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 paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

less than 10


817 (1821); 965 (1831)1


20 Feb. 1823WILLIAM LEADER vice Concannon, deceased 
 HENRY GREY, Visct. Howick 
15 Feb. 1830JOHN WILLIAMS vice Brougham, vacated his seat 
30 July 1830JOHN WILLIAMS9
 John Rodolph Deerenil
 Henry Shirleynil
4 Apr. 1831STEPHEN LUSHINGTON vice Dundas, vacated his seat 
29 Apr. 1831JOHN WILLIAMS 
15 July 1831JAMES BROUGHAM vice Lushington, chose to sit for Ilchester 
31 July 1832BROUGHAM re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

Winchelsea, a decayed port, was in this period ‘a mere village’, situated on a hill a mile and a half inland from the east Sussex coast.2 It was part of the electoral empire of the Whig 3rd earl of Darlington, who had bought control of both seats in 1804. Freemen were admitted purely with reference to the parliamentary interest and their number ‘kept as low as would secure the existence of the corporation’, which consisted nominally of a mayor and 12 jurats.3

In 1820 and 1826 Darlington provided Henry Brougham, one of the leading Whigs in the Commons, with insurance against his defeats in contests for Westmorland. Lucius Concannon and William Leader were opposition backbench stalwarts. In 1826 Darlington offered the other seat to the Whig leader Lord Grey’s son Lord Howick, in case of his failure in a doubtful contest for Northumberland. Thomas Creevey*, who had extracted from Darlington a promise of one of the seats if either Brougham or Howick was successful in his county, was sent on a ‘foolish errand’ to Winchelsea to stand proxy for Howick. He reported:

We sat down to dinner on Friday, just 40, though the real elect amount only to 11. I sat of course on the right hand of the mayor, and had to address my friends on both occasions of Lord Howick’s health being drunk, and my own; for the evening was very little advanced before my friend Wright let out very plainly to the company that he hoped I should be the real Member, a sentiment that was most favourably received, and I had many civilities on it, amongst others the Insurgent whom I mentioned. A surly, ill-conditioned fellow, with £30,000 in his pocket, and under no control, and who told me when I canvassed him that he should make no promises, came to me after dinner to say he hoped I would forget all that had passed, and, squeezing my hand with such a grip that I have scarcely recovered it yet, swore he would never desert me or Lord Darlington as long as he lived.

Howick was beaten in Northumberland and Creevey left without a seat.4 Owners and occupiers of land in and around Winchelsea petitioned the Commons, 16 May 1820, 5 Mar. 1821, and the Lords, 10 Apr. 1821, for relief from agricultural distress.5

Darlington supported the junction of the Lansdowne Whigs in government with Canning in 1827 and with Lord Goderich after Canning’s death, when he was created marquess of Cleveland, ‘probably’, as Mrs. Arbuthnot thought, ‘to induce him to keep Mr. Brougham quiet’. As Grey was hostile to the ministry, doubts arose as to whether Howick could continue to sit on Cleveland’s interest, but the premature collapse of the government extinguished them.6 In January 1830 Cleveland announced his adhesion to the Wellington ministry, which was symbolized by the choice of his son to move the address. He wanted Brougham to keep his seat, with complete freedom to act as he saw fit in the Commons, where he was now effectively the Whig leader. Brougham was aware of this, but could see himself being badly ‘hampered’ and had little hesitation in accepting the duke of Devonshire’s offer to return him for the seat at Knaresborough just vacated by the death of Tierney. Cleveland was angered by Brougham’s failure to consult him before taking this step, which was seen by some Whigs as ‘a public decided censure’ of his junction with government, but subsequent explanations restored their friendship.7 Cleveland offered the seat ‘in the kindest way’ to Grey’s friend Henry Frederick Stephenson*, but he was not prepared to support ministers. It went to Brougham’s colleague on the northern circuit John Williams, who had sat briefly for Ilchester on Cleveland’s interest earlier in the 1826 Parliament. The marquess’s family were said to be ‘much annoyed’ that he did not bring in his youngest son Lord Harry Vane†.8 Grey, who would commit himself to no more than ‘a friendly though, perhaps, a somewhat distrustful neutrality’ towards the government, feared that Howick would have to abandon the seat, but his son had ‘a most satisfactory explanation’ with Cleveland, which enabled him ‘to keep it with comfort and credit’.9 Owners and occupiers of the Winchelsea area petitioned Parliament against interference with the corn laws in February and March 1827, and on 9 Mar. 1827 the Commons received the petition of the corporation and inhabitant householders of the borough for repeal of the coastal coal duties.10

