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:

273 in 18311


3,546 (1821); 3,900 (1831)


12 June 1826(HON.) THOMAS DUNDAS
8 Feb. 1828SIR ROBERT LAWRENCE DUNDAS vice Moulton Barrett, vacated his seat

Main Article

Richmond, a ‘wealthy and substantial’ market town, was situated ‘in the midst of an agricultural district’ known as ‘Richmondshire’, at the entrance to Swaledale in the North Riding of the county, 44 miles north-west of York. It was reported in 1831 that the ‘higher class’ of the population was ‘composed in a great measure of persons ... wishing to live a retired life’; there were ‘no manufactures’.2 The borough was coextensive with the parish. Local power was exercised by the corporation, which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, 12 aldermen and 24 common councilmen. However, the corporators did not automatically possess the franchise, which was vested in the owners of burgage tenements having a right of pasture in a common field called Whitcliffe. Since 1762 the majority of burgages had been held by the Dundas family of nearby Aske, who enjoyed undisturbed control of the parliamentary representation: they owned 163 burgages in 1824, while the Yorke family had the next largest holding with ten. Some of the other properties were in the hands of farmers, who thereby gained exemption from local tolls. Only 41 of the electors were resident in 1831.3 Thomas, 1st Baron Dundas, a Whig, continued the practice of returning family members or friends. In 1820, having ascertained that Dudley Long North, a former Member, could be provided for elsewhere, Dundas returned his grandson Thomas and his friend and neighbour Samuel Moulton Barrett of Carlton Hall.4

Lawrence Dundas* succeeded to his father’s title and estates in June 1820. The corporation and the inhabitants sent up petitions to the Commons for the restoration of Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 31 Jan. 1821.5 In the only hint of opposition in this period, at the general election of 1826, Dundas reported to his uncle that the proceedings had ‘passed off in the usual way ... our threatened opponent never came near the place’.6 The owners and occupiers of neighbouring land petitioned the Commons against any alteration of the corn laws, 14 Mar. 1827, as did the traders and inhabitants for repeal of the stamp duties, 27 Feb., and the gentlemen and traders in favour of the Aire and Calder navigation bill, 29 Feb. 1828.7 That month, after Moulton Barrett had retired in order to concentrate on his Jamaican business affairs, Dundas brought in his brother Sir Robert. Although the patron and his Members were in favour of Catholic emancipation, petitions against the Wellington ministry’s bill were presented to the Commons by the archdeaconry and the inhabitants, 4, 9 Mar. 1829.8 At the general election of 1830 Thomas Dundas transferred to York and was replaced by his younger brother John Charles.

Anti-slavery petitions were forwarded to the Commons by the inhabitants and the Wesleyan Methodists, 19 Nov. 1830.9 On 7 Feb. a public meeting agreed a petition in favour of parliamentary reform, which was presented to the Commons, 26 Feb. 1831. The Grey ministry’s bill proposed to deprive Richmond of one of its seats while enfranchising the £10 householders. When presenting a friendly petition from his constituents, 14 Mar. 1831, John Charles Dundas maintained that they were happy to sacrifice one of their seats for the sake of the bill as a whole.10 Both Members supported the measure and were returned unopposed at the ensuing general election. However, the alteration made in the original bill to allow Northallerton to retain two seats had provoked resentment at Richmond, and after another public meeting a memorial was drawn up and signed by the mayor (Thomas Bradley) and 224 inhabitants, which was submitted to ministers, 17 June 1831. In this detailed statement, it was pointed out that whereas Northallerton’s boundary was to be extended by 16 miles in order to give it the qualifying population of 4,000, Richmond could achieve this by incorporating the township of Sleegill, which was only some 70 yards from the existing boundary. If all the townships within a five-mile radius of Richmond were to be included, the population of the new borough would be 7,537. The memorialists also drew attention to the meagre representation afforded to the northern part of the North Riding, and emphasized Richmond’s importance as the capital of the historic district of ‘Richmondshire’, with the largest corn market in the North Riding, and as the venue for the assizes and quarter sessions and the seat of an archdeaconry. It was therefore argued that Richmond was ‘much better entitled to retain its two Members than is Northallerton’.11 The reintroduced reform bill made no change to either borough’s position. In the debate on Richmond’s inclusion in schedule B, 30 July, neither Member spoke, but Sheldon Cradock, Member for Camelford but a resident of Hartforth, near Richmond, recited some of the evidence from the memorial and expressed surprise that the borough was to lose one Member when, ‘in point of numbers, wealth or intelligence’, it was ‘superior to any in the Riding’. Lord Althorp, the leader of the Commons, merely observed that the borough and parish were coextensive and could see ‘no reason why [it] should be exempt from the general rule which has been laid down’. However, the new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 gave Richmond a reprieve, as it contained 803 houses and paid £1,399 in assessed taxes, placing it 106th in the list of the smallest English boroughs; gratifyingly, Northallerton was returned to schedule B. The expediency of penalizing one borough whose patrons opposed reform while redeeming another controlled by a Whig peer was not lost on the bill’s critics. A petition from the inhabitants in favour of the measure was presented to the Commons, 14 Dec. 1831, and hailed by Lord Morpeth as proof that the agricultural districts supported reform. The inhabitants sent up another petition urging the Commons to withhold supplies until the bill was carried, 25 May, after they had pressed the Lords unsuccessfully to make their town the polling place for the North Riding, 7 May 1832.12 In accordance with the boundary commissioners’ recommendation, Richmond was extended to include the adjoining parish of Easby.13 Lord Dundas, who became 1st earl of Zetland in 1838, nevertheless retained firm control of the borough: at the general election of 1832, when there were 273 registered electors (identical to the pre-reform total, perhaps not coincidentally), Sir Robert and John Charles Dundas were returned unopposed. The representation remained in family hands until Richmond was disfranchised in 1885.

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xl. 160.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1828-9), 1049-50; PP (1831-2), xl. 157-8.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 81, 573; xl. 160; (1835), xxv. 287-94; L.P. Wenham, Richmond Burgages, 3-5, 53; N. Yorks. RO, Zetland mss ZNK/V2/3/12.
  • 4. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/160, 162, 171.
  • 5. CJ, lxxvi. 15.
  • 6. Fitzwilliam mss, Lord Dundas to Fitzwilliam, 13 June 1826.
  • 7. CJ, lxxxii. 316; lxxxiii. 109, 115.
  • 8. Ibid. lxxxiv. 103, 115.
  • 9. Ibid. lxxxvi. 117.
  • 10. Ibid. 310, 371.
  • 11. PP (1831), xvi. 45-49; R. Fieldhouse and B. Jennings, Hist. Richmond, 421-2.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxvii. 21, 59, 341; LJ, lxiv. 186.
  • 13. PP (1831-2), xl. 157-8.