Wallingford

Borough

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 habitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 290 by 18311

Number of voters:

201 in Dec. 1826

Population:

2,093 (1821); 2,415 (1831)

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
6 Mar. 1820WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES143
 GEORGE JAMES ROBARTS103
 Ebenezer Fuller Maitland92
13 June 1826WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES151
 GEORGE JAMES ROBARTS125
 John Dodson80
16 Dec. 1826ROBERT KNIGHT vice Robarts, vacated his seat117
 John Bayley84
31 July 1830WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES47
 ROBERT KNIGHT 31
 John Bayley22
29 Apr. 1831WILLIAM LEWIS HUGHES 
 ROBERT KNIGHT 152
 William Seymour Blackstone54
21 Sept. 1831THOMAS CHARLES LEIGH vice Hughes, called to the Upper House119
 William Seymour Blackstone68

Main Article

Wallingford was a ‘neat country town, respectably inhabited’, on the Thames, five miles north-west of Reading; it was notable for fluctuating unemployment and poverty among those whose living depended on agriculture. Its corporation consisted of a mayor and five other aldermen, chosen from the 18 burgesses.2 The borough was a byword for electoral corruption.3 Bribery had become systematic, and payments of £20 a vote were distributed, at a safe distance in time after the expiration of the statutory fortnight allowed for the presentation of petitions, by a figure styled ‘The Miller of Wallingford’, who at the start of this period was William Gill, a shoemaker.4 The principal beneficiary of this system was the Welsh Whig William Hughes, the wealthy owner of an Anglesey copper mine, who had sat for the borough since 1802 and, though he seldom showed his face there, had built up a formidable interest. His colleague since 1812 had been the ministerialist Ebenezer Fuller Maitland, a man made rich by his father’s success as a London merchant and banker, and who had set himself up as a Berkshire squire at Shinfield, near Reading. At the general election of 1818, when Hughes topped the poll, Fuller Maitland defeated an attempt on the second seat by another Whig, George Robarts, a retired army officer and nephew of the Commons opposition leader Tierney, who had purchased some houses in the borough.

Three weeks before the general election of 1820, when Hughes, Fuller Maitland and Robarts all offered again, the Tory corporation, led by Aldermen Charles Allnatt, Edward Wells and Benjamin Birkett, well-to-do local businessmen with connected interests in banking, brewing and the coal trade, and Robert Morrell, the deputy recorder, promoted a declaration that they would endeavour to ‘maintain the purity of elections’ at Wallingford and root out the corruption which had shamed the borough for so long. It was eventually signed by 81 men, including the current mayor, John Hedges, almost every member of the corporation, and about 60 of the most respectable inhabitants. An association, which was largely indistinguishable from the Tory True Blue Club, into which it subsequently merged, was formed to uphold the cause of electoral independence and purity. Fuller Maitland, who was of course their preferred candidate, publicly stated his ‘hearty concurrence’ in their declaration. At a public meeting, 23 Feb., Hughes, whose position as a reforming Whig returned to Parliament by blatantly corrupt means made him an obvious target, was asked to do likewise, but he refused, ostensibly because he ‘considered that the purity of elections rested with the electors, and not with the candidate’. Robarts, who seems to have stood on his own bottom, paid lip service to the principles espoused by the independents. He finished 11 votes in front of Fuller Maitland in a poll of 193 electors, with Hughes comfortably at the head.5 Hughes received no plumpers and Robarts only two, whereas Fuller Maitland had 46, comprising exactly half his total. They included 19 of the 20 members of the corporation who voted; the other split for Fuller Maitland and Hughes. Hughes shared 99 votes with Robarts, who thus received no less than 96 per cent of his total in this form, and 44 with Fuller Maitland. Therefore 23 per cent of those who voted split for the sitting Members. Overall, 76 per cent cast party votes, with 52 voting for the Whigs and 24 for the Tory. Ninety-three per cent of gentlemen, professionals and members of the corporation voted for Fuller Maitland, as against 48 per cent of the electorate as a whole. Twenty-one per cent voted for Hughes and ten for Robarts. Of the 70 signatories of the association declaration who polled, 45 plumped for Fuller Maitland and 21 split for him and Hughes: that is, 96 per cent of them cast a vote for Fuller Maitland, 33 for Hughes, and only six for Robarts. All 38 of the unskilled labourers who voted supported Hughes, while 31 (82 per cent) voted for Robarts and only seven (18) for Fuller Maitland.6 The issues of the election were subsequently aired in the local press: the independents denounced the bribery and corruption which sustained Hughes and the ‘misguided and ungrateful faction’ who had introduced Robarts; while an apologist for the Whig Members retorted that the corporation and their leading supporters were ‘a little knot of traffickers in borough influence, who, under the pretence of purity, attempted to get into their own hands the disposal of the seats’. He also alleged that the leaders of this ‘little aristocratic junta of pretended purity’, which was in essence a ‘family compact’ of the Allnatts and Wellses, had turned off workmen, given notice to tenants and withdrawn custom from tradesmen who had voted against them. The latter allegation was not categorically denied, though it was said that sanctions had been imposed not out of political pique but as an exemplary punishment for venality.7 The petition against the return hinted at on the hustings by Fuller Maitland did not materialize, but on 11 May 1820 Wells and Allnatt petitioned against Robarts on the flimsy ground that he did not possess necessary property qualification. A bid to extend the time for entering into recognizances was rejected by the House, 25 May 1820, and the petition lapsed.8

