Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number qualified to vote:
564 (1821); 586 (1831)
|13 Mar. 1820||SIR PETER POLE, bt.|
|THEODORE HENRY BROADHEAD|
|17 Jan. 1821||THEODORE HENRY LAVINGTON BROADHEAD vice Broadhead, deceased|
|9 June 1826||THOMAS HAMILTON, Lord Binning|
|21 Aug. 1827||THOMAS WALLACE II vice Binning, called to the Upper House|
|31 July 1830||WILLIAM YATES PEEL|
|GEORGE LOWTHER THOMPSON|
|3 May 1831||SIR HENRY POLLARD WILLOUGHBY, bt.|
|CHARLES COMPTON CAVENDISH|
The pocket borough of Yarmouth, an obsolete port close to the western extremity of the Isle of Wight, was described in 1823 as
a neat little market town, standing on a bank sloping to the sea, in a healthy situation, with pleasant views of the Channel ... [but] much diminished from its ancient consequence. Its many narrow streets, destitute of buildings, clearly point to its former enlarged site.1
Its potential as a watering hole was obvious and in August 1830 the ‘quiet little town’ was said to be ‘full of company’, though its resident population showed only a marginal increase in the decade after 1821.2 ‘No alteration had taken place in the town for many years’, according to the 1835 municipal corporations commissioners, who noted that there was ‘scarcely any trade’ and ‘very little ... importation or exportation’ and cited a nearby sand quarry as the only type of industry.3 Since 1811 both seats had been controlled by Sir Leonard Thomas Worsley Holmes* of Westover, Isle of Wight, patron of the self-elected corporation of 12 chief burgesses, one of whom was elected annually as mayor. In theory the corporation could admit an unlimited number of free burgesses or freemen, who would be entitled to the parliamentary franchise, but during the eighteenth century admissions had first been restricted and then suspended. The corporations commissioners found no electors in this category and noted that the election of the chief burgesses
depended entirely upon the wishes of the family considered to have the patronage of the borough; no instance has occurred for a great number of years of anyone being elected without either the previous approval of the representative of this family, or the knowledge by the electors that the person elected would be agreeable to him. Political connections have not been so much considered as private friendship, or family connection with the patron.
Residence was not ‘considered necessary’, though at the time of the report two chief burgesses were living in the town and another six within a radius of ten miles. Six burgesses were admitted during this period and at the time of the reform bill returns one vacancy remained unfilled. The same number was regarded as the quorum for mayoral elections, at which the corporation was locked in the town hall and not permitted to leave until a decision had been reached.4 The highest number present at the ceremony of a parliamentary election after 1801 was nine.5 Despite his firm grip on the borough, Worsley Holmes did not take it completely for granted and refitted the town hall at his own expense for the 1820 general election, when beer was liberally distributed. A subscription to a local school appears in the same set of his accounts and the corporations commissioners conceded that the town had ‘at various times received great pecuniary assistance from the patron’.6
Worsley Holmes, who was also patron of Newport, continued to sell Yarmouth’s seats to friends of government. Of those returned at the 1820 general election, Sir Peter Pole, a London banker, was tenuously connected to the patron through his inheritance of a former part of the Worsley estate at Wolverton, Hampshire, while his colleague Thomas Henry Broadhead was a Berkshire neighbour of William Mount*, a close associate of Worsley Holmes who had sat briefly, 1818-19.7 Broadhead died in December 1820, whereupon his son Thomas Henry Lavington Broadhead was returned as his successor. The death of Worsley Holmes without a direct male heir in January 1825 left control of the borough in the hands of six trustees, his distant cousins the Rev. Henry Worsley of Godshill and the 2nd Baron Yarborough, Mount, Robert Clark of Carisbrooke, and the Newport solicitors Thomas Sewell and William Hearn. Collectively they continued to return Members friendly to government, much to the irritation of Yarborough, a Whig, who told Lord Fitzwilliam that he was powerless to prevent this, 17 Dec. 1825, adding, presumably in reference to his fellow trustees, that ‘they are such horrid Tories’.8 It nevertheless may have been his influence that determined the return of two pro-Catholics, Joseph Phillimore, a former Grenvillite, and Lord Binning, a close connection of George Canning*, at the 1826 general election, again as paying guests.9 When Binning was elevated to the peerage the following year, he was replaced by Thomas Wallace, an Irish lawyer and another pro-Catholic. A petition for repeal of the Test Acts reached the Commons, 19 Feb. 1828.10
