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 ‘the bailiffs, burgesses and commonalty of the borough of Eye’1

Estimated number qualified to vote:

125 in 18312


1,882 (1821); 2,313 (1831)


13 Feb. 1824SIR EDWARD KERRISON, bt. vice Gifford, called to the Upper House
19 Oct. 1829PHILIP CHARLES SIDNEY vice Nightingall, deceased
14 Mar. 1831WILLIAM BURGE vice Sidney, vacated his seat
30 Apr. 1831SIR EDWARD KERRISON, bt.

Main Article

William Cobbett†, who in March 1830 lectured at Eye, a market town affording employment in brewing, flaxwork, boot and stay making, thought it ‘a beautiful little place, though an exceedingly rotten borough’.3 In 1831 the boundary commissioners described it as a large and ‘irregularly built’ village, unpaved, unlit and unwatched with ‘neither trade nor manufacture’.4 Largely controlled by the Cornwallis family since the seventeenth century, it had a history of being difficult and costly to manage. Charles Cornwallis†, 2nd Marquess Cornwallis, tried to solve the problem by making his mansion, Brome Hall, the centre for all election hospitality, providing one seat for a treasury nominee and reserving the other for a family member. The duchess of Chandos, suspected of influencing the corporation against Cornwallis through the other major local landowners, the Hennikers of Thornham Magna and their Wythe relations, had died in 1813, but the threat of a Henniker challenge lingered throughout this period.5 The corporation, who appointed borough officers and distributed the patron’s gifts to the electors, consisted of 24 common burgesses, elected ‘by themselves from the populace; ten principal burgesses, who between them owned ten of the borough’s 13 public houses, and two bailiffs, elected annually by the common burgesses. Freedom of the borough was acquired by birth (generally restricted to the eldest son), apprenticeship, and election to the corporation or to Parliament, and new admissions were registered only when the corporation and freeman body were convened for borough or parliamentary elections.6 The Bury and Norwich Post reported in March 1831 that Eye had an electorate of 95; but, according to the returns to Parliament that December of the bailiff Thomas French, there were 125 freemen with ‘the exclusive right of voting in the return of Members to Parliament’: 104 were new admissions since 1800 and 44 since 1819.7 A list prepared in October 1824 for a canvass by the Egyptologist Sir Frederick Henniker gives the names, residence and profession or trade of 36 corporators and 111 freemen. With the exception of the vicar of Eye, the Rev. Thomas Wythe of Eye Park, who had gone abroad in 1819 leaving debts of over £77,000, all 24 common burgesses lived locally. Three principal burgesses only were non-residents (Dr. William French, master of Jesus College Cambridge, John Cobbold, the Ipswich brewer, and Charles Cunningham of Woolwich dockyard), and resident freemen outnumbered non-residents by 78-33. Even so, freeman out-voters, among them 19 from London, could have proved decisive in a contest.8 In the 1820 Parliament the Commons received petitions from Eye opposing the release of corn from bond, 13 May 1822, and relaxation of the corn laws, 25 Apr. 1825;9 against the beer bill, 15 July 1822, and the alehouse licensing bill, 24 May 1824,10 and against slavery, 24 May 1824, 18 Apr. 1826.11

In 1820 Cornwallis intended to return the sitting Members, his brother-in-law Mark Singleton, principal storekeeper of the ordnance, and Sir Robert Gifford, the attorney-general. Augustus Brydges Henniker and his brother-in-law John Wythe of Chandos Cottage, Eye, looked to the former’s uncle John Henniker Major†, 2nd Baron Henniker, ‘who owes the marquess a long standing grudge’ to buy further properties in Eye (notably those of Thomas Wythe, for whom John held power of attorney) and to back a candidate of his choice if ‘sufficient independent spirit could be found to make a successful opposition’.12 By 24 Feb., however, it was clear that Lord Henniker ‘would certainly not accept himself of the most pressing invitation to come forward’ and that Thomas Wythe’s absence was ‘an irreparable loss to the cause’.13 Disappointed, Augustus Henniker wrote to John Wythe, 29 Feb.:

