East Retford


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 160


(1801): 1,948


18 June 1790THOMAS PELHAM CLINTON, Earl of Lincoln 
3 Mar. 1794 WILLIAM HENRY CLINTON vice Lincoln, called to the Upper House 
 John Blackburn60
 William Bowles69
 Henry Bonham59
 William Ingilby69
 Thomas Hughan75
19 June 1818WILLIAM EVANS 

Main Article

Henry Pelham Clinton, 2nd Duke of Newcastle and high steward of the borough, had had to be satisfied since 1768 with the nomination of one Member for Retford, supported by the Pink party on the corporation, whereas his predecessor had named both. The other seat, in the hands of the ‘independent’ or Blue interest, was held from 1780 to 1790 by a local landowner, Sir Wharton Amcotts, a friend of the 3rd Duke of Portland. In 1790 he stood down in favour of his son-in-law, Sir John Ingilby, who was regarded as a ministerialist and did not seek Portland’s blessing. There was no contest. Maj. John Cartwright, the parliamentary reformer, who evidently employed ‘upwards of six hundred of the inhabitants of this place in the manufacture of woollens’, was in 1789 invited to stand as ‘the popular candidate’ with government backing, but declined, though said to be sure of success.1 Nobody, however, could be secure owing to the venality of the freemen, and even Newcastle, sure of the corporation, could not command a majority merely by relying on goodwill based on propinquity and the extension of his custom to the tradesmen.2

On the death of the 2nd Duke in 1794, his brother and successor bestowed his seat on a kinsman, but died in the following year, leaving a ten-year-old heir. The Newcastle interest now came under attack. A wealthy nabob and ‘entire stranger’, William Petrie, had canvassed as early as December 1794 with sufficient success to cause Newcastle to write an alarmed letter to the Duke of Portland (who was reluctant to interfere) in the hope that ‘our interests may coincide’. Petrie propped up Sir Wharton Amcotts, who came forward instead of his financially embarrassed son-in-law Ingilby, and together they defeated John Blackburn, the Newcastle nominee, who was supposed to have the support of government. The duke had originally intended one of his family (?Henry Clinton) to be his candidate, but nothing came of it, and not until February 1796 was Blackburn named; in the meantime, his Retford friends had become so impatient that it was expected that they would invite Lord William Bentinck to come forward. Blackburn, aware of the patronal family’s want of funds, offered to pay his own expenses, expected to amount to between 3,500 guineas and £4,000.3 He was subsequently compensated with a seat for Aldborough.

Thirty-eight freemen by redemption were now created by the corporation in the Newcastle interest to secure a majority in future, but this stratagem misfired. William Bowles junior, a Lombard Street banker, the champion of the independent interest, instituted quo warranto proceedings which led to the disqualification of all the new freemen and to the ousting of five aldermen. This proceeding was of no avail against the venality of the freemen:45 of them deserted Bowles and his friend Henry Bonham* in 1802, when Petrie and Amcotts declined and the Newcastle interest secured both seats. The dowager duchess, who had married Col. Charles Gregan Craufurd in 1800, encouraged him to stand and he successfully canvassed in March 1801, but at the last minute ill health caused him to make way for his brother Robert. The other Newcastle candidate, John Jaffray (not the first choice, since the duchess had encouraged Sir John Eamer, lord mayor of London, to canvass in April) was an insecure paying guest who went bankrupt not long afterwards and was never heard of again. Bowles and Bonham petitioned, unsuccessfully, against the return, 19 May 1803, questioning the legality of the returning officers and of some of the votes, and alleging bribery and corruption. The price of votes was reported to have gone up to 150 guineas at this election, but the committee refused to accept proofs of the agency of the Newcastles, the duchess, who was abroad, having taken steps to ensure a good attendance of friends at the ballot for the committee.4

In 1806 when the 4th Duke came of age he continued to sponsor his stepfather Craufurd for one seat and evidently sold the other to Hughan, a wealthy West India merchant. Opposition from William Ingilby, son of Sir John and grandson of Sir Wharton Amcotts, was ineffective. The duke took care, by offering to make Craufurd give up his seat to William Windham, to obtain the goodwill of the minister Lord Grenville, who was however unable to secure the return of William Wickham* when Windham was provided for. Grenville could command the votes of four Exchequer clerks at Retford. One of them, Alderman John Parker, was very influential: in 1802 he had written to Grenville protesting at the Newcastle bid to return both Members, and claiming that, although he had been instrumental in uniting the corporation ‘for the purpose of serving the Newcastle interest’, he had been impelled by interference from the duke’s agent in corporation affairs and ‘many other pointed incivilities’ to refuse his second vote. Then, and again in 1807, he offered to sponsor any nominee of Grenville’s, and at the latter election, when Ingilby stood again and succeeded in defeating Hughan, claimed that, had Grenville wished it, ‘we could have turned out the general’ (i.e. Craufurd) as well.5

