I. England

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press


Between 1820 and 1826 the House of Commons had 658 Members, elected by 383 constituencies: 245 English; 24 Welsh; 48 Scottish (with three pairs of counties returning to alternate Parliaments); and 66 Irish. The disfranchisement of Grampound for corruption and the transfer of its two seats to Yorkshire, which became effective at the 1826 general election, reduced the number of English constituencies to 244.

The Counties


The 40 counties returned two Members each until 1826, when Yorkshire became entitled to four, having been given the two seats taken from disfranchised Grampound in 1821. Candidates were required to possess a property qualification of £600 a year. By an Act of 1430 men possessed of freehold land or property worth at least 40s. a year, as valued for the land tax assessments, were qualified to vote. This requirement was only occasionally enforced by checks at the hustings. The qualification included leaseholders for life (but not for years), annuitants, place-holders in government service and the holders of rent charges, mortgages on freehold property and benefices. Inflation down the years had made the 40s. threshold very low, and county electorates contained artisans, smallholders and tradesmen as well as farmers. By this period, however, the majority probably were tenant farmers, generally occupying their land by yearly tenancy-at-will arrangements with their landlords rather than by leases for terms of years. Yet most of them and almost all other freeholders, while amenable to influence or direction from above, had practical security of tenure, living in a political environment in which, although it was dominated by a landed elite, considerate paternalism and deference generally prevailed.1 Lord Lowther, speculating 1827 on the chances of a challenge to his father the 1st earl of Lonsdale’s interest in Cumberland, which had not been seriously contested since 1768, observed:

It is a maiden county and there could be no calculating which side would produce the most efficient canvass and manager. As a certain number of real working men in different departments will turn a county election, until one has actually seen it, it is hardly to be believed the little influence a county squire possesses; very few … controlling above four or five votes, and there are generally as many in the parish who would go the other side, whatever it may be, from the squire. What is termed the law interest is much less trouble (and very often as effective, except in very large properties) and much less expensive to fight than the other, as the … [attorneys] command expenses and interfere as if the result of the election depended upon them alone.2

Only a handful of examples of landlord intimidation or reprisal, real or alleged, have come to light in this period: in Devon in 1830 it was reported to the defeated Tory Edmund Bastard that his steward’s ‘oppressive conduct’ towards his tenantry during the canvass had lost him 500 votes in the South Hams;3 in Gloucestershire in 1831 the 6th duke of Beaufort, whose brother Lord Robert Somerset was forced to withdraw before the poll, instructed his agent to ‘give a hint amongst my tenants that I shall not understand their flirting’ with either of the two reform candidates;4 in Huntingdonshire in 1826 the defeated Whig Lord John Russell reckoned that many freeholders were ‘forced to poll against their wishes’ by Tory landlords, and at St. Neot’s a tenant of Lady Sandwich was given notice to quit for withholding the promise of his vote.5 In Staffordshire in October 1831 the Whig Member Edward Littleton alleged that it was ‘notorious that great influence was used’ by the 2nd Earl Talbot, the lord lieutenant, ‘and a few landlords to make their tenants sign the anti-reform declaration’.6 Small urban or village tradesmen, publicans and retailers might have felt vulnerable to the withdrawal of custom in reprisal for recalcitrant votes, but no significant examples of this have emerged.7

The proportion of urban electors in the counties varied greatly, but the rapid advance of industrialization in the early nineteenth century made its mark, notably in Cheshire, where perhaps half the electorate lived in the salt towns of Nantwich and Northwich and the textile centres of Congleton, Macclesfield and Stockport; in Cumberland, where the western industrial towns of Whitehaven and Workington were expanding; in Durham, where gentry involvement in the South Shields and Sunderland mining, shipping and manufacturing enterprises had blurred the distinction between land and trade, but where the Teesdale manufacturing towns of Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool grew more quickly; in Lancashire, whose southern hundreds contained Manchester and several developing centres of industry; in Leicestershire, where 15 per cent of the freeholders lived in Leicester and others were based in the hosiery, worsted and cotton manufacturing towns of Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Hinckley, Loughborough, Market Bosworth, Market Harborough and Melton Mowbray; in Northumberland, with the industrializing southern wards on Tyneside; in Nottinghamshire, where manufacturing industry was expanding; in Staffordshire, which contained the Potteries and the densely populated Black Country manufacturing region around Walsall and Wolverhampton; in Warwickshire, where the interests of unrepresented Birmingham were a significant element in county politics; in Worcestershire, where some 40 per cent of the population lived in the manufacturing towns of Blockley (silk), Dudley and Stourbridge (glass and nails) and Kidderminster (carpets); and in Yorkshire, where the unfranchised West Riding textile and manufacturing towns, notably Leeds, exerted a powerful influence. Elsewhere, Middlesex and Surrey were increasingly urban as London and its suburbs expanded, although in Surrey only one third of the electorate lived in the north-eastern metropolitan area. (Their votes were, however, decisive in 1826.) The inhabitants of the Fenland towns of March and Wisbech and the well-to-do residents of Cambridge were important players in county elections. Western Cornwall had tin and copper mining centres in addition to its many fishing ports; Devon’s traditional woollen industry was in decline, but lace manufacturing flourished in Barnstaple, Honiton and Tiverton. In Dorset, the trading port of Poole was a county of itself, whose freeholders (unlike those of Coventry in Warwickshire) were allowed to vote in county elections, and there was small-scale textile manufacturing elsewhere. In Hampshire, Portsmouth and its satellites of Gosport and Portsea contained a large number of freeholders, including many dockyard workers, who were susceptible to government influence. Northamptonshire had centres of boot and shoe making, with some silk, lace and wool manufacture; Oxfordshire included the small textile towns of Bicester and Witney, and in Somerset, Yeovil manufactured gloves and the area around Chard, Frome and Shepton Mallet produced textiles. In Wiltshire, the increasingly depressed cloth industry was based in the north-western towns of Bradford, Melksham, Trowbridge and Warminster. Industry had not much penetrated Sussex, but here the development of Brighton, Eastbourne and other seaside resorts led to an influx of small urban freeholders who were unwilling to submit to aristocratic domination. The relative rarity of contested elections meant that these elements in county electorates were not necessarily tested, but they were a factor which patrons, Members and candidates could not ignore, although it now appears that the intrusion of urban influence into county electorates was greatly exaggerated by Professor D.C. Moore.8 The proportion of out-voters is not clear, but a few concrete examples can be cited from pollbooks: in Bedfordshire in 1820 and 1826, 20 per cent of those who voted came from outside the county; the Huntingdonshire contests of 1826 and 1827 saw the participation of 27 per cent out-voters, and that of 1831 of 21 per cent. On the other hand, only 116 of the 2,136 who voted in Cambridgeshire in 1826 were out-voters, and in Sussex in 1820 a mere 200 in a poll of over 4,100.

Of 185 county elections in this period, only 48 (26 per cent) were contested, but this represents an increase on the previous period covered by the History, when 17 per cent were contested. Forty of the 160 general elections went to a poll, and eight (32 per cent) of the 25 by-elections were contested. At the general election of 1820 there were nine contests; in 1826 and 1830 there were ten; and in 1831, when the English counties returned 76 supporters and only six opponents of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme, there were 11. The most contentious counties were Bedfordshire (three out of four elections contested), Cambridgeshire (three out of five), Devon (three out of four), Essex (three out of five), Huntingdonshire (three out of four) and Oxfordshire (three out of five). Of these, only Devon had an electorate (about 10,000) of more than 6,000. Twelve counties were uncontested in this period: Cheshire, Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Monmouthshire, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Wiltshire. Cheshire had not gone to the polls since 1734, Lancashire since 1747, Monmouthshire since 1771, Nottinghamshire since 1722, Rutland since 1761, and Staffordshire since 1747. Most of the general election contests in this period took the usual form of tripartite struggles for the two seats. The exceptions, where four candidates, two from each party, went to the poll, occurred in Cornwall (1831), Northamptonshire (1831), Northumberland (1826), and Shropshire (1831). In Yorkshire in 1830, five candidates vied for the four seats.

The estimated electorate of the counties by the end of this period was about 266,232, an increase of 39 per cent on the estimate of 191,600 in 1820. In the absence of registers of electors, these are only approximate figures, based on the contemporary estimates which have been used for the constituency articles in these volumes.9 Probably at least ten per cent were men with votes in more than one county.10 Yorkshire supposedly had 50,000 electors (probably an overestimate), uncontested Lancashire and Kent about 15,000 and 12,000 respectively, Suffolk and Devon 10,000, Somerset 9,000 and Middlesex 8,000. At the other extreme, Rutland had about 800, Huntingdonshire around 1,900 and Bedfordshire about 2,800. The numbers who actually voted fell well short of the nominal total of those who were entitled to do so, not least because the paucity of contests meant that opportunities to exercise the right were comparatively rare. At the same time, there were some high turnouts in this period: possibly 99 per cent in Northumberland in 1826; 93 per cent in Cambridgeshire in 1830 and Northamptonshire in 1831; 91 per cent in Bedfordshire in 1826, Dorset at the 1831 by-election, and Leicestershire in 1830; 89 per cent in Essex in 1830 and Middlesex in 1820. The approximate numbers actually voting at general elections were as follows: 24,770 in 1820; 24,470 in 1826; 31,000 in 1830, and 29,800 in 1831.11 The last figure represents only 11 per cent of the notional county electorate at this point. Only four contests lasted the statutory maximum of 15 days: Dorset at the 1831 by-election, Essex at the 1830 by-election, Northumberland in 1826, and Sussex in 1826, although in the latter case polling was vexatiously protracted. Few contests went beyond seven days, and the Hampshire farce of 1830 and the Suffolk poll in the same year were over in one.

