Wallingford

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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 200

Population:

(1801): 1,744

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
16 June 1790SIR FRANCIS SYKES, Bt. 
 NATHANIEL WILLIAM WRAXALL, 
12 Mar. 1794 FRANCIS WILLIAM SYKES vice Wraxall, vacated his seat125
 Peter William Baker24
25 May 1796SIR FRANCIS SYKES, Bt. 
 SAMPSON EARDLEY, Baron Eardley [I] 
5 July 1802SIR FRANCIS SYKES, Bt. 
 WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES 
8 Feb. 1804 GEORGE GALWAY MILLS vice Sykes, deceased141
 Morris Ximenes19
29 Oct. 1806RICHARD BENYON II 
 WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES 
4 May 1807RICHARD BENYON II 
 WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES 
8 Oct. 1812WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES 
 EBENEZER FULLER MAITLAND 
17 June 1818WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES 
 EBENEZER FULLER MAITLAND 
 George James Robarts 

Main Article

Wallingford remained essentially venal, but during the first half of the period it was virtually in the pocket of Sir Francis Sykes, a rich nabob, who was said to have bought up most of the property in the borough. In April 1789 it was reported that his colleague, Thomas Aubrey, returned in 1784 on the declining interest of the 4th Earl of Abingdon, the high steward, would have to look elsewhere at the dissolution, despite his willingness to pay the going rate. Sykes introduced (as his paying guest) a fellow East Indian, Nathaniel Wraxall, and they encountered no opposition in 1790, though Aubrey and his brother, Sir John*, seem to have maintained a presence until the last minute. When Wraxall made way for Sykes’s son in 1794 there was a late and ineffectual challenge from the wealthy Peter William Baker*. Oldfield maintained that Lord Eardley, who was returned with Sykes in 1796, stood on Abingdon’s interest ‘in opposition’ to the nabob, but it seems more likely that he bought his seat from Sykes. The Abingdon influence was negligible by this time and fell into abeyance on the death of the 4th Earl in 1799, when Sykes became high steward.1

Sykes met his match when Thomas Williams*, the wealthy copper magnate, promoted and possibly financed the intervention of William Hughes, the son of his partner in the Parys mine company, who canvassed Wallingford late in 1801 with Sir William Clayton of Harleyford, ‘the latter not to be a candidate unless Sir F. Sykes should attempt to bring in a colleague’. Sykes seems to have countered by inducing Sir Matthew Bloxam, a London merchant and Member for Maidstone, to canvass, but it was Hughes who was returned with him in 1802.2

On Sykes’s death in 1804 Wallingford reverted to type and in 1816 Oldfield wrote that ‘corruption’ operated on ‘a systematic establishment’. The price of a vote became stabilized at 20 guineas and the money was distributed by a local shoemaker, known as ‘The Miller’. At a county reform meeting in 1817 a Wallingford resident produced a letter from one of the Members to a local banker concerning the receipt of 168 20-guinea notes and went on to complain that

it was a fact, that most of the voters were preserved from the parish work-house, and were enabled to pay the taxes, by taking bribes; and that the sum above mentioned was only from one representative, for each representative paid the like sum, besides what was paid to agents.3

By dint of his wealth, Hughes retained one seat until 1831. At the by-election occasioned by Sykes’s death George Galway Mills, a West India proprietor, was returned after a contest with Morris Ximenes, a Berkshire landowner. In expectation of joining the mission to Russia, Mills did not stand in 1806, when his place was taken by Richard Benyon, Sykes’s son-in-law and allegedly the richest commoner in Berkshire. Shortly before the election of 1807 Sir Arthur Wellesley, the Irish secretary, told his brother that ‘a man has offered me a seat for Wallingford’, but he was informed in reply that not only did ministers have no one to recommend, but that Treasury officials were ‘sure’ that neither seat was available. Ebenezer Maitland, the wealthy son of a Bank director, canvassed the borough, but Hughes and Benyon came in without opposition. Maitland replaced Benyon in 1812 when there was ‘a feeble opposition’, which probably went no further than a show of hands, from John Mackaness, the recorder; and in 1818 he was successful in a contest forced by George James Robarts†, nephew of the Whig leader, George Tierney.4

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. Oldfield, Hist. Boroughs, i. 15; Hist. (1797), 449-50; Fremantle mss, Chaplin to Fremantle, 19 Apr. 1789; PRO 30/8/192, f. 5; Public Advertiser, 18 June 1790; Berks. RO W/Aep 6/1; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 15 Mar. 1794.
  • 2. Berks. RO, Preston mss, Loveden to Sellwood, 29 Oct. 1801; UCNW, Baron Hill mss 6179, 6271; The Times, 27 Jan. 1802.
  • 3. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 41; J. K. Hedges, Wallingford, ii. 202-4; E. A. Smith, ‘Bribery and Disfranchisement’, EHR, lxxv (1960), 621-2; Trial and Conviction of Wallingford Whiggism (1826), p. vi (copy in Berks. RO); The Times, 14 Feb. 1817.
  • 4. Wellington Supp. Despatches, v. 22; Wellington mss, H. to Sir A. Wellesley, 4 May; Reading Mercury, 11 May 1807, 12 Oct. 1812.

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