Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

1,000 in 1710 to 2,500 in 17341


 Thomas Bootle393
2 Feb. 1723LANGHAM BOOTH vice Johnson, appointed to office 
 Thomas Bootle 
7 Apr. 1724THOMAS BOOTLE vice Cleiveland, deceased 
20 Nov. 1724THOMAS BRERETON vice Booth, deceased 
22 Aug. 1727THOMAS BRERETON1280 voted
 William Cotesworth 
 Thomas Ashurst 
28 May 1729SIR THOMAS ASTON vice Brereton, appointed to office618
 Thomas Brereton547
 Thomas Bootle990
 Foster Cunliffe940

Main Article

The most important factor in Liverpool elections was the corporation, consisting of a mayor, two bailiffs, elected annually by the freemen, who also constituted the parliamentary electorate, and a predominantly Whig council of 41 members, a close body, which had gradually superseded a common hall, consisting of all the freemen. As the corporation were able to secure the ascendency of their party, in both municipal and parliamentary elections, by the creation of new freemen, their opponents started a campaign representing the council as an illegal body and calling for the restoration of the common hall. The anti-council party was headed by a Liverpool lawyer, Thomas Bootle, supported by the leading local landowners, namely James Stanley, 10th Earl of Derby, an independent Whig; Richard, 5th Viscount Molyneux, a Jacobite and a Roman Catholic; George Booth, 2nd Earl of Warrington, a Whig who went into opposition in the thirties; and Lord Barrymore, a Jacobite, who had inherited the interest of his father-in-law, Richard Savage (M.P. Liverpool 1688-94), 4th Earl Rivers. The council party was headed by Thomas Brereton, a Whig, supported by Walpole.

In 1715 and 1722 the corporation interest prevailed, but in 1724 Bootle, after two unsuccessful attempts, was returned unopposed. In 1726 he was elected mayor and, despite the protests of the town council, proceeded to govern through the common hall, holding no meeting of the council and creating a large number of freemen.2 At the general election of 1727 he resigned the mayoralty, since its holder, as returning officer, was not eligible to stand for Parliament; secured the election of a supporter as his successor; and was returned after a contest, the other successful candidate being Brereton.

In 1729 Brereton, standing for re-election on his appointment to an office, was defeated by Sir Thomas Aston, supported by the anti-council party. He petitioned on the ground that the mayor, a supporter of Bootle’s, had accepted unqualified votes for Aston

and that just before the poll was closed a great number had come to poll for him upon which the mayor had returned to his little room, without making any proclamation and that when he returned into court he instead of taking the votes of these freemen, had closed the poll.3

On 1 Mar. 1730 the petition

was heard at the bar [of the House] and proceeded half way only. They determined on a division by the influence of Sir Robert Walpole, who laboured strongly for Brereton, that one hundred and seventy young men who polled for Brereton after the court was broke up and the mayor had left it, but whose names were taken by a clerk of Mr. Brereton’s, had a right to vote, supposing they had a right to their freedom, and so Brereton will have a majority of seventy or some such number over Sir Thomas. The old Members protested they never saw anything so unfair, for that members of a corporation, though they have a right, whether by marriage, service or birth, to their freedom, yet they ought not to vote till they had actually taken out their freedom, which it was not pretended they had done.

On 25 Mar. 1730 the House again considered the petition till eleven at night.

It appeared to the House that the subsequent list of voters, by this Brereton produced at the bar of the House, and by which he pretended he had a legal majority over Sir Thomas Aston, was a very scandalous and false list, made up of persons that had no right to vote, some being under age, others never having demanded their freedom, others personating dead men, and others, such as were, at the time of the election out of the kingdom, yet when this appeared plainly to the House, and Sir Robert [Walpole] found Brereton unable to maintain his cause, he yet argued for him and was for adjourning the debate to another day, in hopes without doubt to rally all the placemen and pensioners, if time were allowed to vote Brereton in.

