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 freeholders and freemen

Number of voters:

about 250


(1801): 1,430


22 June 1790JOHN HAYES ST. LEGER16796
  Double return. ST. LEGER and LADBROKE declared elected, 28 Feb. 1791  
10 July 1802HENRY HOLLAND144 
 George Woodford Thellusson117 
 Peter Isaac Thellusson112 
27 Apr. 1804 JOHN CHARLES SPENCER, Visct. Althorp, vice Strange, vacated his seat  
15 Feb. 1806 ALTHORP re-elected after appointment to office  
 Richard Bateman Robson80 
7 Oct. 1812ALBANY SAVILE  
 THOMAS NORTH GRAVES, Baron Graves [I]  
21 July 1813 GRAVES re-elected after appointment to office  
17 June 1818CHRISTOPHER SAVILE (formerly ATKINSON)  
11 May 1819 HENRY SADLEIR PRITTIE, Baron Dunalley [I], vice Christopher Savile, deceased  

Main Article

In 1784 the combined interests of the two largest property owners at Okehampton, the 5th Duke of Bedford and his fellow Whig the 2nd Earl Spencer, were temporarily overturned by the treachery of Bedford’s local agent, John ‘Esquire’ Luxmoore of Witherdon, who secured the return of himself and a friend. Luxmoore’s cousin and rival, John Luxmoore of Fair Place, who was Spencer’s agent, had no part in the rebellion and in 1785 the peers’ defeated candidates were seated on petition. Death almost wiped out the adult males of Esquire Luxmoore’s branch of the family during the next few years: his brothers Thomas and Henry died in 1785 and 1787 respectively and he himself early in 1788, leaving his property to his nephew Charles, who seems to have carried on the fight against the aristocratic interests.

These deaths gave the Fair Place Luxmoores the chance to seize control of the corporation and bid for the unfettered management of both electoral interests. On 31 Mar. 1787 John’s brother Henry Luxmoore, a surgeon, who appears to have assumed the leadership of the clan, wrote to Spencer’s estate agent, Thomas Harrison, arguing that his employer’s and Bedford’s interests would best be served by their leaving the corporation ‘solely to their own determinations’ on electoral matters, ‘as being the best judges’ of local circumstances: ‘the interference I recommend to have removed’, he went on, ‘has been the principal means of keeping up the useless distinction of two parties here, which I wish to have entirely done away’.1 Between 1785 and 1788 one of Henry’s sons and two of John’s were elected to vacancies in the corporation, which was composed of eight principal and eight assistant burgesses. The Luxmoores’ aggrandisement was resented by certain elements in the borough, most notably by Thomas Pearce Hockin, vicar of Okehampton, who coveted a place among the principal burgesses. During 1787, against a background of well-founded rumours that Spencer had decided to sell his property at Okehampton, Hockin and his crony William Battishill repeatedly warned Bedford’s estate agent that the Luxmoores’ ‘complete monopolization of power’ was designed to make both the duke’s and Spencer’s interests entirely dependent on them and was likely to provoke ‘a general combination of the independent part of the corporation and freemen of the borough’ to seek another patron with money and places to bestow. Harrison too was worried by the Luxmoores’ behaviour. ‘Much provoked at the independence they set up the moment they possessed the power and at the defiance they have ever since shown both to your lordship and the Duke of Bedford’, he advised Spencer to find a new agent; but it is not clear if this was done.2

