Great Yarmouth


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 600 in 1660; about 800 in 1720s

Number of voters:

at least 513 in 1708; at least 476 in 1710


28 Nov. 1701JOHN BURTON 
 George England I 
 John Burton 1 
 Samuel Fuller jnr.251
 Benjamin England2402
29 Nov. 1709NATHANIEL SYMONDS vice Townshend, deceased 
 Hon. Horatio Townshend231
 Anthony Ellys1733

Main Article

The Members for Yarmouth were expected to work for the borough in the House and to follow the corporation’s instructions on local matters: after each session they were presented with a sum of money or a quantity of wine ‘as a token of thankfulness for their good services’. The town was described by Defoe as ‘very rich’ and also ‘very well governed’. The electorate numbered only some 600 in 1660, but had risen to about 800 by the 1720s. As one modern historian has noted,

the freeman body must not be seen as a static group, for its size could fluctuate, and the applicants for such privileged status underwent significant change . . . its make-up . . . was primarily responsive to the fluctuations of the town’s trade, rather than regulated by the sinister hand of assembly policy for self-interested ends.

After the Revolution the restored corporation was headed by a group of wealthy merchants, Whigs for the most part and some of Presbyterian stock though now conforming to the Established Church. The old Tory interest was broken, and the Dissenters, mainly Independents, to whom King James had turned in 1687–8, were now likewise excluded from the government of the borough. The leading lights in the corporation were the sitting Members, George England I and Samuel Fuller, who were returned again unopposed in 1690 and 1695.

There may have been a contest in 1698 when John Nicholson, a Tory, took Fuller’s place. There had been some rumblings of religious discord prior to the election (an attempt having been made to force two Congregationalists to take up seats in the assembly), but there was no return to the factionalism of the 1680s. One contemporary thankfully recorded after the election that post-Revolution ‘unity’ had not only survived, but was ‘at present so visible and praiseworthy’. In January 1701 the town returned England and Fuller for the fourth time in 12 years after an uncontested election, but by the end of the year religious disputes had again come to a head. At the second 1701 election Yarmouth’s Dissenters closed ranks in defence of hard-earned civil rights. In the first contested election for 20 years both incumbent Members were removed. Fuller had declined to stand and was replaced by Nicholson, in what may have been a pre-arranged agreement. England was defeated, after a scrutiny, by John Burton, an Independent and a prominent figure in Yarmouth’s Dissenting community. Fuller complained afterwards of ‘the slippery trick the Dissenters acted’. The next year, however, England’s brother and heir, Benjamin, took revenge by defeating Burton. Ostensibly because of the difficulty in filling offices in the corporation, but possibly also in response to this challenge to the established interests, Yarmouth petitioned Queen Anne in 1702 for a new charter, to exchange their two bailiffs for a mayor and to reduce the number of aldermen and common councilmen. This request was quickly granted, and a new charter was issued in 1703, no mention being made of the parliamentary franchise.4

Benjamin England, who had previously followed his brother’s politics, was now inclining to the Tories, under the influence of his nephew and heir-presumptive George England II and other ‘friends’ in Yarmouth, and with both Members of the same kidney the Tory interest in the borough revived. At the same time a new Whig interest was arising, that of Charles, 2nd Viscount Townshend, who was building up support in the borough with a view to elections there and in the county at large, where the Yarmouth vote was important. After his appointment as lord lieutenant of Norfolk in 1701 Townshend was entertained at Yarmouth at the corporation’s expense, and in December 1701 Samuel Fuller acknowledged his influence in the borough. In 1708 Townshend put up his brother Hon. Roger with a Samuel Fuller, probably the eldest son of the former Member, against Benjamin England and another Tory merchant, Richard Ferrier. It was ‘a very laboured election; one of each side carried it’, with Townshend coming second in the poll. Lord Townshend had certainly established a foothold in the borough, but Ferrier’s overall victory was a reminder of the resilience of the corporation.5

On Roger Townshend’s death in 1709 Samuel Fuller snr. immediately wrote to Lord Townshend, ‘asking whom he shall support as a representative of the borough in Parliament’ and suggesting that Horatio Walpole II*, Townshend’s secretary, might stand. However, when Townshend and Horatio Walpole took him at his word, Fuller was piqued. One of Townshend’s friends wrote:

nothing is more certain than that Fuller designed his letter only as a compliment, not imagining but your Lordship would think his son had a right to it, and the only man that could have a prospect of carrying it against England. I know by the conversation I had with young Fuller that he expects it; and George Townshend (who has a near relation of Yarmouth) says from the discourse he has had with them, that the Fullers will be strangely baulked.

