Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 6,000

Number of voters:

5,442 in 1830


 Thomas Paget2196

Main Article

Leicestershire’s agriculture was dominated by corn and sheep production. As well as the thriving and expanding county town, where about 15 per cent of the freeholders lived, it contained a number of considerable settlements, some of which were centres of hosiery, cotton and worsted manufacturing, still largely conducted on a domestic basis: Loughborough (population in 1821 7,365); Hinckley (5,933); Ashby-de-la-Zouch (3,935); Melton Mowbray (2,815); Lutterworth (2,102); Market Harborough (1,873), and Market Bosworth (1,117). Dissent had a significant presence in these places, as well as in Leicester.1 At the general election of 1818 the 38-year-old compromise whereby the representation had been shared between the nominee of the dukes of Rutland of Belvoir Castle and a country gentleman standing on the independent Blue interest had been broken in controversial circumstances. The independent anti-Catholic Tory George Legh Keck of Stoughton Grange, Member since 1802, had encountered fierce hostility to his determined resistance to radicalism in the manufacturing districts and support of the Liverpool ministry’s repressive measures. Although the wealthy independent Whig Charles March Phillipps of Garendon had initially declined to stand against him, he had persuaded him to retire and allowed himself to be nominated, ostensibly against his will. A token but violent contest, involving March Phillipps, the other sitting Member (since 1806), Lord Robert Manners, the anti-Catholic Tory brother of the 5th duke of Rutland, and the ‘Saint’ Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, pro-Catholic former Member for Leicester, had ensued, ending in the return Manners and March Phillipps, who was widely suspected of trickery.2 By the time of the dissolution in February 1820 a Tory reaction against March Phillipps’s alignment with opposition in the House and a desire for revenge had placed Legh Keck, who had continued to cultivate the county, in a strong position. March Phillipps decided to abandon the seat, despite a promise of support from some county landowners led by Charles James Packe† of Prestwold Hall.3 Precautions were taken to prevent ‘the interference of the rabble’, who had run amok in 1818. Manners, proposed by Sir Frederick Fowke of Lowesby and seconded by Richard Cheslyn of Langley Priory, and Legh Keck, nominated by Sir John Palmer and seconded by Robert Otway Cave* of Stanford Hall, were returned unopposed.4 The ostensible restoration of the old coalition masked growing dissatisfaction with the hegemony of Belvoir in county politics; many regarded Legh Keck as little more than Rutland’s stooge.

The abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline in November 1820 was popularly celebrated.5 Inhabitants of Hinckley petitioned the Commons for restoration of her name to the liturgy, 26 Jan. 1821.6 County agriculturists petitioned for relief from agricultural distress, 20 Feb. 1821, 25 Apr. 1822.7 The archdeacon and clergy and some freeholders did do against Catholic relief, which both Members opposed, 23, 28 Feb. 1821.8 Inhabitants of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Castle Donington, Lutterworth and other parishes, and the archdeaconry petitioned both Houses in the same sense when the issue came before Parliament in 1825.9 Tradesmen, artisans and other residents of Loughborough petitioned the Commons for legislation to facilitate the speedy recovery of small debts, 8 May 1823.10 Anti-slavery petitions were sent to both Houses from the county’s freeholders, the archdeaconry, Castle Donington, Hinckley, Loughborough, Lutterworth and Market Harborough in 1823, 1824 and 1826; and petitions deploring the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara reached the Commons from Hinckley and Market Harborough, 26 Mar. 1824.11 Journeymen boot and shoemakers of Loughborough petitioned the Commons for repeal for the Combination Acts, 11 Mar. 1824.12 Agriculturists of Ashby-de-la-Zouch and Market Harborough petitioned the Commons against relaxation of the corn laws in April 1825, but manufacturers, tradesmen and other inhabitants of Loughborough pressed for their ‘speedy repeal’, 27 Apr. 1826.13

