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 and householders paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

over 2,500


(1801): 16,953


 Nathaniel Brassey Halhed551
 Lewis Montolieu551
7 Feb. 1795 PARKYNS re-elected after accepting a commission in the army 
31 May 1796SAMUEL SMITH I1029
 THOMAS BOOTHBY PARKYNS (Baron Rancliffe [I])993
 Bertie Greatheed556
 Walter Ruding537
17 Dec. 1800 THOMAS BABINGTON vice Rancliffe, deceased1572
 John Manners1418
 Felix McCarthy333
29 Oct. 1806SAMUEL SMITH I 
 John MacNamara1020
8 Oct. 1812SAMUEL SMITH I1116
 William Roscoe412

Main Article

Leicester had not been contested since 1768, but a compromise between the rival corporation and independent parties was broken in 1784. The corporation then secured two Members favourable to Pitt’s ministry, assisted by the desertion of the independent interest by the 4th Duke of Rutland, whose nominee John MacNamara was. The prospect of a challenge from the independents was reflected in the formation of the Constitutional Society (1789) patronized by the corporation and conservatives, and countered by the Revolution Club to which the dissenters and Whigs of the independent interest rallied.1 Samuel Smith I, the Nottingham banker, and Nathaniel Brassey Halhed*, a nabob, were the ministerial candidates adopted by the Constitutional Society in 1790, assisted by £5,000 from the secret service fund. Their opponents were Parkyns, sponsored by his brother-in-law Clement Winstanley of Braunstone, a Whig squire, and Montolieu, a London banker.2 A fierce contest ensued.

The London Chronicle reported, 29 June 1790:

The four candidates ... imitating the example of greater men, on Wednesday last entered into a coalition to return one Member for each party. This junction was no sooner made public, than it became the signal for one of the most mischievous riots we ever heard of. The mob were so exasperated at being bilked of further extortion on the several candidates, that they broke open the Town Hall, and completely gutted it. They made a bonfire of the Quarter Sessions books, and the records of the town, burnt the public library, and would have murdered the coalitionists, could they have got at them.

Another witness informed Pitt that ‘several lives were lost’ and ‘at last the interference of the soldiery was judged necessary—who entered the town sword in hand and dispersed the mob, but not before some were very much wounded’.3

Such was the effect of the disappointment of the ‘poorer and extremer’ Whigs; and the conversion of Parkyns to government, who gave him the Irish peerage of Rancliffe, ensured another contest in 1796, when Bertie Greatheed of Guy’s Cliff and Walter Ruding of Westcotes were the opposition candidates. A number of their supporters declared their votes for ‘Citizen’ Greatheed and ‘Citizen’ Ruding. In his absence in Ireland, Parkyns’s canvass was managed by his brother-in-law. The ‘Citizens’ ceded victory with about 1,200 voters unpolled and the election was quieter.4 From 1798 Sir William Manners* of Buckminster began to cultivate the borough, in which he was a property owner, his prospective candidate being his brother John Manners*. In March 1800, when it was thought that the Irish union might lead to a dissolution, Manners canvassed with Augustus Butler Danvers of Swithland Hall and some discreet treating took place at Sir William’s expense. Their platform was the ‘cause of liberty’ and moderate reform when the war ended. Manners had strong hopes of success; he could expect the young Duke of Rutland to be neutral for fear of retaliation at Grantham. John Manners’s opportunity came on Rancliffe’s death later that year. He stood for the ‘poor’ against the ‘rich’ and the conservative Leicester Journal echoed him: ‘a struggle between property and no property, between loyalty and true patriotism on the one side and Jacobinism ... on the other’. The corporation nominee was Thomas Babington, an evangelical squire known for his good works among the poor. Besides, ‘the wants of the poor of Leicester had been relieved by the wealthy inhabitants with persevering and unexampled liberality’. Manners led at first, but was defeated after an all-out contest in which 2,990 votes were cast. The resident vote favoured Babington. At the close Manners embarrassed Babington ‘by calling on him for his qualification at a period when though well qualified, he had scarcely time to produce it’.5

Manners meant to try again, but at the election of 1802 withdrew on finding that his prospects were poor. An opposition to the sitting Members was proposed by the radical artisans who put up McCarthy, an ‘impecunious Irish Foxite’ who arrived from London, where he was ‘well known in the literary world’. He gave up after four days, trailing hopelessly.6 There was no contest in 1806, the prime minister Lord Grenville deferring to the wishes of Samuel Smith’s brother Lord Carrington as to what was to be done at Leicester.7 Smith’s adherence to the Grenville connexion out of office got him into difficulties in 1807. In his address, 29 Apr., he denied that his vote for Brand’s motion was necessarily a vote for Catholic relief. Confronted with an opportunist opponent, the former Member MacNamara, who stressed his loyalty to the establishment in church and state and gained the support of the Leicester Journal, Smith was obliged to come to terms with the corporation, financing the creation of hundreds of freemen to secure his return. His brother informed Lord Grenville, ‘Leicester took more labour than I expected, but the final result was gratifying in the extreme’.8

The election of 1812 took place against a background of economic distress among the Leicester stocking weavers and neither of the sitting Members inspired confidence. The recorder John Vaughan, serjeant-at-law, refused to oppose them, but the radical artisans nominated William Roscoe*, without his knowledge. He consented retrospectively but gave up after polling 412 votes in three days.9 A much stronger candidate than he espoused opposition politics in 1818, namely Thomas Pares, a member of the local banking family which had in fact supported Roscoe in 1812. The corporation took fright and abandoned Smith, who ‘left the town in disgust’. Babington, in turn, made way for John Mansfield, with whom he had entered into a banking partnership at Leicester.10Thus there was no contest and the compromise that had operated until 1784 was temporarily restored.

Authors: M. H. Port / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. A Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, on which this article is based.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/229, f. 272; Sunday Chron. 20 June 1790.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/182, f. 159.
  • 4. W. Gardiner, Music and Friends, i. 208; Morning Chron. 24 May; True Briton, 30 May 1796; The Poll (1796), 42.
  • 5. The Times, 3, 25 Mar., 27 Dec.; Sir W. Manners to Saxon, 5 Mar., ex. inf. Maj.-Gen. Sir Humphrey Tollemache, Bt.; Rutland mss, Beaufort to Rutland, 4 Dec. 1800; A Copy of the Poll (1801).
  • 6. The Times, 8 July 1802; General Election of 1802, p. 48.
  • 7. Fortescue mss, Grenville to Carrington, 13 Oct. 1806.
  • 8. Ibid. Carrington to Grenville, 14 May 1807.
  • 9. Morning Chron. 21 Oct.; Kenyon mss, R.R.N. of Leicester to Kenyon, 30 Sept. 1812.
  • 10. The Late Elections (1818), 167.