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 freeholders, copyholders and leaseholders for three years, and in 40s. freeholders in the hundreds of Highworth, Cricklade, Staple, Kingsbridge and Malmesbury

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 1,200

Number of voters:

1,138 in 1831


1,506 (1821); 1,642 (1831)


11 Mar. 1820JOSEPH PITT 
14 June 1826JOSEPH PITT 
3 Aug. 1830JOSEPH PITT 
10 May 1831ROBERT GORDON669
 Hon. Philip Pleydell Bouverie533
16 June 1832GORDON re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

Cobbett remarked of ‘that villainous hole’ Cricklade, a market town on Wiltshire’s northern border, that ‘certainly, a more rascally place I never set my eyes on’. The countryside around he found pleasant enough, but the people were in a wretched condition, and ‘everything had the air of the most deplorable want’.1 Once a notoriously venal borough, its effectively inhabitant householder franchise had been extended by legislation in 1782 to the freeholders of Cricklade hundred and four neighbouring districts. This increased its electorate to about 1,200, though in a reply to a home office circular in 1831, when the population of the whole constituency was about 35,000, the probable number of voters was given as 1,600. Local country gentlemen vied for the seat, which was more akin to a county than a borough, and petitions were thought to be prohibitively expensive.2

When the sitting Whig Member Lord Porchester succeeded his father as 2nd earl of Carnarvon in 1811, he decided to recoup his family’s losses at Cricklade by selling their interest for £12,400 to the Cirencester attorney and banker Joseph Pitt of Eastcourt. He, who was soon to gain control of seats at Malmesbury and Wootton Bassett, which both lay within the hundreds, had already canvassed the electors. He was described by an opponent, Thomas Goddard†, as much more than just an ‘insignificant person’ who, in line with the ‘unpleasant nature of the representation’, might ‘choose at any time to commence a canvass and put us to a heavy expense’. Rather, he had

every requisite to make him formidable: active, indefatigable, residing in the hundreds, with habits and manners calculated to excite popularity, and enjoying instead of disliking that sort of low society into which one is unavoidably thrown during a canvass and in which he more particularly shines.3

Pitt owned the lordship of the manor and therefore appointed the bailiff (who acted as returning officer). He had two houses in Cricklade in 1812, 106 in 1818 and 79 in 1830; with this considerable property, he commanded one seat, which he occupied himself, with ministerial support, from the general election of 1812 onwards.4 The other seat was generally occupied by a Whig, returned on a loose association of weak aristocratic interests. With the backing of the 15th earl of Suffolk of Charlton Park, near Malmesbury, the choice in 1812 was Thomas Calley of Burderop, who in practice usually sided with the administration of Lord Liverpool. At the general election of 1818, however, he was defeated by another local gentleman, Robert Gordon of Kemble, Member for Wareham. He had successfully enlisted the patronage of a like-minded Whig Lord Folkestone* (and eldest son of the 2nd earl of Radnor of Longford Castle) and, through him, of the 3rd Baron Holland, who owned estates near Malmesbury.5 Pitt came top of the poll that year, amid allegations over the creation of fictitious votes through the purchase of houses in Cricklade, and complaints against the corporators of Malmesbury being allowed to vote by virtue of their jointly owned town lands.6

There were rumours of another contest two years later, but Pitt and Gordon were elected unopposed at the general election of 1820.7 In 1821 Calley was brought to trial by his election agent, the Chippenham attorney Christopher Heath, and was ordered to pay £161 of the £318 claimed for expenses incurred during the canvass; he obtained a bankruptcy discharge in 1823.8 The sitting Members were not challenged in 1826, when the local paper noted that ‘no one dares contest this borough and hundred with Mr. Pitt and Mr. Gordon’, and no disturbance arose in 1830, though Calley appears to have issued an address.9 A Cricklade petition for repeal of the Test Acts was presented to the Commons by William Smith, Member for Norwich, 18 Mar. 1828, another for abolishing the death penalty for forgery was brought up by Gordon, 3 July 1830, and one against colonial slavery was lodged, 25 Mar. 1831. Reform petitions from the gentry, yeomen, tradesmen and inhabitants of Cricklade, whose representation was left unchanged by the Grey ministry’s reform proposals, were presented by Gordon, 26 Feb., 19 Mar.10 Pitt, who voted against reform, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831, retired at the ensuing general election, ostensibly on the grounds of old age.11