Aston’s friends carried a motion for proceeding, whereupon ‘the adverse party crowded away, and the main question that Sir Thomas was duly elected passed without opposition’.4

The tables were turned in 1734 when Brereton, who had been elected mayor in the previous year, resigned that office to stand as parliamentary candidate for the town, securing the election of a supporter as his successor.5 Taking legal action to challenge the validity of the new mayor’s election, Bootle, in his own words,

prevailed in all the trials against the mayor and bailiffs of Liverpool. The causes were tried by special juries, consisting of gentlemen of the first rank and best estates in the country, and who were not to be swayed or biassed by the dictates of any implements of the ministry ... The only resort my adversaries now have is, that the Parliament will be so speedily dissolved that writs will issue for new elections before I can have judgments upon the verdicts. I am now at the town, and find my friends the principal merchants and ancient freemen exceeding hearty, exerting a brave spirit for liberty, but the prodigious numbers of freemen lately made, above 500, having no right of freedom, consisting of custom house, excise and salt officers, justices of peace, and such like dependents, are a very heavy weight upon us.

But a fortnight later he reported:

Notwithstanding the pretended mayor and bailiffs of this place now stand convicted on record of being usurpers upon the Crown, and of exercising their offices without any legal right or authority, yet from the encouragement they have from above and the assurance given them of indemnity, they still proceed to make freemen, having no right of freedom, and even since the verdicts obtained against them, have made between fifty and sixty, which being added to the numbers they made before of the like sort, amount to near 600. This is such an excess and abuse of power as hardly can be paralleled, and at this rate it is impossible for any one to support an interest, let it be never so good if he is obnoxious to a minister where such minister has the like opportunity and will thus interpose. What still adds to my difficulty is that the writs for new election issuing so soon, I cannot have judgments upon the verdicts before the election; so that these pretended mayor and bailiffs, though they have not the least shadow of right, will be the returning officers.

At the election Brereton stood jointly with Richard Gildart, a Liverpool merchant, against Bootle and Cunliffe, who as mayor in 1729 had co-operated in the campaign against the town council. On 9 May 1734 Bootle wrote:

On Saturday last the poll ended at Liverpool, which lasted from Monday morning till that time, and notwithstanding upon the close I had a majority of fifty legal votes, yet the mayor and bailiffs, who are Brereton’s creatures, have made a return against me. It is what I all along was apprehensive of and feared. As there never was a more undue election and return, my friends ... are determined to petition with me and pursue the matter to the utmost ... I doubt not but we shall be able to prove (besides the want of number of legal votes) bribery, promises of places, and threats, to a very gross degree; and, notwithstanding the persons returned did swear to their qualifications, yet it is notorious that they are very far from being qualified ... Lord Derby at last came most heartily into my interest, but it being so very late, as just before the writ for election was proclaimed, rendered it of not so great service as otherwise it might have been.6

Bootle’s petition was unsuccessful.

During Lord Derby’s mayoralty in 1734-5 Liverpool was again governed through the common hall, and 112 freemen were admitted without the consent of the town council but after his death in 1736 the attempt was abandoned. Brereton and Gildart were returned unopposed in 1741 and 1747;7 and the 2nd Lord Egmont’s electoral survey, c.1749-50, refers to Liverpool as ‘now in Brereton’.

Author: Eveline Cruickshanks


  • 1. Sir Jas. Picton, Liverpool Municipal Recs. ii. 4; Brereton to Walpole, 26 July 1734, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
  • 2. I. Touzeau, Rise and Progress of Liverpool, i. 419-23, 425.
  • 3. Aston to Foster Cunliffe, 15 Jan. 1730, Liverpool RO.
  • 4. HMC Egmont Diary, i. 77, 85-86.
  • 5. Brereton to Walpole, 26 July 1734, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
  • 6. HMC 15th Rep. VII, 122-3.
  • 7. Touzeau, i. 445.