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 the freemen

Number of voters:

about 700


(1801): 10,875


 John Christian Curwen399
 Wilson Braddyll394
 CURWEN and BRADDYLL vice Satterthwaite and Knubley, on petition, 3 Mar. 1791 
 Sir James Graham, Bt.288
 Edward Knubley277
7 Oct. 1812(SIR) JAMES GRAHAM, Bt. 
8 Mar. 1816 JOHN CHRISTIAN CURWEN vice Fawcett, deceased372
 Sir Philip Christopher Musgrave, Bt.286
 Joseph Wilfred Parkins49

Main Article

Since 1761 the main theme of Carlisle politics had been the bid of James Lowther, Earl of Lonsdale, to monopolize the representation through control of the corporation. He was opposed in turn by the Duke of Portland, by the Earl of Carlisle and by the Duke of Norfolk, who relied on the independent local gentry opposed to the Lowther interest and the lower order of voters, ever eager for a contest. Lonsdale’s attempt to secure his hold by the mammoth creation of ‘mushroom’ freemen (the Yellows) from his estates and collieries in 1785 was twice thwarted by petition to the House after the by-elections of 1786, when John Christian and Rowland Stephenson were the independent (Blue) candidates abetted by Norfolk, whose Whig sympathies they shared. Lonsdale contrived to compensate for these reverses with a victory in King’s bench, 7 Dec. 1789, whereby the corporation was entitled to make freemen of the sons of freemen without the proviso of their being first admitted to one of the eight guilds, a subject on which the committees of 1786 had not adjudicated. James Boswell of Auchinleck, elected recorder of Carlisle on 11 Jan. 1788 through Lonsdale’s influence, presided over his patron’s triumph, but, disappointed of his hopes of a seat in Parliament from him, resigned in a huff after the temporary success of the candidates of Lonsdale’s choice in the rowdy election of 1790, during which Lonsdale’s town house in Carlisle, ‘Mushroom Hall’, was destroyed.1

Their opponents on the independent interest were John Curwen (formerly Christian) and Wilson Braddyll. John Bacon of the first fruits office, London, a native of the city who had been invited by a meeting of 10 May, with J. T. Senhouse in the chair, to stand in place of Stephenson who was retiring, accepted, only to decline on 12 June in favour of Braddyll, ‘whose local knowledge, abilities and situation in life are better calculated in all respects to answer the purposes of your representation’. Curwen and Braddyll (then absent) were unable to match Lonsdale who, in the mayor’s words, had ‘gradually modelled the corporation so that it is now absolutely and entirely at his command, and all the expense occasioned by his political operations is paid out of their funds’. The corporation’s right to make ‘honorary’ freemen was to have been contested at the ensuing Cumberland assizes; but the case was given up. As it was, the defeated candidates and some of the freemen faced the expense of petitioning against the return in December 1790. It was claimed that not more than 129 voters for Lonsdale’s candidates were entitled to vote by birth or servitude, and subsequent admission to the guilds. On 3 Mar. 1791 the petitioners triumphed, but the right of election was for the first time closely defined as ‘in the freemen ... duly admitted and sworn ... having been previously admitted brethren of one of the eight guilds or occupations ... and deriving their title to such freedom by being sons of freemen, or by service of seven years apprenticeship to a freeman resident ...’. In other words, the corporation could not create honorary freemen, whether the guilds consented or not.2

An attempt was made on behalf of Lonsdale to upset this decision by several petitions to the House. Following that of 12 Jan. 1795 there was a counter-petition, 13 Feb., and on 12 Mar. the decision of 3 Mar. 1791 was confirmed. In 1796 Lonsdale sponsored Sir James Graham* of Netherby at the instigation of Henry Dundas; not with Col. Lowther as his partner, as Graham had hoped, but with Edward Knubley (unseated in 1791) against Curwen, whom ministers were anxious to oust, and his new running partner Sir Frederick Vane, Braddyll retiring to pursue his military duties. After a 15-day poll, described by the political historian of Carlisle as ‘the severest contest, for energy and duration, that is to be found in electioneering annals’, Curwen and Vane succeeded, though over 30 of their qualified supporters had their votes rejected by the mayor, who had refused to admit them to their freedom. Graham and Knubley called for a scrutiny of the poll on the grounds that the stamped admissions to freedom of many of their opponents’ voters were not producible, but soon gave it up; and their petition, supported by one from several electors, alleging that the mayor had admitted unqualified votes for Curwen and Vane was rejected by the House, 2 Mar. 1796.3