Nothing came of the suggestion, made in an undated letter to the 3rd earl of Radnor (as Folkestone now was) by the former county Member Paul Methuen†, that, pending the fulfilment of his ambitions for one of the proposed additional Wiltshire seats, he ‘should be glad to get in, without any expense (money I have none) for Cricklade, and if they want a man to oppose Joseph Pitt I am at their service, pro tempore at all events’.12 Gordon, an erratic reformer, was joined instead by Radnor’s brother, the London banker and Member for Cockermouth, Philip Pleydell Bouverie of Down Ampney House. He evidently expected to take the seat cheaply and without undue difficulty, until Calley started as a sceptical reformer on Pitt’s interest and initiated a severe contest.13 In an exchange of addresses, Calley insisted, against a ‘forty shilling freeholder’, that the reform bill would limit the franchise at Cricklade, as, if it were passed

you will for ever hereafter be prevented from voting in respect of any freehold, how much so ever the amount, unless you actually occupy it, and as to all freeholds under £10 a year, they are altogether blotted out from the book of elections, and thereby the value of your property is very considerably lessened.14

His canvass was clearly effective since he led at the end of the first day’s poll. But thereafter he fell behind Gordon, while Pleydell Bouverie, except for a spurt on the second day, which brought him briefly into second place, lagged behind and was over a hundred votes adrift at the end of the fifth day, 10 May 1831, when he withdrew.15

Calley, with 639 votes, gained the support of 56 per cent of the 1,138 electors polled (another 81 were rejected or withdrawn), compared with 669 (59) for Gordon and 533 (47) for Pleydell Bouverie. Calley received 409 plumps (64 per cent of his total), and 183 splits with Gordon (27) and 47 with Pleydell Bouverie (seven). By contrast, and indicating the strength of the union between them, Gordon and Pleydell Bouverie had only 13 plumps each (two per cent of each of their total votes), and shared 473 splits (71 and 89 per cent of their respective totals). Gordon’s shared votes with Calley amounted to 26 per cent of his total votes, and Pleydell Bouverie’s to nine per cent of his. According to the pollbook, there were 72 voters from Cricklade itself (six per cent of the total polled), 903 from the hundreds (79) and 162 outvoters (14). The candidates did almost equally as well as each other in each area, though Pleydell Bouverie performed relatively poorly at Cricklade (where he gained four per cent of his total votes), Gordon in the hundreds (76), and Calley among the outvoters (13). Four of the electors in Pitt’s borough of Malmesbury voted at this election, all for Calley, and 25 of the 26 Cricklade voters marked as members of the whole corporation of Malmesbury plumped for Calley. At Wootton Bassett, Pitt’s influence was also presumably behind the overwhelming support for Calley, who received 65 plumps and three splits out of 77 legal votes.16

One correspondent reported that

from what we learn of the contest, and the coalition formed against ... [Calley] by the other candidates ... and considering the state of the poll and the plumpers given to Mr. Calley, and that his opponents had several days start of him in the canvass, his return must be most gratifying to his feelings.

However, the losing candidate informed the electors that

my successful rival gained votes by being a reformer in one place, and against reform in others. Pains were taken and successfully, to persuade one portion of you that they were unjustly affected by the reform bill; thus private interest was excited against the promoters of a measure for the public good and the feeling in favour of reform partially stifled. Such pretences would not, however, answer; therefore Mr. Calley appeared before them as a reformer.17

A ‘Reformer and Freeholder’ wrote in The Times, 27 May 1831, that ‘it is notorious, that for many years past the borough and hundreds have been represented by a Tory and a Whig; the former supported by his corrupt borough influence and the latter by the independent electors’. He damned Pitt’s nomination of, and vote for, the unpopular Calley, whose friends failed to attract a large number of attenders at a grand election dinner. Yet Calley proved to be a reformer in the House, and the same paper, 11 Oct. 1832, reported that his conduct had made ‘a laughing stock of his patron, whose chagrin and disappointment can be more easily imagined than described’. Gordon and Pleydell Bouverie attended a reform dinner in Malmesbury, 6 June, when the latter was toasted as ‘the Member for Cricklade that ought to be’; in July he retreated to a seat for his brother’s pocket borough of Downton, which had been vacated for that purpose by James Brougham*.18 Gordon was re-elected unopposed in June 1832 following his appointment to the board of control.

A petition from the vicar, churchwardens and inhabitants of the parish of St. Sampson, Cricklade, against the nomination of the borough Members taking place in the church was presented by Gordon, 20 July 1831, when Lord John Russell agreed that such a profane practice ought to be ended.19 On 2 Sept. 1831 ministers moved an amendment to the reintroduced reform bill to prevent the freeholders of boroughs which, like Cricklade, had been thrown into the neighbouring hundreds from having votes for the respective counties. Gordon spoke in opposition to this several times and pleaded for separate polling districts to be created, but he admitted that neither he nor his constituents would press their grievances at the risk of endangering the bill. Ministers had to defend their treatment of Malmesbury, 8 Feb. 1832, despite the opposition argument that it was against the principle of the bill to allow the £10 householders there to have votes for both that borough and Cricklade. This issue was resolved in the Reform Act, which (in clause v) defined the boundaries of Cricklade as those of the five hundreds with the exclusion of the altered constituency of Malmesbury. (The similar case of Wootton Bassett did not arise because that borough was abolished.) The new constituency therefore had a population of 33,200, with 6,718 houses of which 668 were valued at over £10, and paying £7,500 in assessed taxes.20 The Act also established that electors had to have been resident for six months and be properly registered (clause xxxiv), and it allowed polling places to be positioned at convenient points in each district (clause lxix).

