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 burgage holders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 100


3,114 (1821); 3,519 (1831)


16 Dec. 1826HON. BARTHOLOMEW BOUVERIE vice Bucknall Estcourt, chose to sit for Oxford University
18 Dec. 1826ALEXANDER POWELL vice Southey, elected without requisite property qualification
20 July 1831HON. PHILIP PLEYDELL BOUVERIE vice Brougham, vacated his seat

Main Article

Downton, in the parish and hundred of the same name, near the Hampshire border, was ‘in appearance nothing more than a village’. It had a small lace factory and, according to Mrs. Arbuthnot, was ‘famous for phaetons’, but it was otherwise predominantly agricultural.1 Since about 1797 the parliamentary borough had been entirely under the control of the Tory 2nd earl of Radnor of nearby Longford Castle, who had at that time bought out his rivals, the Shaftos of Whitworth Park, county Durham. He owned much of the property in the area and most of the burgages which conferred the right to vote.2 These nominally numbered about 100, with 86 being the largest number polled in the early nineteenth century; but some estimates assumed that there were only 20 burgages split into about 80 votes and, in any case, what burgages did exist were apparently merely leased to a few tenants for the duration of each election. As lessee of the lord of the manor (the bishop of Winchester for the time being), Radnor appointed his agent, the attorney William Boucher of Thornhill House, near Stalbridge, Dorset, and The Close, Salisbury, as bailiff (or mayor), and he invariably managed the elections and acted as returning officer.3

In 1812 Radnor informed his eldest son, the advanced Whig or radical Lord Folkestone (who had once briefly represented the seat, but had sat for Salisbury, on his father’s interest, since 1802) that ‘by activity and perseverance’ and ‘at a very considerable expense’, he had gained control of Downton, which he regarded as ‘quite my own in fee’. These remarks were occasioned by Folkestone’s wish to retire from politics and his suggestion that one of his Whig brothers, Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie*, a naval captain, and Philip Pleydell Bouverie*, a London banker, could continue the family’s connection by filling one of the seats. Duncombe had been a stopgap Member for Downton, 1806-7, and was later said to have refused his father’s offer of another spell as its representative because he would not change his political principles.4 Radnor usually returned relations or friends, provided they were opposed to Catholic relief and parliamentary reform, and would support the Liverpool administration. Although in early 1819 he had made the two seats available to the prime minister, he rebuffed his recommendation at the general election of 1820, and instead again returned his half-brother Bartholomew Bouverie and Sir Thomas Brooke Pechell of Aldwick, Sussex.5 Both had sat for Downton on and off, and were silent ministerialists. Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants were presented to the House, 30 Mar. 1824 (by James Abercromby) and 12 Apr. 1826.6

At the general election of 1826 Radnor nominated a leading local squire, Thomas Grimston Bucknall Estcourt, Member for Oxford University, and the arch Tory, Robert Southey, the poet laureate. He wrote to the latter, 10 July, that

being generally pleased with Mr. Southey’s Book of the Church, and professing himself quite delighted with the summary on the last page of that work, and entertaining no doubt that the writer of that page really felt what he wrote and, consequently, would be ready, if he had an opportunity, to support the sentiments there set forth, [he] has therefore been anxious that Mr. Southey should have a seat in the ensuing Parliament; and having a little interest, has so managed that he is at this moment in the possession of that seat under this single injunction: Ut sustineat firmiter, strenue et continuo, que ipse bene docuit esse sustinenda.

