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 burgage holders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 881


5,283 (1821); 5,296 (1831)


24 May 1827TIERNEY re-elected after appointment to office 
16 Feb. 1830HENRY BROUGHAM vice Tierney, deceased 
2 Dec. 1830HENRY MANNERS CAVENDISH, Lord Waterpark [I],  vice Brougham, called to the Upper House20
 John Entwistle25
 MACKINTOSH re-elected after appointment to office 
3 May 1831HENRY MANNERS CAVENDISH, Lord Waterpark [I] 
28 June 1832HON. WILLIAM FRANCIS SPENCER PONSONBY vice Mackintosh, deceased 

Main Article

Knaresborough, a former spa in which linen manufacture was ‘carried on to a very great extent’, was nominally a burgage borough, but as the boundary commissioners noted in 1831, ‘it appears very remarkable that the owner and occupier of a burgage house has not the vote, but that a distant stranger comes in and gives that vote’.2 Most electors were tenants of the 6th duke of Devonshire, whose pocket borough Knaresborough remained throughout this period, and qualified through burgage title deeds that he conveyed to them. He owned 84 of the burgages that conferred the vote, and by virtue of his hereditary office as steward was entitled to hold these burgages in ‘free socage’ and nominate the borough bailiff, who acted as returning officer.3 Although there was no contest between the by-election of 1805 and that of 1830, relations between Devonshire and the residents of Knaresborough were uneasy until the reform bill proposals were announced.

At the 1820 general election Devonshire decided to return the sitting Members Sir James Mackintosh and George Tierney, both leading Whigs, despite the solicitations of his uncle, Lord George Cavendish*, who felt room should have been made for his own son Charles or the duke’s illegitimate half-brother Augustus Clifford*.4 Mackintosh promised Devonshire, 29 Feb., that he and Tierney would endeavour to keep the people of Knaresborough immune to the ‘seductions of the radicals who surround them’ and they were returned unopposed, ‘amidst the most enthusiastic demonstration of gratitude for their public conduct’.5 When Lord Morpeth†, Devonshire’s brother-in-law, declined to contest his Cumberland seat, Lord Thanet suggested to Lord Holland, 18 Mar. 1820, that Tierney might agree to come in for Appleby instead on his interest, to facilitate Morpeth’s return for Knaresborough.6 Nothing, however, came of the proposal. Previous dukes of Devonshire had been criticized for allowing returns to be made without the attendance of the nominees, but the 6th duke sought to alter this practice. As Tierney explained to Holland when rumours of an imminent dissolution were circulating, 24 July 1825:

I shall give up all notion of a trip to Holland and leave Brussels the end of next week. The duke of Devonshire I know makes a point of my attending at Knaresborough in person, and as that is the only thing connected with the seat that he ever requires, the least I can do is to meet his wishes.7

A meeting was held in March 1826 in support of the abolition of slavery.8 Mackintosh and Tierney were again Devonshire’s nominees at the 1826 general election, which Mackintosh was prevented from attending by ill health. On the hustings a Mr. Allen ‘animadverted in strong terms upon the defective state of the national representation, and contended that Knaresborough might be amongst the most rotten of the boroughs’. He condemned Devonshire’s practice of conveying the titles for the burgages to strangers from his estate at Londesborough, whose interest was ‘no more identified with the interests of the inhabitants of Knaresborough than with the most corrupt Cornish borough’, and attempted to ‘try the rights of the franchise’ by proposing Richard Spooner*, the Birmingham banker, and his companion John Richards of London, who were in the town after abandoning their challenge to the duke of Newcastle’s interest at Boroughbridge. Embarrassed by their nomination, they declined and, apologizing to Tierney, told him that they were only there to hear him speak. A call then went up from the crowd for a Mr. Foster, who proclaimed that no ‘benefit could be derived from such opposition, on the contrary, the inhabitants of Knaresborough were the honoured party by having their ancient town associated with the illustrious names of Tierney and Mackintosh’. The Members were returned unopposed and after their chairing the residents were provided with ‘entertainments’.9

Following the collapse of the Liverpool administration, Tierney accepted office as master of the mint in Canning’s ministry, which necessitated his re-election. Anticipating the ‘usual formalities’, the Leeds Intelligencer mocked:

The Rt. Hon. gentleman is not expected to appear in propria persona on the occasion, the duties of office so new as well as unforeseen to him, that his absence from London cannot be dispensed with. He will, however, appear by proxy, and the representative of the representative will be chaired, after which the electors, who, some days ago, received orders from the duke of Devonshire’s agents to come over from Bolton Bridge and Londesborough, will enjoy a free dinner in return for their free suffrages. It is supposed, nevertheless, that as there is only half an election at present, or one Member to be chosen, a proportionate curtailment of eating and drinking will take place. In this case we imagine the populace of Knaresborough may resent the slight in a way not very agreeable either to the master of the mint or his noble patron.10

Tierney was returned unopposed. A petition from the clergy of Knaresborough and High Harrogate against the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation reached the Commons, 17 Mar. 1829.11

Tierney’s death in January 1830 created another vacancy, which Lord John Russell* suggested to Lady Holland might be filled by the prominent Whig Henry Brougham, who had been placed in a difficult position by the decision of Lord Cleveland, the patron of his Winchelsea seat, to support the ministry. ‘I should think the duke of Devonshire would be happy to oblige Lord Holland’, Russell told her, 27 Jan.12 Holland proposed it and Devonshire recorded in his diary, ‘I settled to offer Knaresborough to Brougham, he refusing it to H. Cavendish [Lord Waterpark]’.13 The prevailing Whig view was that Devonshire had done both Brougham and the party a great service, and the hope was that he would accept the seat. Holland wrote to Brougham, 30 Jan., ‘It really gladdens my Whiggism to see the head of the House of Cavendish act in a manner so becoming his name and station’.14 After hesitating for a few days Brougham took up the offer and James Abercromby*, Devonshire’s man of business, told the duke, 2 Feb., that his gesture would ‘do much good’ and be the ‘means of saving the political reputation of the greatest man in the House’.15 Brougham did not attend the election, when he was nominated by Devonshire’s agent, Wilmer Gossip, who read a letter from him stating that ‘urgent professional business obliges me to defer to another opportunity, the pleasure of waiting upon you in person’. Knaresborough was suffering from a depression in its linen trade, and to sweeten the residents Gossip announced £50 donations to help relieve the poor from Devonshire, Brougham and Mackintosh. Brougham was elected unopposed and Gossip was chaired in his stead. The Leeds Mercury reported that ‘the poor, to the number of upwards of 3,000, were each regaled with a shilling’s worth of ale, and the gentry of the town and neighbourhood, and tradesmen, sat down to excellent dinners’.16

At the 1830 general election Brougham seemed certain to be returned for Yorkshire and, anticipating that the Whigs would soon gain power, he expected to be offered an office in their administration. Fearful of the cost of fighting Yorkshire a second time, he asked Devonshire if one of his brothers or Zachary Macaulay could take his Knaresborough seat and vacate it in his favour when he needed to seek re-election.17 On 27 July Devonshire’s sister Lady Carlisle told her son Lord Morpeth* that he had decided to bring in some other locum for the same purpose.18 The situation in Yorkshire quickly changed, however, and Brougham, fearful that Morpeth might not be elected there, asked Benjamin Currey, Devonshire’s principal agent, whether, in case he had to withdraw from the county contest to safeguard Morpeth, he might be returned for Knaresborough.19 Devonshire told his sister that ‘Brougham was very disagreeable to me, insisting on the useless return’, which ‘gives me the expense of two elections’.20 He nevertheless nominated him with Mackintosh, whose election he made conditional on the success of his cousin William Cavendish* at Cambridge University.21 Mackintosh advised Brougham, 31 July, that his illness prevented him from travelling to Knaresborough and asked him to ‘say something for me without laying too much stress on the indisposition’.22 They were returned unopposed and Brougham also came in for the county. His appointment as lord chancellor and Mackintosh’s acceptance of office in the Grey ministry that November necessitated a double by-election. John Wharton*, the former Member for Beverley, vainly sought Brougham’s seat to rescue him from the confines of king’s bench, but Devonshire selected his kinsman Lord Waterpark, of Doveridge, Derbyshire, who was an unknown quantity in Knaresborough and made little attempt to ingratiate himself with the residents, neither visiting the town nor issuing an address before the day of election.23 Mackintosh attended, and was re-elected without incident, after which he briefly thanked the voters and paid tribute to Tierney. In the other by-election, however, Waterpark was challenged by John Entwistle† of Foxholes, near Rochdale, Lancashire, a Tory ‘gentleman of fortune’ and West Riding magistrate. He had canvassed the town with the aid of his agent, Benjamin Rotch of Newark, a barrister, who had considered contesting the seat himself.24 On the hustings Rotch criticized Waterpark’s failure to canvass the borough, Devonshire’s patronage and the system of election. Anticipating the rejection of votes for Entwistle by the returning officer, he told the crowd:

I beseech you, if they gain a temporary victory today be not dismayed. There must be an appeal elsewhere, and doubt not but in the end Mr. Entwistle will be your representative ... Listen to our opponent’s pretensions, and see if they equal Mr. Entwistle’s who says, ‘I come to emancipate your borough; return me and you shall be free’.

