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 the freemen

Number of voters:

about 2,000


(1801): 7,579


16 June 1790JOHN WEBB 
11 Feb. 1795 HENRY THOMAS HOWARD vice Webb, deceased 
25 May 1796JOHN PITT 
6 July 1802JOHN PITT 
7 Aug. 1805 ROBERT MORRIS vice Pitt, deceased530
 Lord Arthur John Henry Somerset338
1 Oct. 1816 EDWARD WEBB vice Morris, deceased849
 Robert Bransby Cooper730
24 June 1818EDWARD WEBB894
 Maurice Frederick Fitzhardinge Berkeley841

Main Article

In 1780 and 1784 the Whig corporation, which had the power to create freemen and owned extensive property in the city, combined with the 11th Duke of Norfolk, who had an estate nearby, to return both Members, though one of them, Sir Charles Barrow, was nominally independent. On Barrow’s death early in 1789, they put up Norfolk’s cousin Henry Thomas Howard of Thornbury Castle, near Bristol. He was defeated by one vote in a poll of 1,673 by John Pitt, a local attorney and city landlord, who surrendered his patent places in the customs in order to stand on behalf of the anti-corporation or ‘True Blue’ party, which had developed from the remnants of the old Tory interest. Contested elections at Gloucester were expensive, for about two thirds of the voters were non-resident, and both sides ran up substantial bills. Pitt, who made an unsuccessful attempt to recover some of the cost from the Treasury, put the price of his success at £10,000 and Norfolk later admitted that he had laid out the same amount.1

On 16 Apr. 1789 Sir Thomas Rich, a native of Gloucester and Member for Great Marlow in the 1784 Parliament, sought ministerial backing at the next general election against the surviving corporation Member, John Webb; but two days later the corporation and their opponents, who on the first anniversary of Pitt’s victory formed the Gloucester True Blue Club, came to an agreement that Webb and Pitt were to be jointly supported at the next general election and that Howard would not intervene.2 This electoral truce was duly observed in 1790. On the death of the 2nd Earl of Guilford in 1792 Norfolk was elected recorder of Gloucester in his place, and when Webb died in 1795 Howard was returned without opposition from the Blues. There was no disturbance in 1796 or 1802.

On Pitt’s death in July 1805, two candidates came forward: Lord Arthur Somerset*, a younger brother of the Pittite 6th Duke of Beaufort, who commanded the return to one of the county seats, and Robert Morris of nearby Barnwood, a partner in one of the Gloucester banks. Somerset, whose agent was his father’s Gloucester solicitor, Thomas Davis, appears to have had the support of at least some of the leading Blues, but it is not known whether they invited Beaufort to intervene in the city. Although Morris seems to have been supported discreetly by most members of the corporation, he was not regarded as a corporation candidate. In styling himself ‘independent’ and stressing his local connexions, he was probably bidding for the votes of those who had formerly supported Pitt, to many of whom he would doubtless have been more acceptable than Somerset. There may have been a division among the Blues between those who, motivated by party political feeling, saw in Beaufort a powerful ally to set against Norfolk, and others who preferred a local man in the mould of their late Member. In the month before the election, 340 new freemen were created. After three days’ polling Somerset, who relied heavily on non-resident votes, stood level with Morris, but his anticipated support from the London outvoters failed to materialize and on the fourth morning, before polling began, he gave up and asked his unpolled friends not to vote.3 Lord Ellenborough told Lord Sidmouth, 13 Aug. 1805, that ‘the populace at Gloucester during the late contest were very tumultuous on the subject’ of the Melville scandal, but that ‘in all other respects they were quiet and orderly enough’. The result, along with the recent defeat of Castlereagh in county Down, was seen as a blow to Pitt’s crumbling second ministry.4

Morris’s conduct in the House showed him to be no Whig and he was returned unopposed with Howard at the next three general elections. In 1811 Norfolk succeeded the 5th Earl of Berkeley as high steward of Gloucester and was replaced as recorder by John Somers Cocks*, 2nd Lord Somers, a conservative Whig. On Norfolk’s death in December 1815 Somers declined the stewardship, which went to the Duke of Gloucester. He briefly considered putting his son James Somers Cocks* forward for Gloucester at the first opportunity, but thought better of the idea.5