Southey, who had been absent in Holland and ignorant of the transaction, declined the honour for personal reasons, using as an excuse the fact that he lacked the requisite property qualification. He informed the Speaker by letter, 15 Nov., that he was not entitled to sit because he was ‘not possessed of such an estate [worth £300 per year] as is required by the Act passed in the ninth year of Queen Anne [c. 5]’. Having heard this letter read, 22 Nov., the House ordered a new writ, 8 Dec. 1826.7 As Bucknall Estcourt had chosen to resume his university seat, Radnor had two vacancies to fill, one of which Southey would have been pleased to see go to Sir Robert Inglis*. Radnor ignored Bucknall Estcourt’s son Thomas Henry Sutton (who entered the House in 1829 for Marlborough) and the agriculturist and writer Sir John Sinclair’s† eldest son George Sinclair*, who had several times represented Caithness. Instead, Brooke Pechell having died, he again returned Bouverie and brought in Alexander Powell of Hurdcott House, another silent Tory and anti-Catholic, and ‘a man whose public and private character elicits everything that is amiable and estimable’.8 A petition from the Protestant Dissenters of Downton for repeal of the Test Acts was presented, 11 June 1827.9

Folkestone succeeded his father as 3rd earl of Radnor in January 1828, inheriting his property in Downton in strict entail.10 Unable, therefore, to dispose of what, as a reformer, he despised, it was expected that he would use his pocket borough to return his radical friend William Cobbett†. Powell offered to resign his seat in favour of Philip Pleydell Bouverie (Duncombe having succeeded his brother at Salisbury), but Radnor, impressed by his gesture, agreed to leave him undisturbed until the following dissolution, and in fact made no immediate changes in the representation.11 Later that year it was rumoured that he was preparing to bring in Cobbett and another radical, Henry Hunt*, for Downton at the next general election.12 When that became imminent, during the final illness of George IV, Bouverie and Powell amicably agreed to retire, but Radnor again resisted calls and petitions for the election of Cobbett.13 He consulted his Whig friend Thomas Creevey*, who informed Miss Ord, 5 June 1830, that

I was with Folky of course by 12, and it was as I supposed. He told me he had an inclination to bring in Cobbett and asked my opinion, which I gave against him and with my reasons, and he decided against it. He then said he had thought of bringing in [Charles] Shaw Lefevre [of Heckfield, Hampshire, son and namesake of the former Member for Reading] ... I could only say, you know, that he was a very good man; he then said, ‘Perhaps it would be agreeable to yourself to be in?’ to which comical suggestion I muttered something as to that being at his pleasure - that it was certainly no sacrifice to myself to be out.

Later that day, having discussed the matter with Lord Sefton*, he realized that he had made a mistake and wrote to Radnor to accept his invitation.14 Meanwhile, Radnor had offered the seat to Shaw Lefevre because, as he wrote to him

I believe you to be an ultra liberal (the more ultra the better) not likely to vacate your seat by taking place, or to misuse it for promoting any personal interest, and resolve to do all you can to destroy the patronage of your patron.

Shaw Lefevre replied that he supported reform, but not to such an extent as Radnor, who, however, told him that ‘I had a sufficient pledge in your personal character’, and that ‘whether we differ about universal suffrage and annual parliaments or not I shall, I am quite assured, be perfectly satisfied with my representative’.15 It was therefore not until a week after his letter had been sent that Creevey heard that Shaw Lefevre would be returned, and he was disgusted by what he denounced as Radnor’s ‘childish consultation’ with him.16

The other seat had evidently been intended for Philip Pleydell Bouverie, and Radnor’s expectations were disappointed when, on 8 July 1830, he told him that he had reached a complicated arrangement with the leading Whig Henry Brougham. By this, Brougham would return Pleydell Bouverie for a seat at Cockermouth, which he had obtained from the Lowthers on the understanding that he would not challenge their interest in Westmorland and, in exchange, Radnor would bring in Brougham’s brother James Brougham* for Downton. Radnor expressed misgivings and only with great reluctance agreed to a further development, whereby Shaw Lefevre would have had Cockermouth, Pleydell Bouverie and Henry Brougham would have come in for Downton, and James Brougham would have found a berth at his brother’s former constituency of Winchelsea. He gave various reasons for abandoning this second plan, including his commitment to Shaw Lefevre, his distrust of the Lowthers and the consideration ‘that I am the patron of Downton, proceeding in a straightforward way, interfering with no one, and do not like to be interfered with’. They returned to the original idea, and, after Boucher had made the necessary arrangements, James Brougham and Shaw Lefevre (free of expense) were unanimously elected.17 Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Commons by James Brougham, 10 Nov., and Tom Macaulay, 15 Dec. 1830.18 John Wood brought up another for reform signed by 260 gentlemen, yeomen, tradesmen and other inhabitants of Downton, 21 Feb. 1831, when he commented that