In the summer of 1788 Hockin warned Bedford’s agent that Charles Luxmoore of Witherdon and his kinsman Capt. Eastabrooke were fomenting opposition, and planned, with the aid of freemen resentful of the Fair Place Luxmoores, to revive the feudal office of portreeve, the holder of which had been, until 1623, the borough’s returning officer. (Since then the office had been merged with that of the mayor, who had assumed the role of returning officer.) Hockin suggested that Bedford should back the freemen in this scheme as a counter to the Luxmoores’ controlling the corporation, but Harrison, convinced that Hockin himself was behind the plan and was trying to thwart the Luxmoores by driving a wedge between the two peers’ interests, was quick to warn Bedford’s men of business that Hockin and Battishill were ‘deep in intrigue which should be narrowly watched’. At the same time he made clear to Spencer his view that the Luxmoores’ greed and ambition were playing into Hockin’s hands. It seems likely that Charles Luxmoore’s friend Edmund Edye, an attorney, was chosen as portreeve at Michaelmas 1788; and shortly afterwards Harrison, having heard that Charles Luxmoore had offered himself to the ‘independent’ party ‘to the last shilling of his fortune’, told Spencer that Okehampton had not been ‘more inflamed and in greater confusion for many years than it is at this time’.3

Meanwhile Spencer had offered his Okehampton estate to Bedford, only to learn that the duke also intended to sell after the next general election. In April 1789 Bedford’s Member, Lord Malden*, told him that he could no longer act with opposition, just as Spencer’s man, Humphrey Minchin*, had done in 1787. Lady Spencer hoped Bedford would accept Malden’s offer of resignation, as he would then ‘have the settling and proving of the question of the two returning officers entirely at his own cost’; but Bedford, like Spencer before him, resigned himself to the loss of a vote rather than risk a by-election.4 At the following Michaelmas court leet John Hawkes, an attorney connected by marriage with Charles Luxmoore, was chosen as portreeve.

In September 1789 Spencer found a buyer for his estate in Robert Ladbroke, a fellow Whig and wealthy London banker. The sum of £17,000 which Ladbroke agreed to pay did not take account of the 47 electoral freeholds which the estate provided, but as part of the bargain it was arranged that the sale should be kept secret and that Ladbroke should stand at the next general election ostensibly as Spencer’s candidate, enjoying the full support of his interest but taking the expense on himself.5 In December Ladbroke had second thoughts about standing, but was evidently kept to the terms of the agreement by Harrison, who warned him that the sale was already known of in some quarters as a result of careless talk by the Prince of Wales, for whom Ladbroke may have been acting in the purchase. The news does not seem to have reached Okehampton itself, for when in January 1790 Henry Luxmoore asked for the Bedford and Spencer candidates to be sent down, Ladbroke was described to him as Spencer’s nominee, who was to stand on the ‘united interest’ with Bedford’s new candidate John St. Leger, a member of the Prince’s household. Luxmoore’s summons was made in response to the appearance at Okehampton of two wealthy ministerialists, John William Anderson*, a London merchant, and John Townson, an East India Company director, who ‘hung out tempting lures’ and were said to have been well received by the resident voters.6

Bedford and Spencer countered with a rapid series of conveyances of small freeholds on their property, but on 14 June 1790, a week before the election, Spencer told his mother:

I am rather afraid ... Bedford’s interest and mine will be driven out ... in a great measure owing to the dilatoriness of him and his agent, which is hardly to be accounted for on any other ground than that he has a mind to be beat.7

The election precept was delivered to the mayor, Thomas Bridgeman Luxmoore, son of John of Fair Place, who took a poll which gave Ladbroke and St. Leger 167 votes each, Townson 98 and Anderson 97. Hawkes also held a poll, which returned the two ministerialists.

The committee of inquiry appointed on 3 Feb. 1791, when it was alleged that ministers failed to ensure the full attendance which they had promised Anderson, first heard the arguments of counsel on the question of who was the legal returning officer, decided in favour of the mayor and declared Ladbroke and St. Leger duly elected. Counsel for Townson and Anderson then sought to prove the illegality of 72 freehold votes cast for their opponents, to nullify four other votes and to secure the addition to their clients’ poll of four votes rejected by the mayor. All 72 freehold votes, claimed on conveyances made by Spencer (31), Bedford (21) and others were declared bad, but the four other disputed votes were allowed to stand. Two of the rejected votes for Townson and Anderson were admitted, but counsel for the sitting Members secured the invalidation of seven of their opponents’ original votes and the election of Ladbroke and St. Leger was eventually confirmed. Townson received £500 from the secret service fund towards the legal costs, and both the Hawkes family and Charles Luxmoore, who claimed to have spent £13,000 in fighting the Whig peers, sought places from government in reward for their efforts.8

