Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen paying scot and lot
Estimated number qualified to vote:
Number of voters:
974 in 18302
19,854 (1821); 21,297 (1831)3
|9 Mar. 1820||HON. HENRY GREY BENNET|
|15 June 1826||PANTON CORBETT||627|
|ROBERT AGLIONBY SLANEY||387|
|2 Aug. 1830||RICHARD JENKINS||754|
|ROBERT AGLIONBY SLANEY||563|
|30 Apr. 1831||ROBERT AGLIONBY SLANEY||178|
Shrewsbury, a castellated marcher and county town, was built on the north bank of the navigable River Severn, traversed to its east and west by the English-bridge and the Welsh-bridge. William Hazeldine had a large iron foundry in the town, the Mucklestons a shoe factory, and textile production persisted; but Shrewsbury remained primarily an administrative and commercial centre and its nineteenth century growth was modest compared to that of its industrial hinterland.4 The borough looked to the neighbouring gentry to represent its interests in Parliament and was contested nine times between the collapse of the coalition between the Attingham and Hawkstone branches of the Hill family in 1796 and 1831.5 Over the same period, and largely as a result of the implementation of the Commons ruling of 1774 that ‘every man born in the town, or who has served as an apprentice for seven years to one of the traders in an incorporated company in the town, may be a voter’, the electorate increased steadily from about 500 to ‘thousands’, as admission ceased to be exclusive to freemen by descent and honorary burgesses. Of the 1,409 burgesses created between 1800 and 1831, 1,004 (71 per cent) were by birth, servitude or election, and 405 (29 per cent) by descent, the numbers in both categories peaking immediately before elections, when the candidates were expected to pay admission charges of 3s. 6d. (descent), £5 (servitude) and £5-£10 (honorary), corporation levies and stamp duty.6 The corporation of 24 aldermen and 48 assistant aldermen elected the mayor (the returning officer) annually at Michaelmas. According to the 1835 municipal corporations report, it was an effective and ‘incorrupt’ alliance of high church gentry, merchants and professional men, resented locally for their dynasticism, success in excluding Nonconformists from their midst and failure to correct abuses by the town’s guilds (drapers, mercers, corvisors, tailors, saddlers, builders, smiths, ironmongers and butchers).7 Professor O’Gorman’s analysis of occupations specified in the 1806-31 pollbooks reveals ‘not much structural change’ in the electorate, whose mean composition he gives as gentry and professionals 11.9 per cent; merchants and manufacturers five per cent; retailers 24.7 per cent; craftsmen 48.3 per cent; labourers 8.8 per cent and agriculture, 1.3 per cent.8 Other historians using the same series of pollbooks have highlighted the growth of partisan voting in Shrewsbury after 1830.9
The radical Whig aristocrat Henry Grey Bennet, first elected in 1806, had sat without interruption since 1811, his father, the 4th earl of Tankerville, having supplemented his own (Astley) interest in 1808 by purchasing Sir Richard Hill of Attingham’s properties. Bennet’s colleague since 1819, John Mytton, the Whig squire of Harlston, had been returned at the by-election occasioned by the death of the moderate Whig Richard Lyster of Rowton. Mytton had then defeated Panton Corbett of Leighton Hall, the barrister son and heir of Archdeacon Joseph Corbett of Longnor, but doing so virtually bankrupted him.10 Corbett, a humanitarian skilled in assize business, had an eye for local legislation and had been brought forward as an anti-Catholic supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration by the corporation and the 1st earl of Powis, with whom and the Grenvillite Williams Wynns he was personally and politically connected in Montgomeryshire and Shropshire.11 In defeat his father had warned him:
A person of very large fortune, without direct bribery might by constant attention and proper agents secure a return. But our situation is very different. We have not that great fortune and you did not seek the representation as a personal advantage, but were willing to take it as a duty.12
Corbett kept his committee together and treated the burgesses at Christmas. From November 1819, ‘an independent burgess’ and ‘Clericus’, writing in the Tory Salopian Journal, issued long critiques of Bennet’s obstructive opposition to ‘every measure of government’ and espousal of the radical cause of the ‘Peterloo martyrs’, and warned the charismatic Mytton, who preferred the chase to his parliamentary duties, that the electorate would not tolerate his perpetual indolence.13 Municipal improvements were broached, and a public meeting on 13 Jan. 1820 set up a subscription and resolved to petition for gas lighting.14
The mayor and aldermen proclaimed the succession of George IV with a procession and dinners for the incorporated companies at the Nag’s Head and the Cock, 3 Feb. 1820.15 Four-hundred-and-ninety-eight freemasons at the Crown signed a loyal address, 7 Feb., and on the 17th the town and inhabitants adopted addresses of congratulation and condolence to George IV.16 Tankerville’s heir Lord Ossulston* persuaded Mytton’s erstwhile supporter, the Whig 2nd earl of Darlington, to transfer his Shrewsbury Castle interest to Bennet, for whom George Young acted as agent, and Bennet’s canvassing notice was issued, 19 Feb. Mytton, who was about to leave for the continent to avoid his creditors, retired ‘for the time being’ on the 22nd. His brother Uvedale, a barrister specializing in election law, and his half-brother Robert ably supported Corbett, who engaged the attorney Thomas Salt as his agent. After holding several private meetings with his committee and members of the corporation, he commenced his canvass, 21 Feb., and issued notices promising attention to local interests, 22 Feb.17 An unnamed third man was proclaimed directly Bennet arrived, 24 Feb. Political feelings ran high, but Mytton and his friends, meeting at the Fox, 28 Feb., decided that they could not finance an effective opposition and organized a partisan dinner at the Raven on nomination day, 9 Mar.18 Corbett, accompanied by his Dansey, Lyon and Plymley relations, was escorted to Shrewsbury by a hundred horsemen sporting purple and orange, many of them his tenants and supporters from the Welshpool area. He was proposed as previously by his committee chairman, the militia colonel and former mayor, William Cludde of Orleton, with the banker John Beck seconding. He declined to give pledges. Bennet’s sponsors, his kinsman John Wingfield of Onslow and the engineer and flaxmaster Charles Bagge (a member of Corbett’s 1819 committee), made no reference to his diehard opposition to government, but stressed his diligence and work for penal reform and ‘in the cause of humanity’.19 Before the ball, Cludde and Robert Corbett chaired dinners at the Talbot, Crown, Raven and Bell, which Corbett visited in turn, and where toasts were proposed to both Members. The Sky Blues dined at the Lion and would only raise their glasses to Bennet. Teas for the ladies, dances and sheep roasting followed, and ale and meat were distributed to the poor.20 Reviewing the outcome, Corbett’s maiden aunt Katherine Plymley wrote:
However obnoxious Mr. Bennet’s politics may be to many in the town and to the county gentlemen around, yet he has great interest from the great number of houses within the voting liberties belonging to Lord Tankerville and a strong party among the lower tradesmen and voters. My brother and Panton have no houses in the town, nor land around it. Panton has been brought forward by a very respectable and independent party and on independent grounds alone he stands. He will take no undue means and the gentlemen, however they may dislike Mr. Bennet’s politics, do not look in general with a favourable eye on Panton. For, in the fullness of aristocratic pride, they do not brook his having been brought forward by the trading interest and however they may respect my brother and Panton’s character, they would feel much more disposed to throw whatever weight they could in favour of any gentleman who might have come forward, if he had lived and hunted and given sumptuous dinners and been at all scenes of public entertainment among them. In case of a third candidate, therefore, it appears to me that Mr. Bennet would have stood much as he now does. The gentlemen would have done what they could for one of their own ... and, as without doubt bribery would have been resorted to, a very numerous party who cannot withstand such means would have been secured and Panton would have been supported only by honest independent men and I fear such would have found themselves in a minority.21
At the Plough, 10 Mar. 1820, Corbett’s committee told him that that they expected him to ‘sacrifice private pleasure to public claims’ and work to ‘preserve, if not to improve, the situation of every individual, in every class of society’.22
The Shrewsbury gas lights bill was petitioned for, 11 May, proceeded with despite irregularities in the standing orders, because ‘the measure was not determined upon until the month of January [and] an adequate sum’ had already been subscribed, and received royal assent, 8 July 1820.23 Bennet harried ministers daily on all issues and it soon emerged that Corbett, though assiduous in his attendance and a useful member of select committees, was plagued by chronic indecision and insisted on voting according to the dictates of his conscience. His failure to vote against the appointment of an additional Scottish exchequer court judge, 15 May, brought letters of complaint from the baker John Wood, the attorney John Edgerley and the bootmaker John Howell; and his vote with opposition for economies in revenue collection, 8 July, also failed to please.24 However, the close attention he paid during the recess to county and constituency business, the races and the social round, was welcomed.25 The exclusion of Queen Caroline’s name from the liturgy and her prosecution prompted a lively newspaper debate, and Shrewsbury marked the suspension of proceedings against her in November 1820 with bell ringing, illuminations, processions and toasts to Tankerville and her other supporters.26 Bennet, one of the queen’s ‘most furious partisans’, presented an address to her from a Shrewsbury benefit club, 31 Jan. 1821, but the borough declined to petition and at the county meeting chaired by the town clerk Joseph Loxdale, 10 Jan. 1821, Bennet failed, notwithstanding Darlington’s support, to secure an amendment denouncing the ministerialist overtones of Shropshire’s address to the king.27 Corbett endorsed it, but voted uneasily against the opposition censure motion, 6 Feb., and the restoration of the queen’s name to the liturgy, 13 Feb. 1821.28 He supported the anti-Catholic Tory Rowland Hill* of Hawkstone for the vacancy in the county representation in October 1821, and his moderate speech and defence of the sinking fund at the contentious Shropshire meeting of 25 Mar. 1822, which petitioned for government action to alleviate distress, contrasted sharply with Bennet’s. The wags reasoned that Shrewsbury declined to petition independently as many on the corporation did not ‘understand’ agriculture.29
The wine merchants lobbied and petitioned the Commons against the duties on spirits, 22 Apr. 1822, and beer, 6 May 1824; and the leather manufacturers did so against that tax, 1 May 1822, and for the hides and skins bill, 6 May 1824, which the butchers opposed, 3 May. The county and borough Members co-operated to secure the passage of the Shrewsbury roads bill, which received royal assent, 15 May 1822.30 In February and March 1823 the tradesmen and inhabitants sent petitions to both Houses against the Insolvent Debtors Act and for legislation to ease small debt recovery; and the Lords received one from the mayor, aldermen, common council, clergy and governors of the grammar school pleading that St. Mary’s chapel should retain the right to hold weddings (a useful source of revenue).31 Denominational conflict was common, and two ranters of the Barker Street chapel, indicted for causing an affray while preaching, declined the mayor’s offer of a conditional pardon.32 The secretary of the Anti-Slavery Society, Thomas Clarkson, came to preach and to promote petitioning in Shrewsbury in July 1823, but, as his host Archdeacon Corbett feared, and in stark contrast to public meetings that winter on the route of the Holyhead road, the anti-slavery meeting which Loxdale chaired, 8 Mar. 1824, was poorly attended. The Commons received their petition, 16 Mar., and another complaining of the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 27 May 1824.33 The archdeacon procured his next anti-slavery petition without a formal meeting and left it at the town hall, where it received 1,800 signatures before Corbett presented it, 14 Mar. 1826.34 Shrewsbury petitioned with other Severn Valley towns against the Bristol town dues bill, 15 Apr. 1824.35
Bennet attended the 1824 races and hunt, but, deeply affected by the recent deaths of two of his children, he took his ailing family abroad in 1825, having first asked Corbett to explain to their constituents that his support for Catholic relief was unchanged.36 The clergy of the archdeaconry, 26 Apr., and 900 at an anti-Catholic meeting, 29 Apr., requested Corbett, who presented their petitions, 6 May, to oppose the 1825 relief bill as previously, and his abstention, 10 May, created a furore that dominated the correspondence columns of the Salopian Journal.37 The 1825 Shrewsbury poor bill entrusted to Corbett was also locally divisive. It set out to dissolve the incorporation established under the 1784 Act, authorized the sale of its properties, allocated the proceeds to the contributing parishes and restored the administration of the poor laws to them. Individual parish levies did not match those cited in the bill, which was bitterly opposed at public meetings, in letters to the press and ratepayers’ petitions and withdrawn, 22 Apr. Despite continuing hostility, Powis’s heir Lord Clive secured the enactment of a revised measure, 17 May 1826.38 Meanwhile in August 1825 Bennet’s reputation, like that of the Shropshire squire Richard Heber* previously, had been shattered by a homosexual scandal.39 Charles Williams Wynn* informed his wife:
Have you heard that Grey Bennett has been detected at Brussels in the most degrading propensities and must be an exile from society. I fear that there can be no doubt that it is too true; but it will be clear enough at Shrewsbury hunt, as I take for granted a canvass will be begun for the seat, which I regret for Corbett’s sake, who must bear his full share of the penalty of expense and trouble.40
Mytton, though impoverished, was expected to stand and his prowess in the chase was widely publicized during the winter of 1825-6, together with revised plans for lowering the town walls and creating public gardens and walkways along the Severn and in the grounds of the Castle, leased by Darlington to Mytton’s 1819 proposer John Cressett Pelham*.41 However, the first to declare, 19 Apr. 1826, was another local Whig who had canvassed at the hunt, the barrister and advocate of municipal improvements and poor law reform Robert Aglionby Slaney. He had adopted a high profile in the county and parliamentary circles since 1820, co-operated closely with the Corbetts on Bible Society business, promoted the anti-slavery campaign, and helped to establish a mechanics’ institute in the town. His notices and speeches stressed his commitment to improving trade and manufacturing, 28 Apr.42 He could rely on his father, Robert Slaney of Hatton Grange, Shifnal, and his father-in-law, Joseph Muckleston of Prescott, for financial support and, naming ‘Mrs. Powys, Mr. Corbet, Col. Wingfield, Sir Francis Hill, Mr. Mytton, Mr. Lloyd of Acton’, he informed Muckleston after visiting the Lion Club, 3 June, that ‘all the county gentlemen as well as the trade of the town ... [are] with us’.43 Confirming his candidature, 22 Apr., Corbett appealed to his Protestant heritage and parliamentary conduct and insisted on remaining free to vote according to his own judgement.44 Steps were taken to ensure that his half-brother Robert’s appointment to a clerkship in the president of the India board Charles Williams Wynn’s office in 1823 did not compromise Corbett’s independence; and Williams Wynn now released Robert from his official duties to canvass with Corbett.45 The search for an anti-Catholic third man gathered momentum after Bennet’s retirement was confirmed, 27 May, but their eventual candidate, Thomas Boycott of Rudge, a stalwart of Wolverhampton Pitt Club, did not start until shortly before the nomination meeting, 9 June.46 Cludde proposed and Edward Burton of College Hill seconded Corbett, who emphasized that he was not deviating towards Catholicism, nor had any intention of giving political power to practising Catholics, but refused to pledge his conduct on any issue.47 Mytton proposed Slaney, and when his intended seconder Hazeldine was objected to as a non-burgess, the draper Joseph Wilson deputized. Slaney protested at being portrayed as indifferent to the Protestant religion and insisted that the Bible was the ‘best guide in this life’. His remarks on his endeavours to educate the poor were shouted down. He carefully distanced himself from Corbett by promising not to vote against his constituents on any issue they petitioned for unanimously.48 Boycott’s sponsors, the militia colonel Francis Knyvett Leighton of Quarry Place and the draper John Vaughan, claimed that he was for toleration but against the ‘irrevocable experiment’ of Catholic emancipation. This Boycott confirmed, adding that he was ‘a steady friend to the agricultural and commercial interests’.49 Archdeacon Corbett made a powerful and conciliatory speech in support of his son and the Rev. Spencer Dodd Wilde asked the freemen to put the constitution before Corbett.50 The show of hands was for Slaney and Corbett, who topped the poll throughout. Boycott and Slaney vied closely for second place, but Boycott, although 276-275 ahead, conceded defeat when the polls closed on the fourth day, his support being almost exhausted. When the mayor, Bather’s kinsman the tinplate manufacturer William Brayne, declared the result next day, Corbett had many voters unpolled and the tallies stood at Corbett 627, Slaney 387, Boycott 283. There were 140 freeman admissions, 8-15 June 1826.51 Skirmishing marred both the Sunday break and the end of the election and, unusually, the chairing and dinners on the 16th coincided with those for the county election. Corbett and Slaney dined at the Lion before proceeding with their counsel, Bather and Temple, to the assembly rooms, where Mytton presided over a dinner for 130 traders, with Hazeldine, Clement and Hughes as chairmen. Factory and foundry workers were awarded a holiday, an ox and sheep were roasted, and tenantry, employees and the poor were treated to meat and ale.52 Boycott dined 180 of his ‘friends’ at the Talbot on the 26th.53
Estimates vary, but it seems certain that over half the 670 polled were first-time Shrewsbury voters.54 According to Eddowes’s edition of the pollbook, which contains some discrepancies, only 46 (six per cent) plumped: 26 for Boycott, 15 for Slaney, five for Corbett. Corbett and Slaney shared 369 votes (59 and 95 per cent of their respective totals), Corbett and Boycott 254 (40 and 90 per cent of their respective totals). Only three, the carpenter Thomas Hughes, the saddler Evan Morgan and the stonemason Richard Morris, voted for Slaney and Boycott. Corbett was supported throughout the town and by all socio-economic groups, but he received no plumpers before Boycott’s retirement was announced and his success owed much to his status as a sitting Member and his ability to win second votes. Three of his 1819 committee of 77, the tinman Thomas Harwood, the veterinary surgeon Henry Richards and the apothecary Rice Wynne, plumped for Boycott, 25 split Corbett-Boycott, 19 Corbett-Slaney and 30 did not vote. The Rev. Robert Lingen Burton plumped for Corbett, and a further three clergymen voted for Corbett and Boycott and two for Corbett and Slaney, who also secured the votes of 77 shoemakers, mainly Mucklestons’ employees. Boycott’s support held up well in the prestigious trading areas of the High Street, Mardol, Pride Hill and Wyle Cop and he received more support than Slaney from the gentry and professionals (57-38 per cent). Slaney and Corbett had the advantage in densely populated Barker Street, Castle Foregate, Coleham and Frankwell, where 66 per cent of the craftsmen polled for Slaney and 35 for Boycott.
