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 freemen and freeholders (1797)

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 5251

Number of voters:

387 in 1831


4,962 (1821); 4,563 (1831)2


4 May 1831JOHN MARTIN238
 Charles Hanbury Tracy170
23 Jan. 1832CHARLES HANBURY TRACY vice Martin, deceased 

Main Article

Tewkesbury, a ‘very handsome and improving’ market town situated in the Vale of Gloucester, on the eastern bank of the Upper Avon near its confluence with the Severn, had been a major cloth manufacturing centre in the sixteenth century. By the early nineteenth century this trade had ‘long since been lost’ and framework stocking knitting was now ‘the chief industry of the town’, employing a quarter of the population in 1830. There were also lace and nail manufactories, a diminished but still ‘considerable’ trade in leather and malt and a notable weekly market for corn, much of which was ground at the Abbey mills. However, the carrying trade with Bristol and the West Midlands was said to be in decline as a result of improvements to the river navigation at Gloucester. In 1826 a cast-iron bridge was erected across the Severn half a mile from the town in an attempt to stimulate trade between London, Hereford and Wales, but ultimately the ‘inadequacy of the Severn as a highway ... hastened Tewkesbury’s commercial and industrial decline’ in the middle of the nineteenth century.3

The borough was within but not wholly coextensive with the parish, and there was a built-up area beyond the eastern boundary known as the Oldbury. Local control was concentrated in the corporation, a self-electing but ostensibly non-partisan body consisting of 24 principal burgesses selected from the freemen. Two bailiffs were elected annually from the principal burgesses and served as the returning officers for parliamentary elections. The franchise was in the freemen, who obtained their privilege through birth, apprenticeship or honorary gift, and ‘all persons seised of an estate of freehold in an entire dwelling house’ within ‘the ancient limits’ of the borough; the freemen and freeholder electors were roughly equal in number. Most of the freemen were non-resident (the corporation created on average seven honorary freemen each year for electoral purposes) but so too were about half the freeholders, including the so-called ‘Dodington batch’, tenants and servants of the Codrington family of Dodington, to whom properties in the borough were transferred for the duration of elections.4 Among the inhabitants there was a strong tradition of religious Dissent, and Baptists, Independents, Quakers and Wesleyan Methodists were all numerically significant.5 Tewkesbury’s Members were drawn from local landed families, principally the Dowdeswells of Pull Court, just over the border in Worcestershire, who had supplied several representatives since the Restoration, and the Martins of Overbury, also nearby in Worcestershire, a dynasty of London bankers who had established a connection with the borough in the 1730s. Since 1812 the representation had been shared between the Tory John Edmund Dowdeswell, the recorder and cousin of Christopher Bethell Codrington, and John Martin, an advanced Whig.

There was no opposition to the sitting Members at the general election of 1820. In his address, Martin praised the ‘almost unexampled purity which has distinguished the electors of Tewkesbury in the choice of their representatives’. Dowdeswell was proposed by the Rev. John Keysall, rector of Bredon, and the hosier James Kingsbury, and Martin was nominated by William Dillon and the hosier John Terrett. After the chairing they were ‘invited by their constituents to dine with them at the Hop Pole’, in accordance with local custom, and dinners were subsequently given by Dowdeswell at the Swan and Martin at the Hop Pole. A statement of Dowdeswell’s election expenditure shows that he had laid out £692 10s. 10½d., including £47 4s. 11d. for his half-share of the cost of employing 81 ‘constables’, 73 flagmen and assorted chairmen, musicians and ringers, £156 8s. for 130 dinners and 133 half guineas for ‘voters who did not dine’.6

