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 corporation

Number of voters:



23 Apr. 1754Sir William Yonge
 Henry Pelham
22 Nov. 1755Thomas Ryder vice Yonge, deceased
11 Dec. 1756Nathaniel Ryder vice Thomas Ryder, vacated his seat
29 June 1758Sir Edward Montagu vice Pelham, appointed to office
28 Mar. 1761Nathaniel Ryder
 Sir Edward Montagu
14 May 1762Charles Gore vice Montagu, called to the Upper House
22 Feb. 1768John Duntze vice Gore, deceased
18 Mar. 1768Nathaniel Ryder
 John Duntze
8 Oct. 1774Nathaniel Ryder
 John Duntze
20 May 1776John Wilmot vice Ryder, called to the Upper House
9 Sept. 1780Sir John Duntze
 John Wilmot
3 Apr. 1784Sir John Duntze
 Dudley Ryder
26 Feb. 1790Ryder re-elected after appointment to office

Main Article

Tiverton was the centre of the Devon cloth making industry; in 1754 it had a population of about 8,000, many of them Dissenters. In the first half of the eighteenth century Sir William Yonge had the principal interest. Dudley Ryder, a prominent Government lawyer who rose to be lord chief justice of the King’s bench, was first elected for Tiverton in 1734. Ryder had no property or natural influence there, but with the help of Government patronage he built up an interest which supplanted that of Yonge. In 1755 Henry Fox, when supporting his nephew Henry Digby against a member of the Ryder family for a seat at Tiverton, claimed that it was a Government borough. He said, wrote Newcastle to Ryder on 1 Sept. 1755,

that your Lordship could have no interest but that, and that you came in yourself by that interest, and that my relation Mr. Pelham was chose there upon that foot; that there were great numbers of officers and placemen in the town ... and insisted that the case of Tiverton was that of every Cornish borough.

And in 1762 George III contended that Tiverton was ‘a court borough’.1

The real position was much more complicated. The chief interest belonged to Oliver Peard, described by Martin Dunsford, historian of the town and prominent in its politics,2 as ‘the most considerable merchant that ever lived in Tiverton’.

His influence was so great over the members of the corporation, that every important measure of that body was dictated by him many years. The burgesses for Parliament were chosen by his direction solely, and every vacancy of the corporation filled with his nomination. By an extensive mercantile business, and the peculiar circumstances of his situation, he accumulated a very great fortune, obtained universal influence, and almost unbounded power, in every public concern of the town and parish, to the end of his life.

An obituary notice described him as ‘one of the greatest serge-makers in the kingdom and ... worth £120,000’.3

In 1744 Peard had been appointed receiver-general of the land tax for Devon. By investing Government balances he accumulated money which he used to expand his cloth business and establish his supremacy over the other merchants, and ‘extended his political influence by allowing arrears of tax to accumulate’.4 While Peard managed the corporation (most of whom were clothiers), Ryder had to obtain for them Government patronage, in return for which one seat was conceded to Government.5

Two other factors entered into Tiverton politics: the struggle between the Anglican-dominated corportation and the Dissenters, who agitated for the extension of the franchise to those paying local taxes; and labour troubles between the cloth workers and the clothiers.

Peard’s death in December 1764 threw Tiverton politics into the melting pot: old alliances had to be re-shaped, and new elements began to intrude. There were now three seats vacant on the corporation, and Peard’s office of receiver-general of the land tax. In addition, his death, wrote Dunsford,

occasioned not only a present general stagnation of business, but great fears among the labourers that the trade itself would be removed elsewhere, and that in consequence they would be obliged to leave their abodes ... unless some other merchant, of fortune and capacity, could be influenced to settle in Tiverton. They therefore applied, in a body, to the mayor and corporation, to request them to elect Mr. Charles Baring, a considerable merchant of Exeter, to fill one of three vacancies then in the corporation, as he had made some overtures for that purpose, had offered to reside in the town, and conduct a considerable woollen trade in it ... from which all the inhabitants of the town and parish would reap great benefits.6

The Baring brothers—John, Charles, and Francis—were merchants and clothiers in the west country and bankers in London; and obviously aimed at the position which Peard had held. Some of the corporation, whose trade had suffered by Peard’s death, were prepared to elect the Barings; others, including the mayor,

did not approve electing any man into the corporation ... by whom they should be kept in as absolute a state of dependence as that from which they had lately been freed; and that they did not think it would be promotive of the trading interest of the town, that any merchant should be receiver of the land tax; as it would give an individual the command of large sums of money, a private advantage often exercised heretofore to the injury of other merchants resident in the town, by its being employed to monopolize the trade.7

The mayor postponed the elections; the cloth workers rioted and burnt his house; and troops had to be called in to keep order.

John Duntze seems at this time to have been associated with the Barings. Henry Osmond, a burgess of Tiverton in the Ryder interest, wrote to Nathaniel Ryder on 3 June 1765:8 ‘An agreement had been settled between Mr. Baring and Mr. Duntze, another merchant of Exeter ... to join at the next election, but falling out between themselves the whole is discovered by Mr. Duntze.’ Ryder had no wish to see the corporation dominated by the Barings, who, if connected with Administration, could drive him out. He had obtained the nomination to the receiver-general’s place, and waited for the corporation’s recommendation. That he had his own candidates for the vacancies in the corporation is shown by a letter to him from George Grenville of 5 June 1765:9

I received this morning the favour of your letter dated yesterday desiring the assistance and concurrence of my friends at Tiverton in support of those persons who shall be proposed by Mr. Peard and Mr. Dickenson [relatives of Oliver Peard and friends of Ryder] to fill up the vacancies which are now subsisting in that corporation. I very heartily wish you success upon this and every other occasion where your interest is concerned.

