St. Albans


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 and in householders paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

less than 1,000


26 Jan. 1715WILLIAM HALE433
 Joshua Lomax225
3 Dec. 1717JOSHUA LOMAX vice Hale, deceased303
 — Jennings253
21 Mar. 1722WILLIAM GORE461
 William Grimston, Visct. Grimston335
 Joshua Lomax258
16 Aug. 1727WILLIAM GRIMSTON, Visct. Grimston475
 Thomas Gape197
23 Mar. 1730THOMAS GAPE vice Lomax, deceased399
 Nathaniel Brassey165
23 Jan. 1733JOHN MERRILL vice Gape, deceased 
26 Apr. 1734SIR THOMAS ASTON499
 William Grimston, Visct. Grimston388
11 Feb. 1743HANS STANLEY vice Ashby, deceased325
 James Grimston303
26 June 1747JAMES WEST 

Main Article

At the accession of George I the chief interests in St. Albans were those of Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough, derived from the estate of Sandridge, close to the borough, of the Grimstons of Gorhambury, two miles away, and of the corporation from the mayor’s power of creating honorary freemen. The Lomax and the Gape families, whose estates lay near the town, also had some electoral influence. The Grimstons and the Lomaxes were government Whigs; the Duchess soon became bitterly opposed to Walpole; the Gapes were Tories; the corporation sided alternately with the two major interests. There was a large venal vote, which encouraged the intervention of strangers. In 1749-50 the 2nd Lord Egmont in his electoral survey describes St. Albans as ‘open though very expensive’.

At George I’s accession the sitting Members were William (afterwards Lord) Grimston, who had been returned in 1713 with the support of the Marlborough interest, and John Gape, a Tory, who had been returned on petition against William Hale, a Whig. Gape did not stand for re-election, leaving Grimston and Hale to be returned against Joshua Lomax, a former Whig M.P. for the borough. On Hale’s death in 1717, Grimston offered to support the Duchess’s candidate, Jennings, in return for a reciprocal promise of support at the next general election, but he was rudely rebuffed and Lomax was returned.

In 1722 the Duchess’s candidate, William Clayton, was returned with William Gore, a Tory, standing jointly with the support of the mayor, who created over 200 honorary non-resident freemen to defeat the previous Members. The election cost over £2,000, of which the Duchess paid half.1

In 1727 Grimston again offered to join with the Duchess, proposing that he and her grandson, John Spencer, should stand jointly against Caleb Lomax, the son of the late Member, each party to pay half the expenses. She replied:

When I was told that it would not cost about three or four hundred between Mr. [Gore] and me, I know it cost near five times the biggest sum to us alone though I am satisfied there were several abuses in that by different people, and I have reason to believe that, should I consent to this, the same proposal would be increased in proportion. And therefore I am determined to have no more to do with this election ... I really think a man of your fortune, who inherits such a place from your ancestors, and that live so near St. Albans, ought to be chose in that borough without bribing or doing more than is proper for a man of birth in treating. And since I give it up entirely, if you manage it right, I should think you must be chose without trouble. All I fear is that some of the town may encourage somebody else to oppose you, to get money, upon its being known that I won’t set up my grandson.

Grimston and Lomax were returned, defeating Thomas Gape, a son of the late Tory Member.

On Lomax’s death in 1730, leaving an infant son, the Duchess asked Grimston to support John Spencer for the vacancy. On his refusal she turned unsuccessfully to Gape who, having come to an agreement with Grimston, was adopted by the corporation and returned, defeating Nathaniel Brassey. In 1734 the Duchess did not put up Spencer but joined with the corporation to bring in Sir Thomas Aston, a stranger, and Thomas Ashby, a neighbouring country gentleman. When Grimston, after announcing that he would not be a candidate, decided to stand, the Duchess warned him that he was ‘ill-advised to declare such a particular opposition to me at a time when the town of St. Albans hath great inclinations as well as some reason to oblige me’, referring to the almshouses which were being built at her expense.2

In 1741 Grimston supported a stranger, James West, in opposition to the Duchess, who had hoped to secure the unopposed return of John Spencer, in conjunction with Ashby. On learning that the mayor and aldermen had gone over to West, ‘her Graceless thumped her cane to the ground in a rage saying they knew not what they did’ and that ‘she would find out a way to be even with them’. Spencer was withdrawn, leaving West and Ashby to be returned without opposition. On Ashby’s death in 1743 the Duchess supported Hans Stanley, who was returned against Grimston’s eldest son by wholesale bribery.3

On the deaths of the Duchess and John Spencer in 1746, the 3rd Duke of Marlborough took charge of the St. Albans interest of Spencer’s heir, aged 12, who had inherited the Sandridge estate. In 1747 West secured the support of all the chief interests for his return with Sir Peter Thompson, a stranger, whom he had introduced to the borough.4

Author: Romney R. Sedgwick


  • 1. HMC Verulam, 114-15, 117-19; Edw. Aylward to Chas. Hodges, 7 June 1724, Marlborough mss.
  • 2. HMC Verulam, 121-2.
  • 3. Geo. Neale to Jas. West, May 1741, Add. 34734, f. 8; Add. 34735, f. 387.
  • 4. Thos. Rudd and Ld. Grimston to Jas. West, 11 June 1747, Add. 34734, ff. 29, 31.