New Romney

Double Member Cinque Port

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 corporation

Number of voters:

below 40


15 Apr. 1754Sir Francis Dashwood
 Henry Furnese
30 Dec. 1755Furnese re-elected after appointment to office
8 Dec. 1756Rose Fuller vice Furnese, deceased
27 Mar. 1761Edward Dering
 Thomas Knight
18 Mar. 1768Sir Edward Dering
 Richard Jackson
5 Mar. 1770John Morton vice Dering, vacated his seat
7 Oct. 1774Sir Edward Dering
 Richard Jackson
12 Sept. 1780Sir Edward Dering
 Richard Jackson
8 July 1782Jackson re-elected after appointment to office
12 Apr. 1784Sir Edward Dering
 John Smith
14 June 1784Richard Atkinson vice Smith, vacated his seat
7 June 1785John Henniker vice Atkinson, deceased
29 Jan. 1787Richard Joseph Sulivan vice Dering, vacated his seat

Main Article

About 1754 the corporation was dominated by an oligarchy of local notables; its numbers were deliberately restricted; and it was not easy to manage. The chief interest was in Henry Furnese, M.P. for New Romney since 1741.

Furnese died in August 1756, and as Parliament was in recess the by-election could not take place before December. This left four months for interventions and alliances. Three candidates came forward: Thomas Scrope, a freak candidate, who was not taken seriously and soon withdrew; Edward Dering, who through his wife had inherited the Furnese estates near Romney; and Rose Fuller, a rich Jamaica planter and Sussex country gentleman, who had no connexion with the borough but was determined to enter Parliament.

Fuller and Dering both had a following in the corporation, and at first it seemed that Dering must succeed. Benjamin Cobb, the mayor, supported him as the representative of the Furnese interest, and the friends of Sir Francis Dashwood, M.P. for New Romney since 1741, followed Cobb. But Cobb died on 6 Oct., and dissensions in the corporation about the choice of a new mayor resulted in new alignments; Dering was compelled to withdraw and Fuller was returned unopposed.

Fuller then set about strengthening his interest against the general election. His plan was to agree with either Dashwood or Dering upon the creation of new freemen which would ensure a majority for their joint interest. On 11 Dec. 1756 he asked his friends in the corporation with whom he should join. Thomas Norman, writing on their behalf, replied (15 Dec.): ‘that Sir Francis Dashwood and Mr. Dering must settle that point between themselves, that we may have no disturbance amongst us’.1

Already the jealousies and antagonisms of a small corporation were causing Fuller difficulties, and his plan to create new freemen aroused opposition in his own party. He wrote on 8 Jan. 1757:

The misunderstandings and jealousies that have happened in the corporation since my election ... arose from differences between the gentlemen of which it is composed, and ... it was my misfortune not my fault that I could not possibly act in such a manner, notwithstanding my utmost endeavours so to do, as not to disoblige some of my friends.

In trying to please all he ran the risk of pleasing none. On 15 Jan. 1757 Thomas Lane, a resident of New Romney, wrote about Fuller to Robert Butcher, the Duke of Bedford’s estate agent:2

Since his election there has been a very great misunderstanding betwixt him and his friends, whom he has left, and joined the other party; so that ... at the next election ... it is most likely he must lose his seat.

Fuller’s first aim was to secure the election of one of his friends, the Rev. John Edward Wilson, as mayor, and for this he tried to win Dashwood’s support. ‘If Sir Francis joins in with us heartily’, he wrote to Wilson on 12 Nov. 1758, ‘I think the operation of our matters will be greatly facilitated.’ He offered Dashwood ‘an entire union of interest’, which he promised would make matters ‘quite safe and easy’ for both. Dashwood consulted Robert Langdon, the retiring mayor, who replied: ‘As I am sure there is such an opposition forming against him ... I must say I think it will be prejudicial to your interest.’ Lord Westmorland, Dashwood’s uncle, wrote to him on 12 Nov. 1758:3

I was never more astonished than at the account you sent me of the new politics at New Romney. One does not know what to do with such people. It seems to me not to belong properly to any candidate to be joining with this or that other candidate, but to leave the electors to dispose of things as they like best among themselves; and perhaps such is the best course you can take in the present juncture.

