Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in burgage holders

Number of voters:



(1801): 680


18 June 1790SIR RICHARD SUTTON, Bt. 
27 May 1796SIR JOHN SCOTT 
23 Aug. 1799 HON. JOHN SCOTT vice Scott, called to the Upper House 
7 July 1802HON. JOHN SCOTT 
18 Jan. 1806 ROBERT STEWART, Visct. Castlereagh, vice Scott, deceased 
29 Feb. 1808 HENRY CLINTON vice Dawkins, vacated his seat 
 Thomas Murdoch25
30 Mar. 1819 LAWSON re-elected after vacating his seat 

Main Article

The boroughs of Boroughbridge and Aldborough formed part of the same parish and returned two Members each. The dukes of Newcastle had the predominant interest, but Henry, the 2nd Duke, had conceded one of the four seats to the family of the former ducal agent in the person of Andrew Wilkinson who, with his son Charles, came in for Aldborough. In this period the family was represented until his death in 1805 by Rev. James Wilkinson of Boroughbridge Hall, vicar of Sheffield, and thereafter by his sister Barbara and brother-in-law Rev. Marmaduke Lawson. Boroughbridge was a burgage borough with 64 voters, in which the dukes had an adequate majority of the burgages; in the case of Aldborough, a scot and lot borough, the number of voters was about the same, and of the houses rated the dukes owned all but a few. Their only competitors were the Wilkinson family and returns were made in consultation with them.1

As Rev. James Wilkinson had no preference of his own, the 2nd Duke returned all four Members in 1790, when he indicated that only Pittites need apply. He died in 1794 and his successor lived only a year, leaving a ten-year-old heir. The electoral interest was left in the hands of trustees, Sir Henry Clinton* (who died soon afterwards), John Gally Knight* and George Mason. Wilkinson was content to collaborate with them, on the understanding that his right to one nomination, if he wished for it, was conceded to him. On learning from Knight that the trustees, aware of the ‘value and price set upon seats in Parliament’ and of the encumbrances on the young 4th Duke’s estate, wished to sell the seats in 1796, Wilkinson concurred, somewhat reluctantly, as Knight himself was retiring to facilitate the plan and ‘would have been freely chosen with the hearts of the people without regard to pecuniary considerations’. He particularly approved the choice of the attorney-general for one of the seats, which was made without conditions; and he elaborated on the advantages of co-operation: ‘All intrusion of opponents has been prevented, and no exorbitant expenses have been incurred at the elections, no complaining has been heard among the electors’.2

The terms accepted by Charles Duncombe, whose agent was George Rose* of the Treasury, and by Burdett, in 1796, were £4,000, ‘with proportional abatement in the event of a sudden dissolution’. John Blackburn, who came in on a vacancy a year later, paid £3,500 for six years. John Sullivan in 1802, when the seats were again for sale, with Wilkinson’s concurrence, paid £4,000 for six years like Duncombe and Portman, though he tried to hold out for £700 p.a.3 On Wilkinson’s death in 1805, the duke’s family, acting through Gilbert Jones*, maintained their understanding with his heir’s father Rev. Marmaduke Lawson. Later that year on the death of John Scott, who had succeeded to his father’s seat, a ministerial nominee was returned. The duke, now of age and returned from captivity in France, wrote to Lawson in 1806, ‘I most sincerely hope that the same friendly intercourse which formerly existed between Mr Wilkinson’s family and mine, may always continue between us’. The duke thenceforward returned relatives and friends without demur, except that in 1815 he objected to Henry Gally Knight’s opposition politics and caused him to vacate his seat. He expected his nominees to support government and oppose Catholic relief. The total spent on elections in 1812 was £466 2s.2d.4

No mention had been made since 1806 of the possibility of a Member coming in on the Lawson interest. After a by-election in 1808 in which the duke peremptorily imposed his nominee on Lawson, a cousin of theirs, William Gell, suggested himself as their prospective nominee, thinking it ‘at all events more desirable to maintain the family interest in the borough than to see a total stranger fill the seat who perhaps pays no attention to the wishes of his constituents’. Nothing came of this, and after Rev. Marmaduke Lawson’s death in 1814 his heir and namesake appeared to acquiesce in the ducal arrangements, until within a week of the election of 1818. He then sprang himself as a surprise candidate on Boroughbridge. He did not oppose the duke’s brother-in-law Mundy but aimed to displace the duke’s other candidate, an unknown quantity. Apart from regaling the electors with an amusing attack on the ducal monopoly, Lawson contrived to seduce 12 ducal tenants, allegedly for £20 each, and headed the poll. The duke’s agents were unable to prove pre-arrangement of this bribery and gave up the idea of a petition. Gilbert Jones informed the duke, 11 July 1818:

I was more grieved than surprised at Mr Lawson’s success at Boroughbridge. Living as the family has done in the midst of the voters and being the only opulent persons in a very poor town they had constant opportunities of winning over the inclinations of the voters to their interest by a thousand little acts of kindness and attention to them.5

Subsequently the duke’s agents were employed in stopping the rot. Jones suggested immediate eviction of the disloyal tenants; a veto on subletting without the duke’s consent; leases on sufferance at low rents, and an ultimatum to Collins, steward of the manor, to choose between this role and that of Lawson’s attorney, which he combined.6 The duke almost regained his hold by default in March 1819 when Lawson, considering himself a failure in Parliament, vacated his seat; but his mother, determined to preserve the family interest, canvassed on his behalf and forced the duke (whose intended replacement was said to be in America) to withdraw. Rumour had it that Lawson had sold his seat to the duke for £3,000. He was nevertheless re-elected unopposed.7 By July 1819, when a radical opportunist Richard Spooner of Birmingham, encouraged by Lawson, was threatening to offer at the next vacancy, the duke’s agent was reasonably satisfied with the state of his interest. At Aldborough there were 63 votes of which the duke controlled 47, Mrs Lawson six, and ten freeholders the rest (but six of them were also the duke’s tenants). At Boroughbridge the duke controlled 37 votes to Mrs Lawson’s 28; but two more had been admitted for the duke at the election who were not strictly entitled and five of Mrs Lawson’s burgages were open to question at law.8 Nevertheless battle raged between the Lawsons and the duke until 1832.

Authors: Winifred Stokes / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Lawson-Tancred, Recs. Yorks. Manor, 304-5, 317.
  • 2. B. Connell, Whig Peer, 207; PCC 516 Newcastle; Lawson-Tancred, 305-6; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 5947.
  • 3. E. Suff. RO, Tomline mss, Rose to Pitt, 11 Apr. 1796; Bodl. Eng. Hist. b. 195; Bucks. RO, Hobart mss J192; Newcastle mss NeC 6059, 6068.
  • 4. Lawson-Tancred, 309-13; Newcastle mss NeC 6597.
  • 5. Lawson-Tancred, 313-16, 320-34; The Late Elections (1818), 14-18; Newcastle mss NeC 6610-13, 6616-21.
  • 6. Newcastle mss 6616.
  • 7. York Chron. 1 Apr.; Leeds Mercury, 3 Apr.; Morning Chron. 3 Apr. 1819.
  • 8. Newcastle mss NeC 6624, 6888.