In November 1820 ‘the greater part of the inhabitants’ participated in an ‘illumination’ to mark the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline. The magistrates apparently decided to endorse the celebration but took the precaution of swearing in 160 special constables. A ‘large party of gentlemen’ subsequently dined at the Cross Keys to mark ‘the triumph of constitutional freedom over the enemies of the throne and people’. The following month, a ‘numerous and respectable meeting’ of the inhabitants rejected a loyal address to the king, moved by Keysall and Edmund Warden Jones, the town clerk, and ‘carried by an immense majority’ a counter-address, moved by Charles Hanford and George Prior, a lace manufacturer, calling for the removal of ministers. Some 800 signatures were attached to the counter-address, whereas the loyal address was ‘signed by only 64 individuals after an arduous canvass of town and country for ten days’; both were forwarded to the home secretary for presentation.7 Petitions from neighbouring occupiers of land for relief from agricultural distress were sent to the Commons, 1 Mar. 1821, 13 Feb., 26 Apr. 1822.8 The inhabitants petitioned the Lords against Catholic claims, 10 Apr. 1821.9 Local businessmen and inhabitants petitioned Parliament for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Acts in 1823.10 Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants were presented to the Commons, 7 May 1823, and both Houses in 1824 and 1826.11 The artisans and workpeople petitioned the Commons for repeal of the combination laws, 9 Mar. 1824, and the inhabitants for repeal of the corn laws, 28 Feb. 1826.12 At the dissolution that summer Dowdeswell and Martin spent two days canvassing the electors and ‘experienced so flattering a reception’ that there was ‘no doubt whatever of their being both returned’. Shortly before the election an apparent ‘hoax’ was perpetrated when ‘handbills were liberally distributed around the town’ announcing that John Thurston Mandeville of London would offer on the hustings; no such intervention occurred. Dowdeswell was nominated by Keysall and Major Alcock, and Martin was again sponsored by Dillon and Terrett. The Members were invited to dine at the Swan, with ‘upwards of 70 of their friends’, and they later gave the usual dinners to the electors.13 A subsequent letter to Martin from one Winter, referring to the Member’s ‘handsome and flattering’ reply to an address from the ‘respectablest’ of the unrepresented inhabitants, explained that it had been widely circulated ‘not so much [among] the lower as the middle classes’, but observed that ‘you rather disappointed our expectations in your speech on the day of election’.14 The subject of this communication is unclear, but it may relate to the reform petition of the following year.

The artisans, mechanics and labourers petitioned the Commons for retrenchment, the ‘utmost possible’ tax reductions, repeal of the corn laws and parliamentary reform, 8 Mar. 1827.15 Petitions from Protestant Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts were forwarded to the Commons in 1827 and both Houses in 1828.16 The inhabitants sent anti-slavery petitions to Parliament in July 1828.17 That autumn Dowdeswell advanced £2,000 to the corporation so that it could repay its debts, for which the corporation’s remaining property, consisting of the market house and 12 houses, was conveyed to him as security.18 In 1829 Martin supported Catholic emancipation while Dowdeswell continued to oppose it, but the issue apparently aroused little interest in Tewkesbury and no petitions on either side were forthcoming. The Baptists petitioned the Commons against the practice of suttee, 22 Mar., as did the inhabitants and bankers against the death penalty for forgery, 18, 24 May 1830.19 At the dissolution that summer it was initially thought unlikely that Dowdeswell and Martin would be challenged. Both received an address, signed by 78 inhabitants, including 57 electors, to which there would have been a ‘large addition’ had time allowed, requesting their support for the early abolition of slavery and stating that ‘they cannot conscientiously give their vote or interest to any candidate who refuses to give such a pledge’. In reply to the organizer, the banker John Hartland, Dowdeswell declared that he abhorred the ‘principle of perpetual slavery’, thought the proposal to liberate slave children must be accompanied by provision for their education and advocated other measures to prepare the slaves for freedom. Martin condemned the ‘system of slavery’ and promised his ‘cordial support’ for a measure to liberate children. Extensive efforts were made by unknown persons to find a third candidate, and ‘a handbill was issued in the name of a solicitor of the town, stating that "a man of independent principles" would "certainly come forward"’. General Sir Willoughby Cotton, the son-in-law of the 7th earl of Coventry, the high steward, was solicited without success; John Harris*, ‘an eminent wholesale hatter’ of Southwark, was also approached, but preferred to contest his own borough; a ‘rich Jew’, Alexander Raphael†, ‘started from London with the intention of trying his fortune ... but was detained on the road by the voters of Evesham, who were ... without a third candidate’; and until polling day there were hopes that Serjeant Ludlow, the town clerk of Bristol, would offer. In the event, no new candidate appeared on the hustings, where Dowdeswell was presented by Keysall and Thomas Vernon, a wine merchant, and Martin by Sir Berkeley William Guise, the county Member, and Terrett. After their election the usual dinners were given.20

Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants and the Wesleyan Methodists were presented to the Commons, 18 Nov. 1830, 23 Mar. 1831.21 In late November 1830 between 300 and 400 ‘respectable inhabitants’ were enrolled as special constables as a precautionary measure, ‘in consequence of the tumults which had recently occurred in various parts of the country’; their night patrols continued for nearly two months and there were no disturbances.22 On 15 Mar. 1831 a ‘crowded and very respectable meeting’ of the inhabitants agreed ‘without a dissentient voice’ to petition the Commons in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed to leave Tewkesbury’s representation intact but disfranchise the non-resident electors; it was presented by Martin two days later. The passing of the bill’s second reading reportedly ‘excited in all classes the liveliest interest. The town band paraded the streets ... and everything wore the appearance of a holiday’.23 At the dissolution in April ‘a severe contest’ was ‘threatened and expected’, as a result of Dowdeswell’s opposition to the bill. A group of reformers hurriedly canvassed on behalf of Charles Hanbury Tracy of Toddington, a former Member, and finding majority support for him among the resident electors persuaded him to canvass in person. He issued an address promising his assistance in ‘obtaining that reform bill so essential to the welfare and tranquillity of your country, which has been approved by the general voice of the people and received the sanction of the king’. Dowdeswell, in his address, denied that he was an enemy to reform, maintaining that ‘I voted against the bill because it annihilated the privileges of the freemen of your borough’ and ‘took from the freeholders the right to vote for Members for the county’. Martin, who described himself as a ‘warm and decided friend to ... reform’, seemed to be ‘beyond the reach of danger’. Dowdeswell was introduced by Sir Anthony Lechmere, a banker and corporator, and the Rev. W. Hopton, Martin by the Rev. Reginald Wynniatt of Guiting and Terrett, and Hanbury Tracy by Grantley Berkeley, brother of Lord Segrave of Berkeley Castle, and Admiral Carden. During the course of the election ‘much party spirit was displayed ... occasioned, in a great degree, by the objectionable practice of each candidate employing hired partisans, improperly termed constables’, although it was thought that there were ‘fewer acts of open violence here ... than in many other places’. At the end of the first day’s polling Dowdeswell had a slight lead over Martin, who was comfortably ahead of Hanbury Tracy. On the second day Martin overtook Dowdeswell, while Hanbury Tracy continued to trail behind; at midnight his committee conceded defeat and Martin and Dowdeswell were declared elected the following day. Before the chairing, Dowdeswell’s committee discovered that ‘dangerous missiles and filth of the most offensive description had been conveyed to the tops of some of the houses’, ready to bombard him on his progress, and it was therefore deemed prudent to forego the ceremony. Martin was chaired ‘in the accustomed form’, but the dinner ‘which it had been the practice from time immemorial for the electors to give ... was dispensed with by common consent’.24

