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 1,000


(1801): 6,828


26 Oct. 1796 JOHN SCUDAMORE II vice Scudamore, deceased 
4 Nov. 1800 THOMAS POWELL SYMONDS vice Walwyn, deceased 
1 May 1805 RICHARD PHILIP SCUDAMORE vice Scudamore, deceased 
 Richard Philip Scudamore295
21 Sept. 1819 RICHARD PHILIP SCUDAMORE vice Symonds, deceased 

Main Article

The hold of the Whig 11th Duke of Norfolk on a borough with such a large freeman electorate from 1784 until his death in 1815 was a remarkable phenomenon. His marriage to the heiress of the Scudamores of Holme Lacey was at the bottom of it; their kinsmen the Scudamores of Kentchurch provided one Member from 1764 until 1818, while Norfolk stood behind Walwyn and Symonds, two other county gentlemen. It was as a member and patron of the corporation—he was high steward from 1790—that Norfolk reinforced his position, ‘as being best qualified to defend them against a more unwelcome influence, that of the Treasury or some opulent neighbours, who might expect more submission, with less popular claims’. As long as Norfolk lived, the Members always voted ‘on the side of the people’, though they confined their speeches to the hustings.1

Attempts to resist the duke’s sway were ineffectual. In 1790 ‘some restless people wanted a third man’ to oppose Walwyn ‘and looked about for one, but none were to be found bold enough’. Richard Symons, ousted in 1784, had offered Pitt his interest, but would not stand as candidate.2 The Harley interest, which had put up John Rodney* in 1784, now had nobody to suggest. Before the election of 1796 John Keysall of Bourton Court, a London banker and high sheriff 1793-4, tried to get a foothold, meaning to stand as a ministerialist; but he could find no proposer.3 Keysall’s ‘ineffectual and ill-conducted plan’, so Lord Malden* complained to Pitt, prejudiced the chances of John Geers Cotterell*, who had thoughts of standing on the same interest, as ‘many promises ... would not have been made to Mr Walwyn had Major Cotterell’s intentions been known sooner’. ‘A Freeman’ warned the electors, 16 May 1796, that they might expect ‘a tool of administration’ to replace Keysall, but belittled his prospects.4

On Scudamore’s death soon after the election, Cotterell came forward in opposition to his son. Sir George Cornewall* reported:

As to Hereford much to my astonishment, Cotterell has made so good a canvass that from the state of the returns, his committee think him sure, unless the Duke of Norfolk’s pocket should be too deep for his; he is a formidable opponent, and has an opportunity of indulging his favourite passion of electioneering for four months more.

But Cotterell gave up, allowing himself to be diverted in future to the county. Not surprisingly some freemen complained that ‘as times have gone, an election at Hereford was not worth a vote’.5 On Walwyn’s death in 1800, there was again idle talk of opposition to Symonds, the duke’s replacement, but none materialized. In 1802 the Members were unopposed, though, according to The Times, ‘there was a very good chance for a third person, the corporation having lost much of their influence’. A freemen’s petition alleging that the Members owed their return to bribery, corruption and treating was found ‘frivolous and vexatious’ by the House. In 1810 when Symonds was supposed to be dying, a contest was anticipated, but he lived.6

On Norfolk’s death, John Somers Cocks, 2nd Baron Somers, became high steward of Hereford and his objective was to take over Norfolk’s role. His heir prepared to stand for Hereford at the next opportunity. The Cockses were at that time Grenvillites, and Symonds, whose health had long prevented him from attending Parliament, was prepared to consider retirement. Lord Somers reported, 13 June 1816, ‘Almost all there seem to be favourable to our interest, though as Whigs and Tories, violent against each other’.7 That was the rub: the family’s conversion to ministerial politics discouraged Symonds from retiring and, if anything, spurred him into renewed activity. Robert Price* of Foxley alleged in October 1817 that Lord Somers’s political volte face was ‘certainly not popular on the whole in Hereford’, but believed that Cocks, who had recruited the London freemen, would succeed. Price had hoped to come in, in place of Symonds, and through a compromise with Cocks, but by December his hopes were dashed with the appearance of a second ministerial candidate, Charles Wetherell*, a stranger, whose father had been dean of Hereford. Price feared that the Members might be defeated, though a subscription for them was floated, 6 Jan. 1818. But before the election Wetherell withdrew. Somers hoped to substitute William Wingfield*, estate manager to the deranged dowager Duchess of Norfolk; but he found that Thomas Bird, the late duke’s Hereford agent, whom he had won over by the clerkship of the peace to be the chief guarantor of his future prospects in elections there, would not support Wingfield. Cocks therefore stood alone against an alliance of the Whig Members.8

Apart from political issues—Cocks had to defend his vote, as Member for Reigate, for the suspension of habeas corpus—there was some animosity on the hustings about the tactics of Cocks’s ‘over-zealous’ agents. Symonds accused them of bribery and intimidation and of traducing him as having pledged himself to retire in Cocks’s favour. The show of hands favoured the sitting Members, but Cocks headed the poll. Of 664 votes in four days he got 452, 211 of them plumpers, 154 shared with Symonds and 87 shared with Scudamore. Symonds and Scudamore shared only 197 votes and got only 11 and 4 plumpers respectively. Cocks monopolized the outvote.9 Scudamore, the defeated candidate, regained his seat unopposed on Symonds’s death a year later. Lord Somers would have liked to see him opposed, but he could not get Wingfield, who was not a county gentleman, adopted. Col. John Matthews* (Cocks’s proposer in 1818) canvassed, but withdrew, intending to save his fire for the next general election. ‘Matthews I think at last would have come in’, wrote Somers, ‘though he feared a contest.’ Somers, who was looking forward to an earldom for his services, assured the prime minister, 25 Sept. 1819, ‘we have obtained a complete majority in the corporation, and I much incline to think we may at a future election bring in both Members’. He was sure the Duke of Norfolk’s policy of putting up ‘a gentleman of the county’ was the right one.10

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iv. 10.
  • 2. Malmesbury mss, Cornewall to Malmesbury, 28 June 1790; PRO 30/8/181, f. 311.
  • 3. Morning Chron. 17 May; PRO 30/8/234, f. 267; Salopian Jnl. 25 May 1796.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/155, f. 38; Morning Chron. 17 May 1796.
  • 5. Malmesbury mss, Cornewall to Malmesbury, 30 July; Morning Chron. 4 Oct. 1796; Modern Metamorphoses or Electioneering Prospects (Hereford, 1796).
  • 6. The Times, 14, 20 Oct. 1800, 7 July 1802; CJ, lviii. 68; lix. 118; Grey mss, Lauderdale to Grey, 12 Aug. 1810.
  • 7. Add. 35651, f. 363; 35652, ff. 49, 87.
  • 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G83/56; Fitzwilliam mss, box 89, Price to Milton, 31 Dec. 1817; Add. 38280, f. 12.
  • 9. The Late Elections (1818), 137; List of the Poll (1818).
  • 10. Add. 38280, f. 12; NLW, Mayberry mss 6539; Morning Chron. 25, 28 Aug. 1818.