Milborne Port


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 bailiffs and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 170 in 18201

Number of voters:

111 in 1820


1,440 (1821); 2,072 (1831)2


 Richard Sharp44
 John William Drage Merest44
9 June 1826THOMAS NORTH GRAVES, Bar. Graves [I] 
9 July 1827JOHN HENRY NORTH vice Graves, appointed to office 
4 Mar. 1831RICHARD LALOR SHEIL vice Byng, appointed to office 
14 Mar. 1831GEORGE STEVENS BYNG vice Sturges Bourne, vacated his seat 
15 July 1831PHILIP CECIL CRAMPTON vice Sheil, chose to sit for Co. Louth 

Main Article

Milborne Port, a ‘very irregularly built’ town with the appearance ‘more of a village’, which had been ‘anciently ... of importance’, was situated on a branch of the River Yeo close to the Dorset border. Agriculture was crucial to the town’s economy, employing 283 families in 1821, but 159 worked in trade and manufacturing and 26 in other occupations. In the eighteenth century it had been a centre for the production of linen, sailcloth and the coarser types of woollens, but these industries were in serious decline by the 1820s and the market house had long been closed up. However, the rapid development of glove making, since its introduction in 1810, more than compensated for these losses, and by the middle of the nineteenth century it provided the chief source of employment, supplemented by leather dressing and boot and shoemaking.3

The borough was wholly contained within but not coextensive with the parish of the same name, excluding as it did the tithings of Milborne Wick and Kingsbury Regis.4 The franchise was vested principally in householders assessed to the poor rate, but the nomination to both seats was in the hands of the lord of the manor, Henry William Paget†, 1st marquess of Anglesey, who had formed an alliance with the main resident proprietor, Sir William Medlycott of Ven House. Anglesey owned five, and leased from Medlycott the other four, burgage tenements, which gave him control of the government of the borough. These ‘bailiwicks’, which carried with them the right to vote, were conveyed on an annual basis to individuals not necessarily resident in the borough, two of whom served in rotation as capital bailiffs and appointed two sub-bailiffs who were the returning officers for parliamentary elections.5

A concerted challenge to Anglesey’s interest had begun to emerge in the months preceding the 1818 general election, when the steward of his Somerset and Dorset estates, William Castleman, informed him that ‘frequent meetings’ were being held in the borough. It appears that the ringleaders, including William Foot, Thomas Shepherd and John Henning, a glove maker, had private grievances against Anglesey, and Castleman suspected that a ‘Mr. Cox’ was ‘leading this cabal and furnishing money’. In addition, the conduct of some of the ‘independent voters’ convinced him that ‘an opposition will take place at the next election if there is the least ground for success’. A contest duly occurred, following the arrival of the Whig Member for Portarlington, Richard Sharp*, and the West India proprietor Samuel Moulton Barrett*, but the ‘Blues’ finished at the bottom of the poll behind the ‘Red and Greens’ of Sir Edward Paget (Anglesey’s brother) and the lawyer Robert Casberd; a petition alleging bribery, treating and the illegal restraint of voters was rejected.6 Two months after the election Castleman boasted that Milborne Port was ‘perfectly quiet’ and that the oppositionists ‘seem ... to be quite sick’.7 However, the threat to Anglesey’s position soon took on a new dimension with the intervention of the Whig boroughmonger the 3rd earl of Darlington, who was persuaded by the opposition party to purchase eight acres of land in the borough with a view to building houses and creating new voters. Sir William Manners†, whose interest at Ilchester had been similarly attacked by Darlington, warned Anglesey that he must ‘expect a most formidable opposition’ and alleged that the ‘infamous [Thomas] Oldfield’, author of the Representative History, was ‘the planner of the whole scheme against you’.8 In March 1819 the foundation stone was laid of Darlington’s development on the north-west side of the borough, known as Newtown, and by August ‘between 30 and 40 houses’ had been built. Castleman, meantime, busily prepared counter-measures on Anglesey’s behalf, arranging to lease all of Medlycott’s property in the borough, purchasing two pieces of land suitable for building and ejecting 23 tenants (including some women), who were replaced with men who could be ‘depended on’.9 At the by-election in July 1819, when Casberd sought re-election on accepting a Welsh judgeship, Sharp’s challenge was again beaten off, by 54 votes to 36, and Castleman reported to Anglesey immediately afterwards that

