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 resident freemen and freeholders paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

175 in 18311

Number of voters:

162 in 1831


3,161 (1821); 3,743 (1831)2


12 June 1826ARTHUR ONSLOW 
 George Chapple Norton60
30 Apr. 1831JAMES MANGLES99
 George Holme Sumner73
 Charles Baring Wall55

Main Article

Guildford, a market town situated near the River Wey, in the west of the county on the main London to Southampton road, was described in 1832 as a ‘well conditioned, wealthy place’. Seven years earlier William Cobbett† had declared it to be ‘the prettiest, and taken altogether, the most agreeable and happy looking’ of all the towns he had visited during his extensive travels. There were two ‘large coach manufactories’ and an iron foundry in the town, corn and paper mills were located nearby on the river and the retail trade was ‘very extensive’.3 It was also the county town and the venue for county elections. The borough encompassed the whole of the parish of St. Mary and parts of the adjoining parishes of Holy Trinity and St. Nicholas. Local power was exercised by the corporation, a self-electing body which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, and seven other alderman, who chose an unspecified number of freemen, usually on the basis of birth or servitude; 22 were admitted in this period. The franchise was vested in the resident, ratepaying freemen, of whom it was stated that there were 85 in 1832 (26 were non-resident), and in the ratepaying freeholders; most of the property in the borough was apparently held by this tenure.4 Since the 1760s the parliamentary representation had usually been shared by two local landed families, the Onslows of Clandon and the Nortons of Wonersh Park. According to Oldfield in 1820, the interest of Thomas, 2nd earl of Onslow was ‘maintained principally by government patronage’, and he instanced a local barber and alderman who enjoyed an office of the port of London. Neither the 2nd earl, a moral reprobate who died in 1827, nor his successor, was actively involved in politics, but their distant kinsman Arthur Onslow, Tory Member since 1812, was the recorder of the borough. The interest of William Norton, 2nd Baron Grantley, was more vulnerable to attack by the champions of ‘independence’, and when a vacancy occurred in 1819 Charles Baring Wall, whose late father had owned nearby Albury Park, was reportedly invited to stand by ‘a deputation of the electors’ and was returned unopposed. Subsequent evidence suggests that Wall did not stint in using his large mercantile fortune to ingratiate himself with the electors.5

In 1820 no opposition to the sitting Members materialized, after the Whig brewer Charles Barclay* declined an invitation to stand. Wall, a supporter of Catholic relief, who had ‘Fox’s Book of Martyrs read and expounded’ to him during his canvass, privately surmised that he was safe ‘this once’, but intriguingly added: ‘I am to be returned as anything rather than a free agent’. On the hustings he and Onslow promised to give independent support to Lord Liverpool’s ministry; there were shouts of ‘No Popery’ during Wall’s speech. After they were declared elected Fletcher Norton, Grantley’s nephew, announced his intention of offering on the first vacancy.6 In December 1820 a public meeting summoned by the mayor to consider a loyal address to the king was taken over by the supporters of Queen Caroline and the address so badly mutilated that it could not be sent. An alternative address, expressing support for the queen, was drawn up and passed to the Members for presentation. Onslow also presented an inhabitants’ petition to the Commons calling for the restoration of the queen’s name to the liturgy, 12 Feb. 1821.7 The mayor and inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 14 Apr. 1823.8 Anti-slavery petitions were forwarded by the inhabitants, 25 Mar. 1824, 20 Apr. 1826, who also demanded an inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May 1824.9 Fletcher Norton had succeeded his uncle as 3rd Baron Grantley in 1822, and it was therefore his brother George who canvassed the borough in October 1825, when a general election was widely expected. The sitting Members and two unnamed aspirants promptly followed suit. However, at the dissolution the following summer Wall withdrew, explaining that ‘the defection of several voters he had firmly relied on had turned the scale against him’. With the unopposed return of Onslow and Norton, the old political balance in the borough was temporarily restored.10

The Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 14 Feb. 1828.11 Petitions for and against Catholic emancipation were sent up by the aldermen and inhabitants and by the clergy, gentry and inhabitants respectively, 2, 9 Mar. 1829, when some desultory discussion took place regarding the state of opinion in the borough.12 Norton supported the Wellington ministry’s bill, contrary to his previous position, while Onslow, hitherto another anti-Catholic, was absent from the House. George Holme Sumner of Hatchlands Park, a former Member, had given an early indication of his contemplated return to the borough at the bailiff’s dinner in October 1827, when, still smarting from his defeat in the county election the year before, he reflected that ‘had his election depended on the inhabitants of Guildford and its vicinity, he should have been again returned to serve in Parliament’. He emphasized his connections with the borough, which he had last represented in 1807 as an opponent of the Grantley interest.13 At the dissolution in the summer of 1830, reports were circulated that the attorney-general Sir James Scarlett* of Abinger, near Dorking, or his eldest son Robert would offer; nothing came of this, although Robert apparently made preparations for a contest.14 Holme Sumner did come forward and his reappearance was matched by that of Wall, which set the scene for a three-way contest with Norton, Onslow having been forced to retire owing to failing eyesight. In the absence of detailed newspaper coverage the candidates’ professions on the hustings are unknown, but the contest was reminiscent of the earlier struggles between Holme Sumner and the Grantley nominee. The poll was closed on the second day, when no more electors appeared, and Wall and Holme Sumner were declared elected. They were chaired ‘with great eclat’ and Wall gave a lavish entertainment to his supporters. It was the first time since the Restoration that no member of the Onslow family had been returned for Guildford.15 Of the 133 who polled (another four were rejected), 86 per cent gave a vote to Wall, 62 to Sumner and 46 to Norton. Freeholders accounted for 81 of the votes cast and freemen for 52. Sumner obtained six plumpers, Norton two and Wall one. Wall and Sumner received 66 split votes (57 and 80 per cent of their respective totals), Wall and Norton 48 (42 and 80) and Sumner and Norton ten. Of these split votes, Wall and Sumner shared 45 (39 and 55 per cent of their respective totals) of those from freeholders, Wall and Norton 25 (22 and 42) and Sumner and Norton four. The freemen gave 21 split votes to Wall and Sumner (18 and 26 per cent of their respective totals), 23 to Wall and Norton (20 and 38) and six to Sumner and Norton.16

Late in 1830 Grantley, anxious to regain his share of the representation, suggested to Norton that he should ‘conciliate the goodwill of the Guildford voters’ by taking up permanent residence near the town.17 In March 1831 the Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed to enfranchise the £10 householders but reduce the borough’s representation to one seat; a favourable petition from certain inhabitants was presented to the Commons, 30 Mar. However, the mayor and aldermen submitted a memorial to the home office, signed by some 300 inhabitants, 14 Apr., in which they put the case for allowing the borough to retain two Members. They noted Guildford’s respectability and status as a county town and maintained that it ‘has always been an open borough, owing to the peculiar method of voting, which admits every respectable resident to the right’. Crucially, they argued that certain suburban districts, notably those in the outlying part of the town parish of St. Nicholas, lying to the west of the borough, and an area to the north-east, where the town extended into the neighbouring parish of Stoke, should have been included in the population returns. The memorialists were at pains to state that Stoke had been united to Guildford for judicial purposes for 150 years, although their case was somewhat undermined by the town clerk’s unequivocal statement in a previous submission that ‘the borough does not extend into any other parish besides those named in the population returns’. With these additions, the population of the town, using figures from the 1831 census, was estimated at 5,525, a generous figure which must have included some rural population. Perhaps conscious that this would not stand scrutiny, a second memorial was dispatched the next day containing an estimate based on the 1821 census, which put the total population of the town at 4,212 and the number of £10 houses at 315.18 Both Members opposed the reform bill and offered again at the ensuing dissolution. Norton’s appointment to a judicial office having barred his return to Parliament, he solicited votes for his brother Charles, a supporter of reform, despite the fact that Grantley was implacably opposed it. Another reformer, James Mangles of nearby Woodbridge, one of the town’s senior magistrates, who was connected to the Onslows by his daughter’s marriage, came forward apparently in response to an invitation from the electors.19 The triumph of Mangles and Norton, after a two-day poll, presumably reflected the tide of opinion in favour of reform, which was illustrated by the four aldermen who abandoned their previous support for the sitting Members and voted for one or both of the reformers. However, the complexity of the voting patterns suggests that old allegiances, particularly those arising from the Sumner-Norton rivalry, continued to exert some influence. Of the 162 who were polled (another two were rejected), 61 per cent gave a vote to Mangles, 51 to Norton, 45 to Sumner and 34 to Wall. Freeholders accounted for 103 of the votes cast and freeholders for 59. Mangles secured six plumpers, Norton three, Sumner five and Wall one. The reformers Mangles and Norton received 55 split votes (55 and 67 per cent of their respective totals), while Sumner and Wall had 30 (41 and 55). Yet Mangles and Sumner shared 36 split votes (36 and 50), Norton and Wall 22 (27 and 40), and Mangles and Wall two, the same as Norton and Sumner. Of these split votes, the freeholders gave 34 to Mangles and Norton (34 and 42 per cent of their respective totals), 20 to Sumner and Wall (27 and 36), 26 to Mangles and Sumner (26 and 35), 11 to Norton and Wall, two to Mangles and Wall, and one to Norton and Sumner. The freemen gave 21 split votes to Mangles and Norton (21 and 26 per cent of their respective totals), ten to Sumner and Wall, eleven to Norton and Wall, ten to Mangles and Sumner, and one to Norton and Sumner. Retailers gave by far the most solid support to the reform candidates, with the elite groups the least enthusiastic.20 The collapse in support for Wall was perhaps a reflection of his virulent opposition to reform: he assured a friend afterwards that the electors ‘admire me still, but the bill they idolize still more’, and at a public meeting he hinted at a future reappearance. Sir James Scarlett wrote in a similar vein regarding the aspirations of his son, who ‘could not have come in for Guildford unless he would vote for the bill’. Scarlett had himself refused an opening on these terms, but he was confident that the reformers’ ascendancy would be short-lived and resolved to ‘have my eye on [the borough] next time’.21