Wilson was elected mayor in March 1759, and Fuller’s next step was the creation of new freemen. This was a far more difficult matter. The parties in the corporation were evenly balanced, and the issue lay with a small family group, as yet uncommitted to either side, and dominated by a strong-minded, obstinate, and semi-illiterate old woman. Mrs. Mary Tookey had two sons and two nephews in the corporation, and was solely concerned for the interests of her family. Her ambitions were social, not political; she did not ask patronage or favours for her sons, but wished to see them the acknowledged leaders of New Romney society; and to achieve her aim was prepared to bring the borough under the control of one man.

On 6 Sept. 1759 Fuller wrote to Wilson:

Mr. Bartholomew Tookey has been with me. We have had much discourse concerning the making of freemen which he thinks necessary, but continues in the same opinion he was of when I was at Romney in relation to Mr. N. Rolfe, but seems disposed to agree to his being made if his cousin be made likewise. Neither did he make any objection to Mr. Brisenden upon the same terms if he would leave off the butchering trade.

The scheme was to be put in operation on 11 Feb. 1760, but was forestalled by Dering, who also began to court Mrs. Tookey with the same object in view as Fuller.

Mr. Dering has laid close siege to Mrs. Tookey [wrote Wilson to Fuller on 9 Feb.] to prevail upon her to make new freemen, and has scarce left her since his arrival. I was with her last night as soon as Mr. Dering came to town, told her the danger her sons were in, in case she agreed to an addition, and that it must infallibly sacrifice your interest to which she seemed well attached, and assured me that no freemen should be made, but whether Mr. Dering’s persuasive arguments will stagger her resolution I know not. But to weaken the force of them I went there this morning with a design of tickling the old woman’s ears with the advantage that would accrue from her joining heartily in our interest, for which I was certain you would not be wanting or indeed outdone by Mr. Dering in acts of generosity to her sons.

And on 13 Feb.:

It may not be improper to acquaint you that though our late attempt has proved abortive yet I think we are very secure as to our next election of mayor and every other corporation act but that of making freemen. The Tookeys seem not in the least alarmed as to our intention of making freemen without their assistance, but behave very cordially, enter very freely into the subject of making an addition, but persist in their resolution of there being no immediate necessity, but will be ready to lend us their assistance when a real occasion appears.

‘I always doubted’, replied Fuller on 16 Feb., ‘and am now convinced of the impossibility of making any addition to the number of freemen at present.’ ‘The old woman’s obstinacy and perverseness ...’, wrote Wilson, ‘I am certain is the only let and hindrance in our corporation affairs.’

Fuller now concentrated his efforts on securing a friend for mayor. For this also he needed the support of the Tookeys, but he found that Mrs. Tookey’s price was more than he could pay. Wilson, sent to consult her sons, reported to Fuller on 23 Feb. 1760:

The only subject I then entered into was the contents of your letter then before them, recommending to us a proper harmony free from the old leaven of all former jealousies, in consequence of which that it was your opinion as well as mine that it was necessary to nominate our intended mayor. I accordingly mentioned Mr. Cobb as a claimant from seniority, who accordingly had been before mentioned to me by Edward Tookey, assigning the same reason, and at that time would have cordially agreed to it had he not been checked by his brother Bat, who told him not to be too hasty in his determinations on that head for he himself should take time to consider on it, upon which Ted immediately replied that if we had a mind to oblige an old woman for once we should do his mother a favour in advancing Bat to the mayoralty, to which I assured him that I should have no objection but his superseding Messrs. Cobb and Carter who were his seniors and consequently would not waive their right, which you may rest assured the latter would not whatever the former would do, nor do I see any reason why they should.