if I am allowed to proceed on my plans, the opposition will never again be able to bring as many votes to the poll ... and ... the number of votes in your lordship’s interest will be nearly doubled. Sir W. Medlycott’s tenants, who at the general election did us mischief, have in consequence of some very firm but moderate proceedings on my part (in which Sir W. Medlycott has supported me) become very zealous and firm supporters. The tenants on both sides have determined immediately to dismiss those servants who have misconducted themselves, and it is my intention ... to follow the example set on the other side, of prevailing on our friends to withdraw every kind of support from the persons who are hostile to your lordship’s interest. The proceedings at this election have given me an opportunity of scrutinizing the conduct of the new tenants, and I am sorry to add that some of them must be displaced to prevent them from doing mischief in future; three or four more of the old tenants must also be removed.

Twenty tenants were subsequently evicted, although Castleman hoped that many would return to their ‘former colours’, as there were already signs of dissatisfaction among Darlington’s tenantry at the poor quality of their houses.10 By January 1820, it was reported that 14 new houses had been completed on Anglesey’s land with eight more under construction, at a cost of about £100 each, while repairs and alterations were being carried out to older properties ‘for the purpose of increasing the number of voters’. The tenants of the new houses and those recently installed in the older ones had all been assessed for the poor rate. Regrettable though the expense of the building work was, Castleman observed that the recent prosecutions of Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes* for bribery at Barnstaple and Grampound ‘must I am sure have convinced your lordship of the necessity of abandoning the former plans for the management of this borough ... in all probability if they had not been discontinued ... the borough would have been disfranchised’. Following the death of George III, Anglesey was assured that he could return any two men of his choice, and at the ensuing general election Berkeley Paget and Lord Graves, his brother and brother-in-law respectively, came top of the poll, 23 votes ahead of Sharp and John Merest, who had previously sat for Ilchester on Darlington’s interest and was defeated in an attempt to open Shaftesbury at the same election. It was later reckoned that 58 voters had not been polled on account of the early withdrawal of Darlington’s candidates.11

There followed an orgy of expenditure as the rival interests battled for control of the borough. Anglesey alone laid out more than £15,000 on ‘new buildings and repairs’ between Michaelmas 1819 and Lady Day 1824, which provided lucrative employment for many local people as well as creating homes for voters.12 Castleman complained in November 1820 that Darlington’s friends ‘frequently treat the voters ... at a private house’, obliging him to follow suit by supplying free drink, and he warned that ‘our opponents are certainly distributing money to the voters and ... have succeeded in changing some who were in our interest’. By the spring of 1822, he was convinced that certain individuals on both sides were engaging in ‘manoeuvres’ designed to keep the contest going for their ‘private emolument’.13 Money was also spent on encouraging businessmen to establish premises in the town. In April 1820 Castleman reported that he had arranged for Edward Ensor, ‘a most respectable young man’, to set up a glove factory, explaining that ‘one of the difficulties ... we have had to encounter ... has been that nearly the whole of the trade in the place has been carried on by our opponents ... even in the houses of some of our friends, the females of the family have been employed by them’. However, he was alarmed to discover in 1823 that Merest, who was keeping the town in ‘an almost constant state of ferment’, had introduced another glove maker who brought with him 15 workmen from Yeovil ‘to occupy new houses’. Castleman responded by arranging with ‘Messrs. Thompson’ to open a branch of their sail cloth manufactory, which would offer employment to as many opposition voters as were prepared to defect.14 The verdict at the autumn quarter sessions in 1820, that allotment holders and lodgers holding 20 perches of land were liable to be assessed for poor rate, forced Castleman to set aside farmland with which to create allotments for ‘reliable men’, while £2,100 was spent on acquiring a 13-acre property which, had it fallen into Darlington’s hands, would have enabled him ‘to make at least 104 additional votes’ under the new assessment rules.15 Anglesey’s total expenditure on maintaining his interest is impossible to ascertain, but Castleman learned from Darlington’s local agent, George Feaver, in July 1822, that the earl had laid out ‘upwards of £40,000’.16 Castleman estimated that the Anglesey interest commanded voter majorities of 177 to 127 in 1821 and 181 to 129 in 1822, and in October 1823 he reported that the borough was

in a more satisfactory state than it has hitherto been. After the discoveries which were sometime ago made of the defection of several of our votes and of their consequent dismissal, I find that communication or intercourse with the other party is in a great degree stopped. There are several of our opponents votes who are in my pay and from whom I receive regular information of their proceedings, and who with many others of their party I have reason to believe will join our ranks in the event of an election’.17

