Great Yarmouth


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 freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

2,000 in 18311

Number of voters:

1,702 in 18302


18,040 (1821); 22,028 (1831)


11 Mar. 1820HON. GEORGE ANSON754
 John Michel612
 Josias Henry Stracey612
 Sir Edmund Knowles Lacon250
31 July 1830HON. GEORGE ANSON946
 Thomas Edmund Campbell754
 Henry Preston751
2 May 1831HON. GEORGE ANSON904
 Andrew Colvile549
 Henry Bliss543

Main Article

Great Yarmouth, Norfolk’s second largest town and principal port, 19 miles south-east of Norwich and nine miles north of its rival, the Suffolk port of Lowestoft, had been ‘irregularly built’ on a narrow five-mile strip of land that created a haven between the North Sea and the estuaries of the Rivers Bure and Yare. With its suburb of Southtown (Little Yarmouth) in the parish of Gorleston on the Suffolk bank of the Yare, it was noted for its wind and steam mills, shipbuilding and fishing (salted herrings and mackerel) and carrying trade in coal and corn, which the corporation taxed to non-freemen at 2d. a last and 6d. a chaldron.3 Grout and Company’s silk crepe manufactory, established in 1818, became a major employer in this period, and hotels and properties built speculatively on the borough’s denes (the traditional drying place for fishing nets) catered for sea-bathers.4 The electorate, to whom no residence qualification applied, was remarkable for its venality and strict partisan voting.5 Loyalty and party spirit were nurtured through an established network of clubs and public houses in Yarmouth, London and Norwich, by workplace contact and corporation patronage and leasing of the 492-acre denes; while the treasury, as patron of the dockyards of Chatham, Sheerness, Northfleet, Deptford and Blackwall, commanded the votes of 100-200 freemen. Two guineas a voter was customarily paid by all parties, defections were rare and four-man contests and split voting usual.6 Numerically, the out-voters did not dictate the result of elections, but they might determine it, could rarely be dispensed with and cost the candidates dearly in hospitality, transport and lay-off payments (including interruptions to fishing schedules), so that elections were reckoned at £8-10,000 a side, of which £5,000 was expended on out-voters.7 Members were expected to display the usual munificence, and patronage of the August water frolic and races, held shortly before the mayoral election, or inquest, on St. John’s day (the 29th) was essential.8 According to one account

the names of those eligible to take part in the election - i.e. the freemen who were present, were put into three hats and a child was asked to draw four names out of each hat. These were the 12 who were then locked up like a jury to choose the next year’s mayor [who acted as returning officer and selected all corporation committees] from among the aldermen. A two-thirds majority was necessary for a successful nomination ... Sometimes those who were able to smuggle the most biscuits in their pockets and were therefore able to stick it out longest had their way. But more often it was well known in advance who the mayor was to be. He was usually the person toasted at the corporation’s annual outing up the river and he frequently canvassed those likely to be on the inquest and warned them to go well supplied with food and drink.9

Freeman admissions were concentrated in election years (1818, 447; 1820, 91; 1826, 265; 1830, 370; 1831, 57), escalating after 1814, when the right of nomination, previously confined to the mayor, was vested in the corporation.10 The latter, a self-electing body of 12 aldermen and 24 common councillors, dominated by the anti-Catholic Tories, the Lacons, Palmers and Costertons, had excluded the wealthy Whig merchant Dissenters, the Hurrys, Shellys and Brightwens, and were themselves occasionally at odds with their political allies the Preston brothers, Isaac, John and Edmund, mayors respectively in 1822, 1828 and 1831, and 1830. Assisted by the two Whig aldermen, the merchant ship owner William Barth and customs collector William Palgrave (d. 1822), the excluded merchants had fostered an independence movement and channelled their resources into opposing corporation candidates at parliamentary elections, the only ones at which a freeman franchise applied.11

