Great Yarmouth

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 800


18 Apr. 1754Hon. Charles Townshend541
 Sir Edward Walpole518
 Richard Fuller397
 William Browne342
3 Dec. 1756Charles Townshend of Honingham vice Hon Charles Townshend, appointed to office393
 Richard Fuller361
27 Mar. 1761Sir Edward Walpole 
 Charles Townshend 
23 Dec. 1765Townshend re-elected after appointment to office 
16 Mar. 1768Charles Townshend 
 Richard Walpole 
10 Feb. 1770Townshend re-elected after appointment to office 
10 Oct. 1774Charles Townshend310
 Richard Walpole310
 William Beckford218
 Sir Charles Saunders218
11 June 1777Townshend re-elected after appointment to office502
 William Beckford199
8 Sept. 1780Charles Townshend 
 Richard Walpole 
9 Apr. 1783Townshend re-elected after appointment to office 
3 Apr. 1784Sir John Jervis 
 Henry Beaufoy 

Main Article

The corporation was a power in Yarmouth politics, and the corporation was controlled by the Walpole and Townshend families, who each filled one seat. But there was always an anti-corporation party and in 1754 this found a leader in John Ramey, an attorney who had acted as agent for the Townshend-Walpole interest and had been disobliged by them. Ramey put up his father-in-law, William Browne, a Yarmouth merchant and brewer, and Richard Fuller, the anti-Townshend candidate in 1741; and though they were defeated Ramey had created such a stir in the borough that when Charles Townshend was appointed to office in 1756 he deemed it advisable to find another constituency. At that by-election his cousin, Charles Townshend of Honingham, was opposed by Fuller; who failed by only 32 votes on a poll of over 750. The Townshend-Walpole interest now bought off Ramey: his father-in-law was appointed receiver-general of the land tax, and he himself was given a secret service pension of £200 per annum.1

Ramey now directed the Townshend-Walpole interest and there was no further contest until 1774. But his rise to a position of wealth and influence provoked jealousy, and in January 1768 a group in the corporation presented a remonstrance to their Members. Ramey, it was alleged, had made himself ‘the principal director of the sentiments and political conduct of this town’ and ‘the channel of all business respecting the interest or trade of the town’, while old friends, who had always loyally supported the Walpole-Townshend interest, were neglected. The subscribers to this remonstrance included six aldermen, seven common councilmen, and ten of the town’s leading Dissenters; and they backed their demand that they alone should be the channel of communication between Yarmouth and its representatives with the threat to find other candidates. The Walpole-Townshend interest had no alternative but to drop Ramey.

It is not clear whether it was this group which in 1774 sponsored the candidature of William Beckford (perhaps an illegitimate son of the Alderman), and Sir Charles Saunders, the friend and supporter of Lord Rockingham. This opposition was not merely against the corporation and the Townshend-Walpole interest, but seems to have had a political flavour. Led by the Dissenters, it grew during the years of the American war, but, as the by-election of 1777 indicates, was able to make little impression on the strength of the Townshend-Walpole interest.

In April 1782, shortly after Rockingham had come to power, he received a memorandum signed by a number of citizens of Great Yarmouth.2 This complained of the power of the Townshend-Walpole interest in the corporation, through their control of Government patronage, and invited Rockingham’s co-operation in breaking it. It placed Rockingham in a considerable dilemma, for Richard Walpole was one of his supporters and closely allied to the Cavendish family. Though Walpole and Townshend had differed over national politics during North’s Administration, they had co-operated closely at Yarmouth; and any lessening of Townshend’s influence would also affect Walpole. So Rockingham did nothing; and after his death the Yarmouth independents turned to Shelburne, who also had no wish to offend Townshend and Walpole. This, however, did not prevent both of them voting against Shelburne on the peace preliminaries and joining the Fox-North party.

The downfall of the Coalition and the accession of Pitt to power gave the Yarmouth independents their opportunity to get rid of their old Members and break their hold over the corporation. At the general election of 1784 they took as their candidates Sir John Jervis and Henry Beaufoy, both supporters of Pitt but not Norfolk men. The independents’ quarrel with the corporation was now merged into the broader struggle of Pitt v. Fox. Walpole refused to stand, and Townshend took Sir John Wodehouse for his colleague; but after a canvass they declined the poll.

The Bury Post wrote on 1 Apr.:

Never sure was a more glorious victory gained over intrigue and corruption! The triumph of Sir John Jervis and Mr. Beaufoy, in this instance, may be considered as the demolition of a monstrous system, which has grown for years, under the venal influence of the Exchequer and its creatures. A spirit of disgust, detestation, and determined resistance had long prevailed, amongst those who were constant witnesses and frequent victims to the evils of that local tyranny, which owed its extent and continuance to the more dreadful tyranny of North and his minions. Many vain struggles have been made to emancipate the town; but the present moment is that in which the interest of popularity is strengthened by advantages never known before.

Two followers of Fox had been replaced by two followers of Pitt; the Townshend-Walpole interest had been broken; and the anti-corporation party was in the ascendant: such were the fruits of a victory in which local and national issues ran together.

Author: John Brooke


B. D. Hayes, ‘Politics in Norfolk, 1750-1832’, Cambridge Univ. Ph.D. thesis.

  • 1. Namier, Structure, 453.
  • 2. I. R. Christie, ‘Gt. Yarmouth the Yorkshire Reform Movement’, Norf. Archaeology, 1959, pp. 104-10.