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 inhabitant householders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 7001


4,987 (1821), 4,420 (1831)2


7 Mar. 1820HENRY GEORGE BATHURST, Lord Apsley
10 June 1826HENRY GEORGE BATHURST, Lord Apsley
31 July 1830HENRY GEORGE BATHURST, Lord Apsley
29 Apr. 1831HENRY GEORGE BATHURST, Lord Apsley

Main Article

Cirencester, a market town situated ‘on the borders of the Cotswold country’ and ‘intersected by branches of the River ... Churn’, had been a major fortified settlement in Roman times. By the early nineteenth century it had lost its prominent position as a centre of the wool trade, while wool combing and cloth making were in decline and the carpet and edge tool manufactories were soon to be supplanted by those of the West Midlands. Nevertheless, Cirencester enjoyed increasing prosperity owing to the presence of a wealthy residential population whose ‘handsome’ properties ‘thickly studded’ the town and its vicinity. It thus retained its status as ‘capital of East Gloucestershire and ... principal depot for ... articles of consumption’, and boasted shops worthy of London. In 1825 an Improvement Act was obtained which led to the demolition of some ‘unsightly tenements’ and gave the town centre ‘a pleasant and open appearance’.3

The borough comprised the hundred of Cirencester, which did not entirely correspond to the parish of that name.4 For over a century one of the seats had been filled by nominees of the Bathurst family of Oakley Park, who as lords of the manor appointed the steward and bailiff, the returning officers for parliamentary elections. With around two-thirds of adult males entitled to vote there had sometimes been intense competition for the second seat, which many felt should be held by a representative of the townspeople. Religious Dissent exercised a strong influence within this local independence movement.5 In 1818 Lord Apsley, the 3rd Earl Bathurst’s son, shared the representation with Joseph Cripps, a local banker and brewer and a fellow Tory. Following their unopposed return in 1820 ‘nearly 200 of their friends ... sat down to an excellent dinner at the King’s Head, and the evening was spent in uninterrupted harmony’; their repeated success at the next four elections doubtless reflected in part the increasingly genteel character of the constituency. According to a Whig commentator in 1831, Cirencester was ‘the very hotbed of Toryism’.6

In November 1820 ‘exultations of joy were heard on every side’ at the news of the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, celebratory dinners were held, ‘the bells rang for three days’ and, despite pressure from Apsley and other magistrates, the inhabitants ‘resolved to illuminate’ the town. A petition in favour of restoring the queen’s name to the liturgy was sent to the Commons, 26 Jan. 1821, and a similar address to the king received ‘about 1,300’ signatures.7 The Unitarians petitioned Parliament for reform of the marriage laws, 17 Apr. 1822, 14 Apr. 1823.8 Petitions from the owners and occupiers of neighbouring land for ‘ample’ agricultural protection and relief from distress were presented, 24 May, 3 June 1822, 28, 29 Apr. 1823.9 The bankers, traders and inhabitants forwarded a petition to the Commons for revision of the criminal law, 3 June 1822.10 Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants were sent to both Houses, 26 Feb., 2 Mar. 1824, and to the Commons, 15 Feb. 1826.11 The rural dean and clergy petitioned Parliament against Catholic claims, 18, 21 Apr. 1825.12 At the dissolution in June 1826 it was reported that Apsley and Cripps were ‘not likely to be disturbed in their re-election’, which proved to be the case.13

The rural dean and clergy again petitioned Parliament against Catholic claims in 1827 and 1828.14 At a ‘numerously attended’ public meeting chaired by Cripps, 20 Feb. 1829, a petition against Catholic emancipation was agreed; it was claimed that ‘at least 29 out of 30 of the respectable people of the town have expressed their entire concurrence in it’. The petition, with 908 signatures, was presented to the Commons by Cripps, who opposed the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, 4 Mar., and the Lords by Eldon, 6 Mar. A petition in favour of emancipation, reputedly signed ‘by most of the intelligent and reflecting persons in the town’, was organized and presented to the Lords by Bathurst, 6 Mar., and the Commons by Apsley, who supported the measure, 9 Mar. 1829.15 The Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 15 June 1827, and the inhabitants sent anti-slavery petitions to both Houses, 2 June 1828.16 On 28 Feb. 1829 Lord Sherborne chaired a meeting of landowners and farmers at the Ram, where it was resolved to establish a Cirencester and Gloucestershire Agricultural Society. Cripps, who opened the proceedings, observed that Cirencester was the logical centre for such an organization as ‘the surrounding country was, generally speaking, occupied by agriculturists’ and the market was ‘almost exclusively for agricultural produce’. Local farmers and agriculturists forwarded a petition to the Lords for repeal of the malt duty, 27 Apr. 1830.17 The inhabitants petitioned Parliament for abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 16 Mar., 26 Apr. 1830.18 Following the dissolution that summer ‘two placards of an electioneering nature’ ornamented the town, one of them ‘setting forth that a neighbouring gentleman, every way qualified, intends coming forward to offer himself to the electors ... and requesting them to suspend the promise of their votes’, the other, from the banker Devereux Bowly of Chesterton House, possibly acting on behalf of the Quakers, urging the electors not to vote for any candidate unless he pledged support for the abolition of slavery. In the event, no opposition to the sitting Members was forthcoming and they were returned ‘with little noise’. Apsley was proposed by the wool stapler Thomas Slatter and the draper Richard Bowly, while Cripps was nominated by William Lawrence and the cheese factor Thomas Byrch; after the show of hands each Member ‘entered into a full explanation of his political conduct’ and they were then chaired. Tickets worth 10s. were ‘given by each Member to the lower class of voters’ and ‘between 200 and 300 gentlemen’ were entertained at the King’s Head, where Apsley ‘eulogized’ Wellington’s ministry, particularly for its settlement of the Catholic question. Cripps, who ‘declared himself a friend to the present government’, acknowledged that ‘in his canvass he had met observations on his conduct ... as regarded colonial slavery and other measures’ and that ‘he had presented petitions which he could not altogether support’, including one ‘relative to forgery’. Shortly after the election a subscription was opened in the town ‘for the Parisian patriots’.19