Shrewsbury’s landowners, clergy, occupiers and inhabitants petitioned the Commons against corn law revision, 27 Feb., and, led by the Baptists, the Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 7 June 1827, and both Houses in 1828, when they also petitioned against colonial slavery.55 The maltsters and licensed victuallers’ petitioned for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, which Slaney and their delegations vainly campaigned to amend, 27 Feb. 1828.56 The formation at a ‘private meeting’ at the Lion, 10 Nov. 1828, of the Shropshire Brunswick Club, serving the town and county, was condemned by the Shrewsbury Chronicle, which interpreted it as ‘part of a plot to put Boycott forward again’.57 The mayor and corporation petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief, 5 Mar. 1827, and Corbett divided against it in 1827 and 1828, but Slaney, fearing for his political future, abstained.58 Boldly setting out his objections to Brunswick Clubs generally in an open letter, 24 Nov. 1828, he warned that they would perpetuate political differences, stated that securities were for Parliament alone to decide and that Catholics and Protestants would make equally good magistrates. The Brunswickers responded in the anti-Catholic Salopian Journal, and hostility mounted when the Wellington ministry’s decision to concede emancipation was anticipated and announced. The ‘No Popery’ vicar of St. Chad’s James Compson’s appointment as the Brunswick Club’s secretary and Lord Anglesey’s passage through Shrewsbury following his recall from Ireland, 20 Jan. 1829, generated great excitement, and the corporation’s refusal to petition annoyed pro-Catholics and Brunswickers alike.59 Compson’s vote for Peel in the Oxford University by-election and Corbett’s support for emancipation were widely resented, and a by-election was anticipated when it was falsely reported that Corbett had been ‘bought off’ with a place on the India board. A massively signed anti-Catholic petition was procured from the town and county and presented to the Commons, 6 Mar., and ‘an independent burgess’, writing in the Salopian Journal, unleashed a vitriolic attack on the Members for ignoring their constituents’ views. Replying, Robert Corbett cited Panton’s 1826 election speech as proof that he remained unpledged. Slaney voted silently for emancipation and hoped that the antipathy would be short-lived.60 The Lords received hostile petitions from the Dissenters of the Swan Hill and Claremont Street chapels, 7 Apr.61 The Salopian Provident Society petitioned against the friendly societies bill, 11 May 1829, new waterworks and roads bills were now passed and concern persisted lest the new Holyhead road should bypass the town.62 Hazeldine joined his fellow Shropshire ironmasters in petitioning against renewing the East India Company’s charter in 1829 and 1830.63 The corporation adopted a petition for repeal of the assessed taxes, 6 Mar. 1829, during the mayoralty of the Whig attorney William Cooper, but it apparently remained unpresented.64 A thousand pounds was raised for the poor in January 1830 and the burgesses petitioned the Commons for government action to alleviate the ‘overwhelming distress’ prevailing in agriculture and manufacturing and called for an end to innumerable abuses, ‘starting with repeal of the taxes on malt, beer and the greater part of the assessed taxes’, 26 Feb.65 A petition objecting to the sale of beer bill’s provisions for on-consumption was received by the Lords, 8 July 1830.66
Anticipating a contest, the Members issued canvassing addresses before William IV was proclaimed at Shrewsbury, 1 July 1830.67 Their opponents had yet to declare, but the 5th earl of Tankerville, Bennet’s brother, was said to be preparing to bring in his heir Lord Ossulston, who was almost of age;68 and the Ultras Thomas Kenyon of Pradoe, Andrew Vincent Corbet of Acton Reynold and Richard Corbet of Aderley Hall were among the local squires admitted as burgesses since the last election.69 Boycott canvassed early and another Brunswicker, the nabob Richard Jenkins, who had a mansion in Abbey Foregate and had been fêted throughout the town on his return from India in 1827, was known to be interested, although he had recently applied for an overseas posting after being turned down by Wellington for a baronetcy ‘for political services’.70 Rice Wynne and his kinsman Robert Boycott Cressett Leighton Jenkins of Charlton Hill secured Jenkins the interests of both Tankerville and the marquess of Cleveland (as Darlington had become), while Boycott made way for and endorsed him.71 His agent William Jeffreys informed Sir Thomas John Tyrwhitt Jones† that it was ‘generally understood that ... Jenkins and ... Corbett will support the present administration and ... Slaney will oppose it’, but Jenkins was ‘the better Protestant’. By 13 July Jeffreys thought ‘Tankerville would have been wiser not to have interfered’.72 Slaney, having abandoned his parliamentary duties, hurried to Shrewsbury, where, arriving on 4 July he found Jenkins
a much more formidable competitor, who with an Indian purse, much local connection, the high Tory interest and above all ... Tankerville’s powerful support has come forward as a candidate. He has retained seven solicitors and has began an active canvass. I immediately began also, and as ... Corbett did not come for five days, got such a precedence as may secure me the election.