Polls were conducted at one venue in each county, usually the county town. As a result, the cost of canvassing, bringing up, accommodating, treating and entertaining electors added greatly to the cost of contested elections. Even in a small county such as Cambridgeshire, the 40 miles which separated Wisbech from the polling venue of Cambridge contributed considerably to the expense. In Sussex, to take another example, the problem was exacerbated by the 80 miles between the polling place of Chichester and the most remote eastern parishes. The Sussex Members made two abortive attempts to legislate to fix elections at the more centrally located Lewes in 1820 and 1826. On 15 March 1827 the Whig Lord Althorp secured the appointment of a select committee to consider means of reducing the cost of county elections. Its report (16 May) recommended the establishment of county-wide polling places and a more rational system of registration. Althorp brought in a measure to implement the latter, 1 June 1827, but had it held over until the next session. He carried the second reading of the reintroduced measure by 32-17, 25 Mar. 1828, but it had little support and he was forced to abandon it, 13 June. In 1830 Lord Mahon was told by ministerial hacks that ‘in … county elections it is impossible to learn how much money may be required’ for success.12

The staggering cost of county elections in this period is a familiar feature of the political landscape. The more spectacular cases include the supposed combined total of £80,000 (perhaps an exaggeration) incurred in the desperate Dorset by-election of October 1831, when the successful Tory Lord Ashley and his backers went through £28,000 and the Whig William Ponsonby spent around £30,000; the vast sums laid out in the two Northumberland elections of 1826, when the Whig Lord Howick, who did not go to a poll on the first occasion and whose father the 2nd Earl Grey had to sell an estate for £40,000 to finance both campaigns, spent £9,000 purely on his canvass, while the by-election contenders Matthew Bell and Henry Liddell were said to have expended in the region of £40,000 each, with outlays of about the same at the general election four months later; joint costs of £54,000 incurred by the Yorkshire Whigs Lord Milton and William Marshall in 1826, when there was no poll; £30,000 spent by the victorious Tory Thomas Macqueen (who was eventually ruined) in Bedfordshire in 1826, and by the successful Whig John Lambton (who could well afford it) in Durham in 1820; about £26,000 spent by each of the three contenders for the Sussex seats in 1820; and a similar sum incurred by Lonsdale in repelling the Whig Henry Brougham and the Blues, who lost £15,000, in Westmorland in 1820 (six years later Lonsdale spent £30,000); £24,000 wasted by Lord Gower, the son of the 2nd marquess of Stafford, on an abortive canvass of Staffordshire in 1820, when his uncle reckoned that he could have retained his seat in the face of opposition for an outlay of about £100,000; £23,000 lavished by the wastrel William Long Pole Wellesley on defeat in Essex in 1830; £20,000 expended by Bastard in Devon, 1820-30, and by Charles Pallmer, successful in Surrey in 1826; £17,000 spent in defeat by the Tory Sir John Osborn in Bedfordshire in 1820, £16,000 by the two Tories in the epic Northamptonshire contest of 1831, and £14,000 by the beaten Tory Henry Bankes in Dorset in 1831. The conservative Whig William Lamb, recently returned again for Hertfordshire in 1820, told his brother that while the seat was ‘a very pleasant and independent one … the drawback is that there is always hanging over you the fear of an expensive contest’, and that a potential Tory challenger had ‘£10,000 ready to spend … even with the certainty of losing the election, for the sake of putting himself in a position to win the next’.13 In 1830, the Tory 5th duke of Rutland secured the return of his brother Lord Robert Manners for Leicestershire after a contest for only £6,000, thanks to good organization and an abstention from canvassing; but he told Mrs. Arbuthnot that ‘a great interest is like a great army’, which ‘cannot be set in motion without an enormous expense, and if there should be a premeditated contest on a future occasion, £50,000 would not more than cover the expenses’.14 Not all the cost of elections was necessarily borne by candidates, their families or the principal sponsors. Subscriptions, both private and public, were very common. The Tory gentry of Bedfordshire assisted Osborn to the tune of more than £4,000 in 1820 and passed round the hat for him subsequently. Most of the £15,000 expended by the beaten Tories in Cornwall in 1831 was raised by subscription. Liddell’s leading local supporters subscribed for him in Northumberland in 1826, and those of Sir John Fenton Boughey did so in Staffordshire in 1820. It was possible to keep expenses down by concluding a mutual arrangement to cover the cost of conveying voters to the poll. This occurred in Oxfordshire in 1830, when the three candidates’ committees agreed that Sir George Dashwood’s would provide transport for electors pledged to vote for him and John Fane, at the joint expense of both men; that the same arrangement would operate for electors who had promised for Lord Norreys and Fane, with the former’s committee providing the transport, and that Fane’s agents would make provision for his plumpers. In Sussex in 1826 the three contenders agreed not to spend their own money on conveying voters to the poll and to encourage the formation of voluntary local committees to organize transport. At the same general election in Bedfordshire the Whig sitting Member Lord Tavistock, heir of the 6th duke of Bedford, who was faced with a challenge from Macqueen, carried out his previously declared intention (17 Oct. 1825) of standing on a ‘purity of election’ platform, modelled on that of Sir Francis Burdett in Westminster, whereby he would not canvass, solicit votes or pay for entertainments or the conveyance of electors to the poll. It seems that his family adhered to this principle: one of their London agents was instructed to ‘let it be distinctly understood that no freeholder can or will be sent down at his Lordship’s expense, and none must be sent at the expense of the duke of Bedford’.15 Although the refusal to pay for food and drink was resented by many, in the various hundreds supporters of Tavistock and the second Whig, Francis Pym, organized themselves to transport voters to Bedford free of charge. Tavistock, who finished second, later put his and the defeated Pym’s combined costs at £730, ‘including £300 for counsel’. He remained convinced that his attempt at moral reform of the electorate had been vindicated, and recalled that

although Pym was started at the post with me without any preparation, whilst Macqueen had been in undisputed possession of the field for six months, with a host of agents canvassing in every direction and asserting that there would be no opposition to him, yet we lost no ground in the distant parts of the county. Our great loss of strength was in the town of Bedford, where the freeholders had only to walk to the poll at any time of the election between breakfast and dinner, and without requiring either conveyance or refreshment! For the first time in the history of Bedfordshire contests the Tory candidate polled the majority of votes in the town of Bedford. Surely this is an answer to those who maintain that that the election [of Pym] was lost by the absurdity of expecting people to come from a distance to vote for me when I would neither feed nor convey them.16

In 1831, when Tavistock stood for the county with his fellow reformer Peter Payne against the Tory sitting Member William Stuart, he left the conduct of the election in the hands of a committee based in Bedford, who, as one of its members explained, ‘manage all on the part of … [Tavistock] and … Payne and subscriptions are set on foot in all parts to defray the expense. This committee canvasses for these two jointly, but … [Tavistock’s] personal agents for him only’.17 Tavistock did, however, ask his friend John Cam Hobhouse to try to secure a financial contribution to the county’s reform cause, as distinct from his own campaign, from the Loyal and Patriotic Fund (which subsidized reformers elsewhere), as they had ‘great odds to contend against, supported by the long purses’.18 He and Payne won easily. The use of volunteer labour, central, district and local committees, and appeals for subscriptions had been successfully adopted in Devon in 1818 by Tavistock’s friend, the Whig Lord Ebrington, heir of the 1st Earl Fortescue, but his opponent Bastard used these measures himself in 1820, when he ousted Ebrington. Money was nevertheless laid out, as it was in 1830, when Ebrington, Sir Thomas Acland and Bastard all declined to spend or canvass. Tavistock’s youngest brother Lord John Russell, the leading Commons proponent of parliamentary reform, also adopted a purity of election stance in Huntingdonshire in 1826. He lost his seat to two Tories, but was only 53 adrift, and felt that

we fought such a battle as must sicken our enemies. We found that we can at any time poll more than 700 votes without exertion … They went to great expense and during the last two days brought up votes from every part of the kingdom, one even from France.19

The Whig John Rooper stood for Huntingdonshire on the same basis in 1830, but was soundly beaten by two coalesced peers’ sons, even though his supporters’ flagging campaign was given a boost by a handsome donation by Lord Milton from his father the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam’s ample coffers. The Unitarian radical Leicester banker Thomas Paget took the same line when contesting his county in 1830. He too was defeated, but, like Rooper, he was returned as a reformer in 1831. The general election of that year saw numerous examples of voluntary exertion and organization on behalf of reform candidates, whether to sustain them in contests or as an effective means of frightening off Tory opponents. No instances of outright bribery have come to light, but the level and manner of treating frequently came close to it. There were mutterings about bribery in Dorset after the 1831 by-election and in Huntingdonshire during the 1826 and 1830 contests, when treating was lavish on both sides. In Lincolnshire the reformers who were returned unopposed in 1831 distributed 1,200 5s. refreshment tickets. There was extensive creation of new votes by both the contending parties in Westmorland between 1820 and 1826, but no other instances of the practice on this scale have been found. All in all, the cost of contested elections, together with the odium attached to disturbing the peace of the county unnecessarily, encouraged the settling of the representation by compromise and consensus. Unpromising canvasses, lack of funds or an awareness that their cause was hopeless deterred many candidates from going as far as nomination. There were, however, a number of instances in this period of men being nominated, either with or without their own consent, but withdrawing or being pulled out before polling commenced. This occurred in Cheshire (1820 and 1830); Cornwall (1825 by-election and 1826); Dorset (1823 by-election); Essex (1820); Lancashire (1820 and 1826); Lincolnshire (1830); Shropshire (1823 by-election); Somerset (1831); Staffordshire (1820); Westmorland (1828 by-election), and Yorkshire (1826).

County elections, whether contested or not, were sometimes marked by disorder and drunkenness and occasionally by serious violence. Reports of such episodes have been found in at least 17 constituencies in this period. The most serious outbreaks were at the 1831 Dorset by-election, when anti-reformers were attacked; in Lincolnshire in 1830, when the chairing degenerated into a riot; in Warwickshire in November 1820, when troops were required to keep the polling booths open, and in 1830, when Birmingham political unionists took over the hustings; and in Worcestershire in 1831, when the defeated Tory’s headquarters were besieged by a mob. There were only two petitions against county election returns in this period. The election of John Briscoe for Surrey in 1830 was unsuccessfully challenged on the grounds of bribery and treating, the admission of ineligible votes for him and his lack of a property qualification; and the petition against the return of Ashley at the Dorset by-election of 1831 led to an expensive inquiry which ended in a decision that he had been duly elected. In 1820, freeholders of Berkshire petitioned to complain of the vexatious conduct of the defeated radical William Hallett in keeping open the poll at the past three general elections and asking for legislation to permit elections to be held Abingdon (the usual venue), Newbury and Reading on a rotating schedule of three consecutive days. The Cambridgeshire petition of 6 Apr. 1827 against the vexatious protraction of polling was referred to the current select committee on county polls, but nothing came of it. After the 1820 Warwickshire by-election the defeated candidate Richard Spooner and his supporters petitioned to assert the right of the freeholders of Coventry (a county corporate) to vote in county elections, but their case was rejected.

