Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
before 1709 in the inhabitants paying scot and lot; after 1709 in the corporation and the inhabitants paying scot and lot
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
132 in 1709
|22 Feb. 1690||William Jennens|
|21 Oct. 1695||William Jennens|
|21 July 1698||Sir Thomas Tipping, Bt.|
|4 Jan. 1701||William Jennens|
|22 Nov. 1701||William Jennens|
|16 July 1702||William Jennens|
|7 May 1705||William Jennens|
|4 May 1708||William Jennens|
|22 Feb. 1709||Thomas Renda vice Jennens, deceased||78|
|5 Oct. 1710||Simon Harcourt||81|
|24 Aug. 1713||Simon Harcourt|
|15 Mar. 1714||Thomas Renda vice Harcourt, chose to sit for Abingdon|
Wallingford’s importance as a settlement lay in its position adjacent to a ford across the Thames. Although the castle built to take advantage of this situation had been demolished in 1652, the site (together with the honor and manor of Ewelme) commanded a rental of £1,450 in 1700. The lessees of the castle were thus men of substance and two of them, Thomas Renda and William Hucks*, were parliamentary candidates in this period. The corporation, consisting of a mayor, six aldermen and 18 assistants (or burgesses), controlled admissions of freemen, leased corporate property and administered charitable bequests, and as such exercised some political influence. However, in 1685 the corporation described itself as ‘poor’ and this financial weakness made it anxious to cultivate wealthy benefactors and so susceptible to the blandishments of outsiders keen to acquire a parliamentary interest.2
In 1690 the two outgoing Members, Thomas Tipping and William Jennens, offered themselves for re-election. A third candidate, John Wallis, joined the fray, having been sworn a freeman on the day of the election. Jennens and Wallis were returned, possibly without recourse to a poll. Tipping’s political views may have accounted for his defeat as he was evidently the most Whiggish of the three and was believed by some to entertain heterodox religious opinions. The victorious candidates rewarded the borough on 18 Mar. 1690 with a present of five guineas apiece for the poor. The Whig interest in the town suffered a further setback with the death in 1693 of the high steward, Lord Lovelace (Hon. John†), who had been elected at the zenith of Whig power in 1689. The Tory Earl of Abingdon was chosen as his replacement. Despite complete confidence that ‘I know I could with a great deal of ease be chosen there if I would stand’, Wallis declined to seek re-election in 1695. Instead, by September 1695 he was privately canvassing support for the recently appointed secretary of state, Sir William Trumbull*. When Trumbull opted for a more prestigious seat at Oxford University, there remained a clear opportunity for a third candidate, given that Jennens and Tipping ‘will not join with each other’. Simon Harcourt I* had hoped to secure a partnership between Jennens and Trumbull to exclude Tipping, while Tipping felt no qualms about endorsing Trumbull, provided ‘that you will stand neuter, and be at no sort of trouble or expense, and leave fairly with me to contest it with any other person that shall pretend to have an interest in Wallingford’. Although Jennens and Tipping were returned without a contest, the corporation minutes suggest that a poll was only avoided with difficulty. Four days before the poll, Sir Talbot Clerke, 2nd Bt., of Putney, Surrey was admitted a freeman; on election day itself Edmund Dunch* was sworn in. Given that Dunch was a Whig, and Clerke almost certainly a Tory (his father being created a baronet in 1661) and an associate of Renda, it seems likely that both parties were ready to field a second candidate. This view is strengthened by the reiteration in the minutes that only those having paid to the ‘church and poor’ could vote.3
