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 householders paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 500


4,028 (1821); 4,173 (1831)1


8 Mar. 1820JOHN WILLIAM PONSONBY, Visct. Duncannon
6 Apr. 1831FRANCIS JEFFREY vice Scarlett, vacated his seat
13 July 1831WILLIAM CAVENDISH vice Jeffrey, chose to sit for Perth Burghs
30 Sept. 1831CHARLES CHRISTOPHER PEPYS vice Cavendish, vacated his seat

Main Article

Malton, a non-corporate town governed by a bailiff, who was appointed at the court leet of the lord of the manor, remained under the total control of the Whig 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam throughout this period. He never neglected to attend to the needs of its inhabitants, most of whom were his tenants, and after a challenge to his authority in 1807 there was no contest until 1874. The early days of January 1820 brought very severe weather, and the navigation of the Derwent, on which many of Malton’s residents relied for employment, became impossible, leaving many families destitute. On 10 Jan. William Allen, Fitzwilliam’s agent and a local banker, told him that a meeting had decided to open a subscription to provide soup, and he had been ‘requested to solicit your Lordship’s subscription’, for which he suggested the sum of £25. It was later decided to try to employ as labourers those without work and Allen hoped that Fitzwilliam would contribute £50 to this enterprise. Noting that his previous subscriptions had gone to a ‘general fund’, Allen told him, 9 Feb., that he had put him down for a further 75 guineas for employment and 25 guineas for soup, and he acknowledged Lady Fitzwilliam’s subscription for the girls’ school. He also advised Fitzwilliam that the approaching general election ‘is the subject of conversation at present, but I do not hear of anything which leads me to look for an interruption to the unanimity which prevails here’.2 Fitzwilliam’s incumbent nominees, Lord Duncannon, the opposition whip, and his kinsman, John Ramsden of Buckden, were re-elected although, as the Yorkshire Gazette reported, ‘on account of some illness in Lord Duncannon’s family, his lordship could not attend in person; and in consequence of which W. Allen, esq. acted as proxy and was chaired in his stead’. The election cost £1,236, £17 more than in 1818, as Fitzwilliam was still careful to pay the traditional ‘elector’s fee’ of a guinea to each voter as well as providing the customary food and drink.3 In the summer of 1820 Fitzwilliam reinforced his authority by buying more property in the town, a practice he continued when the opportunity arose throughout this period.4 On 21 July 1821 Allen informed him:

The coronation day passed off here without any particular display of satisfaction and rejoicing. Thirty persons dined at the inn ... but all ultra loyal toasts were prohibited, and none but such as all parties could approve of were proposed, and the day passed by without any particular exhibition of attachment to the principles which at present influence His Majesty’s government.5

Distress was still widespread among the inhabitants, and Fitzwilliam reduced their half-yearly rents by 15 per cent in August 1821 and made a further alteration the following February.6 A petition for revision of the corn laws was presented to the Commons, 13 Mar. 1822.7 January 1823 again produced a frozen river and Allen suggested a 100 guinea subscription to charity.8 Petitions for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Act reached the Lords, 19 Feb., and the Commons, 20 Feb. 1823.9 Petitions for the abolition of slavery were presented to the Commons, 4 June 1823, 16 Mar. 1824, 20 Feb. 1826, and to the Lords, 16 Mar. 1824, 17 Feb. 1826.10 One condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith for inciting slave riots in Demerara reached the Commons, 2 June 1824, and another for the country courts bill was presented there, 2 Mar. 1825.11

At the 1826 general election Ramsden was returned again, while Lord Normanby, a rising star of the Whigs, moved from Fitzwilliam’s borough of Higham Ferrers to facilitate an arrangement between Duncannon and Fitzwilliam. That December Fitzwilliam’s son Lord Milton*, who had largely taken over the running of the family’s political affairs, received an application from John Wharton*, formerly Whig Member for Beverley, asking for a seat at Malton (which he desperately needed to avoid his creditors), in the event of the death of Normanby’s father Lord Mulgrave. Nothing came of it as Mulgrave lived until 1831.12 Petitions for repeal of the Test Acts reached the Commons, 18 May 1827, 18 Mar. 1828, and the Lords, 18 Mar. 1828.13 Others were presented to the Commons for repeal of the stamp duties, 20 Mar., the Small Notes Act, 3 July 1828, and the assessed taxes, 1 May 1829.14 Petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 30 May, and the Lords, 3 June 1828.15 In anticipation of the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation, Allen wrote to Fitzwilliam, 14 Feb. 1829:

If any anti-Catholic petition is attempted from this place and neighbourhood, it will be promptly met by a counter-petition; but so long as matters are going on favourably we think it is not necessary to petition in favour of emancipation, as the anti-Catholics would immediately present one also; we therefore keep each other at bay.16

No petitions on the issue were forthcoming, but others for abolishing the death penalty for forgery were presented to the Commons, 17 Mar., 24 May, and the Lords, 18 Mar., 22 June 1830.17