Another running partner for Curwen had to be found in 1802. The Duke of Norfolk had suggested to the Earl of Carlisle, whose interest had long been dormant, that he put up his heir Lord Morpeth, but this was declined: Lord Andover, another young Whig, was mentioned as a possible replacement in December 1801. Lonsdale was ready for another contest, but his death on 24 May 1802 made for another arrangement: his heir Viscount Lowther came to terms with Curwen. The ‘mushroom’ corporators on the Lowther interest were to resign and, in token of a truce between the ‘old contending interests’, Lowther, apart from having his county influence safeguarded, would sponsor one Member for Carlisle, leaving Curwen undisturbed. Despite a threat of opposition to this compromise by a group of independent freemen who felt cheated of their say in elections by it and promised to put up two candidates to justify themselves, there was no contest, Lowther naming Walter Spencer Stanhope, who had sat on the Lowther interest 1775-1780. Norfolk apparently yielded to Curwen’s eagerness to promote this compromise. Curwen now felt so secure at Carlisle that, in his bid to come in for the county in 1806, he claimed that Carlisle ‘would be a seat for whomsoever he pleased’. Indeed he had more or less offered his seat to Lord Morpeth to get him out of his way in the county. There was no contest then or in 1807, though on the latter occasion the candidates’ speeches indicated mutal political animosity.4

Despite this apparent security, Curwen ‘both tired and downhearted by some stories which tell against him’, surprisingly declined the poll in 1812 when Sir James Graham of Edmond Castle replaced Stanhope on the interest of the Earl of Lonsdale (as Lowther had since become), and Henry Fawcett, a nabob connected with the Stephensons of Scaleby Castle and believed to be a connexion of Lord Wellesley’s junto, came forward. Fawcett was thought to have little chance and received no encouragement from the Lowther party, so Curwen had only his own ‘want of pluck’ to blame. In his address, however, he complained of ‘hesitation’ among his supporters. His seduction of the daughter of Bishop Watson of Llandaff was supposed to have been the cause of his unpopularity, though he preferred to attribute it to his opposition to a parish settlement bill of 1808 to combat the army of Irish and Scottish vagrants in the county. Fergus Graham commented, ‘Now in my opinion he would not lose one vote, had he ravished the daughters of all the bishops upon the Bench ...’. His conduct in 1802 was still resented in some quarters. Lord Morpeth was urged by Henry Howard of Corby Castle to put up his brother the Hon. Frederick Howard, confident that with the support of Norfolk, the Duke of Devonshire and his own family, he would secure a seat costing not above £400 per annum, but Morpeth ‘prudently declined’. Thus Fawcett, who had held out hopes of benefiting the trade of Carlisle through his connexions with India House and apparently courted the Methodists, came in unopposed.5

The sudden death of Fawcett early in 1816 gave Curwen the opportunity to recapture his seat, though not without a struggle. On 17 Feb. Rowland Stephenson of London, Fawcett’s kinsman and grandson of the Member of 1786, came forward, hoping to benefit from the same ‘independent’ support that Curwen had abdicated and Fawcett acquired in 1812. Curwen’s friends deprecated Stephenson’s pretensions: ‘politics have never been his pursuit; always absent, totally unknown to the freemen, without residence’, and on 22 Feb. they called on Curwen to stand, to which he acceded at once. Had he not done so, Thomas Wybergh of Brayton Hall would, so he claimed, have challenged Stephenson, intending the seat for his son Lawson when of age. Wybergh had solicited Lonsdale’s neutrality and hoped for Norfolk’s support. Although Stephenson was said to have a ‘long purse’ and boasted of his independence, of his opposition to income tax and a standing army and (through Fawcett’s young son Henry) of his India House connexions, he declined a contest with Curwen for the present, 28 Feb. 1816. It was reported that his father vetoed his candidature, fearing the expense. Although the old charges against Curwen were revived and his views on tithes exacerbated clerical opposition to him, he was in a strong position when a new opponent to him emerged. Sir Philip Musgrave, 8th Bt. of Eden Hall, whose family had not been active in Carlisle politics for 40 years but had always opposed the Lowthers, offered on 2 Mar. ‘on independent principles’. Musgrave attributed his ensuing defeat in a seven-day poll to his late start, which cost him at least 90 voters who transferred from Stephenson to Curwen. Curwen’s party alleged that Musgrave lacked respectable supporters, but was backed by the Lonsdale interest. This was denied, but Rev. Fergus Graham, for one, certainly acted for Musgrave and it was observed that Musgrave, after at first sporting purple and orange colours, switched to Lonsdale’s yellow to confront Curwen’s blue. Lonsdale’s correspondence indicated that he did not wish Curwen to succeed and regarded Musgrave’s battle as his, and at least one Carlisle freeman, William Dobinson, dared to chide him for his interference.6