Altogether, 35 votes were rejected and 33 resident and 103 non-resident electors were unpolled, but of the last ‘it was not expected that more than 50 ... would have tendered their votes’. Of the 387 who polled, 61 per cent cast a vote for Martin, 57 for Dowdeswell and 44 for Hanbury Tracy. Dowdeswell received 131 plumpers (59 per cent of his total), Martin ten and Hanbury Tracy four. Martin and Hanbury Tracy had 151 split votes (63 and 89 per cent of their respective totals), Martin and Dowdeswell 76 (32 and 34 per cent) and Dowdeswell and Hanbury Tracy 15. Of those who voted, 296 (75 per cent) gave an ostensibly party vote: 165 (56 per cent) for reform and 131 against. The 164 residents (42 per cent of those who polled) gave Martin 125 votes (76 per cent), Dowdeswell 76 (46 per cent) and Hanbury Tracy 96 (59 per cent); the 223 non-residents gave Martin 113 votes (51 per cent), Dowdeswell 146 (65 per cent), and Hanbury Tracy 74 (33 per cent). Thus Martin and Hanbury Tracy were markedly stronger among the residents, while Dowdeswell got significantly more support from the out-voters, whose 106 plumpers for him proved crucial. Freemen accounted for 132 of the total voters (34 per cent), of whom 33 were residents and 99 non-residents; of the 255 freeholders, 131 were residents and 124 non-residents. Dowdeswell gained disproportionate support from the freemen, of whom 105 (80 per cent) voted for him, including 68 plumpers (56 from non-residents); his freeholder votes included 63 plumpers (50 from non-residents). Whereas Martin and Hanbury Tracy shared only 23 votes from freemen (17 per cent), they received 128 (50 per cent) from freeholders (77 of them residents). There seems to be considerable truth in the assessment offered by a member of Hanbury Tracy’s committee, that ‘of the town votes and of the freeholders generally we polled a great majority, but the non-resident honorary freemen, the private friends and nominees of Mr. Dowdeswell and the corporation, backed by the "Dodington batch", ultimately turned the tables against us’. Contrary to claims that Dowdeswell’s tenants ‘won him the election’, it was reported that of the 24 who had voted only 13 supported their own landlord, while 15 gave a vote for Martin and ten for Hanbury Tracy. In a published address, Dowdeswell acknowledged that he had seen ‘some of those who had hitherto supported me, marshalled in the ranks of my opponents’, but he still hoped to regain the old ‘unanimity in my favour’. However, a correspondent in a local newspaper claimed that ‘under the reform bill’ Dowdeswell would have ‘no chance’ of being re-elected, whereas Hanbury Tracy would be returned ‘without ... any formidable opposition’. A subscription of £1,088 was raised to defray Hanbury Tracy’s expenses and he was later presented with a gift of plate worth £115.25

On 7 June 1831 a meeting chaired by Hanford resolved to form the Tewkesbury Independent Union for the purpose of securing the return of two reformers at the next general election.26 Following a ‘most respectably signed requisition’, a public meeting also chaired by Hanford, 24 Sept., unanimously agreed a petition to the Lords, which ‘770 persons’ signed, for the speedy passage of the reintroduced reform bill; it was presented, 4 Oct. Another petition urging the Lords to consider the bill in relation to the Scottish and Irish bills was presented the same day, but the Gloucester Journal had little doubt that ‘the friends of reform are an overwhelming majority, amounting to nearly the whole population of the borough’.27 At its annual meeting, 13 Oct., the corporation was forced to abandon its usual procession for fear of public disorder, and on leaving the town hall members were ‘assailed by a large assemblage of the lower classes of both sexes’, who pelted them with ‘mud and stones’ and broke the windows of ‘several houses in which they sought shelter’. The rioters, ‘consisting of several hundred persons’, proceeded to occupy the Swan, preventing the corporation dinner from being held, and troops had to be summoned from Gloucester to disperse them. Some 150 ‘respectable householders’ were subsequently sworn in as special constables to help maintain order, and 190 signed an address to Dowdeswell expressing their ‘personal attachment’ to him regardless of politics and regretting the behaviour of the ‘misguided multitude’.28 There were no political disturbances at the time of the Bristol riots, but a strike for higher wages by the framework knitters, supposedly incited by ‘some bad characters from Nottingham, Derby, etc.’, caused sufficient alarm for troops to be called again from Gloucester as a precautionary step. A public meeting on 3 Nov. 1831 decided to establish a paid constabulary force for the duration of the winter, and ‘nearly the whole of the respectable inhabitants’ were sworn in as special constables to assist with the night watch over that period.29 Following Martin’s death in January 1832, Hanbury Tracy offered again. William Holmes*, the Tory whip, reported to Peel that Sir Roger Gresley, former Member for Durham and New Romney, was willing to stand ‘if he is fairly supported’, but noted that ‘if he means pecuniary support he will be disappointed as our subscriptions have been long since exhausted’. Gresley did not offer and Hanbury Tracy, who was introduced on the hustings by Wynniatt and Thomas Gray of Cheltenham, was returned unopposed.30 The inhabitants and electors petitioned the Commons to withhold supplies until the reform bill was carried, 18 May 1832, and its passage the following month was celebrated with a dinner for 720 children, meal tickets for the poor and an illumination in the evening, when ‘transparencies and appropriate mottos were very numerous’ and ‘gay groups thronged the streets’.31