Petitions from the agriculturists of Wallingford and its district for relief from distress were presented to the Commons, 18 May 1820, 6 Mar. 1821.9 A public meeting of 27 Dec. 1820 voted an address expressing support for Queen Caroline and condemning her persecution by ‘a base faction and wicked oligarchy’. It was presented by Robarts, accompanied by a town deputation, 22 Jan. 1821.10 The controversy over electoral corruption resurfaced in the press in the late summer of 1821, and was resumed for a few weeks at the turn of the year.11 It appears that on 10 June 1822 the ‘Miller’ did his rounds and distributed £20 to everyone who had voted for Hughes, though Robarts did not pay the money which had been expected from him.12 The town, in contrast to its Members, was overwhelmingly hostile to Catholic relief, and the corporation’s petition against it was presented by the county Member, Robert Palmer, 18 Apr. 1825.13 That month the corporation got up a petition to the Commons disclaiming ‘visionary and undefined views of reform’, but praying for amendments to the Bribery Act of 1729 to make it effectual, particularly by giving the electors’ oath a prospective bearing. It was presented on 24 June by Fowell Buxton, Member for Weymouth.14 In November 1825 the Tory Berkshire Chronicle, anticipating the next general election, began a sustained campaign to expose the ‘Miller’ system and the hypocrisy of Hughes in exploiting it while supporting reform in the House.15 At the beginning of March 1826 it was announced that Sir Henry Willoughby* of nearby Baldon, an opponent of Catholic relief, was to start on the independent, Blue interest, but his canvass later in the month convinced him that he had no chance without bribing. Hughes and Robarts separately announced their intention of seeking re-election, but apparently Robarts was told by his leading supporters that unless he coalesced with Hughes and produced the goods he would be in difficulties. The two Whigs joined forces and canvassed together, with the ‘Miller’ in attendance when visiting the poorer voters (though it was asserted by his opponents that Robarts had no real intention of paying) and without him when calling on the respectables, when Robarts allegedly posed as a supporter of independence and electoral purity. Meanwhile the Blues had proclaimed the candidature of William Manning, Member for Lymington and a director of the Bank of England, but after making a string of excuses for not starting his canvass he withdrew without showing his face, preferring to stand for Penryn.16 On 26 Apr. 1826 Fowell Buxton presented another petition from the corporation praying for amendment of the Bribery Act, which was intended to support Lord John Russell’s current bill for that purpose. The measure passed the Commons but was overtaken by the prorogation.17

