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 2,500


17 Apr. 1754Sir Walter Calverley Blackett 
 Matthew Ridley 
27 Mar. 1761Sir Walter Calverley Blackett 
 Matthew Ridley 
21 Mar. 1768Sir Walter Calverley Blackett 
 Matthew Ridley 
11 Oct. 1774Sir Walter Calverley Blackett1432
 Sir Matthew White Ridley1411
 Constantine John Phipps795
 Thomas Delaval677
27 Feb. 1777Sir John Trevelyan vice Blackett, deceased1163
 Andrew Robinson Bowes1068
11 Sept. 1780Sir Matthew White Ridley1408
 Andrew Robinson Bowes1135
 Thomas Delaval1085
26 Apr. 1784Sir Matthew White Ridley 
 Charles Brandling 

Main Article

In 1754 the representation of Newcastle was ‘compromised’: Sir Walter Blackett, a Tory, and Matthew Ridley, a Whig, both popular and highly respected local men, were returned unopposed, and continued to be so in 1761 and 1768. In teh House they closely co-operated on matters concerning Newcastle.

In 1774 the opposition to them was given a political complexion: it was held up against them that in 1769 they had refused to present a petition from their constituents for the dissolution of Parliament, and radical resolutions were put forward asking for parliamentary reform. But more important were local issues. Phipps ‘on all occasions ... declared his warmest attachment to the best interests of Newcastle, and especially to the improvement of the River Tyne’, and promised to ‘exert all his influence with the Admiralty, to whom he was personally known, to protect, cherish and aggrandize the important and numerous branches of trade on the river’.1 And then there was the controversy over the Town Moor, part of which the corporation, backed by Blackett. had let out for cultivation and improvement; freemen who had grazing rights felt injured; and as their opponents had retained ‘all the senior counsel on the circuit’, George Grieve, the son of an Alnwick attorney and a prominent radical, secured for them the very effective services of Serjeant Glynn (q.v.).2 Still, the old Members were re-elected by a nearly two-thirds majority; with little cross-voting (128), and hardly any plumpers (17). An analysis of the voters by trades shows an overwhelming majority for Blackett and Ridley in the upper stratum, among the merchants, hostmen, and goldsmiths (Blackett 251, Ridley 254, Phipps 36, Delaval 36); the buters, an interested party in the controversy over the Town Moor, were about evenly divided (123, 114, 128, 110); more difficult to explain is why in the building trade the opposition had a majority (121, 121, 157, 138).3

On the vacancy caused by the death of Walter Blackett, Grieve and the radicals put up as their candidate Andrew Robinson Bowes (originally Stoney) who, on marrying the dowager Countess of Strathmore, the daughter and heiress of George Bowes (q.v.), had assumed his name.

The cry was raised of ‘Bowes and Freedom’, and the opponents were described as ‘a combination of wealth and power, to suppress the free elections of the people’—‘O break the closet-combinations of the magistrates and gentry whose glory it seems to be to treat their inferiors as slaves.’ But the supporters of Trevelyan wisely pointed out that Bowes, should his wife die, would go ‘back to his original insignificancy’; ‘Would it ... be proper, would it be decent ... to entrust our rights and properties to a man who in ... a few hours may himself be divested of the very appearance of an estate?’ Whereas Trevelyan was ‘an Englishman of an ancient and most respectable family, possessed of a large permanent estate’.4

In 1780 the three candidates, Matthew White Ridley, Bowes, and Thomas Delaval stood on separate interests. Ridley, wrote his brother Nicholas to their half-brother Richard, 25 Sept. 1780,5

was much solicited by some of Delaval's friends to turn the scale in his favour, which he certainly had in his power to do, but having at the beginning of the election and on other occasions declared that he stood totally unconnected with either party, he thought himself bound in honour to act up to his professions: a conduct which must meet with general approbation, and may add stability to an interest which evidently does not want strength.

Obviously as a Member to whom a well-nigh hereditary seat was conceded, he felt it right to leave to his constituents the fun and profit of freely choosing the other. In 1784 Bowes stood again, as a supporter of the Coalition, but gave up as they ‘were preparing to go to the hustings’.6

The Members for Newcastle were as a rule acknowledged leaders of its business community, and they carefully watched over its interests. Such were Blackett, the two Ridleys, and Brandling, who between them sat 65 out of 75 ‘seat-years’, 1754-90; Trevelyan and Bowes, who filled the remaining seven years, were not, but obtained their seats on the strength of Blackett and Bowes property.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Namier, Structure, 95-99.
  • 2. M.A. Richardson, Local Historian's Table Book, ii. 219-21.
  • 3. Trevelyan mss, Wallington.
  • 4. Namier, 97-98.
  • 5. Ridley mss at Blagdon.
  • 6. Nich. Ridley to Rich. Ridley, 29 Apr. 1784, Ridley mss.