At the general election of 1818, the influence of the corporation Tories, the Reds, previously patronized by the Townshend family of Rainham, high stewards of the borough until the death in 1831 of the 2nd Viscount Sydney, had been successfully challenged by the Whigs or Blues of the independence party, whose candidates, Thomas Coke I* of Norfolk’s grandson Thomas William Anson, heir to part of Southtown and Gorleston, and Charles Rumbold, the son of a nabob and relation of the former Member Stephen Lushington*, had defeated the sitting Members, the banker Sir Edmund Knowles Lacon and General William Loftus, the Townshend nominee. In February 1819 Anson, having succeeded his father as 2nd Viscount Anson, was replaced unopposed by his brother George.12 The Members’ votes against the repressive legislation introduced after Peterloo were unpopular, but the corporation’s early overtures to the Quaker banker Hudson Gurney* and his kinsman by marriage, the brewer Charles Barclay*, proved unavailing; and after Charles Symonds of Runham chaired a meeting at the Bowling Green to set up an opposition at the general election of 1820, their choice fell belatedly on the Tory Member for Belfast, General John Michel†, a treasury nominee, and Josias Henry Stracey, the son of Sir Edward Stracey, the squire of Rackheath. Anson and Rumbold had issued a joint notice, 26 Feb., and commenced their personal canvass.13 The Tory mayor, the physician Thomas Bateman, swore in 47 freemen (23 by birth and 24 by servitude), 3 Mar.14 Anson was proposed on the 7th by Palgrave and the merchant ship owner James Hurry, a leading Congregationalist, and Rumbold by Thomas Hurry and the attorney James Sayers. Both were portrayed as true Whigs mindful of local interests. Michel’s sponsors, the deputy mayor Edmund Preston and the banker William Turner, recommended him as a ‘good attender’ and supporter of the constitution in church and state. Nominating Stracey, the corporation chaplain and rector of Rolleston, the Rev. Thomas Blake, and the attorney John Goate Fisher stressed their candidate’s Norfolk connections. On the first day, when polling was largely confined to townsmen, the parties stood neck and neck at 423 votes for Michel and Stracey and 421 for Anson and Rumbold. The Reds gained slightly on the second day when the poll closed at Stracey 561, Michel 560, Anson 554, Rumbold 550; but the Blues forged ahead when the out-voters arrived, and the poll stood at Anson 657, Rumbold 654, Michel and Stracey 587 on the third day, and Anson 714, Rumbold 712, Michel and Stracey 596 on the fourth, when, amid escalating violence, the mayor declared that he ‘could not allow this town to be kept in an unnecessary state of ferment longer than the substantial interests of the contending parties required’. At 11 that night Michel and Stracey retired and left to try their luck elsewhere. Anson and Rumbold were returned the next day (with the tally at Anson 754, Rumbold 752, Michel and Stracey 612) and dined their supporters at the Crown and Anchor after the customary Norfolk chairing.15 The Reds’ defeat after profiting ‘by surprise’ was viewed as a ‘severe blow’ to Lord Liverpool’s government, but the duke of Wellington, who disliked him, had intimated privately that ‘he did not expect Michel to succeed’.16 Hudson Gurney, knowing that Rumbold had spent £11,000 in 1818, when he paid Thomas Anson’s costs, cautioned: ‘I am afraid poor Rumbold will find there are horrible Yarmouth bills attendant on his frolic. They were run so close that I should very much doubt whether he and his colleague will both come in another time’.17

The freemen displayed their customary party loyalty. Of 1,366 polled, only 15 (one per cent) failed to split their votes between their party’s candidates. There was an overall drop of about 47 in the non-resident vote and both sides conceded the disqualification of 280 freemen in receipt of poor relief on account of the ‘severe winter’.18 Comparison with 1818 shows an increase of one (to 745) in the number of split votes cast for the Blues, and of eight (to 605) in those cast for the Reds. The Blues secured 55 per cent of the votes cast and retained their majorities among the residents (Rumbold 392, Anson 389, Stracey 361, Michel 356) and the out-voters (Anson 365, Rumbold 360, Stracey 261, Michel 256), carrying London (Rumbold 109, Anson 108, Michel and Stracey 80), the dockyards (Anson and Rumbold 84, Michel and Stracey 44) and the remaining out-voters, (Anson 180, Rumbold 174, Stracey 140, Michel 135).19 A ‘grand common council’ on 29 Mar. adopted the customary address of condolence and congratulation to George IV.20 The ship owners petitioned the Commons against any alteration in the timber duties and navigation laws, 30 May 1820.21

The 1820 mayor’s inquest lasted almost two days,22 and distress was rife when J.G. Fisher as mayor refused to permit the use of the town hall for a meeting to congratulate Queen Caroline on the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties. Her partisans celebrated with illuminations and dinners at the Bear and the Crown and Anchor, and adopted an address to her at a public meeting in the New Hall, 17 Nov., which the corporation countered with a loyal address to the king, carried ‘behind closed doors’, 24 Nov 1820.23 The corporation and ship owners petitioned independently against the Kingston-upon-Hull poor rate bill, 19 Feb. 1821, and petitions were forthcoming that session for repeal of the additional malt duty, 13 Mar. (for which the Members voted), and against the extra post bill, 18 June.24 Rumbold, a regular guest of the merchant and maltster John Dowson, presented their petition against the Excise Act, 1 July 1822.25 The Commons received petitions from the ‘principal catchers and curers of herrings’ for repeal of the salt tax, 11 June, the brewers against the beer retail bill, 15 July, and the innkeepers and licensed victuallers for inquiry into and repeal of the tax on their licences, 21 May 1824.26 The ship owners supported the national campaign to ‘protect’ shipping and the carrying trade; and they lobbied ministers and petitioned against amending the navigation laws, 20 May 1822, 27 June 1823, against the ships’ apprentices bill, 15 Apr. 1823, and for repeal of the duties on coastwise coal, which the inhabitants also advocated, 2 May 1823, 11 May 1824, 24 Feb. 1825, 17 May 1826.27 The town and borough petitioned for the abolition of slavery, 15 May 1823, and in condemnation of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 28 May, and the Members voted accordingly, 11 June 1824.28 The inhabitants petitioned for repeal of the assessed taxes, 21 Feb. 1825.29 The 1822 Michaelmas celebrations were marred by a fatality when guns were fired on the quay.30 Rumbold’s sisters were guests in 1823, and Coke and the 4th earl of Albemarle attended Barth’s installation as mayor the following year.31 Barclay, whose connections with government and the Dissenters gave him the potential to split the Blue vote, declared his candidature and canvassed personally when a dissolution was anticipated in September 1825, and he was hailed as the next Member, in the presence of the incumbents, at the corporation dinner.32 Not surprisingly, the Whig Sir James Mackintosh* predicted that his party might lose a Yarmouth seat.33 Anson and Rumbold, on whose behalf Lushington now solicited the assistance of Edward Harbord*, 3rd Baron Suffield, Thomas Fowell Buxton* and Coke, were expected to seek re-election.34 In the event Barclay’s diehard opposition to Catholic relief proved unacceptable to the Dissenting merchants and he withdrew early in December, when the banking crisis loomed and his interests were compromised by the Norwich and Lowestoft navigation bill.35 A meeting on 19 Dec. 1825, convened by the mayor, the surgeon Samuel Costerton, following the collapse on the 16th of the Norwich Bank of Day and Company, carried a widely circulated resolution of confidence in the Yarmouth banks of Gurney, Turner and Brightwen and Lacon, Youall and Company, and both continued trading.36

