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 corporation

Number qualified to vote:



933 (1821); 1,074 (1831)1


9 June 1826ERNEST AUGUSTUS EDGCUMBE, Visct. Valletort
18 Dec. 1826HON. EDWARD CUST vice Grant, chose to sit for Aldborough
20 Dec. 1830ERNEST AUGUSTUS EDGCUMBE, Visct. Valletort  vice Vesey Fitzgerald, vacated his seat
29 Apr. 1831ERNEST AUGUSTUS EDGCUMBE, Visct. Valletort

Main Article

Lostwithiel, a ‘small market town’ of ‘great antiquity’, was situated in a valley at the head of the estuary of the tidal River Fowey, on the Plymouth to Truro road in the south of the county, six miles from Bodmin. It consisted of ‘three principal streets’, which were said in 1824 to be ‘narrow and roughly paved’, although many of the houses displayed ‘no contemptible degree of elegance’. The local economy was ‘thriving and ... improving’: the river had partially silted up, but it was ‘navigable at high water’ for boats and barges as far as the quay, and a ‘very considerable’ trade in timber, coal and limestone was carried on. There were several profitable tanning yards and ‘good wool stapling concerns’, and some of the inhabitants were employed in the ‘extensive’ copper mines nearby. As the venue for county elections and for the epiphany and midsummer quarter sessions, Lostwithiel still laid claim to be the county town.2

The borough encompassed the whole of the parish, with ‘about a mile in diameter’ of the adjoining parish of Lanlivery and ‘about four acres’ of St. Winnow. The franchise was confined to members of the corporation, which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, and six other aldermen, who were removable but usually held their offices for life, and 17 ‘inferior burgesses’ who were elected annually. It was described by a Whig newspaper as ‘one of the closest corporations in this county’, as aldermanic vacancies were filled by the aldermen from among the inferior burgesses or inhabitants, and it was ‘the custom’ for the aldermen to ‘re-elect the same’ resident householders as inferior burgesses, so that little change in personnel took place during this period. Oldfield’s claim in 1816 that many of the corporators were peers is inaccurate, while his assertion that others were revenue officers, similarly disqualified from voting in parliamentary elections, cannot be verified. Richard Edgcumbe†, 2nd earl of Mount Edgcumbe, the recorder and ‘chief landholder’, was the Tory patron and recommended both the Members, as his family had done since the 1730s. In 1816 he conveyed some property to the corporation, much of which was leased to corporators, and he reputedly let houses to the aldermen ‘at low rents’. The corporation was heavily subsidized, receiving £326 annually to cover the salaries of the town clerk and two schoolmasters, the costs of a corporation dinner and the admission of inferior burgesses, a donation to the poor to help pay their rates and other items. Additionally, between 1820 and 1832 Mount Edgcumbe gave £1,011 for special purposes, such as street paving and road repairs, coronation celebrations and a legal suit against the Liskeard Canal Company. His general election expenses in 1830 amounted to £259 16s. 2d., of which £181 6s. 8d. was for the tavern bill; one inhabitant later claimed that the mayor and town clerk ‘received £30 a head on each occasion’. There had been no contested election since 1727. Mount Edgcumbe occasionally returned members of his family, but in 1818 and 1820 his nominees were wealthy paying guests, the Bank of England director Sir Robert Wigram and Alexander Grant, the heir to West Indian estates, who both supported Lord Liverpool’s ministry.3