Fuller was now in a dilemma: to support Bartholomew Tookey, in preference to men senior to him, would offend his own friends; yet to support one of his own friends would offend the Tookeys, always prone to see slights where none were intended. Moreover, Dering’s party was gaining ground: his estates near Romney gave him a natural interest denied to Fuller; he had secured the support of David Papillon, M.P. for New Romney 1722-34, who had some influence there; and he was now laying siege to the Tookeys. To Wilson they were extremely profuse in professions of friendship, but avoided giving a categorical answer to his question about the mayoral election, and said that everything would be all right when Fuller came. ‘I begin to be doubtful’, wrote Wilson on 16 Mar. 1760, ‘whether I am right or not in construeing these words in favour of ourselves.’ Mrs. Tookey showed her hand only on 25 Mar., the day of election, when Bartholomew Tookey offered himself for mayor. Fuller, unable to prevent his election, was forced to acquiesce. Even more ominous for Fuller was Tookey’s choice of one of Dering’s friends as deputy mayor.

The day after the election (26 Mar.) Fuller tried to retrieve his fortunes by a direct appeal to Mrs. Tookey. He began by excusing himself for not having voted for her son: ‘I could not do it without putting a final end to any future prospect of success here.’ Next, he tried to flatter the old lady on a point where she was particularly susceptible to flattery, and to rouse her fears:

I think myself already under too many and too great obligations to the good blood of the Tookeys not to point out to them the dangerous situation they are in, of entirely losing that interest and weight their most ancient and long standing in the corporation justly entitle them to.

His immediate object was to remove Jacob Walter, Dering’s friend, from the post of deputy mayor. He pointed out that if the mayor were ill or absent the deputy mayor could call a common hall, create new freemen devoted to Dering, and thus render the Tookeys ‘wholly insignificant’. The remedy was simple: Edward Tookey, the second son, should be sworn a jurat and appointed deputy to his brother; and Fuller promised to indemnify her against any legal proceedings that might arise. After signing himself ‘I am and ever shall be your’s and both your sons’ most grateful friend and well wisher’, he added a P.S.:

I could not seal up the letter herewith sent without telling my dear Mrs. Tookey that I tremble for the danger her sons are in, and therefore do most earnestly beg her and them to take care of themselves, for though it would hurt my mind not to be returned for Romney where I have been always so kindly received, yet my loss there might be made up to me, but if your sons by want of a due attention should be deprived of their influence it would afflict me a thousand times more as their loss would be irretrievable. You should tell Mr. Edward not to be sparing in sending expresses to the mayor ... if a common place should be attempted, and I will be at the expense of those expresses, but he must take care by whom he sends them for a friend of their’s may pretend to carry them but will not carry them.

It was a clever move to suggest Edward Tookey for jurat, but Fuller did not yet realize that Mrs. Tookey aimed higher for her son. Her reply began:

Sur, Yours I received but I am such a pore reder of writen that I cannot read your letter and my son is not a tome as sone as he comes home he shall give you an anser to your letter.

Then followed complaints of slights by Fuller’s agents; and the letter ended:

I don’t licke my sons should be trod onder rout by anny of them that have spread all this rout I have much more ill yousage to a quaint but time will not permit which is all at present from your very ombell sarvant to comand, Mary Tookey

Fuller’s blandishments had failed to win her over, and there was but one hope left for him: if Dashwood and he united they still had a chance of defeating Dering. But on 31 Mar. Dashwood wrote to Wilson, in reply to a letter signed by eleven of Fuller’s friends:

The maxim I had laid down and punctually kept to of not interfering with the acts of the corporation, I apprehend was approved and acknowledged by all those who subscribed the letter as the most proper and desirable step I could take, and therefore in the last choice of a mayor I did not in the least intermeddle; and I must now appeal to your justice and moderation whether it would become me now to interfere.

Wilson and his friends continued to pay court to Mrs. Tookey. ‘’Tis mine and Mrs. Wilson’s resolution’, he wrote on 6 Apr., ‘as well as that of our whole party, to pay her all due honour, and not contradict her regal commands.’ When Dering came to Romney on 9 Apr. his purpose was guessed at, and a desperate effort was made to prevent the Tookeys from joining him.

On his arrival [wrote Wilson to Fuller on 10 Apr.] I went to the old lady and told her my opinion clearly, observing to her that the occasion of the said gentleman’s coming to Romney was certainly to prevail upon her to make freemen, with which if she complied I told her that her sons would be for ever entirely set aside, and of which she seemed very sensible. She and Ned both declared to me that there should be none made. I likewise demonstrated to her that any measure of this kind would entirely overthrow your interest, and that your friends were ready to join her sons in an opposition, or any other act which should be agreeable to her sentiments, so as to continue her weight in this corporation.

