Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|26 June 1790||EDMUND WIGLEY||959|
|Samuel Smith II||690|
|26 May 1796||EDMUND WIGLEY|
|5 July 1802||ABRAHAM ROBARTS||854|
|29 Oct. 1806||ABRAHAM ROBARTS||856|
|17 Feb. 1807||WILLIAM GORDON vice Bromley, vacated his seat||766|
|6 May 1807||ABRAHAM ROBARTS|
|13 Oct. 1812||ABRAHAM ROBARTS||1248|
|George William Coventry, Visct. Deerhurst||855|
|23 Dec. 1816||GEORGE WILLIAM COVENTRY, Visct. Deerhurst, vice Robarts, deceased|
|23 June 1818||GEORGE WILLIAM COVENTRY, Visct. Deerhurst||1422|
|THOMAS HENRY HASTINGS DAVIES||1024|
|(Sir) William (Duff) Gordon, Bt.||874|
The traditional rivalry between the corporation and independent parties, the latter supported largely by the dissenters, many of whom were Quakers, could not be checked by the reluctance of candidates to stir up contests in a constituency where the substantial non-resident vote, much of it in Birmingham and London, added to the expense. Only two elections in this period went uncontested; and in 1790 the three candidates were all favourable to Pitt’s government. Wigley, who came in at a by-election in 1789, was supported by an independent interest anxious to promote a local man and prepared to cover his expenses by subscription. Lechmere, who had made a bid for the same vacancy, was a local banker who hoped to come in quietly at the next election, either by getting Wigley to supply a ministerial vacancy at Leicester, of which he was recorder, or by inducing Smith to retire. In this he did not succeed. Wigley was safe and Smith had been spared expense in 1784, when he was reported to have had £20,000 ready and was prepared to fight for his seat. Lechmere ousted him at ruinous expense. Smith attributed his failure to ‘a prevalence of party spirit which no conduct, however disinterested or upright, on the part of your representatives, can conciliate, or ever produce unanimity among the electors’.1
By 1796 Lechmere, who had gone into opposition and made a reputation as ‘the poor man’s friend’, could not afford another contest, despite a subscription offered by London freemen to whom he presented himself as a victim of ‘a system of ministerial persecution’. He was replaced by a banking partner, Robarts, who came in with Wigley, nothing having come of the candidature of Thomas Coutts the banker. Lechmere did not pursue his petition against the return.2 Robarts, whose son-in-law Charles Thellusson came in for Evesham at the same time, entrenched himself, cultivating the corporation, and in November 1801 they resolved that they were ‘so perfectly satisfied with the conduct of their present representatives, that they will not countenance a contest from any quarter’. This was wishful thinking. Wigley’s conduct placed him at a disadvantage and it was he who was defeated by a last-minute third man, Joseph Scott, a relative of William Ward†, 3rd Viscount Dudley, a former Member. Scott was lured by an independent group on his way to Cheltenham. Wigley was overtaken by Scott on the second day of the poll, and when Scott summoned London voters he gave up. He had relied on ‘a vote of the corporation, which (but for one exception) was unanimous and an offer of firm support from the heads of the dissenting interests’, but he had not fulfilled a promise to treat his supporters after the last election. His remaining friends resolved, 16 July 1802, that his defeat was ‘affected by prejudice as groundless and unfounded as derogatory to the general character of the inhabitants of this city’. But he took his leave of them.3
In 1806 Scott retired with a baronetcy. The corporation candidates were Robarts and Col. Bromley, for whom Lord Somers obtained the blessing of the Grenville ministry, which proved ‘very useful’. The third man, William Gordon, a London Portuguese merchant, fared badly on the independent interest and gave up after three days; but Bromley’s lavish entertainment of the electors encouraged him to petition against the return and this alarmed Bromley into resignation before the petition was decided on by the House. William Smith* was pressed by his Whig friends to replace Bromley, but declined. Gordon had meanwhile approached the Treasury with an offer to support the government if they backed him, and on the proviso of Smith’s withdrawal his offer was accepted. His opponent John Attersoll, on whose behalf the county Member Lyttelton and others approached the Treasury, was therefore too late. Gordon defeated him in the by-election and an electors’ petition against the return was not followed up.4 No opposition materialized at the general election of 1807, when Attersoll decided not to renew his candidature and looked elsewhere for a seat. A claim that he was allied with Robarts had been contradicted and he took credit for not convulsing the city with ‘party spirit’.5
By September 1811 the Whig freemen were in pursuit of a candidate. Henry Brougham* hesitated for fear of the expense, which he estimated as at least £1,500, and because he was subsequently led to understand that Bromley was their choice. Bromley did not persevere and Brougham was tempted by a second invitation, being promised dissenting support and that of the Birmingham freemen. But it was too late for a reliable Whig substitute when Henry Stephen Fox, Lord Ilchester’s heir, volunteered in September 1812. On 30 Sept. Viscount Deerhurst, whose father Lord Coventry was recorder of Worcester, was proposed on the ‘popular interest’. He was defeated by the sitting Members, though Gordon’s canvass had to be conducted by his father-in-law in his absence abroad and Deerhurst tried to label him a stranger.6 He certainly did better than Gordon among resident voters.