Almost a quarter of the English county Members returned in this period were the sons or brothers of peers, and aristocratic influence was predominant or very significant in 27 counties, of which seven were uncontested. In Bedfordshire the duke of Bedford customarily claimed one seat, which in this period was filled by Tavistock. Although he reinforced the natural Whig interest in the county, he did not like to be seen as blatantly and actively interfering over the second seat, which was left to the gentry. As noticed above, his influence did not save the other Whig in 1826, but it was asserted effectively in 1831. In Buckinghamshire the 1st duke of Buckingham maintained his family’s hold on one seat, which was occupied throughout by his son Lord Chandos. The other was held by the Whig Robert John Smith, the son of the 1st Baron Carrington, who was tolerated by the Whig gentry faute de mieux; but when John Smith replaced him in 1831 it was without his brother Carrington’s blessing. Cambridgeshire was shared until 1830 by Rutland’s brother Lord Charles Manners and the Whig Lord Francis Osborne, the son of the 5th duke of Leeds, who was backed by the smaller proprietors and independent freeholders. Rutland, whose monopoly of the Cambridge borough seats was widely resented, lost the seat in 1830 to a Whig squire, partly as a result of treachery by the lord lieutenant, the 3rd earl of Hardwicke. Cheshire had traditionally been the preserve of the gentry for generations, but in 1830 the immensely wealthy Whig 2nd Earl Grosvenor asserted himself to secure the return of his son Lord Belgrave, previously Member for their Chester stronghold. The representation of Cumberland continued to be divided between Lonsdale and the independent Whig Blues, who were backed by the 6th duke of Devonshire, the 4th duke of Portland, the 12th duke of Norfolk, the 5th earl of Carlisle and the 3rd earl of Egremont, but were prone to in-fighting. This aristocratic domination, one facet of Lonsdale’s electoral empire in Carlisle, Cockermouth, Westmorland and Appleby, was increasingly resented by the county’s numerous small farmers (‘statesmen’); and in 1831 Lonsdale was humiliated by the crushing defeat of Lord Lowther at the hands of two reformers. Lonsdale enjoyed a monopoly of power in Westmorland, returning his sons for both seats, despite two strong challenges from Brougham and his Blue backers, but even here he had to cede one seat to a reformer in 1831. In Derbyshire, Devonshire shared the honours with the Tory gentry until 1831, when a second Whig aristocrat came in with his uncle Lord George Cavendish. Aristocratic influence had been unobtrusive in Devon until 1818, when Fortescue had secured the return of Ebrington, backed by the independent yeomanry and the Whig County Club. Although Ebrington lost to two Tory squires in 1820 and 1826, he ousted one of them in 1830, and in 1831 the county had two aristocratic Members, as he was joined by Lord John Russell, whose father had a Devon estate. In Durham the Whig boroughmonger, the 3rd earl of Darlington, was able to return his son William Powlett from 1815 until 1831, when his vote to wreck the reform bill, which Darlington (now marquess of Cleveland) supported, made his position untenable. The two reformers returned had Cleveland’s blessing. Beaufort returned his brother Somerset for Gloucestershire until the reform tide overwhelmed him in 1831; but the Whig who replaced him was the son of the 4th Baron Ducie. In Hertfordshire Lamb, heir of the 1st Viscount Melbourne and brother-in-law of the 5th Earl Cowper, held one seat until his voluntary retirement in 1826, with the backing of the Whig 20th Baron Dacre and the acquiescence of the Tory peers, the 1st marquess of Salisbury and the 1st earl of Verulam. However, Salisbury and his successor as 2nd marquess (from 1823) confined their forceful electioneering to Hertford. Two independent Whig squires represented the county from 1826 until 1832, and Verulam’s attempt to insert his heir Lord Grimston in 1831 ended in humiliation. Huntingdonshire had long been dominated by an uneasy coalition between two branches of the Tory Montagus, the dukes of Manchester and the earls of Sandwich. The 5th duke of Manchester’s absence abroad and the minority of the 7th earl of Sandwich made them weak in 1820, when the Manchester Member William Fellowes was joined by Lord John Russell, whose father had a stake in the county, as did Fitzwilliam. The Montagu alliance, benefiting from the coming of age in 1821 of Manchester’s heir Lord Mandeville, prevailed in 1826 and 1830, but in 1831 it disintegrated under the pressure of reforming enthusiasm and the Sandwich interest collapsed. In Lancashire the Whig 12th earl of Derby, whose heir Lord Stanley sat throughout, continued to share matters with the Tory gentry until the tide of opinion in 1831 swept in a Unitarian Manchester banker to support reform. Rutland controlled one seat for Leicestershire, which was held by his brother Manners until 1831, when he was forced to give way to the banker Paget, whom he had defeated with some difficulty in 1830. The 1st and 2nd Barons (the latter subsequently 1st Earl) Yarborough in effect nominated to one seat for Lincolnshire throughout this period, although it was occupied by a member of the family only from 1820 to 1823 and from 1831. In Monmouthshire Beaufort shared the representation with the wealthy Morgans of Tredegar; unlike them, he was powerful enough to resist the reform clamour in 1831. In Northamptonshire the resident Whig peers, who included Fitzwilliam and the 2nd Earl Spencer, and their gentry supporters shared the representation with the Tory squires. Spencer’s son Althorp, a popular and respected local figure, occupied one seat, and in 1831, when he was chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the Commons, he was joined by Milton after a bitter contest not of his own making. The Tory 3rd duke of Northumberland had a major say in the disposal of one of the Northumberland seats, but the death of his nominee in early 1826 precipitated two titanic contests in the space of just over four months in which he ostensibly remained neutral. The contenders included Liddell, the heir of the 1st Baron Ravensworth, and Howick, the heir of Grey, whose fellow Whig peers were not all enthusiastic in their support. It was not until 1831 that Howick, a junior member of his father’s ministry, secured a seat with the backing of a county reform committee. The Ultra Tory 4th duke of Newcastle was instrumental in the return of the anti-Catholic Tory Frank Sotheron for Nottinghamshire from 1814 until 1831, while the other seat went to the nominee of Portland by an arrangement in which the gentry had usually acquiesced. In 1826, however, an independent Whig replaced Portland’s brother, and in 1831 Newcastle could not prevent the forced retirement of Sotheron and the return of a committed reformer. The influence of the 5th duke of Marlborough in Oxfordshire had been eclipsed in 1816, but the lord lieutenant, the 4th earl of Macclesfield, had underpinned his brother-in-law John Fane, an independent Tory, in one seat since 1796. The Tory 5th earl of Abingdon put up his heir Norreys successfully in 1830, but he was defeated the following year by two reformers. In Rutland, Sir Gerard Noel sat throughout as the representative of the Noels, earls of Gainsborough, whose property he had inherited in 1798; and his colleague Sir Gilbert Heathcote was returned with the approval of the 2nd marquess of Exeter, the 9th earl of Winchilsea and the 6th earl of Harborough. A number of peers had influence in Shropshire, but most of them were absentees, while the lord lieutenant, the 1st earl of Powis, was deterred from aiming for control of a county seat by the cost and trouble of keeping his local boroughs of Bishop’s Castle and Ludlow in line. However, the 1st Baron Hill, whose nephew Rowland Hill sat for the county from 1821, and the 1st Baron Forester, both Tories, had considerable influence. The Staffordshire seat traditionally controlled by Lord Stafford was lost in 1820, when his son Gower, the sitting Member, was controversially withdrawn in the face of opposition inspired by the Staffordshire Freeholders’ Association; but the beneficiary was the Whig 2nd Viscount Anson, who had leagued with the Association to secure the return of Boughey. Anson was also the power behind Boughey’s replacement Sir John Wrottesley in 1823, when the refusal of Lord Francis Leveson Gower to oppose him was seen as the final surrender of the Stafford interest. In Suffolk the county’s leading peers had colluded since 1790 in a Whig-Tory division of the representation. For the former, Norfolk, the 4th duke of Grafton, the 3rd Baron Calthorpe and the 2nd Baron Huntingfield backed Sir William Rowley, who sat until 1830; while the Tories, the 5th earl of Rochford, the 5th earl of Bristol and the 3rd marquess of Hertford supported, with their gentry allies, Sir Thomas Gooch. From 1830, when Rowley retired and Gooch was defeated, aristocratic influence was less obvious. Norfolk, the 5th duke of Richmond, the 3rd earl of Ashburnham, the 2nd earl of Chichester and Egremont, the lord lieutenant, had a say in Sussex, but it was not until 1831 that Richmond, a member of the Grey ministry, secured the return of his brother Lord George Lennox, after striking a bargain with Norfolk. Worcestershire’s representation continued to be shared between the Tory 2nd Earl Beauchamp, who returned his brother Henry Lygon, and the Whig 3rd Baron Foley, whose Members were successively his cousin Sir Thomas Winnington and his son Thomas Foley. The Beauchamp interest was a victim of reform fever in 1831. Many peers had a stake and a say in Yorkshire, the principal one being Fitzwilliam. Milton sat until 1830, when Carlisle’s son Lord Morpeth was one of the Members returned.

The 13 counties in which aristocratic influence was minimal or unobtrusive were Berkshire, Cornwall, Dorset, Essex, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Kent, Middlesex, Norfolk, Somerset, Surrey, Warwickshire and Wiltshire. In Berkshire, which contained many small holdings of between 40 and 60 acres, Richard Neville, the son of the 2nd Baron Braybrooke, sat until his succession to the peerage in 1825, and thereafter the representation became the preserve of the gentry. Cornwall contained enough decayed and complaisant boroughs to satisfy the needs of its few resident peers. In Dorset, which was politically moribund until 1831, the gentry Members were not usually challenged once they were established; but the successful candidate in the by-election of September 1831 was Ashley, the son of the 6th earl of Shaftesbury, one of the small number of resident aristocrats. There were only three of these in Essex, where the Whig and Tory gentry contended for the honours, although, again, a peer’s son, Long Pole Wellesley, the duke of Wellington’s nephew, who had married and driven to the grave the heiress of Wanstead House, was returned with radical backing in 1831. There was some aristocratic activity in Hampshire, Herefordshire (where the 2nd Baron Somers tried to manage his county and borough interests in tandem), Kent, Norfolk and Warwickshire; but in all these counties the gentry were the principal contenders. The freeholders ran the show in formerly radical Middlesex, while in Surrey some formerly powerful peerage interests were in retreat by 1820, and all the Members were first or second generation gentlemen with fortunes acquired in commercial or colonial enterprises. Since 1784 it had been an unwritten rule in Somerset that the handful of resident peers did not interfere in county elections, and the representation of Wiltshire, which was rich in nomination boroughs, had long been the province of a small number of county gentlemen, who were selected by the Deptford and Beckford Clubs and then returned unopposed.

The government of the day had a distinct interest in three counties: Hampshire, where it was notably strong, thanks to the numerous crown tenants and holders of sinecure offices in the New Forest, employees of the customs and excise in the ports and workers in the forts, and, above all, the freeholders who worked in Portsmouth dockyard; Kent, where the local dockyards sustained it, and where two Tory prime ministers, Lord Liverpool and Wellington, were lord wardens of the Cinque Ports; and in Northumberland, where administration had influence as controller of the Greenwich Hospital estate. Yet the last was exerted unavailingly for their favoured candidate at the 1826 by-election. The overwhelming success of supporters of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme at the snap general election of 1831 was in line with the theory that a government had an inbuilt advantage at the first election after its formation, but the genuine widespread enthusiasm for the reform bills among county electors was the crucial element in this outcome.