At the general election of 1830 Howick transferred to a seat on the Fitzwilliam interest. Cleveland retained Williams, who had generally supported government, and with him put up Henry Dundas, the son of the cabinet minister Lord Melville. There was a token opposition, inspired by the recent success of the independent ratepayers of Rye in establishing their right to vote and forming part of a general campaign to liberate those of the Cinque Ports which were under nomination. On the day of election John Rodolph Deere of Donnington Priory, Berkshire, and Henry Shirley of Newick Park, Sussex, a member of Brooks’s, tried to poll the votes of several inhabitant ratepayers. The mayor rejected them all and returned Dundas and Williams, who were supported by the nine eligible freemen.11 The case of Winchelsea, with its 80 ratepayers and nine voters, was included in memorials seeking extension of the franchise in the Ports, which were sent soon afterwards to the duke of Wellington as lord warden and to the king. Delegates from Winchelsea attended a campaign dinner at Rye, 19 Oct. 1830, and the following day one Dawes applied at quarter sessions for admission to the freedom as the eldest son of a freeman, but was refused.12 Deere and Shirley petitioned the Commons, claiming a majority of legal votes, 12 Nov. 1830, and Shirley addressed a reform meeting at Rye, 27 Jan. 1831. The petition was due to be considered on 17 Feb. 1831, but a week beforehand Deere and Shirley sought leave to abandon it without penalty, anticipating that they would ‘gain all the objects of it’ through the forthcoming ministerial reform scheme. The Speaker doubted the legality of this step under the terms of the Grenville Act, the petition was duly considered and the sitting Members were confirmed in their seats, 18 Feb. 1831.13

On 26 Feb. 1831 the commons received a petition for the secret ballot from the magistrates, merchants, gentry and inhabitants of Winchelsea and four other Cinque Ports.14 Although Winchelsea, along with his other boroughs, was scheduled for disfranchisement by the reform bill, Cleveland supported the measure to strengthen his bid for a dukedom (which he duly received in January 1833). Williams also favoured the bill, but Dundas opposed it, and Cleveland turned him out in late March 1831 and replaced him, at the ‘express suit’ of government, according to Creevey, with the prominent civilian Dr. Stephen Lushington.15 At the general election less than four weeks later Cleveland returned Williams and Lushington, who also came in on his interest for Ilchester. He used the surplus Winchelsea seat to accommodate lord chancellor Brougham’s brother James.16

When Winchelsea’s inclusion in Schedule A came before the House, 26 July 1831, Herbert Curteis, Member for Sussex, stated the prayer of a petition signed by 50 inhabitant householders which had just been given to him by a deputation. It welcomed reform, but asserted the borough’s right to retain one seat on the ground that the population of the town and liberty of Winchelsea, which extended for seven miles along the coast, amounted to about 2,800. Curteis formally presented it the next day.17 On 30 July 1831 George De Lacy Evans, the hero of Rye, which was to lose one Member, unsuccessfully proposed that borough’s amalgamation with Winchelsea to return two, on the strength of a combined population, including the liberties, of 6,425. Winchelsea’s extinction as a parliamentary borough was agreed to without dissent in the committee on the revised reform bill, 20 Feb. 1832. The re-election of Brougham after his appointment to a chancery sinecure, 31 July 1832, was the penultimate return of a Member to the unreformed Commons. By the Boundary Act the borough and parish were added to the greatly enlarged constituency of Rye and supplied it with some 40 voters on the first register.18

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. The figure for 1821 applies to the whole parish; that for 1831 to the parliamentary borough (PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 44).
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 523; VCH Suss. ix. 523.
  • 3. Oldfield, Key (1820), 249-52; W. D. Cooper, Parl. Hist. Suss. 50-52; PP (1835), xxiv. 413-16.
  • 4. Creevey Pprs. ii. 90, 165-6; Brighton Guardian, 6 Apr.; Grey mss, Darlington to Grey, 3 June; Creevey mss, Mrs. Taylor to Creevey [2], Creevey to Miss Ord, 7,11 June 1826.
  • 5. CJ, lxxv. 216; lxxvi. 137; LJ, liv. 187.
  • 6. Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 143; Lansdowne mss, Brougham to Lansdowne, 22 Oct. 1827.
  • 7. Brougham, Life and Times, iii. 22-33; Lady Holland to Son, 107; Lieven-Grey Corresp. i. 427-9; Creevey Pprs. ii. 208; Add. 51575, Abercromby to Holland [28, 30 Jan.]; Brougham mss, Devonshire to Brougham [29 Jan.], Holland to same [30 Jan.]; Creevey mss, Sefton to Creevey, 30 Jan.; Grey mss, Durham to Grey, 5 Feb. 1830.
  • 8. Add. 51785, Holland to C. R. Fox, 7 Feb.; Grey mss, Ellice to Grey [8 Feb.], Durham to same [8 Feb.], Grey to Holland, 9 Feb.; NLS, Ellice mss, Grey to Ellice, 6 Feb. 1830.
  • 9. Grey mss, Howick jnl. 2 June [1829]; Grey to Holland, 9 Feb. 1830; Lieven-Grey Corresp. 428-9.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxii. 230, 299; LJ, lix. 129.
  • 11. Brighton Guardian, 30 June 1830; Cooper, 52.
  • 12. W. Holloway, Hist. Rye, 261-2; Hastings Iris, 23 Oct. 1830.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxvi. 61, 196, 231, 258, 260, 265; Hastings Iris, 4 Dec. 1830, 1, 29 Jan., 5 Feb. 1831.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxvi. 310; Hastings Iris, 29 Jan. 1831.
  • 15. Holland House Diaries, 47, 65; Creevey’s Life and Times, 340; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 29-31 Mar. 1831; Hopetoun mss 167, f. 248.
  • 16. Hastings Iris, 7 May 1831.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxvi. 704; E. Suss. RO AMS 3713.
  • 18. E. Suss. RO WIN 477-81; PP (1831), xvi. 71-72; Cooper, 243; Holloway, 269.