There is one circumstance, however, which I find rather difficult to reconcile to my ideas of consistency, which is the offer spontaneously made to my lamented father some years back and the present opinions and feelings of the members of the town, or rather of our worthy borough. Something surely must have wrought a great change in favour of the noble patron, or the several exertions made by one or two respectable individuals such as your brother and yourself could not be so unavailing. The hope of finding a greater portion of more independent and more noble feeling amongst the constituents of Eye first animated my ambition, but I am afraid that your account proves how fallacious my calculations have been and that now there is no prospect left. However, had it been otherwise, the one subject expressed in your letters as so much desired by several of the freeholders would undoubtedly be accomplished, that of creating a warm interest for the inhabitants in a family, one of whose members or more would be continual residents in the vicinity. Parliament being now dissolved the eventful crisis is at hand and it is yet to be proved whether it must end fatally to the liberty and honour of the borough of Eye.14

In an ‘unprecedented veto’ at the nomination, 4 Mar., the corporation publicly rejected Singleton and, in default of an alternative candidate, ‘brought forward’ Thomas Chenery, a principal burgess and attorney. Cornwallis swiftly summoned Sir Miles Nightingall, a distinguished soldier recently returned from India, who had served under his father. Nightingall advanced Cornwallis £6,000, proved acceptable to the corporation and was returned with Gifford.15 Nightingall prevaricated over using Brome Hall, but with support for Queen Caroline’s cause evident in a petition to the Commons, 13 Feb. 1821, he admitted to Cornwallis that ‘whoever resides at Brome must be a person entirely in your interest, if not one of your family, as a stranger might do much mischief in the borough’. He took Brome at £250 a year from April 1821, and provided Cornwallis’s steward, Henry Wyatt, with money for the freemen.16 He was also expected to arbitrate in a dispute over differential handouts given to resident and non-resident freemen, to pay for the annual corporation feast and a barrel of beer for the freemen, and to invite members of the corporation to hunt at Brome.17 Cornwallis’s finances were in disarray, and from July 1820 to March 1821 his agent William Francklin, the solicitor to the mint, and Wyatt were engaged producing surveys and negotiating with Sir John Palmer Acland and the bankers Messrs. Hoare with a view to securing a £45,000 permanent mortgage on the 4,064-acre Suffolk estates which, though nominally worth £7,439 a year, realized only £3,279, as the income from 2,707 acres had already been pledged.18 Disposal of the Brome estates was already under consideration, but again obligations imposed by testatory and marriage settlements posed problems. After negotiations lasting almost a year with Matthias Kerrison of Hoxne Hall and Bungay and his son Sir Edward Kerrison, the sale was concluded a few weeks before Cornwallis’s death in August 1823. Contrary to Francklin’s advice, Cornwallis signed two separate agreements: with Matthias Kerrison for the land and property; and with Sir Edward, who agreed to pay ‘an additional £20,000’ and to honour the trust obligations stipulated in Cornwallis’s will, to secure the marquess’s interest in Eye.19 The Bury and Norwich Post of 17 Sept. 1823 reported the sale of ‘the Brome estate, to which the representation of Eye is an appendage ... to Mr. Kerrison of Bungay, for (it is said) upwards of £80,000’. Lord Holland commented that the purchase was made ‘very privately and very cheaply’.20 Matthias Kerrison’s own review of his assets, which stood at £707,093 in October 1823, includes the entry ‘Brome, Oakley, Eye, late Cornwallis £210,000’; and his accounts for 1824 and 1825 record annual mortgage payments of £56,300 ‘to Mq. Cornwallis and others’.21 The premier Lord Liverpool agreed to promote Gifford in his profession to accommodate Sir Edward, who was anxious to be back in Parliament.22