Formally constituted freeholders’ associations were not much in evidence in this period, although, as noticed above, the Staffordshire Freeholders’ Association played its part in upsetting the Stafford interest in 1820. In most of the counties in 1831 support for reformers was mobilized and subsidized by networks of district and local committees staffed by volunteers, drawing perhaps on the example set earlier in Devon and by supporters of Edward Portman in Dorset in 1823, of Tavistock in Bedfordshire and Russell in Huntingdonshire in 1826, and of Paget in Leicestershire in 1830. In some counties, reform committees were established to monitor the progress of the ministerial bills and scrutinize their Members’ parliamentary conduct: Devon and Northumberland provide examples. Radical activity in the counties was quite widespread, but before 1831 was largely of nuisance value. The itinerant William Cobbett and his associates were active in Middlesex, where Francis Place and some of his Westminster cronies joined the Whigs in turning out the Tory Member William Mellish in 1820. The radical Member Joseph Hume, the relentless scourge of ministers on questions of waste and expenditure, was returned unopposed for that county in 1830. Cobbett spoke at local distress meetings in Sussex in January 1822, and at a Kent county meeting in June he carried an amendment calling for lower interest rates on the national debt. His greatest success came six months later in Norfolk, where, at a meeting called to petition for repeal of the malt duties and changes in the excise regulations, 3 Jan. 1823, he used the clamour of a primed Norwich mob to carry his alternative programme, which included the appropriation of church property, reduction of the standing army, the abolition of sinecures, the sale of crown lands and a moratorium on tithes and rents. (His Norfolk newspaper, founded to capitalize on this success, soon folded.) His intervention at the Herefordshire county meeting a fortnight later was foiled, as were the efforts of his followers the Fordhams in Hertfordshire in 1822 and 1823 and Samuel Wells, the radical attorney, in Huntingdonshire in 1823, although the previous year he had engineered a county meeting which petitioned for parliamentary reform. Wells made a nuisance of himself in neighbouring Cambridgeshire from time to time, in association with Cambridge radicals nursing a grievance against the corporation and Rutland. Cobbett’s acolyte Hallett repeated his two previous challenges to the establishment in Berkshire in 1820, but secured a derisory 132 votes in a poll which he deliberately kept open for 12 days. In the by-election of June 1832, however, he polled very respectably, with Whig support, against the Tory Robert Palmer, who beat him by 226 in a poll of 2,194. The demagogue Henry Hunt also made his mark, first in Somerset, where he was a freeholder, but, more pertinently, had been imprisoned in Ilchester gaol for his part in the Peterloo affair: in January 1823 he carried radical resolutions at two successive county meetings. In 1826 he stood against the Tory Member and magistrate Sir Thomas Lethbridge, wearing his prison clothes throughout the contest. He had a success in Hampshire later that year, when he carried an amendment calling for economy and retrenchment at a landowners’ meeting intended to petition against alteration of the corn laws. Radicals also seized the initiative at a Hampshire county meeting in March 1830, with resolutions for free trade and currency and parliamentary reform. Hunt was sensationally returned to Parliament for Preston at the December 1830 by-election necessitated by the appointment of Edward Smith Stanley, Derby’s grandson, as Irish secretary in the Grey ministry. His subsequent celebratory tour of the manufacturing towns led to the establishment in many of branches of the radical Political Union of the Working Class; while his denunciations inside and outside the House of the reform bill as inadequate inspired mass petitioning on this theme from the Lancashire towns, 1831-32. Radical agitation during the reform crisis occurred in many counties, more particularly those where industrialization was advanced. At least 17 predominantly rural counties in the south, south-east and parts of the west experienced significant ‘Swing’ disturbances, which involved mainly nocturnal arson and destruction of threshing machines, in late 1830. The most seriously affected were Berkshire, Hampshire, Kent and Wiltshire; and special commissions were held to try offenders in Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Hampshire, and Wiltshire.20 The industrial areas of Durham, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Monmouthshire and Yorkshire experienced socio-economic unrest in the form of strikes, lockouts and riots at various times.

Religious Dissent was an increasingly significant force in county politics in this period. It was particularly potent in Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Suffolk, Sussex and Yorkshire. In Bedfordshire the duke of Bedford saw Dissenters as the mainstay of the Whig interest. There was a strong and politically coherent Evangelical Dissenting interest in Buckinghamshire, where Robert John Smith was the beneficiary; and in Cambridgeshire most of the inhabitants of Cambridge and the Fenland towns who opposed Rutland’s interest were Dissenters. Lancashire was not contested, but two-thirds of the county’s petitions for the abolition of slavery and repeal of the Test Acts, and many on both sides of the Catholic question, emanated from Dissenting congregations. The county returned a Unitarian, Benjamin Heywood, in 1831. Leicestershire’s Dissenters were almost unanimously behind Paget in 1830, when he gave Rutland a scare, and he came in unopposed the following year. The support of Dissenters was crucial to the spectacular success of the outsider Brougham in Yorkshire in 1830. The established clergy were a force to be reckoned with in a few counties, notably Devon and Durham, where the dean, Henry Phillpotts, orchestrated an unsuccessful campaign to turn out Lambton in 1820. In most counties Anglican clergymen rallied to oppose Catholic emancipation, either at the hustings in 1826 or by petitioning subsequently.

A number of economic interest groups, other than the agriculturists, played a role in county elections or made their presence felt in other ways. In Cheshire the silk manufacturers and workers of Congleton, Macclesfield, Middlewich and Sandbach petitioned heavily for protection against foreign competition, 1824-6, while the weavers of Macclesfield and Stockport did so against the Combination Acts in 1824 and 1825 and for protection in 1829 and 1832. Cornish copper and tin mining interests were represented by the Member Sir William Lemon until his death in 1825, and they campaigned against free imports in 1831. Local pilchard fishermen petitioned against the salt duty in 1822 and lobbied for enhanced export bounties in 1827. In Cumberland distressed lead workers of Alston and cotton weavers of Wigton sought redress in 1828 and 1829. The Sunderland and South Shields ship owners, who backed the defeated Tory Richard Wharton in Durham in 1820, petitioned steadily for revision of the timber duties, repeal of the coastal coal duties, relaxation of the navigation laws, and relief from distress, and made known their disapproval of the Members’ support for the Liverpool ministry’s more liberal commercial policy in 1826. Many Essex towns contained silk workers, whose problems led to petitioning for protection, while in Gloucestershire cloth workers of the Stroud area petitioned against the introduction of machinery, 1820-1, and their employers did so for repeal of the wool tax, protection and the abolition of truck payments. The distressed Spitalfields silk workers in Middlesex campaigned against the removal of protecting duties from 1824. In Northumberland, the Tyneside industrialists, coal owners and ship owners formed an increasingly vociferous lobby. Somerset’s cloth workers petitioned regularly for protection, their employers did so against new machinery and Yeovil glove makers campaigned against cheap French imports. The Potteries of Staffordshire petitioned for inquiry into problems in their industry, 1820-21. In Warwickshire, it was an established tradition that one Member should look after the interests of Birmingham, although neither could afford to ignore them. Dugdale Dugdale continued to fulfil this role in this period. The Birmingham banker and political economist Richard Spooner, who sat very briefly for Boroughbridge in 1820, was active in the county. Birmingham manufacturers and tradesmen petitioned persistently on a variety of issues, including the East India Company’s trade monopoly, the navigation laws, the currency and the sugar duties, while the silk and ribbon weavers of the smaller towns sought enhanced protection. Wiltshire clothiers petitioned for relief from distress in 1820 and 1821. In Worcestershire, the carpet weavers of Kidderminster petitioned against taxes on foreign wool in 1820 and 1821 and against the Company’s monopoly, 1829-30, and silk workers of Blockley sent up petitions for relief from their distress in 1822, 1828 and 1832. The West Riding clothiers of Yorkshire represented powerful though not always united interests.



The 12 counties which were uncontested in this period were not necessarily tranquil or moribund. In Cheshire the representation was usually settled by the gentry at a pre-nomination meeting. The independent Davies Davenport and the Whig Wilbraham Egerton were returned in 1820 and 1826, but there were inconclusive canvasses in both those years and again in 1830, when Lord Grosvenor secured the return of his son in what proved to be a short-lived and costly intervention in the county, and 1831, when an anti-reformer gave up before the nomination. Gloucestershire was shared between the Whig Sir Berkeley Guise and Beaufort’s son until the reform tide swept the latter aside in 1831. Herefordshire, which had polled three times between 1796 and 1818, was a squires’ preserve, with shared Whig and Tory representation. There was some resentment of this among the independent gentry, one of whom complained in 1820 that ‘our county [is] turned into a close borough’;21 but the arrangement prevailed until 1831, when the Tory Sir John Cotterell was forced to make way for a second reformer. Hertfordshire had been the most contentious county in England between 1754 and 1805, but in this period a sometimes uneasy compromise between the leading territorial interests secured comparative tranquillity. While the independent Whig Sir John Sebright sat throughout, in 1826 Lamb opted to sit elsewhere and was replaced by another Whig, Nicolson Calvert, in what looked to some like a collusive manoeuvre. Local Tories could make no headway against him and Sebright in 1830 and 1831. After five contests between 1790 and 1818 Kent, a highly politicized county, also enjoyed comparative peace, as an informal pact secured the return of the Ultra Tory Sir Edward Knatchbull and the Whig William Honywood, who was backed by a strained alliance between the Whig peers and an amorphous group of Dissenters, independents and radicals. The ineffectual Honywood was replaced in 1830 by Thomas Hodges, who in 1831 combined with his fellow reformer Thomas Rider to drive out Knatchbull. The size and complexity of the Lancashire electorate discouraged contests (there had been none since 1747), despite constant manoeuvring by those who resented the ruling coalition between Derby and the Tory gentry, complaints that the Members failed adequately to represent the manufacturing and commercial interests, and growing pressure for one seat to be ceded to an active man of business. In 1820, some radical Whigs put up a no-hope candidate, the Liverpool militia colonel George Williams, against the sitting Members, but he did not go to a poll. The ineffectual challenge of 1826 was an opportunist one on the part of the Lowthers, who, in a bid to dissuade Derby and Stanley from backing Brougham’s attack on their Westmorland stronghold, put up the nabob Alexander Nowell. He was nominated, but, to the Lowthers’ fury, retired before the poll; a token number of votes were cast for the incumbents. In 1830 the Tory John Blackburne was quietly replaced by the moderate Ultra John Wilson Patten, but his vote against the reform bill in 1831 led to the return of the Manchester Unitarian banker Heywood with Stanley. In Monmouthshire resentment among the gentry of the ruling coalition between Beaufort and the Morgans produced only empty threats until 1831, when the reform question did for Sir Charles Morgan, who was replaced by William Addams Williams; but Beaufort’s son Lord Granville Somerset, a leading Tory party activist, remained impregnable. In Norfolk, with its large and independent yeoman squirearchy, the Foxite Whig agricultural improver Thomas Coke, who had sat since 1790, was unassailable. His colleague from 1817 was the independent Tory Edmond Wodehouse, who had enough Whig support to keep him secure against a ‘No Popery’ threat in 1826, but in 1830 conceded defeat to the Whig Sir William Ffolkes, the choice of the yeomen. Ffolkes was returned unopposed with Coke in 1831. The old sharing arrangement between Newcastle and Portland in Nottinghamshire prevailed in 1820; but when Portland’s brother Lord William Bentinck retired in 1826 he was replaced by the advanced Whig John Savile Lumley, a nephew of the 6th Lord Middleton, in what was seen as a step towards asserting the county’s independence from aristocratic domination. Newcastle, anxious to avoid a contest despite his antipathy to Lumley, acquiesced in the return of the Huskissonite John Evelyn Denison, who had the lukewarm support of his father-in-law Portland, in 1830; but in 1831 the enthusiasm for reform was, as Newcastle admitted, ‘so strong and general’ that the Tory cause was ‘utterly hopeless’, though he cast round to the bitter end for a man to put up against Lumley and Denison.22 Rutland quietly returned Noel and Heathcote. Staffordshire had been kept peaceful since 1747 by the pact between the interest of Lord Stafford and the independent gentry, whose Whig Member Littleton was secure throughout this period. However, as noticed above, growing resentment of Stafford’s hegemony among the independent freeholders led in 1820 to a challenge from Boughey, backed by Anson, which resulted in the late and sensational capitulation of Stafford’s son Gower. After fierce contests in 1818 and 1819, a general desire to avoid further disruption and acrimony brought peace to Wiltshire, where the popular Tory John Astley and the Whig agriculturist John Benett sat throughout, despite threats of opposition in 1820 and 1831, when Astley became a convert to reform.