Fuller had, it was reported, already ‘applied . . . about engaging people’, and even more ominous for Townshend was the news that ‘there has been several overtures between England, Ferrier and Fuller’s friends to keep up the Tory interest and reconcile the two jarring families’ (Ferrier was a relation by marriage of the Englands). Such a rapprochement might ‘quite shut out the Whig interest, and fix it in the Tory, without expense or jarrings in the town’. Townshend was thus advised that it would be best for Walpole to desist. Even if no reconciliation came about between the England and Fuller families, the Fullers’

coolness, the remoteness of the place, the competitor’s being on the spot, and Mr W[alpole] not having one fit to be a manager there . . . will make it the surest game in the world for England . . . If Fuller does actually waive it, it can be for no other reason than that he sees it will be not only very expensive, but also very troublesome and hazardous contending against England and Ferrier, who will be always on the spot, sparing no pains nor money.
It seems so apparent to me, that Mr Walpole had better not think of it this time, that I cannot but fancy he depends on coming in by petition, which considering the vast numbers there will be for him to disqualify, will hardly answer so short a sitting as he will have there, provided he succeeds.

The eventual unopposed return of Nathaniel Symonds, a Whig but a local man, and one widely respected in the borough, represented a compromise solution, but which clearly signalled dissatisfaction with the Townshend interest. It had probably been engineered to win over the support of Fuller’s allies within Yarmouth: the Englands and Ferriers had prudently removed any obstacle of family pride and thereby undermined Townshend’s leverage on the corporation. In the following June Townshend suggested that his own brother Horatio Townshend† and one of the Fullers should stand together at the next election. Horatio, a London merchant, had to be ‘teased’ to stand, since he regarded the £400 he would have to spend on the election as too great a drain on his working capital, and only when assured of ‘all his brother’s interest’ did he agree. Even then he was not a promising candidate, being, as was admitted, ‘a little impracticable’ in such matters. Nor was Fuller interested in taking part on these terms. As he informed Lord Townshend in September, while protesting his continuing loyalty to ‘your Lordship’s interest’,

I think we are at an accommodation in this town, that Mr England, Mr Ferrier and my youngest son, shall take their lot, who shall be the two, for the next election. I dare answer for the honest behaviour of the last, and have reason for some good hope in the first.

Horatio Townshend was subsequently joined by Anthony Ellys, a relation of Fuller, who possessed close ties to the Congregational church in the town. The election, in which Dr Sacheverell’s impeachment was apparently an issue, went to the Tories, George England II and Ferrier, ‘notwithstanding all the undermining tricks of the Whigs’. A decisive blow had been delivered to Lord Townshend’s hopes of controlling the borough. In part this was a product of the national resurgence of High Church Toryism, but it should also be noted that the local Dissenting interest was racked with internal disputes at this juncture, and whatever Ellys’ personal merits may have been his partner was a weak candidate in all respects except family connexion. In 1713 Ferrier and England were re-elected without opposition. The ‘accommodation’ Fuller had written of in 1710 may still have been operating. More importantly, the two men had proved themselves able and industrious champions of local regeneration. At the first election after the Hanoverian succession the leaders of the corporation deferred to the Townshend interest, conceding the return of Horatio in partnership with England. This was a politically astute manoeuvre, but by no means represented a sacrifice of corporate independence to aristocratic management. In 1716 Ferrier bluntly informed Robert Walpole II* that he possessed ‘in solemn agreement with our people, my option of the next turn for this town to Parliament’.6

Author: D. W. Hayton


  • 1. Bodl. Ballard 4, f. 61.
  • 2. P. Gauci, Pol. and Soc. Gt. Yarmouth, 226.
  • 3. C. J. Palmer, Perlustration Gt. Yarmouth ii. 226; Post Boy, 12–14 Oct. 1710.
  • 4. Gauci, 45–7, 179, 189, 201–3, 207–9, 222; Gt. Yarmouth bor. recs. assembly bk. 1680–1701, pp. 197, 220, 230, 252, 299, 312, 334, 347, 363; 1701–19, pp.11, 64, 77, 84, 100, 130, 147, 182, 205, 251; Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, 89, 92; Post Boy, 29 Nov.–2 Dec. 1701; HMC Townshend, 329; C. Parkin, Hist. Gt. Yarmouth, 146–87.
  • 5. Camb. Univ. Lib. Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss, Ld. Townshend to Robert Walpole II, 10 Oct. 1705; Gt. Yarmouth assembly bk. 1680–1701, pp. 359–61, 363; HMC Townshend, 329; Ballard 4, f. 90; Gauci, 225–7.
  • 6. Gauci, 227–31, 239, 242; HMC Townshend, 334–5, 336; Norf. RO, Bradfer-Lawrence mss, Ashe Windham* to [Ld. Townshend], 7, 14 June 1709, 8 June 1710; Walpole mss at Wolterton Hall, Horatio II to Robert Walpole II, 24 June, 4 July, 18 Aug. 1710; Add. 38501, f. 98; Palmer, i. 238; ii. 226–7; J. H. Plumb, Walpole, i. 211.