The corporation, haven commissioners and proprietors of land adjoining the Rivers Ant, Bure, Waveney and Yare had kept a close watch since 1818 on preparations for a Norwich and Lowestoft navigation, engaging rival surveyors and civil engineers in their pamphlet war.37 Great Yarmouth’s opposition to the scheme, which threatened its commerce and the corporation’s revenues from harbour dues, was compromised by the latter, for Great Yarmouth charged higher fees than neighbouring ports; and they carefully couched their arguments against the scheme in memorials and letters to the admiralty and Trinity House, and briefed the Members accordingly.38 When their initial lobbying failed, the corporation, merchants and inhabitants petitioned the Commons against the 1826 bill, 17 Feb., 16 Mar., and the corporation and the haven commissioners engaged counsel for the 15-day parliamentary inquiry.39 Between 10 Apr. and 1 May, 47 witnesses were heard, among them the town clerk Samuel Tolver, the attorneys Francis Riddell Reynolds and John Costerton, the barrack master George Manby, the surveyor Thomas Telford and several engineers, merchants, ship owners and Trinity House pilots, who all criticized the scheme.40 Their testimony was diligently reported in the local press.41 The bill’s advocates attributed its defeat in committee (by 25-20), 2 May, to ‘a great rush of Members’ from the clubs, ‘who had never heard any of the evidence, summing up, or reply’.42 Its opponents Anson, Rumbold, Manby and the county Member Edmond Wodehouse were rewarded with the freedom of the borough and, with Tolver and Lacon, they received the thanks of a well-attended public meeting chaired by John Brightwen, 9 May 1826. The campaign cost the corporation £4,444 4s. 9d.43

They tacitly acquiesced in the return of Anson and Rumbold at the general election in June, but the Members canvassed as usual and faced a challenge got up by disaffected partisans and others irked by their opposition votes and support for Catholic relief. Swelled by the admission of 133 freemen (102 by birth and 31 by servitude) on 5 June, paid for by the attorney Nathaniel Palmer, who spent £5,000 on the election, the self-styled ‘Crimson interest’, led by Charles Symonds and addressed nightly by the shipwright and local poet John Henry Drury, vowed to bring in the absent Lacon ‘free of charge’ and claimed to have secured the support of 400 resident freemen, 300 of whom reputedly signed a requisition to Lacon.44 Polling commenced on 9 June and closed at Rumbold 498, Anson 495, Lacon 216. The Crimson booth was taken down overnight, but voting continued early on the second day before the result was declared. The Members made much of their 400 majority over Lacon, ‘your townsman, your former representative, the acknowledged champion of his party’, and informed the out-voters that ‘fortunately ... [the opposition] was far too paltry for us to put you to the inconvenience of leaving your distant homes and occupations for the sake of increasing a majority which has never before been equalled’. Lacon thanked the Members for opposing the Norwich and Lowestoft navigation bill and dissociated himself from the election proceedings, but he pointedly failed to rule out standing again.45

Of 899 freemen polled (34 per cent fewer than in 1820), 641 split their votes between the Blues and nine between the parties (seven for Rumbold and Lacon and two for Anson and Lacon), while 241 plumped for Lacon, two for Anson and one for Rumbold. Partisan voting remained steady at 99 per cent.46 Comparison with 1820 indicates a 14 per cent drop in the Blue vote. Without full corporation backing, the ‘Crimson interest’ polled 58 per cent fewer freemen than the Reds had in 1820. Their supporters included at least 90 newly admitted freemen and 19 defectors from the Blues. The Blues retained their majorities among the residents (Rumbold 505, Anson 502, Lacon 218) and the out-voters (Rumbold 144, Anson 143, Lacon 32), who at this election formed only 19 per cent of the freemen polled compared with 46 in 1820.47 Barth’s re-election as mayor, itself a slight to the shipping merchant and brewer Samuel Paget, who had anticipated the honour, was celebrated with a dinner at Michaelmas 1826, when Coke’s chastisement of the ‘no Popery faction’ and the ‘dirty tricks’ employed by some of the corporation in wantonly endorsing opposition to Anson caused Lacon to walk out, followed by his fellow aldermen, the admiralty court registrar Robert Cory, J.G. Fisher, Paget, the three Preston brothers, Reynolds and the Rev. Baker.48

