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 resident freeholders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

130 in 18311


887 (1821); 849 (1831)2


15 Apr. 1823GEORGE LOWTHER THOMPSON vice Ward, appointed to office
4 Feb. 1828(SIR) JOHN BECKETT, bt. re-elected after appointed to office
29 July 1830(SIR) JOHN BECKETT, bt.
29 Apr. 1831(SIR) JOHN BECKETT, bt.

Main Article

Haslemere was an insignificant market town in the west of the county, 12 miles south-west of Guildford. The borough was wholly contained within but comprised ‘only part of’ the parish, and included ‘almost the whole’ of the town. The franchise was vested in ‘resident freeholders of messuages, lands and tenements’, but the estimate of 130 electors made in the official return of 1831 was certainly greatly exaggerated. William Lowther†, 1st earl of Lonsdale, was the Tory patron, and many of the nominal electors were his friends and dependants, to whom he had conveyed ‘parchment votes’. As lord of the manor he appointed the bailiff, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, and he invariably nominated his relatives or political connections to fill the seats.3 However, there were local enemies prepared to give Lonsdale trouble, as they had in 1812 and 1818, and the dormant interest of Peter Burrell†, 1st Baron Gwydir, remained a source of concern for the patron. Lonsdale found that ensuring the quiescence of the Haslemere electors involved a heavy drain on his patronage resources. He left the management of the borough chiefly to his son Lord Lowther*, but Haslemere’s remoteness from the family’s estates in the north of England meant that they depended heavily on the loyalty and efficiency of local agents.

In the months prior to the dissolution in 1820 the sitting Members, Charles Long and Robert Ward, both placemen in Lord Liverpool’s ministry, led a concerted attempt to make the borough safe for their patron after the experience of the previous two elections. Petitions had then been threatened to expose Lonsdale’s almost exclusive reliance on parchment votes. Fearing that these would not withstand scrutiny, Long recommended that Lonsdale should make some genuine conveyances, observing that ‘a few independent freeholders, decidedly friends, would render your interest ... safer than without them’. Lonsdale seemed reluctant, perhaps because the apostasy of one such voter, James Greenaway, had been instrumental in the earlier oppositions. Instead, it was decided that existing votes should be safeguarded by the electors’ payment of a token ‘consideration’ for their ‘freeholds’, with money lent them by a local ally.4 Long still believed that a conveyance to ‘four trusty inhabitants’ would guard against trouble from the Gwydir interest, whose strength he counted at 28 votes, compared with Lonsdale’s 32 (Oldfield’s estimate of 40 included split freeholds) and four independents. Ward, meantime, was afraid that Gwydir’s son Peter Robert Drummond Burrell† might stir in response to encouragement from Henry Brougham*, the Lowthers’ antagonist in Westmorland.5 Of greater concern to the Members, though, was an informant’s report that an unnamed attorney had offered the bailiff, Daniel Saunders, £6,000 to reject all Lonsdale’s votes and seat two opponents. Long’s scheme to forestall this danger, evidently not adopted, was to find two friends who would pose as opposition candidates and then decline on polling day.6 Ward was induced to part with £900 (£500 down, £400 on an unopposed return) of Lonsdale’s money for the renegade Greenaway’s freehold, which was now in the hands of Richard Clark of Lavender Hill, one of the unsuccessful candidates in 1818, and from whom trouble was expected again. In expressing a willingness to sell, Clark tantalized Ward with stories of opposition plots involving Gwydir, Brougham, one Bruce (possibly Michael Bruce*) and a Mr. Webster, who may have been Henry Webster, the brother of the maverick Sussex Member. In the event, Long and Ward secured an ‘easy and bloodless victory’ and Ward assured Lonsdale that his recent acquisition had rendered his interest ‘unassailable’. However, doubts subsequently emerged as to the validity of Clark’s purchase of the freehold from Greenaway, and Ward had to recount the minutiae of his dealings to Lonsdale and present the possible loss of the down payment as a worthwhile sacrifice for the sake of peace.7 Lonsdale’s title to the freehold was not finally established until March 1826.8

Following Gwydir’s death in June 1820 his son sold his freeholds to Lonsdale for £12,000, though the transaction was apparently not completed until January 1823; Ward hailed this as another death blow to the opposition.9 Ward’s appointment soon afterwards as auditor of the civil list created a vacancy, but Lonsdale rebuffed a government approach to obtain a temporary berth for the Scottish solicitor-general John Hope. As Lowther remarked, ‘a quick succession of elections would only make the electors of Haslemere even more unreasonable’ in their demands. The seat went to a relative, George Lowther Thompson, for whose quiet election Lowther took pains to be present.10 In 1825 Robert Briant, a long standing enemy of the Lowthers, lost a legal action to establish his property’s status as a borough freehold. However, Lonsdale’s local agent, Henry Woods, warned that an associate of Briant was building houses on a vacant plot, and he identified two independent freeholds as a further potential source of trouble at the approaching general election. Woods was criticized for his slow reaction to the deaths of supporters, which had reduced Lonsdale’s strength to ‘five or six incontestably good votes’. Long was keen to send three or four of Lonsdale’s loyal retainers to live in vacant freeholds, though he conceded that ‘the temptations to residence are very few’, and the idea was jealously opposed by Woods.11 In fact, no rash of conveyances took place before the dissolution in 1826, when Long was replaced by Lonsdale’s son-in-law John Beckett, the judge advocate; the election passed off without incident.