Anglesey’s final, decisive blow was his negotiation with Winchester College and the bishop of Hereford by which he exchanged land in Dorset for the rectory of Milborne Port and ‘divers lands and hereditaments’ there, an agreement embodied in a private Act of Parliament (5 Geo. IV, c. 25), obtained on 17 June 1824.18 Castleman calculated at this point that of an electorate numbering 344, Anglesey controlled 198 votes, comprising 119 householders, 49 tenants of Medlycott’s houses, 18 allotment voters, nine bailiffs and three independents, while Darlington’s interest amounted to 146 votes, consisting of 105 householders, 35 allotment voters and six independents, giving Anglesey a majority of at least 52 and possibly 69 if the allotment votes eventually proved to be invalid. Darlington now put out feelers through an intermediary, Lord Lauderdale, indicating his willingness to sell his property to Anglesey and quit the borough; a price was eventually agreed in March 1825 of £5,901, which included £2,500 for his political ‘influence’.19 Following Darlington’s departure, Castleman’s immediate objective was to ‘get all the allotment votes off the next rate, and as many as I can of the tenants of the houses in opposition, which will secure an unopposed return at the next election’. A list compiled in March 1825 showed that the electorate had been reduced far more drastically than this, as there were reckoned to be 62 ‘good’ votes, 18 ‘bad’, six ‘doubtful’ and the nine bailiffs, making a total of 95. After the Michaelmas rate for 1825 had been fixed, Castleman reported to Anglesey that, apart from the bailiffs, ‘the number of rated votes are ... good 57, adverse seven, doubtful one and seven independent’, and he hoped that ‘on or before Ladyday ... all the adverse and doubtful votes will be off the rate, and I shall probably reduce the good votes to about 50’.20 At the general election of 1826 Graves and Arthur Chichester, Anglesey’s son-in-law, were returned unopposed. Castleman’s accounts show that the election expenses amounted to just £121 16s. 5d., including a dinner for 92 people to which Feaver and other members of the old opposition were invited to show that there was no enmity.21

The inhabitants had sent anti-slavery petitions to the Commons, 30 Mar. 1824, and both Houses, 5, 8 May 1826.22 The glove manufacturers and workmen had petitioned the Lords against the importation of foreign gloves, 5 May 1826.23 In May 1827, Castleman confidently declared that Milborne Port was ‘at this moment as close a borough as [Old] Sarum and will I think remain so’. When a by-election occurred in July, following Graves’s appointment as an excise commissioner, the Irish lawyer John North, a supporter of the Canning ministry to which Anglesey belonged, was returned with ‘perfect unanimity’.24 Petitions for repeal of the Test Acts were forwarded to the Commons by the Protestant Dissenters, 6 June 1827, and the inhabitants, 18 Feb., while the Dissenters petitioned the Lords, 22 Feb. 1828.25 The Protestant inhabitants sent anti-Catholic petitions to Parliament, 9, 13 Feb. 1829, which Castleman deplored as an act of discourtesy to Anglesey, who had been recalled from the Irish lord lieutenancy the previous month because of his Catholic sympathies.26 Anglesey informed Huskisson in July 1830 that he had invited their political associate William Sturges Bourne to offer for Milborne Port, as his continued presence in the Commons was ‘of consequence’. At the subsequent general election Sturges Bourne was proposed by the Rev. William Gane, the local curate, while George Stevens Byng, Anglesey’s son-in-law, was nominated by William Coles Medlycott, the baronet’s eldest son. After their unopposed return they dined at the King’s Head ‘with a numerous party of friends from the neighbourhood’.27

