Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Estimated number qualified to vote:
427 in 1830
Number of voters:
321 in 1831
3,487 (1821); 3,976 (1831)
|6 Mar. 1820||SIR CHARLES COCKERELL, bt.|
|WILLIAM EDWARD ROUSE BOUGHTON|
|16 June 1826||SIR CHARLES COCKERELL, bt.||235|
|4 Aug. 1830||SIR CHARLES COCKERELL, bt.||231|
|ARCHIBALD KENNEDY, Lord Kennedy||148|
|Election declared void, 13 Dec. 1830, and no new writ issued before the dissolution|
|6 May 1831||SIR CHARLES COCKERELL, bt||208|
|Archibald Kennedy, Lord Kennedy||136|
Evesham, with the ‘exception of a ribbon manufactory in a declining state’, was a prosperous market town ‘most famed for the excellency’ of its vegetables and gardening.1 Electoral corruption, asserted a petition presented by Lord John Russell, 17 Feb. 1831, ‘infected it like a leprosy’.2 As a result of a long-standing financial alliance with the self-elected corporation of seven aldermen (including the mayor), 12 capital burgesses and 24 assistant burgesses, one seat was controlled by the Rushout family of Northwick, Gloucestershire, headed since 1800 by the 2nd Baron Northwick. The other was subject to venal contests, fuelled by the ‘jealous animosity’ of the Dissenters, who were excluded from the corporation. Styled the ‘common council’, and able to admit freemen ‘without as well as within the borough’, it enrolled 50 and 36 respectively in the election years of 1826 and 1830, by which time 272 (64 per cent) of the 427 freemen were ‘residing in London and other parts’ and another 39 (nine per cent) in the vicinity but beyond seven miles of the town. Only 158 (37 per cent) were resident. Other types of elector had occasionally voted, including 64 freeholders in 1802, but thereafter the scrutiny of election petitions alleging bribery, treating and the polling of unqualified electors prompted a restriction of the franchise. In 1808 the Commons had determined that the polling of 122 freeholders at the 1807 general election was illegal and unseated one of the Members. A similar petition in 1819 invalidated 158 ‘paymasters of scot and lot’ who had voted for William Edward Rouse Boughton of Rouse Lench, Worcestershire, at the 1818 general election, but failed to consider the 107 ‘paymasters’ who had voted for Northwick’s brother-in-law, the nabob Sir Charles Cockerell of Sezincote, Gloucestershire, who had been seated in his place.3
At the 1820 general election Rouse Boughton offered again, denouncing the recent decision which had deprived him of his seat and stating his ‘principles and opinions’ to be ‘unchanged’. Cockerell sought re-election, claiming that his ‘exertions’ had helped to rescue the representation from ‘nearly a century and a half’ of ‘progressive encroachments’. The retirement of Humphrey Howorth of Banstead, Surrey, Whig Member since 1806, on account of ill health averted a repetition of the 1818 contest and the candidates were returned unopposed.4 In the House, the Liverpool ministry was generally supported by Cockerell and opposed by Rouse Boughton, who presented a petition from Evesham’s Dissenters in defence of Queen Caroline, 26 Jan. 1821.5 Petitions against slavery reached the Commons, 7 May 1823, 5 Apr. 1824, 13 Feb. 1826, and the Lords, 2 Apr. 1824, 11 May 1826.6
At the 1826 general election Rouse Boughton retired without explanation, whereupon Edward Protheroe of Newnham, Gloucestershire, immediately came forward for the vacancy as a ‘Whig’. Cockerell, who had earlier announced his intention of standing again ‘so long as health might be preserved to me’, 20 Sept. 1825, was caught off guard and, being ‘unavoidably detained in London on public business’, sent down his son Charles Rushout Cockerell to campaign on his behalf. The announcement of a third candidate, Sir Roger Gresley* of Drakelow Park, Staffordshire, caused ‘a considerable stir’. The Worcester Herald predicted his ‘most decided success’, on the grounds that a rumoured ‘coalition’ between Cockerell and Protheroe had ‘arrayed all the independent voters’ on Gresley’s side, ‘in order to defeat such an unnatural union of interests, and to keep the representation of the borough open’. The result of Gresley’s canvass, however, appeared ‘far different’, and fearing the expense of