When Morris died in September 1816, the corporation put up John Webb’s son Edward who, though a partisan Whig, claimed to be ‘unconnected with party’ and pledged his support for economical and parliamentary reform. The vacuum left by Norfolk’s death was filled by the newly established Gloucestershire Whig Club, formed to resist the electoral pretensions of Beaufort. Webb’s brother-in-law Sir Berkeley William Guise, Member for the county since 1811, belonged to the Club which, however, was dominated by Col. William Fitzhardinge Berkeley*, illegitimate son of the 5th Earl of Berkeley, whose claim to the peerage had been disallowed but who had inherited the family estates, the largest in Gloucestershire. The Whig Club endorsed Webb’s candidature, as did a meeting of Gloucester freemen resident in London, chaired by John Martin, Member for Tewkesbury.6 The Blues found a candidate in Robert Bransby Cooper of Dursley, whose election addresses were issued from Matson House, the property near Gloucester which had given the Selwyn family the basis of an electoral interest there in the 18th century and which Cooper was presumably renting from the current owner Lord Sydney, a ministerialist. Beaufort backed Cooper, Thomas Davis worked for him and he had the support of John Pitt’s widowed daughter Mary, who had inherited her father’s city property.7 Webb hesitated when his agent revised his original estimates of expenses from £4,000 to £15,000 after Cooper’s intervention, but eventually went ahead. The main theme of the Blues’ campaign was that the Whig-corporation alliance had broken the agreement of 1789 and were seeking to monopolize the representation. In reply, it was asserted that this cry was a cloak intended to conceal the designs of a reactionary, ministerialist faction, in thrall to Beaufort’s wealth and influence. It was alleged, but hotly denied by the Blues, that Beaufort and his acolytes in the White Lion Club at Bristol had obtained Treasury money to assist Cooper.8 After five days’ polling the candidates stood level with 612 votes each, but Webb outpolled Cooper by 110 on the sixth day and finished with a majority of 119. His advantages of 24 votes from the 526 Gloucester residents who polled and of 11 from 69 Bristol outvoters were cancelled by majorities for Cooper of 21 from 261 London voters and 19 from 275 out-county voters; but Webb secured a decisive 286 votes to Cooper’s 162 from the Gloucestershire outvoters. In the city, the corporation’s support for Webb was clearly marked: 28 members and officials of the corporation voted for Webb, none for Cooper, and corporation pensioners voted 30 to seven in favour of Webb. The gentry were two to one in favour of Webb, professionals and farmers divided in the same proportions (54 per cent for Webb, 46 per cent for Cooper) as the electorate as a whole, and craftsmen, artisans, tradesmen and labourers were almost evenly divided between the two.9

‘The populace is fully with us. The triumph of the day is not cheered by the mob’, claimed one of the Blues immediately after the election. Cooper, who blamed his defeat on his late start, began to canvass for next time and on 8 Nov. 1816 there was a meeting of subscribers to the Blues’ election fund ‘for the purpose of entering into resolutions for the government of the club’. Cooper was the first to declare himself at the general election of 1818 and could count on the support of the Beaufort party, the old Pitt faction, a newly formed Conservative Association and Lord Somers, who was now supporting government, for his renewed attack on the Whig-corporation ‘monopoly’. The Blues opened a subscription to raise funds to bring him in free of expense.10 Howard withdrew, but Webb stood his ground and was joined on the Whig side by Col. Berkeley’s younger brother Maurice Frederick†, a naval officer. They coalesced, and made an effort to poll their voters early to build up a commanding lead, while the Blues aimed to secure enough promises of second votes from Webb’s supporters to thwart Berkeley and prolong the polling to allow Cooper’s friends to come from London, where his wealthy brother Astley Cooper, the eminent surgeon, was active on his behalf.11

