Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 130


2,612 (1821); 1,870 (1831)



Main Article

Amersham, an unincorporated borough, was a thriving market town in the south-east of the county. There was a silk manufactory, chairs were made for export and lace and straw plait making employed mainly women and children.1 It remained entirely under the electoral control of the Tory Tyrwhitt Drake family of nearby Shardeloes, who owned most of the property in and around the borough. They enjoyed considerable popularity, amply fulfilled their responsibilities as resident landowners, scrupulously observed all the electoral forms and did not stint on entertainments, which cost almost £600 in 1820.2 John Fowler of Aylesbury wrote in 1892:

When I was a boy I remember being present at one of these Amersham elections, and was highly delighted at the fun and the frolic. The candidates stood in front of the old market hall on two large stones, and, after the usual nomination, in very brief speeches returned thanks for their selection. They then entered their carriages, drawn by four horses, and perambulated the town, followed by a crowd of men, women, and children shouting and dancing around. There was a very curious custom here which I had never heard of at any other town. At each of the inns ... the women-folk, old and young, married and single, assembled - the two best inns being selected by the lady inhabitants, the others according to their order or grade in society - and, being seated round the public room in the house, these fair ones awaited the arrival of the newly-elected Members, who formally entered the room and very deliberately and demurely kissed them in turn. This performance concluded, a raid was made into the inn-rooms by the young men of the place, and, amidst loud laughter and screams and struggles innumerable, they also kissed the not unwilling dames.3

According to a contemporary report of the 1826 general election, the electors went to Shardeloes and escorted the Tyrwhitt Drake brothers the mile to the town hall for the formalities.4

The town was illuminated to celebrate the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline in November 1820.5 The inhabitants petitioned both Houses for the abolition of slavery in March 1824, May 1826 and November 1830.6 Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June 1827, and both Houses in February 1828, when Thomas Tyrwhitt Drake opposed the measure and his brother was absent.7 The gentry, clergy, freeholders and inhabitants petitioned the Commons, 6 Feb., and the Lords, 12 Feb. 1829, against Catholic emancipation, which both Members opposed.8 Local agriculturists petitioned the Commons for repeal of the malt duty, 22 Mar. 1831; and the inhabitants joined those of nearby Chesham to petition the Lords in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, 6 Oct. 1831.9

In his satire on John Wilson Croker* and the Conservative understrappers in the first chapter of Coningsby (1844), Benjamin Disraeli† set the following dialogue on 9 May 1832, when the ministry resigned and opposition had fleeting hopes of a return to power:

‘I always thought the country was sound at bottom’, exclaimed Mr. Taper ... ‘There is no doubt that there is considerable reaction’, said Mr. Tadpole. ‘The infamous conduct of the Whigs in the Amersham case has opened the public mind more than anything.’

In the first two reform bills the borough was scheduled to retain one Member, on the strength of its population in 1821. When ministers in November 1831 changed the criterion for disfranchisement to a calculation based on the number of houses and the amount of assessed taxes paid, Amersham, which had a large parish population but a small borough one, became a marginal case. It emerged that the borough contained 247 houses (70 rated at £10) and the town beyond it, as defined by the boundary commissioners, 113 (37 at £10). The assessed taxes were £429. These figures placed Amersham 56th in the scale of small boroughs, and ministers proposed that the first 56 should comprise schedule A and be totally disfranchised.10 In the debate on the composition of the schedule, 20 Jan. 1832, Croker seized on Amersham as a prime example of the arbitrary and unfair nature of the government’s proposals, pointing out that it was a markedly more substantial place than any of the other 55 boroughs and arguing that it ought to keep one seat. Wetherell supported him, but ministers refused to budge. On 24 Jan. the ‘principal inhabitants’ of Amersham parish petitioned the Commons for the retention of at least one seat.11 When the question of Amersham’s inclusion in A was formally proposed, 21 Feb. 1832, Croker moved the substitution for it of Midhurst, where Lord Carrington and his Whig brother John Smith* had a controlling interest and which was scheduled to keep one Member even though it contained over 100 fewer houses than Amersham. He and Wetherell virtually accused ministers of gerrymandering: Midhurst had been greatly enlarged by the addition of an extensive rural area, whereas Amersham had been ‘pared down closely to the very limits of the town’ and had ‘not an inch of unbuilt ground’ added to it. Thomas Tyrwhitt Drake complained that ‘a large portion’ of the town outside the borough, including that in which the rector’s house was situated, had been ‘unjustly excluded’ from the calculations. Ministers would have none of it, Croker’s amendment was beaten by 254-153, and Amersham’s extinction as a parliamentary borough was agreed to without a division.12

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. R.W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 25; Pigot’s Commercial Dir (1823-4), 147; (1830), 69-70.
  • 2. Oldfield, Key (1820), 67; Davis, 26; Bucks. Chron. 1 May 1824.
  • 3. J.K. Fowler, Echoes of Old Country Life, 40-41.
  • 4. Bucks. Chron. 10 June 1826.
  • 5. The Times, 21 Nov. 1830.
  • 6. CJ, lxxix. 177; lxxxi. 344; lxxxvi. 74; LJ, liii. 89; lviii. 321; lxiii. 48; Bucks. Chron. 27 May 1826.
  • 7. CJ, lxxxii. 527; lxxxiii. 90; LJ, lx. 57.
  • 8. CJ, lxxxiv. 8; LJ, lxi. 26.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxvi. 420; LJ, lxiii. 1068.
  • 10. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/130/5/10.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxvi. 48.
  • 12. Davis, 108.