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 the freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 1,500

Number of voters:

1,383 in 1830


6,728 (1821); 7,432 (1831)


8 Mar. 1820GEORGE LANE FOX1038
 Robert Christie Burton71
9 June 1826JOHN STEWART1023
 John Wharton582
 Capel Cure637
 Charles Winn349

Main Article

Beverley, the administrative and social centre of the East Riding, noted for its splendid minster, was a prosperous and ‘most respectable’ market town nine miles north of Hull, to which it was connected by road and a navigable canal creek. It had ‘no manufactures’ of significance, but the presence of four linen manufactories, a paint making business and an iron foundry presaged its slow development as a minor industrial town from the mid-1830s. There was also some small-scale boat and ship building.1 The corporation was a self-perpetuating oligarchy comprised of a mayor, 12 other aldermen and 13 capital burgesses. Aldermanic vacancies were filled by the choice of the existing aldermen from the capital burgesses. The latter were elected annually by the freemen from a list of 26 chosen and submitted by the aldermen. The mayor was also elected annually at Michaelmas by the freemen, and contests became increasingly political events in this period; treating was routine. The aldermen were almost all gentlemen or professionals, and even among the capital burgesses the lesser tradesmen were few in number. Some capital burgesses did not always toe the corporation line, and there was considerable resentment over aldermanic control of their election.2 The parliamentary franchise was in the freemen, of whom about one-third were non-resident. An unusually high proportion (about 40 per cent) of resident adult males had a vote. Freedom was acquired by birth or servitude, and could also be purchased, but the cost of this had risen to a largely prohibitive 70 guineas plus fees by 1825.3 There was no commanding interest, and money was the essential key to success. Contests, sometimes manufactured purely for the benefit of the electors, occurred as a matter of course: all ten elections between the by-election of 1799 and the general election of 1831 went to a poll. Although treating and outright bribery were common, a significant element of candidates’ expenditure went on bringing out-voters to the poll. Turnout was high (over 80 per cent), and there were some indications of party activity, but until 1837 most electors appear to have been influenced by considerations unconnected with party, national issues or political principles.4

On the eve of the dissolution in 1820 the 3rd Baron Hotham, a young Irish peer who had a residence at Dalton Hall, near Beverley, was informed by his agent John Hall that both sitting Members were ‘most unpopular’: they were John Wharton of Skelton Castle, a well-connected Foxite Whig who had sat for the borough in the 1790 Parliament and again since 1802, had built up a strong personal following, but was in great financial straits; and the insolvent debtor Robert Christie Burton, the son of General Napier Christie Burton, Member, 1796-1806, who had a nearby estate at Hotham Hall and had voted with the Whig opposition in the 1818 Parliament. Hall encouraged Hotham to declare himself, as ‘a very great body of freemen might very easily be got to sign a paper to request any person to come forward and promise their support’ and he could be returned at a cost of no more than £6,000. Both sitting Members stood their ground, but Hall continued to assure Hotham that ‘any other person of respectability’ would defeat at least one of them and claimed to have had ‘offers’ for him to start, but in the event he stood successfully for Leominster.5 Various men were rumoured as candidates, including one Smith, ‘the son of a neighbouring baronet’, Alderman William Beverley, who had finished bottom of the poll in 1812 and 1818, and the Tory Richard Fountayne Wilson* of Melton, who ‘made a nibble at Beverley’. He withdrew soon after George Lane Fox, the 26-year-old son and heir of the wealthy James Fox Lane† of Bramham, near Tadcaster, offered as a third man and ‘spent a great deal of money’.6 There were allusions in the election literature to ‘a very powerful and determined aristocratic combination’ against Wharton, but national political issues were little in evidence.7 It was thought that Lane Fox would ‘certainly’ head the poll, while Christie Burton persisted but did not canvass. Lane Fox finished 381 votes ahead of Wharton, while Christie Burton, who did not attend, received a derisory 71. Of the 1,278 freemen who polled, 81 per cent cast a vote for Lane Fox and 51 per cent for Wharton. In all, 790 freemen (62 per cent of those who polled) cast plumpers. Lane Fox received 581 (‘almost as many’, remarked Hall, ‘as would have brought in another Tory Member’),8 which made up 56 per cent of his total, Wharton got 192 (29 per cent) and Christie Burton 17 (24 per cent). Of the six aldermen who voted, three plumped for Fox Lane, one for Wharton and one for Christie Burton, and one split for Lane Fox and Wharton. The out-voters who polled numbered 510 (40 per cent of the total): they showed a strong preference for Fox Lane. Wharton received a vote from 63 per cent of the resident freemen.9 Lane Fox refused to donate a bull for baiting, a custom which had been revived by Wharton in 1802. (The practice was ended by the corporation in 1824.)10