Campaigning on the Norwich and Lowestoft navigation bill revived in September 1826. A new bill was petitioned for, 22 Nov., and ordered, 28 Nov., and Telford, the proprietors and the shareholders sought a compromise to end the costly litigation.49 The corporation, who spent a further £3,646 8s. 6d. which they could ill afford in opposing it, appointed a special committee, 27 Nov. 1826, and at a public meeting the next day Barth made opposition incumbent on ‘every inhabitant’ and urged the Members to back him. He warned that as the government whip Holmes had supported the first bill and the home secretary Peel’s brother Jonathan had been returned for Norwich, the new measure was assured of ministerial backing.50 This proved to be the case, and further petitioning to both Houses, hostile testimony and appeals to counsel failed to impede its progress. The corporation and haven commissioners were now denied the backing of the admiralty and Trinity House, reporting restrictions were introduced and the Commons committee carried the bill by 20-5. Recommittal motions and late amendments proposed by Rumbold failed, 21 Mar., and it became law, 28 May 1827.51 On 18 Mar. 1828 the Tory Member for Eye Sir Edward Kerrison and Henry Barrett were made honorary freemen for endeavouring ‘to protect the rights of this town whilst the Norwich and Lowestoft navigation bill was in a committee of the House of Commons’.52 The corporation and ship owners (who attributed it to the relaxation of the navigation laws), had meanwhile petitioned for inquiry into their distressed trade, 3 May, and directed the Members to vote accordingly, but Barth, who attended the Commons debate, was won over by Huskisson’s speech and waived the directive, 7 May 1827.53 The Dissenters supported the petitioning campaign for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June 1827.54

The Tories had rallied with the election of the banker John Mortlock Lacon as mayor, and their partisans the county Member Wodehouse, his cousin John Wodehouse*, the lord lieutenant, and Sir Thomas Gooch* were the speakers at the 1827 Michaelmas dinner. Afterwards Barclay, Dowson and Patrick Stead met Thomas Frankland Lewis* and the premier Lord Goderich to discuss problems arising from the new Malt Act.55 Body-snatching from St. Nicholas’s graveyard, which spawned a debate over the dissection of the corpses of shipwrecked mariners, and the campaigns for repeal of the Malt and Test Acts commanded local attention in the winter of 1827-8.56 The Catholics had built a chapel in the town in 1825, and when the Wellington ministry conceded emancipation in 1829 the Unitarians and Dissenters petitioned the Commons in its favour, 11 Feb., 4 Mar., certain freemen and inhabitants asked the Lords to review the laws affecting Catholics’ civil liberties and set the question at rest, 19 Mar., and both Members voted for the measure. Encouraged by Gooch and Lord Sydney, the corporation backed a 2,400-signature hostile petition to the Lords, 5 Mar., and Commons, 10 Mar., and addressed the king, urging him to dissolve Parliament rather than assent to the measure, 3 Apr. 1829.57 Opinion was also divided on the 1830 sale of beer bill, which the innkeepers petitioned for and the corporation against, 4 May.58 Amid increasing distress, a public meeting on 12 Apr., chaired by the merchant George Danby Palmer, petitioned both Houses in his name for retrenchment, further tax reductions and the abolition of all monopolies, 4 May.59 Other petitions criticized the East India Company’s monopoly and opposed renewal of their charter, and called for abolition of the death penalty for forgery and criminal law reform.60 The fishermen petitioned for continuation of the bounty of 1s. a barrel, to assist the troubled herring trade, 21 May, and the ship owners and merchants for repeal of the duties on coastwise coal, 30 June.61 Rumbold failed to prevent the passage on 3 May 1830 of the Southwold Haven bill, steered through the Commons by Barclay, Gooch and Wodehouse. The Yarmouth sponsored Acle and Yarmouth road bill received royal assent the same day.62

The Reds and the Crimson interest combined to mount a strong opposition to Anson and Rumbold at the 1830 general election. According to the diary of the attorney and Yarmouth historian Charles Danby Palmer, then a young common councillor, the corporation ‘entertained about 200 gentlemen with a cold collation at the town hall’, 1 July, and sent the substeward Lacon, the future chairman of the Norwich Union Life Insurance Company, Isaac Preston junior, and the Ultra Robert Cory (the proposer of the 1829 address) to London in search of a ‘crown and constitution’ candidate and to rally the out-voters. They ‘did not succeed definitely till the 15th [of] July, when an arrangement was made with Mr. Henry Preston of Moorby Hall, Yorkshire, and Mr. Thomas Edmund Campbell, a captain in the 2nd Dragoon Guards’, who issued a joint notice, 17 July and canvassed personally from the 19th.63 The Times reported on the 13th:

The two present Members having been so coldly received, two new candidates are about to offer themselves. A great majority of the resident voters having declared themselves in favour of the new representation, it is supposed that Colonel Anson and Mr. Rumbold will not stand a contest.

The Tory Norfolk Chronicle meanwhile cast doubt on the ‘success’ of Anson and Rumbold’s five-day canvass of Yarmouth, reported the dinner for 350 addressed by Henry Preston and Campbell at the London Tavern, 20 July, and their promises and arrangements to convey their London supporters to Yarmouth whether or not there was a contest. One-hundred-and-sixty-two freemen (101 by birth and 61 by servitude) were admitted, 9 July 1830, a further 113 (84 by birth and 29 by servitude) were enrolled on the 26th, and the Reds’ propaganda promised ‘400 by election day’ at a reputed cost of ‘£20-30,000’.64 Briefed by Anson and Coke, the Whig Norfolk Mercury was more sanguine, but agreed that ‘the general belief is that it will be hard run’.65