In July 1698, Arthur Charlett (master of University College, Oxford), warned that the Church faced ‘great opposition, the fanatic interest of all parties and sects combining, ’tis much feared they will prevail’. As the Dissenting presence in Wallingford was only about 10 per cent of the population in 1676 and had declined from even that total by 1715, it is likely that Charlett’s fears centred upon the personnel behind the campaign to oust Jennens. Dunch had provided £20 to distribute among the poor in December 1697, but he was not a candidate. On this occasion Tipping was joined by Richard Pye I, the son of the veteran Presbyterian, Sir Robert Pye†, who was admitted a freeman in June 1698. There can be no doubt that Tipping remained as implacable towards Jennens as before, for after the latter’s defeat the news that he might be brought in at Amersham on the Cheyne interest, prompted Tipping to promise, ‘I will go on purpose to oppose, let him stand where he pleases’. Although this defeat was a severe setback for the Tories, their resilience was shown a year later in the election for a new high steward to succeed the Earl of Abingdon. By electing Abingdon’s son, Lord Norreys (Montagu Venables-Bertie*), by a margin of 15 votes to 6 over Edmund Dunch, they revealed their domination of the corporation. Furthermore, November 1700 saw the first mention in the corporation minutes of the future Tory Member, Thomas Renda, whose assistance was desired ‘in looking after the fee farm rent paid by this corporation’. Renda obviously proved acceptable as a benefactor, for on 1 Jan. 1701 he was made a freeman, a prerequisite for his return with Jennens at the general election held later that month. Both men were unopposed, the Whig challenge floundering, probably on account of Tipping’s financial difficulties. The same Members were returned in November 1701, but only after a contest. The Whig candidates were William Dunch of Lincoln’s Inn (admitted a freeman a week before the poll), and Richard Hide of Sutton Courtenay, near Abingdon. The former was probably a Dissenter, the brother of Major Dunch of Pusey and as such the second cousin, once removed, of Edmund Dunch; he was also Lord Wharton’s (Hon. Thomas*) brother-in-law. Hide was admitted a freeman in 1699, and was later an ally of Clement Kent. Only Dunch petitioned (3 Jan. 1702) against the outcome of the election, claiming a majority of legal votes. No action was taken by the Commons before the dissolution in May 1702. However, the corporation minutes provide an indication of the nature of the dispute, because three days before the election the normal order defining the franchise was clarified so as to exclude the inhabitants of Calcot (a district outside the borough, but within one of the parishes of Wallingford) who were tenants of Scorie Barker*, the former Whig Member.4
Renda appears to have strengthened his interest with the corporation when he lent it £200 in June 1703, a transaction carried on while Richard Bigg* (his son-in-law) was mayor. A new Whig challenger emerged in the person of Clement Kent of Goring, Oxfordshire, who was admitted to the freedom in June 1704, and presented the poor with £5 7s. 6d. on that occasion. The political temperature was undoubtedly high during the run-up to the 1705 election. In April, there was a rare contest for a vacant burgess-ship which was tied at 11 votes each and had to be settled on the mayor’s casting vote. The parliamentary election saw the representation split between Jennens and Kent. Renda, ‘a creature of Lord Abingdon’s’, according to Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*), petitioned against Kent’s return on 2 Nov. 1705, alleging ‘corrupt practices’ by the mayor and Richard Hide (the defeated Whig candidate). The corporation minutes suggest that existing electoral conventions were stretched to the limit to maximize the number of eligible voters: two weeks after the election an order laid down that if a new poor rate was set after the writ had been issued, new ratepayers would be ineligible to vote. The obvious inference is that this manoeuvre had just been used. The Whigs counter-attacked, accusing Renda on 21 Feb. 1706 of a breach of parliamentary privilege for having served ejectments and subpoenas against several of Kent’s tenants in Wallingford, including Hide. As no action was taken on either petition we may assume that a stalemate had been reached. Meanwhile relations between Renda and the corporation appear to have broken down over a number of buildings erected on ‘the high bridge of Wallingford’ which had been subject to proceedings at the assizes. By March 1706, the corporation had ordered a ‘brewhouse’ erected by Renda to be pulled down and the following month his loan was paid back with money raised elsewhere.5