Agriculturists of the Beverley area petitioned the Commons for relief from distress, 26 May 1820, 5 Mar. 1821.11 The inhabitants petitioned for restoration of Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy (for which both Members voted), 24 Jan. 1821.12 The corporation petitioned both Houses against Catholic relief in 1821, 1822, 1823 and 1825, when Sydney Smith spoke at a meeting of East Riding clergy at the Tiger tavern and found himself in a minority of one for emancipation.13 (Wharton supported relief and Lane Fox opposed it in 1821 but voted for the principle in 1825.) Tradesmen and other inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Acts, 20 Feb. 1823, and victuallers and innkeepers did so for relief from their licence duties, 25 Feb. 1824.14 The clergy, gentry and inhabitants petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 10 Mar. 1824, 15 Feb. 1826.15 Local agriculturists petitioned the Commons against interference with the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825, and the inhabitants did so for the repeal of some assessed taxes, 15 Feb. 1826.16 The 1824 mayoral election was fiercely contested between the Tory surgeon John Williams, who won, and the Whig attorney Henry Shepherd.17

In the autumn of 1825, when a dissolution was widely expected, the Whig Sir Francis Wood of Barnsley and his son Charles Wood* visited Beverley to make soundings, having been alerted to a possible opening by a correspondent of Lord Dundas. They discovered that a deputation of Lane Fox’s committee had asked him to stand again and that he had agreed to do so, and that the wealthy Henry Burton Peters, who had married Napier Christie Burton’s daughter and heiress (having seduced her from her first husband, who had divorced her in 1819) and taken up residence at Hotham after the death of her brother Robert Christie Burton in 1822, had ‘spent a great deal of money lately amongst the Beverley electors’ and ‘declares he shall stand a poll’. Wood told Lord Fitzwilliam’s son Lord Milton*:

In this case there can be no possible chance for a fourth candidate but to stand aloof without declaring himself and to watch for any opening that may casually occur. We heard, as reports only, that George [Lane] Fox might, after all, find himself so unpopular that he might ... decline to stand and that ... [Burton] Peters was infinitely disgusted by some of the ... electors lampooning his wife, and that after spending his money there he had declared he would not come to Beverley again on any consideration. But it did not appear at all likely to me that these surmises could be true ... It seems to be the general opinion that Wharton is quite safe, though it is said jocularly that he is put in some peril by the gentlemen of the neighbourhood having latterly come over to his side.18

At the dissolution in June 1826 Wharton offered again, but Lane Fox decided to retire and gave his interest and support to the well-to-do equity lawyer Charles Harrison Batley of Bramley Grange, near Leeds, who presented himself as an advocate of cautious relaxation of the corn laws and opponent of Catholic relief. Burton Peters did not stand, but gave his full support to the Scottish East India merchant John Stewart, whose handicap as a stranger was mitigated by his endorsement by his kinsman Charles Forbes*, Member for Beverley in the 1812 Parliament. Stewart professed ‘independence’, while generally approving of the Liverpool ministry’s policies, and voiced support for the abolition of slavery. Hall reported to Hotham that ‘if Mr. Wharton does not take care he will be turned out’.19 So he was, receiving a vote from 43 per cent of the 1,362 freemen who polled, while Stewart was supported by 75 per cent and Harrison Batley by 48. Hall reckoned that Harrison Batley would be faced with a bill of not much more than £3,000, as ‘the time was very short’ and ‘there was no treating’, but thought Stewart’s would be ‘much more expensive’.20 Plumpers were cast by 469 (34 per cent) of those who polled: 179 for Stewart (17 per cent of his total); 107 for Harrison Batley (16 per cent), and 183 for Wharton (31 per cent). Stewart and Harrison Batley had 494 split votes (48 and 75 per cent of their respective totals), and Stewart and Wharton received 350 (34 and 60 per cent). Only 49 freemen split for Harrison Batley and Wharton. Of the seven aldermen who polled, six voted for Stewart (two with plumpers, three splitting for him and Harrisson Batley and one for him and Wharton), and one plumped for Wharton. There were 524 out-voters (38 per cent of the total polled): Stewart received a vote from 212 (40 per cent) of them, and apparently paid £609 in travel expenses.21 On 5 Dec. 1826 the Commons received a petition in the names of two London out-voters alleging that Harrison Batley was not qualified to sit, but it was not pursued. Milton had encouraged Wharton, whose creditors were closing in on him, to petition on the same ground, but he left it too late.22 He was arrested for debt in 1828 and spent the last 15 years of his life confined within the rules of king’s bench.

