Linlithgow Burghs


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

Background Information

Lanark (1820); Peebles (1826); Linlithgow (1830); Selkirk (1831)


 Robert Owen1
3 July 1826ADAM HAY3
 Henry Monteith1
 William Downe Gillon1
 James Johnstone1

Main Article

The constituent burghs of this volatile district were widely scattered over four counties. Linlithgow, the most northerly, was 16 miles west of Edinburgh. Once a royal residence (Mary Queen of Scots was born there), it had declined in importance since the Union. Its chief industry was tanning and the preparation of leather. The burgh had a population of 3,112 in 1821 and 3,187 in 1831, and the self-electing council had 27 mostly resident members.1 The completion in 1822 of the Edinburgh-Falkirk Union Canal which ran through the town facilitated the transport of coal from the Lanarkshire pits to Edinburgh and stimulated the exploitation of local stone quarries.2 Lanark was about 22 miles south-by-south-west of Linlithgow, almost equidistant (32 miles) from Glasgow and Edinburgh, on the right bank of the Clyde. It underwent considerable environmental improvement from 1823, but was described as ‘stationary’ in 1831 and as ‘a place of little importance except as the county town’ by the municipal corporations commissioners. Weaving for the Glasgow market was its main source of employment. There were substantial cotton mills a mile to the south at New Lanark, founded in 1783 by the philanthropist David Dale and later the scene of his son-in-law Robert Owen’s socialist experiment. Lanark had a population (burgh and parish) of 7,085 in 1821 and 7,672 in 1831. It had a self-electing council of 17, all resident as required by the sett. The corporations commissioners reported that the municipal debt had more than doubled between 1819 and 1832, that the accounts had been imperfectly kept and that the former town clerk Thomas Paul and the treasurer Robert Galloway were highly evasive when questioned. A complaint by certain burgesses to the court of exchequer of council maladministration was brought after Michaelmas 1832 and was unresolved when the commissioners reported.3 Peebles lay 22 miles east of Lanark, secluded on the left bank of the Tweed. There was an unsuccessful experiment with cotton production in the early nineteenth century, before woollen manufacture gained a hold. It had a population (parish) of 2,701 in 1821 and 2,750 in 1831, and its self-electing council had 17 members, all resident.4 Selkirk was about 18 miles south-east of Peebles (and thus some 50 miles from Linlithgow) on the right bank of Ettrick Water. The commissioners noted that it was ‘not increasing in size or importance, and possesses no manufacture of any consequence’. Its population (burgh and parish) was 2,728 in 1821 and 2,833 in 1831. The council numbered 33, almost all resident. There was a small element of free election, in that five colleagues of the five deacons of the incorporated trades, who were chosen from lists (‘leets’) shortened by the council, were elected by all the members of each trade (109 men in total). The burgh was heavily in debt by 1833.5

In 1812 the Tory 4th duke of Buccleuch, a close associate of Lord Melville, the Liverpool ministry’s Scottish manager, whose strength lay principally in Selkirk, had, after tortuous negotiations, secured the unopposed return of Sir John Buchanan Riddell of Riddell, Roxburghshire. In 1818 Riddell defeated the Whig William Maxwell of Carriden, Linlithgowshire, who had had the leading interest in Linlithgow since 1799 and sat for the district in the 1807 Parliament. Maxwell had only the vote of Linlithgow, while Riddell secured the other three burghs with comfortable majorities. In April 1819 Riddell and Buccleuch died, the latter leaving a 12-year-old son, whose affairs were managed by his uncle Lord Montagu. Maxwell withdrew his own pretensions and backed his fellow Whig, John Pringle of Haining, Selkirkshire. The Buccleuch party initially put up one Campbell of Kailzie, Peeblesshire, but when Pringle narrowly carried Selkirk they substituted Henry Monteith of Carstairs, a wealthy Glasgow cotton master and currently lord provost of the city, in a bid to win Linlithgow. This failed and, with Monteith obtaining the votes of Lanark and Peebles, Pringle was returned by the casting vote of Selkirk.6

