Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freeholders and the inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 140


17 Apr. 1660GEORGE PITT
4 Apr. 1661GEORGE PITT
  Double return of Culliford and Lawrence. CULLIFORD seated, 16 May 1661.
18 Feb. 1679THOMAS ERLE
18 Aug. 1679THOMAS ERLE
15 Feb. 1681THOMAS ERLE
17 Mar. 1685THOMAS ERLE
10 Jan. 1689THOMAS ERLE
2 May 1689THOMAS SKINNER vice Ryves, deceased

Main Article

Wareham could in 1660 fairly be classed as decayed, having lost its shipping to Poole and much of its industry to Blandford. During the Civil War Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper had wished to erase it from the map, ‘being extremely ill-built, and the inhabitants almost all dreadful malignants’, under the influence of the rector of Holy Trinity. George Pitt, who owned the principal advowsons and several large farms to the south and west of the town, enjoyed a strong natural interest. Somewhat further removed to the south lay the seats of the royalist Lawrences and Cullifords in the Isle of Purbeck; while to the north resided a group of parliamentarian families, the Trenchards, Erles and Savages. Distances, however, are apt to be misleading in the empty heathlands of south-east Dorset.1

In 1660 Pitt and Robert Culliford were returned, apparently without opposition, and in flat defiance of the Long Parliament ordinance. At least four candidates entered the ring in the following year, among them Humphrey Weld, whose seat at Lulworth lay some five miles off, but he apparently did not proceed to a poll. Nevertheless, there was a double return, with Pitt and Culliford on one indenture, the latter having a majority of 14 over Robert Lawrence, counting all ratepayers. But Lawrence obtained another indenture signed by three burgesses and ten freeholders, claiming that these categories only were qualified, which gave him a majority of 20. Culliford was seated on the merits of the return on 16 May, and the House decided in favour of the scot and lot payers.2

The first election of 1679, which began the long association of Thomas Erle with the borough, does not seem to have produced much political awareness; Shaftesbury was not confident of either Erle or his colleague George Savage, though both in fact were to vote for the first exclusion bill. Nothing is known of the August election, but in 1681 the sitting Members were ‘chosen, without expense’ in their absence, the magistrates thriftily treating the electors with beer and biscuit. Nevertheless in September the borough produced a loyal address approving the dissolution of the last two Parliaments.3

Erle retained his seat in 1685 and probably brought in George Ryves, a Tory militia officer. He had so improved his interest by April 1688 that he was reported to have nominated his cousin Robert Erle for the second seat. The royal electoral agents were assured that the voters, most of whom were dissenters, would not fix on them, ‘until they are sure they are right’. As a borough by prescription, Wareham could not be subjected to quo warranto proceedings, but the King was urged to issue a mandate for a suitable mayor. Neither of the crown nominees in fact served during 1688-9. By September the Court was satisfied of Erle’s attitude, and Thomas Skinner was also approved. Erle’s position was consolidated by the leading part he played in the Revolution in Dorset and he was able to drop Skinner in favour of Ryves. The latter, however, was in poor health, and a by-election was to be anticipated. Erle wrote to his steward on 12 Feb. 1689:

I have written by this post to Combes of Wareham, according to your intimation. Perhaps that may disgust the other party. I would have you go thither some time that I may understand by you how they are inclined.

Combes (one of the Court candidates for the mayoralty) was a leader of the nonconformists, and was doubtless working for Skinner, who on Ryves’s death was duly elected.4

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. Christie, Shaftesbury, i. 69-70; Hutchins, Dorset, i. 93, 119-21; Dorset Hearth Tax ed. Meekings, 74-75.
  • 2. Dorset RO, D10/C1; Northants. RO, IL 3538; CJ, viii. 251, 271.
  • 3. Prot. Dom. Intell. 22 Feb. 1681; London Gazette, 12 Sept. 1681.
  • 4. Churchill Coll. Cambridge Erle-Drax mss., Erle to Dolling.