Bury St. Edmunds


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number qualified to vote:



9,999 (1821); 11,436 (1831)


12 June 1826HENRY FITZROY, earl of Euston 
3 Aug. 1830HENRY FITZROY, earl of Euston 
 Philip Bennet14
 Robert Monsey Rolfe2

Main Article

Bury, the assize town and commercial and social centre for west Suffolk, was considered ‘entirely dependent on its residents and the nobility, gentry and agriculturists of the neighbourhood’ for its prosperity.2 Their largesse and the Members’ generosity facilitated the construction of assembly rooms (1804), a theatre (1819), a refurbished corn exchange (1820), botanic gardens (1821, 1831), gas works (1824), Suffolk General Hospital (1825) and improvements to churches and Nonconformist chapels. Local legislation also rendered the River Lark navigable (1817), and improved paving and lighting (1820) and the turnpikes to Cambridge, Norwich and Ipswich (1822, 1825). The woollen trade was in decline, but malting and brewing remained important and there was a small tobacco manufactory.3

The Davers (Rougham) interest had lapsed and the representation had been vested since 1802 in a coalition between two other local landowners, the Whig Fitzroy family, dukes of Grafton, of Euston Hall, and the Grenvillite Herveys of Ickworth, earls of Bristol. They shared election costs and contrived to avoid contests by sponsoring family Members only.4 Election management was entrusted to a corporation subcommittee of nine, dominated in practice by the ‘united trinity’ of the Oakes yarn makers and bankers, grandfather, father and son, who bankrolled the corporation. It was also the electoral body and comprised an annually elected mayor, 12 capital burgesses and 24 burgesses or common councillors.5 Appointments were for life, turnover was slow, restrictive and nepotistic and the high cost of officiating as alderman tended to produce vacancies among the capital burgesses eligible to serve. These had reluctantly been filled under a mandamus from kings bench in November 1817, and continued to be so.6 ‘An Enemy to Close Boroughs’ found it ‘entirely filled up’ in 1824, and noted the ‘many candidates for future vacancies such as bakers, builders, ironmongers ... that ... must for the present give way for the sons of corporators’. His classification showed that trades and professional men predominated:

Gentleman 1
Lawyers 6
Bankers 3
Schoolmaster 1
Surgeons 3
Chemists 3

Maltster 1
Liquor merchant 1
Wool Factor 1
Merchant 1

Grocers 5
Hardware 1
Drapers 3
Confectioner 1
Coachmaker 1
Silversmith 1
Bookseller 1
Glazier 17

At the dissolution in 1820 a challenge to the Fitzroy-Hervey hegemony was anticipated, organized by the mercer and printer of the Bury and Norwich Post Johnson Gedge, a Dissenter, and the barrister Frederick King Eagle, who promoted corporation and parliamentary reform at public meetings throughout East Anglia. The 4th duke of Grafton’s son and heir Lord Euston, a pro-Catholic reformer, first returned in 1818, had recently criticized the predominantly Tory corporation and, compromised by the intervention of the reformers, he made way for his uncle Lord John Edward Fitzroy rather than risk defeat.8 The 5th earl of Bristol put forward his brother-in-law, General Arthur Percy Upton, the ‘seat-warmer’ since 1818 for his nephew Lord Hervey, who now deputized for him.9 Fitzroy and Hervey waited on and dined the corporation, who according to the banker James Oakes now included three capital burgesses and six common councillors of the ‘opposition party’, and they saw off their declared opponent, the reformer John William Drage Merest† of Lynford Hall, Thetford. A kinsman of the Wrotham schoolmaster and sometime common councillor the Rev. James Merest, he desisted on the eve of the poll.10 According to Oakes, the election, presided over by Thomas Clay as alderman, was conducted privately in the guildhall in the presence of nine of the 12 capital burgesses and 22, of a possible 23, common councillors. The father of the corporation, Sir Thomas Gery Cullum, and the attorney and coroner James Borton proposed Fitzroy; Oakes and the schoolmaster Charles Blomfield (the father of the future bishop of Chester and London) did the same for Upton. The day’s festivities cost £944 14s. 6d., including £784 9s. 6d. to Charles Markham of the Angel for the dinner, supper and ball.11 Merest’s supporters threw rotten apples at Fitzroy during the chairing but were placated with six hogsheads of beer.12 An improvement bill petitioned for by the corporation, 12 May, received royal assent, 8 July 1820.13