Anson and Rumbold were nominated by the party leaders Dowson, Robert Palmer Kemp of Colishall, John Shelly and Nathaniel Palmer, who reiterated his 1826 plea for frequent and open corporation assemblies for freeman admissions and maintained that voters ‘would have heard nothing of the port of Norwich if corporation dues had not been so overbearing’. Preston was proposed by Lacon and seconded by the London attorney and organizer of their freemen John White; and Campbell was nominated by Isaac Preston junior and J.G. Fisher. The Blues called for corporation and parliamentary reform, retrenchment, an end to the monopolies of the Bank and East India Company and for religious and civil disabilities. The Reds’ speeches eulogized Wellington’s achievements and emphasized Anson’s poor parliamentary attendance, while their squibs mocked his connection with Coke and lack of independent funding.66 On the first day the poll stood at Anson 615, Rumbold 613, Campbell 540, Preston 538. After two days, with 1,702 polled and the tally at Anson 946, Rumbold 945, Campbell 754, Preston 751, Preston left, disgruntled, leaving Campbell to announce their retirement and dine their supporters at the Angel. The Members dined at the Crown and Anchor, and sponsored the August races and water frolic as hitherto.67 Partisan split-voting (99 per cent) was unaffected by the 25 per cent increase, since 1820, in the number polled, which at 26 per cent for the Blues and 24 for the Reds was fairly evenly distributed between the parties. Compared with 1820, there was a three per cent drop to 43 per cent in the non-resident vote despite a 33 per cent increase to 270 in the London vote, which at Anson and Rumbold 162, Preston 108, Campbell 107, the Blues carried with a slightly increased majority.68 They also retained majorities among the residents (Anson and Rumbold 518, Campbell 448, Preston 444), the out-voters (Anson 428, Rumbold 427, Preston 307, Campbell 306) and the dockyards (Anson and Rumbold 61, Campbell, Preston 51), where 15 Portsmouth and Plymouth freemen voted exclusively for the Reds.69

Rumbold, as expected, voted against the Wellington ministry when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, but Anson, possibly deliberately on account of his private support for government, was ‘shut out’.70 The Dissenters and Nonconformists petitioned against slavery, 17, 19 Nov., 9, 11 Dec. 1830, 29 Mar., 15 Apr. 1831, and the ship owners, merchants and inhabitants for repeal of the duty on coastwise coal, 9 Feb. 1831. The announcement in March of a reduction in the duty caused a temporary panic among those merchants who speculated upon its being effected immediately.71 A chapter of the National Union of the Working Classes had been established in the town after the 1830 election, and attention focused increasingly on parliamentary reform, which the Blues supported and the Reds opposed.72 At a public meeting chaired by Edmund Preston as mayor, 9 Dec. 1830, Barth, who denied that reform was a party issue, moved resolutions for it, Thomas Cobb seconded and a ‘moderate’ petition proposed by John Shelly and Brightwen was adopted; it was presented to the Commons, 28 Feb. 1831. It complained of excessive taxation and unjust monopolies and, stopping short of advocating annual parliaments, the ballot and universal suffrage, called for fixed term parliaments and unbiased suffrage.73 Clause six of the Grey ministry’s reform bill ‘disfranchising the denizened and freebound apprentices’ caused a ‘great sensation’ and ‘played into the hands of the anti-reformers’. On the eve of the reform meeting of 18 Mar., at which Barth, the tannery proprietor Simon Cobb and Shelly proposed petitioning for the bill, the Reds, in the guise of ‘A Freeman’, urged the parties ‘to unite heart and hand in withstanding the overthrow of your chartered rights’.74 Notwithstanding Barth’s opposition, a rider was added to the ‘reform’ petition, requesting the inclusion in the bill of ‘such a clause as will preserve the elective franchise to the present children of freemen and to apprentices now serving their apprenticeships to freemen of the borough’. The resulting 1,500-signature petition was presented to the Commons by the county Member Ffolkes, 25 Mar. The anti-reformers’ petition adopted on 18 Mar. and presented to the Commons, 21 Mar., conceded the need to enfranchise large towns, but objected to the bill’s ‘revolutionary principles’.75 Rumbold was too ill to vote for the bill’s second reading with Anson, 22 Mar., but both voted in the minority against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr.76 The London freemen in their interest met at the White Hart, Bishopsgate, 27 Apr., and they campaigned for reform and retrenchment as uncompromising supporters of the bill at the ensuing general election.77 Reform committees were immediately established and a subscription fund (which raised almost £2,375 for the Blues) was opened at Gurney, Turner and Brightwen’s Bank. The reformers met nightly at Apollo Gardens and the anti-reformers at Chapel Denes and Bammant’s Long Room. The Reds had requisitioned Lacon and Campbell and would have nominated them had the Tory opposition’s Charles Street committee not sent down the wealthy West India merchant and proprietor Andrew Colvile on the eve of the election. With voting already under way, he was joined by the barrister Henry Bliss. The Reds vilified Anson, appealed to the self-interest of the poorer voters and out-voters likely to lose their own and their ‘children’s valuable privileges’ and accused Anson and Rumbold of reforming 1,800 voters ‘down to about 350 (to a nice snug rotten borough for the ministry they serve)’. The Blues mocked ‘hop-along’ Symonds and ‘limp-away’ Cory, the Runhmam twins of the ‘Crimson Mountebank Company’, dubbed Campbell ‘young camel lost’ and denounced Colvile as a slave owner and a backer, through his Port of London interests, of the 1827 Norwich and Lowestoft navigation bill. For this, Colville was borne in effigy, suspended on a pole and burnt amid laughter and cheers, like any freeman who had ‘ratted from their cause’.78 Anson and Rumbold were nominated by Dowson, Robert Palmer Kemp, the Rev. Thomas Clowes and John Shelly; Colvile and Bliss by Isaac Preston junior, the London attorney John White, John Mortlock Lacon junior and the linen draper John Laws, dubbed ‘Mr. Measure’, the local agent to the London trades.79 At three o’clock on the 30th, with the poll at Bliss 216, Colvile 213, Anson 148 and Rumbold 147, the reformer Thomas Creevey* wrote:

Sorry am I to say ... we are going, I believe, to lose Yarmouth. George Anson and Rumbold are taken by surprise. The whole London voters poured in upon them in the eleventh hour, and Anson writes to his grandfather Coke that their case is nearly desperate. This is an infernally bad job.80

That evening Anson and Rumbold thanked the ‘poorer classes for their sacrifice’ in supporting them, and announced that they would do all they could ‘to procure the adoption of that measure which will secure to them the right of suffrage in the cities and towns in which they reside’.81 The Blues rallied on the second day, a Saturday, to close at Anson and Rumbold 748, Colvile 503, Bliss 497, whereupon Colvile and Bliss departed. There was a further surge of support for the Blues on the Monday before the result was declared (at Anson 904, Rumbold 903, Colvile 549 and Bliss 543). Reformers regarded the contest as ‘vexatious’ and persevered in solely to extract money from the Members.82 Afterwards the government minister Lord Duncannon* informed Lord Grey:

I have promised George Anson and Rumbold to bring under your notice the case of the borough of Great Yarmouth, with a view to your considering the propriety of removing the government patronage from Harwich, which has opposed your government, to Yarmouth, which now and for several years has, and that under very difficult circumstances ... supported Whig Members ... You will know that Anson and Rumbold have fought this battle over and over again at great expense [and] inconvenience to themselves, and they now naturally look to some acknowledgement of what they have done ... I cannot see how you can refuse to do this out of justice to these people.83

Of the 1,445 polled (15 per cent fewer than in 1830), ten plumped.84 Only Robert Cory senior of Ormesby, who voted for Anson and Colvile, split between the parties. Excluding him, the reformers carried the resident vote by 549-357, and the out-voters by 359-190. A further five per cent fall since 1830 in the non-resident vote (to 38 per cent) is largely accounted for by the 27 per cent reduction (to 198) in the London vote, which the reformers carried by 105-93. Even without the Portsmouth men, who switched but arrived too late, they carried the dockyards by an overwhelming 65-19.85

The Members voted for the reintroduced and revised reform bills. With Anson’s acquiescence, on 30 Aug. 1831 Rumbold moved to amend the former, to enable the freeman out-voters of boroughs retaining both Members to vote ‘by virtue of their present corporate rights ... in such cities or boroughs where they are resident’, but he was obliged to withdrew it for want of support, after Lord John Russell, responding for government, claimed that out-voters were already adequately catered for by the proposed £10 householder franchise.86 A reform meeting on 23 Sept. 1831, addressed by Barth, Clowes, Simon Cobb and Shelly, called on the Lords to support the bill. They met again, 10 Oct. 1831, to address the king in protest at its rejection.87 When the revised bill was briefly jeopardized by a further Lords’ defeat and the king’s invitation to Wellington to form a ministry, a reform meeting on 14 May 1832 expressly endorsed Grey’s policies and petitioned that supplies be withheld pending the bill’s passage, 21 May. The political union had been active in the town since October 1831 and their address (which apparently remained unpresented) pressed additionally for the non-payment of taxes, including a boycott of excised goods, and withdrawal of all bank balances in gold coin.88 A reform festival was held on 12 July 1832 to mark the bill’s passage.89

Inquorate and infrequent assemblies had paralysed public business in the borough since the 1831 general election. Edmund Preston as mayor was granted a rule nisi for a writ of mandamus from king’s bench, 3 June, in compliance with which the corporation met on 23 June and 18 July 1831. However, a ruse by Preston’s opponents, who were anxious to replace Robert Alderson as recorder, as had recently been effected at Ipswich, where he also officiated, left all but one of the vacant offices unfilled, necessitating a further application to king’s bench. The matter was resolved only after further litigation and at the third ballot, 3 Apr. 1832, when Richard Aldworth Merewether defeated the sub-steward Isaac Preston by a single vote. He was installed as recorder, 8 May 1832, with the new high steward, the 1st Baron Exmouth, two aldermen and four common councillors; 54 freemen (21 by birth and 33 by servitude) were admitted, 26 July 1832. Shelly’s campaign to expose the borough accounts to public scrutiny now stalled.90

As the boundary commissioners had recommended, Southtown and Gorleston were brought wholly into the constituency, doubling its acreage. The revising barristers rejected the qualifications of 20 pauper freemen and several sailors and master mariners only occasionally resident with their families, and the new registered electorate of 1,683 comprised 1,040 freemen and 643 £10 voters (488 from Yarmouth and 155 from Southtown and Gorleston).91 Canvassing had long been underway, and Anson and Rumbold, standing as Liberals, defeated the Conservative Colvile by 78 votes at the general election in December, when non-payment of the ‘two guineas’ was a major issue.92 The Conservatives defeated Anson and Rumbold in 1835, but Rumbold was re-elected in 1837 and represented the borough with a second Liberal for the next 20 years. Inquiries following the elections of 1835 and 1847, when Conservatives were briefly returned, found that bribery and corruption remained endemic, and legislation disqualifying Great Yarmouth freemen from voting at parliamentary elections was enacted in 1848. Investigations following the election of Lacon’s son and another Conservative in 1865 led to the borough’s disfranchisement for corruption in 1868.93