There was no stir at the 1826 general election, when Manners was put forward by Edmund Cradock Hartopp of Freathsby, the son and namesake of a former county Member, and Henry Halford† of Newton Harcourt, and Legh Keck was nominated by Charles Godfrey Mundy of Burton Hall and Henry Hungerford of Dingley, Northamptonshire. Political issues were apparently not aired, but Manners declared his ‘firm adherence to the Protestant constitution’.14 There was heavy petitioning from the county’s Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828.15 Manners opposed the measure when it was carried, while Legh Keck abstained. Agriculturists, manufacturers and tradesmen of the county and of Loughborough petitioned the Commons for repeal of the restriction of the circulation of small bank notes, 16 June 1828, and there was more petitioning for the abolition of slavery that session.16 The archdeaconry petitioned against Catholic relief, 14 Mar., and some inhabitants of Lutterworth did likewise, 1 May (Commons), 9 June (Lords) 1828.17 In November 1828 Lords Kenyon and Howe encouraged John Stockdale Hardy, an official of Leicester archdeaconry court and an anti-Catholic polemicist of national repute, to ‘stir’ the county ‘in support of the Protestant cause’. He and Howe, a substantial county landowner, promoted a petition against concessions at a meeting of the Leicestershire Pitt Club, 20 Nov. 1828.18 The county petitioned against the duke of Wellington’s ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829. Rutland, who voted for the second reading in the Lords but sent in his proxy against the third, told Wellington’s confidante Mrs. Arbuthnot, 3 Mar., that his brother had gone up that day ‘to fulfil the wishes of the county’ by supporting the ‘red hot’ anti-Catholic Legh Keck when he presented its hostile petition to the Commons. Both voted against emancipation. Petitions in its favour were sent up by inhabitants of Hinckley and Loughborough and the Primitive Methodists of Loughborough.19 Manufacturers, merchants, tradesmen and other residents of Hinckley and Loughborough petitioned for an end to the East India Company’s trade monopoly in 1830.20

By the time of the 1830 general election hostility to Rutland’s dominance in county politics was strong enough to inspire a bid by urban-based Dissenters and some independent-minded freeholders to make a run against his interest. Legh Keck, who had gone into sporadic opposition to the ministry in 1830, was not under threat, but there was some vicious criticism of Manners in the liberal press:

Surely our county is not in such state, that no fitter person can be found to represent us than this nominal lord, this scion of aristocracy ... whose family have ever been the creatures, the fawning, flattering parasites of every administration ... and who have ever put their hands to roll the snowball of the state, in order to increase its bulk and pressure upon the industry of a groaning and already overloaded people.21

Both sitting Members sought re-election, but the dissidents put up the radical Unitarian Leicester banker Thomas Paget, a leading critic of the corporation. His costs were to be met by public subscription, with his supporters paying their own way to the poll. At the nomination, 11 Aug., Legh Keck was proposed by Palmer and Mundy, and Manners by Cradock Hartopp and Halford. Paget was nominated by Ralph Oldacres of Arnesby, who declared that ‘the time had arrived when the freeholders ought to look to their pockets themselves, as they had been picked long enough’. His seconder was Thomas Stokes, Leicester’s leading hosiery manufacturer, who commended him as a man ‘friendly to reform and economy’. Paget spoke at length in support of these and other liberal causes and stressed his determination to restore electoral independence to the county. (He later published this speech as a pamphlet.) The show of hands was for him and Legh Keck, but Manners demanded a poll.22 Legh Keck was in the lead throughout, while Paget was never within striking distance of Manners. He nevertheless persisted for eight days, finishing with a highly respectable tally of 2,196, which represented a vote from 41 per cent of those who polled. There was so much commotion at the declaration that speeches from the hustings were inaudible, and the authorities decided to cancel the planned chairing.23 Paget’s only supporters among the gentry were Otway Cave, March Phillipps and Edward Cheney of Gaddesby, who mustered their tenantry in his favour, while Edward Dawson† of Whatton House gave him some hesitant backing. Many of the small freeholders to whom his appeal was pitched were vulnerable to landlord influence and, in the case of urban tradesmen, were inhibited by fear of the loss of aristocratic and gentry patronage and custom. This was particularly noticeable in the Rutland territory of Melton Mowbray, but in Paget’s stamping ground of Loughborough tradesmen, retailers and hosiery workers plumped in droves for him. Leicester corporation exercised some coercive influence on behalf of the Tory candidates, while the clergy were conspicuous in their hostility to the supposedly godless Paget.24 Legh Keck and 200 supporters of the ‘Old Independent True Blue Interest’ dined under Mundy’s chairmanship in Leicester town hall, 3 Sept. 1830, when the mayor of Leicester and Manners’s committee man Cheslyn were among the guest speakers.25 The radical commentator William Carpenter claimed that Paget and his supporters had ‘entirely destroyed the patrician dictation [of Rutland], and at the next election will receive a triumph’.26 There was some substance to this bombast, and Sir Thomas Sheppard observed that ‘the purse of the house of Belvoir could not save Cambridgeshire’, where Rutland’s brother Lord Charles Manners had been unseated by a second Whig, and that ‘neither in all probability will it [save] Leicestershire at another election’.27 Rutland himself was uneasy, as he confessed to Mrs. Arbuthnot, 21 Sept. 1830:

I fear the character of the new House of Commons, and I expect to see questions of reform carried against the government ... I really believe ... that no man possesses a more splendid and magnificent interest than I have the pleasure of heading in ...[Leicestershire]. But there is a much more formidable interest than could be supposed among the radicals and Dissenters, and I find that my conduct on the Catholic question has certainly so far alienated some of the Ultra Tories as to have had an effect at the election. But a great interest is like a great army. It cannot be set in motion without an enormous expense, and and if there should be a premeditated contest on a future occasion, £50,000 would not more than cover the expenses ... There was no canvass this last time, and by great good management on the part of my brother’s committee the expenses will be within £6,000. A meeting took place last week at Leicester to congratulate the French on their revolution, and ... the orators promised that in a short time ‘there should be not a vestige of nobility in England unless the aristocracy mended their manners and sentiments’, and the whole meeting responded, ‘the sooner it is done away with the better’.28

The county’s Dissenters sent up dozens of anti-slavery petitions to the 1830 Parliament.29 On 26 Nov. 1830, after the change of ministry (which Legh Keck had helped to bring about by his vote in the majority on the civil list, 15 Nov.), Paget chaired a meeting called to promote the independence of Leicestershire, to which Otway Cave sent a letter of support.30 Support for parliamentary reform was strong in the county. Some inhabitants of Hinckley petitioned the Commons for the ballot, 26 Feb., and petitions in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme were sent up from several places, including Castle Donington, Hinckley, Loughborough, Market Harborough, Melton Mowbray and Silesby.31 On 29 Mar. freeholders and inhabitants of the county met to endorse the reform bills and to vote an address of support to the king and his ministers. The principal speakers included Lord Sondes, Cradock Hartopp, Dawson, Otway Cave, March Phillipps and Packe.32 Manners divided against the reform bill, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831, but Legh Keck voted for it on the first occasion and against it on the second.

At the ensuing dissolution Manners offered again, but Legh Keck backed out. Paget, whose supporters had been active since the last election, came forward on the same terms as previously, but Otway Cave and other Whig squires appealed to March Phillipps, their preferred candidate, to stand. Stokes, the chairman of Paget’s committee, wrote to Paget’s brother-in-law Thomas Pares*, a former Member for Leicester, ‘to solicit the esteem of your interests in his favour as a supporter of the reform bill’. Pares obliged, believing that ‘it becomes all true patriots to forget every minor point of difference and to join heart and hand in promoting the success of the great measure’. His only regret was that so far no second candidate ‘takes the field between whom and Mr. Paget we might divided our votes and so give Leicestershire a chance of sending two advocates of the ... bill to ... Parliament’.33 Paget’s canvass was strikingly successful, even in Rutland’s heartland, and a number of clergymen publicly expressed willingness to support a measure of ‘moderate reform’.34 When Manners arrived in Leicester with his brother Lord Charles he discovered that most freeholders were determined to support only reformers, and he withdrew on the eve of the nomination. Sir Francis Burdett boasted to his Westminster colleague John Hobhouse that ‘I may say here like Caesar, Veni, Vidi, Vici, for Lord Robert on hearing of my arrival gave in’. The hitherto hesitant March Phillipps now declared himself a candidate.35 The reformers’ imminent triumph was somewhat tarnished by public recriminations, instigated by Burdett, who regarded Paget as a Huntite extremist and socially unsuited to fill a county seat, Otway Cave, who had already come in for the borough, and George De Lacy Evans*. They alleged that Paget had acted duplicitously towards towards Otway Cave in 1830 by reneging on his initial offer to step aside for and actively support him in the county. Burdett’s call for Paget to make way for Otway Cave was unavailing, and he and March Phillipps were returned unopposed after ‘a stormy scene’ on the hustings, where the sheriff inadvertently endorsed Paget’s protest against De Lacy Evans’s request to be given a hearing.36