The independents, now organized into the True Blue Club, whose secretary was John Joseph Allnatt, a farmer active in county politics, put up on the eve of the dissolution John Dodson, a civil lawyer and supporter of government, who had been turned out of his seat for Rye in 1823 in a fit of pique by a patron dissatisfied with ministers’ neglect of him. He made much of his opposition to Catholic claims, an issue on which the now ailing Robarts was especially vulnerable, and espoused the cause of electoral purity. His supporters laid heavy stress on the passage by the Commons on 26 May 1826 of Russell’s resolutions, appertaining to the impending election, to the effect that in future petitions alleging bribery could be presented up to 18 months after an election and referred to a select committee. Electors were warned, in exaggerated and inaccurate terms, of the dire consequences which this decision would entail for those found guilty of taking bribes. Predictions that Robarts would be too ill to appear in person proved accurate, and his brother-in-law John Maddox stood proxy for him.18 Proceedings on the hustings were dominated by Charles Allnatt’s furious attack on corruption and the ‘Miller’ system and his condemnation of Hughes, who refused to respond to his demands for a public renunciation of bribery. Maddox’s reference to ‘the accursed trammels of the corporation’ drew angry retorts from Dodson and Allnatt. The bribery oath was tendered to and taken by every elector. Dodson finished a distant third, with 12 fewer votes than Fuller Maitland had secured in 1820, while both the Whigs increased their totals. When returning thanks Hughes, though claiming to have supported every proposal for an extension of the parliamentary franchise, explained his objections to the punishment of poor electors who accepted bribes while borough patrons went unscathed. The Blues subsequently published a biased account of the election and a recent history of the ‘Miller’ in The Trial and Conviction of Wallingford Whiggism.19 No pollbook survives, but it is known that Dodson received 52 plumpers, while Hughes and Robarts got only two and three respectively. Those who cast a vote for Dodson included 20 members of the corporation and seven other gentlemen or professionals. Of the 55 who had voted in 1820, 27 had then plumped for Fuller Maitland, 23 had split for him and Hughes and five had voted for Hughes and Robarts: that is, 50 had cast a vote for Fuller Maitland, 28 for Hughes and five for Robarts.20

The True Blue Club inaugurated a series of monthly meetings, and Dodson was present at that of 31 Aug. 1826, when he promised to persevere in the struggle against corruption. At the mayor’s feast the following day, which Dodson also attended, toasts were drunk to the True Blue cause and the related one of the True Blues of Reading. There were strong political overtones to the dinner to mark the election of a new burgess, 23 Sept. A personal quarrel between Charles Allnatt and the Rev. William Garnett, rector of St. Peter’s, who was supposed to have said at the time of the 1826 election that the town would never be at rest until Allnatt and his son had been poisoned or transported, was publicized in the Tory press in October 1826.21 When ill health forced Robarts to give up his seat a few weeks later, Robert Knight, a Warwickshire landowner and veteran Whig, who, ironically, had replaced Dodson as Member for Rye in 1823, offered in his room. He made much of his Whig politics, and even more of the friendship and support of Hughes. According to his opponents, he was accompanied on his canvass by the ‘Miller’, and clearly implied that those who voted for him would be paid. Dodson started, but withdrew after a day’s canvass, and the Blues eventually produced John Bayley of Upper Harley Street and Blount’s Court, near Henley, about 10 miles from Wallingford, who had unsuccessfully contested Wootton Bassett at the recent general election. Charles Allnatt again attacked Hughes and the ‘Miller’ system in uncompromising terms, accusing the former of unconstitutional interference in his endorsement of Knight, who of course ignored attempts to make him renounce bribery. He beat Bayley by 33 votes in a poll of 201, and distributed small coins and embossed brass buttons as mementoes of his victory.22