Before the by-election, first planned to coincide with the October 1823 borough elections, John Minet Henniker, who in 1821 had succeeded his uncle as 3rd Baron Henniker, informed the corporation and his cousin John Wythe that ‘as the votes in my favour are so uncertain ... I give up all thoughts of the borough’.23 Finding suitable preferment for Gifford (who refused to vacate before he received a peerage and a promise of the mastership of the rolls) took time, and the writ was further delayed pending the appointment of a new county sheriff. Meanwhile Kerrison’s canvass letters in the newspapers prompted a correspondent (possibly acting for Sir Frederick Henniker) to remind the electors that ‘the obligations they once fancied themselves under to a certain noble family are now obliterated’ and to urge them to reaffirm the independence shown in 1820 by establishing a freemen’s association like those at Huntingdon and Reading.24 At the by-election in February 1824 Kerrison was proposed by Chenery and Cobbold and returned without a contest, but his speech mentioned the opposition he had encountered. He stressed his willingness to protect his constituents’ ‘ancient and valuable rights and privileges’ and made a point of proposing toasts to the Cornwallis family at the celebration dinner.25 Thus encouraged, Sir Frederick Henniker considered challenging him at the next election and by October he had requested John Wythe’s assistance and seen Thomas Wythe, who wrote to John from Calais, 6 Oct. 1824:

Sir Frederick Henniker has been with me for two days. He informed me he has written to you on Monday last. It appears to me that he is very anxious to represent the borough, in consequence as Sir F. informs me of Lord Henniker’s having declined interfering for himself or son. He says with your exertions he should not much fear of success. I do not exactly understand his offer, which is that he will give you one thousand pounds down and a guinea a day to get him elected, and which he thinks is to be done. I enquired of Sir F. if he had mentioned the subject to Lord H. He said not, he was aware his lordship wished not to interfere in any ways, but, of course could not feel any objection to a branch of his lordship’s family representing a share in the borough ... The only advice I can give you is so to steer your conduct as not to give offence to Lord Henniker or compromise yourself in any way with the present Members. You, living upon the spot, are better able to form a judgement of the present feelings and opinions of individuals concerned than I possibly can. I can only therefore add my hearty wishes for some branch of the Henniker family. It certainly might prove of essential service to our family ... and were I now present I would not be asleep. It is supposed in the course of twelve months a general election will certainly take place and by judicious management much may be done. I do not conceive that you can mention direct to Lord Henniker Sir Frederick’s application, but you might put the question to his lordship as regarding himself and son, and should he decline, then you might ask how his lordship felt with regard to Sir Frederick, by which means you might form an idea how to hit without giving offence. To be wise, you know, is to be cautious; and, however anxious we may both feel, on a subject of this nature we ought not to compromise ourselves in any shape. In your next let me have your opinion of Sir F.’s success supposing it should be attempted.26

Sir Frederick commenced his canvass from lists supplied by John Wythe, to whom he wrote, 4 Jan. 1825:

I trust in great measure to your activity and am myself not idle ... Pray what is the rule for voters - is it paying scot and lot or apprenticeship or what? Let me hear from you as soon as convenient, for my stay in London will not exceed three or four days. I need not put you up to the art of electioneering. The nearest way to a man’s heart is to burn his throat, but they may also be tickled at the ears. The present Members are certainly very honourable, respectable men; but they have already obtained so much from government for themselves that they cannot obtain for others. They are not men of sufficient talent to command nor even to excite attention and will consequently be overlooked. Silent votes do little, perhaps no good, and they surely are not capable of speaking. A little opposition cannot but do good to the borough; it will show an independence and cause an interest, which those who ride over slaves cannot feel. Our family have been more than 50 years in Parliament and therefore have a hold on government and at any rate are as capable as the others to provide for their support, whether they gain or lose the election.27

By 5 May 1825 Sir Frederick, though still clearly interested, was also considering Reading and other offers.28 He died suddenly, 6 Aug. 1825, and the sitting Members were returned without opposition in 1826 amid the usual celebrations organized from Brome Hall.29

Kerrison, who inherited his father’s Norfolk and Suffolk estates and business interests in April 1827, came to rely on Cobbold and the French and Chenery families to manage the corporation of Eye; and the minister, churchwardens and inhabitants petitioned against the concession of Catholic emancipation, which he resolutely opposed, 13 Mar. 1829.30 After Nightingall’s death in September he brought in the duke of Clarence’s son-in-law Philip Sidney, who first met the corporation for approval at ‘a sumptuous dinner consisting of venison and every other delicacy’ at Brome Hall, 5 Oct. 1829, and was nominated by Dr. William French (afterwards John Wythe’s son-in-law) and Thomas Chenery.31 The Commons received petitions from the bailiffs, principal and common burgesses and inhabitants for reduction of the malt tax to alleviate distress, 8 Mar., and from the owners and occupiers of pubic houses against the sale of beer bill, 4 May 1830. At the general election in August, sumptuous feats marked the return of the sitting Members ‘as Kerrison is pleased to direct’.32