Shortly before the 1830 general election Normanby informed Milton that he would not ‘come into the House of Commons again’ as he expected his father’s death.18 It was therefore proposed that Sir James Scarlett, the Whig lawyer who had joined Wellington’s ministry as attorney-general, should transfer from Peterborough to Malton.19 Meanwhile the leading Whig Henry Brougham, who contested Yorkshire at this election, asked Milton for a seat at Malton for one of his brothers as a safeguard to fall back on should he fail. On 24 July, however, he complained to the duke of Devonshire that Milton ‘had given away his only seat to Scarlett!!’.20 Ramsden and Scarlett were duly returned, Lord Carlisle telling Lady Holland, 25 Aug., ‘I hear that [Scarlett] made a rather dexterous speech at Malton and imposed upon the simplicity of the Yorkshiremen’.21 Petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 5, 10, 22 Nov., and the Lords, 8, 19, 25 Nov. 1830.22 Early next year the town was visited by the cholera and the vestry tried unsuccessfully to collect rates from Fitzwilliam on his tolls on the Derwent navigation.23 In the Grey ministry’s first reform bill the schedules for disfranchisement were so drawn that a population of 4,000 was the cut-off point below which boroughs were to lose at least one Member. Malton with 4,005 inhabitants, according to the 1821 census, was therefore the borough with the lowest population to escape any disfranchisement. This fact, together with its being the borough of a Whig magnate, did not escape attention. Denouncing the bill’s inconsistencies, 4 Mar., Croker observed:

The borough which just passed the bridge as the fiend was ready to catch it ... How has this borough contrived to escape? Oh, fortunate Malton! It has exactly 4,005 inhabitants! ... I have been informed that [Russell’s] new constitution will not essentially alter the influence at Malton. Malton is now a scot and lot borough, with as I understand between 400 and 500 electors: under the pretended reform, the number of electors will, I imagine, be very much diminished; and if, as I am led to believe, the town and neighbourhood are the property of Lord Fitzwilliam, his lordship will not find it more troublesome to manage 300 £10 householders than 500 scot and lot men. Happy Lord Fitzwilliam, whose influence will stand almost alone and safe, while that of so many others must perish in the general wreck!

While Ramsden voted for the second reading of the reform bill, in support of which a petition reached both Houses, 24 Mar., Scarlett opposed it and offered to resign his seat.24 Milton asked him to do so in time for a new writ to be moved before the Easter recess.25 He put the seat at the disposal of ministers and it was offered to Francis Jeffrey, the lord advocate, who had been unseated from Perth Burghs on petition.26 Meanwhile a meeting of electors was held, 28 Mar., to discuss the Members’ votes, at which they thanked Ramsden for ‘supporting the great cause of parliamentary reform’ and called on Scarlett to surrender ‘into their hands the trust they reposed in him’, as his behaviour was ‘at variance with his sentiments delivered at the last election’. Milton wrote to Allen to seek his opinion on the proposed return of Jeffrey and on 29 Mar. was informed:

Such is the angry state of feeling of the majority of the inhabitants towards Sir James and the party whom he has been acting ... that scarcely anyone less conspicuous than the lord advocate would have been received, I fear, with common civility; but the name of the lord advocate has had a great effect in calming the tempest.

Allen added that a meeting had been held to petition Parliament in favour of reform.27 On 29 Mar. the electors met again in support of Jeffrey. He was duly returned unopposed.28 ‘He was received with the most complete satisfaction’, Sir George Cayley† of Brompton reported to Milton, 9 Apr., noting that he and Edward Cayley†, who were there as friends of Jeffrey, had been ‘called upon to say a few words on the hustings, which is rather a new feature in Malton elections’. He added:

There was nothing which seemed in the least to indicate any disposition in the people there to swerve from under that first line of influence which your family has ever exerted, and are entitled to exert, by the obligations of property backed by a similarity of political feeling. Certainly the election had all the air and spirit of a popular election [but] I verily believe that had you sent them a Tory they would have returned him, not for Malton but upon your hands.29