The True Blue Club and Bayley’s other supporters rallied in Wallingford, 6 Feb. 1827, when the support of the neighbouring gentry for the struggle against corruption was invoked.23 The Blues, renewing their campaign to persuade Parliament to amend the Bribery Act in support of Lord Althorp’s unsuccessful attempt of 1827 to secure the establishment of a standing committee to investigate petitions alleging electoral bribery, also sought to publicize the state of affairs at Wallingford. In the debate on Althorp’s motion, 26 Feb., Palmer, primed by a letter from the corporation, gave details of the ‘Miller’s’ activities. Peel, the home secretary, opposed the motion, but professed willingness to inquire rigorously into the subject if a prima facie case of corruption was made out. The corporation of Wallingford got up a petition, which was signed by 69 men, many of whom had voted for Dodson the previous year, outlining the recent history of the ‘Miller’ and their attempts to put an end to bribery, and pointing to the existence of a substantial minority of respectable, untainted electors who were nullified by the corrupt lower orders. Calling for the bribery oath to be made effective, they asserted that their object was to

give to the property, respectability and integrity of the town, a participation in those privileges which are exclusively monopolized and debased by persons, the far greater number of whom are in the situation of day labourers or inferior tradesmen or mechanics, and who, in giving their votes, are known to be influenced only by expectation of reward.

The petition was presented on 19 Mar. 1827 by Charles Dundas, the Whig county Member, whose endorsement of its sentiments was supported again by Palmer.24 At a dinner given by Hughes and Knight, 16 Apr. 1827, the Rev. Joseph Hambleton, a schoolmaster, and a defector from the independents of 1820 (when he had voted for Hughes and Fuller Maitland), launched a scathing attack on the Berkshire Chronicle and personally insulted individual members of the corporation. He was taken to task by Joseph Allnatt in a letter to the Chronicle, where he was accused of being in thrall to Hughes as his tenant.25

Wallingford Dissenters and members of the Church of England petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 25 May, 6 June 1827, 19 Feb. 1828; and the Lords, 10 Mar., 21 Apr. 1828.26 Knight voted for it, but Hughes, typically, was absent. The local maltsters petitioned the Commons against the Malt Act, 22 Feb. 1828.27 Inhabitants’ petitions both against and for Catholic relief were presented to the Commons, 7, 8 May, and the Lords, 8 May, when the corporation also petitioned against, and 16 May 1828.28 At his retirement dinner as mayor, 1 Sept. 1828, Allnatt, who had deliberately not invited Hughes and returned his customary gift of a deer to his agent (it was consumed at an impromptu feast for Hughes’s poor supporters), indulged in an anti-Catholic rant and called for the establishment of a Brunswick club.29 Petitions from the corporation and the inhabitants against Catholic emancipation were presented to both Houses in February 1829, but one in favour of the measure was subsequently got up and presented to the Commons on 19 Mar. by Hughes, who stirred himself to vote for the relief bill on its third reading, as did Knight. The Lords were petitioned for emancipation, 17 Mar. 1829.30

The Chronicle’s report of 8 May 1830 that both Members would stand down at the next election proved to be mere wishful thinking. Bayley and Fuller Maitland, who was currently sitting for Chippenham, were talked of as Blue candidates, but the latter went to contest nearby Abingdon (where he was defeated). In the event, Bayley put up token resistance to Hughes and Knight, who came in again with ease.31 There was some unrest at Wallingford during the period of the ‘Swing’ disturbances, but the authorities acted quickly to deal with it.32 The local Independents and Baptists petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 2 Nov., 8 Dec., and the Lords, 6 Dec. 1830.33 It was possibly early in 1831 (though perhaps late the previous year) that the corporation drafted a petition to the Commons explaining the failure of the ‘respectable and independent inhabitants’ to eradicate venality and praying for the extension of the borough franchise to the freeholders of the hundred of Moreton, thereby introducing voters ‘of a condition in life to place them above the temptation of the usual bribe, and sufficient in numbers to neutralize the effects of any party determined to perpetuate the unconstitutional system’. The petition was ‘not made use of’, perhaps because it was superseded by the unveiling of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Wallingford was scheduled to lose one Member.34 At the Berkshire meeting to endorse it, 17 Mar. 1831, Charles Allnatt expressed his ‘very favourable’ opinion of that aspect of the measure, and at the same time complained of Peel’s having reneged on his promises of 1827 to promote investigation and purification of the borough.35 No record of any petition to the Commons has been found, but the inhabitants petitioned the Lords in favour of the bill, 15 Apr.36 Hughes and Knight voted for it, and at the general election of 1831, which excited little interest in the press, they beat out of sight the Blue candidate, a local man, William Seymour Blackstone† of Castle Priory, grandson of the celebrated jurist, whose ostensibly strong credentials were no match for pro-reform sentiment allied to an entrenched interest.37