Ingilby went abroad before the election of 1812 to escape his creditors, and his father would not stand. Ingilby’s friends were disappointed and Col. John Kirke of Markham Hall was rumoured to have urged Sir Thomas Woollaston White, 1st Bt., of Walling Wells to step in, but he did not do so. The Newcastle interest did not, however, benefit, for Gen. Craufurd stood down. The borough was thus thrown open. The duke, who footed the bill, refused to pay voters any more; consequently his last-minute nominee, Henry Dawkins*, gave up his canvass on discovering that he could get only 30 corporation votes without payment.6 The borough recorder since 1809, Francis Ferrand Foljambe, whose father hoped he might get a seat with the duke’s concurrence, secured a deputation to invite Earl Fitzwilliam to name a candidate, and he named Osbaldeston, to whom he was obliged for support at Lincoln. Another candidate Charles Marsh, ‘a perfect stranger’, offered himself at the instigation of the Marquess Wellesley. Marsh arrived the day before Osbaldeston accompanied by two London attorneys, one of whom indiscreetly alleged that Marsh had a letter of credit from Coutts to the Retford bank worth £10,000, which the bank denied. When Marsh was called upon to show his credentials, Osbaldeston wished to take advantage of the situation to ‘bring in an old schoolfellow instead of Marsh’, but was dissuaded, according to Thomas Hinton Burley Oldfield, who introduced Osbaldeston at Retford. He was induced by Oldfield, who had at first favoured ‘Sir C. Blount’, to join forces with Marsh. Osbaldeston reported that Marsh had canvassed ‘under false colours’, claiming to be invited ‘through the medium of Mr Oldfield’, so that the electors ‘imagined’ he was the person Fitzwilliam had named to Oldfield: and Marsh thus secured a great number of promises. They were returned unopposed.7

Oldfield, an advocate of parliamentary reform, who boasted that ‘the Newcastle influence in this place appears to be extinct’, advised Fitzwilliam that if he continued to lead the Blue party at Retford and Foljambe the Pinks, they might always carry the borough at a trifling expense, 20 Jan. 1813. But he subsequently claimed that his services were inadequately remunerated by Osbaldeston and not at all by Marsh, and threatened legal action against them. Osbaldeston’s mother, who believed that ‘no election could be more pure as no sort of promise was made or required’, alleged that Oldfield’s claim that he, as agent, promised 20 guineas each to 28 voters was a pretext for litigation, as the voters denied the promise. In May 1815 when Oldfield heard that Marsh was accepting an appointment in India, he wrote to Fitzwilliam, ready to overlook the past and offering to support his nominee; he added that four gentlemen were interested in the seat.8 Fitzwilliam refused to treat with him, but, on being invited to name a candidate, secretly and at the recommendation of Foljambe, sponsored the candidature of Samuel Crompton in January 1818. At the ensuing election neither Osbaldeston (who could not afford it) nor Marsh appeared. Alderman Parker was of the opinion that Fitzwilliam might have the return of both Members, but the Whig magnate was too prudent to covet the insecure status of the dukes of Newcastle in the borough.9 Newcastle did not publicly intervene between 1812 and 1826 and the other seat in 1818 went to a local landowner, William Evans, who, like Crompton, was a banker at Derby, and who later admitted that he had given 20 guineas a vote, 40 guineas to plumpers, and spent just over £4,400 in all; and this without a contest. Evans professed no party, but was regarded as a ministerialist and was believed to have the private concurrence of Newcastle. Foljambe, who had given up all thought of a seat because of the cost, had written to Fitzwilliam, 20 Aug. 1816, ‘I have no doubt that one of the seats for Retford may be secured for anyone to whom it is an object to be in Parliament at a certain expense’.10 The venality of the borough escaped scrutiny until there was a collision between the Newcastle and Fitzwilliam interests in 1826.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 5; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 2669; Cartwright Corresp. i. 180.
  • 2. J. M. Golby, ‘The Political and Electioneering Influence of the 4th Duke of Newcastle’ (Nottingham Univ. BA thesis, 1961).
  • 3. Newcastle mss NeC 6041-1, 6044, 6046; Portland mss, PwF104, 2970; PwV108, 110; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1797), 385.
  • 4. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 330; J. S. Piercey, Retford, 57; The Times, 5 Apr., 20 May, 1, 2 July; Newcastle mss NeC 6054; Fortescue mss, Parker to Grenville, 21 Mar. 1802; CJ, lviii. 42, 451; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections, ii. 475; A. C. Wood, Notts. 296; Lonsdale mss, Duchess of Newcastle to Lowther, 8 Mar. 1803.
  • 5. Fortescue mss, Newcastle to Grenville, 19, 25 Oct., replies 21 [27] Oct. 1806; Parker to same, 21 Mar. 1802, 1, 7 Mar. 1807.
  • 6. Newcastle mss NeC 6576, 6581-2, 6595.
  • 7. Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 330; Fortescue mss, Mrs Osbaldeston to Grenville, 2 Oct., Parker to same, 3 Oct., Fitzwilliam to same, 4 Oct. 1812; Add. 38739, f. 45; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F42/28, 31, 32a.
  • 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F42/32b; F83/9/11, 12, 13; F108/24.
  • 9. Ibid. F49/32-35, 37, 39.
  • 10. Ibid. F49/40, 49; LJ, lxii. 310; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F49/30.