A contest was avoided in 1708, Jennens being joined by the Nonconformist, Grey Neville, who had been admitted a freeman a few days prior to the election. But if there was an electoral agreement designed to share the representation, it was shattered by the death of Jennens in February 1709. Initially, it was reported that (Sir) Simon Harcourt I would make an interest, but there were Tory fears that the Whigs would find an excuse to unseat him. Instead, the Tories turned to Renda, who defeated Edward Leigh. That this by-election was fiercely contested was revealed by a minute two weeks after the poll, which committed the corporation to defray any expenses incurred by the mayor in defending his title to that office. Possession of the mayoralty was the main plank of Leigh’s petition, presented to the Commons on 16 Nov. 1709. He claimed to have been returned by the rightful mayor, whose office had been usurped by Richard Blackall, a Tory attorney. Leigh’s secondary complaint was the catch-all, ‘divers illegal practices’ used by his opponent. When the House considered the report of the committee of elections on 15 Dec. no mention was made of the mayoralty. The Commons supported Renda in clarifying the franchise to include members of the corporation who resided outside the borough and continued to exclude those from Calcot. Leigh’s attempts to disqualify 28 of Renda’s voters were rebutted so comprehensively that the latter’s counsel did not feel it necessary to call any witnesses, and only three witnesses appeared to detail ‘indirect practices’. Thus Renda was declared duly elected.6
Four candidates contested the 1710 election, Simon Harcourt III (son of Dr Sacheverell’s champion) and Renda for the Tories and Grey Neville and William Hucks for the Whigs. Harcourt was sworn a freeman in May 1710 and topped the poll in October, despite a report from Dr William Stratford that he could expect a ‘hard’ struggle. Renda defeated Hucks by a mere five votes, although the latter was only sworn a freeman three days before the poll. The Whigs had ‘spent freely’ on entertainment, but the Tories had not been negligent either. Although Neville finished bottom of the poll, he persisted, being the only Whig challenger in 1713. Stratford reported that Harcourt faced strong opposition, even suggesting in July that he was setting up at Abingdon after having been ‘beaten out’ at Wallingford. In the event Harcourt was returned with the former mayor, Richard Bigg. The Flying Post attributed Harcourt’s victory to malpractice by the mayor. In November it was reported that ‘Neville is gone to Wallingford to prosecute the returning officer who gave a false return against him there’. This weakness in Harcourt’s position probably explains his decision on 2 Mar. 1714 to sit for Abingdon instead. At the resulting by-election, Neville stood down for his brother, Henry Grey*, who was defeated by Renda, available, as always, to fight the seat for the Tories. On 31 Mar., Grey petitioned, claiming that a large number of his voters had been excluded from the poll, but the Tory-dominated House voted by 156 to 127 not to appoint a day to consider his case.7
Author: Stuart Handley
- 1. Post Boy, 5–7 Oct. 1710.
- 2. VCH Berks. iii. 523, 530, 538; CJ, xiii. 201; Berks. RO, Wallingford bor. statute bk. 1648–1766, f. 127v.
- 3. Wallingford bor. statute bk. 1648–1766, ff. 154, 165, 168; Bodl. Ballard 38, f. 126; BL, Trumbull Misc. mss 29, John Wallis to Robert Pawling, 31 Aug., 3 Sept. 1695, Harcourt to William ‘Dobbins’ [?Dobyns], 8 Sept. 1695, Tipping to Trumbull, 10 Sept. 1695; Sel. Charters ed. Carr (Selden Soc. xxviii), 228–9.
- 4. Bodl. Tanner 22, f. 202; 21, f. 80; Compton Census ed. Whiteman, 116; Parlty. Hist. vi. 252; Wallingford bor. statute bk. 1648–1766, ff. 176, 178, 181, 181v, 187v, 188, 197; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/50, Tipping to John Verney* (later Ld. Fermanagh), 4 Aug. 1698; J. K. Hedges, Hist. Wallingford, ii. 241; Misc. Gen. et Her. ser. 3, ii. 43–48; L. Inn Black Bk. iii. 173.
- 5. Wallingford bor. statute bk. 1648–1766, ff. 201, 206, 209, 209v, 215, 215v; Add. 61458, f. 159.
- 6. Wallingford bor. statute bk. 1648–1766, ff. 226, 229; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletter 8 Feb. 1709; Wentworth Pprs. 73.
- 7. Wallingford bor. statute bk. 1648–1766, ff. 233v, 236v; HMC Portland, vii. 14, 20, 139, 153, 158; Berks. RO, Braybrooke mss D/EN/F16/2, Edward Forde to Grey Neville, 14 Oct. 1710; Flying Post, 27–29 Aug. 1713; Huntington Lib. Hastings mss 44710, George Ridpath to ‘your excellency’, 8 Nov. 1713.