Both the Okehampton estates changed hands before the next general election. Ladbroke evidently transferred the former Spencer property to the Prince of Wales ‘under a private agreement’, details of which have not been found.9 The Bedford estate was acquired by Richard Bateman Robson, younger brother of Henry Holland, the celebrated architect employed by the Prince, Bedford, Spencer and other leading Whigs. According to a later account by Robson, the Prince, before the general election of 1796

proposed to sell Mr Holland his estate ... recommending it because it joined that I bought of the Duke of Bedford; and both being in one family it would secure to them the return of both Members, as the owners of the two estates had always enjoyed that advantage. Mr Holland declined the purchase but was prevailed upon to lend HRH £6,000 upon mortgage.

In 1796 Robson was returned unopposed with the Prince’s private secretary, Thomas Tyrwhitt, ‘on a joint interest and joint expense’, with Robson taking the whole upon himself and guaranteeing Tyrwhitt ‘for a fixed sum’ of £700.10

In August 1797 the Prince, desperate for money, virtually forced Holland to buy his estate for £13,000, promising Tyrwhitt’s co-operation with him, ‘as the local circumstances of the town and borough may require’, and every exertion in his power to support Holland’s interest. When the architect went to survey his purchase he discovered that blunders had been made in the conveyance, which had to be rectified by litigation; and early in 1802 he was angered to find that a vacant duchy of Cornwall stewardship at Okehampton which, assuming the right of nomination, he claimed for a friend, had been promised by the Prince some years before to the Duke of Northumberland, who refused to waive his right to it. Holland complained that never since he bought the property had he ‘experienced in any instance’ fulfilment of the Prince’s promise of ‘doing anything to strengthen my interest’, and he later withdrew from the Prince’s service.11

In 1802 Robson made way for his nephew, Henry Holland’s son, while Holland apparently placed the seat at the disposal of Henry Dundas (later Lord Melville), from whom he had received the lucrative appointment of surveyor to the East India Company in 1799 and who nominated his son-in-law James Strange, a nabob turned banker. Holland and Strange were challenged by two of the wealthy Thellusson brothers, London merchants, but were returned, thanks to the late introduction of about 30 freeholders from London claiming the vote on conveyances from Holland and Robson. The Thellussons petitioned, claiming a majority of legal votes and alleging partiality by the returning officer and bribery by their opponents; but before the election committee their counsel only offered evidence in support of the claim to a legal majority. Thirty freehold votes were challenged on the ground of occasionality, citing the precedent of 1791, but the Hollands had clearly taken greater pains over the legal technicalities than had Bedford and Spencer and only five of the votes were deemed bad.12

Early in 1804 it became known that Strange, whose bank had failed, was about to return to India. Holland, in anticipation of the vacancy, offered his seat to Spencer for his eldest son Lord Althorp. Althorp’s kinsman William Stephen Poyntz paid £1,000 for it, in return for being allowed to continue sitting on Spencer’s interest for St. Albans rather than vacate for Althorp.13 In striking this bargain Holland may have been guilty of sharp practice, for on 5 Feb. 1804 William Huskisson, a protégé of Pitt and Dundas who had been without a seat since 1802, told Pitt that when he had approached Holland about the seat, through Dundas’s son William, the architect had ‘plainly hinted at money’, to which Huskisson had replied that he could do no more than reimburse Strange for the unexpired period of the Parliament and pay the ordinary expenses. He went on:

Upon this Holland asked for time to consider, which time he was employed in conjuring up an opposition which I believe would have been the more formidable to me, had I persisted, as it is ... of his own creating. The fact is that he had in the most positive terms given the seat to Lord Melville for the present Parliament ... but it is equally a fact that Holland is a shabby fellow. Lord Spencer, I believe, went to Lord Melville, was most active in getting him his very lucrative situation at the India House. The return which he two years ago volunteered to the one, he now finds sufficient to discharge his debt of gratitude to both.14

A snag occurred when Strange left the country in March without vacating his seat, giving William Dundas authority to take the necessary steps, but Huskisson did not press his claim. Althorp was returned without opposition at the end of April, though he wrote to his father that ‘some of the voters told me that it was only on account of you that they gave me their support and abused Holland very much’.15

On 7 Jan. 1807 Robson, writing to Tyrwhitt in pursuit of money owed for Okehampton elections, recalled that Tyrwhitt had ‘thought proper about two years ago to cultivate an opposition’ in the borough:

Mr Holland had I believe an interview with you upon the subject. He as well as myself ... wished to do all in his power to comply with HRH’s commands respecting the representation of the borough, but to be attacked in the manner he was and myself also, to take that from us which was bought—it wanted more temper than I possess to remain a quiet spectator. I ... believe, and so do his family, that the circumstances of experiencing HRH’s displeasure shortened Mr Holland’s life many years.16

There are a number of obscurities in the story of the 1806 election, but it is clear that the Prince was still able to exert some influence at Okehampton, probably through the lure of duchy of Cornwall appointments held out to members of the corporation; and Tyrwhitt, as lord warden of the stannaries from 1803 until 1812 and possessor of an estate on Dartmoor, was well placed to interfere in the Prince’s name. Early in 1806 Althorp, who was appointed to minor office in the Grenville ministry, stood for the Cambridge University seat vacated by Pitt’s death. On 30 Jan. Holland senior told Spencer that he had had one offer of £1,500 for Althorp’s seat and that Robson too was interested, being prepared to pay the same and ‘go to the election directly, with a provision to vacate’ if Althorp failed at Cambridge. ‘Both the gentlemen’, he added, ‘mean to run no risk or expense occasioned by some temporary opposition that might arise as [neither] the Prince of Wales nor his friends are prepared for such an event.’17 As it happened Althorp was beaten at Cambridge and had to fall back on Okehampton.

Holland senior died on 17 June 1806. It is not clear whether it was to him or his son that Spencer had written on the 13th informing him that, in response to his offer, Lord Grenville had ‘undertaken to propose to Lord P. to stand upon the terms of your engaging to give him all the assistance you possibly can and his lordship to be at all the pecuniary risk’. If the offer was accepted the by-election should be held quickly ‘in order to give as little opportunity as possible to cabal’. On 22 June Holland junior assured Spencer that there was no serious risk of opposition and that the arrangement still stood.18 ‘Lord P.’ was almost certainly Earl Percy, the Duke of Northumberland’s son, for whom Grenville had engaged to find a seat; and the Okehampton seat to be vacated for him was presumably Holland’s own rather than Althorp’s. Nothing came of the proposal and Percy was returned elsewhere.

By Henry Holland’s will, proved on 26 June 1806, Robson, who had recently re-entered the House on a vacancy for Honiton, was appointed a co-trustee of the architect’s ‘borough and estate of and at Okehampton’. According to Robson’s later account, he had ‘several’ interviews with Tyrwhitt during 1806:

I need not remind you [he wrote to Tyrwhitt] that I always expressed a wish that HRH should nominate one Member. We never had any other difference but as to the forms. I always proposed to insure the return and pay all expenses. This at one period you listened to. The sum of £2,500 was demanded by me.19

In August Tyrwhitt told the Prince’s secretary that he had ‘secured Okehampton I think beyond all doubt’. He would nominate, as he may have planned to do for at least a year, Joseph Foster Barham, an independent supporter of the ‘Talents’, both to liquidate ‘a disagreeable sort of debt’ (arising out of Tyrwhitt’s obligation to Foster Barham for his return for Portarlington in 1802) and in the hope that Barham would give him the nomination to the seat which he controlled at Stockbridge.20

