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 43 in 18311


4,563 (1821); 5,080 (1831)


11 Feb. 1823HON. FREDERICK JOHN ROBINSON re-elected after appointment to office
15 May 1827LOUIS HAYES PETIT vice Robinson, called to the Upper House
8 Feb. 1828SIR ROBERT HARRY INGLIS, bt.  vice Shadwell, appointed to office
2 Mar. 1829GEORGE SPENCE vice Inglis, vacated his seat

Main Article

Ripon, a ‘very respectable and wealthy’ country town ‘celebrated for the manufacture of its sharp rowels’, remained a pocket borough until the Reform Act, providing a berth for some leading figures. Although it was governed by a self-elected corporation, which admitted resident and non-resident freemen, the parliamentary franchise had long been restricted to the occupiers of certain burgage properties, not exceeding 146 in number. A ‘decided majority’ of these were owned by the patron, Miss Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence of nearby Studley Royal, whose family had held an interest there since the end of the seventeenth century. The municipal corporations commissioners noted that for many years the mayor, who was elected annually by the twelve aldermen and 24 assistants, had received a ‘present’ from Lawrence of £200 per annum.2 At the 1820 general election Miss Lawrence returned the sitting Members, George Gipps and Frederick John Robinson, president of the board of trade, both distant relatives. (Robinson’s elder brother, Thomas Philip, Lord Grantham, had supposedly been ‘deeply attached’ to her in his younger days, and she bequeathed her principal estates to him on her death in 1845.)3 She was ‘steadfastly and affectionately attached to the established church’ and all the Members in this period were anti-Catholics, with the exception of Robinson, who had previously sought to justify his view of the issue lest he should lose his seat.4 This difference of opinion did not affect his relationship with her, and when he was offered the post of chancellor of the exchequer in January 1823 he replied to the premier Lord Liverpool:

You may depend upon my discretion in saying nothing of this matter until I have your permission: I should however be thankful to you to let me know whenever you think I may communicate with Miss Lawrence, who of course will be interested in what concerns my seat at Ripon, but I have no doubt that she will make no difficulty.5

He was duly re-elected. The Members took opposite sides on Catholic relief, against which petitions were presented to the Commons, 18 Apr., and the Lords, 29 Apr. 1825.6 One reached the Commons for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Act, 27 Feb. 1823, and one the Lords against the Dissenters’ marriage bill, 24 May 1825.7 During the rumours of a dissolution that autumn there was much agitation in Yorkshire at the likelihood of four pro-Catholic Members being returned for the county. A meeting was held at Ripon, 1 Dec. 1825, when resolutions were passed expressing concern at this prospect and resolving to support only candidates who were known anti-Catholics. A committee of eight was established to act with others in the county to promote this objective.8 A petition was presented to the Commons for improvements to the town’s paving, lighting and policing, 15 Feb. 1826.9

At the 1826 general election Gipps retired and Miss Lawrence returned Robinson and Lancelot Shadwell, a chancery barrister who had become her ‘man of business’. He managed her affairs, including Ripon elections, until her death.10 Petitions against alteration of the corn laws reached both Houses, 27 Feb. 1827.11 Following Robinson’s elevation to the Lords as Lord Goderich in April 1827, Shadwell secured the return of his distant kinsman Louis Hayes Petit of Lincoln’s Inn. The local press reported that ‘considerable dissatisfaction’ had been created by the ‘smallness’ of his ‘disbursements on his return’, which were ‘said not to exceed in all £50’.12 In February 1828 Sir Robert Inglis replaced Shadwell on his appointment as vice-chancellor. At the ensuing ‘ceremony’ he was returned unopposed after ‘a show of hands’ from ‘some 20’ electors, following which they and the corporation were given ‘a sumptuous dinner’ in the town hall.13 Petitions were presented to both Houses for repeal of the Test Acts, 22 Feb., and against Catholic claims, 8 May.14 One for repeal of the Small Notes Act reached the Commons, 9 June, and the Lords, 12 June 1828.15 At the end of that year a Brunswick Club was established to resist Catholic claims, against which petitions reached the Commons, 9 Feb., and the Lords, 9, 13 Feb. 1829.16 Next month Inglis vacated in order to challenge and defeat Robert Peel for his Oxford University seat in the furore over the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation. He was replaced by Shadwell’s friend George Spence, another chancery barrister and supporter of the ‘Protestant cause’, who joined Petit in voting against the measure.17 Petitions reached the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 24 Feb., and the death penalty for forgery, 24 May 1830.18