Fourteen counties experienced one contest, but those in Derbyshire (1820) and Hampshire (1830) were token affairs. In 1820 there were polls in Durham, Middlesex and Warwickshire (by-election); in 1823 there was a contested by-election in Lincolnshire; in 1826 Somerset was contested; in 1830 Leicestershire and Suffolk had contests; and in 1831 the peace was disturbed in Buckinghamshire, Cornwall, Northamptonshire, Shropshire and Worcestershire. Eight counties had two contests. Berkshire was polled in 1820 and at the by-election of June 1832, when the Conservative former Member Robert Palmer, playing down the reform issue, narrowly beat the radical Hallett, who was supported by the Birmingham and other political unions and leading national reformers. The contest was seen by one Tory squire as an opportunity for the establishment to discredit ‘the experiment … whether blackguards can govern this country as well as gentlemen have governed it’.23 The 1820 contest in Cumberland, unpolled since 1768, ended in fiasco, but in 1831 the reform movement gave Sir James Graham, one of the architects of the first reform bill, and the popular candidate William Blamire a crushing victory over Lord Lowther. Dorset was fiercely contested twice in the space of seven months in 1831, when the October by-election was minutely monitored in the press and seen primarily as a test of public opinion as the reintroduced reform bill was sent to the Lords. Northumberland, uncontested since 1774, saw two ferocious and expensive contests, with confusing alliances, in the space of five months in 1826. Surrey was contested in 1826 and 1830. The Sussex contests occurred in 1820 and 1826, and on the first occasion, when the county hierarchy coalesced to secure the return of two Tories, the king’s confidant Sir Benjamin Bloomfield described the struggle as a ‘question whether the rabble of the towns shall prevail over the property of the county’.24 The Westmorland contests of 1820 and 1826 were the continuation of Brougham’s abortive challenge to the ability of Lonsdale to return his two eldest sons with impunity and an aspect of the Cumbrian Whigs’ war of attrition against Lonsdale in Cumberland and Carlisle. Neither of the Yorkshire contests (in 1830 and at the by-election the following December) was remotely close to a full-scale affair, but the return of the outsider Brougham on the first occasion was a significant sign of changing times.

Of the six counties which suffered three contests, Bedfordshire (2,800), Cambridgeshire (4,000), Huntingdonshire (1,900) and Oxfordshire (3,500) had some of the smallest electorates. In Bedfordshire, the second seat was contended for in 1820, 1826 and 1831, when two reformers were successful. The 1826 contest in Cambridgeshire saw an unsuccessful attack on Rutland’s interest, which was spectacularly overturned in 1830. The by-election of November 1831 assumed an air of national significance in the light of the Lords’ rejection of the reform bill and the ministerial reverse in Dorset; the reformer Richard Townley beat the Tory Charles Philip Yorke by 536 votes in a poll of 3,426. The 1820 contest in Devon was a replay of the epic affair of 1818, but the 1826 contest was a farce. In 1830 the county independents secured the return of the Whig Ebrington. The Whig-Tory gentry compromise in Essex held in 1820 and 1826, but there were contests in early 1830, at the general election five months later, and in 1831. Huntingdonshire was contested in 1826, 1830, and 1831, when the Tory Sandwich interest was humiliated by the independents. Oxfordshire, uncontested since the ruinous affair of 1754, was polled in 1826, 1830 and 1831, when two reformers came in.



At least 141 county meetings, called to consider specific political issues, took place in this period. There seem to have been none in Buckinghamshire, Dorset, Lancashire, where meetings were conducted on a town and parish basis, and Westmorland, other than those held to vote formal congratulation and condolence on a change of monarch. The following counties had only one meeting in this period: Oxfordshire and Shropshire, where local Tories called meetings in January 1821 to vote a loyal address to the king in the context of the Queen Caroline affair (in the former county, a Whig pro-queen amendment was carried, and in the latter one was defeated); Gloucestershire, Leicestershire and Northamptonshire, where meetings were held in March 1831 to endorse the reform scheme, and Sussex, where the county met in November 1831 to express support for the government and its bill following its defeat in the Lords and overruled a radical demand for a more strongly worded address. The counties which met most frequently were Cambridgeshire and Devon (nine times), Middlesex and Norfolk (seven), and Essex and Suffolk (six). Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Warwickshire and Worcestershire were convened on two occasions, and the remainder between three and five times. In addition to Oxfordshire and Shropshire, Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Derbyshire, Durham, Hampshire, Huntingdonshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Nottinghamshire, Surrey and Wiltshire met to consider the queen’s case in 1820 and early 1821. Most of these meetings were promoted by Whigs, but those in Cheshire, Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire were called by Tories to declare loyalty to George IV. Pro-queen amendments were defeated in Cheshire (where the sheriff’s conduct of the meeting was made a case of complaint in the House) and carried in Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire. The petitions sent from Bedfordshire and Cambridgeshire linked support for the queen with a call for parliamentary reform, but radical attempts to do so at the Huntingdonshire and (second) Middlesex meetings were thwarted. The local Whigs were frustrated in their attempt to call a meeting in Essex by a Tory intervention with the lord lieutenant, and their decision not to convene Yorkshire on the issue because of fear of a radical takeover was seen as a major blow to the parliamentary opposition’s campaign. Petitioning in support of the queen was widespread from the unfranchised towns, villages and parishes of most counties. There was a rash of county meetings called to petition for relief from the prevalent agricultural distress between 1820 and 1823. The usual remedies of lower taxes and enhanced protection were supplemented by calls for parliamentary reform in Cambridgeshire (1822), Cornwall (1822), Devon (1821 and, by amendment, 1822), Middlesex (1822), Norfolk (by inference, 1822), Suffolk (1821 and 1822), Surrey (1822 and 1823) and Worcestershire (1822). Amendments calling for reform were got rid of in Essex in 1823 and Hertfordshire in 1822. County meetings called to petition specifically for parliamentary reform took place in 1822 in Bedfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire and Norfolk, and in 1823 in Yorkshire, where it was hoped to set an example for the rest of the country, and, following suit, in Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Somerset and Yorkshire. The Cambridgeshire county meeting of 1823 was a Cobbettite affair, which called also for revision of tithes; but at those in Hertfordshire and Huntingdonshire radical amendments were defeated. The Middlesex gathering ended in chaos and no more were held until 1830. Nor did reform feature again on the agenda of county meetings until early 1830, when Bedfordshire, Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cumberland, Essex, Hampshire, Hertfordshire, Huntingdonshire, Kent, Norfolk, Northumberland, Rutland, Suffolk and Surrey met to petition for relief from agricultural distress (or, in the case of Cheshire, from commercial distress also), principally by repeal of the beer and malt duties. Wider tax cuts, retrenchment and currency reform were called for in Cambridgeshire (by amendment), Cheshire and Suffolk, and an attempt to insert these demands in the Norfolk petition was defeated. Parliamentary reform was demanded by the radical promoters of the Hertfordshire meeting and was carried against a bid by Salisbury and Melbourne to suppress it. Radical amendments for reform were carried in Essex, Hampshire and Kent, but rejected in Cumberland. Devon met on 15 Jan. 1830 to petition for a revision of tithes. That county met to petition against Catholic relief, 10 Mar. 1821, when a Whig amendment for concessions was crushed, as was a pro-Catholic counter-proposal at the disorderly mass meeting on 16 Jan. 1829. At the Kent meeting called to petition against relief, 24 Oct. 1828, the Brunswickers (anti-Catholics) mustered on Penenden Heath in large numbers, but there was also a significant Whig and radical presence, and the anti-Catholic petition was only controversially carried. Herefordshire Tories met to protest against the concession of Catholic emancipation, 28 Mar. 1829, but little enthusiasm was shown and the petition was abandoned. Petitions against emancipation were sent up from Rutland and Surrey county meetings. Hampshire met to petition for the repeal of some assessed taxes, 23 Apr. 1824. Petitions for the abolition of slavery were carried at county meetings in Cambridgeshire and Surrey in 1826 and in Hertfordshire in November 1830. Bedfordshire petitioned against interference with the corn laws in 1827. On the eve of the meeting of the 1830 Parliament a Lincolnshire meeting petitioned for tax cuts, and a Norfolk one did so for repeal of the malt duties. Speakers at a low-key Devon county meeting convened to petition for parliamentary reform, 26 Nov. 1830, were inhibited by the recent change of ministry and expectations of action from the new government; but Middlesex met to petition for retrenchment, radical reform and a revision of tithes, 15 Dec. 1830. The following counties met formally to petition for reform or to endorse the ministerial reform scheme in the first three months of 1831: Berkshire (twice); Cambridgeshire; Cheshire (where some Tory dissent was voiced); Cornwall; Cumberland; Derbyshire; Devon; Durham; Essex (twice); Gloucestershire; Hampshire (where both sitting Members spoke against reform); Herefordshire (where the Members stayed away); Huntingdonshire; Kent; Leicestershire; Middlesex; Monmouthshire; Northamptonshire; Northumberland (twice); Nottinghamshire; Somerset (where a hostile Tory amendment was defeated and Hunt carried a motion of censure against the anti-reform Member Dickinson); Staffordshire; Suffolk; Surrey; Warwickshire (where 10,000 political unionists attended); Wiltshire; Worcestershire, and Yorkshire. A Durham meeting addressed the king in thanks for the dissolution and his support of reform in May 1831, but the following month a Staffordshire Tory gathering condemned the reform plan. There was a spate of county meetings to petition the Lords to pass the English reform bill in September and October 1831: Berkshire, Derbyshire, Devon, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Monmouthshire and Wiltshire met for this purpose. Following the Lords’ rejection of the bill, a number of county meetings were held to address the king in support of the measure and the ministry: in Cheshire; Cornwall (which Lord Falmouth lamented had, ‘from being one of the most loyal [counties] ... become the most radical in England’);25 Cumberland; Essex (where Whittle Harvey’s attack on tithes caused friction); Hampshire (where Cobbett’s call for an immediate dissolution was narrowly defeated); Herefordshire; Lincolnshire; Monmouthshire; Norfolk (where a protest against the proposed division of the county for electoral purposes was stifled); Northumberland; Staffordshire; Suffolk; Sussex (where a radical amendment was overruled); Warwickshire; Wiltshire, and Yorkshire. A poorly attended Berkshire county meeting, 25 May 1832, petitioned the Lords in favour of the revised reform bill, and one held the same day in Devon called on the Commons to resist any amendments made by the Upper House. The unanimity of county meetings held to address the crown on a change of sovereign was very rarely disturbed, but there were a few instances of departure from convention in this period. In Devon in 1820 an amendment to add the words ‘church and state’ to the address, proposed by two Anglican clergymen who were hostile to Catholic relief, was only dropped after the exertion of pressure by several speakers. There was a prospect of disunity in Cornwall in 1820, but Mount Edgcumbe worked behind the scenes to secure the adoption of a milk and water resolution. At the Cheshire meeting, 3 Mar. 1820, there was intruded a joint Whig and Tory requisition asking the independent Member Davenport not to retire. Attempts were made in Berkshire and Devon in 1830 to introduce the issue of agricultural distress. On at least 18 occasions requisitions for an official county meeting were refused by sheriffs, but the promoters went ahead and called freeholders’ meetings in their capacity as magistrates. This happened on the Queen Caroline affair in Berkshire, Cornwall, Gloucestershire, Kent, Middlesex (where Cobbett and the radicals prevailed) and Northumberland; on agricultural distress in Shropshire (1822) and Herefordshire (1823), when the moderate Whigs managed to carry an alternative to Cobbett’s radical amendment; on parliamentary reform in Devon and Hampshire (where Hunt carried a petition) in 1823; on Catholic emancipation in Buckinghamshire in 1829, when Chandos organized a freeholders’ meeting to evade his father’s veto on attendance at any anti-Catholic county meetings; on distress and reform in Cornwall in March 1830, on reform in January 1831, and to petition for supplies to be withheld until reform was secured in May 1832, though the last was abandoned when the Grey ministry was reinstated; for repeal of the beer and malt duties in Lincolnshire in 1830, and to petition the Lords for the reform bill in Gloucestershire in September 1831. There were countless other public meetings, on these and other issues, in the non-parliamentary towns and villages and at hundred and parish level.