a ‘hopeless’ contest he bolted for Lichfield, where the local independents had offered to return him free of expense. His supporters at Evesham, led by the attorney Phelps, who later informed the Dowager Lady Gresley that Sir Roger ‘would certainly have been elected’, charged him with ‘abandoning’ them and acting in ‘conspiracy with the other candidates’, who were now expected to walk over. At the nomination, however, ‘the two Bribery Acts had nearly been read to the conclusion, when a carriage and four drove up at a most rapid rate, and a third candidate was announced in the person of Patrick Grant of Spring Gardens, London ... [and] a poll demanded’.7 From the start Grant lagged ‘so much behind that his resignation was fully expected’, but he only withdrew on the third day, putting his opponents to ‘heavy expense’. Cockerell, who led throughout, secured the support of 76 per cent of the 311 who polled (96 as plumpers, 83 as split votes shared with Protheroe and 56 shared with Grant). Protheroe received a vote from 44 per cent (45 as plumpers and 9 shared with Grant), and Grant from 28 per cent (22 as plumpers). In addition to his ‘great majority’, Cockerell had ‘a considerable number of voters in the town ready to poll the next morning, independent of numerous gentlemen resident out of the borough’, from whom he derived the bulk of his support.8 In the House, Cockerell and Protheroe generally took opposite sides, but in 1829 Cockerell abstained on Catholic relief, which Protheroe supported, and against which a petition was presented to the Commons, 27 Feb. 1829.9 Petitions for repeal of the Test Acts, for which Protheroe voted while Cockerell abstained, reached the Commons, 30 May 1827, 15 Feb. 1828, and the Lords, 25 Feb. 1828.10
At the 1830 general election Protheroe retired to stand for his native city of Bristol.11 Writing to Gilbert John Heathcote*, 15 July, he enclosed a note from his agent John Cheek, giving a very ‘favourable ... view of the prospects of anyone who might start on his interest’, which Cheek boasted had never been ‘so strong, firm, and certain’. Heathcote, as he informed Charles Western*, ‘refused this, because I did not think it would succeed’.12 Benjamin Rotch, another local attorney with influence, declined to stand himself but ‘introduced’ Lord Kennedy, eldest son of the 12th earl of Cassillis, who came forward as the ‘popular candidate’. Cockerell offered again, dismissing a ‘false report most industriously circulated’ that it was his ‘intention to retire’. He was joined by John Harris of Southwark, who quickly withdrew, whereupon Alexander Raphael of Great Stanhope Street entered the field at the behest of ‘a numerous and highly respectable portion’ of the freemen and with the support of Cheek, condemning attempts to ‘insult and enslave’ the electors ‘by undue influence, local coercion, or secret coalition’, and promising ‘not [to] relinquish the contest while a single voter remains unpolled’. A ‘severe contest’ duly ensued, which at the close of the second day had given Cockerell 141 votes, Kennedy 87 and Raphael 69. In the absence of Raphael next day, however, and with the tally standing at 231, 148 and 110 respectively, the poll was controversially closed by the mayor, who declared Cockerell and Kennedy duly elected.13 The result was deemed a ‘gain’ by the Wellington ministry, who listed both Members among their ‘friends’.14 Petitions against slavery were presented to the Commons, 12, 15 Nov. 1830.15
On 4 Nov. 1830 a petition against the return was presented to the Commons accusing Cockerell and Kennedy of bribery and ‘undue influence by threats and menaces’, and alleging ‘a strong partiality’ on the part of the mayor, John Proctor, who had ‘arbitrarily and illegally’ terminated the poll in their favour.16 The evidence brought before the committee, which sat 3-10 Dec. 1830, revealed that Raphael, incapacitated on the third day by an ‘illness’ brought about by attacks on his character by Dr. Cooper, the deputy recorder and one of Cockerell’s assistants, had notified the mayor that he was awaiting legal advice from London about the ‘admissibility of paymasters’, who ‘if good’ he should ‘propose to vote’. On learning that if the decision from London