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 inhabitants

Number of voters:

about 1,500 in 1796 rising to over 2,800 by 1818


(1801): 11,887


21 June 1790SIR HENRY HOGHTON, Bt. 
6 Sept. 1792 WILLIAM CUNLIFFE SHAWE vice Burgoyne, deceased 
26 Mar. 1795 SIR HENRY PHILIP HOGHTON, Bt., vice Hoghton, deceased 
11 June 1796EDWARD SMITH STANLEY, Lord Stanley772
 John Horrocks742
6 July 1802EDWARD SMITH STANLEY, Lord Stanley 
17 Mar. 1804 SAMUEL HORROCKS vice Horrocks, deceased 
31 Oct. 1806EDWARD SMITH STANLEY, Lord Stanley 
19 May 1807EDWARD SMITH STANLEY, Lord Stanley1619
 Joseph Hanson1002
15 Oct. 1812SAMUEL HORROCKS1379
 Edward Hanson727
25 June 1818SAMUEL HORROCKS1694
 Peter Crompton1245

Main Article

In 1768, when the right of election was determined to be in ‘the inhabitants at large’ (subject to a six months’ residential qualification) rather than in the resident freemen, control of the parliamentary representation of Preston was wrested from the corporation by the 11th Earl of Derby, in alliance with Sir Henry Hoghton of nearby Hoghton Tower. The corporation fought back in 1780 and 1784, both at the polls and with petitions seeking to resurrect the freeman franchise, but the coalition of the Whig 12th Earl of Derby and Hoghton, who supported Pitt after 1784, proved too strong for them. There was no disturbance in 1790, when Hoghton and John Burgoyne, Derby’s uncle, were returned for the fifth successive time. On Burgoyne’s death in 1792, Derby brought in William Cunliffe Shawe, a local man, as a stopgap until his eldest son Lord Stanley came of age. When Hoghton died three years later Edward Wilbraham Bootle*, a member of Canning’s Christ Church set and heir to the Lathom estate, was encouraged by Lord Grey de Wilton, a former county Member, to seek government support for an attempt on the vacant seat.1 Nothing came of this and Hoghton was quietly replaced by his son.

Meanwhile a serious threat to the established interests had emerged. In 1791 John Horrocks, a Bolton man of humble origin, went to Preston, began cotton spinning on a small scale, prospered, and, with the financial assistance of Preston bankers, built a mill. The success of his enterprise encouraged an influx of workers, the population increased rapidly and Preston began to be transformed from a genteel county town into a manufacturing centre. Yet it retained a comparatively large upper social crust, composed increasingly, as the old gentry families deserted the town for Lancaster, of professional men and industrialists. Horrocks quickly established himself as the leading manufacturer and employer in the town, was elected a bailiff of Preston in 1794 and obtained a seat on the corporation early in 1796.2

At the general election later that year he stood against Stanley and Hoghton. Initially he persuaded Thomas Tarleton, a Liverpool West India merchant and brother of Banastre* and John Tarleton*, to join him, on the basis of an agreement that ‘for a very reasonable sum’ to be paid by Tarleton, Horrocks ‘would support the general expense’. Tarleton subsequently backed out, and on the eve of the election one of Derby’s agents was informed by a Mr Cunliffe that Horrocks had then written to him from London to say that he would not stand unless ‘the gentlemen of the town’ would ‘come forward with a proportion of the expense’:

[This] ... letter ... left little doubt in my mind of every opposition being at an end for I did not think the gentlemen of the town would part with any money and I had led myself to think Mr Tarleton was Lord Derby’s friend and had probably done this to learn Mr Horrocks’s intention. However, I was informed on ... [27 May] that Mr Horrocks was canvassing the town, and yesterday [29 May] I ... met him ... and soon found that every attempt to persuade him to desist would have no effect ... either he has been deceived by false promises, or Lord Derby has not that force in the borough ... to return two Members; and between ourselves, I am afraid his lordship does not know his real strength in Preston.