Speaking in similar terms, Entwistle promised that ‘if you stick together this day, the day of your liberty is come’.25 Waterpark did not address the crowd, and after a show of hands in favour of Entwistle, demanded a poll. One of the audience, to much hilarity, then asked Waterpark if he were a ‘dumb-bell’. After a lengthy discussion it was agreed that 25 votes should be offered for Entwistle and 20 for Waterpark, ‘merely to give the former a nominal majority’. Devonshire’s resident agent Powell then objected to 23 of those for Entwistle, which were tendered as from the ‘holder of a burgage, under a lease that does not contain any reservation to the superior lord of the right of voting’. The objection, which was upheld by the returning officer, was to ‘that of not being a freehold burgess, paying a rent to a superior lord’. It was agreed to refer this question to the House. Entwistle’s counsel, Mr. Blanchard, then objected to all of Waterpark’s votes, which were offered on ‘a right of freehold interest in burgage tenements’. He quizzed one of the voters, a Mr. Wilson of Bolton Bridge, who claimed the right of voting by holding a deed conveyed to him by one of Devonshire’s agents, but did not ‘know the contents of the deed, and never saw the burgage house. He only received the deed that morning and expected to deliver it up after the election’. The returning officer, William Lockett, one of Devonshire’s stewards in Derbyshire, overruled the objections and declared Waterpark returned. Waterpark then addressed the crowd, who harangued him, and after telling them he was neither deaf nor dumb, he promised to vote for reform and to support the Grey ministry. A local magistrate, Mr. Scott, advised against chairing Waterpark, as he had not authorized calling in the hussars and had refused to swear in any special constables, having ‘perfect confidence in the disposition of the inhabitants’.26 A petition from Entwistle complaining of Devonshire’s unconstitutional interference in the election and the admission of spurious votes for Waterpark was presented, 14 Dec. 1830. A committee was appointed to investigate, 21 Apr. 1831, but Parliament was dissolved the following day, leaving the matter unsettled.27

Following public meetings, petitions for parliamentary reform reached the Commons, 26 Feb., 18 Mar. 1831.28 Mackintosh and Waterpark voted for the reform bill, and the wind was somewhat taken out of the sails of Devonshire’s critics in Knaresborough when, in a speech in Derbyshire, 22 Mar. 1831, he announced his willingness to give up his burgage borough.29 At the ensuing general election Devonshire nominated the sitting Members once more. Entwistle again declared his intention of contesting the borough and made a canvass, but The Times reported that ‘the inhabitants had reason to suspect that he was not a thorough reformer’, and he departed the day before the nomination, leaving behind an address declaring that his candidature was pointless in view of the reform bill, but promising to return if for any reason it failed.30 Rotch, who had apparently quarrelled with Entwistle, arrived on the day of election. Finding Entwistle gone, he approached Mackintosh, who told Lady Holland, 4 May, that he ‘cunningly asked our leave to propose me, which we thought ourselves obliged to grant. He made as bad an use of the permission as he could in a speech chiefly calculated to obtain a seat in the reformed Parliament’.31 Mackintosh and Waterpark had issued a joint address in favour of reform and were well received on the hustings before their unopposed return.32 A petition for the reform bill reached the Lords, 18 Oct. 1831.33

