Higham Ferrers


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

Background Information

A single Member constituency

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen

Number of voters:

about 50


(1801): 726


16 June 1790FREDERICK PONSONBY, Visct. Duncannon
31 Dec. 1790 JOHN LEE vice Duncannon, chose to sit for Knaresborough
13 Sept. 1793 JAMES ADAIR vice Lee, deceased
30 May 1796JAMES ADAIR
9 Feb. 1796 ADAIR re-elected after appointment to office
4 Sept. 1798 STEPHEN THURSTON ADEY vice Adair, deceased
13 Nov. 1801 FRANCIS FERRAND FOLJAMBE vice Adey, deceased
15 June 1810 JOHN WILLIAM PONSONBY, Visct. Duncannon vice Windham, deceased

Main Article

Higham Ferrers was, to quote Oldfield, ‘under the sole influence and at the entire disposal of Earl Fitzwilliam; on which account a contest for the representation never happens’.1 There was no contest between 1724 and 1832, when the borough was disfranchised. John Allen (d.1810), acting for Fitzwilliam, was engaged to find out in 1789 who was entitled to vote and endeavoured to show that only the corporation of 21 could do so, ignoring the decision of the House in 1724 that resident freemen were included in the franchise; but he admitted that ‘the idea of every potboiler being a voter is generally entertained’.2 If this inquiry was instituted in anticipation of an opposition, none materialized.

The only problem facing Fitzwilliam (whose sole heir was a minor) was to decide which of his friends and protégés to return. He usually chose veteran Whigs who were unlikely to hold the seat too long, whence the high mortality rate among the Members. In 1790, when Fitzwilliam’s brother-in-law Duncannon elected to sit for Knaresborough, Lord John Cavendish* could not be persuaded to accept the seat, nor could Francis Ferrand Foljambe, so Fitzwilliam fell back on another reluctant old Whig, John Lee.3 Before Lee died in 1793, his seat was a matter of discussion between Fitzwilliam and Richard Burke*, his London agent. When Lee died, Fitzwilliam felt unable to offer the seat ‘to a young man on those terms on which alone you have declared your intention to receive it’, so he informed Burke, 8 Aug. 1793. When Burke remonstrated (16 Aug.) that he ought to have had the seat ‘in consideration of our former connection’ and that he was being discarded because he was ‘not likely to vote with Fox’, Fitzwilliam admitted that it was Burke’s father’s defection from the Whigs that determined his decision.4 At the same time, he pointed out that he would support ministers over the war with France; and Adair, who replaced Lee, was like-minded. On Adair’s death in 1798, John Brabazon Ponsonby*, who was offered his seat, declined it because he would have been required not to oppose the war and to oppose parliamentary reform. Adey, a friend of Burke, who accepted the seat, for which Fitzwilliam had assured Ponsonby ‘the expense is trifling; the trouble a day of election’, swallowed these conditions.5

Foljambe, who replaced Adey in 1801, was another reluctant veteran, who might have come in for Peterborough on the same interest, but preferred ‘the quieter place of the two’.6 He made way in 1807 for Windham, who could not afford to fight for a seat, but promised to look out for another ‘at no distant period’.7 He died before doing so and Fitzwilliam’s nephew Duncannon stopped the gap, making way in 1812 for another veteran Whig in quest of a quiet seat, William Plumer. Plumer, who was probably not expected to live long and was allowed freedom of action, survived ten years and was careful to keep his quarrelsome constituents ‘in good humour’ when they tried to involve him in corporation dissensions.8

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 434.
  • 2. Fitzwilliam mss, Allen to Bowns, 12 Oct. 1789.
  • 3. Ibid. box 41, Foljambe to Fitzwilliam, 12 Dec., Lee to same, 18 Dec. 1790.
  • 4. Burke Corresp., vii. 394, 396, 416; Minto, ii. 8.
  • 5. Grey mss, Fitzwilliam to Ponsonby, 22 July; Chatsworth mss, Fitzwilliam to Duchess of Devonshire, 29 July [1798].
  • 6. Fitzwilliam mss, box 186, Foljambe to Milton, 2 Nov. 1801.
  • 7. Ibid. box 72, Windham to Fitzwilliam, 5 May 1807.
  • 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F83a, Plumer to Fitzwilliam, 7 and 14 Aug. 1812; Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, same to same, 3 June 1818.