Most of these meetings (and of course those which occurred in the parliamentary boroughs) produced petitions to the Commons or the Lords or to both. Petitions were also got up and circulated for signature by interested parties, without recourse to public debate. The chief subjects on which Parliament was petitioned in this period were agricultural distress (1820-23, 1830); the Queen Caroline affair (1820-1); parliamentary reform (1821-3, 1830, 1831) and the Grey ministry’s reform scheme (1831-2); abolition of the death penalty for forgery offences and mitigation of the criminal code (1821-2, 1830); the abolition of slavery, principally, but not exclusively by Dissenters (1824, 1826, 1830-31, 1832); the Catholic question, on both sides, but overwhelmingly against relief (1821, 1825, 1827-9); against alteration of the corn laws (1825-6, 1827-8); for their revision or repeal (from centres of industry in Durham, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Middlesex, Warwickshire, Westmorland, Worcestershire and Yorkshire, at various times); for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act (from Durham, Essex, Lincolnshire, Monmouthshire, Norfolk, Northumberland, Rutland, Shropshire, Suffolk, Warwickshire and Yorkshire); from Dissenters for repeal of the Test and Corporations Acts (1827-8); and against the sale of beer bill (1830). Petitions for repeal of the coastal coal duties came from Cornwall, Durham, Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northumberland and Suffolk. The manufacturing and commercial interests of Lancashire and Warwickshire sought the removal of restrictions on trade, while Cheshire, Durham, Gloucestershire, Lancashire, Leicestershire, Monmouthshire, Shropshire, Staffordshire, Warwickshire and Yorkshire were among the counties from which originated petitions against renewal of the East India Company’s monopolistic charter in 1830. Lancashire petitioned heavily for inquiry into the Peterloo massacre in 1821, and again in 1832. All the six northern counties produced petitions against the unpopular registry of deeds bill in 1831. Petitions for reform of tithes came from Devon, Gloucestershire, Kent and Norfolk. On the queen’s case, many of her supporters addressed her directly, while Tories and ministerialists in a number of counties sent loyal addresses to the king. There was some petitioning against the reform bills: from Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Hertfordshire in 1831, for example. More widespread during the reform crisis was the careful and restricted promotion by leading county Tories of anti-reform declarations or addresses asking the king to proscribe the political unions and to resist ministerial pressure for the mass creation of peers to carry reform through the Lords: there were instances of this in Cambridgeshire, Cheshire, Cornwall, Cumberland, Devon, Gloucestershire, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Kent, Lancashire, Norfolk, Northumberland, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Staffordshire, Suffolk, Sussex, Warwickshire and Worcestershire; but the opponents of reform were very much on the back foot.

A strong party dimension was evident in many counties. Voting on party lines was very marked in Bedfordshire in 1820 (84 per cent), 1826 (88), and 1831 (89); in Buckinghamshire in 1831 (88); in Dorset in 1831 (95); in Durham in 1820 (85); in Huntingdonshire in 1826 (88); in Northamptonshire in 1831 (80); in Sussex in 1820 (90), and in Westmorland in 1820 (90) and 1826 (98). In Cheshire, where there were Tory clubs in Macclesfield and Stockport, a county Whig Club was founded in 1821 to promote moderate reform. Party allegiances were well defined in Cumberland between the Tory Yellows and the Whig Blues: in a protracted contest for the county coronership in 1821 the Yellow candidate won by 76 votes in a poll of 1,968, and there was party strife at the quarter sessions in January 1831. The Derbyshire True Blue Club was the focus for Tory opponents of Devonshire’s interest. The Devon County Club was a significant factor in Whig electoral success, and in October 1830 chastened Tories formed the Devon Constitutional Society. In Essex the local Whigs rallied annually at the Maldon Independent Club, the Tories at various True Blue or Pitt Clubs. In Gloucestershire, where the Constitutional Whig Association had been formed in 1816, the Tories established True Blue Clubs in 1832, and the Whig reformers countered with the Cheltenham Loyal and Patriotic Association. The Tory interest in Hampshire was buttressed by the Hampshire County Club, and a Reform Club emerged in 1829. Party organization was well developed in Herefordshire and Kent. Lancashire had its Tory Pitt Clubs and the Cheshire Whig Club, while in Norfolk Foxite dinners and a Pitt Club served as rallying points for partisans. In Suffolk, Foxite meetings were revived as reform dinners, 1821-4, and Pitt Club dinners were held in response. The cry of electoral independence was quite often adopted, even when the conflict was clearly on party lines. Thus the Bedfordshire Tories espoused it in 1826, as did the Cumberland Whig Blues in 1820, while it was part of Brougham’s stock-in-trade in his attacks on the Lonsdale interest in Westmorland in 1820 and 1826. Independence was of course the watchword of Hallett in Berkshire in 1832 and of the no-hoper Peter Crompton in Derbyshire in 1820. Supporters of the unexceptionable and absent Edward Portman used it against the unpopular Henry Bankes in Dorset in 1823. Lambton exploited it in his attacks on the Liverpool ministry in Durham in 1820, and at the two Essex elections of 1830 it was taken up by Long Pole Wellesley and his supporters against the prevailing Whig-Tory alliance. Russell relied heavily on this platform in Huntingdonshire in 1820 and 1826, as did the reformer Rooper in his successful campaign in 1831. In Leicestershire the run against the Rutland interest in 1830 was inspired by a desire for electoral independence, and after the election the defeated Paget chaired a meeting called to promote it. Heron promoted the cause of independence in Lincolnshire in 1820, and in 1823 it was taken up by more radical men in opposition to the Yarborough interest. In 1831 the independence cry was raised by the Tories against the Whig peers Althorp and Milton in Northamptonshire, while in Nottinghamshire it was employed by the reformer John Evelyn Denison against the Newcastle interest. In Northumberland in 1826 Bell claimed a monopoly on independence as a resident gentleman, in contrast to the pretensions of his fellow Tory Liddell, the son of an absentee peer. The unsuccessful anti-Catholic candidate for Oxfordshire paid lip service to the concept in 1826. There was an element of it in the campaign for Charles Tyrell in Suffolk in 1830, and Sir Godfrey Webster adopted it in his futile attack on the ruling coalition in Sussex in 1826.