On 17 Oct. 1806 Holland agreed, in an interview with Fremantle, secretary to the Treasury, to let government ‘have the nomination of one seat’ at the forthcoming general election. It is not entirely clear whether he knew of his uncle’s engagement with Tyrwhitt and intended to give up his own seat, or whether he was unaware of Robson’s deal and planned to come in again himself and return a government nominee in place of Althorp, who was to contest Northamptonshire. The following day, however, he told Fremantle that circumstances had arisen which made it impossible for him to proceed further in the negotiation; and on the 19th he explained these circumstances to Spencer:

The new difficulty ... is that Mr Robson, who had absolutely determined to decline being a candidate, has, upon a discovery of some personal interest among the freemen in London, changed his mind and is gone to offer himself ... The power he possesses in my affairs ... leaves me no choice of conduct on the occasion.21

Clearly Robson, who had persistently criticized ministers over their failure to set up an inquiry into barrack abuses, had taken advantage of his power as trustee of his late brother’s property to override his nephew. His own version of events, given to Tyrwhitt on 7 Jan. 1807, was as follows:

Unexpectedly Parliament was dissolved. I immediately came to London, was sorry to hear you were in Scotland. From the situation of party and circumstances no time was to be lost. I refused treating with the Treasury. A handsome sum for both seats was offered and they would take all risk upon themselves. I considered myself in London bound to you and immediately began a canvass with the London voters for Mr [Foster] Barham and myself. I left a letter for you at Carlton House and set off immediately for the borough, was there six days alone and with difficulty attended with expense prevailed on 14 out of the 16 of the corporation to vote for Mr [Foster] Barham, the Prince’s interests being only two—Solon and Bridgeman Luxmoore [sons of John of Fair Place]. The fact is I could have carried any persons.

Capt. Philip Charles Durham and another adventurer made a late bid to take advantage of Foster Barham’s absence but got nowhere. Tyrwhitt remarked to Foster Barham that his Okehampton constituents were ‘the most diabolical set of scoundrels that ever returned any man to Parliament’.22

Early in 1807 Robson pressed Tyrwhitt for payment of money owed for the Okehampton election and asked him to prevail on the Prince of Wales to come to a permanent arrangement by which he could ‘at all times have his nomination at a very moderate expense’. Tyrwhitt gave Robson a bond for £600, payable in a year, and thought it might be ‘expedient also to undertake for me to pay £125 p.a. commencing from 1 Jan. 1807 as a moiety of the expense which Mr R. is obliged to submit to to satisfy the corporation’. He still owed Robson £275 for his ‘share of expense in the last election’, he told William Adam, the Prince’s man of business; and ‘as to the rest, I have very little doubt of everything being settled upon the fair principle of one and one’.23

Shortly afterwards Robson sold his late brother’s property at Okehampton, and perhaps his own as well, to Christopher Savile, a former corn merchant and government contractor, who bought it, according to Holland’s widow, ‘in a confident hope that himself and his friend will be returned to the ensuing Parliament’. At the 1807 general election Savile put up his son, and Robson, claiming to have ‘received a letter from Mr Tyrwhitt informing me that no interference whatever would take place at Okehampton on the part of himself or friends’, sought re-election. A third man appeared in the shape of Gwyllym Lloyd Wardle, a Welsh landowner and the future persecutor of the Duke of York, who was said to have been introduced to discontented electors by a family attorney with connexions at Okehampton. Wardle topped the poll, with 88 plumpers in his total of 113 votes, and Robson, who later alleged that Tyrwhitt had broken his promise and sent his domestic chaplain to vote against him, was turned out. Petitions, presumably instigated by Robson, were lodged in the names of various electors against both Wardle and Savile, alleging treating and bribery, but they were not proceeded with.24 Robson had no more to do with Okehampton elections, but it was July 1808 before he extracted final payment from Tyrwhitt.25