The Wesleyan Methodists petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 12 Nov. 1830.20 A ‘most numerously signed’ petition from the inhabitants, with ‘no instance of disapprobation ... in the course of its signature’, in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, was forwarded to the Commons, 25 Mar. 1831.21 Although the bill proposed to leave Cirencester’s representation intact, the £10 household franchise provision was set eventually to reduce the size of the electorate as the existing voters, who retained their right for life, died off. Apsley voted against the bill’s second reading and while Cripps, apparently sensing the drift of opinion in Cirencester, supported it, he wished to see significant alterations and may have voted for Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment. At the ensuing general election Apsley issued a pointed address, ‘soliciting those suffrages with which you have so long honoured me and of which your children are not yet deprived’. On the day appointed for canvassing, ‘a party of most respectable gentlemen’ waited on Cripps to ascertain his opinions and were informed that he was ‘favourable to reform, but would not pledge himself to support every clause in the bill ... nor, indeed, would he ever go into the House ... pledged to support or oppose any particular measure’. According to one newspaper account, if this statement had not been made ‘the electors had a gentleman, a Mr. Attwood, ready to ... offer himself’. Apsley, who was nominated by the Rev. Henry Pye and the cheese factor John Byrch, ‘made a very good speech’ declaring himself ‘decidedly hostile to the ministers’ present plan’. Cripps, who was again sponsored by Lawrence and Thomas Byrch, confirmed ‘in a most unequivocal and manly manner’ his general support for reform. After several speeches by reformers, including Messrs. Bowly, Browne, Horsefield and Zachary, Apsley and Cripps were declared elected and chaired; ‘the whole passed off with the most unanimous and friendly feeling’ and the usual dinner was given at the King’s Head.22 On 12 Oct. 1831 a ‘very numerous’ public meeting agreed an address to the king expressing regret at the Lords’ rejection of the reintroduced reform bill, and one of thanks to ministers. An attempt was made ‘by a few anti-reformers to defeat the first resolution, but it proved a total failure, scarcely six hands being held up against it’. One local newspaper believed that the inhabitants were ‘more warm and enthusiastic than ever’ in favour of reform.23

The boundary commissioners reported that the town had ‘spread beyond the borough’, particularly to the south-east, and proposed a new boundary encompassing all the buildings and land which could conceivably be ‘claimed as ... part of the ... town’. However, their alternative suggestion that the boundary be extended to cover the whole parish was the one adopted. In 1832 the registered electorate was 604, of whom around 250 were ‘old right’ voters.24 At the general election that year Philip Pleydell Bouverie, brother of the 3rd earl of Radnor, offered ‘upon reform principles’ but withdrew after a disappointing canvass, leaving Apsley and Cripps to be returned unopposed as Conservatives.25 Apsley sat until he succeeded his father in 1834 and Cripps until his retirement in 1841. Cirencester remained a predominantly Conservative borough until its disfranchisement in 1885.

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 514.
  • 2. Ibid. (1830-1), x. 146; (1831-2), xxxvi. 323. The figure for 1821 relates to the parish, that for 1831 to the borough only.
  • 3. Glos. Dir. (1820), 52; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 51; (1830), 363-4; Robson’s Glos. Dir. (1838), 65; K. Beecham, Hist. Cirencester (1842), 1, 30-32, 36, 42; (1887), 197-201.
  • 4. PP (1830-1), x. 67.
  • 5. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 263, 344-5, 361, 366, 372.
  • 6. Gloucester Jnl. 6, 13 Mar. 1820; Glos. RO, Hyett mss D6/F32/3.
  • 7. The Times, 18 Nov. 1820; Gloucester Jnl. 8, 22 Jan. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 12.
  • 8. CJ, lxxvii. 178; LJ, lv. 610.
  • 9. CJ, lxxvii. 296; lxxviii. 264; LJ, lv. 216, 648.
  • 10. CJ, lxxvii. 309.
  • 11. Ibid. lxxix. 102; lxxxi. 49; LJ, lvi. 55.
  • 12. CJ, lxxx. 314; LJ, lvii. 608.
  • 13. Gloucester Jnl. 5, 19 June 1826.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxii. 259; lxxxiii. 159; LJ, lix. 101; lx. 109.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxiv. 103, 114; LJ, lxi. 129, 136; Gloucester Jnl. 28 Feb. 1829.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxii. 567; lxxxiii. 389; LJ, lx. 485.
  • 17. Gloucester Jnl. 7 Mar. 1829; LJ, lxii. 230.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxv. 184, 330; LJ, lxii. 121.
  • 19. Bath and Cheltenham Gazette, 20 July, 24 Aug.; Cheltenham Jnl. 2, 9, 23 Aug.; Gloucester Jnl. 7 Aug. 1830; Gloucester Public Lib. Glos. Coll. RZ 79.1 (1).
  • 20. CJ, lxxxvi. 61.
  • 21. Ibid. 435; Cheltenham Jnl. 21 Mar. 1831.
  • 22. Cirencester Bingham Lib. Apsley’s address, 23 Apr.; Cheltenham Jnl. 9 May; Gloucester Jnl. 14 May 1831.
  • 23. Gloucester Jnl. 15 Oct. 1831.
  • 24. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 189; Beecham (1887), 171-2.
  • 25. Gloucester Jnl. 1, 8, 15 Dec. 1832.