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 and freeholders

Number of voters:

about 2,000


18 Apr. 1754George Augustus Howe, Visct. Howe980
 Sir Willoughby Aston924
 John Plumptre915
1 Dec. 1758William Howe vice Visct. Howe, deceased 
26 Mar. 1761William Howe 
 John Plumptre 
16 Mar. 1768William Howe 
 John Plumptre 
11 Oct. 1774Sir Charles Sedley1114
 William Howe971
 Lord Charles Edward Bentinck911
9 Oct. 1778Abel Smith vice Sedley, deceased 
9 Feb. 1779Robert Smith vice Abel Smith, deceased 
8 Sept. 1780Robert Smith569
 Daniel Parker Coke342
 John Cartwright149
31 Mar. 1784Robert Smith 
 Daniel Parker Coke 

Main Article

Local landowners had a good deal of influence in Nottingham, particularly the Duke of Newcastle, leader of the Whigs, and Lord Middleton, leader of the Tories. The Dissenters were strong in the town, and in the second half of the eighteenth century controlled the corporation (to whose support the Howes owed their influence). Abel Smith, the leading local banker, had a strong interest, based on his ability to grant credit to the small manufacturers who formed a fair proportion of the voters. Elections at Nottingham were a resultant of these various forces, and their outcome could rarely be predicted.

In 1727 Newcastle and Middleton had reached a compromise by which one seat should be held by a Whig and the other by a Tory. But the electoral interests in the borough were too complex to be resolved by such a simple formula. In 1754, when Newcastle and the corporation were agreed in support of Lord Howe as the Whig candidate, they were opposed by John Plumptre, another Whig. In 1758, on Howe’s death, the corporation chose as his successor his younger brother William, without consulting Newcastle and against his wishes.1

There was no contest in 1761 or 1768, and at first it seemed there would be none in 1774. Lord Edward Bentinck and William Howe were supported by the corporation, Lord Middleton, Plumptre, and Abel Smith. But a body of electors, ‘of the old Tory stamp’, ‘displeased and dissatisfied that they had never been consulted’, put up Sir Charles Sedley and carried his election.2

On 21 Dec. 1777 Thomas Rawson, an agent of Lord Sandwich, wrote to him about Nottingham:3

This town is without any exception the most disloyal in the kingdom, owing in a great measure to the whole corporation (the present mayor excepted) being Dissenters, and of so bitter a sort that they have done and continue to do all in their power to hinder the service by preventing as much as possible the enlistment of soldiers.

Sir William Howe, by his conduct in America, lost the corporation’s support; and in 1780 they selected Daniel Parker Coke. The second seat went to Robert Smith, whose family had now the strongest interest in the borough. John Cartwright stood on a programme of parliamentary reform, but was heavily defeated.4

In 1784 the corporation and the Smith family divided the borough without a contest.

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Namier, Structure, 91-95.
  • 2. Rockingham to Portland, 7 Oct. 1774, Portland mss; Sedley to Rockingham, 9 Oct. 1774, Rockingham mss.
  • 3. Sandwich Pprs. i. 340.
  • 4. Christie, End of North’s Ministry, 145-7.