Supported by Dr. William Beales as alderman, the reformers celebrated the abandonment of Queen Caroline’s prosecution (which Grafton had opposed in the Lords) with illuminations and public meetings in her honour in November 1820.14 A loyal address to the king, drafted by the recorder Robert Monsey Rolfe†, was adopted at a corporation meeting, 19 Jan. 1821, chaired by the Tory Blomfield, who had been elected an alderman following Beales’s death in December.15 Reform meetings and dinners at the Angel addressed by the Foxite Sir Henry Edward Bunbury*, who in 1821 succeeded his uncle Sir Thomas Charles Bunbury to Barton Hall, were held annually between 1821 and 1823, and from August 1822 the Suffolk Foxites and the Pitt Club, of which Oakes was a founder member, dined at the Angel.16 The Independents of Whiting Street meeting-house and the inhabitants sent anti-slavery petitions to both Houses in 1823, 1824 and 1826;17 and the Independents also petitioned for inquiry into the missionary John Smith’s indictment for inciting a slave riot in Demerara, 24 May 1824.18 The Members supported Catholic relief, which the Oakes family and most of the corporation opposed, and with corn law reform it became a major issue at the general election of 1826.19 It was evident when the management committee met on 6 June that no serious opposition was intended. Replacing their uncles, Euston, who had consulted Oakes when a dissolution was anticipated in 1825, and Hervey canvassed the corporation separately, dined at the Rev. Hastead’s, 10 June, and joined the corporation at St. Mary’s church to hear Bishop Blomfield’s charity sermon for the Suffolk hospital, 11 June.20 As previously, Cullum nominated the Grafton and Oakes the Bristol candidate, 12 June. The anti-Catholic druggist Abraham Gall, a common councillor since 1817, deliberately stayed away, and the Bury Gazette quipped that the ‘young aristocrats’ were ‘unanimously chosen without Gall’. Euston announced that he would again resign should he prove ‘unfit’. Celebrations in the town and at the Angel ended in uproar, and squibs and handbills criticized the closed corporation and the Members’ inexperience and pro-Catholic views, which were ‘at odds with most of their constituents’.21 From 30 June 1826, Hervey was known as Earl Jermyn, the subsidiary title of the marquessate now awarded to his father.

The magistrates petitioned the Lords in protest at the severity of the game laws, 27 Feb. 1827;22 and both Houses received protectionist petitions from the merchants and growers of the woollen trade in 1827 and 1828.23 Similar representations on behalf the maltsters were made to the short-lived Goderich ministry, to which, as to Canning’s, the Herveys adhered, and the town petitioned for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, 17 Mar. 1828.24 The Whiting Street meeting-house and the inhabitants petitioned both Houses for Test Acts repeal and Catholic relief in 1828, but petitioning was confined to neighbouring parishes when Catholic emancipation was conceded in 1829.25 The Members voted for it, 6 Mar. 1829, but privately disapproved of the attendant Irish franchise bill.26 An economic downturn, fluctuating flour prices and unrest prompted petitioning for remedial measures, 22 Feb. 1830, and exposed the fragility of the arrangements for charity distribution brokered by the corporation and churchwardens.27 The incorporated guardians of the poor petitioned the Commons in favour of the abortive poor law amendment bill, 4 May.28 Both Houses received petitions for mitigation of the criminal law from the bankers and inhabitants, 19 May, 15 June 1830.29 The sitting Members issued notices and canvassed the corporation immediately before the dissolution in July precipitated by George IV’s death. Jermyn, possibly through ill health, had become lax in his attendance. Euston had been chided for voting in O’Connell’s minority for radical reform (28 May 1830). Several deaths, among them that of James Oakes in 1829, had produced changes in the composition of the corporation, but with attention focused on the county contest, where Euston supported Bunbury, the Bury reformers bided their time.30 Jermyn’s proposers, Benjafield and Orbell Ray Oakes, both substantial landowners, questioned both Members on corn and Benjafield urged them to advocate protection, but despite favourable remarks from Jermyn, they insisted on sitting unpledged.31 Pressed again at the Michaelmas dinner to define his politics, Euston expressed support for the constitution and called for swingeing reductions in government expenditure and better provision for the poor.32 He voted against the Wellington ministry on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830; Jermyn was absent.