On the death of George III in late January 1820 Monteith offered again as a supporter of government. Campbell was thought unlikely to persevere, and this proved to be the case.7 Pringle and the Tory Gilbert Chisholme of Chisholme were initially reported to be in contention, but they soon withdrew.8 The only serious challenge to Monteith came from Owen, who on 5 Feb. informed Melville that he had canvassed Lanark (the returning burgh) and Linlithgow with great success and felt so confident that he wanted Melville to know that he did ‘not intend to vote with any party as a partisan’. Two days later, 17 of the 27 Linlithgow councillors promised him their support if he secured the backing of Lanark.9 On 12 Feb. the court of session ruled against an attempt by a number of leading inhabitants of Linlithgow, where two rival councils had been elected at the previous Michaelmas, to have at least six of the re-elected councillors turned out.10 The following day Owen wrote again to Melville claiming that Linlithgow had ‘declared conditionally in his favour [by] 19 to 6’ and that he required only four more votes in Lanark to clinch that burgh and thereby the election. He complained that government influence was being blatantly exerted for Montieth and asked Melville to have it called off. Melville admitted that his ‘friends’ were ‘using their best endeavours in favour of ... Monteith’, for whom he wished ‘well’, but denied that undue ministerial interference had occurred.11 By 22 Feb. the lord advocate, Sir William Rae*, had ‘no doubt that Monteith has got the Selkirk Burghs’.12 Owen’s canvass of Lanark having ‘unexpectedly become less favourable’, some burgesses and inhabitants fêted him at a public dinner in early March.13 On the 14th Monteith carried the election of Provost Andrew Lang as delegate for Selkirk by one vote over the Pringle candidate in ‘the severest contest ever recollected’; there was ‘considerable rioting’ by the populace. Four days later Linlithgow council chose as delegate William Gardner, the treasurer, in Owen’s interest. Monteith, sure of Peebles, won Lanark where, according to Owen’s later garbled account, four councillors were seduced from him by bribery.14 Thus Monteith was returned by three votes to one.15

Peebles was illuminated to celebrate the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline in November 1820, but the council voted a loyal address to the king. The burgesses and inhabitants of Selkirk and the incorporated trades petitioned for restoration of her name to the liturgy and the dismissal of ministers, as did freemen, burgesses and other inhabitants of Lanark.16 Anti-slavery petitions from all the burghs reached the Commons in 1823, 1824 and 1826.17 The council of Linlithgow petitioned the Commons for free export of Scottish spirits to England, 18 May 1824.18 In 1825 the ministers and elders of the presbytery of Linlithgow and the inhabitants of the burgh petitioned the Commons, and the latter and the council of Lanark the Lords against Catholic relief, which Monteith opposed.19 All the councils, the burgesses and inhabitants of Peebles and the deacons of Lanark petitioned against interference with the Scottish banking system in 1826.20

At Michaelmas 1822 the existing council of Lanark, led by Robert Hutchison, was turned out in a coup by a party headed by William Tod of Birkwood, who re-elected themselves in 1823. The dispute went to the court of session and ultimately on appeal to the House of Lords, which ruled in favour of the Hutchison faction, who were reinstated.21 In November 1824 William Aitchison of Drummore, claiming to have ‘good reason’ for believing that Monteith would not stand at the next election, asked Melville to endorse his son, Lieutenant-Colonel John Aitchison of the 3rd Foot Guards, but Melville would not be drawn.22 At the general election of 1826 Aitchison started for the burghs, as did Monteith, even though he had already secured a seat for Saltash. The third candidate was Adam Hay, a younger son of the Edinburgh banker Sir John Hay of Haystoun, Peeblesshire, who had a strong interest in Peebles. Aitchison dropped out. Hay won Linlithgow, where he gave ‘a magnificent dinner’ to the council and gentry, and secured his own election as delegate for Lanark, where he repeated the dinner and ‘subscribed liberally for the relief of "the distressed operatives"’. He defeated Monteith by three votes to one.23