The Wesleyan Methodists sent anti-slavery petitions to the Commons, 15 Dec. 1830, as did ‘persons residing’ in the town, 2 Mar. 1831.28 On the formation of Lord Grey’s ministry Anglesey returned to Ireland as lord lieutenant, and he expressed a willingness to make the Milborne Port seats available to provide for Irishmen needed in the Commons, such as the solicitor-general Philip Crampton and the lawyer Richard Sheil. However, this created delicate situations with respect to the sitting Members, and a lengthy and involved correspondence ensued. Sturges Bourne showed no inclination to vacate voluntarily, and there was felt to be a difficulty in Byng’s case as his father, Sir John Byng*, had recently been asked by Anglesey to retire as Irish commander-in-chief. Finally, Byng reluctantly vacated in exchange for a place in Anglesey’s Dublin household, and Sheil was returned unopposed at the resulting by-election in March 1831. No sooner had this happened, than Sturges Bourne’s retirement was requested because of his inability to support the government’s reform bill, in which Anglesey acquiesced despite its proposed disfranchisement of Milborne Port; as a result, Byng was promptly reinstated. Anglesey remarked that his borough was ‘doing its work handsomely, even upon its death bed’.29 At the dissolution in April 1831 a local newspaper reported that two Tories, James Lockhart, editor of the Quarterly Review, and Charles Stuart Wortley, Member for Bossiney, had appeared in the borough, but after ‘half an hour’s canvass ... they ran off as fast as they had entered’. Lockhart subsequently claimed that ‘the people were all for us but tied up under penalties of £100 per man to quit house at 24 hours notice’. Byng was proposed by Edward Ensor and Hearle, while Sheil was nominated by the ‘Rev. Ensor’ and Edward Sherring, a farmer. Both candidates declared their support for the reform bill, praised Anglesey and the electors for their ‘splendid sacrifice’ in accepting the borough’s disfranchisement and reassured the inhabitants that Anglesey would remain as beneficent a landlord as before. They were returned unopposed and ‘borne off in triumph in the customary manner’.30

As Sheil had also been returned for county Louth, the prospect arose of his vacating Milborne Port to make room for Crampton. Matters were complicated, however, by signs of unrest in the borough at its impending demise and by the determination of William Coles Medlycott to come forward as an anti-reform candidate. He notified Anglesey that he was acting on the wishes of the inhabitants, who were ‘anxious to preserve their interests’, and that a canvass showed unanimous support for him ‘with only three exceptions’. Anglesey deplored his intention, arguing that while the borough’s disfranchisement was regrettable, the reform bill as a whole was ‘inevitable’ and ‘necessary for the preservation of the constitution’. He also maintained that Medlycott’s father was ‘as much bound by the lease he granted me of his property ... to support my parliamentary wishes ... as any man can be bound in justice and in honour’, and made it clear that he would strongly oppose any anti-reform candidate. Medlycott angrily abandoned his canvass, complaining that Castleman had ‘thought proper to adopt a system of intimidation with the electors’. A relieved Anglesey blandly informed Grey that the townsfolk were ‘staunch and attached to me’ and that ‘these poor fellows are really worthy reformers, to give up their franchise with so good a grace’. Crampton was thus returned unopposed for ‘the old hack place’ at the final by-election there in July 1831.31 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for tithes reform to assist agriculture, 27 June 1831, and petitions against the importation of foreign gloves were presented to both Houses, 17, 19 Jan. 1832.32

By the new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831, Milborne Port, which contained 383 houses and paid £211 in assessed taxes (figures relating to the whole parish), was placed 48th in the list of the smallest English boroughs, confirming its disfranchisement. Exaggerated claims by the returning officers that the electorate numbered 311 rested on the fiction that in addition to the nine bailiffs all of the 302 houses in the borough were assessed for poor rate.33 This misrepresentation was to no avail and the borough was absorbed into the Eastern division of Somerset. Deprived of his electoral asset, Anglesey lost interest in the town and sold all his property there to the Medlycott family in 1835.34