On 25 July Slaney wrote:
For three weeks I have now been working hard at this laborious duty, many warm and zealous supporters uphold the old cause, many hang back for bribes, or trade their free opinions for the custom of those who deal with them! And I have learnt that many working men are more independent than many considerable tradesmen. The two factories, Mr. Hazeldine with Muckleston the shoemaker, all stand to the independent cause. Having called together a large committee and endeavoured to animate them to exertion, I found a zealous spirit of assistance, and dividing the town into districts we went to work together. Mr. Jenkins I find so strong that it is evident the struggle must be with Corbett. A most anxious time I have passed, fatigued all day with canvassing and obliged to write many letters in the evening; having frequently to attend crowded meetings at public houses and around tobacco smoke and brandy fumes to address the electors. My agent being indecisive and not very methodical, I had to consider everything myself, to take care of the main expenses and, having no one to advise with ... the management of ale allowances, the expenses of swearing in burgesses and many other points I had to decide, which ought to have devolved on others ... How few act on honourable public principle. Private feelings, personal dislike or attachment, habit, interest, bribes, all move them - and ale and money would carry half the workmen. Many tradesmen consult nothing but their ledgers. Empty and vain are the boasts of men! If successful I shall prepare to retire at the next election.73
Corbett, whom at least one squib writer called ‘Judas’, countered reports of his resignation with promises to go to a poll and rejected Jenkins’s suggestion ‘that the parties should take up their votes by alternative tallies’. When nominations opened on the 29th his committee estimated that they had 607 promises.74 Cludde proposed him as previously, the banker John Eaton the younger seconded, and, in a rousing speech, he promised to uphold the constitution and the interests of the town and to stand ‘as long as a burgess comes to poll for me freely and without constraint’. Slaney’s sponsors, Sir Edward Kynaston, brother and heir of the late Shropshire Member Kynaston Powell, and the flaxmaster Henry Benyon, recommended him as ‘a complete man of business’, ‘friend to the working classes’ and ‘unwearied advocate of every man’s rights and liberties’. Slaney spoke at length of his work for poor law reform and repeal of the malt duties, plans to improve conditions in the industrial towns, and his fears, that as recently in France, unrest would lead to revolution. Jenkins’s endorsement by Tankerville was apparent by his adoption of sky blue and proposal by Wingfield. The Rev. Burton seconded and, responding to advice to moderate his views, Jenkins spoke of his ambition to represent his home town, refuted the squib writers’ claims that he was the tool of the East India Company and promised to support ‘all prudent retrenchment’ and ‘judicious economy’.75 The show of hands was ‘overwhelmingly’ for Jenkins and Slaney. Polling commenced amid objections to Loxdale’s appointment as assessor, allegations of corporation partiality and threats by the mob to ‘storm Cressett Pelham’s castle’.76 Jenkins, for whom Cressett Pelham plumped, led from the outset. The poll stood at Jenkins 230, Corbett 160, Slaney 157 on the first day, Slaney overtook Corbett on the second and Corbett retired on the third, the eve of the county nomination, with the tally at Jenkins 754, Slaney 563, Corbett 445. Reports circulated of Jenkins’s ‘golden spurs’ and of £8,000 spent by Slaney, who, it was claimed, bribed 220 voters. Corbett was alleged to have ‘given away’ the election by arriving late and refusing to spend.77 Concurring, Slaney privately concluded:
Corbett was late in his canvass, not decisive in his movements and sparing of expense, expecting to be placed at the head of the poll like last time and that I and Mr. Jenkins would fight the battle and split our votes on him. In that, however, he was completely mistaken. The independent party held fast to my cause. The great body of voters in Castle Foregate, Frankwell, Coleham and Barker Street divided between me and ... Jenkins, and I received 128 plumpers, a number unprecedented in former elections, and none would have been given had it not been thought prudent to retain them. Independent tradesmen formed district committees dividing the town into eleven sectors by streets and parties and, with a large body of volunteers, bringing up voters in a most extraordinary manner. The great body of Mr. Jenkins’s committee did what they could and dared for Corbett also, but failed. The new method of polling with two booths and no delay aided the free cause and on the third day, having polled almost all the voters, above 1,000 (250 being sworn during the canvass), the numbers were Jenkins 754, Slaney 563, Corbet 445. The expense has been considerable, but through my father’s generosity I shall be able to meet it.78
Slaney and Jenkins were chaired separately, 4 Aug. 1830, and dined with their supporters at the Lion and the Talbot, the venue of a public dinner for Corbett on the 18th.79
Fewer than half the 974 polled were first time Shrewsbury voters.80 According to Eddowes’s edition of the pollbook, which again has discrepancies, overall 77 per cent cast a vote for Jenkins, 58 per cent for Slaney and 46 per cent for Corbett. There were 183 plumpers (19 per cent), 137 more than in 1826. They gave Slaney 129, Jenkins 37 and Corbett 17 votes. Of the 789 (81 per cent) who split their votes, 362 voted Jenkins-Slaney, 357 Jenkins-Corbett, 70 Slaney-Corbett. Jenkins was strongly supported by all socio-economic groups. Corbett retained the confidence of the gentry and professionals (76 per cent gave him a vote), while 8 of the 11 clergymen and 17 of the 36 ‘gentlemen’ voted Jenkins-Corbett. The 137 shoemakers were predominantly for Slaney, for whom 82 per cent gave a vote and 25 plumped. Further analysis confirms Slaney’s observations on the contribution plumpers, new voters and street-by-street canvassing made to his success and the persistence of cross-party splitting. Seventy per cent of the plumpers were new voters and overwhelmingly for Slaney: Slaney 90, Jenkins 26, Corbett 13. At least 35 (half) the Slaney-Corbett voters had voted similarly in 1826; 90 Jenkins-Corbett voters had voted Corbett-Boycott in 1826, and a further 91 Corbett-Slaney. The pollbook and freeman admission slips confirm the importance of new admissions and increased turnout from Barker Street, Butcher Row, Canal Buildings, Castle Foregate, Castle Gate, Chester Street, Coleham, Ditherington, Frankwell, High Street, Mardol, Pride Hill and Wyle Cop, up from 245 in 1826 to 623 in 1830. As with Boycott in 1826, Corbett’s support held up well in the prestigious trading areas of the High Street, Mardol, Pride Hill and Wyle Cop, but Slaney shared the advantage with Jenkins in Barker Street, Coleham, Castle Foregate and Frankwell, where Tankerville’s properties were situated (Jenkins 310, Slaney 286, Corbett 139) and where the election seems to have been decided. Twenty-nine of the 269 burgesses admitted in July 1830 were rejected, failed to vote, or cannot be positively identified in the pollbook.81
