scot and lot. (A further petition to the House on behalf of the latter was discharged in 1804.) Brooke had found a seat elsewhere and Walter Brooke of Heddington, who had been prepared to come forward in 1802, meanwhile offered himself for Chippenham on the next vacancy; but in 1806 the same three candidates stood, and in a close contest, in which 118 voted, Dawkins was defeated, but unseated Brooke on petition. So much for the cry of ‘Dawkins, Brooke and Liberty’ which had been heard in 1802. In 1807 Brooke was replaced by Blake on the independent interest and the latter secured 56 plumpers out of 116 and tied for second place with Dawkins, but it was Dawkins, coalescing with Maitland, who was awarded the seat. The contests were alleged to have cost the parties £60,000, though in 1807 no ‘additional presents’ were given.6

In 1811 Dawkins sold his interest to his colleague Maitland, who as lessee of the Fludyer interest was thus placed in a strong position, but came to an agreement with Henry Guy, ‘who conducted the opposing interest’, to ensure that ‘no opposition would, in future, be given to my interest’.7 At the election of 1812, Brooke was reintroduced by Guy for one seat and Maitland sold the other to Sir Robert Peel for his son Robert. It appears, however, that Maitland’s intention was to sell the whole of his interest to Sir Robert Peel, that he believed that they had reached a verbal agreement on it and that the return of his son for this Parliament was conditional on it; but Sir Robert objected. He informed his son, 24 Nov. 1812:8

the more I get acquainted with Chippenham I feel the less disposed to establish a permanent interest in the place. The struggle to deprive the corporate body of weight at the elections has induced an order of things of the most expensive sort. You must be the proprietor of houses valued at £22,000 yielding little or no interest and every voter who has the impudence to claim it receives £10 from each Member at every election. These with other expenses make it one of the most expensive places to represent in the kingdom. Property in houses of a certain character is to secure the influence, those houses from the circumstances of the town must be burdensome to the possessor. The place was once supported by the woollen trade and a great population created by the demand for manual labour. Ingenious machinery was invented, but in the west of England the work people would not suffer it to be employed; and the trade with the machinery settled in Yorkshire. At present there is but little remaining, but a numerous unemployed poor. This circumstance alone imposes such a tax on property liable to the payment of the poor rates that independent of its being a corporate town houses are but of little value.

Maitland reluctantly agreed not to insist on the ‘total alienation’ of his property and haggled over the terms of the purchase of a seat for one Parliament, which involved Peel junior in ‘a very unpleasant interview’ in December 1812 and an appeal to Charles Long*, who had originally suggested Chippenham as an opening for Peel, for arbitration as to what proportion of £4,000 should be refunded if the Parliament were a short one.9

When there was some question of Peel’s reelection in 1813—it proved unnecessary—he was warned that ‘Mr Maitland’s interest may possibly not be sufficient to reinstate you’; but, if it was inevitable, Peel was advised to spring the vacancy on the borough ‘to prevent all plotting and planning’, to attend in person and to pay attention to Christopher Heath, Maitland’s agent (formerly Dawkins’s) and to Henry Guy, ‘who is the complete commander and autocrat of the opposition, which opposition is probably at present more powerful than Maitland’. Guy was nevertheless reported to be ‘most friendly’ to Peel. In 1814 Peel was invited to contribute to poor relief in the borough, but referred the matter to Maitland, alleging that he would perform only what was of ‘long usage’. When in 1817 Peel vacated his seat, Maitland returned himself, but met with a cool reception, and was still looking for a buyer. On 5 Sept. 1817 John Goodwin, a Whig agent, informed Earl Grey, ‘We shall have the two seats for Chippenham the next election’.10

In 1818 Maitland was deserted, so he complained, by his agent Christopher Heath, whose salary had been doubled the previous year. Heath promoted the candidature of the Marquess of Blandford, which Maitland refused to countenance. On 11 June Heath resigned his agency, alleging that Maitland was negotiating to sell his interest without informing him. Maitland publicly rebuked Heath for his conduct, exonerated Guy from any part in the transaction, tried in vain to secure the withdrawal of Blandford and bestowed his interest, owing to his ‘indifferent state of health’, on a neighbouring gentleman, John Rock Grosett of Lacock Abbey, ‘who had previously signified a wish to some of my friends to represent the borough’.11 Blandford had addressed the borough:12

An attempt is evidently making to deceive you. You are told that Mr Grosett has not bought the borough, nor does he give anything for any interest. Mr Maitland finds his interest here on the decline, and therefore does not think the present moment a proper one to sell you. Mr Grosett is put in as a stopgap, till the ground that has been lost can be recovered, till the independence you have conceived in your bosoms can be smothered. Gentlemen, I have it in Mr Maitland’s own handwriting that he supports Mr Grosett, in order best to preserve the peace of the town, and concludes by saying he has given him his interest.

Grosett countered by accusing Blandford of disturbing the peace; as one of his friends had put it in castigating the electors: ‘If you will go on with the system, consider whether you ought not to support the same interest as your landlords ... If you go on taking money, you sell the seat, and independence is a false cry, let it come from what side it will.’13

The interest of Henry Guy, which John Cam Hobhouse had hoped to use to obtain a seat for £3,000 in May 1818 until his father disillusioned him,14 went to a wealthy Bristol merchant’s son William Miles. Blandford defeated Grosett for second place, at ‘the cost of twelve hogsheads’.

Author: R. G. Thorne

Notes

  • 1. J.A. Cannon, ‘The Parl. Rep. of six Wilts. Boroughs 1754-90’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1958), 30; J. Britton, Beauties of Wilts. ii. 248.
  • 2. According to the Public Advertiser, 2 July 1790, the Chippenham return was a day too early, but the informality was not otherwise noticed.
  • 3. Goldney, Recs. of Chippenham, 106.
  • 4. Ibid. 114; Add. 51736, Caroline Fox to Holland, 15 July 1802; The Times, 2 Apr. 1803; Wilts. RO 415/432, Maitland’s address, 20 July 1818.
  • 5. The Times