Before the end of that month Malton had another election, owing to the dissolution which followed the government’s defeat on Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment. Grey’s son Lord Howick* was rumoured while Jeffrey advised Milton that ‘my views are now to the city of Edinburgh’, 22 Apr. He was not confident of success, however, and therefore sought the security of Malton should he fail. On 29 Apr. Milton assured him that ‘the electors will rejoice in a continuation of your services’, adding, ‘I have suggested to them that they cannot serve the cause better than by re-electing you in conjunction, I hope, with Mr. [Henry] Gally Knight, one of my oldest friends’. Milton warned, however, that passage of the reform bill would mean that in future Members ‘should either have some direct connection with Yorkshire, or with our family’.30 Ramsden stood for the county and Jeffrey and Gally Knight, a major south Yorkshire landowner, were returned unopposed, although Jeffrey was absent in Edinburgh. A few days later the journalist James Silk Buckingham† applied to Milton for a seat should Jeffrey be returned for Edinburgh.31 Brougham, the lord chancellor, also inquired if there was an opening for the eminent chancery lawyer Charles Pepys, Fitzwilliam’s auditor, whom he considered ‘most essential to my reforms’, although he was also trawling for a seat for his brother James Brougham*.32 On 16 May Creevey informed Miss Ord that ‘Jeffrey is to vacate Malton and sit for some Scotch boroughs, and Milton has refused to put J. Brougham in his place’.33 Jeffrey had been defeated at Edinburgh, but subsequently returned for Perth Burghs, where he chose to sit. On 27 May Grey wrote to Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, seeking a berth for Sir John Byng*, the Irish commander-in-chief, and mentioned Malton.34 Milton, however, offered the seat to William Cavendish, the young cousin of the duke of Devonshire, who had failed at Cambridge University. Reporting on his election in July, the Yorkshire Gazette observed that Cavendish

set out on his canvass, which he went through tamely; and when he had concluded he returned to Castle Howard. He did not address the good people of Malton, neither on his arrival, nor on the conclusion of his canvass, which seemed to have given great dissatisfaction.

At the declaration he expressed his hope that he would ‘be in time to vote for the reform bill in the last stage’. Ale was distributed and a general invitation to dinner at the public houses of the town was issued.35 Two months later Cavendish vacated his seat to come in for Derbyshire in the room of his grandfather, created earl of Burlington. He was replaced by Pepys. A petition for the reform bill reached the Lords, 7 Oct. 1831. One for the withholding of supplies until it passed was presented to the Commons, 23 May 1832.36

The boundary commissioner appointed to investigate Malton and the bailiff could not agree on the limits of the borough, and in particular whether or not Old Malton fell within its boundaries, but neither consideration of the number of £10 houses and the amount of assessed taxes paid, nor a revised population of 4,028, altered Malton’s position in the final schedules of the reform bill. The boundary was eventually extended to include Old Malton and the parish of Norton, which it was estimated would provide between 397 and 414 £10 houses, giving the new borough a population of 6,802.37 In the event the registered electorate, inclusive of the surviving scot and lot voters, numbered 667 in 1832.38 Fitzwilliam’s nominees were again returned unopposed at that year’s general election and the borough remained ‘almost wholly’ under the control of his family until its disfranchisement in 1885.39

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. Figures are for New Malton and that for 1821 is a revised total. See PP (1831-2), lxxxvi. 85.
  • 2. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F107/299, 301
  • 3. Yorks. Gazette, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Fitzwilliam mss, J. Ramsden to W. Allen, 30 June 1820.
  • 5. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F107/302, 303.
  • 6. Ibid. F107/311, 318, 323.
  • 7. CJ, lxxvii. 104.
  • 8. E.A. Smith, ‘Fitzwilliam and Malton’, EHR, lxxx (1965), 69.
  • 9. CJ, lxxviii. 49; LJ, lv. 527.
  • 10. CJ, lxxviii. 364; lxxix. 168; lxxxi. 81; LJ, lvi. 84; lviii. 44.
  • 11. CJ, lxxix. 459; lxxx. 152.
  • 12. Fitzwilliam mss, Wharton to Milton, 12 Dec. 1826.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxii. 472; lxxxiii. 181; LJ, lx. 118.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxiii. 185, 499; lxxxiv. 251.
  • 15. Ibid. lxxxiii. 383; LJ, lx. 504.
  • 16. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F107/341.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxv. 188, 463; LJ, lxii. 130, 759.
  • 18. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G2/3.
  • 19. Ibid. G2/7; G83/110.
  • 20. Chatsworth mss.
  • 21. Add. 51580.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 39, 53, 126; LJ, lxiii. 22, 112, 125.
  • 23. N.A. Huddleston, Hist. Malton, 177.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxvi. 428; LJ, lxiii. 369.
  • 25. Fitzwilliam mss, Milton to Scarlett, 25 Mar. 1831.
  • 26. Ibid. G.H.L. Dundas to Milton, 28 Mar. 1831.
  • 27. Ibid. Allen to Milton, 29 Mar. 1831.
  • 28. The Times, 4 Apr. 1831.
  • 29. Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 30. Ibid.; Yorks. Gazette, 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 31. Fitzwilliam mss, Buckingham to Milton, 6 May 1831.
  • 32. Add. 76371, Brougham to Althorp, 11 May 1831.
  • 33. Creevey mss.
  • 34. Grey mss.
  • 35. Yorks. Gazette, 16 July 1831.
  • 36. LJ, lxiii. 1071; CJ, lxxxvii. 332.
  • 37. PP (1831-2), xl. 255; (1831-2), xxvi. 327.
  • 38. P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 259.
  • 39. Dod’s Electoral Facts ed. H. Hanham, 205.