The inhabitants of Old and New Lanark petitioned the Commons, 6 Dec. 1826, and the Lords, 9 Feb. 1827, for repeal of the corn laws. The inhabitants and council of Linlithgow petitioned both Houses for their relaxation in February 1827; Hay presented the Commons petition, but dissented from its prayer.24 The presbytery of Peebles petitioned the Lords for repeal of the Test Acts, 1 Apr. 1828.25 The presbytery of Lanark and the inhabitants of Linlithgow petitioned the Lords, and the presbytery of Linlithgow both Houses against Catholic emancipation, which Hay supported, in 1829.26 The councils of Linlithgow and Selkirk sent petitions to the Commons against the Scottish gaols bill, 12 May 1829.27 The councils of Lanark and Linlithgow petitioned both Houses for an end to the East India Company’s trade monopoly in March 1830.28 Linlithgow council petitioned for an increase in the duty on rum equivalent to that on spirits, 12 May 1830.29

In October 1829 Hay and the 5th duke of Buccleuch, who was now of age, were surprised to learn that William Downe Gillon of Wallhouse, near Linlithgow, a 28-year-old laird of liberal politics with money to spare, intended to stand for the burghs at the next general election. Hay (who claimed that in 1826 he had secured his election without active support in Selkirk from Montagu, who had not wanted to interfere during the duke’s minority) solicited Buccleuch’s support. Whether this was given is not clear, but Buccleuch was advised by his kinsman Charles Douglas* that as Monteith had expressed a willingness to stand with the duke’s ‘good wishes in Selkirk’ if Hay did come forward again, it was not ‘at present’ necessary to ‘say anything decisive’.30 As the king’s failing health raised the prospect of a dissolution in the spring of 1830, the Whig James Joseph Hope Vere* of Craigie Hall, Linlithgowshire, heard that an unnamed man (presumably Gillon) was trying to gain control of Linlithgow by bribery: he considered this ‘a waste of money’, as ‘he can never hope to wrest the other boroughs out of Hay’s hands’, and attributed his own resistance of ‘every offer to stir, having been strongly solicited to do so’, to his conviction that ‘Hay is quite secure’. He thought the man in question, who he alleged ‘was lately obliged to borrow £12,000 at eight per cent to pay for pigeon shooting’, would be better advised to ‘bribe Lanark, for that would shake the sitting Member effectually’. When Hay announced his retirement shortly before the king’s death in late June, Hope Vere commented that ‘I now think Gillon may have some chance’, as Monteith, who was also in the field, was ‘not in a condition to spend money’ and it would ‘go hard with him if Hay cannot transfer Lanark and Peebles to him’. Monteith had Selkirk, but this represented ‘a good opportunity for anyone who could throw away £4,000’. By mid-July, however, Hope Vere, who reflected that ‘I was as near as possible being in that scrape’ of ‘delivering a few thousands’, reckoned that Monteith was a ‘certainty’ to come in again.31 So it proved, for he secured Lanark and Peebles as well as Selkirk, while Gillon, ‘the popular favourite’, had only Linlithgow.32 Gillon entered several protests and on 15 Nov. 1830 lodged a petition against the return, asserting that a vote given for him by James Spalding as delegate for Peebles had been ‘illegally rejected by the returning officer’ in favour of Adam Hay’s vote for Monteith and that Spalding was the legally chosen delegate for Peebles, where the councillors who had elected Hay had disqualified themselves and him by having ‘previously entered into an illegal and corrupt agreement’. He also argued that the choice of Andrew Lang as delegate for Selkirk was null because the councillors had failed to take the necessary oaths, and that the current councillors of Lanark were disqualified on account of irregularities in the Michaelmas 1821 elections there. The election committee, appointed on 1 Mar. 1831, confirmed Monteith in the seat the following day.33