I believe the mode of election to be this: on the day appointed for the election, the agent for the noble lord, who is the patron of the borough, goes down provided with the requisite number of parchments, which he delivers to those inhabitants by whom the election is to be made; they go through the form of voting, and he then receives back the parchments to be used again in the same manner when the occasion shall occur again.19

Under the Grey ministry’s reform proposals, Downton, with a population of between 2,000 and 4,000, was scheduled to lose one Member. Petitions from the town in favour of the bill were presented to the Lords by Lord King, 15 Apr., and to the Commons by Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie, 18 Apr.20 Both Members voted for the second reading, 22 Mar., and against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. 1831, which precipitated a dissolution.

At the ensuing general election, Radnor again thought better of returning Cobbett, and planned to bring in Shaw Lefevre and Philip Pleydell Bouverie, who left Cockermouth, only if they were unsuccessful in their ambitions for Hampshire and Cricklade, respectively. He therefore proposed to return Creevey (now treasurer of the ordnance) and Brougham, in that order, which upset the justifiably suspicious sitting Member, as Creevey recounted:

The villain said (for such he is) ‘Well, it is all settled about Downton’. ‘Yes’, I said, ‘it is’. ‘Aye, all is settled’, he said again, so I said, ‘I don’t understand what you mean. It is all settled as far as I am concerned, I know of nothing else’, and confoundedly annoyed he seemed to be.

In case of mishap to Shaw Lefevre or Pleydell Bouverie in the meantime, Boucher had arranged for the election to be held as late as possible, but, as even by then their results were not known, it was decided to put Creevey and Brougham in immediately, ‘for the chance of having four votes in the choice of Speaker’. Creevey wrote to Miss Ord that ‘I learnt from my patron that going to Downton was quite out of the question, a practice unheard of. What a nice place!’ Correctly assuming from London that he had been elected without opposition, 4 May, he commented ironically to her: ‘rather nervous work this chairing and speechifying, is it not?’21 Shaw Lefevre was eventually elected unopposed for Hampshire, and represented its Northern division until 1857, but Pleydell Bouverie lost the contest at Cricklade and in July 1831 was seated for Downton at James Brougham’s expense. His brother, now lord chancellor, was furious that he had been left unprovided for and, as Creevey recorded

at first I did not escape. He damned his own folly to Sefton very sincerely for letting me stand first in the return for Downton. I who was sent for, and was told I was the first object, and consulted whether this James Brougham should be the second, Vaux [Lord Brougham] having applied for it, and Radnor being then much against it. Was there ever?

Brougham, whose brother came in for Winchelsea, remained angry, and perhaps intended to challenge Pleydell Bouverie’s return for Downton, for Radnor informed him the day before the by-election that ‘of the burgages at Downton I have no more doubt than I have of my footman’s answering the bell when I ring, but it is a mighty foolish way of throwing away £30 or £40. However let it be settled some way’.22

Nettled by the accusations levelled against him at the Salisbury election that year, Cobbett printed an explanation of Radnor’s conduct towards him:

In the first place, Lord Radnor never spoke to me, nor wrote to me, nor I to him, on the subject of Downton; and not even a hint on the subject was ever given by one to the other. So that he committed no breach of promise to me, either express or implied ... He, like the duke of Newcastle, ‘had a right to do what he would with his own’; and then I have upon all such occasions, desired my friends to consider how he was hampered with the Mildmays and the Barings and the Methuens and the A’Courts, and beset by parsons and placemen and pensioned and banker relations, ten or twenty deep ... and I always have, long ago, whenever asked whether he would not put me into Parliament at a dissolution, said that he would not and that he could not; for that, to do it, would be to banish himself from the whole family and the circle in which he lived, and amongst whom all his affections were distributed.