On 6 Mar. 1827 Stewart voted for Catholic relief, and when presenting Beverley corporation’s hostile petition (they also sent one to the Lords), 22 Mar. 1827, he dissented from its prayer. Harrison Batley endorsed it. Burton Peters wrote to Stewart accusing him of breaking a promise to oppose Catholic claims and withdrawing from him the future support of ‘the party’ which had secured his return on that condition. Stewart defended himself, and the correspondence was made public.23 The corporation again petitioned against relief in April 1828.24 When the Wellington ministry conceded Catholic emancipation in 1829, the corporation petitioned against it, and Harrison Batley signified to the mayor his intention of opposing it, which he duly did. Some inhabitants petitioned against emancipation after a public meeting at which Burton Peters was the principal speaker. Stewart defiantly supported it, and the clergy, gentry and other inhabitants and ‘the friends of civil and religious liberty’ in Beverley petitioned for it.25 Protestant Dissenters of Beverley petitioned in 1827 and 1828 for repeal of the Test Acts, which Harrison Batley opposed and on which Stewart did not vote.26 Merchants, traders, manufacturers, farmers and others petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Small Notes Act, 6 June 1828.27 Some inhabitants petitioned both Houses against renewal of the East India Company’s trade monopoly in March 1830, and licensed victuallers petitioned the Commons against the bill to open the beer trade, 6 Apr. 1830.28

At the dissolution in July 1830 both sitting Members retired. Burton Peters was reported initially to have ‘declined coming’ to Beverley, but Hall believed he was ‘waiting to see if more others offer and at the point will come forward’. So he did, ostensibly in response to a requisition signed by some 300 electors. Sir Henry Pollard Willoughby* of Baldon, Oxfordshire, made an enquiry, but Hall’s ‘account of the place deterred him from coming’.29 Wharton declared his candidature from king’s bench prison and a third man was procured in the person of Capel Cure of Blake Hall, Essex, who was married to the daughter of General Cheney, a Beverley resident. Burton Peters and Cure canvassed, but it was not known, as alderman Henry Shepherd noted, whether Wharton was a serious contender. On 21 July Shepherd advised Gilbert John Heathcote*, who was showing an interest in the borough, to try to

ascertain his positive intentions. If he should come again, I would by no means recommend your coming. If he does not come, there certainly would be a fair chance of success, in as much as there are many freemen holding back their votes for him; and were he to decline you would come in as a third man and secure most of his votes as well ... Burton’s return is already beyond a doubt. The struggle is at present expected to bebetween ... Wharton and ... Cure. The compliment expected is not more than four guineas nor less than three for a plumper or a double vote, and two guineas or one guinea and a half for a single vote. Neither Wharton nor the present Members paid any compliment at the last election.

Soon afterwards Wharton’s supporters received confirmation of his ‘inability to discharge his pecuniary engagements’, and they turned to the veteran Yorkshire Whig reformer Daniel Sykes, Member for Hull, who had alienated the local merchants with his espousal of free trade views and had just been passed over as Whig candidate for the county. After an initial demur, partly out of deference to Wharton, he agreed to stand once it was clear that Wharton was out of the equation.30 The supporters of Cure left ‘no stone unturned’ to get the London voters, who tended to favour the Whigs, to Beverley in time and seduce them, with instructions that they should cast ‘bullets’ for their man, if possible.31 Sykes, who refused to follow the example of his rivals in paying the corporation the customary 210 guineas for the freedom, advocated economy and retrenchment and abolition of slavery and the East Company’s monopoly. Burton Peters took much the same line and was always comfortably at the head of the poll, but the struggle for second place was close and ‘unpredictable’. The arrival of a contingent of London voters, who split their votes between Burton Peters (45) and Sykes (44), probably tipped the balance in favour of Sykes.32 Burton Peters received a vote from 75 per cent of the 1,420 electors who polled, Sykes from 52 per cent and Cure from 46 per cent. There were 348 plumpers (25 per cent of voters), 93 for Burton Peters (nine per cent of his total), 197 for Sykes (27 per cent), and 58 for Cure (nine per cent). Burton Peters and Sykes shared 456 votes (42 and 62 per cent of their respective totals), Burton Peters and Cure received 502 splits (47 and 76 per cent) and 77 voted for Sykes and Cure (ten and 12 per cent). Out-voters numbered 544 (38 per cent of the total polled). Of the nine aldermen who voted, two plumped for Burton Peters, two did so for Cure, four voted for both men and one split for Sykes and Cure.33 Soon after the election the supporters of Burton Peters founded the Beacon Club to ‘uphold and perpetuate the honourable, independent and constitutional principles’ for which he stood.34