In November 1820 a ‘number of respectable inhabitants’ dined at the Talbot inn to celebrate the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline, while outside ‘the bells were rung’ and ‘about 60 persons of the labouring class procured a hogshead of cider with which they regaled themselves and friends’. On the 30th, the day ‘appointed by general consent for an illumination’, the mayor, Philip Pomery, swore in some of the inhabitants as special constables and ‘government or corporate influence’ was allegedly brought to bear to deter people from participating. Nevertheless, effigies of the witnesses Majocci and Demont, and of ‘a person whom the populace denominated "the pig stealer"’, with a copy of the high Tory Western Luminary hung around its neck, were ‘placed on asses and paraded through the town’. A ‘union jack was carried before’, with ‘innocence protected’ written on one side and ‘faith and justice triumphant’ on the other, and ‘the rogue’s march was played’. The effigies were finally burned, despite an attempt by one of the special constables to sabotage the bonfire. According to a correspondent in a Tory newspaper, the proceedings had been ‘got up by a superannuated chaise driver, a radical carpenter, a Jew, a tombstone engraver and some indigent tatterdemalions whose poverty now makes them patriots’. Pomery chaired a public meeting, 23 Dec. 1820, when a loyal address to the king, moved by Capt. Henry Thomson and Alderman John Hext, was ‘unanimously agreed’. One inhabitant claimed that only 20 or 30 individuals had attended the meeting, and that ‘with much exertion about 45 signatures were obtained’ for the address.4 The corporation and inhabitants forwarded anti-slavery petitions to Parliament, 10 Mar. 1826.5 At the general election that summer Wigram retired and Mount Edgcumbe returned his eldest son, Lord Valletort, with Grant, who was also elected for Boroughbridge. Mount Edgcumbe wrote that ‘all was quiet and harmony, and no attempt made to disturb [the] peace’. He added that ‘unexpected circumstances’ had made the substitution of Valletort for ‘the Major’ unavoidable, which possibly refers to Edward Cust, brother of the 2nd Baron Brownlow, who was returned at the by-election occasioned by Grant’s decision to sit for Boroughbridge.6 The Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 30 May 1827, and the mayor and inhabitants sent petitions to both Houses for the gradual abolition of slavery and the immediate repeal of the preferential duty on slave-grown sugar, ‘an unreasonable addition to the burthens of the country’, 12, 16 June 1828.7 Twenty-four inhabitants signed a requisition for a meeting of the freeholders and inhabitants of Bodmin and Lostwithiel on the Catholic question, which was held in Bodmin, 7 Jan. 1829. Thomson and the Revs. Joseph Pomery and Francis Hext were among the speakers in favour of a petition to maintain the ‘Protestant establishment’, which was presented to Parliament by the Tory county Member, Sir Richard Vyvyan, and Lord Falmouth, 24 Feb., 2 Mar. 1829.8 Valletort supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, in accordance with his previous views, but Cust continued to oppose the measure. One of the ‘greatest novelties’ of the general election in the summer of 1830 was the attempted challenge to the political order at Lostwithiel. Valletort, the mayor, who was returned by his father for Plympton Erle, presided at the town hall, where Cust and the former cabinet minister William Vesey Fitzgerald were nominated. To the ‘surprise of the electors’, several resident householders came forward with two rival candidates, General Gage John Hall and the novelist Edward Lytton Bulwer*, who were accompanied by a legal advisor named Colborne, the son of Sir John Colborne. The merchant Thomas Hodge tried to propose Hall and Bulwer but was interrupted by Valletort, who said he had no right to speak as he was not an elector. Colborne ‘insisted on his right to be heard on behalf of the new candidates and the inhabitant householders, who claimed to vote’, and after further argument Valletort ordered the hall to be cleared of all but the electors; Colborne was ‘forcibly removed’. While Cust and Vesey Fitzgerald were being declared elected, Hall and Bulwer assembled a ‘numerous body of the inhabitants’ in the main street and promised to ‘bring the case under the notice of another tribunal and ... free [them] from the domination of the noble Lord’; nothing came of this.9