United Associate Congregations of all four burghs petitioned Parliament for the abolition of slavery in December 1830.34 The incorporation of wrights and masons of Lanark petitioned the Commons for ‘free, fair and full representation of the people’, 11 Nov., and the council of Linlithgow petitioned the Lords for reform, reduced taxation and repeal of the assessed taxes, 20 Dec. 1830.35 Petitions for reform of the Scottish representative system were sent to both Houses by the burgesses and inhabitant householders of Linlithgow, the smiths, tailors, shoemakers and weavers of Lanark, the inhabitants, stocking makers and weavers of Selkirk, the inhabitants of Lanark and the council and inhabitants of Peebles in February 1831.36 The first Scottish reform bill (9 Mar.) proposed to add the growing town of Falkirk in Stirlingshire to the district and to unite the counties of Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire to return one Member. On 21 Mar. Montagu presented to the Lords petitions protesting against these proposals from the freeholders of Selkirkshire and the council of Selkirk: the latter complained that Falkirk would dominate the district and always return the Member, especially if it joined forces with Linlithgow. Yet immediately afterwards Lord Rosebery brought up petitions from the council of Linlithgow and the council and inhabitants of Peebles in favour of the ministerial reform scheme.37 Petitions endorsing it were sent to both Houses from the inhabitants of all four burghs and of New Lanark, the weavers and stocking makers of Selkirk, the council of Linlithgow and the incorporated trades of Lanark, who wanted their privileges to be preserved while the franchise was extended.38 The Selkirk petition to the Commons, which was entrusted to Joseph Hume, as Monteith was opposed to the reform bills, was adopted at a public meeting chaired by John Pringle of Clifton, 16 Mar. 1831, and was said to have gathered 500 signatures.39

On 20 Apr. 1831, the day after Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment to the English reform bill was carried against ministers, Gillon issued an address from London announcing that he would stand as a reformer if Parliament was dissolved. It duly was two days later, and Gillon soon secured Linlithgow and Peebles. Monteith was understood to have retained Selkirk, the returning burgh, and the struggle turned on Lanark, where Gillon’s chances were thought to be poor.40 Buccleuch, under the impression on 27 Apr. that Monteith had decided to stand down, gave his backing in Selkirk, the returning burgh, to James Johnstone of Alva, Clackmannanshire, who also had an estate in Selkirkshire, where he had briefly been in contention. Buccleuch authorized William Ogilvie of Chesters to make his support for Johnstone, who was ‘sure in Lanark’, known to the councillors of Selkirk.41 On 2 May, however, Alexander Pringle, the Tory Member for Selkirkshire, informed Buccleuch:

I am ... very anxious about ... Selkirk, which is placed in risk entirely by Monteith’s supineness and indecision. Messrs. Lang and Anderson had secured for him a considerable majority on the council, but Gillon has been unremitting, and endeavoured to persuade them that ... Lang had some other candidate in view and that ... Monteith would not really offer himself. In the meantime his non-appearing seemed to confirm this, and the council have become most outrageously impatient at not being canvassed by the candidate himself. Johnstone was here on Thursday, but at that could not offer himself as Monteith was in possession of the field. A majority could then have been secured for him as easily as for the other, but now that has become doubtful. This morning Willy Ogilvie came here ... We agreed that ... Lang should be made aware that ... Monteith had determined to give in, but we found that he had a letter from himself, dated the 28th [of April] ... in which he still held himself out as the candidate. However, it was determined that if Monteith does not immediately make his appearance ... Lang must act as circumstances may render expedient to save the cause in the burgh; and if either Gillon or Johnstone come he will at once declare the latter to be the candidate.

Ogilvie confirmed the same day that he and Pringle had confidentially marked Lang’s card and that he was ‘quite favourable to us’.42 Johnstone was canvassing the burghs by 3 May, but Monteith remained reluctant to confirm his retirement and, according to Pringle, was ‘still writing to all as if he was a candidate’. On 4 May Pringle had to inform Buccleuch that

This district of burghs is lost by pure mismanagement, Lanark having declared for Gillon. Selkirk has been quite staunch and the council behaved remarkably well ... 26 pledged themselves to Johnstone, but still they are unwilling to throw off Monteith before he should himself announce to them that he had withdrawn, which he was so far from doing that his son-in-law was there to look after his interests. They therefore pledged themselves to Johnstone only on condition that Monteith should be obliged to give in from not having Lanark. Johnstone himself, however, arrived today with bad news from that burgh, which had declared for Gillon. Had he only gone there today or tomorrow, or had they known the disposition of Selkirk, or had Monteith withdrawn earlier and been decided as to his intentions, Johnstone would easily have got Lanark and so secured the return; but Monteith has lost us this seat by his vacillation.43