At the 1830 general election Spence and Petit were returned again. Petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 10 Nov. 1830, 29 Mar. 1831, and the Lords, 15, 16, 22, 25 Nov., 20 Dec. 1830, 15 Feb., 14 Apr. 1831.19 Petit supported government in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, when Spence was absent. Both transferred their allegiance to Lord Grey’s ministry, of which Goderich was a member, and supported the reform bill. Spence was reputed to have informed Miss Lawrence of his intentions, offering to resign his seat if she objected, but she supposedly told him that he ‘might do as he pleased’.20 On 7 Apr. Brougham, the lord chancellor, passed through the town and was presented with a ‘highly complimentary address’ signed by most of the corporation and leading inhabitants.21 At the 1831 general election Petit and Spence were again returned unopposed. Petitions were presented to the Commons for an alteration of the Savings Bank Act, 11 July 1831, and against the general register bill, 19 Jan., 8 Feb. 1832.22

Ripon was to retain both its Members under the terms of the reform bill. In a petition presented by George Strickland, Member for Yorkshire, 6 Feb. 1832, the burgage owners, freemen and resident inhabitants asked for Boroughbridge, Pateley Bridge and Ripley to be added to the constituency, otherwise ‘Ripon must continue to be a close or rotten borough in the possession of Miss Lawrence’. They also wanted someone other than the mayor, in the pay of the patron, to be appointed as returning officer in order to ensure his independence.23 The Boundary Act did enlarge the borough, but only to encompass part of Aismunderby-cum-Bondgate, which increased the population from 5,080 to 5,709. The commissioners had estimated that this would provide an extra 20 houses worth £10 per annum, giving a reformed constituency of approximately 403, but in the event the registered electorate was 341 in 1832.24 Miss Lawrence, who by now had ‘turned violent Tory’, dropped Petit and Spence at that year’s general election, when her nominees were beaten by two Liberals.25 She quickly reasserted her influence, however, and, thanks to an active registration campaign, the borough became a Conservative stronghold from 1835 until 1847.26

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. HP, Commons 1790-1820, ii. 458 gives 146, which was the estimated number of burgage tenures, but the ‘probable number of voters’, according to PP (1831-2) xxxvi. 574, was 43.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xl. 341; (1835), xxiii. 299-301; The Times, 11 Feb., 30 Dec. 1828.
  • 3. L. Wolf, Lord Ripon, 13.
  • 4. Gent. Mag. (1845), ii. 423; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 458.
  • 5. Add. 38291, f. 223.
  • 6. CJ, lxxx. 314; LJ, lvii. 666.
  • 7. CJ, lxxviii. 76; LJ, lvii. 930.
  • 8. G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 76.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxi. 47.
  • 10. Lady Holland to Son, 229; Gent. Mag. (1845), ii. 423.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxii. 239; LJ, lix. 111.
  • 12. Leeds Intelligencer, 24 May 1827.
  • 13. The Times, 11 Feb. 1828.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxiii. 96, 332; LJ, lx. 64, 364.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxiii. 412; LJ, lx. 534.
  • 16. The Times, 30 Dec. 1828; CJ, lxxxiv. 14; LJ, lxi. 15, 31.
  • 17. Yorks. Gazette, 7 Mar. 1829.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxv. 98, 463.
  • 19. Ibid. lxxxvi. 52, 454; LJ, lxiii. 49, 58, 116, 126, 183, 224, 419.
  • 20. Gent. Mag. (1851), i. 435.
  • 21. The Times, 11 Apr. 1831.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 640; lxxxvii. 39, 82.
  • 23. Ibid. lxxxvii. 74.
  • 24. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 327; P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 341.
  • 25. Disraeli Letters, i. 205
  • 26. N. Gash, Politics. in Age of Peel, 220-3; Salmon, 59.