Wallingford’s inclusion in schedule B of the reintroduced reform bill was nodded through, 30 July 1831, though when Wetherell subsequently complained of the haste with which it had been handled, Althorp observed that there was no case to answer, as the borough had barely escaped total disfranchisement on account of its small population. Hughes was elevated to the peerage as Lord Dinorben in September and sent down as his replacement Thomas Leigh, the young son and heir of his old friend Charles Hanbury Tracy*, a Gloucestershire and Montgomeryshire landowner, to meet Blackstone’s renewed challenge. On the hustings Dinorben’s agent, nominating Leigh, read out a letter of recommendation from his employer, who warned that if ministers were defeated on the new bill the eventual outcome would be the passage of one ‘of a more republican nature’. Blackstone denounced Dinorben’s interference as ‘boroughmongering’, spoke against corruption, alleged, apparently correctly, that payments for votes were still outstanding for the last two elections, and insisted on administration of the bribery oath. Leigh spoke very briefly for reform, but, in contrast to Blackstone, refused to answer John Allnatt’s question as to whether he would discountenance bribery. Allnatt then denounced him as ‘a traitor to the principles he professes’ and suggested that he had not the slightest intention of paying his supporters, but was seeking to dupe them. Although Leigh led by only 65-51 at the close of the first day, Blackstone, whose real object was to establish grounds for a petition, announced early on the second that he intended to withdraw. Leigh polled until noon, to finish 51 ahead in a poll of 187. He later dismissed Allnatt’s demands that he pledge himself to vote for the government’s pending bribery bill.38 Blackstone’s petition of 6 Oct. 1831 rehearsed the corruption which had long prevailed at Wallingford; stated that the customary payments for votes had not yet been made for the 1830 and 1831 general elections, but that Leigh had stood on the interest of Hughes and Knight, who had bribed after the 1826 election and promised to do so in 1830, and alleged that Leigh, as well as indulging in actual bribery, had secured many votes ‘under corrupt representations’. The prospect of Dinorben’s agent and the ‘Miller’ being hauled before an election committee delighted the Berkshire Chronicle, but in the event the petition was not prosecuted.39

When furnishing additional information to government in July 1831, the corporation had put the number of houses with a yearly rental of £10 at only 218 and warned that it was likely to be reduced by the passage of the reform bill because the ‘notorious bribery’ then prevalent kept rents artificially high, and because disfranchised scot and lot voters would have no reason in future to stay off the rates. On 26 Aug. 1831, Charles Williams Wynn, arguing in the House that the £10 householder franchise would not prevent corruption in the smaller boroughs, took Wallingford as his prime example. In the table, based on numbers of houses and amount of assessed taxes, drawn up to determine the borough disfranchisement schedules of the revised reform bill, Wallingford was placed 86th, which kept it within schedule B. The boundary commissioners, noting the low number of £10 houses, recommended the addition to the old borough, which barely extended beyond the limits of the built-up area, of the whole or part of 10 largely rural parishes, two of them across the Thames in Oxfordshire, thereby increasing the area of the constituency from 0.6 to almost 26 square miles. The new borough had 412 £10 houses, a population of about 7,000 and a registered electorate in 1832 of 453.40 In October 1832 it was reported that Gill, having been accused by a rival ‘Miller’, who had apparently sought a share of his profits after the 1826 election, of misappropriation of public funds, had sworn before a magistrate an affidavit detailing his past activities.41 The Reform and Boundary Acts put an end to the ‘Miller’ system, though they did not entirely wipe out corruption, and destroyed Dinorben’s interest. At the first reformed election Blackstone, a Tory of the old school, beat the Catholic reformer Charles Eyston of East Hendred by 202-165, thanks to his majorities of 28 and 51 respectively among the £10 householders of the old borough and the district, which overcame Eyston’s lead of 42 among the scot and lot voters.42 Blackstone was secure, though not unchallenged, until his retirement in 1852, and the seat remained in Conservative hands until 1865.43