His Blue friends wished Curwen to have a second string at the next election. Curwen first welcomed, then discouraged it: he was equally confident that Lonsdale would not try a second candidate and noted the abatement of the hostility to him of the weavers, who had been alienated by his refusal to divorce the agricultural from the manufacturing interests. Sir James Graham, noting ‘some movements’ at Carlisle which threatened an opposition to himself and the Lonsdale interest, nursed the constituency carefully. Accordingly there was no serious contest. Young Henry Fawcett, a Cambridge student, declined till he came of age; and Parkins, a native nabob and ‘a political friend of Lord Cochrane’, who stood a poll without spending anything, excited this comment from Henry Brougham: ‘In Carlisle a lunatic literally set up and polled forty votes—but any decent man might have turned Sir James Graham out.’7

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. M. J. Smith, ‘The Mushroom Elections in Carlisle 1784-1803’, Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. Trans. (n.s.), lxxxi. 113; Boswell Private Pprs. xviii. 9; F. Brady, Boswell’s Pol. Career (Yale Studies in English clv), 143-64; Letters of James Boswell ed. Tinker, ii. 341, 355, 366, 369, 370, 398.
  • 2. Public Advertiser, 16 June; Newcastle Chron. 19 June, 17 July 1790; Boswell Private Pprs. xviii. 60; Northumb. RO, Swinburne mss ZSW 554/62, Erskine to Bull, 14 July 1790; CJ, xlvi. 15, 24, 257.
  • 3. CJ, xlvii. 133, 565; xlviii. 61; xlix. 82; l. 50, 186, 290, 321; lii. 39, 357; Sun, 9 Mar. 1795; Spencer mss, W. R. to Ld. Spencer, 22 May; SRO GD51/1/200/20, 21; Newcastle Chron. 21 May 1796; F. Jollie, Pol. Hist. of Carlisle (1820), 18.
  • 4. The Times, 23 Dec. 1801; Jollie, 19-20; Newcastle Chron. 19 June; Sheffield City Lib. Spencer Stanhope mss, Lowther to Spencer Stanhope, 21 June 1802; Lonsdale mss, bp. of Carlisle to Lowther, Thurs. [?29 Oct. 1806]; Carlisle mss, Ld. to Lady Morpeth, Mon. [11 May]; Spencer Stanhope mss 60635/25, Stanhope diary, 11 May 1807.
  • 5. Jollie, 21-23; Carlisle mss, Howard to Morpeth, 3 Oct., Ld. to Lady Morpeth, 8 Oct.; Northumb. RO, Wallace (Belsay) mss ZMI/S76/2/30, Graham to Wallace, 2 Oct.; Brougham mss, Brougham to Grey [24 Oct.]; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 18 Nov. 1812, Wybergh to same, 22 Feb. 1816.
  • 6. Carlisle Election for 1816 (Newcastle 1816); Lonsdale mss, Wybergh to Lonsdale, 22 Feb., reply 28 Feb.; 2 Mar., reply 6 Mar.; 27 Mar., 19 Apr.; Dobinson to Lonsdale, 17 Mar., 11, 16 Apr. 1816.
  • 7. Jollie, 27; Brougham mss J1380, 1535; Spencer Stanhope mss, Graham to Spencer Stanhope, 2 Feb.; Lambton mss, Brougham to Lambton, Sunday [21 June 1818]; The Late Elections (1818), 60; Gent. Mag. (1840), ii. 549.