In March 1831, when the Grey ministry’s reform bill threatened to disfranchise Eye, whose enumerated population in 1821 was under 2,000, Sidney felt compelled to resign rather than embarrass his father-in-law the king by joining Kerrison in opposing the measure.33 Announcing the vacancy and Kerrison’s intention of returning the anti-reformer and spokesman for the West India interest William Burge, the pro-reform Bury and Norwich Post observed:

The electors (or quasi electors) of Eye do not appear to relish the meditated stroke (reform), the least consequence of which will be the loss of many goodly entertainments. But we must ask them at what price has the mess of pottage been obtained and we must remind them that individual interests cannot stand in the way of the general good.

However, like the Tory Ipswich Journal, it welcomed the ‘fresh census of population ... which is expected to give a result of 2,400 inhabitants [for Eye] and ... seems to justify the belief that some modification of the measure may take place with reference to the increase of numbers since the census of 1821’.34 The burgesses and inhabitants had previously sent petitions to both Houses supporting the 1830-1 anti-slavery campaign; and Burge’s election prompted the Protestant Dissenters to petition specifically for

effectual and decisive measures ... for the early and total extinction of British colonial slavery; and that liberty of conscience, and the full enjoyment of the Sabbath as a day of rest and religious observance may be effectually granted to the British subjects in the West Indies.35

Burge’s stance on slavery was also criticized in an editorial in the Suffolk Chronicle, 20 Apr. Both Members voted against the reform bill, 22 Mar., 19 Apr., and celebrated their return at the general election precipitated by its defeat with a dinner for 135 of the corporation and gentlemen of the town, 30 Apr., and a grand ball, 3 May.36 John Wythe ‘did not go’ to either, but he and Thomas French visited Kerrison at Hoxne to discuss Eye’s future, 5 May 1831.37

The Commons received a petition opposing the reform bill from the bailiffs and burgesses, 19 July 1831.38 Basing their case on the 1831 population totals and alleged errors in the 1821 census, both Members spoke against Eye’s disfranchisement, but it was ‘put out without a division’, 21 July 1831.39 In December 1831, with 404 houses and assessed tax payments of £411, it was ranked 59th in the list of boroughs to be disfranchised; but it became one of six boroughs reprieved as single Member constituencies in the revised bill. Editorials in the Bury and Suffolk Herald described the concession as ‘shadowy rather than substantial’: ‘a bare acknowledgement of errors, it can hardly be said to redeem them’.40 The Members supported the Suffolk anti-reform address to the king and continued to vote against reform, and the Lords received a petition from the borough of Eye and its inhabitants urging them to reject the bill, 9 Apr. 1832.41 By adding to Eye the rural parishes of Braiseworth, Brome, Denham, Hoxne, Oakley, Occold, Redlingfield, Thorndon, Thrandeston and Yaxley (all open to Kerrison’s influence as a landowner and lord of the manor) the boundary bill increased the size of the constituency more than fourfold from 6.8 to 30.4 square miles, the number of £10 houses almost threefold from 119 to 330 and the population more than threefold to 7,015.42 From June 1832 reports circulated that Lord Henniker’s eldest son John (who married Kerrison’s daughter Anna in 1836), backed by the Adairs of Flixton Hall, Bungay, would contest Eye at the general election that year, when the registered electorate comprised 53 freemen and 200 £10 voters; but John Henniker, who succeeded as 4th Baron Henniker that year, came in for East Suffolk.43 Eye returned Kerrison unopposed as a Conservative until 1852, when he made way for his only son Edward Clarence Kerrison.

