Lyme Regis

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 50


15 Apr. 1754Francis Fane  
 Thomas Fane  
13 June 1757Henry Fane vice Francis Fane, deceased  
27 Mar. 1761Thomas Fane  
 Henry Fane  
1 Dec. 1762John Fane, Lord Burghersh, vice Thomas Fane, called to the Upper House  
18 Mar. 1768John Fane, Lord Burghersh  
 Henry Fane  
27 Jan. 1772Hon. Henry Fane vice Burghersh, called to the Upper House  
15 June 1772Hon. Henry Fane re-elected after appointment to office  
8 Oct. 1774Henry Fane  
 Hon. Henry Fane  
11 June 1777Francis Fane vice Henry Fane, deceased  
9 Sept. 1780Hon Henry Fane2218
 David Robert Michel2218
 Henry Harford1095
 Lionel Darell1095
 Double return. Election declared void, 4 Dec. 1780  
12 Dec. 1780Hon. Henry Fane  
 David Robert Michel  
 Henry Harford  
 Lionel Darell  
1 Apr. 1784Hon. Henry Fane31 
 Hon. Thomas Fane31 
 Robert Wood8 
 John Cator8 

Main Article

John Scrope, Walpole’s secretary to the Treasury, represented Lyme Regis from 1734 till his death in 1752. By the judicious use of Government patronage, and by reducing the number of freemen and introducing non-residents into the corporation, he built up an interest in the borough which passed at his death to his nephew, Francis Fane. The Fanes continued to manage the borough, as Scrope had done, with the help of Government; and in 1758 they were given £100 per annum from secret service funds for Lyme. ‘This must not be looked upon as any new or additional expense’, wrote Henry Fane to Newcastle on 13 June, ‘because till within a very few years it was constantly paid from 1734 (when my uncle first went to that place).’1 The payment was continued until at least 1782.

The Fane control at Lyme seems to have remained undisturbed till Henry Fane’s death in 1777. His brother and nephew had predeceased him, and the borough was left to his great-nephew, the 10th Earl of Westmorland, still a minor. There had always been a party in the borough which aimed at extending the franchise to include the freeholders, and in 1777, taking advantage of the Earl’s minority, this group attempted to gain control of the corporation by creating large numbers of freemen. They attacked and ousted six Fane burgesses for non-residence, on the same grounds prevented the new mayor from serving, and countered orders from the King’s bench to restore them with further complaints against non-residents. Their manœuvres led, in 1779, to the election of a mayor by each party. At the general election of 1780 the rival mayors each took a poll, one of freeholders and the other of freemen, and a double return was made. No political question was involved in the contest. Robinson wrote about Lyme in his survey of July 1780: ‘The persons who bring forward the contest are friends to Government and would act with Government, but [since] in this case Administration [is] connected and supported by Lord Westmorland and the Members, they cannot be accepted.’ Petitions from both sides were rejected by the House of Commons and the election was declared void. At the ensuing election on 12 Dec. the poll was taken by the Fane mayor who returned the Fane candidates. Their opponents Henry Harford and Lionel Darell again unsuccessfully petitioned.

In 1782, after Crewe’s bill disfranchising revenue officers was passed, the Fanes safeguarded their position by creating 20 new freemen, of whom only three were residents of Lyme. In 1784 the town party again put up two candidates, and by petitioning once more attempted to force the issue of freeholders versus freemen. One of them wrote to the town clerk: ‘This is the last effort that can be made, the fate of Lyme entirely depends on it—liberty or slavery ad infinitum.’ Their petition was dismissed and the Fane control at Lyme continued till the Reform Act.

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Add. 32939, f. 93.