It was taken for granted that county Members should pay close attention to local interests and legislation, but some were more assiduous than others. Occasionally a local issue assumed considerable importance, as in the case of Cheshire’s palatine jurisdiction and the controversial administration of justice bill, which remodelled the Welsh judicature and abolished the palatine jurisdiction in 1830. Middlesex threw up many local controversies, especially those relating to county administration and expenditure. In many counties, especially the industrializing ones of the North and Midlands, canal, harbour, railway, road and town improvement bills were the subject of intense debate and lobbying. At the same time, no Member in this period can definitely be said to have lost his seat as a result of inattention to local concerns. National issues were freely aired at almost all county elections, whether contested or not. At the 1820 general election the government’s repressive legislation in the wake of Peterloo and the fear of sedition enhanced by the Cato Street plot to murder the cabinet dominated proceedings and divided opinions, and there was advocacy of parliamentary reform in Berkshire, Cambridgeshire, Cumberland, Herefordshire, Huntingdonshire, Middlesex and Norfolk. Agricultural distress and the need for improved protection were discussed in a number of counties, but the Catholic question was little mentioned, except in Devon, Essex, Kent, Norfolk, Rutland and Somerset. By the time of the 1826 general election this had become the dominant issue of the day, with the press reports of almost every county election devoting much space to it. Agricultural protection, specifically the Liverpool government’s recent relaxations of the corn laws, was also on the agenda, as was the burgeoning extra-parliamentary crusade for the abolition of slavery. Reform agitation was in abeyance, but the issue was broached in Cambridgeshire, Devon, Hampshire, Herefordshire, Hertfordshire, Lincolnshire, Northamptonshire, Somerset, Surrey, Sussex, Wiltshire and Yorkshire. It was much more prominent in 1830, when it was aired in every county except Derbyshire, Dorset, Monmouthshire, Nottinghamshire, Oxfordshire, Rutland, Staffordshire, Wiltshire and Worcestershire, and helped to inflict surprising defeats on ministerialists in Cambridgeshire, Devon and Suffolk. Retrospective comment on Catholic emancipation, plus slavery abolition and, in some counties, currency or tithe reform, were other topics of debate. Reform was the overwhelmingly dominant issue at the 1831 general election, called by the Grey ministry after the defeat of their first reform bill on the Tory Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment. As mentioned above, supporters of the ministerial scheme swept the board, many being returned at little or no cost by the efforts of volunteers. Some Tory opponents of the measure professed to favour ‘moderate reform’, as against the sweeping ministerial scheme; but it availed them naught, as they were either defeated at the polls or obliged to bow to the inevitable. Only six of the 34 county Members who had voted against the first reform bill survived the election. As already noticed, the by-elections in Dorset and Cambridgeshire in the autumn of 1831, when attention was focused on the fate of the reform bill in the Lords, were regarded as tests of the comparative strengths of reform enthusiasm and reaction against it. On all these and other issues Members and candidates were liable to be questioned and criticized on the hustings. Such exchanges were sometimes acrimonious, and many Members resorted to the conventional argument that as independent men they reserved their right to exercise their conscientious judgement on specific issues.

Of the 160 English county Members returned in this period, 38 (24 per cent) were the sons or brothers of peers. Numerous others were connected to the aristocracy more tenuously or by marriage. There were 32 baronets among the county Members. A few held government offices: Althorp, John Calcraft, Graham, Howick, Lord Lowther, Sir James Macdonald, Lord John Russell, and Lords Granville and Robert Somerset. Three Members were bankers: the two Unitarians, Heywood and Paget, and Kedgwin Hoskins, the son of an Anglican clergyman. Blamire was derided by some Tories as a ‘cattle dealer’, having pioneered the trade in Solway cattle to Liverpool, but he was respectable and well-connected with the Cumbrian Whigs. Macqueen, the son of a Scottish quack doctor who had not long resided in Bedfordshire on his wife’s inherited estate, was regarded with snobbish contempt by the Russells and their friends, especially as he threw money about. The radical Hume, a former East India Company naval surgeon turned nabob, and a Scot to boot, was perhaps an unlikely county Member, but he was well suited to semi-metropolitan Middlesex. County Members were mostly a dignified and respected lot, and some of them enjoyed considerable standing in the House. There were a few exceptions. John Cressett Pelham, an incessant and often inaudible speaker, at times displayed symptoms of the insanity which had interrupted his parliamentary career at the turn of the eighteenth century. William Russell was mentally unstable and alcoholic. Long Pole Wellesley, wastrel, debtor and adulterer, who dragged his family’s affairs through the courts, was a man with no redeeming features.


The Boroughs

There were 203 English boroughs, which returned 405 Members. All returned two, except for the five single Member boroughs of Abingdon, Banbury, Bewdley, Higham Ferrers and Monmouth (with its contributory boroughs of Newport and Usk); and London and the combined boroughs of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, which returned four each. Grampound was disfranchised for corruption in 1821 and its two seats were given to the county of Yorkshire, with effect (as it turned out) from the 1826 general election.

There were six basic types of borough franchise, although some boroughs had mixed rights of election: freeman franchise; scot and lot franchise; burgage franchise; corporation franchise; householder franchise and freeholder franchise.


Freeman. The largest category of boroughs was that in which the franchise lay wholly or predominantly in the freemen. There were 92 in all, including Eye, which has previously been mistakenly treated as a scot and lot borough, returning 183 Members. Eighty-eight returned two each, three (Bewdley, Higham Ferrers and Monmouth) returned one and London, with its livery franchise, elected four. There were a number of variations on the franchise. Freemen had to be resident in Bishop’s Castle (but not aldermen), Chester, East Retford (at the time of their admission), Great Grimsby, Hastings, Launceston (at the time of the election), Monmouth and its contributory boroughs (though this was a subject of legal dispute), Newcastle-under-Lyme and Stafford. At Boston, Camelford, Rye, Shrewsbury and Winchelsea the franchise was in resident freemen who paid scot and lot; and at Grampound in rate paying freemen whether resident or not. Freemen and householders paying scot and lot had the vote at Leicester and St. Albans, while inhabitant ratepayers and freemen were enfranchised in Southampton. Freeholders as well as freemen were allowed to vote in Bristol, Exeter, Norwich, Nottingham, Okehampton and Tewkesbury, and in Bedford and Hertford the franchise was extended to householders. At Guildford freeholders paying scot could vote as well as resident freemen. At Lichfield the franchise was in the bailiffs, magistrates, 40s. freeholders (including annuitants), burgage holders and freemen paying scot and lot. The franchise at St. Mawes was held at the beginning of this period to be in the resident freemen; but in December 1830 a Commons election committee ruled that it was in the inhabitant householders paying scot and lot and the freeholders within the borough.

The total estimated electorate of these boroughs in 1831 was about 112,000, an advance of 29,000 (35 per cent) on the 1818 total. The most striking increases occurred in some of the larger boroughs, notably Leicester, Lancaster, Liverpool, London, York, Maldon, Newcastle, Bristol, Norwich, Nottingham, Worcester and Canterbury. There were 33 freeman boroughs with electorates of over 1,000 (as against 26 in the previous period). They include Lichfield and Southampton, which began this period with fewer than 1,000 electors but passed that threshold during it. Boroughs with between 500 and 999 electors numbered 15 and there were 44 with fewer than 500. Overall, 204 of the 488 elections were contested (41 per cent, as against 34 per cent in the previous period). Of 363 general elections (disfranchised Grampound only experienced one, and East Retford only two as a freeman borough), 163 were contested (45 per cent, compared with 40 per cent in the preceding period). Of the 125 by-elections, 41 were contested (33 per cent, as against 22 per cent, 1790-1820). As before, the large boroughs were contested with greater frequency than the others: of their 162 elections, 90 (56 per cent) were contested: 77 of 132 general elections (58 per cent) and 13 of 30 by-elections (43 per cent) saw polls. The medium-sized freeman boroughs experienced contests at 48 out of 78 elections (62 per cent): the figures for general elections were 37 out of 60 (62 per cent) and for by-elections 11 out of 18 (61 per cent). In the small freeman boroughs 62 of 248 elections (25 per cent) went to a poll. Of 171 general elections, 51 were contested (30 per cent); and of 77 by-elections 11 (14 per cent) were fought.

The total population (in 1831) of the 33 large freeman boroughs was about 941,000, and their estimated combined electorate was about 93,400. These figures mask some wide discrepancies. At one extreme of population were Liverpool (165,000), the City of London (123,000), with Norwich (61,000), Bristol (59,000), Nottingham (50,200), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (42,500) and Leicester (40,000) some way behind. The smallest in terms of population were Maldon (3,800), Bridgnorth (4,700), Bedford (6,900) and Beverley (7,400). The largest electorates were in London (12,000), Bristol (6,400), Liverpool (5,300), Leicester (5,000), Newcastle-upon-Tyne (5,000), Nottingham (5,000), Norwich (4,200), Lancaster (4,000), York (3,800) and Coventry (3,500). Deducting these from the total leaves 39,200, which gives an average electorate for the other 23 large freeman boroughs of 1,704. Non-residents formed a significant part of the electorate, which added greatly to the cost of contests, at Lancaster and Maldon (almost all); Gloucester, Ipswich and Lincoln (two-thirds); Berwick-upon-Tweed, Canterbury and Durham (about half); Beverley, Dover and Oxford (a third); and Coventry, Kingston-upon-Hull and Norwich (a quarter). The most intensive and numerous admissions of freemen for electoral purposes in this period occurred at Liverpool (2,200), Coventry and Newcastle-upon-Tyne (1,700) and Dover (1,261). In the prelude to the 1826 general election, over 2,000 were created at Leicester, and over 1,800 at Maldon. None of the large boroughs escaped a contest, but six (Bedford, Hereford, Lancaster, Leicester, Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Worcester) had only one. The most contentious were Beverley, Coventry, Great Yarmouth and Ipswich, where all elections were contested, while Liverpool had seven contests out of eight (only one, however, not being a foregone conclusion) and Berwick-upon-Tweed experienced six out of eight.