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. According to indentures of parliamentary elections for the borough of Eye (Suff. RO (Ipswich), Eye borough recs. EE2/03/2/1-16). Previous descriptions of Eye as a scot and lot borough (HP Commons, 1715-1754, i. 324; HP Commons, 1754-1790, i. 379; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 370) seem to be erroneous. They were apparently based on Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 572, which claimed that the right of voting lay in the free burgesses and corporation together with the inhabitants paying scot and lot, but failed to note how in practice the franchise was vested solely in the freemen (that is, the bailiffs, burgesses and freemen). See Eye borough recs. EE2/01/12; 04/2/18, 22; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 524.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 524.
  • 3. Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, ii. 618; Eye Guide ed. L.J. Morley (1949), 16-18.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 27.
  • 5. W. White, Suff. Dir. (1844), 328-31; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 370.
  • 6. PP (1835), xxvi. 149-53; Eye borough recs. EE2/D5/2.
  • 7. Bury and Norwich Post, 9 Mar. 1831; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 524.
  • 8. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.11, 2.3, passim.
  • 9. CJ, lxxvii. 254; lxxx. 337.
  • 10. Ibid. lxxvii. 426; lxxix. 253.
  • 11. Ibid. lxxix. 404; lxxxi. 253.
  • 12. Bury and Norwich Post, 1 Mar. 1820; Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.5, 1.11, 1.13.
  • 13. Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.5.
  • 14. Ibid.
  • 15. Bury and Norwich Post, 8, 15 Mar.; Ipswich Jnl. 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 16. CJ, lxxv. 67; Cent. Kent. Stud. Darell mss U24/C15, Nightingall to Cornwallis, 3 Apr. 1820, to Wyatt, 18 Jan. 1821.
  • 17. Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.11.
  • 18. TNA 30/11/277, ff. 79, 80; 289 (i), ff. 19, 28, 34, 58, 130, 134, 290; Darell mss U24/C15, H. Hoare to Sydney, 17 Dec. 1823, 15 Mar. 1824, to R. Neville, 2 Aug. 1824.
  • 19. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Kerrison mss HA68/2593/1430; Darell mss U24/C15, Heptinsall to Sydney, 20 Jan., Hoare to same 15 Mar., to Neville, 2 Aug., to Sydney, 30 Sept. 1824, 14 Jan. 1825.
  • 20. Lansdowne mss, Holland to Lansdowne, 15 Aug. 1823.
  • 21. Kerrison mss HA85/662/384.
  • 22. Add. 38296, f. 68; 40357, f. 305.
  • 23. Bury and Norwich Post, 29 Oct. 1823; Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.11., 1.13.
  • 24. See GIFFORD.
  • 25. Bury and Norwich Post, 4, 18 Feb.; Ipswich Jnl. 14 Feb. 1824.
  • 26. Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.13.
  • 27. Ibid. S1/2/8/1.13; 2.3.
  • 28. Ibid. S1/2/8/1.13.
  • 29. Bury and Norwich Post, 14, 21 June 1826; Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.12, 13, 15, 2.3; Eye borough recs. EE2/03/2/9-10, 24; Ipswich Jnl. 14 Feb. 1824.
  • 30. PROB 11/1724/244; Kerrison mss HA85/662/384; The Times, 16 Apr. 1827; CJ, lxxxiv. 132; Ipswich Jnl. 14 Mar. 1829.
  • 31. Henniker mss S1/2/8/1.1; Ipswich Jnl. 26 Sept.; Suff. Chron. 26 Sept., 17, 24 Oct. 1829.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxv. 148, 315; Suff. Chron. 31 July; Ipswich Jnl. 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 33. See SIDNEY.
  • 34. Bury and Norwich Post, 9, 16 Mar.; Ipswich Jnl. 12, 19 Mar. 1831.
  • 35. CJ, lxxxvi. 49, 454; LJ, lxiii. 38, 455.
  • 36. Ipswich Jnl. 30 Apr.,7 May 1831.
  • 37. Henniker mss S1/2/8/2.3, Accounts of John Wythe, 1819-31.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxvi. 673.
  • 39. Suff. Chron. 27 July 1831.
  • 40. Bury and Suff. Herald, 14, 21 Dec. 1831.
  • 41. Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Hervey mss 941/56/24, Kerrison to Jermyn, 4 Dec. 1831; LJ, lxiv. 157.
  • 42. PP (1835), xxvi. 149-53; The Times, 19 June 1832; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 70, 75, 197, 201, 432.
  • 43. Suff. Chron. 9, 16 June; Bury and Suff. Press, 12, 26 Dec. 1832; Suff. RO (Ipswich) FB135/A3/1.