On Robarts’s death in 1816, Deerhurst again came forward. Lady Holland wrote, 3 Dec.:
Worcester may be gained for very little, they say as little as £1,200, but we want candidates and money: there is I fear a possibility of Mr Baring standing. Lord Deerhurst is very odious and disliked in the town from his low profligacy and debauchery and any person would succeed against him.
Three days later she reported, ‘By compromise Lord Deerhurst will come in for Worcester, but Mr Baring certainly at the general election, as Gordon cannot stand’.7
Gordon was in financial difficulties and had spent much of the Parliament in Spain. In December 1817 he promised to vacate his seat if further absence became necessary. Robarts’s eldest son Abraham Wildey Robarts* had been interested in replacing him but disliked the expense of a contest to do so, and when Gordon and a third man with a local following, Col. Davies, persevered, Robarts discreetly withdrew. Davies canvassed in February 1818 and Gordon in March, followed by Deerhurst. A record poll of 1,963 voters in eight days ensued. Gordon was visibly the weak candidate on every front and Deerhurst and Davies secured a majority of the split votes, though the latter was ‘less friendly to administration’ than Gordon. The Treasury admitted the loss of a supporter. A petition against Davies’s return failed and another against Deerhurst, alleging that his agent Nathaniel Mence had offered half a guinea to married freemen and seven shillings to bachelors in January 1818, and that he had paid admission fees for 120 freemen and rewarded others for ‘election assistance’, was declared ‘frivolous and vexatious’.8
Authors: M. J. Williams / R. G. Thorne
- 1. PRO 30/8/151, ff. 89, 91; 154, f. 294; 179, ff. 255, 257; Worcester Jnl. 5 Mar. 1789, 1 July 1790.
- 2. Salopian Jnl. 3 Feb.; Morning Chron. 25 May, 1796; CJ, lii. 46, 97.
- 3. The Times, 27 Nov. 1801, 7, 8, 10, 12 July 1802; Salopian Jnl. 14 July; Worcester Jnl. 15, 22 July 1802.
- 4. Oxf. Jnl. 25 Oct., 1 Nov.; Fortescue mss, Somers to Grenville, 1 Dec. 1806; CJ, lxii. 21, 93, 258; Fremantle mss, box 44(8), Fremantle to Lyttelton, 28 July 1807.
- 5. Morning Chron. 5, 9 May; Hereford Jnl. 13 May 1807.
- 6. Add. 51561, Brougham to Holland, 8 Oct.; Brougham mss 2029, 4615, 18062; Brougham to Grey, 6 Sept. [13 Oct.] 1811, [18 Sept. 1812]; Worcester Jnl. 1, 7, 8, 15 Oct. 1812.
- 7. Add. 51644, Lady Holland to Horner, 3, 6 Dec. 1816.
- 8. Worcs. RO, Lechmere mss, Robarts to Lechmere, 16, 31 Dec. ; Worcester Jnl. 5, 26 Feb., 26 Mar., 2, 9 Apr., 21 May, 11, 18, 25 June 1818; Add. 38458, f. 269; The Late Elections (1818), 412; CJ, lxxiv. 61, 72, 259, 260.