At the 1830 general election the return of George Lowther Thompson was arranged and apparently paid for by his patron and kinsman Lord Lonsdale, through the government whip William Holmes*. Sir John Beckett*, who confused the borough with Newport, which was also controlled by the Worsley Holmes trustees, put the cost at £3,000. It is clear that Thompson did not attend the election, nor, apparently, did his colleague, a brother of the home secretary Peel.11 Unusually, a detailed report survives of the proceedings, at which
a marquee 50 feet in length was pitched on the lawn of the George Inn, open to the sea; being hung with the Royal Standard of England and other flags, and tastefully decorated with garlands of flowers, and boughs of oak, laurel and myrtle. Here the worthy mayor entertained, with the corporation, nearly 60 of the gentry of the town and the neighbourhood, the visitors and principal inhabitants, in a style of great hospitality. Many excellent songs were sung and patriotic toasts given ... [and] ... four hogsheads of beer were distributed among the populace.12
The likelihood of there being many more such jamborees was reduced by the introduction of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, under which Yarmouth stood to lose both its seats. The illness of Thompson prompted Lonsdale to contemplate finding a healthy replacement to oppose the measure, but in the event he rallied and joined Peel in the opposition lobbies.13 At an Isle of Wight reform meeting, 20 Apr. 1831, it was noted that a graffito had lately appeared on the wall of Yarmouth’s town hall saying, ‘This house to let, for further particulars enquire Lady Holmes’.14 The satire was misdirected, for whatever personal influence the late patron’s widow may have possessed, Yarborough was by now the dominant force behind the return of Members, as John Fleming, Member for Hampshire, had noted in a letter to the duke of Wellington recommending Yarmouth’s son for a seat on the county bench, 16 July 1830.15 At the 1831 general election Yarborough controversially returned two reformers, Charles Compton Cavendish, who had previously sat as his nominee for Newtown, and Sir Henry Pollard Willoughby, an Oxfordshire squire, prompting press speculation that he had been promised an earldom by the ministry, which he duly obtained from their successors in 1837.16 Greville condemned his conduct as an abuse of trust and alleged that he had received £4,000 for the combined sale of the Yarmouth and Newport seats.17 When Yarmouth’s inclusion in schedule A came before the House, 26 July 1831, Willoughby drew attention to an inhabitants’ petition, which has not been traced. (He may have been referring to the plea from the whole Isle for an extra Member, which was presented, 13 July.)18 In the returns for the revised reform bill, Yarmouth was reported to have 114 houses (included ten unoccupied), paying assessed taxes of £169. Its disfranchisement was given silent assent by the Commons, 20 Feb. 1832.19 The corporations commissioners speculated that as a non-parliamentary borough, patronal largesse would not be dispensed on the same scale as hitherto, and some 20 years later it was noted that the town has assumed ‘a very forlorn and decayed appearance’.20 The corporation (which was not reformed in 1835) continued to exert local influence, amid whispers of corruption, until its dissolution by Act of Parliament in 1883.21
Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer
- 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 348.
- 2. Hants Chron. 30 Aug. 1830.
- 3. PP (1835), xxiv. 258.
- 4. C. Butt, ‘Yarmouth Pocket Borough’ (Isle of Wight County Press, 25 Feb. 1830); Oldfield, Key (1820), 171-2: PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 601; (1835), xxiv. 255-6; A.G. Cole, Yarmouth I.o.W. (1951), 37.
- 5. PP (1830-1), x. 112.
- 6. I.o.W. RO, Heytesbury mss JER/HBY/139/8; PP (1835), xxiv. 258.
- 7. F. Black, Parl. Hist. I.o.W. 27; PP (1835), xxiv. 256.
- 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F33/73.
- 9. J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 201-2.
- 10. CJ, lxxxiii. 83.
- 11. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 24 July, Beckett to Lowther, 27 July 1830.
- 12. Hants Advertiser, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 13. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 19, 21, 25 Feb. 1831.
- 14. Portsmouth Herald, 24 Apr. 1831.
- 15. Wellington mss WP4/2/1/7.
- 16. John Bull, 1 May 1831.
- 17. Greville Mems. ii. 142.
- 18. CJ, lxxxvi. 650.
- 19. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 145, 201.
- 20. Ibid. (1835), xxiv. 258; W.H.D. Adams, Hist. I.o.W. (1856), 174.
- 21. Cole, 14-16, 23.