It seems that an alliance was formed between Ryder, Duntze, and the anti-Baring party in the corporation. They welcomed Duntze, a big local merchant who would supply a counterweight to the Barings, but stipulated that he was not to ask for the receiver general’s place: that was to go to Daniel Hamilton, an ex-army officer who was not in trade, and who undertook to pay the corporation £100 a year from his profits. The anti-Baring candidates for the corporation were Duntze, George Lewis (probably a relation of Duntze’s wife) and Richard Enchmarsh, a Tiverton merchant. They each received eleven votes, against ten for Charles Baring. ‘The election was no sooner over’, wrote Dickinson to Nathaniel Ryder, 3 July 1765, ‘till the windows of the hall was beat down with large stones, but kind Providence ordered it so that no one received any hurt.’10 Rioting continued for several days; the mayor’s house was again attacked and damaged; and Nathaniel Ryder found it expedient to foot the bill.

There is in the papers of Charles Townshend,11 chancellor of the Exchequer in the Chatham Administration, a document on Tiverton dated 22 Nov. 1766, apparently drawn up by one of the corporation in the Baring interest. It gives the aftermath of the great struggle of 1765, and shows that the Barings had not given up their attempt on the borough; but throws a new light on their motives. After their defeat they ‘established a house of business in the woollen manufactory at Tiverton, supplied it with a large capital and formed a partnership for a long term of years’. By that ‘they can afford to the corporators a constant and regular employment, and they apprehend, an interest derived from such a principle, must ... be an increasing one and ... may in a few years be fortified in such a manner as to secure the nomination of both Members’.

Then follows an analysis of the corporation:

8good for the Barings
3doubtful for the Barings
2under the command of Government—against the Barings
7good against the Barings
5doubtful against the Barings

Ryder ‘will chiefly be indebted for his own seat to the enmity his party bear the Barings’; still, it would be ‘highly imprudent’ to attack him, ‘principally for fear such a contest might introduce the use of money, a practice hitherto unknown’. And here was the suggestion made to Townshend:

None of the Barings wish to accept a seat in the next Parliament ... their views are directed to the collections of public money in the neighbourhood of Tiverton and Exeter ... and in return for the patronage of a person who could secure the influence of Government at a corporation or parliamentary election and who would support their pretensions to the receivership ... they will engage during his life to support his nomination of one Member with all their strength ... and that when (as in process of time it infallibly must) their interest inthe borough shall become superior to all opposition, the second seat shall never be filled with a person obnoxious to him.

But the Treasury decline to take action against Ryder, a reliable Government supporter. On 28 Oct. 1767 John Hume, bishop of Salisbury, of a Devon family, who hoped to get his nephew in for Tiverton at the general election, told Newcastle:12 ‘Mr. Ryder has declared that he will connect himself with nobody in the affair of Tiverton, but stand entirely alone, being sure of success.’ Charles Gore, the other Member, died on 15 Feb. 1768, and although the dissolution of Parliament was less than a month away a new wrot was issued and Duntze returned. He held the seat until his death in 1795.

After Peard's death Ryder maintained his long-distance control by loans and benefactions to members of the corporation. Examples abound in the Ryder papers: in 1768 a loan of £300 was made to John Martin on ‘very inadequate security’; in 1773 Thomas Enchmarsh asked for a loan of £500 ‘for a few months’; in 1783 William Tucker asked for £200 ‘in addition to what he already owes’, etc.13 Ryder also lent money to the corporation, and presumably Duntze received similar requests.

The borough was never easy to manage—squabbles and jealousies in the corporation had to be tactfully handled—but after 1765 there was no serious threat to the Ryder-Duntz control. Occasionally the agitation for broadening the franchise revived: Beavis Wood, town clerk, reported one such attempt to Rynder in 1774, but added: ‘I believe was you created a peer ... you would find no difficulty in recommending a successor’; and again on 11 Sept. 1777: ‘Great expectations were nourished that the corporation would lose its charter and be dissolved and that a potwalloper franchise would ensue.’14 In 1782 Tiverton reformers got in touch with Christopher Wyvill; and on 31 Jan. 1783 a petition for the extension of the franchise, signed by many of the Dissenters, was presented to the House.15 But nothing came of it.

Dudley Ryder summed up the situation in a letter to Duntze of 21 Aug. 1787:16 ‘We have indeed, my old friend, owed the halcyon days we have seen for twenty years at Tiverton to the perfect union of our interests.’

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Add. 32858, ff. 386-7; 35421, ff. 259-60.
  • 2. Hist. Mems. Tiverton, 451.
  • 3. Gent. Mag. 1765, p. 46.
  • 4. W. R. Ward, Eng. Land Tax in 18th Cent. 139, 160.
  • 5. Add. 32953, f. 307.
  • 6. Dunsford, 245.
  • 7. Ibid. 246.
  • 8. ‘Tiverton Letters Pprs.’, N. & Q. clxx. 170.
  • 9. Grenville letter bk.
  • 10. N. & Q. clxx. 186.
  • 11. Buccleuch mss.
  • 12. Add. 32986, f. 142.
  • 13. N. & Q. clxx. 59, 189, 190.
  • 14. Ibid. 61, 79.
  • 15. Wyvill, Political Pprs. ii. 106; CJ, 31 Jan. 1783.
  • 16. N. & Q. clxx. 205.