Buccleuch, ‘quite provoked’ by this turn of events, harboured hopes of somehow snatching a victory at the death; but Selkirk’s vote for Johnstone was unavailing against the solid three for Gillon.44 In an unprecedented move, the sheriff substitute, Scott of Raeburn, declined Gillon’s invitation to dine with him as the winner, as was customary, and joined Johnstone’s dinner party. There was ‘considerable excitement’ among the populace of Selkirk, but Gillon’s success kept them in good humour. Beer was distributed in the evening and effigies of Johnstone and Monteith were burnt. Next day Gillon visited Peebles, where he was drawn in and fêted.45

The Commons received a petition from Linlithgow council urging them to expedite the passage of the English reform bill, 4 Aug., but a like one from the inhabitants had to be withdrawn by Gillon, 12 Aug. 1831, when he admitted that he had erased some strong expressions.46 The council of Selkirk petitioned the Commons, 27 Aug., and the Lords, 15 Oct., asking for the burgh to be removed from its current district and placed with Hawick, Kelso and Jedburgh, 27 Aug.47 On 14 Sept. Gillon issued a public address urging his constituents and the reformers of Falkirk to petition the Lords in support of reform: various trades of Lanark, the council and inhabitants of Linlithgow, the inhabitants of Old and New Lanark, the council, burgesses and inhabitants of Peebles, the weavers and the inhabitants of Selkirk and the inhabitants of Falkirk did so.48 In late September ministers decided to give Peeblesshire and Selkirkshire a Member each, to remove the burghs of Peebles and Selkirk from their proposed district and throw them into their counties and to replace them with the growing industrial Lanarkshire town of Airdrie. Lanark council’s petition against this was presented on 4 Oct. by Gillon, whose amendment to restore Peebles and Selkirk to the district was defeated by the government.49 After the Lords’ rejection of the English reform bill, Gillon encouraged the councils of Peebles and the other burghs to send addresses to the king expressing undiminished support for reform and confidence in the ministry.50 He exhorted his constituents to get up petitions for supplies to be withheld until reform was secured during the ministerial crisis of mid-May 1832, and the inhabitants of Linlithgow did so on the 21st.51 The £10 householders of the expanding Lanarkshire mining town of Hamilton petitioned the Commons, 31 May, for the burgh to be enfranchised either instead of or along with Airdrie; and the inhabitants of Selkirk petitioned for the counties of Selkirk and Peebles to be united to return one Member and the burghs likewise to be joined to form one constituency.52 In the final Scottish reform bill, Peebles and Selkirk were put into their counties and Hamilton was added to Falkirk, Airdrie, Lanark and Linlithgow to create a constituency with a population of over 39,000 and a registered electorate in 1832 of 969. At the general election in December Gillon beat another Liberal by 144 votes in a poll of 865.53 He was unopposed in 1835 and 1837, but beaten by a Conservative in 1841. The Liberals regained the seat in 1857 and retained it for the rest of the century and beyond.54