The Saviles consolidated their interest after 1807. Albany Savile went to live at Okehampton and became recorder of the borough. In August 1808 his father told Perceval that having already paid between £70,000 and £80,000 for his property there, he was on the verge of laying out a further £20,000 to £30,000 ‘to complete the domain and interest to the fullest extent’.26 They controlled both seats for the rest of this period, Christopher Savile returning himself, at almost 80 years of age, in 1818. Graves and Dunalley were both ministerialists and presumably paying guests.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Spencer mss.
  • 2. Devon RO, Bedford mss L1258, bdle. 23/8, corresp. 3 Mar.-27 Sept.; Spencer mss, Harrison to Spencer, 2 Mar., 28 Aug., 15 Sept. 1787.
  • 3. Bedford mss 23/8, corresp. 23 June-18 Oct. 1788; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 293; Spencer mss, Harrison to Macnamara, 14 Sept., to Spencer, 21 Oct., 1, 11 Nov. 1788.
  • 4. Spencer mss, Harrison to Macnamara, 14 Sept., to Spencer, 19 Sept. 1788, Lady to Ld. Spencer, 28 Apr. 1789.
  • 5. Spencer mss, corresp. 14 Aug.-18 Sept. 1789.
  • 6. Spencer mss, Luxmoore to Spencer, 14 Jan., Harrison to Luxmoore, 28 Jan. 1790; J. H. Adeane, Lady Stanley, 90.
  • 7. Spencer mss.
  • 8. Camelford mss, Rashleigh to Camelford, 8, 18 Feb. 1791; CJ, xlvi. 24, 37, 43, 52, 141, 243; Oldfield, iii. 293-7; S. Fraser, Controverted Elections (1791), 67-179; PRO 30/8/143, f. 62; 153, f. 255; 229, f. 273.
  • 9. Bedford mss 23/12, Harrison to Gotobed, 8 Jan. 1797.
  • 10. Blair Adam mss, Robson to Tyrwhitt, 7 Jan. 1807.
  • 11. Prince of Wales Corresp. iv. 1628; D. Stroud, Henry Holland (1966), 148-50.
  • 12. The Times, 13, 14 July 1802; CJ, lviii. 31, 287, 290, 313; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections, i. 359-76.
  • 13. Spencer mss, Poyntz to Spencer, 23 Jan., Lady to Ld. Spencer [30 Jan.] 1804.
  • 14. Kent AO, Stanhope mss 732/5.
  • 15. Spencer mss, Holland to Spencer, 18 Mar., Althorp to same, 24 Apr. 1804.
  • 16. Blair Adam mss.
  • 17. Spencer mss.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. PCC 483 Pitt; Blair Adam mss, Robson to Tyrwhitt, 7 Jan. 1807.
  • 20. Prince of Wales Corresp. v. 2204; Bodl. Clarendon dep. C.431, bdle. 5, Tyrwhitt to Foster Barham, 28 Sept. 1805 [?1806].
  • 21. Spencer mss, Holland to Fremantle, 18 Oct., to Spencer, 19 Oct., Fremantle to Spencer, 19 Oct. 1806.
  • 22. Blair Adam mss; Bodl. C.431, bdle. 5, Hole to Foster Barham, 1 Nov., Tyrwhitt to same, 23 Nov. 1806.
  • 23. Blair Adam mss, Robson to Tyrwhitt, 7 Jan., Tyrwhitt to Adam, 16 Jan. 1807.
  • 24. Ibid. Bridget Holland to Adam, Mon., Robson to Adam, 29 Apr. 1807; CJ, lxii. 683, 776.
  • 25. W. H. Reid, Mems. Col. Wardle, 6; Blair Adam mss, Robson to Adam, 29 June, to Tyrwhitt, 7 July, Tyrwhitt to Adam, 10 July 1808.
  • 26. Add. 38242, f. 334.