He also noted that Downton ‘is now again, in reality, at its last gasp, a treasury borough, as it, in fact, had been for 40 years up to 1830’. Relations between the two soon improved and Radnor, subscribing to Cobbett’s campaign in Manchester, informed the reformers there, by means of a letter printed in the Manchester Advertiser, 3 Sept. 1831, that

though I was deterred, by reasons which are not unknown to you, from returning him at the last two elections for Downton, yet I have never ceased to regret that he was not a Member, and to believe that his presence in the Commons would have been essentially useful.23

He was defeated at Manchester at the general election in 1832, but sat for Oldham from then until his death in 1835.

Bringing in the reintroduced reform bill, 24 June 1831, Lord John Russell announced that at Radnor’s urging, Downton (like St. Germans) would be totally disfranchised, and he reiterated this point, 13 July, after it had been queried by the anti-reformer Croker. As Creevey commented on its removal from schedule B:

My wrong-headed ... patron said that it would still be impossible for him and his family not to return this one Member, and therefore to remove this scandal or temptation forever, he kindly requested that the people of Downton should have no representative at all.24

Charles Baring Wall, who was temporarily out of the House, chose to inform the inhabitants of this decision in an address issued before the by-election, 20 July.25 When the borough was discussed in the House next day, Russell explained in detail that the constituency was too small, especially in terms of houses worth £10 per year, and was too isolated from other towns, except for Fordingbridge in Hampshire, to be retained. Croker, who moved for it to be returned to schedule B, argued that for consistency’s sake the rule of population should not be departed from and that the borough was developing sufficiently fast to merit at least one Member, especially if it were to be enlarged. Daniel O’Connell spoke against Radnor’s undue influence and declared that although ‘there is no man to whom such a power can more safely be entrusted ... I object to entrust such a power to any peer whatever’. Croker retorted that Downton would in any case be independent of any remaining landed interest, and in this he was supported by Sir Robert Peel, while Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, agreed with Russell, but said that ministers would feel no disappointment if their motion was lost, because it would not breach any principle of the bill. Duncombe Pleydell Bouverie, differing from his brother, advocated uniting Downton with Wilton in order to save one seat, but Hunt thought that ‘it would only come to this, that Lord Radnor and Lord Pembroke would have to toss up who should return the Member or agree to do so alternately’. The Wiltshire Member Benett, another reformer, agreed with Pleydell Bouverie, and although several Members who resided in the locality dismissed the idea, he insisted that the boundaries could have been altered so as to give the constituency a viable existence. Croker’s amendment was defeated by 274-244, and 40 Members ‘who had hitherto voted for the bill’ were listed in the minority, including Pleydell Bouverie, Benett, Gordon, Member for Cricklade, Masseh Lopes, Member for Westbury, and Staunton, Member for Heytesbury. Creevey and the newly elected Philip Pleydell Bouverie, who both voted steadily in favour of the bill, may have been in the majority. As early as the following day, 22 July, the Tory lawyer James Knight pointed out an unfortunate implication of the Downton decision, namely that a precedent had been established for the committee to discuss individual cases of boroughs being allowed to depart from the usual rules for disfranchisement. Croker’s second attempt to salvage one seat for Downton was defeated by 96-43 at the report stage, 14 Sept. 1831.

Speaking in favour of reform in the Lords, 5 Oct. 1831, Radnor raised the question of Downton

of which I am, I will not say the patron, but the proprietor ... I am the constituency - I am the proprietor of 99 out of the 100 tenures that confer the right of voting there, and one of the properties that give a vote is in the middle of a watercourse. There lies the burgage freehold, but it gives a very good vote nevertheless ... I am not only the sole constituency of that borough, but I am its returning officer, or, at least, I appoint the returning officer ... so that the whole borough is as nice and close an affair as anyone can wish.