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland (1895), iv. 515-21; PP (1823), xv. 709; (1830-1), x. 182; (1831-2), xlii. 127; (1836), xxiii. 329-34.
  • 2. W.F. Hendrie, Linlithgow, 112, 113.
  • 3. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, iv. 453-6; PP (1823), xv. 709; (1830-1), x. 175; (1831-2), xlii. 125; (1836), xxiii. 285-96; W.A. Cowan, Hist. Lanark, 67.
  • 4. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, v. 159, 160; PP (1823), xv. 708; (1830-1), x. 185; (1836), xxiii. 397-400.
  • 5. Ordnance Gazetteer of Scotland, vi. 328, 329; PP (1823), xv. 708; (1830-1), x. 188; (1836), xxiii. 499-504.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 611-13; iv. 574, 575.
  • 7. NAS GD51/1/198/15/29.
  • 8. Caledonian Mercury, 12 Feb. 1820.
  • 9. NAS GD51/1/198/37/9; Life of Robert Owen (1857), app. p. 334.
  • 10. Caledonian Mercury, 7 Oct. 1819, 14 Feb. 1820.
  • 11. NAS GD51/1/198/27/10, 11.
  • 12. NLS mss 11, f. 14.
  • 13. Life of Robert Owen, 225, 226, 230, 236; Caledonian Mercury, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 14. Caledonian Mercury, 18, 25 Mar. 1820; Life of Robert Owen, 236.
  • 15. Caledonian Mercury, 3, 6 Apr. 1820.
  • 16. Ibid. 25 Nov. 1819, 6, 27 Jan. 1821; Hist. Peebles ed. J.W. Buchan, ii. 138; LJ, liv. 12; CJ, lxxvi. 12, 13, 22.
  • 17. CJ, lxxviii. 412, 434, 475; lxxix. 167, 216, 222, 507; lxxxi. 263, 270.
  • 18. Ibid. lxxix. 380, 381.
  • 19. Ibid. lxxx. 314; LJ, lvii. 788, 826.
  • 20. LJ, lviii. 81, 102, 109, 119, 155; CJ, lxxxi. 145, 176.
  • 21. PP (1836), xxiii. 289; Caledonian Mercury, 19 Oct. 1822, 13 Oct. 1823, 18 Oct. 1824; LJ, lv. 731, 765, 828, 829; lvi. 14, 154, 182, 223, 380, 402, 403.
  • 22. NAS GD51/1/198/20/2, 3.
  • 23. Glasgow Herald, 16, 23 June; Caledonian Mercury, 26 June, 6 July 1826.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxii. 99, 167, 230; LJ, lix. 57, 95.
  • 25. LJ, lx. 154.
  • 26. Ibid. lxi. 14, 146, 340; CJ, lxxxiv. 146.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxiv. 288.
  • 28. Ibid. lxxxv. 188, 242; LJ, lxii. 138, 175.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxv. 410; LJ, lxii. 383.
  • 30. NAS GD224/581/4, Hay to Buccleuch, 1 Oct., Douglas to same, 2 Oct., reply, 2 Oct. 1829.
  • 31. Hopetoun mss 167, ff. 146, 148, 153.
  • 32. NAS GD157/2976/2; Glasgow Herald, 19, 23 July, 27 Aug. 1830.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvi. 72, 73, 328, 333.
  • 34. Ibid. 49, 144, 163, 169, 194; LJ, 161, 164, 177, 179.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxvi. 58; LJ, lxiii. 184.
  • 36. CJ, lxxxvi. 202, 209, 221, 230, 255, 310, 324; LJ, lxiii. 264, 289; Hist. Peebles, ii. 141; Caledonian Mercury, 3 Feb. 1831.
  • 37. LJ, lxiii. 345, 346, 350.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxvi. 372, 405, 406, 416, 419, 446; LJ, lxiii. 264, 289, 319, 337, 345, 346, 357, 360.
  • 39. Caledonian Mercury, 28 Mar. 1831.
  • 40. Ibid. 23, 28 Apr. 1831.
  • 41. NAS GD224/581/4, Johnstone to Buccleuch, 25, 26 Apr., R. Dundas to same, 25 Apr., Buccleuch to Ogilvie, 27 Apr. 1831.
  • 42. NAS GD224/581/4.
  • 43. NAS GD224/581/4, Pringle to Buccleuch, 3, 4 May, Ogilvie to same, 4 May 1831.
  • 44. NAS GD224/581/4, Buccleuch to Johnstone, 13 May, to Pringle, 21 May 1831; Caledonian Mercury, 2, 5, 26 May 1831.
  • 45. Caledonian Mercury, 26 May 1831.
  • 46. CJ, lxxxvi. 727, 748.
  • 47. Ibid. 788; LJ, lxiii. 1095.
  • 48. Caledonian Mercury, 17 Sept. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1008, 1018, 1023, 1040, 1047, 1053.
  • 49. CJ, lxxxvi. 888.
  • 50. Hist. Peebles, ii. 141.
  • 51. Ibid. ii. 142; CJ, lxxxvii. 326.
  • 52. CJ, lxxxvii. 359, 366.
  • 53. Caledonian Mercury, 27 Dec. 1832.
  • 54. Scottish Electoral Politics, 226, 232, 241, 264, 277.