Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 350


20 Apr. 1754John Harris217
 George Amyand206
 John Fortescue154
27 Mar. 1761Denys Rolle246
 George Amyand244
 Sir John Chichester43
19 Nov. 1766John Clevland vice Amyand, deceased 
18 Mar. 1768John Clevland 
 Denys Rolle 
8 Oct. 1774John Clevland206
 William Devaynes167
 Denys Rolle129
11 Sept. 1780John Clevland210
 Francis basset192
 William Devaynes121
5 Apr. 1784John Clevland 
 William Devaynes 

Main Article

Neighbouring landowners, among others John Harris of Pickwell, John Clevland of Tapley, and the Bassets of Heanton, had some influence in the borough, but money counted for most. In 1754 the candidates were John Harris, George Amyand, and John Fortescue, who had contested the borough in 1748 and was now supported by the Duke of Bedford.1 Amyand’s election was managed by John Clevland sen. who secured for him Henry Pelham’s financial support.2 ‘It was agreed to by Mr. Pelham’, wrote Clevland after Pelham’s death in a memorandum for Newcastle,3 ‘that Mr. Amyand should spend £1,500, and whatever was spent more Mr. Pelham should pay.’ £1,200 was contributed by Amyand in 1753 and paid over by Clevland to his local agent, Sydenham, ‘to be issued to the managers’. On 4 Jan. 1754 Sydenham wrote to Clevland from Barnstaple:4

I think it my duty to acquaint you that Mr. Gregory and Mr. Deane have had out all the £500 you left in my hands [on 3 Sept. 1753] in bills to support your interest in this town for the next general election and by this post I suppose they’ll acquaint you of a further advance of half a guinea [to each voter] made by Lord Fortescue’s side and of a whole one by Harris and the like on our side, and lest a further advance should be made by the former (as is threatened by Hawkey, their manager) it is absolutely necessary to be prepared with a sufficient supply of money to hold in readiness in case of a sudden attack.

Delay might mean the loss of 20 votes.

The same day Gregory and Deane wrote to Amyand:

We met our friends at the Fleece and found them very hearty for your interest, so that we apprehend your election is secure provided we are supplied with the needful cash, without which we must infallibly lose all the poor freemen, for nothing can keep them but this. Unless a sufficient supply be lodged in some person’s hand ... to call for at an hour, we cannot answer for your success, no, we are fully convinced that without this it’s better for you to give up ... You must, Sir, know by those few freemen you have in town, what we have to do here. All the gentlemen push at you, and are doing everything in their power to distress your interest, however was we to have the necessary supplies we don’t fear ’em.

Clevland, on receipt of Sydenham’s letter, asked for Pelham’s directions how to proceed.

I ... am extremely sorry for this very great expense which could not be foreseen at first, but everything shall be done on my part to keep it as low as possible, and I spare no charge myself in housekeeping in the country to keep the freemen in humour.

On 8 Jan. Clevland remitted a further £500 to Sydenham, and on the 14th received £1,000 from Pelham. Another £1,000 was paid from secret service funds on 1 Apr. 1754; and Harris and Amyand were returned with clear majorities.

Before the general election of 1761, Lord Fitzmaurice noted against Barnstaple in his list of constituencies:5‘Venal and populous. Settled for Mr. Amyand and Mr. Rolle. Harris not to stand.’ Clevland informed Newcastle, 27 Mar. 1761, that the two candidates were chosen ‘after a slight opposition from some of the common freemen in behalf of Sir John Chichester’.6

Toward the end of 1767 attempts were made to induce Perry Wentworth, a relative of Lord Rockingham, to stand for Barnstaple at the general election. C. W. Cornwall thus reported to Rockingham, 27 Nov., what he had learned about the borough from Wentworth’s agent:7

There are fifty voters officers to the government, forty-eight public houses, twenty-one of which are kept by voters or their relations. The corporation consists of a mayor, two aldermen, 12 common council, 337 freemen. The Association consists of 193, all out of the lower class in the corporation. This Association has been formed for some months, and though so publicly hawked about in town and country, no candidate has yet been found. Their agent in town a very low and ordinary retainer to the law. No one gentleman of fortune or character of the borough or personally known in the borough giving any sanction or encouragement to this attempt.

It was thought that in case of a contest Rolle would retain his seat, and John Clevland jun. ‘only was in danger’. But as Rolle, though connected with the Rockinghams, joined his interest to Clevland’s, Wentworth, if he had stood, would have been ‘beat by the second votes of his own friend’s’. He apparently did not stand; but who did is unascertained. That Barnstaple went to the poll in 1768 appears from the postscript in Clevland’s letter to Thomas Pelham, 3 Apr.: ‘I have taken place of my brother Member, and he seemed very sensible of my assistance in bringing him into Parliament.’8 In 1761 Rolle had topped the poll, in 1768 it was apparently Clevland.

Before the general election of 1774 Clevland wrote to Pelham, 7 Aug.,9 that an agent had been to Barnstaple to raise an opposition.

He has procured the names of 120 freemen that have promised to vote for Mr. Weyland, that married Miss Nurse, Mr. Morton’s niece. I do not think he can hurt me, but he will give me a good deal of trouble and perhaps put me to some expense. Unluckily for me my brother Member gives himself no trouble and don’t keep up his interest, which must affect me equally when there is an opposition; the agent is gone again and I am told is only a borough hunter, I wish it may be so.

In the end William Deveynes stood for Barnstaple, and defeated Denys Rolle. He stood at the next six general elections: successful in 1784, 1790 and 1802; defeated in 1780, 1796 and 1806. Between him and the borough no connexion has been traced other than the cash nexus. Corruption, bad even in 1754, was getting steadily worse. After the passing of the Crewe Act in June 1782 the Treasury influence in Barnstaple was much reduced.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Fortescue to Rob. Butcher (Bedford’s agent), 23 Sept. 1753, Bedford mss.
  • 2. Clevland to Claudius Amyand, 24 June 1753, Amyand mss.
  • 3. Add. 32995, f. 107.
  • 4. Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 5. Lansdowne mss.
  • 6. Add. 32921, f. 111.
  • 7. Rockingham mss.
  • 8. Add. 33088, f. 217.
  • 9. Add. 33090, f. 105.