East Grinstead


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:

32 in 18311


3,153 (1821); 3,364 (1831)2


9 Mar. 1820CHARLES GORDON, Lord Strathavon
9 June 1826CHARLES GORDON, Lord Strathavon
11 Feb. 1829WILLIAM PITT AMHERST, Visct. Holmsdale vice Jenkinson, called to the Upper House
31 July 1830WILLIAM PITT AMHERST, Visct. Holmsdale
30 Apr. 1831WILLIAM PITT AMHERST, Visct. Holmsdale

Main Article

East Grinstead, a small market town in the east of the county close to the border with Surrey, was said in 1823 to possess ‘no considerable trade’, what there was being ‘chiefly domestic’.3 According to the commissioners’ report in 1831 the borough boundary was ‘entirely unknown’, but ‘certainly not coextensive with the parish or with the town division of the parish’; it was thought ‘probable’ that it did not extend beyond the town in any direction except to the north. Since 1695, when the Commons had determined that the franchise was in the holders of burgage properties, political control of the borough had been in the hands of the Sackville family, the lords of the manor, at whose court leet a bailiff, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, was appointed. In 1818 Thomas Oldfield reckoned that Arabella, Lady Whitworth, the widow of John Sackville, 3rd duke of Dorset, owned 29 of the 36 burgages, and subsequent consolidatory purchases meant that by the time of her death in 1825 all but one were in her possession. (It was found in 1831 that in four instances ‘two burgages are occupied together as one house’, so that the actual electorate was only 32.) In 1820 Lady Whitworth again returned the Tory sitting Members, her cousin Charles Jenkinson, half-brother of the prime minister Lord Liverpool, and her nephew Lord Strathavon.4

Petitions were sent to the Commons from neighbouring occupiers of land and tradesmen for relief from agricultural distress, 1 Mar. 1821, and from occupiers and inhabitants in the hundred of East Grinstead for maintenance of the corn laws, 6 May 1825.5 The inhabitants petitioned to condemn the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 1 June 1824.6 On Lady Whitworth’s death her electoral interest was split: a moiety of 19 votes passed to her sons-in-law, the 5th Earl De la Warr and the 6th earl of Plymouth, while a moiety of 16 votes was returned to her kinsman Charles Sackville Germain, 5th duke of Dorset, from whom it had been purchased in 1811. With Jenkinson acting as intermediary, the three peers began negotiations that autumn to reunite the property, but these almost foundered on Dorset’s insistence that the ‘principle of equitable right’ should be applied to his minority holding. He argued that the other moiety had only become predominant because Lady Whitworth had contravened her agreement with him at the time of the sale in 1811, by making further acquisitions of burgages. Plymouth regarded this claim as ‘totally inadmissible’, and Jenkinson concluded that the inequality of the interests had arisen either from Dorset’s own conduct in the 1811 negotiation or from the ‘oversight of those who acted for him’. Charles Arbuthnot’s* £20,000 valuation of the duke’s property was also rejected, and suggestions of an exchange of land came to nothing. Largely thanks to Jenkinson’s perseverance, Dorset finally accepted the earls’ ‘handsome’ offer of £15,000 (of which £5,000 was for the intrinsic value of the property) in April 1826. De la Warr was relieved that the agreement had been ‘marked by the absence of all unpleasant feeling’.7 At the general election that summer the new patrons retained Jenkinson and Strathavon.

The Commons again received a petition from occupiers of land in the hundred of East Grinstead against revision of the corn laws, 26 Mar. 1827, and the Protestant Dissenters petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts, 22 Feb. 1828.8 Jenkinson’s succession to the peerage that December created a vacancy in the representation for which William Vesey Fitzgerald*, president of the board of trade, was mentioned as a possible candidate. However, as Lord Lowther* reported, Jenkinson was a ‘zealous Protestant’ and ‘the patrons will not countenance any others but those of the same opinions’.9 In the event, Plymouth’s half-brother Lord Holmesdale filled the vacancy. The magistrates, clergy and inhabitants petitioned the Lords against Catholic emancipation, 30 Mar. 1829, but neither of the Members voted on the Wellington ministry’s bill.10 At the general election of 1830 Strathavon retired and De la Warr’s cousin Frederick West was returned with Holmesdale.

An anti-slavery petition was received by the Commons from the Wesleyan Methodists, 15 Dec. 1830.11 The Grey ministry’s reform bill of March 1831 proposed to open the borough by enfranchising £10 householders and to reduce its representation to one seat. Both Members opposed the measure. According to a reformist newspaper, their unopposed return at the ensuing general election was

honoured by what is here called ‘rough noise’ - several persons walking before them beating pots, kettles, etc., from the top of the town to the Crown inn, where the Members dined. In front of the inn the same sort of ‘noise’ was performed, greatly to the amusement of the inhabitants and to the annoyance of the party at dinner. A band of music afterwards paraded the town, before whom a banner was carried, with the inscription of ‘reform’, and on the opposite side ‘no corruption’. At the Swan inn beer was given away to those who advocated reform; and when the Members passed this house in leaving the town, they were hissed, hooted and even stones were thrown at them. The bells were rung it is true; but considerable difficulty was found in prevailing upon the ringers to perform this usual compliment.12

However, the new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 condemned East Grinstead to schedule A, as it contained 131 houses and paid £198 in assessed taxes, placing it 24th in the list of the smallest English boroughs. Lord John Russell explained, 12 Dec. 1831, that it was one of several ‘inconsiderable’ boroughs which had only previously escaped disfranchisement because of the large population of the parish. Its fate was confirmed in the Commons without dissent, 20 Feb. 1832, and East Grinstead was absorbed into the Eastern division of Sussex.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 70.
  • 2. Figures for the parish. The borough population was estimated at 866 in 1831 (ibid).
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 510.
  • 4. PP (1830-1), x. 74; (1831-2), xxxvii. 68-71; Add. 38380, f. 323; 38475, f. 348; Oldfield, Key (1820), 10; W.H. Hills, East Grinstead, 59.
  • 5. CJ, lxxvi. 125; lxxx. 384.
  • 6. Ibid. lxxix. 446.
  • 7. Add. 38380, f. 323; 38472, f. 232; 38475, ff. 236, 244, 252, 254, 276, 293, 314, 322, 325, 336, 338, 346, 348.
  • 8. CJ, lxxxii. 356; lxxxiii. 96.
  • 9. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 29 Dec. 1828.
  • 10. LJ, lxi. 312.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxvi. 175.
  • 12. Brighton Gazette, 5 May 1831.