Author: Margaret Escott


Draws on C.J. Palmer, Hist. Great Yarmouth and Perlustration of Great Yarmouth; J.A. Phillips, Great Reform Bill in Boroughs, 196-210, 246-7, 274, 281-9

  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 602.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxix. 147; White, Norf. Dir. (1845), 231-3, 250; A.W. and J.L. Ecclestone, Rise of Great Yarmouth, 182-3.
  • 4. Ecclestone, 184-5; White, 250.
  • 5. Phillips, 196; PP (1835), x. 19, 21.
  • 6. Ibid. 205; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 289-91.
  • 7. PP (1835), x. 42; H. Barrett, Great Yarmouth Corporation (1834), 171-2.
  • 8. Ecclestone, 177
  • 9. Ibid.; Barrett, 170.
  • 10. Ecclestone, 178; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 602.
  • 11. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 602; (1837), xxviii. 382; Barrett, 21, 44, 81, 161-2, 169-70, 234-6; Ecclestone, 177-80.
  • 12. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 289-91; Ecclestone, 172-83.
  • 13. W.H. Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank, 171-2; The Times, 8 Feb.; Norf. Chron. 4 Mar.; Bury and Norwich Post, 8 Mar. 1820.
  • 14. Norf. RO, Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, f. 119.
  • 15. Norf. Chron. 11, 18 Mar.; The Times, 13 Mar.; Bury and Norwich Post, 15 Mar. 1820; Add. 38283, f. 247.
  • 16. Petworth House mss, Arbuthnot to Huskisson, 8 Mar.; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 14 Mar.; Add. 51830, Anson to Holland, 19 Mar.; Wellington mss, Wellington to Mrs. Arbuthnot, 12 Mar. [1820].
  • 17. Norf. RO, Gurney mss RQG 572/3; Trinity Coll. Camb. Dawson Turner mss DT2/K1/30; Norf. RO, Rumbold mss L14/4, 5.
  • 18. Phillips, 197; Bury and Norwich Post, 15 Mar. 1820; Great Yarmouth Pollbook (Barnes, 1820).
  • 19. Great Yarmouth Pollbook (1820).
  • 20. Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, ff. 122-3.
  • 21. The Times, 31 May 1820; CJ, lxxv. 352.
  • 22. Bury and Norwich Post, 6 Sept. 1820.
  • 23. Dawson Turner mss DT2/K1/35; Bury and Norwich Post, 22, 29 Nov., 13 Dec. 1820; Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, ff. 125-6; Phillips, 198.
  • 24. CJ, lxxvi. 163, 446; Rumbold mss L14/8.
  • 25. The Times, 2 July 1822; Palmer, Perlustration, i. 336; CJ, lxxvii. 390.
  • 26. CJ, lxxvii. 334, 426; lxxix. 394.
  • 27. Add. 40377, ff. 53-55; The Times, 12 June 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 281; lxxviii. 278, 435; lxxix. 23; lxxx. 123; lxxxi. 358; Add. 40377, ff. 53-55.
  • 28. CJ, lxxviii. 312; lxxix. 403.
  • 29. Ibid. lxxx. 103.
  • 30. The Times, 5 Oct. 1822.
  • 31. Rumbold mss L14/14, 16, 17.
  • 32. Diary and Jnl. of C.J. Palmer ed. F.D. Palmer (1892), 39; Norf. Chron. 24 Sept., 1 Oct. 1825; Dawson Turner mss DT2/D1/3, Brightwen to Turner, 31 Oct. 1825.
  • 33. Add. 51655, Mackintosh to Lady Holland, 8 Oct. 1825.
  • 34. Rumbold mss L14/22, 23; Norwich Mercury, 1, 8 Oct. 1825.
  • 35. Palmer Diary, 39.
  • 36. Norwich Mercury, 24 Dec.; Norf. Chron. 24 Dec. 1825; H. Preston, Early East Anglian Banks and Bankers; Dawson Turner mss DT2/D1/5, Brightwen to Turner, 18 Dec. 1825.
  • 37. BL Tracts [09235. i. 63.]; Norf. RO MC221/1; Norf. Chron. 21 May, 15 Oct. 1825.
  • 38. Rumbold mss L14/8-12.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxi. 104, 188; Palmer Diary, 40; Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, ff. 226-9.
  • 40. PP (1826), iv. 383-628.
  • 41. Norf. Chron. 15, 22, 29 Apr., 6 May 1826.
  • 42. Ibid. 6 May 1826.
  • 43. Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, ff. 232-8, 255; Norwich Mercury, 6, 13, 27 May 1826.
  • 44. Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, ff. 235-7; Great Yarmouth Pollbook (Barnes, 1826), 30-31; Norf. Chron. 10, 17 June; Norwich Mercury, 10, 17 June 1826.
  • 45. Great Yarmouth Pollbook (1826), 32-35; Globe and Traveller, 13 June 1826.
  • 46. Phillips, 197.
  • 47. Great Yarmouth Pollbooks (1820, 1826).
  • 48. Norf. Chron. 9, 30 Sept., 7 Oct.; The Times, 5 Oct. 1826.