He voted for the second reading of the bill two days later, when the Lords threw it out. Under the new criteria for disfranchisement, Downton, which had only 326 houses, of which fewer than 100 were valued at over £10 per year, and assessed taxes of £273 per year, was placed 46th on the final list of condemned boroughs. The returns made to the home office included some assessments which were more favourable than this, but ministers again placed the borough in schedule A of the revised bill, which was introduced in December 1831, and Russell defended this decision in committee, 20 Jan. 1832.26 Downton was duly disfranchised by the Reform Act. Creevey did not sit in the House again and Pleydell Bouverie had to wait until 1857, when he became Liberal Member for Berkshire. Radnor, deprived of his interest at both Downton and Salisbury, remained an active reformer in the Lords for many years.

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 800; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 419; VCH Wilts. iv. 180; xi. 41, 42, 44; PP (1833), xxxvii. 696, 697.
  • 2. VCH Wilts. v. 211-12; xi. 29, 30, 35, 45, 46; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 419.
  • 3. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), v. 118; Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 7 Nov. 1825; PP (1830-1), x. 70; (1831-2), xxxvi. 52, 53, 117, 519; Wilts. RO, Radnor mss 490/1362; 1946/2.
  • 4. Berks. RO, Pleydell Bouverie mss D/EPb O28, Radnor to Folkestone, 18 Aug. 1812; Longford Castle mss 30/7, Folkestone to corporation of Salisbury, 31 July 1827; Salisbury Jnl. 26 Nov. 1832.
  • 5. Add. 38458, ff. 277, 290, 292.
  • 6. CJ, lxxix. 229; lxxxi. 230; The Times, 31 Mar. 1824.
  • 7. The Times, 4, 5 July 1826; Life and Corresp. of Southey ed. C.C. Southey, v. 261-4, 271, 273-9; CJ, lxxxii. 28, 109.
  • 8. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 F365, Wood to Bucknall Estcourt, 27 June; Sinclair mss, Sinclair to Radnor, 11 July, reply, 18 July; TCD, Jebb mss 6396/266, Inglis to Jebb, 21 Sept.; Devizes Gazette, 21 Dec. 1826.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxii. 540.
  • 10. PROB 11/1741/306.
  • 11. Longford Castle mss 30/7, Morrice to Radnor, 4 Feb., Powell to same, 6, 10 Feb., D. Pleydell Bouverie to same, 7 Feb., Radnor to Powell, 7, 8 Feb. 1828.
  • 12. Devizes Gazette, 13 Nov. 1828.
  • 13. Radnor mss 490/1374; R.K. Huch, The Radical Lord Radnor, 111-14.
  • 14. Creevey’s Life and Times, 320-1; Radnor mss 490/1374, Creevey to Radnor, 5 June 1830.
  • 15. Radnor mss 490/1374, Radnor to Shaw Lefevre, 11 June, reply, 11 June 1830; The Times, 12 Apr. 1869; F. Willson, A Strong Supporting Cast, 73, 74.
  • 16. Creevey mss, Radnor to Creevey, 12 June 1830; Creevey Pprs. ii. 278.
  • 17. Longford Castle mss 30/7, Boucher to Radnor, 5, 16 June; Radnor mss 490/1374, ‘Downton burgages’, 3 July, Boucher to Radnor, 6 July, 2 Aug., Radnor diary, 9 July, Shaw Lefevre to Radnor, 10 July 1830; Willson, 74-76.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 175.
  • 19. Ibid. 279.
  • 20. Ibid. 500; LJ, lxiii. 439.
  • 21. Radnor mss 490/1375, Boucher to Radnor, 24, 26, 28 Apr., 3, 5 May; Brougham mss, Radnor to Brougham, 28 Apr.; Creevey’s Life and Times, 342, 344; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord [?29 Apr.], 2, 4, 6 May 1831; Huch, 117.
  • 22. Add. 76371, Brougham to Althorp [11 May]; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 16 May; Brougham mss, Radnor to Brougham, 19 July 1831.
  • 23. Pol. Reg. 4 June, 17 Sept. 1831; G. Spater, Cobbett, ii. 454, 479, 595, 601.
  • 24. Creevey’s Life and Times, 348, 349.
  • 25. Salisbury Jnl. 4 July 1831.
  • 26. PP (1831), xvi. 102, 257; (1831-2), xxxvi. 52, 53, 117, 149, 2020; xxxvii. 432, 435.