But once again she promised with no intention to perform, and on 12 Apr. Dering and a friend, with the support of the Tookeys, were elected freemen.

Although Fuller professed to his friends to be ‘very far from despairing of success upon a future occasion’, he recognized the end was coming; and on 17 Apr. wrote to Bartholomew and Edward Tookey:

For the time is drawing near that I must be re-elected or be out of Parliament, and, as I had rather be obliged to my friends in Romney and to your family in particular for my seat than to the inhabitants of any other place in England, I am most extremely desirous of knowing my fate there as soon as may be, that in case my wishes in serving for your corporation be not likely to succeed I may be provided elsewhere, which I am certain I can be. I therefore again entreat you by our old friendship to tell me plainly your minds on this head.

There was no reply, and Fuller wrote again; only on 17 June did he receive an answer:

Yous I received and the reason I did not and my friends did not answer your two last the reason is that we doe not chuse to in gage so sune and as to our waitenin on you at this time we chould give no other answer than this that we are not ingaiged nor willen at this time to be in gaiged and if we can serve you and Mr. Derin we shall be both ready and willen to doe it with Mr. Derin friends.

Mrs. Tookey was too busy concocting schemes to have her second son made mayor to bother about the parliamentary election. ‘The old woman’s resolution of keeping the power in her own hands’, wrote Wilson to Fuller on 27 June, was causing dissatisfaction among her family; but Fuller could build little on this basis. In July Dering created two new freemen, and gained almost complete control over the borough. By the beginning of October Fuller had abandoned all hope, and in November Dering crowned his success by bringing down Thomas Knight, who was to stand with him at the general election, and having him admitted freeman.

Dashwood, whose refusal to take sides had offended Dering’s friends and who was disliked by Mrs. Tookey, found himself driven out with Fuller. One reason for their defeat was their failure to unite; now that it was too late they did so. On 23 Dec. 1760 Fuller wrote to Thomas Cobb at Romney:

As the worthy baronet and myself, from the situation of affairs at Romney, have thought it prudent to endeavour to be chosen elsewhere ... we do not intend to desert our friends and leave them in the lurch but to support them and their cause to the utmost, and for that purpose if they approve of it we have thoughts of offering to their service two gentlemen of very great characters and very opulent fortunes, who will exert themselves in their favour.

Fuller sounded John Pennant, a Jamaica planter and father of Richard Pennant about standing at New Romney. On 8 Jan. 1761 he wrote to Pennant:

I think you should try what can be done at Romney, and as there is no sounding or trying there till the candidates and the sum they will give are absolutely determined, I could wish you would give me by the return of the post an authority to sport £150 for one seat or £300 for two (it shall be done for less if possible), and likewise an authority to engage for £2,000 for one seat or £4,000 for two (sporting money included); you to be at no expense in either case but the sporting money unless one, if you attempt for one, or both, if you attempt for two, have a fixed and permanent seat in the House ...

If you intend I should try as well for you as your son you must find and deliver to Sir Francis Dashwood the enclosed letter and have his approbation, for he hath undertaken to name and support one candidate upon the same terms and perhaps may have fixed upon one. If I have your answer in the affirmative I shall immediately set proper engines to work to try what may be done. In my own opinion I think the thing will do, at least considering we want but four or five votes it ought to be tried.

Nothing came of this plan, and Dering, and Knight were returned unopposed. Henceforth Dering had complete control over New Romney. Oldfield wrote about the borough in 1792:

Sir Edward Dering has, by a very simple method, possessed himself of an influence in this port not easily to be rendered insecure. His property in the neighbourhood is tenanted out without lease at very easy rents to the electors; who, feeling that gratitude which never fails to inspire those immediately interested in the present possession of a good thing, could not be so ungenerous as to oppose the inclination of a passive landlord in so trifling a concern as the election of a Member of Parliament.

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. All quotations, unless otherwise stated, are from the Fuller mss, W. Suss. RO.
  • 2. Bedford mss.
  • 3. Bodl. Dashwood mss.