According to Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie*, in a letter to Radnor of 10 June 1832, there was a ‘great probability’ of their brother Philip succeeding at Cricklade, especially because of the ‘money already laid out’ there.21 But it was the Conservative Lord Porchester* (who succeeded as 3rd earl of Carnarvon the following year) who challenged the Liberal Members at the general election of 1832, when the revising barristers upheld objections against many potential electors, including the

claims of the ‘respectable and intelligent’ corporation of Malmesbury, 40 in number (all of whom, strange to say, were admitted on the poll by the assessor at the last contest); the consequence is that the patron [Pitt] and his intended nominee (Lord Porchester) have now retired, resolved, as is believed, to leave the present reforming Members in the undisturbed possession of the field.22

Porchester recounted to Lord Mahon*, 1 Dec. 1832, how

I was overborne by the towns of Highworth, Swindon and Malmesbury and by the decided junction of the Howards [the 16th earl of Suffolk and his eldest son Lord Andover†, who was elected for Malmesbury that month] and [Pleydell] Bouveries against me, who composing their bitter feud with Calley for the purpose of excluding me, finally turned the scale in favour of the popular candidates.23

Two years later he docketed a bundle of ‘letters relating to Cricklade elections’, which he described as a

subject of great interest and importance to our family for the three last generations. It will probably be none to my son: as a consequence of the reform bill the power has passed entirely from our family and the old aristocratic interests, as was proved in my late ill-fated attempt to restore the family influence.24

Gordon sat for Cricklade until 1837, when he transferred to Windsor. Calley retired from the House in 1834 and was replaced by the Conservative John Neeld. His brother Joseph Neeld* purchased the manor of Cricklade in the mid-1840s, after the death in 1842 of Pitt, whose increasing financial problems probably precluded him from exercising much of his residual interest during the last decade of his life.25

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, i. 15; ii. 414; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 796.
  • 2. Materials for Hist. of Cricklade ed. T R. Thomson, ch. 6; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 327, 516; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), v. 205-7.
  • 3. Wellington mss WP1/1229/24; Hants RO, Carnarvon mss 75M91/B23/7-11.
  • 4. R. Howes, ‘Rise and Fall of Joseph Pitt’, Glos. Hist. Studs. viii (1977), 65, 66; Life of Campbell, i. 290; D. Holmes, Cricklade, 18, 19.
  • 5. Add. 51566, Lady Radnor to Holland, 27 Mar., Gordon to same, 28 Mar. 1818; Berks. RO, Pleydell Bouverie mss D/EPb O11, O28; VCH Wilts. v. 223, 224; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 418.
  • 6. Oldfield, Key (1820), 232.
  • 7. The Times, 7 Feb. 1820.
  • 8. Devizes Gazette, 9 Aug. 1821; Wilts. RO, Mullings mss 177/27.
  • 9. Devizes Gazette, 8 June 1826, 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxiii. 181; lxxxv. 614; lxxxvi. 309, 406, 436.
  • 11. Devizes Gazette, 28 Apr. 1831.
  • 12. Wilts. RO, Radnor mss 490/1381.
  • 13. Radnor mss 490/1375, D. Pleydell Bouverie to Radnor, 19, 24, 27 Apr., Boucher to same, 13 May; Warws. RO, Throckmorton mss, Radnor to Throckmorton, 21 Apr.; Brougham mss, same to Brougham, 28 Apr.; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 2 May 1831.
  • 14. Wilts. RO, Keary mss 415/420.
  • 15. Salisbury Jnl. 2, 16 May; The Times, 9 May; Devizes Gazette, 5, 12 May 1831.
  • 16. Cricklade Pollbook (1831).
  • 17. Devizes Gazette, 19, 26 May 1831.
  • 18. Salisbury Jnl. 6 June; Add. 76371, Brougham to Althorp [11 May 1831].
  • 19. CJ, lxxxvi. 679.
  • 20. PP (1830), x. 26, 68; (1831-2), xxxvi. 309, 327.
  • 21. Longford Castle mss.
  • 22. The Times, 4, 11 Oct., 29 Nov., 15 Dec. 1832; Carnarvon mss L12/15.
  • 23. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C353.
  • 24. Carnarvon mss B23.
  • 25. Howes, 70, 71.