Newtown I.o.W.


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 mayor and burgesses, being the holders of boroughs lands1

Estimated number qualified to vote:



68 (1831)3


9 Feb. 1821CHARLES COMPTON CAVENDISH vice North, vacated his seat

Main Article

Newtown, a pocket borough abolished by the 1832 Reform Act, lay at the head of a fine natural harbour on the north-west coast of the Isle of Wight, but by the mid-sixteenth century had fallen into decay as a port and settlement. A salt manufactory and oyster fishery operated nearby, but an 1830 directory noted that the place itself ‘scarcely deserves the name of a village’.4 With a degree of hyperbole, a reform publication of the following year asserted that ‘the plough goes over the whole, and the ceremony of an election is conducted by the agents of the proprietors sent thither with furniture and provisions for the purpose’.5 For the last 12 years of its existence the representation was jointly controlled by Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington of Swainstown, Isle of Wight, and Charles Anderson Pelham* of Manby-in-Broughton, Lincolnshire, whose interest derived from his wife, the niece and heiress of Sir Richard Worsley, formerly of Appledurcombe, Isle of Wight. By the terms of a contract signed by their predecessors in 1804 they returned a Member each.6 The franchise was nominally possessed by the chief burgesses of the corporation, a self-elected body (one of whom served annually as mayor and returning officer) composed of the holders of certain burgage properties, which lay beside the grassy streets of the vanished town. (The process of election on acquiring a burgage title had long been ‘a matter of course’.) There were 20 admissions between 1820-32, including 15 in 1826, in what may have been a response to fears of an electoral challenge. No admissions to another class of ‘free’ burgesses, who qualified as freeholders paying rent to the borough, had been made for over a century. Of the 39 burgage tenures in total, which included six subdivisions of doubtful validity, Oldfield reported in 1820 that Anderson Pelham held 12 (including two split) and Barrington eight, while seven (including one split) were in the possession of Sir Leonard Thomas Worsley Holmes* of Westover, Isle of Wight, the proprietor of Newport and Yarmouth, with the remaining 12 divided between eight minor proprietors.7 A slightly earlier breakdown among Worsley Holmes’s papers put Barrington’s holding at 15 and Anderson Pelham’s at ten, and claimed that up to seven of the independent burgages were ‘in hand’, presumably for Worsley Holmes himself, for whom no figure was given.8 Whatever the exact state of affairs, no challenge to the established patrons materialized and on the death of Worsley Holmes in 1825 Anderson Pelham, who had succeeded as 2nd Baron Yarborough in 1823, became a trustee of his estates. Some 50 years later the Quarterly Review described a ‘typical’ Newtown election, at which

the burgesses assembled for an oyster luncheon, for which the lesee of the river was bound to find the materials. Before this repast was well digested, at about 3 p.m. it was time for the company to sit down to a plentiful cold dinner, at the close of which the chairman drew from his pocket a card bearing the names of the two new Members. These he read aloud, and at once proposed their health as their new representatives, a toast that was usually drunk with the utmost enthusiasm.9

Throughout this period Barrington returned the Norfolk banker Hudson Gurney, an independent Member, who, according to an obituary, never visited the borough, but told his friend Dawson Turner, 22 Mar. 1820, that it was ‘the best in England to represent’.10 The reputed cost of each election was £3,000 and Gurney calculated in 1830 that his total outlay since acquiring his seat in 1816 had been the equivalent of £1,200 per annum.11 At the 1820 general election Anderson Pelham replaced his brother George, who was ‘determined’ not to come in again, with his brother-in-law Dudley Long North, a veteran Whig.12 Within a year Long North retired and was succeeded by Charles Compton Cavendish, another Whig, and a cousin of the 6th duke of Devonshire. In the approach to the 1826 general it was expected that Cavendish would contest Sussex and Yarborough was inundated with applications. From a desire to honour ‘a great-nephew of that good and great man Mr. Fox’ he settled on Henry Edward Fox*, Lord Holland’s feckless son, but after he had been returned elsewhere agreed to offer the seat to Lord Grey’s son Lord Howick*, in case of his defeat in Northumberland. In the event, however, Cavendish declined an expensive county contest and no vacancy occurred.13 At the 1830 general election he made way for Yarborough’s eldest son Charles, who had just come of age. In spite of its fatal consequences, he, who freely admitted that he had never set foot in the borough, supported the Grey ministry’s reform bill.14 His return for Lincolnshire at the 1831 general election enabled Yarborough to oblige ministers by accommodating Sir William Horne, the solicitor-general.