In the ensuing contest, which lasted 11 days, Horrocks was backed by his corporation allies, notably the Grimshaws, leading Preston attorneys, and by Lord Liverpool in his capacity as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. He led the poll for the first eight days and seemed likely to win, but eventually the corporation, who were said by Derby’s partisans on the ninth day to be ‘polling nothing but Roman Catholics’, having ‘only five Protestant votes left’, ran out of voters and Horrocks was narrowly defeated. Farington heard that the election did not cost Horrocks ‘more than £3,000’, while his opponents’ expenses were ‘at least £20,000’; but figures in the Derby papers put the coalition’s costs at £11,550, of which Derby’s share was £7,700 and Hoghton’s £3,850.3

Derby tried to counter the threat by establishing a cotton mill, but the venture failed and he then turned to giving substantial financial support to Horrocks’s chief rival in the cotton trade, the firm of Watson, Myers Co. He lost considerably through their failure in 1807. Horrocks’s business continued to expand, he built a number of other mills, and in the area known as New Preston erected about 100 cottages close to the small weaving shops where his tenants rented looms. The two parties eventually reached an accommodation and early in 1800 it was announced that Derby and the corporation had agreed to divide the representation between them in future. The compromise was said to have been reached through the mediation of Thomas Butterworth Bayly of Hope, near Manchester, and to have been ratified by the signatures of 11 Preston party leaders on a written agreement. In 1802 Hoghton was dropped and Horrocks came in with Stanley. On Horrocks’s sudden death in 1804 he was replaced by his brother Samuel, who succeeded him as head of the firm, a threatened intervention by Sir Thomas Dalrymple Hesketh of Rufford, a distant kinsman of Derby, having come to nothing.4

There was no opposition to the alliance in 1806, but at the next three general elections it was attacked by an ‘independent’ party, led initially by Thomas Suddell, attorney, Thomas Emmett, timber merchant, and Thomas Wilson, banker. They drew support from electors who regarded the coalition as a corrupt compromise which reduced Preston to a close borough, and from working men, notably handloom weavers, with economic grievances, yet political radicalism made little headway in Preston in this period. In 1807, their candidate was Col. Joseph Hanson of Strangeways Hall, Manchester, who stood on a platform of ‘independence’ and ‘no party’. Horrocks, the prime target, was attacked as an uneducated political cypher and a despotic, mean employer, and Hanson pledged himself to support the weavers’ campaign for a minimum wage bill. Hanson was in turn denounced as a rabble-rouser and Francophile and much was made of the Horrockses’ contribution to the development and prosperity of the town. Political issues were little aired. There was serious disorder, in which one man was killed. Hanson polled well for ten days, but after falling 138 behind Horrocks on the eleventh he withdrew, alleging that his opponents had dismissed or threatened recalcitrant employees and promising to stand again. On the final day, Stanley polled 464 votes, Horrocks 477 and Hanson only one. The election revealed how quickly and effectively the formation of the new coalition had unified the social elite of Preston and transformed the party political battle of the 1780s and 1790s into a largely social, or class struggle. Over 1,540 of the 2,600 voters, including most of the ‘respectability’ of the town, as they styled themselves, voted for the coalition candidates. Some 880 of the remainder cast plumpers for Hanson. There were 76 Stanley-Hanson votes, presumably the remnant of the former Whig or liberal vote. Horrocks shared 38 votes with Hanson and picked up 36 plumpers. According to Farington, the election cost the coalition £17,000, but this was probably an exaggeration.5

Hanson died before the general election of 1812, but his brother Edward stood for the independents. Stanley transferred to the county seat and in his place Derby put up his son-in-law and nephew Edmund Hornby, a native of Preston and former barrister who now lived in Westmorland. Horrocks, politically inarticulate, merely reminded the electors that he had already been returned three times and boasted that he ‘could act as independent a part as any man in Parliament’. Hornby, who declared his desire for an honourable peace with France, accused Hanson of inciting the disorder which led to the military being called in and of polling many nonresidents from the surrounding villages. There was a controversy over the question of whether Roman Catholics should be required to take the oath of supremacy before voting, and Horrocks, an opponent of Catholic relief, insisted on its being administered. Hanson, whose leading supporters included Sudell, Emmett, and the attorneys John Lawe and John Myers, finished the seventh day 70 votes behind the coalition candidates and retired the next morning, after polling only three more votes. Horrocks and Hornby went on to receive a further 591 and 578 respectively. There was even less cross-voting than in 1807. Over 1,350 splits for the coalition and 720 plumpers for Hanson accounted for all but about two dozen of those who polled. The coalition’s expenses were £5,844, which Derby considered ‘less than might have been expected’. Of this sum, £3,807 was spent on public houses, which not only dispensed food, drink and probably money, but were the meeting places for the ten district committees used by the coalition, each run by men of standing in that particular area, to organize and operate their campaign. At a celebration dinner the chairman, T. S. Shuttleworth, boasted that the coalition’s majority comprised ‘nearly the whole respectability of this town’ and Hornby pledged himself to support moderate parliamentary reform and a purge of sinecures.6