was unfavourable he would retire, however, the mayor and Rotch without ‘any notice’ closed the poll, despite the protests of Raphael’s committee and the presence of ‘freemen in the pen’, who were ‘anxious and desirous to tender their votes’. Rotch, in his defence, claimed that the Commons had determined that ‘paymasters’ were ‘ineligible’ in 1819, and argued that Raphael would simply have used their participation to launch frivolous petition proceedings. The committee, however, disagreed, ruling that ‘many persons who were entitled to vote, and who tendered their votes for Raphael’ had been rejected by the mayor, and that others ‘about to tender their votes’ at the termination of the poll had not been ‘entered’. They also discovered that 22 non-resident freemen had been ‘bought at £12 a head’ by the ‘agent or agents’ of Cockerell and Kennedy, who were pronounced ‘guilty of bribery’ and unseated, with the election being declared void, 13 Dec. 1830.17
Cockerell’s son Charles was immediately rumoured as a candidate for the expected by-election, and William Leader Maberly* issued an address. Protheroe, who had been defeated at Bristol, announced his wish to ‘renew’ his connection, adding that there was ‘no inconsistency in this’ as ‘the old system of your borough’ had ‘left me no hope of being re-elected, unless I condescended to traffic for my seat with those who bartered your privileges’.18 The presentation of the committee’s evidence, however, caused a stir in the Commons, where Evesham was denounced as ‘one mass of corruption’ by Arthur Duncombe, 14 Dec. On 16 Dec. his fellow Ultra Lord Chandos successfully proposed that the writ be suspended ‘until further inquiry is made’, in a move designed to check the momentum for parliamentary reform. Thomas Gladstone* informed his father, 17 Dec., that ‘ministers had nearly got into a scrape last night on the question’, and ‘had they not backed out, by not dividing the House, they would have been beaten hollow’.19 In an attempt to avert Evesham’s rumoured disfranchisement, a petition was got up exonerating ‘the conduct of the resident freemen’ and calling for an ‘extension of the franchise’ to the ‘inhabitant householders’, which was presented by the minister Lord John Russell, 17 Feb. 1831.20 The following day Chandos obtained leave for a bill to transfer Evesham’s seats to Birmingham, copies of the pollbooks were moved for, and Cockerell, Rouse Boughton, Protheroe, Kennedy and Raphael were ordered to attend and give evidence on 7 Mar. That day, however, the second reading of the disfranchisement bill was postponed on account of the presentation of the ministry’s reform bill, in support of which a petition reached the Commons, 28 Mar. 1831.21 Another petition, complaining that ‘in consequence of the misconduct of certain out-voters, a stigma should be attached to the whole borough’, was presented by Lygon, Member for Worcestershire, 14 Mar. 1831, and the disfranchisement bill went no further before the April dissolution, when a new writ was issued.22
At the ensuing general election the freeholders of the borough ‘issued a declaration of unqualified disapprobation of Colonel Lygon’s vote against the reform bill’.23 Cockerell defiantly offered again, denouncing the ‘unprecedented decision of a committee of the late House’ which had ‘severed’ him from his constituents, and promising to be an ‘unflinching supporter’ of ‘the chartered rights and privileges of my brother freemen’ but also conceding the necessity for greater ‘participation’ in the elective franchise. Kennedy, who remained in Scotland throughout, was nominated by his supporters, despite reports that he had ‘declined’. Thomas Hudson of Cheswardine Hill Hall, Shropshire, an ‘advocate for reform’, also came forward, and was proposed by Sir Charles William Rouse Boughton, father of William and himself a former Member.24 A six-day poll ensued, in which Cockerell, who led throughout, secured support from 65 per cent of the 321 who voted (124 as split votes shared with Kennedy, 52 shared with Hudson, and 32 as plumpers). Hudson received a vote from 49 per cent (101 as plumpers and 4 shared with Kennedy), and Kennedy from 42 per cent (8 as plumpers).25
