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Right of Election:
in the resident freemen
Number of voters:
|31 Jan. 1715||CHARLES MASON|
|Edward Harley, Lord Harley|
|17 Dec. 1719||SIR MATTHEW DECKER vice Harnage, deceased|
|24 Mar. 1722||WILLIAM PEERE WILLIAMS|
|MASON vice Vernon, on petition, 26 Apr. 1726|
|30 Sept. 1727||ROBERT MORE||61|
|25 Apr. 1734||ROBERT MORE|
|6 May 1741||HENRY BRYDGES, Mq. of Carnarvon||67|
|Joseph Windham Ashe||47|
|6 Dec. 1744||GRANVILLE LEVESON GOWER, Visct. Trentham, vice Carnarvon, called to the Upper House|
|30 June 1747||SAMUEL CHILD|
|JOHN ROBINSON LYTTON|
|20 Jan. 1753||JOHN DASHWOOD KING vice Child, deceased|
It was said of Bishop's Castle that the inhabitants had no trade or business except that of elections, which they found very profitable.1 In 1715 they returned two neighbouring Whig landowners, Charles Mason and Richard Harnage, against Lord Harley, a Tory put up by his uncle Edward Harley, the lord of the manor of Bishop's Castle, who
thought himself secure, having not bare promises, but under their hands, of a great majority. Mason was never seen till Monday morning [polling day], when bank notes and money fled about, £10 a man was given, to some £40 and £50, that it is no wonder he got a majority of three.
Harley was so disgusted by 'the baseness and perfidy' which he had met with that in 1718 he sold his Bishop's Castle estate to the Duke of Chandos,
being unwilling to leave the temptation to my son of being drawn into a great expense upon such mercenary rascals.2
At an uncontested by-election caused by Harnage's death in 1719 Chandos returned Sir Matthew Decker, who refused to stand in 1722, when Chandos put up his legal adviser, Peere Williams. Told that it would cost £500 to buy a majority - 40 out of 70 voters, or about £12 a man - for Williams, Chandos agreed, though, he remarked,
considering how great an expense I was at last election [Decker's], merely to oblige the town, there being no opposition, I should have thought a less sum would have been sufficient ... especially since I intend to be at charge of paving the streets.3
In a three-cornered contest Williams, standing single, was returned with Bowater Vernon, a wealthy stranger, defeating Mason, who alleged on petition that all but one of Vernon's 52 voters had received bribes totalling nearly £700, that 'most of the voters thus bribed were tenants of the petitioner and always in his interest, and that in general they declared they would have voted for the petitioner but for the sitting Member's money'.4 After four years the House of Commons awarded the seat to Mason.
Shortly before the general election of 1727 Chandos sold the Bishop's Castle estate to his nephew, John Walcot. As Walcot himself was standing for the county and had no candidate of his own for Bishop's Castle, he agreed to put his interest at the disposal of Chandos's son, Lord Carnarvon. Chandos proposed to join Carnarvon with Robert More, one of the other candidates in the field, and to pay £15 a man to secure 60 voters, the electorate having apparently increased from 70 to 100 between the elections. On learning, however, that one of the other candidates was his old friend, John Plumptre, who was being 'set up by the Court at Bishop's Castle', he withdrew Carnarvon, asking his friends to vote for More and Plumptre, who were returned without serious opposition.5
Chandos did not intervene in 1734, when Walcot put up Edward Kynaston, who was returned unopposed with More. But in 1739 he arranged with Walcot that Carnarvon should stand for Bishop's Castle at the forthcoming general election, writing to Walcot:
As I am wholly a stranger to Bishop's Castle, I must leave the management of that election to your devolution, and the person you tell me you have engaged for the agent ... whatever the expense shall be I will readily bear, but I must trust to him to steer clear of the Act of Parliament [the Bribery Act 1729], so that no proof may be capable of being brought to the contrary.6
Carnarvon stood jointly with a Shropshire Tory, Andrew Hill, against two ministerial candidates, Joseph Windham Ashe and Meyrick Burrell. At Walpole's request, H. A. Herbert, the head of the Shropshire Whigs, agreed 'to try what can be done at the borough of Bishop's Castle'. In a letter to Walpole Herbert emphasized that no one, not even the government candidates, must
know upon any account, that in this transaction, I have any part. For were that to be discovered or suspected at Bishop's Castle as matters stand now, I could be of very little, or no service there. I have been pretty fortunate in elections, and therefore the mercenary part of those burgesses (which is by far the greatest part of them) have shown great uneasiness, when it has been reported, at other times, that I intended to concern myself in the affairs of that borough; being alarmed with some apprehensions, that were I to get it into my hands, there would be fewer contests for the future and less corruption; by which, they support themselves. They are very jealous of their liberty (as they call it); which is the liberty of being as corrupt as they please.7
Walcot's candidates were returned after a contest so expensive that five years later Carnarvon, now Duke of Chandos, was still unable to discharge his election accounts, writing to Walcot, 17 Feb. 1746: 'I cannot but wish I had never seen Bishop's Castle'.8
In 1747 Walcot put up his banker, Samuel Child, who was returned unopposed with John Robinson Lytton, a wealthy stranger. On Child's death Walcot replaced him by John Dashwood King. When Walcot visited the borough a month after King's election
the burgesses expected the bills and votes should be paid for, but instead of money he only gave them high words and said their bills should be docked and as for the votes he had no money to give for them and said he intended to have done with the town and see who should stand for them as he had done.9
A few days later it was reported locally, on the authority of Walcot's butler,
that his master waited, expecting a remittance of money from Mr. Dashwood, and if he did not send it, he thought his master would have done asking votes in Bishop's Castle.10
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. J. R. Burton, 'Two Elections for Bishop's Castle in the 18th Cent.', Salop Arch. Soc. Trans. (ser. 3), ix. 266.
- 2. HMC Portland, v. 505-6, 663.
- 3. To Pugh, 20 Dec. 1721, Chandos letter Bks.
- 4. CJ, xx. 682.
- 5. To Capt. Oakley, 12, 29 July, 13 Aug. 1727, Chandos letter bks.
- 6. Burton, 261.
- 7. 9 Sept. 1740, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
- 8. Burton, 263-4.
- 9. B. Bright to Corbyn Morris, 17 Feb. 1753, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
- 10. S. Griffiths to Corbyn Morris, 27 Feb 1753, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.