Beverley Dissenters and some of the inhabitants petitioned both Houses for the abolition of slavery in the 1830 Parliament.35 Some inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the assessed taxes, 15 Dec. 1830, and freeholders did so against the register of deeds bill, 19 Mar. 1831 (and again, 6 Feb. 1832).36 The Grey ministry’s first reform bill proposed to disfranchise non-resident and future freemen and vest the franchise in £10 householders, which threatened a considerable reduction in the size of Beverley’s electorate. Sykes approved of the measure in principle but asked the mayor Samuel Hall to sound the freemen on the prospect of losing their right to vote. A meeting of inhabitants of Beverley petitioned in favour of the bill, but one of freemen sent up a petition, which Burton Peters presented, 19 Mar., objecting to their disfranchisement.37 Sykes, who was fatally ill, and Burton Peters voted for the second reading of the bill, 22 Mar., and against the successful Tory wrecking amendment which precipitated a dissolution, 19 Apr. 1831. Sykes stood down and gave his blessing to William Marshall, the eldest son of the wealthy Leeds linen manufacturer and former county Member, who declared his support for the reform bills but stressed that he would ‘watch over your political rights and your local privileges’. Burton Peters also offered as a supporter of reform who would protect freemen’s rights, but, in a step unprecedented in Beverley, he made it clear that he would not be ‘at any expense at all on this occasion’ and thus stood on a ‘purity of election’ platform. The reformers were opposed by the Tory Charles Winn of Nostell Priory, near Wakefield, the son-in-law of Sir William Strickland of Boynton. In the course of the election, Marshall claimed that most of the London voters, after initially refusing to support a reform candidate, had changed their minds and decided to go to Beverley ‘to disfranchise themselves’ for the greater good. Winn conceded defeat after a few hours’ polling left him well in arrears. Sykes, though ‘labouring under extreme weakness’, made a valedictory and congratulatory speech to his former constituents.38 Marshall received a vote from 61 per cent of the 1,204 freemen who polled, Burton Peters from 59 per cent and Winn from 29 per cent. Even though there were two reformers in the field, no fewer than 623 voters (52 per cent of the total polled) cast plumpers: 327 for Marshall (46 per cent of his total), 180 for Burton Peters (26 per cent), and 116 for Winn (33 per cent). Of the seven aldermen who voted, four plumped for Burton Peters and three for Winn. Out-voters polled numbered 416 (35 per cent of the total): 330 of them (79 per cent) cast a vote for Marshall.39

On 14 July 1831 Marshall presented the petition of the inhabitant householders of that part of the Beverley out-parish of St. John which lay within the liberties of the town asking to be admitted to the franchise.40 On 30 Aug. Burton Peters informed the House of the likely reduction in Beverley’s electorate when supporting an unsuccessful Tory attempt to preserve freemen’s voting rights. Gentry, clergy and some inhabitants of the borough petitioned the Lords against the reform bill, 7 Oct., but the mayor and other inhabitants did so in its favour, 10 Oct. 1831.41 Inhabitants petitioned Parliament for abolition of the death penalty for non-violent crimes against property, 30 May, 25 June 1832.42 On the recommendation of the boundary commissioners, the six St. John townships of the liberties were annexed to the reformed constituency which, after the decision to preserve the voting rights of freemen resident within seven miles and those who were subsequently admitted by birth or apprenticeship, was increased in area by almost 14 square miles and had a reduced registered electorate in 1832 of 1,011.43 At the general election that year Burton Peters and another Liberal were returned ahead of Winn. The borough, where municipal reform in 1835 encouraged a belated politicization of the electorate, was contested at every election (14 in all) between 1832 and its disfranchisement for persistent corruption in 1869.