The boundary commissioners reported that the town had spread ‘considerably beyond’ the borough limits, especially to the east, where further building development was anticipated as it was the only area free from the risk of flooding, and they proposed a new boundary which would ‘include the town only’. However, their alternative suggestion that the boundary be extended to cover the whole parish was the one adopted.32 The disfranchisement of non-resident freemen and freeholders meant that the registered electorate in 1832 fell to 386; by 1853 there were 23 freemen and 23 freeholder electors surviving.33 At the general election in December 1832 Dowdeswell stood down and his son William came bottom of the poll behind Hanbury Tracy and another reformer, John Martin, the eldest son of the deceased Member.34 Hanbury Tracy sat until his retirement in 1837. The representation was usually divided after 1835, but between the second and third Reform Acts Tewkesbury always returned a single Liberal.

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 591.
  • 2. Ibid. (1830-1), x. 148; (1831), xvi. 323. The figure for 1821 relates to the whole parish, that for 1831 to the borough only.
  • 3. Glos. Dir. (1820), 55; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 393; J. Bennett, Hist. Tewkesbury (1830), 9-12, 195-206; PP (1835), xxiii. 128; VCH Glos. viii. 110-11, 137, 145-6.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 591; xxxviii. 201-3; (1835), xxiii. 125-8; Glos. RO TBR A1/8, Tewkesbury corporation chamber bk. 1785-1835; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 177-9; Gloucester Jnl. 7 May 1831; P. Day, They Lived in Tewkesbury, 65-69.
  • 5. VCH Glos. viii. 163-5.
  • 6. Gloucester Jnl. 28 Feb., 6, 13, 20 Mar. 1820; Glos. RO TBR B6/9.
  • 7. Gloucester Jnl. 20 Nov., 18 Dec. 1820, 15 Jan. 1821.
  • 8. CJ, lxxvi. 125; lxxvii. 23, 207.
  • 9. LJ, liv. 187.
  • 10. CJ, lxxviii. 59; LJ, lv. 549.
  • 11. CJ, lxxviii. 292; lxxix. 136; lxxxi. 188; LJ, lvi. 73; lviii. 203.
  • 12. CJ, lxxix. 136; lxxxi. 111.
  • 13. Gloucester Jnl. 5, 12, 19 June 1826.
  • 14. Herefs. RO, Skipp mss B38/349.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxii. 295.
  • 16. Ibid. 490, 527; lxxxiii. 112; LJ, lx. 71, 137.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxiii. 512; LJ, lx. 628.
  • 18. Glos. RO TBR A1/8, corporation chamber bk. 9 Oct. 1828; PP (1835), xxiii. 127; VCH Glos. viii. 149.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxv. 214, 439, 463.
  • 20. Gloucester Jnl. 3, 10, 24, 31 July; Cheltenham Jnl. 2 Aug. 1830; J. Bennett, Tewkesbury Yearly Reg. (1840), 11.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 108, 423.
  • 22. Gloucester Jnl. 4 Dec. 1830; Tewkesbury Yearly Reg. 17-18.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvi. 395; Gloucester Jnl. 26 Mar. 1831.
  • 24. Cheltenham Chronicle, 28 Apr., 5 May; Gloucester Jnl. 30 Apr., 7 May 1831; Tewkesbury Yearly Reg. 51-54, 76-80.
  • 25. Tewkesbury Pollbook (1831); Gloucester Jnl. 7, 28 May 1831; Tewkesbury Yearly Reg. 76-80.
  • 26. Tewkesbury Yearly Reg. 57.
  • 27. Ibid. 62-63; Gloucester Jnl. 24 Sept., 1 Oct. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1045, 1057.
  • 28. Gloucester Jnl. 15, 22 Oct.; Bristol Mirror, 22 Oct. 1831.
  • 29. Gloucester Jnl. 5, 12 Nov. 1831; Tewkesbury Yearly Reg. 71-73.
  • 30. Gloucester Jnl. 14, 28 Jan. 1832; Add. 40402, f. 183.
  • 31. CJ, lxxxvii. 321; Gloucester Jnl. 30 June 1832.
  • 32. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 201-3.
  • 33. Dod’s Electoral Facts (1853), 310-11.
  • 34. Gloucester Jnl. 7, 14, 21 July, 15 Dec. 1832.