Cockerell and Hudson both gave general support to the reform bill’s details, although Hudson advised against Evesham’s initial inclusion in schedule B (which was subsequently dropped), arguing that it ‘was quite impossible for any person to contend that it is an inconsiderable place’ and ‘not much superior to many boroughs that will continue to send two Members’, but did not press the point, 28 July. Chandos’s notice of a motion to place Evesham with the disfranchised boroughs of schedule A came to nothing, 2 Aug. Petitions in favour of the reform bill were presented to the Lords, 4 Oct. 1831, and by Cockerell, 21 May 1832.26 The boundary commissioners did not recommend ‘any alteration to the present limits’, which comprised the two Evesham parishes of St. Lawrence and All Saints, and Bengworth ‘on the opposite side of the river’, giving it 330 houses worth £10 a year or above and a registered electorate of 359, of whom 136 were qualified as resident freemen.27
At the 1832 general election Sir John Beckett, former Conservative Member for Haslemere, looked for ‘an opening at Evesham’, but found it ‘entirely in the hands’ of the ‘Dissenters and Quakers and radicals’, who ‘since the bill passed and cut off the out-voters’ had taken ‘full possession of the borough’. Able to ‘return just whom they pleased’, Hudson, ‘their particular puppet’, and Cockerell, ‘on condition that he bleeds freely’, were re-elected as Liberals in a contest against the Conservative Peter Borthwick.28 Cockerell, who was made to ‘pay smartly’ and served as mayor the following year, sat until his death in 1837, when he was succeeded by his Conservative kinsman George Rushout. Borthwick replaced Hudson on his retirement in 1835 but was unseated on petition in 1838; a practice which remained a regular recourse of Evesham’s defeated candidates until it lost its remaining Member in 1885.29
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. PP (1835), xxiii. 192; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1828-9), 865; Bentley’s Worcs. Dir. 14.
- 2. C.R. Dod, Electoral Facts (1853), 113; CJ, lxxxvi. 262.
- 3. PP (1835), xxiii. 189-92; (1831-2) xl. 135, 136; (1830-1), iii. 38-42; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 433, 434.
- 4. Staffs. Advertiser, 19 Feb.; Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 17, 24 Feb., 9 Mar. 1820.
- 5. CJ, lxxvi. 13.
- 6. Ibid. lxxviii. 292; lxxix. 253; lxxxi. 37; LJ, lvi. 134; lviii. 321; The Times, 6 Apr. 1824.
- 7. Worcester Herald, 13, 20, 27 May, 10, 17 June; Staffs. Advertiser, 10 June 1826; Worcs. RO, Lechmere mss, Dowager Lady Gresley to Sir A. Lechmere, 3 July 1830.
- 8. Worcester Herald, 24 June 1826; Evesham Pollbook (1826).
- 9. CJ, lxxxiv. 89.
- 10. Ibid. lxxxii. 504; lxxxiii. 73; LJ, lx. 75.
- 11. Bristol Mercury, 13 July 1830.
- 12. Lincs. AO, Ancaster mss xiii/B/5n, o.
- 13. PP (1830-1), iii. 61; Worcester Herald, 17, 24, 31 July, 7, 14 Aug.; Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 1, 15, 22, 29 July, 5, 12 Aug. 1830.
- 14. Add. 40401, f. 132.
- 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 61, 74.
- 16. Ibid. 35.
- 17. PP (1830-1), iii. 37-177; Worcester Herald, 12 Aug., 13 Nov., 18 Dec.; Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 16 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 168.
- 18. Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 23 Dec. 1830; W.R. Williams, Parl. Hist. Worcs. 158.
- 19. St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 196.
- 20. CJ, lxxxvi. 262.
- 21. Ibid. 446.
- 22. Worcester Herald, 18, 25 Dec. 1830; The Times, 18, 19 Feb. 1831.
- 23. Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 28 Apr. 1831.
- 24. Worcester Herald, 30 Apr., 7, 14 May; Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 28 Apr., 5, 12 May 1831.
- 25. This analysis of the poll, taken from Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 12 May 1831, differs from that published in Williams, 158, whose breakdown of votes for each candidate does not tally with the turnout.
- 26. LJ, lxiii. 1048; CJ, lxxxvii. 326.
- 27. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 327; xl. 135, 136.
- 28. Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 30 Oct., 4 Dec. 1832.
- 29. Gent. Mag. (1837), i. 317; Williams, 158-62.