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 of Old Thirsk

Estimated number qualified to vote:

50 in 18311


2,533 (1821); 2,812 (1831)2



Main Article

Thirsk was a market town in the North Riding of the county, 23 miles north-west of York.3 The borough boundary was ‘entirely unknown’ and was taken to encompass ‘merely that part of the town in which the burgage houses are found’. All but one of these properties, in which the franchise was vested, were owned by Sir Thomas Frankland† of nearby Thirkleby Park, whose family had had an interest in the borough since the Restoration. He appointed the bailiff, the returning officer for parliamentary elections. Oldfield claimed in 1816 that the burgages were ‘conveyed to certain friends and dependents of the proprietor on the day of election, for the purpose of returning the Members only, as he receives the rents and the profits of the whole of them’. Frankland, a Whig, continued to return his only son Robert and his nephew Robert Greenhill Russell until his death in January 1831, when control of the borough passed to his son.4

The owners and occupiers of neighbouring land petitioned the Commons against any alteration of the corn laws, 22 Feb. 1827.5 Petitions were sent up from the Protestant Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts, 22 Feb., and the Catholics for their emancipation, 28 Apr. 1828. The inhabitants presented an anti-Catholic petition, 19 Mar. 1829, but the Members supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill.6 Anti-slavery petitions were forwarded by the Protestant Dissenters and the inhabitants, 11, 15 Nov. 1830.7 The Grey ministry’s reform bills of March and July 1831 proposed to deprive Thirsk of one of its seats, while enfranchising the £10 householders. Greenhill Russell presented a petition from the inhabitants against the bill in its existing form, 14 July.8 In the discussion on the borough’s inclusion in schedule B, 30 July, Greenhill Russell claimed that Thirsk was ‘a town of great commercial and manufacturing importance’, which deserved to return two Members, and he pointed to an ‘irregularity’ in the 1821 census return, which had underestimated the borough’s population by omitting an unnamed township properly belonging to it. Lord Althorp, the leader of the Commons, admitted the mistake, but maintained that even if the township were included, Thirsk’s population would still be below 4,000 and that it was therefore ‘sufficiently represented by one Member’. Greenhill Russell did not force the issue to a division. The new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Thirsk’s position in schedule B, as it contained 628 houses and paid £590 in assessed taxes, placing it 73rd in the list of the smallest English boroughs. In accordance with the boundary commissioners’ recommendation, the borough limits were extended to include the whole of the town and the townships of Bagby, Carlton Miniott, Sand Hutton, South Kilvington and Sowerby.9 There were 254 registered electors in 1832. At the general election of that year Frankland, whose political control was unaffected, returned himself. He retired in March 1834 and was succeeded by another local Liberal landowner. Frankland Russell (as he became in 1837) died in 1849 and the Thirkleby estate passed to his three daughters, one of whom married Sir William Payne Gallwey, who sat for Thirsk as a Conservative, 1851-80.10 Thirsk was disfranchised in 1885.

Author: Martin Casey


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 178.
  • 2. Figures for the whole town. The borough population in 1831 was put at 1,378 (ibid.).
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1828-9), 1112.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 177-8; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), v. 332.
  • 5. CJ, lxxxii. 216.
  • 6. Ibid. lxxxiii. 96, 277; lxxxiv. 151.
  • 7. Ibid. lxxxvi. 56, 74.
  • 8. Ibid. 654.
  • 9. PP (1831-2), xxxvii. 177-9.
  • 10. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 224, 225, 439.