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1830-1), x. 87.
  • 2. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxvi. 53. Figures for the whole parish. The returning officers put the borough population in 1831 at 1,582, but it was later alleged that the 1831 census return had been falsified in the hope of avoiding disfranchisement (S.G. McKay, Milborne Port, 146).
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 715; Robson’s Som. Dir. (1839), 109; Gen. Dir. Som. (1840), 231; W. Phelps, Hist. Som. (1836), i. 287-9; McKay, 71, 72, 203-11.
  • 4. PP (1831), xvi. 261; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 471.
  • 5. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 553; McKay, 120-7.
  • 6. Dorset RO, Anglesey mss D/ANG B5/22, Castleman to Anglesey, 11 Dec. 1817; B5/23, to same 19 Jan.; Som. RO, Fooks mss DD/FF/16/1, lists of voters; Sherborne Jnl. 11 June 1818; McKay, 135; CJ, lxxiv. 88, 328.
  • 7. Anglesey mss B5/23, Castleman to Anglesey, 18 Aug. 1818.
  • 8. Ibid. B5/25, Manners to Anglesey, 26 Jan. [1819]; B5/28, to same, 29 Jan. [1820].
  • 9. Sherborne Jnl. 25 Mar., 12 Aug.; Anglesey mss B5/25, Castleman’s memo., 16 Apr., to Anglesey, 31 May, 23 June, to Sanderson, 10 June 1819.
  • 10. Salisbury Jnl. 26 July; Anglesey mss B5/25, Castleman to Anglesey, 19 July, 15 Oct., 4 Nov. 1819.
  • 11. Anglesey mss B5/26, Castleman to Anglesey, 5 Jan., 8, 9 Feb.; Western Flying Post, 6 Mar. 1820; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 553.
  • 12. Anglesey mss B4/1/32-42, account bks.; McKay, 136-9.
  • 13. Anglesey mss B5/26, Castleman to Anglesey, 29 Nov. 1820; B5/31, to same, 18 Apr., 11 May 1822.
  • 14. Ibid. B5/26, Castleman to Anglesey, 13 Apr. 1820; B5/32, to same, 5 Apr., 19 Sept., 31 Oct. 1823.
  • 15. Ibid. B5/26, Castleman to Lowe, 21 Oct., to Sanderson, 23 Oct., to Anglesey, 7, 9 Dec. 1820; B5/29, to same, 13 Jan. 1821.
  • 16. Ibid. B5/31, Castleman to Anglesey, 17 July 1822.
  • 17. Ibid. B5/31, Nov. 1821 list, Castleman to Anglesey, 14 Dec. 1822; B5/32, to same, 31 Oct. 1823.
  • 18. Ibid. B5/34 contains extensive correspondence on this negotiation and a copy of the bill.
  • 19. Ibid. B5/35, ‘statement of the interest of the 3 parties after rate, June 1824’, Sanderson to Castleman, 23 June, 9 July 1824, Vizard to Lauderdale, 4 Mar. 1825; B5/36, Castleman to Anglesey, 22 Sept., 26 Oct. 1825, shows that the late John Henning’s glove factory was also purchased for £1,650.
  • 20. Ibid. B5/1, list of voters [Mar. 1825]; B5/36, Castleman to Anglesey, 1 Feb., 20 Oct. 1825.
  • 21. Ibid. B4/1/46, account bk.; B5/37, Castleman to Anglesey, 10 June; Western Flying Post, 12 June 1826.
  • 22. CJ, lxxix. 229; lxxxi. 332; LJ, lviii. 299.
  • 23. LJ, lviii. 44.
  • 24. Anglesey mss B5/39, Castleman to Anglesey, 14 May, 9 July; Sherborne Jnl. 20 July 1827.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxii. 521; lxxxiii. 73; LJ, lx. 63.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxiv. 28; LJ, lxi. 16; Anglesey mss B5/41, Castleman to Anglesey, 17 Mar. 1829.
  • 27. Add. 38758, f. 198; Sherborne Jnl. 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 28. CJ, lxxxvi. 175, 334.
  • 29. PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/28A-C, Anglesey to Grey, 27 Dec. 1830, 29 Jan., 7 Feb., 4 Mar., replies, 9, 25 Jan., 3 Mar.; 31D, Smith Stanley to Anglesey, 2, 7, 12, 17 21, 26 Feb.; Derby mss 920 Der (14) 119/2, Anglesey to Smith Stanley, 10 Mar. 1831.
  • 30. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590/C346, Lockhart to Mahon, 2 May.; Sherborne Jnl. 5 May 1831.
  • 31. Som. RO, Medlycott mss DD/MDL/14/10, Anglesey to Medlycott, 25 May, 3, 7 June, replies, 31 May, n.d.; Anglesey mss D619/28C, Anglesey to Grey, 15, 26 May, 4 June 1831.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxvi. 572; lxxxvii. 37; LJ, lxiv. 19, 21.
  • 33. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 53, 553.
  • 34. McKay, 70, 146.