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), pp. 592, 593; PP (1831-2), xl. 175; VCH Yorks. E. Riding, vi. 112, 113, 117, 118.
  • 2. PP (1835), xxv. 1454; VCH Yorks. E. Riding, vi. 121-122.
  • 3. PP (1835), xxv. 1457; VCH Yorks. E. Riding, vi. 115.
  • 4. J.A. Phillips, Great Reform Bill in the Boroughs, 9, 33, 51, 211, 212, 214-18
  • 5. Hull Univ. Lib. Hotham mss DDHO/8/2, Hall to Hotham, 7, 9 Feb. 1820.
  • 6. Hull Rockingham, 26 Feb., 4 Mar.; Hotham mss 8/2, Hall to Hotham, 24 Feb., 5 Mar. 1820; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. WWM F48/166.
  • 7. Hull Rockingham, 4, 11 Mar. 1820; Humberside RO DD/MM/2/96a.
  • 8. Hotham mss 8/2, Hall to Hotham, 12 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Beverley Pollbook (1820).
  • 10. VCH Yorks. E. Riding, vi. 125.
  • 11. CJ, lxxv. 242; lxxvi. 137.
  • 12. Ibid. lxxvi. 5.
  • 13. Ibid. 157; lxxviii. 207; lxxx. 219; LJ, liv. 89; lv. 170, 610; lvi. 133; Smith Letters, i. 411.
  • 14. CJ, lxxviii. 49; lxxix. 97.
  • 15. Ibid. lxxix. 97; lxxxi. 49.
  • 16. Ibid. lxxx. 350; lxxxi. 50.
  • 17. VCH Yorks. E. Riding, vi. 121.
  • 18. Fitzwilliam mss, Wood to Milton, 7 Oct. 1825; Yorks.Gazette, 22 Oct. 1825.
  • 19. Hotham mss 8/4, Hall to Hotham, 4, 10 June; Hull Advertiser, 2, 9 June; Yorks. Gazette, 3, 10 June 1826.
  • 20. Hull Advertiser, 16 June; Yorks. Gazette, 17 June; Hotham mss 8/4, Hall to Hotham, 24 June 1826.
  • 21. Beverley Pollbook (1826); VCH Yorks. E. Riding, vi. 126.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxii. 92, 121, 125; Fitzwilliam mss, Wharton to Milton, 12 Dec. 1826.
  • 23. Humberside RO DDBC/11/81; 21/58; CJ, lxxxii. 346; LJ, lix. 153.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxiii. 265; LJ, lx. 237.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxiv. 104, 121, 124; LJ, lxi.121, 140, 182, 201; Hull Rockingham, 7 Mar. 1829; Beverley Lib. DX 24/25 (4 Mar. 1829).
  • 26. CJ, lxxxii. 534; lxxxiii. 101; LJ, lx. 237.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxiii. 406.
  • 28. Ibid. lxxxv. 183, 270; LJ, lxii. 135.
  • 29. Hull Advertiser, 16 July; Hotham mss 8/4, Hall to Hotham, 11, 22 July 1830.
  • 30. Hull Advertiser, 23 July; Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss XIII/B/5b, g, h, j, k.
  • 31. E. Riding RO DDBC/22/E22, 24.
  • 32. Hull Advertiser, 30 July, 6 Aug.; Hotham mss 8/4, Hall to Hotham, 30 July, 1 Aug. 1830.
  • 33. Beverley Pollbook (1830).
  • 34. Yorks. Gazette, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxvi. 48, 86, 105, 175; LJ, lxiii. 78, 98, 140, 176, 267.
  • 36. CJ, lxxxvi. 176, 407; lxxxvii. 74.
  • 37. Hull Advertiser, 10 Mar.; Hull Rockingham, 19 Mar.1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 406; LJ, lxiii. 338.
  • 38. Hull Advertiser, 29 Apr.; Hull Rockingham, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
  • 39. Beverley Pollbook (1831).
  • 40. CJ, lxxxvi. 655.
  • 41. LJ, lxiii. 1072, 1075.
  • 42. CJ, lxxxvii. 347; LJ, lxiv. 323.
  • 43. PP (1831-2), xl. 175; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 433