Great Grimsby


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1604-1629, ed. Andrew Thrush and John P. Ferris, 2010
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

64 in 16401


22 Mar. 16142SIR JOHN WRAY
26 Jan. 1626HENRY PELHAM
2 Mar. 1626WILLIAM SKINNER vice Brett, chose to sit for New Romney

Main Article

By the early seventeenth century Grimsby, long in decline as a port, had been eclipsed by Hull, across the Humber, in both commercial and political importance. Gervase Holles†, who was born in the town in 1607, observed that ‘the haven hath been heretofore commodious, [but] now decayed; the traffic good, now gone’. He described Grimsby as ‘mean and straggling by reason of depopulation, and the town very poor’.3 Throughout the early Stuart period the borough council divided its resources between futile attempts to dredge the harbour, and evasion of the jurisdiction of the custom house at Hull; they also tried to take advantage of changes in the coastline by draining and improving salt marshes in the surrounding area. The borough owned 80 acres in 1599, of which half was leased to the freemen, while the commoners, who had once exercised their rights over the whole, had to be content with the remainder until the leases fell in. Private landlords, notably Sir William Wray*, were engaged in similar activities in the neighbourhood, leading to complaints of encroachments on commons and destruction of farmsteads.4

The borough received its first charter from King John in 1201 and had regularly returned Members to Parliament since 1295. The corporation was ruled by a council of 24, of whom 12 were aldermen, headed by an annually elected mayor.5 Due to the poverty of the town, its MPs were required to enter into bonds of indemnity guaranteeing that they would serve at their own charge, and as a result all but one of those returned during the period were drawn from the local gentry, notably the Wrays of Glentworth, and Pelhams of Brocklesby.6 Neither the recorder Edward Skipwith†, nor the high steward Sir Thomas Heneage, nor their successors appear to have exercised any electoral influence.7 Most of the surviving indentures record the ‘mutual and common consent’ of the mayor and ‘burgesses’; and none of the elections between 1604-28 seems to have been contested.

In 1604 Sir William Wray was ‘freely elected’ with his brother-in-law, Sir George St. Paul, who owned property in Grimsby.8 Both men were both noted for their patronage of puritan preachers, although there is little sign that the inhabitants of Grimsby shared their enthusiasm. Shortly after the election the town received a new charter confirming all its rights and privileges and allowing the mayor and two ‘burgesses’ to be chosen annually to serve as justices of the peace.9 Wray may have helped to secure this grant and he was also probably involved in an attempt in 1606 to raise funds to clear the haven. A royal letter was obtained recommending the sheriffs and magistrates of Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and West Riding to render assistance.10 Some disaffected inhabitants, blaming the enclosure of the marshes for the silting of the harbour, brought an Exchequer action in 1607 against the mayor and freemen for enclosing common land and re-letting it to themselves at low rents.11 An inquiry team, headed by Leonard Bawtree*, failed to make a recommendation because the council refused to co-operate. The matter was finally settled after further litigation, when an Exchequer verdict confirmed the freemen’s right to the marshes.12

At the next election the first seat went to Wray’s eldest son, Sir John, while second place was taken by Richard Towthby, the head of a minor gentry family. In 1620 Sir John Wray’s younger half-brother, Christopher, was returned for the first seat, while still a minor. The junior Member, Henry Pelham of Gray’s Inn, was only a few years older, and moreover out of the country at the time. The validity of his election was questioned in the House because he was overseas by his own volition, but on his return six weeks later he was allowed to take his seat.13

(Sir) Christopher Wray and Pelham were re-elected at the next two elections, in 1624 and 1625. By this time the commoners had revived their claim to the marshes; but Wray, who had been knighted in 1623, persuaded the attorney-general Sir Thomas Coventry*, after perusing the charters, to refuse to intervene.14 At the next election Pelham was returned as the senior Member, and the second seat went to Capt. Thomas Brett, a Kentish soldier whose only connection with the town was via Wray’s father-in-law Viscount Wimbledon (Sir Edward Cecil*), with whom he had served in several military expeditions.15 In the event Brett was also returned for New Romney, and at the ensuing election in March 1626 William Skinner, of nearby Thornton College took his place. Sir Christopher Wray and Pelham served again in 1628.

Authors: Paula Watson / Rosemary Sgroi


  • 1. NE Lincs. Archives, Grimsby Bor. Recs. 1/102/7, f. 71.
  • 2. HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 279.
  • 3. G. Holles, Lincs. Church Notes (Lincoln Rec. Soc. i), 2.
  • 4. NE Lincs. Archives, Grimsby Bor. Recs. 1/102/6, f. 526; E. Gillett, Grimsby, 98-117; J.D. Gould, ‘The Depopulation Inquisition of 1607 in Lincs’, EHR, lxvii. 392-6.
  • 5. G. Oliver, Mon. Antiqs. of Grimsby, 79, 80, 119; L. Greenfield, Grimsby’s Freemen, 9, 39-40, 53.
  • 6. C. Holmes, Seventeenth-Cent. Lincs. 15, 35.
  • 7. Oliver, 122-3.
  • 8. C219/35/1/34; NE Lincs. Archives, Grimsby Bor. Recs. 1/560/109.
  • 9. NE Lincs. Archives, Grimsby Bor. Recs. 1/22/1; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 129.
  • 10. Gillett, 120.
  • 11. NE Lincs. Archives, Grimsby Bor. Recs. 1/721.
  • 12. HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 261-2.
  • 13. CJ, i. 511b, 513b; Nicholas, Procs. 1621, i. 26-7.
  • 14. HMC 14th Rep. VIII, 257.
  • 15. C. Dalton, Life and Times of Gen. Sir Edward Cecil, i. 180, ii. 304, 353.