Jenkins divided with the Wellington ministry when they were brought down on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Slaney had been summoned to Shropshire following Muckleston’s death and did not vote.82 The Wesleyan Methodists and the clergy and parishioners of St. Alkmond’s supported the 1830-1 petitioning campaign to end colonial slavery.83 In January 1831 the Waterworks Company agreed to promote a new bill, Ossulston’s coming of age on the 10th was marked by dinners and distributions to the poor, and he dined with the hunt at the Lion, 12 Jan. The ratepayers of St. Mary’s now resolved to petition in protest at the cost and inconvenience of policing the town during the ‘Swing riots’.84 On 17 Mar., at the request of 80 leading Whigs, the younger Joseph Loxdale as mayor chaired a crowded meeting that petitioned in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill and challenged Jenkins to support it with Slaney. The main speakers for the petition were the surgeons William Clement and William Griffith, the gilder Thomas Donaldson, the grocer Francis Evans, Hazeldine, Pryce Watkiss and Slaney. Opposing it, Knyvett Leighton read out Jenkins’s critique of the bill and sought to prevent Slaney (as a non-resident) from speaking, and Rice Wynne moved an amendment calling for changes to the bill, which was rejected by a ten to one majority. The anti-reformers’ argument that the bill would disfranchise most of Shrewsbury’s electorate afterwards gradually gained credence. Cleveland, having transferred his allegiance to the Grey ministry, presented the 1,000-signature petition to the Lords, 22 Mar., the day after Slaney did so in the Commons, where, projecting himself as a moderate reformer, Jenkins dissented from its prayer.85 The Members voted for and against the bill and declared immediately at the dissolution precipitated by its defeat, 22 Apr. Hundreds of notices and squibs were issued. Some focused on the threat to the Shrewsbury burgesses, others denounced or defended the boroughmongers and ‘Russell’s purge’, or targeted voters with freeholds in the county, which two reformers contested.86 On 28 Apr., ‘to prevent the borough being a nonentity’, the reformers brought forward a second candidate, the Unitarian manufacturer and co-owner of the Manchester Guardian, Richard Potter†. Responding to the advent of an ‘utter stranger’, the Tories fielded Boycott, who urged voters to poll early, so that ‘the town should be kept in a state of confusion as short a time as possible’.87 Thomas Bulkeley Owen and Benyon, whose white-aproned flaxdressers rallied the reformers, sponsored Slaney, 29 Apr., and Knyvett Leighton and Beck nominated Jenkins. The cabinet maker John White and the grocer William Pool Scoltock delayed proposing Potter, who was unavoidably absent on account of the death of his sister, until Boycott’s nomination by the surgeon Joseph Sutton and the draper Thomas Barker was assured, and Rice Wynne had promised to poll every voter to keep out Potter and Slaney. Denied a proper hearing despite Slaney’s intervention, Jenkins insisted that he was for enfranchising the large towns and had his intended speech printed. It was clear from the outset that Boycott stood solely to protect Jenkins and to prevent Potter’s election. Polling commenced in earnest on the Saturday morning (30 Apr.), a half-day, and before it resumed on Monday, 2 May, Boycott and Potter retired ‘by arrangement’. With 303 polled and the tally at Slaney 178, Jenkins 175, Boycott 124, Potter 103, Slaney and Jenkins were declared elected. The pro-reform Shrewsbury Chronicle claimed that Potter would have succeeded had he persisted and interpreted Jenkins’s return as the ‘result of mere forbearance on the part of his opponents and the influence of money by his friends’.88 The borough court was kept open from 26 Apr., but only three new burgesses were enrolled.89 According to Eddowes’s edition of the pollbook (which has tallies of 177 for Slaney and 174 for Jenkins), eight of the 21 new voters split for Slaney and Potter, five for Slaney and Jenkins and eight for Jenkins and Boycott. Twenty-eight (nine per cent) of the 303 polled plumped (25 for Slaney, three for Jenkins) and 275 (91 per cent) split their votes: 123 for the anti-reformers and 103 for the reformers, while 48 gave cross-party votes for Jenkins and Slaney and one, the shoemaker John Wilde, voted for Slaney and Boycott. Eight Slaney-Potter splitters, the so-called reformers, were first-time voters; 40 had plumped for Slaney, three for Corbett and two for Jenkins in 1830, when 30 had split Slaney-Jenkins, 13 Slaney-Corbett, and seven Jenkins-Corbett.90 Support for Jenkins held up well across all classes. As a government supporter, Slaney increased his share of the gentry and professional vote from 30 to 53 percent, and of the manufacturing vote from 50 to 63. Only 38 shoemakers, among them 27 Slaney plumpers, tendered before the poll closed. The reformers celebrated with a dinner at the Talbot, 1 June 1831.91 Chancery ruled that a test case in November, Hughes v. Marshall, alleging treating by Slaney’s supporters, was a straightforward recovery action for £25, which was then promptly paid.92
Slaney supported and Jenkins opposed the reintroduced reform bill, whose fate dominated speeches at dinners to mark the coronation in September 1831, when Cleveland became a duke.93 Unrest and incendiarism in the county deterred petitioning, but there was great public rejoicing when the revised bill was carried in June 1832.94 Under it, as the boundary commissioners had recommended, the whole of Abbey Foregate was brought into the parliamentary borough, increasing its area from 1,254 to 3,080 acres and adding about 158 £10 houses to the 1,493 in the old borough. The inclusion of Meole Brace was rejected. One-thousand-seven-hundred-and-fourteen electors were registered before the general election in December 1832.95 The Liberal Slaney successfully sought re-election, and Jenkins, now an East India Company director, belatedly made way for the wealthy young Tory Sir John Hanmer of Bettisfield. Cressett Pelham stunned his friends in November 1832 by transferring his candidature from the Southern division of the county to Shrewsbury, where, as expected, he came bottom of the poll.96 As a Conservative, Cressett Pelham outpolled Slaney to come in with Hanmer in 1835 but Slaney and Jenkins defeated him in a four-man contest in 1837.97 Though superbly organized, the Conservatives were frequently thwarted by Slaney’s involvement in borough politics and his ability to glean votes from all parties. Between 1832 and 1884 they captured both seats only once, in 1841, when Slaney stood down and Benjamin Disraeli, the only true ‘outsider’, was elected with the ‘Liberal Conservative’ George Tomline. Over the same period, the Liberals, who fielded Tomline with Slaney in 1847, 1857 and 1859, returned both Members at five general elections: 1857, 1859, 1865, 1870 and 1880.98
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. Responding to parliamentary questionnaires in December 1831, the mayor Thomas Farmer Dukes said the number of freemen was ‘unknown, but may be thousands, every man born in the town, or who has served an apprenticeship for seven years to one of the trades an incorporated company in the town may be a voter’ (PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 586; xxxix. 201, 202).