Petitions in support of the reform bill reached the Lords from Barwell, Burbage, Castle Donington, Earl Shilton, Hinckley, Loughborough, Market Harborough and Melton Mowbray, 30 Sept., 3, 5 Oct. 1831.37 A riot by Loughborough reformers dismayed by the loss of the bill in the Lords in October required the intervention of the yeomanry.38 This led to recruiting and prompted Rutland to establish an armoury at Belvoir, but the county remained relatively undisturbed.39 The Reform and Boundary Acts divided Leicestershire into Northern and Southern districts, each returning two Members, and with Loughborough and Leicester the respective polling places. At the general election of 1832, Manners and March Phillipps were successful in the Northern division, which had a registered electorate of 3,658, at the expense of a Liberal third man. The Southern division, which had 4,125 registered electors, returned Halford as a Conservative and Dawson as a Liberal. All four seats were in the hands of the Conservatives from December 1835 until Paget’s son briefly broke their stranglehold in the Southern district in 1867. The influence of Belvoir endured in the Northern division, with a member of the Manners family occupying one seat from 1832 until the county was split into three in 1885.

Author: Simon Harratt


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 209, 211-12, 223, 226-9, 231. See VCH Leics. iii. 2-19.
  • 2. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 240-1; VCH Leics. ii. 128.
  • 3. Althorp Letters, 101, 102.
  • 4. Leicester Chron. 5, 12, 26 Feb.; Leicester Jnl. 3, 10, 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 5. Leicester Jnl. 24 Nov., 1, 8 Dec.; Leicester Chron. 25 Nov., 2, 9 Dec. 1820.
  • 6. CJ, lxxvi. 13.
  • 7. Ibid. 91; lxxvii. 204.
  • 8. Ibid. lxxvi. 103, 122.
  • 9. Ibid. lxxx. 309, 315; LJ, lvii. 733, 795.
  • 10. CJ, lxxviii. 296.
  • 11. Ibid. 296; lxxix. 143, 167, 257, 381, 417; LJ, lvi. 152; lviii. 364.
  • 12. CJ, lxxix. 148.
  • 13. Ibid. lxxx. 326, 354; lxxxi. 297.
  • 14. Leicester Jnl. 9, 16, 23 June 1826.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxii. 520, 594; lxxxiii. 79, 87, 90, 105; LJ, lx. 57, 64, 68, 79, 83, 89, 145.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxiii. 435, 522, 536, 555.
  • 17. Ibid. 169, 294; LJ, lx. 520.
  • 18. J.G. Nichols, Literary Remains of John Stockdale Hardy, pp. xiii-xv, 112, 186, 189-90, 192, 201-3.
  • 19. Wellington Despatches, v. 493-4; CJ, lxxxiv. 98, 128, 186; LJ, lxi. 157, 297; Aberdeen Univ. Lib. Arbuthnot mss.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxv. 369, 590; LJ, lxii. 714.
  • 21. Leicester Chron. 24 July 1830.
  • 22. Leicester Jnl. 13 Aug.; Leicester Chron. 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 23. Leicester Jnl. 20, 27 Aug.; Leicester Chron. 21, 28 Aug., 25 Sept. 1830.
  • 24. Leics. Pollbook (1830).
  • 25. Leicester Jnl. 10 Sept.; Leicester Chron. 11 Sept. 1830.
  • 26. [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 300.
  • 27. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/139/14/68.
  • 28. Arbuthnot Corresp. 138.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 20, 35, 55, 74, 130, 155, 157, 254, 428, 436; LJ, lxiii. 31, 53, 63, 77, 78, 100, 142, 152, 153, 169, 188, 434, 503.
  • 30. Leicester Chron. 27 Nov.; Leicester Jnl. 3 Dec. 1830.
  • 31. CJ, lxxxvi. 310, 395, 406; LJ, lxiii. 314, 439.
  • 32. Leicester Jnl. 1 Apr. 1831.
  • 33. Leicester Herald, 27 Apr.; Leicester Jnl. 29 Apr.; Leicester Chron. 30 Apr.; Derby Local Stud. Lib. Pares mss, Stokes to Pares, 26 Apr., reply [28 Apr.] 1831.
  • 34. Nottingham Rev. 6 May; Leicester Chron. 7 May 1831.
  • 35. Leicester Jnl. 6 May 1831; Add. 36466, f. 331.
  • 36. Leicester Jnl. 13, 20 May; Leicester Chron. 13, 21, 28 May; The Times, 12 May 1831; Add. 36466, f. 331.
  • 37. LJ, lxiii. 1022, 1034, 1060.
  • 38. VCH Leics. ii. 129.
  • 39. Leics. RO D924, 941, Halford diary, 16.