The ‘green lanes’ of the ‘sweet little borough of Newtown’ proved an irresistible target for local reformers. At one dinner in April 1831 a yarn was told of a bucolic elector who had been unable to recall the name of the candidate for whom he had voted the day before in 1782.15 In the same month Gurney recorded an exchange with his patron’s agent, presumably the same ‘Mr. Sewell’ who performed the office of town clerk and was a Newport solicitor.16 Sewell urged Gurney to act according to his own best instincts, but indicated that Barrington would ‘rather sacrifice his borough property than, in the present temper of the people, put the rest of his possessions in jeopardy’.17 Gurney took a general line of abstention, but when the disfranchisement of Newtown came under consideration, 22 July 1831, he sprang to its defence, arguing that the royal prerogative, not population, had been the basis for its original enfranchisement. His assertion that its abolition without compensation amounted to ‘spoliation’ provoked an angry exchange, which delayed confirmation of its disfranchisement by a few minutes. The figures produced for the revised reform bill showed that Newtown contained only 14 houses and paid no assessed taxes whatsoever, placing it on a par with uninhabited Old Sarum at the head of schedule A.18 Its abolition was agreed to without a murmur of dissent, 20 Feb. 1832. The corporation, which was reported to consist of 23 non-resident chief burgesses in 1835, was thus deprived of all function and by 1859 no mayor had been elected ‘for many years’.19 The town hall, repaired by the patrons as recently as 1812, became a Sunday school. A local historian of the mid-nineteenth century observed that the place contained ‘no memorial of interest, no remarkable ruin’ and that ‘the shadow of decay sadly rests upon it’.20

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 32-33.
  • 2. Ibid. (1835), xxiv. 134; Key to Both Houses (1832), 369. This figure, however, is the number of ‘burgage tenements’, many of which were owned by the same individuals. If Oldfield’s analysis is correct, these 39 votes were controlled by 11 individual electors in 1820.
  • 3. PP (1833), xxxvii. 22. No separate figures were given in the 1821 census for the borough, which lay in the parish of Calbourne (not Shalfleet, as stated in HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 186), with a population of 767 (1821) and 776 (1831).
  • 4. VCH Hants, v. 265; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 428.
  • 5. [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 271-2.
  • 6. Add. 46501, f. 118.
  • 7. Oldfield, Key (1820), 16-17.
  • 8. I.o.W. RO, Heytesbury mss JER/HBY/232/15 [c.1814].
  • 9. Quarterly Rev. cxxxvii. (1874), 21-22.
  • 10. Gent. Mag. (1865), i. 109; Trinity Coll. Lib. Camb. Dawson Turner mss DT2/K1/30.
  • 11. W. Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank, 145-6.
  • 12. Wentworth Woodhouse mss F48/162.
  • 13. Add. 51584, Tierney to Holland, 10 Apr.; 51833, Yarborough to unknown, 20 Mar. 1826; Wentworth Woodhouse mss F33/73.
  • 14. Stamford Mercury, 13 May 1831.
  • 15. Portsmouth Herald, 13 Mar., 24 Apr. 1831.
  • 16. PP (1831), xvi. 262.
  • 17. Gurney diary, 2 Apr. 1831.
  • 18. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 32-33, 186.
  • 19. Ibid. (1835), xxiv. 134; White’s Hants Dir. (1859), 626.
  • 20. VCH Hants, v. 266; W.H.D. Adams, Hist. I.o.W. (1856), 181-2, 187.