Anti-slavery petitions were sent to Parliament by the Wesleyan Methodists, 12, 16 Nov. 1830, and the inhabitants, 18 Mar., 13 Apr. 1831.10 Vesey Fitzgerald, who was in poor health, vacated in December 1830 and Valletort took his place. There was a ‘numerous and respectable’ attendance at the Old Palace, 26 Jan. 1831, when William Westlake chaired a public meeting on parliamentary reform. Captain Norway, Lieutenant George Lawrence and the surgeon William Belling were among the speakers in support of a petition calling for a ‘general measure of reform’ which would ‘secure the peace of the country, redress the public grievances and procure the adoption of ... measures ... calculated to remove the existing distress’, and stressing the need to ‘do away with the borough system’. A resolution in favour of the ballot was also agreed, ‘with three dissentients only’. The meeting was characterized by the ‘unanimity and zeal of all present’ and by expressions of ‘loyalty to our patriot king’ and ‘confidence in the honest intentions’ of Lord Grey’s ministry. Edward Wynne Pendarves, the Whig county Member, presented the petition to the Commons, 26 Feb., and also one supporting the government’s reform bill, which proposed to disfranchise Lostwithiel, 19 Mar.11 Cust and Valletort, who opposed the bill, were undisturbed at the ensuing general election. In the Commons, 22 July, Goulburn pointed out that Lostwithiel was a county town and that its boundaries covered a whole parish and extended into two others, which had a combined population of 3,157. Lord John Russell replied that the portions of Lanlivery and St. Winnow within the borough contained 96 and no male inhabitants respectively, so that the population fell ‘greatly short of 2,000’. Valletort recognized that there was no hope of saving Lostwithiel, given the decisions made in other cases, but he insisted that it was not a ‘decayed’ borough. An inhabitant assured a Whig newspaper in September that the absence of celebrations to mark William IV’s coronation reflected not a lack of loyalty by the people but the fact that ‘our corporators and other leading men are ... ill of the reform fever’. The following month ‘the bells were rung’ to greet the news of the Lords’ rejection of the bill.12 By the new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December, Lostwithiel, which contained 303 houses and paid £372 in assessed taxes, was placed 54th in the list of the smallest English boroughs and thus narrowly remained in schedule A. Russell hinted at a possible reprieve, 12 Dec. 1831, acknowledging that it was of ‘greater importance’ than originally thought, but nothing was done. Cust protested that other boroughs with smaller populations, such as Midhurst and Malmesbury, were more deserving of disfranchisement, 21 Feb. 1832, but Lostwithiel’s fate was confirmed without a division; it was absorbed into the Eastern division of Cornwall. On 27 June 1832 the bill’s passage was celebrated by the ‘independent inhabitants’, who welcomed ‘the suppression of nomination boroughs’.13 Mount Edgcumbe’s subsidies to the corporation were promptly ‘terminated’, plunging it into a financial crisis, but the town clerk’s recommendation that the charter be surrendered was not acted on.14

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 54-55. Figures for the parish only. The borough population in 1831 was put at 1,548 (ibid.).
  • 2. S. Drew, Hist. Cornw. (1824), i. 639-40; ii. 393-8; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 151-2; Parochial Hist. Cornw. iii. 170, 176-8; F.M. Hext, Mems. Lostwithiel, 154-6; PP (1831), xvi. 260.
  • 3. PP (1830-1), x. 83-84; (1831-2), xxxvi. 54-55, 547; (1835), xxiii. 543-8; West Briton, 6 Aug. 1830; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 225-31; W.T. Lawrance, Parl. Rep. Cornw. 194-5; Hext, 64; Cornw. RO B/Los/311, Lostwithiel court leet bk. 1816-85; Mount Edgcumbe mss DD/ME/2954-6, election expenses and annual accounts.
  • 4. West Briton, 8 Dec. 1820, 5 Jan. 1821; R. Cornw. Gazette, 16, 30 Dec. 1820, 20 Jan. 1821.
  • 5. CJ, lxxxi. 151-2; LJ, lviii. 99.
  • 6. Carew Pole mss DD/N/59, Mount Edgcumbe to Pole Carew, 21 June 1826.
  • 7. CJ, lxxxii. 504; lxxxiii. 435; LJ, lx. 533.
  • 8. R. Cornw. Gazette, 3, 10, 17 Jan. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 81; LJ, lxi. 95.
  • 9. West Briton, 6 Aug. 1830.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxvi. 60, 405; LJ, lxiii. 75, 414.
  • 11. West Briton, 28 Jan. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 309, 406.
  • 12. West Briton, 9 Sept., 14 Oct. 1831.
  • 13. Ibid. 29 June 1832.
  • 14. PP (1835), xxiii. 548; Hext, 57, 64.