In the autumn of 1826 Lowther, exasperated by further heavy demands on his father’s largesse from the Haslemere curate and other inhabitants, recurred to the possibility of importing voters. Lack of confidence in Woods also remained a problem, as is indicated by Lowther’s personal direction of the demolition of two cottages in 1828.12 The Baptists petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 Feb. 1828, and the inhabitants sent up an anti-Catholic petition, 18 Feb. 1829.13 Lonsdale became estranged from the duke of Wellington’s ministry over its Catholic emancipation bill, which his Members opposed. This may have prompted his bitter reflections later that year on the poor return he had received from his investment in the borough: he complained that it was ‘a disagreeable, troublesome place, and no great confidence is to be placed in the inhabitants and voters’. He contemplated the sale of his property, but feared that an announcement ‘might cause an explosion’. Lowther agreed, advising

the utmost caution ... as our command ... is not without its flaws ... If it were known that we intended to dispose of it, it might break up the present state of things under which we exercise our power in the borough and perhaps alienate some of our friends who co-operate with us at present.14

With these difficulties in mind, Lonsdale considered selling the property piecemeal, but such plans had apparently been shelved by the time of the dissolution in 1830.15 Now reconciled to government, he returned the chief whip William Holmes (who chose not to defend his election for Queenborough) with Beckett. Lowther hoped that Holmes would be able to satisfy local demands for patronage, ‘until we can establish an independent interest of our own’.16

After visiting the borough in the autumn of 1830 Lowther again accused Woods of neglect, having found that there were ‘but five unobjectionable votes’. He had also been met by complaints and veiled threats from the newly appointed bailiff, Gordon, and concluded that

the fact is that as these two have got the borough in their hands, they will endeavour to drive it to their own advantage. The best way must be to pretend not to see it, but ... to take every opportunity of strengthening ourselves with our own dependents.

Further consolidating purchases were made, but the agents continued to frustrate the Lowthers.17 That December, after the formation of Lord Grey’s ministry, Lowther speculated that a moderate measure of parliamentary reform might add to the value of close boroughs such as Haslemere.18 However, the government’s bill in March 1831 proposed to disfranchise the borough; the Members naturally voted against it and they were returned unopposed at the ensuing general election. When Haslemere’s place in schedule A of the reintroduced bill came before the Commons, 21 July 1831, not a word was offered in its defence. The new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831 confirmed the borough’s fate, as it contained 156 houses and paid £211 in assessed taxes, placing it 30th in the list of the smallest English boroughs. It was duly disfranchised and absorbed into the Western division of Surrey. Lonsdale sold some of his property in 1833, and the remainder was disposed of on his death in 1844.19

Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 529.
  • 2. Ibid. 14, 15. Figures for the parish. The borough population was put at 586 in 1831.
  • 3. Ibid. (1830-1), x. 75; (1831-2), xxxvi. 22, 529; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 382-3.
  • 4. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 11, 18, 21, 30 Dec. 1819.
  • 5. Ibid. Long to Lonsdale, 18 Feb., Ward to same, 6 Mar. 1820; Oldfield, Key (1820), 23-25.
  • 6. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 24, 25 Feb. 1820.
  • 7. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 6, 23 Mar., Long to same, 14, 23 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 25 Dec. 1825, Long to same, 23 Mar. 1826.
  • 9. Ibid. Ward to Lonsdale, 28 Oct. 1820, Lowther to same, 23 Jan. 1823; Phipps, Plumer Ward Mems. ii. 67, 68.
  • 10. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 18, 19, 21 Mar., 2, 9, 12 Apr. 1823.
  • 11. Ibid. Long to Lonsdale, 1 Oct., 17 Dec. 1825, 25 Feb., 7 Mar. 1826, Woods to same, 12 Oct., Lowther to same, 21 Oct, 25, 28 Dec. 1825, 9 Feb. 1826; E.W. Swanton, Bygone Haslemere, 206-9, 224, 225.
  • 12. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 25 Oct. 1826, 6 Sept. 1828.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxiii. 105; lxxxiv. 49.
  • 14. Lonsdale mss, Lonsdale to Lowther, 2 Nov., 22 Dec. 1829, reply, 11 Jan. 1830.
  • 15. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 10 June 1830.
  • 16. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 22 July 1830.
  • 17. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 15 Aug., 21, 22 Sept., 12 Dec. 1830.
  • 18. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 15 Dec. 1830.
  • 19. Swanton, 239; VCH Surr. iii. 47.