The Nonconformists and inhabitants joined in the 1830-1 petitioning campaign against slavery.33 On reform, resolutions of support for Lord Grey’s ministry and for the restoration of Bury’s ‘ancient’ inhabitant householder franchise were adopted at a public meeting convened by the former proprietor of the Angel John Boldero as alderman and addressed by the attorney Richard Dalton, the radical tanner Thomas Robinson and the chemist C.D. Leech, 19 Feb. 1831. Leech praised the Members’ support for civil and religious liberty, challenged them to support reform to keep their seats and criticized the sales of Eye to Sir Matthias Kerrison, and of the Petre interest at Thetford to the Barings.34 The inhabitants petitioned for, 19 Mar., and the Members voted against the ministerial reform bill, which then proposed taking a seat from Bury, 22 Mar. 1831.35 Bristol had declared against reform, but Grafton fully endorsed the bill at the Suffolk meeting, 17 Mar.36 Samuel Boileau, a locally connected barrister, criticized Euston’s ‘incredible’ conduct and threatened opposition, 26 Mar., and their acrimonious exchanges in the local press exposed Euston’s diehard opposition to the principle of disfranchisement as a prerequisite of reform. On 4 Apr. he announced that he would vote as he pleased and retire at the next dissolution.37 Both Members divided for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr., which precipitated it. Gedge’s high profile nomination and refusal to stand at the churchwardens’ elections, 8 Apr., had meanwhile created a stalemate in the enfeoffment dispute between the charities, church and corporation.38 Talk of substituting Lord Calthorpe’s brother, the reformer Frederick Gough Calthorpe* of Ampton, for Euston evaporated, and, possibly to deter Boileau, the recorder Rolfe declared his candidature as a reformer, 13 Apr., shortly before the anti-reformer Philip Bennet of Rougham publicized his.39 Grafton countered by bringing forward his nephew, the colonial administrator Charles Augustus Fitzroy, as a reform candidate. He was extolled as a brother-in-law of the 5th duke of Richmond, a government minister, and the son of Lord Charles Fitzroy, who had represented Bury for 23 years between 1787 and 1818. Squibs and notices denounced Fitzroy as an unknown imposter imposed on a corporation who were ‘instinctively’, 35 out of 37, for Bennet.40 An editorial in the anti-Euston Bury and Suffolk Herald commented:

What with one thing and another, a reforming patron here and an anti-reforming one there, a Member who votes for the preservation of their exclusive privileges in one division and for the extermination of them in another; a director who would like to please both patrons; four or five representative corporators who kick against the puppet or the purse strings, the warring of conscience against old con-si-der-a-tions [money], our formerly well-regulated burgesses are nearly driven to their wit’s end, and begin to wish themselves transmigrated anywhere, so it be out of the body corporate.41