Guildford continued to be scheduled for partial disfranchisement in the reintroduced reform bill of June 1831; the inhabitants petitioned the Commons against this, 12 July.22 In the House, 29 July, the campaign to reprieve the borough was led by William Denison, the Whig county Member, who attested to Guildford’s prosperity and independence and reiterated the arguments about its population contained in the memorial, which he complained had been ignored. He was supported by several Members on both sides, including the borough representatives. The leader of the Commons Lord Althorp was adamant that, as in the comparable case of Dorchester, no exception could be made, but the motion to include Guildford in schedule B was carried by the comparatively narrow margin of 253 to 186. It was reported that the news of this defeat ‘excited a strong feeling ... both among [local] reformers and antis’, as ‘from what passed between ministers and the deputation from the borough, the electors were led to expect support rather than opposition in their case’.23 The question arose again, 15 Sept., when George Pigott moved that the county towns of Dorchester, Guildford and Huntingdon be removed from the disfranchisement schedules. In the debate much was made of the large number of £10 houses in Guildford and its assessed taxes, which were higher than those of many places set to retain both their Members. Lord John Russell, however, was immovable, and refused to accept that the suburbs formed part of the town. Denison repeated his views on the injustice of the case at the Epsom reform meeting, 7 Oct., and expressed disappointment at the attitude of ministers at the Guildford quarter sessions, 20 Oct., when he cited their admission at the earlier meeting with the borough delegation that ‘there was but little to justify the disfranchisement’. He assured his audience that ‘in any new bill Guildford would not be so inconsistently treated’, but recommended the local authorities ‘not [to] relax in their exertions’.24

By the new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 Guildford easily escaped the disfranchisement schedules, as Denison had anticipated. The boundary commissioners recommended that the borough be enlarged to the extent of approximately half a mile in all directions except to the south, where the terrain was generally ‘steep and unfavourable to building’. It thus incorporated the suburbs whose connection to the town had been in dispute, and made allowance for future expansion.25 In June 1832 the bill’s passage was marked by a general illumination, despite the town clerk’s attempt to suppress such a display. Not all were willing participants, and one inhabitant recalled how ‘it was with reluctance that the lumps of clay were prepared in which to place the candles for the lighting up of our windows’, but ‘the fear of having our windows smashed ... inclined us to go with the stream.26 There were 342 registered electors in 1832, and at the general election of that year Mangles was returned at the head of the poll while Wall ousted Norton. Mangles sat until his defeat in 1837 and Wall until his retirement in 1847. Guildford lost one of its seats in 1867 and was totally disfranchised in 1885.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 86, 87.
  • 2. Ibid. xl. 42.
  • 3. Ibid. xl. 39; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1832-4), 974, 975; Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, i. 288.
  • 4. PP (1830-1), x. 75, 116-18; (1831-2), xxxvi. 86, 87, 528; xl. 39; (1835), xxvi. 2871.
  • 5. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 381, 382; Oldfield, Key (1820), 125, 126; C.E. Vulliamy, Onslow Fam. 236, 244; G.W. and J. Russell, Guildford, 122; County Chron. 31 Aug. 1830; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/208.
  • 6. W.H. Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank, 171-2; Sneyd mss SC17/17; County Chron. 8 Feb.; Brighton Herald, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. County Chron. 26 Dec. 1820; CJ, lxxvi. 63.
  • 8. CJ, lxxviii. 194.
  • 9. Ibid. lxxix. 210, 417; lxxxi. 263.
  • 10. County Chron. 11, 18 Oct. 1825; Baldwin’s Weekly Jnl. 6 June 1826.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxiii. 56.
  • 12. Ibid. lxxxix. 94, 115.
  • 13. Brighton Herald, 23 Oct. 1827.
  • 14. Baldwin’s Weekly Jnl. 10, 17 July; Hants Chron. 12 July 1830; P.C. Scarlett, Mem. Lord Abinger, 119.
  • 15. County Chron. 20 July, 31 Aug. 1830.
  • 16. Surr. Hist. Cent. BR/PAR/2/5, ms pollbook (1830).
  • 17. J.C. Perkins, Life of Mrs. Norton, 30.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxvi. 465; PP (1830-1), x. 75, 116-21.
  • 19. Brighton Herald, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 20. Surr. Hist. Cent. BR/PAR/2/6, ms pollbook (1831).
  • 21. Sneyd mss SC17/57; Brighton Herald, 28 May 1831; Scarlett, 152.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 642.
  • 23. Brighton Herald, 6 Aug. 1831.
  • 24. Ibid. 8, 22 Oct. 1831.
  • 25. PP (1831-2), xl. 39-43.
  • 26. J.K. Green, Sidelights on Guildford, i. 2; J. Mason, Guildford, 16.