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 burgage holders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 200 in 18311


2,626 (1821); 3,004 (1831)2


28 May 1824MARCUS BERESFORD vice Peirse, deceased

Main Article

Northallerton was an old market town situated in a valley by the River Wiske, ‘amidst lands highly cultivated’, in the North Riding of the county 32 miles north-west of York. Linen manufacturing was carried on ‘to a small extent’, but the town’s ‘main trade’ consisted of the provision of articles of consumption for the surrounding population.3 The boundary was not clearly defined, but it covered only a small part of the parish; it was impossible in practice to distinguish the borough from the town. A bailiff, appointed for life by the lord of the manor, the bishop of Durham, served as the returning officer for parliamentary elections. The franchise was vested in the owners of burgage tenements, of which it was reported in 1831 that there were between 198 and 208, ‘eight or ten being doubtful’. Most of the relevant properties were held, singly or jointly, by the Lascelles and Peirse families, who had shared the representation since 1745. According to Oldfield, some of the tenements were no more than ‘stables or cow houses’, with ‘one or more chimney ... usually preserved as a memorial of their right’, others were ‘let out to poor persons at a small ... rent’ in return for keeping them in repair, while ‘many’ were ‘totally ruinous and uninhabited’.4 In 1820 Henry, Lord Lascelles, a Tory, made way for his third son William, apparently in the expectation of receiving a coronation peerage; in the event, he succeeded his father as 2nd earl of Harewood a month after the election.5 Henry Peirse of Bedale, a Whig, was returned for the other seat, as he had been since 1774.

In November 1820 the news of the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline was greeted at Northallerton by the ringing of church bells and an illumination; three recalcitrant residents had their windows smashed. An inhabitants’ petition condemning the ‘foul and malignant conspiracy’ against the queen and calling for the restoration of her name to the liturgy was presented to the Commons by Peirse, 24 Jan. 1821.6 When Peirse died in May 1824 he left the Bedale estate to his eldest surviving daughter Mary Anne, with remainder, in the absence of male issue, to his other daughter Henrietta and then to his granddaughter Georgiana. Mary Anne remained single; Henrietta was married to Sir John Poo Beresford, Tory Member for Berwick, and Georgiana was married to William Battie Wrightson* of Cusworth Hall, Doncaster, a Whig. It is not known how the arrangement for filling the vacancy was made, but at the ensuing by-election Beresford’s kinsman Marcus Beresford was returned.7 In November 1825 the home secretary Peel reported to the prime minister Lord Liverpool that Sir John had decided to exchange seats with Marcus at the next general election, ‘for the express purpose of excluding from [Northallerton] a Whig candidate’, presumably Wrightson. Peel noted that ‘no other man but Sir John ... who influences the return ... can effect this’.8 Beresford was duly elected in June 1826, while Wrightson tried his luck at East Retford. Lascelles was replaced by his elder brother Henry, perhaps because he had deviated from the family line by supporting Catholic relief; he found another seat at East Looe. The owners and occupiers of neighbouring land petitioned the Commons against any alteration of the corn laws, 14 Mar. 1827.9 On 12 Feb. 1829 Beresford presented a petition from ‘between 700 and 800 of the most respectable inhabitants’ against Catholic relief.10 Nevertheless, he supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, despite having previously opposed concession, and Henry Lascelles, though believed still to be hostile, was absent from the House. They were again returned unopposed at the general election of 1830. After the customary chairing of the Members, ‘from the toll booth round the market cross to the Golden Lion’, an elderly man named Duke Flower, ‘who was popular with the mob’, was also ‘chaired round the cross with much cheering’, as had happened several times before.11

Anti-slavery petitions were sent up to the Commons by the Methodists and the inhabitants, 10 Nov. 1830, 28 Mar. 1831.12 The Grey ministry’s reform bill of March 1831 proposed to deprive Northallerton of one of its seats, while enfranchising the £10 householders. However, the borough was given a reprieve the following month on the ground that the parish of Northallerton contained over 4,000 inhabitants; the Members nevertheless opposed the measure. At the ensuing general election Lascelles made way for his brother William, who was returned unopposed with Beresford. The revised reform bill of June 1831 still proposed to allow Northallerton to retain both its seats. Evidently the patrons were considering shoring up their respective positions by conveying some of their burgage properties to supporters, for in July Harewood’s steward received legal advice that such newly created electors would not retain their right if the bill passed in its present form, and that ‘it will be impossible to adopt any other plan which will enable either Lord Harewood or Miss Peirse to preserve their votes’. It also appeared that

the title of Lord Harewood to make burgage holders ... [is] as if he were tenant for life only ... He can only grant a burgage for his own life and the life of the burgage tenant, and if Lord H. dies there is an end of the vote ... Mr. Peirse’s trustees have therefore a greater power in making votes than Lord H: query, may not this affect the joint votes, if made in case of the death of Lord H., for a part of a burgage does not give a vote.13

The new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 returned Northallerton to schedule B, as it contained 593 houses and paid £867 in assessed taxes, placing it 85th in the list of the smallest English boroughs. Neither Beresford nor Lascelles sought to defend Northallerton’s rights in the Commons, though Lascelles and Harewood (in the Lords) pressed unsuccessfully, 24 Jan., 8 May 1832, for it to become the polling place for the North Riding, in preference to York. The boundary commissioners recommended that the borough be extended to include the townships of Brompton, Deighton, High Worsall and Romanby, thus creating a constituency with 232 registered electors in 1832.14 Two-thirds of the prospective voters signed a petition requesting John George Boss of nearby Otterington Hall to stand at the next election, ‘for the sole purpose of opening the borough’. When news of the bill’s passage reached Northallerton, Boss was chaired to a celebration on Brompton Green to introduce him to the new electors. In front of the platform, ‘an enormously large broom ... was elevated, wherewith to sweep the rotten borough influence out of Northallerton’.15 At the subsequent general election, when Lascelles was left without a seat and Beresford contested Coleraine, Boss defeated Wrightson by 11 votes. However, Wrightson was returned unopposed in 1835 on the interest of Mary Anne Peirse, who has been described as one of ‘only two petticoated electoral magnates of their day’. On her death in 1850 the Bedale estate passed to Beresford’s eldest son from his second marriage, Henry William de la Poer Beresford (1820-59), who took the name Peirse. It was only after Wrightson’s retirement in 1865 that the Lascelles family managed to re-establish their interest.16 Northallerton was disfranchised in 1885.

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 36.
  • 2. Ibid. Figures for the town.
  • 3. Pigot’s National Dir. (1828-9), 1032-3.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 36, 231, 560; xxxvii. 250; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), v. 340-1; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 454.
  • 5. Add. 38458, f. 289.
  • 6. J.L. Saywell, Hist. Northallerton, 158; CJ, lxxvi. 5.
  • 7. Add. 40569, f. 45.
  • 8. Add. 40305, f. 124.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxii. 316.
  • 10. Ibid. lxxxiv. 24.
  • 11. Saywell, 160.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 444.
  • 13. N. Riding RO ZBA/24/1/43.
  • 14. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 231.
  • 15. Saywell, 161.
  • 16. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 219-20.