After an arduous canvass involving the candidates, their relations and the county Members, Jermyn, proposed by Henry James Oakes and Clay, topped the poll. Fitzroy, whose return was doubtful to the last, came second, a single vote ahead of Bennet. Their respective sponsors were Cullum and Borton, and Gall and Groom. Rolfe’s proposer, the attorney John Jackson, and seconder, the landlord of the Six Bells Solomon Maulkin (both common councillors), declared that they would give Fitzroy their second votes. Rolfe attended the election and issued notices thanking his supporters, but he had all but desisted ‘in anticipation of a wider franchise’ and travelled the circuit as usual. Proceedings were conducted publicly in the courtroom. Thirty-two of a possible 35 voted. Orbell Ray Oakes, a capital burgess, and the printer John Deck, a common councillor, were disqualified as office holders (receiver-general and postmaster respectively), Blomfield and the attorney Edward Case were ill; Bennet’s supporter, the banker George Browne, was ‘out of town’. All 11 capital burgesses present voted for Jermyn, who received three plumpers to Fitzroy’s two. Four capital burgesses and ten common councillors split their votes between the anti-reformers; six capital burgesses and five common councillors split Jermyn-Fitzroy and Rolfe’s proposers only voted for two reformers. Doubts were raised about the legality of the returning officer Boldero’s votes for Jermyn and Fitzroy, to which the latter owed his return, but no petition ensued.42

Fitzroy supported and Jermyn opposed the reintroduced reform bill. Its progress was closely watched, and the reformers, led by Rolfe, Leech and Eagle, petitioned the Lords in its favour, 3 Oct. 1831, and rallied in protest following its defeat there.43 Assisting his father, who opposed the measure to the last, Jermyn organized an anti-reform declaration from the county that autumn, but only 16 Bury corporators would sign it.44 Refusing, Orbell Ray Oakes explained that he and his allies had found it expedient to sign a petition urging the Lords to carry the bill to stave off unrest, and that they approved the decision to spare Bury’s second seat, a concession credited to Grafton and incorporated in the revised bill in December 1831.45 Returns to Parliament that month, prepared by the maltster Robert Martin Carrs as alderman, put the electorate at 49: 35 corporators and 14 freemen.46 Eagle had revived his inquiry into the management of the town’s charities and, although no wrongdoing was proved, the information gathered boosted his campaign to ‘open’ the corporation and sit for Bury as the ‘anti-aristocratic candidate’ of the ‘productive classes’.47 The inhabitants petitioned the Lords for criminal law revision, 1 June 1832.48

The Reform and Boundaries Acts left Bury virtually unchanged but increased the electorate more than 16-fold: 590 (30 burgesses and freemen and 560 £10 voters) were registered before the general election of 1832.49 Charles Augustus Fitzroy’s involvement with the constituency had been deliberately made minimal and he was replaced as his family’s candidate by Grafton’s second son, the Liberal Lord Charles Fitzroy*.50 Rolfe and Eagle declared early as Liberals, and Jermyn offered as a Liberal favourable to the ministry on everything except their reform bill.51 After an often violent canvass, during which Rolfe desisted (he came in for the new Penryn and Falmouth constituency), the poll and subsequent petition confirmed the representation in the aristocratic Liberal-Tory coalition of the Fitzroys and Herveys.52