- 2. Ibid. xxxvi. 586.
- 3. The boundary commissioners found the borough limits ‘inaccurately defined’ in the census, and revised the totals to 19,602 (1821) and 16,055 (1831) (ibid. xxxix. 203).
- 4. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), iv. 116-20; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 170-81; xxxix. 201; H. Johnston, ‘Shropshire Magistracy and Local Imprisonment: Networks of Power in 19th Cent.’ Midland Hist. xxx (2005), 73.
- 5. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 336-9.
- 6. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 586, 587; (1835), xxv. 605, 606.
- 7. Ibid. (1835), xxv. 606-13.
- 8. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 8, 175, 176, 185, 203, 204, 395-9. O’Gorman considers the ‘increase of the ... electorate, from 300 in the later eighteenth century to 1,200 on the eve of the 1832 Reform Act ... particularly noteworthy’, without apparently taking the 1774 ruling into account.
- 9. J.A. Phillips and C. Wetherell, ‘Great Reform Bill of 1832 and Rise of Partisanship’, JMH, lxiii (1991), 621-46; Partisan Politics, Principles and Reform in Parliament and the Constituencies: Essays in Memory of John A. Phillips ed. C. Jones, P. Salmon and R.W. Davis, 143; O’Gorman, 348.
- 10. VCH Salop, ii. 273-5; Nimrod, Life of John Mytton.
- 11. E. Edwards, Parl. Elections of Shrewsbury, 20, 21.
- 12. Salop Archives, Corbett of Longnor mss 1066/124, diary of Katharine Plymley, 1 Feb. 1820.
- 13. Salopian Jnl. 1, 8, 22, 29 Dec. 1819; Shrewsbury Chron. 21 Jan. 1820.
- 14. Salopian Jnl. 12, 19 Jan., 2, 9 Feb. 1820.
- 15. Shrewsbury Chron. 4 Feb. 1820.
- 16. Salopian Jnl. 9, 16, 23 Feb.; Shrewsbury Chron. 11 Feb. 1820.
- 17. Plymley diary 122, 3-22 Feb.; Salopian Jnl. 23 Feb.; Grey mss, Darlington to Grey [Mar. 1820]; Gent. Mag. (1834), i. 657.
- 18. Plymley diary 122, 3 Feb.-8 Mar.; Salopian Jnl. 23 Feb., 1, 8 Mar.; Shrewsbury Chron. 25 Feb., 3 Mar.; The Times, 7 Mar. 1820.
- 19. Edwards, 22.
- 20. Ibid. 23; Salopian Jnl. 15 Mar. 1820.
- 21. Plymley diary 122, 9-15 Mar. 1820.
- 22. Edwards, 23.
- 23. CJ, lxxv. 180, 241, 257, 364, 423.
- 24. Plymley diary 123-4, 12 May-8 July 1820.
- 25. Ibid. 124-5, passim.
- 26. The Times, 1 Sept., 4, 20 Nov. 1820.
- 27. Ibid. 6, 13 Jan., 1 Feb.; Salopian Jnl. 3, 10, 17 Jan.; Grey mss, Darlington to Grey, 10 Jan.; Shrewsbury Chron. 12 Jan. 1821.
- 28. Plymley diary 125, 11, 19 Feb. 1821.
- 29. Ibid. 126, 15, 18 Oct.; Shrewsbury Chron. 19 Oct. 1821, 8, 15, 22, 29 Mar. 1822.
- 30. Salopian Jnl. 1, 22 Mar.; Plymley diary 127, 26 Apr.; The Times, 2 May 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 99, 121, 204, 222, 267; lxxix. 312, 331.
- 31. CJ, lxxv. 119; lxxviii. 32-33; LJ, lv. 589, 591, 595; The Times, 19 Feb., 15 Mar. 1823.
- 32. O’Gorman, 363; The Times, 16 June 1823.
- 33. Plymley diary 130, 19, 20 July 1823; 133, 8 Mar. 1824; Salop Archives 6001/3055, pp. 32-39; CJ, lxxix. 168.
- 34. Plymley diary 136, 28, 31 Jan. 1826; Salop Archives 6001/3056, p. 5; CJ, lxxix. 302; Darwin Corresp. ed. F. Burkhardt and S. Smith, i. 31; CJ, lxxxi. 165.
- 35. CJ, lxxix. 422; The Times, 16 Apr.; Plymley diary 133, 4, 20 June 1824.
- 36. Shrewsbury Chron. 24 Sept.; Salop Archives, Morris-Eyton mss 6003/4, Slaney jnl. 20 Nov. 1824.
- 37. Salopian Jnl. 27 Apr., 4, 11, 18, 25 May, 1, 8 June; CJ, lxxx. 343, 344, 384; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 242; Birmingham Univ. Lib. Slaney mss 3, 13 May; Plymley diary 135, 13 May 1825.
- 38. CJ, lxxx. 45, 117, 182, 324, 329, 334, 363; lxxxi. 53, 155, 276-7, 303, 356, 382, 391; Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Feb., 4, 11, 18, 25 Mar.; The Times, 23 Apr., 3 May; Salopian Jnl. 27 Apr. 1825.
- 39. Salop Archives 6001/5858, undated memo. by C. Hulbert.
- 40. NLW, Coedymaen mss 954.
- 41. Salopian Jnl. 2, 9, 16 Nov. 1825, 8 Mar. 1826.
- 42. Slaney mss 3, 10 Oct., 16 Nov. 1825; Salop Archives 6001/3056, p. 14; The Times, 1 May; Plymley diary 136, 4 May 1826.
- 43. Birmingham Univ. Lib. Eyton mss 184, 185.
- 44. Salopian Jnl. 26 Apr.; Plymley diary 136, 4-28 May 1826.
- 45. Plymley diary 127, 8 Mar. 1822; 130, 5 June; 132, 20 Oct., 24 Nov. 1823; 136, 28 May 1826.