The death of Mackintosh in late May 1832, a week before the reform bill received the royal assent, created another vacancy, for which four candidates declared themselves: two Whigs, John Richards of London and Rotch, and two Tories, Andrew Lawson, whose family had been fighting a long running battle with Newcastle for the control of a seat at Aldborough and Boroughbridge, and a Mr. Rawson of Nidd Hall, near Knaresborough. Richards and Rawson canvassed, the former with some success, but, as the Mercury pointed out, ‘the contest, in the present state of the constituency, is not likely to be severe. It is pretty certain that the candidate returned through the duke of Devonshire will be of liberal principles, and probably a fit man to represent the borough in a reformed Parliament’. Rotch arrived the week before the election and denounced Devonshire, Waterpark, Lawson and the archbishop of York.34 Devonshire considered returning Abercromby, whose office as chief baron of exchequer for Scotland was about to be abolished, but this depended on the bill becoming law in time for the by-election and, as Abercromby told Holland, 16 June, ‘If it does not, I shall be well content, for I don’t much like being so soon in Parliament after quitting the office I have had’.35 In the event, none of the candidates persisted and Devonshire returned his cousin, William Ponsonby, brother of the minister Lord Duncannon*.36 He was nominated by Gossip, and Currey told Devonshire, 2 July 1832, that Ponsonby’s presence had ‘saved all the expense of dinners’, which the resident agent, Powell, said were necessary ‘to preserve quiet’. It was Devonshire’s last borough nomination at Knaresborough, but Currey informed him:

There is a good feeling of regard and attachment to you, for the good Members you have always sent and your liberality to the borough, and there is the strongest reason to believe a good public man going down on your influence would be returned [at the next general election].37

The Reform Act proposed no change in Knaresborough’s representation. The boundary commissioners reported that the town had gone into decline since the ‘loss of its linen manufacture some time ago’ and that ‘the value of its houses is decreasing and many are untenanted’, but this claim was contradicted by the bailiff’s assertion that between £60,000 and £100,000 had recently been spent on buildings and his optimistic forecast for its future as a corn market and a revival of the linen trade. By the Boundary Act the limits were extended to the town of Knaresborough and the township of Scriven with Tentergate, increasing the population to 6,253 and giving a registered electorate in 1832 of 278.38 The Whig leadership’s hope that Devonshire might be able to return one Member for the reformed borough came to nothing, for he was unwilling to spend any money, and at the 1832 general election Richards and Rotch were returned as Liberals after a contest against another Liberal and a Tory.39

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 537.
  • 2. E. Baines, Yorks. Dir. (1822), ii. 223; PP (1831), xvi. 105.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xl. 193; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), v. 301.
  • 4. Chatsworth mss, Abercromby to Devonshire [2 Mar. 1820].
  • 5. Ibid.; Leeds Mercury, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Add. 51571.
  • 7. Add. 51584.
  • 8. Leeds Mercury, 18 Mar. 1826.
  • 9. Leeds Intelligencer, 15 June; Leeds Mercury, 17 June 1826.
  • 10. Leeds Intelligencer, 24 May 1827.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxiv. 146.
  • 12. Add. 51680.
  • 13. Chatsworth mss, Holland to Devonshire, 30 Jan.; 6DD/diary, 30 Jan. 1830.
  • 14. Brougham mss.
  • 15. Chatsworth mss 6DD/GP1/1914.
  • 16. Leeds Mercury, 20 Feb. 1830.
  • 17. Chatsworth mss 1960.
  • 18. Castle Howard mss.
  • 19. Chatsworth mss 1961.
  • 20. Castle Howard mss, Devonshire to Lady Carlisle [7 Aug. 1830].
  • 21. Add. 51655, Mackintosh to Lady Holland [18 Apr.1830].
  • 22. Brougham mss.
  • 23. Ibid. Wharton to Brougham, 30 Aug. 1830.
  • 24. The Times, 4, 7 Dec. 1830.
  • 25. Leeds Mercury, 4 Dec. 1830.
  • 26. H.S. Smith, Parls. of England, ii. 153-4.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxvi. 174, 513, 514, 516.
  • 28. Hist. Harrogate and Knaresborough ed. B. Jennings, 357; CJ, lxxxvi. 309, 402.
  • 29. Derby Mercury, 23 Mar. 1831.
  • 30. The Times, 6 May 1831.
  • 31. Add. 51655.
  • 32. Leeds Intelligencer, 5 May; Leeds Mercury, 7 May 1831.
  • 33. LJ, lxiii. 1098.
  • 34. Leeds Mercury, 9, 16 June; Leeds Intelligencer, 28 June 1832.
  • 35. Add. 51575.
  • 36. The Times, 2 July 1832.
  • 37. Chatsworth mss 2525.
  • 38. PP (1831), xvi. 105; (1831-2), xl. 193; P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 259.
  • 39. Chatsworth mss 2527.