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Known as Earl Jermyn from 30 June 1826, when his father became marquess of Bristol.
  • 2. S. Tymms, Handbk. of Bury St. Edmunds (1854), pp. vii-x.
  • 3. J.W.E. Cory, Short Hist. of Suff. General Hospital (1973); Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds) Acc. 2137/1 (J.C. Ford ‘Bury St. Edmunds - Archaeological and Other Gatherings’).
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 369.
  • 5. PP (1831-2), xx. 25, 26; (1835), xxvi. 93-104; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds) Acc. 406/7; Suff. Chron. 22 Dec. 1832; P. Jupp, British and Irish Elections, 1784-1831, p. 78.
  • 6. The Times, 13 Nov. 1819.
  • 7. Suff. Chron. 11 Nov. 1824.
  • 8. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Grafton mss HA513/6/215, 216.
  • 9. Oakes Diaries ed. J. Fiske (Suff. Recs. Soc. xxxiii), ii. 250.
  • 10. Oakes Diaries, ii. 248; Bury and Norwich Post, 1, 8 Mar.; The Times, 6 Mar. 1820.
  • 11. Oakes Diaries, ii. 250, 251; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds) HA521/13.
  • 12. Bury and Norwich Post, 18 Mar. 1820.
  • 13. CJ, lxxv. 204, 273, 423.
  • 14. Oakes Diaries, ii. 258-9; Bury and Norwich Post, 22 Nov., 20 Dec.; Suffolk Chron. 26 Nov., 9 Dec. 1820.
  • 15. Oakes Diaries, ii. 259, 262.
  • 16. Bury and Norwich Post, 27 Apr.; Suffolk Chron. 24 Aug. 1822; Ipswich Jnl. 9 Aug. 1823; Oakes Diaries, ii. 267, 273.
  • 17. LJ, lv. 666; lvi. 57; lviii. 54; CJ, lxxviii. 285; lxxix. 106; lxxxi. 81.
  • 18. CJ, lxxix. 412.
  • 19. Oakes Diaries, ii. 29 Suff. Chron. 3, 10 June 1826.
  • 20. Oakes Diaries, ii. 301, 302, 310.
  • 21. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds) HA521/14, ff. 40-41; Bury Gazette, 14 June; Suff. Chron. 17 June 1826.
  • 22. LJ, lix. 115.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvi. 548; LJ, lix. 428; lx. 450.
  • 24. Bury and Suff. Herald, 31 Oct. 1827; CJ, lxxxiii. 176.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxiii. 83, 101, 282, 407; LJ, lxi. 89, 150, 250, 522.
  • 26. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Hervey mss 941/56/60.
  • 27. Bury and Norwich Post, 10 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 88.
  • 28. CJ, lxxxv. 367.
  • 29. Ibid. 200; LJ, lxii. 723.
  • 30. Bury and Norwich Post, 23 Sept. 1829; Bury and Suff. Herald, 14, 28 July, 11 Aug. 1830.
  • 31. Bury and Norwich Post, 4 Aug.; Bury and Suff. Herald, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 32. Bury and Norwich Post, 6 Oct. 1830.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvi. 55, 74, 454; LJ, lxiii, 24, 76, 455.
  • 34. Bury and Norwich Post, 23 Feb. 1831.
  • 35. Bury and Suff. Herald, 9, 23 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 402.
  • 36. Bury and Norwich Post, 23, 30 Mar. 1831.
  • 37. Suff. Chron. 26 Mar.; Bury and Norwich Post, 30 Mar., 6 Apr. 1831.
  • 38. Suff. Chron. 9 Apr. 1831.
  • 39. Bury and Norwich Post, 27 Apr. 1831.
  • 40. Ibid.; Bury and Suff. Herald, 27 Apr., 4 May 1831.
  • 41. Bury and Suff. Herald, 27 Apr. 1831.
  • 42. Bury and Norwich Post, 4, 11 May; Bury and Suff. Herald, 4 May 1831.
  • 43. LJ, lxiii. 1033; Bury and Norwich Post, 12, 19 Oct. 1831.
  • 44. Bury and Norwich Post, 7, 14 Dec. 1831, 9 May 1832.
  • 45. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Hervey mss 941/11C, Oakes to Jermyn, 10 Dec. 1831.
  • 46. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Bury St. Edmunds borough recs. D3/2/1; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 506.
  • 47. Bury and Norwich Post, 7, 14 Dec. 1831, 4 Jan., 25 Apr., 11, 25 July 1832.
  • 48. LJ, lxiv. 252.
  • 49. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 71; xli. 239-40; (1835), xxv. 192; Bury St. Edmunds borough recs. D3/2/1.
  • 50. Bury and Suff. Herald, 10 Oct; Bury and Norwich Post, 19 Oct. 1831, 25 July 1832; Grafton mss HA513/5/196.
  • 51. Bury and Norwich Post, 6 June; The Times, 15 July 1832; W.P. Scargill, A Reformer’s Reasons for Voting for Earl Jermyn.
  • 52. Bury and Norwich Post, 21, 28 Nov., 12, 19 Dec. 1832; Hervey mss 941/2/1-3; 3/1-24.