Webb led throughout and after four days Berkeley was 50 ahead of Cooper, but Cooper outpolled him by 77 during the next three days to finish in second place. Berkeley’s demands for a scrutiny were refused by the returning officers. Cooper’s 840 votes12 included 779 plumpers; the Whigs shared 810 votes, but 71 electors voted for Webb and Cooper, which was enough to give Cooper the edge on Berkeley. Of these decisive votes, 31 were cast in Gloucester, where the Blues, reversing the outcome of the 1816 election, polled 259 plumpers against 251 split votes for the Whigs, and Cooper emerged with a total of 295, Webb with 282 and Berkeley only 258. Webb (278) and Berkeley (256) outpolled Cooper (191) among the Gloucestershire outvoters, but 26 of them voted for Webb and Cooper. Among the London voters the three candidates were evenly matched, but Cooper secured 186 votes (173 plumpers) from other out-county voters, Webb 150 and Berkeley 148 (139 splits). Richard Hart Davis* told Lord Liverpool that he and fellow ministerialists at Bristol had ‘sent 60 out of 73 Gloucester freemen resident there to vote for Cooper’.13 According to the pollbook, Cooper secured 54 votes (48 plumpers) from 85 Bristol voters, while Webb got 36 and Berkeley 32 (31 splits). From the gentry, Webb got 242 votes, Berkeley 223 and Cooper only 144, but 21 of the important Webb-Cooper votes came from this social group. Eighteen of these votes were cast by small merchants and tradesmen and a further 15 by craftsmen and artisans, and Cooper had a marked, though not overwhelming, advantage among these groups of voters. Cooper’s success was achieved despite the fact that of 69 honorary freemen created by the corporation in 1816 and 1817, 42 voted for the Whigs and only four for him. (Fifty-seven of these freemen were subsequently disfranchised in King’s bench because of irregularities in their admission, though they were reinstated in 1820.) As in 1816, expenses were heavy. Whig-corporation costs were put at between £14,000 and £18,000, of which Col. Berkeley paid £11,430, and the Blues’ expenses could not have been less. There was probably some truth in Berkeley’s allegations that Cooper’s success owed much to bribery and intimidation, but it seems reasonable to attribute it at least in part to the votes of a number of independent electors who resented Whig-corporation attempts to secure both seats.14

Author: David R. Fisher


See Gordon L. Goodman, ‘Pre-Reform Elections in Gloucester City, 1789-1831’, Bristol and Glos. Arch Soc. Trans, lxxxiv. (1965), 141-60.

  • 1. J. Cannon, ‘Parl Rep. Gloucester’, ibid. lxxviii. (1959), 137-52; Goodman, 143-7; PRO 30/8/167, ff. 125-37; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F115.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/167, f. 129; 171, f. 12; N. Q. (ser. 9), iii. 122-3; agreement reprinted, in Songs, Addresses Squibs of 1816 Gloucester Election, 75 (Gloucester Pub. Lib. 11027).
  • 3. Gloucester Pub. Lib. Glos. Coll. NF 10.12; Bristol Jnl. 20 July, 3, 10, 17 Aug. 1805; Goodman, 147-8.
  • 4. Sidmouth mss; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F41/4.
  • 5. Add. 35651, f. 363; 35652, f. 49.
  • 6. Gloucester Pub. Lib. Painswick House Coll. (H) F. 1.5 (Whig Club); Glos. Coll. NF. 10.13/30, 33.
  • 7. Glos. Coll. NF. 10.13/1, 2, 19, 34.
  • 8. Ibid. NF. 10.13/31, 39, 42; Gloucester Election Songs (1816).
  • 9. Goodman, 148-50; Gloucester Pollbook (1816).
  • 10. Glos. Coll. NF. 10.13/17, 20, 43; NF. 10.14/18, 19; Add. 38458, f. 269; Goodman, 150.
  • 11. Glos. Coll. NF. 10.14/21; The Late Elections (1818), 126-8; Goodman, 151.
  • 12. 841 is the figure given in newspapers and the preamble to Gloucester Pollbook (1818), but only 840 are listed therein.
  • 13. Add. 38458, f. 261.
  • 14. Goodman, 151.