- 46. Wolverhampton Antiquary, ii (1934), 10-25; Salopian Jnl. 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 May, 7 June; The Times, 27 May, 12 June 1826; Salop Archives 6001/3056, pp. 14-19.
- 47. Edwards, 23.
- 48. Ibid.; Shrewsbury Chron. 16 June 1826.
- 49. Salopian Jnl. 14 June 1826.
- 50. Shrewsbury Chron. 16 June 1826.
- 51. Salop Archives 3365/139.
- 52. Ibid. 6001/3056, p. 22; Plymley diary 137, 12-19 June; Salopian Jnl. 21 June; Shrewsbury Chron. 23 June 1826.
- 53. Salopian Jnl. 28 June 1826.
- 54. According to Phillips and Wetherell (pp. 630, 641), 327 were first-time Shrewsbury voters and 343 had voted in 1819. O’Gorman (pp. 185, 194) states that 222 had voted in Shrewsbury at least once previously.
- 55. Salop Archives 6001/3057, p. 14; CJ, lxxxii. 239, 527; lxxxiii. 100, 450; LJ, lx. 80.
- 56. CJ, lxxxiii. 109; Morris-Eyton mss 5, memos. Aug. 1828, May, July; 6, memos. 30 Oct. 1829, 6 Mar. 1830.
- 57. Shrewsbury Chron. 14 Nov. 1828; Salop Archives 6001/3057, p. 8.
- 58. LJ, lix. 127.
- 59. Morris-Eyton mss 5, Slaney jnl. 4 Nov. 1828-18 Jan. 1829; Shrewsbury Chron. 28 Nov., 5 Dec. 1828.
- 60. Salop Archives 840/159/412; 6001/3057, pp. 28, 34; Morris-Eyton mss 5, Slaney jnl. 26 Jan.-25 Mar., May; CJ, lxxxiv. 109; Salopian Jnl. 11 Mar.-13 May 1829.
- 61. LJ, lxi. 364.
- 62. CJ, lxxxiv. 21, 26, 27, 47, 72, 241, 249, 282, 283, 328; Wellington mss WP1/1159/53.
- 63. CJ, lxxxiv. 330; lxxxv. 122; LJ, lxi. 499, lxii. 47.
- 64. Salopian Jnl. 8 Oct. 1828; Salop Archives 6001/3057, p. 29.
- 65. Wolverhampton Chron. 17 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 108.
- 66. LJ, lxii. 846.
- 67. Morris-Eyton mss 6, Slaney jnl. May-June 1830; Salop RO D45/1170/1c; Aston Hall mss C.599.
- 68. Salop Archives 840/159/441.
- 69. Ibid. 3356/139/1-99.
- 70. Ibid 6001/3057, p. 30; Aston Hall mss C.371; Wellington mss WP1/1114/16; 1129/2; 1134/12; C.H. Philips, E. I. Co. 271.
- 71. Salop Archives 840/159/441, 442; D45/1170/3b.
- 72. Ibid. 840/159/441-3; D45/1170/2a-b, 3a-c, 4a-b, 5a-b, 9a-b.
- 73. Morris-Eyton mss 6, Slaney jnl. 4-25 July 1830.
- 74. Salop Archives D45/1170/2a, 3a, 7b, 8a; T. Phillips, Hist. Shrewsbury (1837), i. 202.
- 75. Shrewsbury Chron. 6 Aug. 1830; Edwards, 24-26; Salop Archives qD45/2-4; Add. 51835, Goodwin to Holland [Aug.] 1830.
- 76. Salop Archives 6001/3059, p. 23.
- 77. Salopian Jnl. 6 Aug. 1830; Salop Archives D45/1170/8b; 6001/3059, p. 24; Life of Campbell, i. 475.
- 78. Morris-Eyton mss 6, Slaney jnl. 2 Aug. 1830.
- 79. Salop Archives D45/1170/11a-b; Edwards, 26; Shrewsbury Chron. 13, 20 Aug. 1830.
- 80. According to Phillips and Wetherell (pp. 630, 641), of 972 voters, 421 were first-time voters and 471 had voted in 1826. O’Gorman (p. 194) states that 349 had voted in Shrewsbury at least once before.
- 81. Salop Archives 3365/138-9. Slaney had 37 plumpers from Castle Foregate.
- 82. Morris-Eyton mss 6, Slaney jnl. 5, 11 Nov.; Shrewsbury Chron. 12 Nov.; The Times, 22 Nov. 1830.
- 83. CJ, lxxxvi. 175, 183; LJ, xiii. 68, 275.
- 84. Salopian Jnl. 5, 12, 19 Jan. 1831.
- 85. Aston Hall mss C.1097; Salop Archives D45/8; Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Mar.; The Times, 23 Mar.; Salopian Jnl. 23, 30 Mar., 6 Apr. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 416; LJ, lxiii. 352.
- 86. Salop Archives D45/1170/13a-b, 14a-b, 16a-b, 17a-b, 18a-b, 19a-b, 21, 23, 24b, 26; J.A. Phillips, Great Reform Bill in the Boroughs, 149.
- 87. Shrewsbury Chron. 22, 29 Apr. 1831; Salop Archives D45/1170/16a.
- 88. Edwards, 28-30; Salop Archives D45/1170/14b, 15a; Wolverhampton Chron. 4, 11 May; Shrewsbury Chron. 6 May 1831.
- 89. Salop Archives 3365/140.
- 90. See also O’Gorman, 379; Phillips and Wetherell, 630, 634, 635, 641.
- 91. Shrewsbury Chron. 27 May 1831.
- 92. The Times, 24 Nov. 1831.
- 93. Salopian Jnl. 31 Aug., 7, 14, 28 Sept. 1831.
- 94. Shrewsbury Chron. 20 Apr., 15 June 1832.
- 95. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 481; (1833), xxvii. 214; (1834), ix. 592.
- 96. Shrewsbury Chron, 29 June, 28 Sept., 2 Nov., 14 Dec.; Spectator, 27 Oct., 14 Dec. 1832; Coedymaen mss 230; Salop Archives D45/1170/30a.
- 97. Phillips and Wetherell, 636-7; Edwards, 41-43.
- 98. VCH Salop, iii. 323-8.