At the county meeting held at Preston in February 1817 to consider the attack on the Regent, members of the Liverpool Concentric Society of gentlemen reformers joined forces with local men to carry an amended address calling for the dismissal of ministers and parliamentary reform. A prominent speaker at the meeting was Dr Peter Crompton of Eaton House, near Liverpool, a member of the Society, who had already contested Derby and Nottingham as an independent radical. At the general election of 1818 a group of ‘independent electors’, led by Thomas Boothman, iron-monger, James Holland and Myers, invited Crompton to contest Preston against Horrocks and Hornby. Crompton came forward on ‘purity of election’ principles, pledged to promote an unspecified measure of parliamentary reform. Although Horrocks was denounced for his silence in the House and his hostility to ‘the rights and privileges of the people’, Crompton and his supporters concentrated their attack on Hornby, as a servile Whig who should have known better than to enter into the repressive and corrupt coalition. Hornby did not enjoy Horrocks’s standing in the town and was a mere seat-warmer for Stanley’s son, due to come of age in 1820. Horrocks, as usual, hardly opened his mouth, but Hornby defended his parliamentary conduct and tried to justify his alliance with men of opposite political views. Crompton was level with him after the sixth day, but was heavily out-voted on the seventh and gave up. Coalition costs were £6,017, of which £4,111 was spent on public houses. Almost 1,590 of the 2,857 voters split for the coalition candidates, while over 1,150 plumped for Crompton. Horrocks received 21 plumpers and shared 86 votes with Crompton, presumably cast mainly by people who wished to turn Hornby out. The virtual extinction of a distinct Whig or liberal vote was confirmed, for Hornby-Crompton votes totalled only seven. The election emphasized the sharpness of the distinction between supporters and opponents of the coalition, and their division, not by politics but by the struggle between ‘respectability’ and ‘independence’.7

Authors: David R. Fisher / J. M. Collinge


  • 1. PRO 30/8/114, f. 168.
  • 2. A. Hewitson, Preston, 129-30, 166-72; W. Dobson, Parl. Rep. Preston (1868), 52, 55-56; C. Hardwick, Preston, 316; Lancs. RO, Derby mss DDK/1683/5; HMC Kenyon, 544.
  • 3. Farington Diary (Yale ed.), ii. 575; Derby mss DDK/1683/8-14; Sidmouth mss, Blackburne to Addington, 3 June 1796; Dobson, 52-53; Preston Guardian, 29 Nov. 1879, 10 Jan. 1880; Hewitson, 130; Farington, i. 164.
  • 4. Derby mss DDK/1683/15, 16; The Times, 3 Mar. 1800; E. Baines, Lancs. ed. Croston, v. 333-4; Dobson, 54-55.
  • 5. Preston Election Addresses (1807); Dobson, 64-65; Hardwick, 334; Preston Guardian, 31 Jan., 22 May 1880; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), viii. 3181.
  • 6. Preston Chron. 26 Sept., 3, 10, 17 Oct., 7, 28 Nov. 1812; Preston Guardian, 15, 22 May, 12, 26 June 1880; Dobson, 68; Hardwick, 335; Election Expenses, 1812-20 (Shepherd’s Lib. RQ 51).
  • 7. Preston Chron. 1 Mar. 1817, 21 Feb., 13, 20, 27 June 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 258-62; Dobson, 69; Hardwick, 337.