Author: David R. Fisher

Notes

  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 70.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 138-9; PP (1835), xxiii. 273.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 31-33; (1835), xxiii. 273; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 277.
  • 4. J.K. Hedges, Hist. Wallingford, ii. 202-3; E.A. Smith, ‘Bribery and Disfranchisement’, EHR, lxxv (1960), 621-2. Oldfield, in his Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 41 and Key (1820), 67, inflated the customary payment to 40 guineas.
  • 5. Reading Mercury, 21 Feb., 6, 13 Mar. 1820; Trial and Conviction of Wallingford Whiggism (1826), pp. vi-viii, xiv; Smith, 622-3.
  • 6. Wallingford Pollbook (1820); Smith, 627.
  • 7. Reading Mercury, 27 Mar., 10, 17 Apr. 1820.
  • 8. Ibid. 13 Mar. 1820; CJ, lxxv. 194, 236, 239.
  • 9. CJ, lxxv. 224; lxxvi. 143.
  • 10. Reading Mercury, 1 Jan., 5 Feb. 1821.
  • 11. Ibid. 6, 13, 20 Aug., 17, 24, 31 Dec. 1821, 7, 14, 21, 28 Jan. 1822.
  • 12. Trial, p. ix; Smith, 622.
  • 13. CJ, lxxx. 314; Berks. RO, Hedges mss D/EH O5, draft petition; Berks. Chron. 30 Apr. 1825.
  • 14. Hedges mss O5, draft petition; CJ, lxxv. 598; The Times, 25 June; Berks. Chron. 2 July 1825.
  • 15. Berks. Chron. 5, 19 Nov., 3, 10, 31 Dec. 1825, 14 Jan., 25 Feb., 4, 11, 18 Mar., 22 Apr. 1826.
  • 16. Ibid. 4, 11, 18, 25 Mar., 22 Apr.; Reading Mercury, 10, 17 Apr.; Berks. RO, Wallingford borough recs. W/AEp 8, election handbills, 6 Mar.-5 Apr. 1826.
  • 17. The Times, 27 Apr. 1826; CJ, lxxxi. 291; Hedges mss O5, draft petition.
  • 18. Wallingford borough recs. W/AEp 8, election handbills, 22 May-6 June; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 3 June; Berks. Chron. 3, 10 June; The Times, 10 June 1826; Smith, 620, 623-4.
  • 19. Berks. Chron. 17 June, 1, 29 July, 5, 12 Aug. 1826; Trial, 23-54; Smith, 624.
  • 20. Hedges, ii. 203; Smith, 624, 627. The list of Dodson’s supporters is printed on p. 56 of the copy of Trial in Wallingford borough recs. W/AEp 8; it does not appear in the copy in BL.
  • 21. Wallingford borough recs. W/Aep 8, handbills, July-Nov.; Berks. Chron. 9, 23 Sept., 7, 14 Oct. 1826.
  • 22. Berks. Chron. 2, 9, 16, 23 Dec.; Reading Mercury, 11, 18 Dec.; The Times, 8, 12, 18 Dec.1826; Smith, 628.
  • 23. Berks. Chron. 10 Feb. 1827.
  • 24. Ibid. 3, 10, 17, 24 Mar.; The Times, 20 Mar. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 334; Hedges mss O5, draft petition; Smith, 626.
  • 25. Wallingford borough recs. W/AEp 8, handbill, 16 Apr.; Berks. Chron. 14, 28 Apr., 5, 12 May 1827.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxii. 490, 521; lxxxiii. 83; LJ, lx. 102, 207.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxiii. 96.