  • 49. Norf. Chron. 9 Sept., 14, 21, 28 Oct. 1826; CJ, lxxxii. 13, 29, 39.
  • 50. Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, ff. 242-3, 255; Norf. Chron. 2 Dec. 1826; PP (1837), xxviii. 381.
  • 51. Norf. Chron. 6, 27 Jan., 24 Feb., 10, 17, 24, 31 Mar., 25 May 1827; Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/17, ff. 249-51; CJ, lxxxii. 44, 148, 173, 210, 243, 306, 333, 345, 495; LJ, lix. 195, 201, 231, 260, 282, 269, 326, 328.
  • 52. Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/18 (unfol.).
  • 53. Ibid. Y/C19/17, ff. 244; CJ, lxxxii. 428; LJ, lxix. 231, 344; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Denison diary, 7 May [1827].
  • 54. Norf. Chron. 2 June 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 528.
  • 55. Norf. Chron. 6 Oct.; The Times 18 Oct. 1827.
  • 56. The Times, 2, 5 Jan. 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 83, 113.
  • 57. CJ, lxxxiv. 22, 103, 121; LJ, lxi. 114, 227; Norf. Chron. 28 Feb., 7 Mar.; The Times, 6 Mar. 1829; Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/18.
  • 58. Rumbold mss L14/26; CJ, lxxxv. 365.
  • 59. Norf. Chron. 17 Apr. 1830; F.D. Palmer, Yarmouth Notes, 6; CJ, lxxxv. 395; LJ, lxii. 324.
  • 60. CJ, lxxxv. 463, 465; LJ, lxii. 367.
  • 61. CJ, lxxxv. 457, 596.
  • 62. Ibid. 64, 128, 146, 204, 274, 355.
  • 63. Palmer Diary, 69-70; Norf. Chron. 17 July 1830. For Isaac Preston, see also NORWICH.
  • 64. Norf. Chron. 3, 17, 24 July; The Times, 21 July 1830; Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/18.
  • 65. Add. 51593, Coke to Holland, 22, 30 July; Norfolk Mercury, 17, 24 July 1830.
  • 66. Norf. Chron. 31 July, 7 Aug.; Norwich Mercury, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 67. Palmer Diary, 71; Surr. Hist. Cent. Howard of Ashtead mss 203/31/56; Norf. Chron. 7, 14, 21 Aug. 1830.
  • 68. Phillips, 197-8.
  • 69. Great Yarmouth Pollbooks (Barnes, 1820, Meggy, 1830).
  • 70. Wellington mss WP1/1134/6; The Times, 17 Nov. 1830.
  • 71. CJ, lxxxvi. 117, 167, 226, 455; LJ, lxiii. 103, 161, 431; East Anglian, 15 Mar. 1831.
  • 72. Dawson Turner, ‘Yarmouth Misc.’ [BL N. Tab. 2012/6], handbill, 11 Aug. 1830.
  • 73. The Times, 7, 11 Dec.; Dawson Turner, handbills, 9 Dec. and n.d.; Norwich Mercury, 11 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 324.
  • 74. Dawson Turner, handbill, 17 Mar. 1831.
  • 75. Ibid. handbills, 17-19 Mar.; East Anglian, 22, 29 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 416, 435.
  • 76. East Anglian, 26 Apr. 1831.
  • 77. The Times, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 78. Dawson Turner, handbills, 22-29 Apr. and n.d. 1831.
  • 79. Norf. Chron. 30 Apr., 7 May; East Anglian, 3 May; Norwich Mercury, 7 May 1831; Palmer Diary, 83.
  • 80. Dawson Turner, handbill, 30 Apr. 1831; Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 81. Dawson Turner, handbill, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 82. Ibid. 2 May; Norwich Mercury, 7 May 1831.
  • 83. Grey mss, Duncannon to Grey, 26 May 1831.
  • 84. Great Yarmouth Pollbook (Meggy, 1831). Phillips, 198, gives the number of plumpers as six.
  • 85. Great Yarmouth Pollbooks (Meggy, 1830, 1831); Palmer Diary, 83.
  • 86. Dawson Turner, handbill, 30 Aug. 1831, misdated 30 Aug. 1832.
  • 87. East Anglian, 20, 27 Sept., 18 Oct.; Norwich Mercury, 1 Oct.; Dawson Turner, handbills, 19, 23 Sept. 1831 and n.d.; LJ, lxiii. 1047.
  • 88. East Anglian, 15 May; Dawson Turner, handbills, 14 May 1832 and n.d.; CJ, lxxxvii. 326.
  • 89. Norf. Chron. 7, 14 July 1832.
  • 90. The Times, 4 June, 25 Nov. 1831, Norf. Chron. 11 Feb., 7 Apr. 1832; F.D. Palmer, 11, 18-19; Palmer Diary, 90-92, 100-102; Yarmouth corporation Y/C19/18, passim.
  • 91. The Times, 23 Oct., 22 Nov. 1832; PP (1831-2), xxxix. 147-9.
  • 92. East Anglian, 17 July, 25 Sept., 11, 18 Dec. 1832; F.D. Palmer, 19-25; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 124; PP (1835), x. 12-77.
  • 93. Rumbold mss L14/29-33; PP (1835), x. 3-280; (1847-8), xii. 1-405.