Dealing first with the large boroughs which had only one contest, at Bedford (electorate 1,100) the Whig 6th duke of Bedford, in alliance with the corporation, shared the representation with the wealthy Whig Whitbread brewing family. In 1830 a Tory, who spent lavishly on treating and bribes, took advantage of corporation dissatisfaction with the inattention of Bedford’s son Lord William Russell to defeat his brother Lord John by one vote. Hereford, a politically lively borough with an electorate of about 1,100, was contested in 1826 when the Tory sitting Member Lord Eastnor, son of the 1st Earl Somers, was challenged by the liberal Edward Bolton Clive, who was endorsed by Eastnor’s retiring Whig colleague Richard Scudamore, and the wealthy anti-Catholic Tory Richard Blakemore, backed by the corporation. Eastnor announced his retirement, but he was put in nomination by the local Pitt Club. His return was never in doubt, and Clive and Blakemore strove to outbribe each other, to the tune of £12 to £18 per voter; Clive won. There was no single dominant interest at Lancaster, which had been contested four times between 1790 and 1818, but was quieter in this period. The contest of 1830, inspired by a desire for a liberal mercantile man, as well as greed, posed no serious threat to the complacent sitting Tory squires. About a fifth of Leicester’s electors were amenable to bribery, and elections cost a minimum of £2,500. The major player was the corrupt Tory corporation, who were in conflict on party lines with an independent opposition based partly on religious Dissent. In 1826 Robert Otway Cave, a friend of Sir Francis Burdett, offered and dissembled his pro-Catholic views in order to curry favour with the corporation. After some backstage dirty dealing and a violent poll, he was returned with the corporation’s avowed anti-Catholic candidate. Public recriminations and an unsuccessful opposition motion for a Commons inquiry into the corporation’s interference ensued. The representation of Newcastle-upon-Tyne remained in the hands of landed families closely connected with its expanding trade, coal and shipping interests, whose active leaders dreaded the expense and disruption of contested elections. The anti-Catholic Tory attempt of 1820 to oust the pro-Catholic Tory Charles Ellison failed dismally. At Worcester, where the electorate rose from 2,000 to almost 3,000, the self-elected corporation was allied to the patron and recorder, the 7th earl of Coventry, and was opposed by excluded independents and Dissenters, who relegated the corporation candidate to third place in 1826

Of the more frequently contested boroughs, London was unique in its livery franchise and four Members. (A freeman franchise would have increased the electorate tenfold.) In 1820 two Tories, aided by reaction to the Cato Street conspiracy, replaced a Whig and the radical Robert Waithman. The last was successful on a purity of election platform in 1826 when he came in with his more extreme radical associate Matthew Wood, a Tory and an anti-Catholic independent. At the first uncontested City election for 141 years, the same men were re-elected in 1830; and in 1831 four reformers, of varying degrees of enthusiasm, walked over. An electors’ watch committee was formed to monitor their conduct and the progress of the reform bills, and their public chastisement of William Thompson and William Venables for a couple of wayward votes gave parliamentary ammunition to the Tory opposition. Elsewhere, anti-Catholic challenges to the Whitmore family’s domination of Bridgnorth (electorate over 1,500) in 1826 and 1830 were ineffectual. At Lichfield (electorate rising from 900 to over 1,250), the interest of the Whig 2nd Viscount Anson overcame independent challenges in 1826 and 1830, but on the second occasion a compromise was agreed for the next election. A Tory-Whig electoral alliance at Maldon (electorate 1,500, rising later to 3,400) only narrowly defeated a wealthy outsider in 1826, and on the death of one of the sitting Members the following year the intruder’s brother was successful. The Whig Earls Grosvenor returned one and often both Members for Chester (electorate 1,300) from 1715 to 1874; but the Grosvenor candidates were run very close by men put up by the local independents opposed to the subservient corporation in 1820 and 1826, and the representation was shared from 1830.

Corporations, with control over the admission of freemen, were major electoral players in a number of these boroughs. Their exclusivity and self-perpetuation spawned independent opposition parties. At Exeter (electorate 1,300), the Anglican corporation, natural allies of the cathedral and parish clergy, was at odds with the excluded smaller tradesmen and shopkeepers, who had a focus in religious Dissent. Popular anti-Catholicism was a significant factor in the contest of 1820. At Oxford (electorate 2,200) and Dover (2,000), Tory corporations lost a seat to independents in 1826, but the tables were turned at the former in 1830. Government had some influence at Dover, as also at Rochester (electorate 1,050), where the Tory Purples of the corporation were opposed by a strong Blue Whig and independent interest, who held one seat from 1826, and the parties had local organizations. Third men were sought to disrupt compromise. At Shrewsbury (electorate 1,200), where the Tory corporation, in alliance with the 6th earl of Powis, and a Whig interest returned the Members, anti-Catholic third men intervened in 1826, unsuccessfully, and 1830, when the Tory sitting Member was beaten. At Colchester (electorate 1,500), the corporation was identified with the True Blue anti-Catholic interest and bolstered by the local Tory gentry, while the rather incoherent opposition to it was embodied in the Unitarian radical Member Daniel Whittle Harvey. A breakaway Independent Club was formed by some of Harvey’s disgruntled London supporters in 1830, and in 1831 their candidate won a by-election and came in with Harvey at the subsequent general election, at the expense of the corporation’s man. There was an anti-corporation party at Durham (electorate 1,200), where the main protagonists were the neighbouring gentry and entrepreneurs, the London out-voters, the clergy and the corporation. Two of the four contests (1823 and 1828 by-elections) were token affairs. At Gloucester (electorate 1,900), the self-electing corporation was largely Whig in composition and party conflict, which often turned on national issues, was well established and institutionalized; it was the Tories, centred on the True Blue Club and backed by the 6th duke of Beaufort, who adopted the language of independence. The corporation of Coventry, where elections were rowdy, costly and violent (as in most of these boroughs), was also largely Whig, but it contained some active anti-Catholic Tories. In 1826 depression in the local silk trade and popular anti-Catholicism contributed to the defeat by two Tories of the Whig sitting Members. A political union played an important role in 1831, when two reformers were successful. The solidly Whig corporation of Nottingham returned both Members, defeating Tory challenges narrowly in 1820, and with ease in 1826 and 1830.

There was a well-defined and organized party dimension to electoral conflict in Bristol, Canterbury (electorate 2,300) and Norwich, all of which were turbulent and formidably expensive to contest. Party was important also at Ipswich (electorate 1,150), while partisan voting and high turnouts were the order of the day at Great Yarmouth (2,000); but money was the key to success in both boroughs. Venality flourished at Lincoln (electorate 1,400) and York, though an aristocratic interest operated at both. Corruption was deeply entrenched at Berwick-upon-Tweed (electorate 1,150), Beverley (1,500), Kingston-upon-Hull (2,500-3,000), Liverpool and Southampton (1,700). At Liverpool, the desperately fought by-election of November 1830, necessitated by the untimely death of William Huskisson, when his supporter William Ewart, whose late father had been the most powerful merchant in Liverpool, was ranged against his political associate John Evelyn Denison, was essentially a struggle between rival factions in the local commercial elite. Ewart prevailed by 29 votes in a poll of 4,401, during which bribery and treating exceeded even the most cynical forecasts. The costs were enormous. The corruption exposed by the inquiry into the ensuing petitions led to the voiding of the election and suspension of the writ, and later to abortive disfranchisement legislation as a sideshow to the reform bills.

The combined population of the 15 medium-sized boroughs in 1831 was about 137,500, and the estimated total electorate was 12,000. The largest boroughs were Derby (23,600), Carlisle (19,000), Wenlock (17,000, spread over 71 square miles), Maidstone (15,000) and Boston (11,000). The electorates of Grantham, Ludlow, Stafford and Sudbury were not far short of 1,000, and Sandwich (930), Carlisle (900) and Maidstone (900) had electorates at the upper end of the scale. The smallest were at Boston and Wenlock (500) and Tewkesbury (525). The incidence of non-residence was highest at Sandwich, Barnstaple and Grantham (two-thirds), followed by Tewkesbury (half). At Stafford there were 639 freeman admissions in this period, and at Sudbury 276 in the election years. Only Derby was uncontested, while Ludlow, Tewkesbury and Wenlock saw one contest each. At Boston, Grantham, Maidstone and Stafford all elections were contested; and at Barnstaple, Newcastle-under-Lyme, St. Albans and Sudbury all but one.

Derby (electorate of over 650) was shared by the Whig 6th duke of Devonshire and the almost exclusively Whig corporation, among whom Dissenters were prominent. Ludlow had not been contested since 1729 and was the family borough of the Tory Lord Powis, the recorder. His heir Lord Clive and younger son Robert Clive sat throughout, despite litigation initiated by disaffected corporators and residents excluded from the corporation and the freedom. In 1826 the radical Whig Edmund Charlton took up their cause and stood to test the franchise. He polled three votes to the sitting Members’ 14, and votes tendered by resident householders were rejected. The inquiry into the subsequent petition confirmed the freeman franchise. Wenlock was contested in 1820, for the first time since 1722. The ministerialist Cecil Weld Forester retired and put up his brother Francis as locum for his son and heir. The other seat also fell vacant, as the 1st earl of Bradford’s brother stood down. His heir Lord Newport was committed at Wigan, and Bradford, with Weld Forester’s connivance, put up the anti-Catholic Tory William Childe. This was unacceptable to the Grenvillite Sir Watkin Williams Wynn, Member for Denbighshire, the lord of the manor and the owner of 85 Much Wenlock burgages. He started his kinsman Paul Beilby Lawley (afterwards Thompson), an advanced Whig, who stood on a platform of electoral independence, but finished in third place. The outcome of subsequent complex litigation about the franchise was favourable to Williams Wynn, and in June 1822 he and Weld Forester concluded a ‘secret’ agreement to return a Member each. Since 1812 Tewkesbury’s seats had been occupied by the Tory recorder John Dowdeswell and the Whig banker John Martin. They were undisturbed until 1831, when local reformers put up Charles Hanbury Tracy against Dowdeswell, who prevailed thanks to the support of the non-resident freemen. When Martin died in January 1832 Hanbury Tracy replaced him.

Sandwich usually returned one government Member and one independent. There was an element of venality. At a by-election in March 1829 the Wellington ministry’s candidate, an office-holder, was opposed by a rabid anti-Catholic put up by a member of the corporation. The latter was easily defeated, but he continued to cultivate the borough and was returned unopposed with an independent in 1830, when the ministerial candidate took fright. Thus for the first time in living memory Sandwich sent up two Members independent of the government of the day. Two reformers, one subsidized by the Grey ministry, won in 1831. The contests at Carlisle and Grantham turned on competition between competing patronal interests. At Carlisle, where elections in this period were violent, the Cumberland and Westmorland Blue Whigs sought, as elsewhere in the region, to curb the power of the Tory Yellow Lonsdale. A radical was returned at a by-election in 1820 and again in 1831. In 1830 the lapsed pact for shared representation was revived; but the following year two reformers got the better of Lonsdale’s sitting Tory Member. Grantham was fought over by the 1st Earl Brownlow, Sir William Manners (Lord Huntingtower) and Sir Montague Cholmeley. At Hertford (electorate about 800) the Tory 1st marquess of Salisbury of Hatfield House had secured the return of his heir Lord Cranborne in 1817 and subsequently consolidated his interest, which was supported by a majority of the corporation, with property purchases. Independent opposition to Salisbury was led by an alderman and partly sustained by religious Dissent. When Cranborne succeeded as 2nd marquess in 1823 his nominee defeated the playboy radical Tommy Duncombe, who won a seat in 1826, when bribery by all the protagonists was blatant. Salisbury’s sitting Member was beaten into third place by a reformer standing with Duncombe in 1831. Salisbury’s subsequent issue of eviction notices to recalcitrant tenants was raised in the House by Duncombe. Independent opposition to the corporation, which returned both Members to the 1820 Parliament, was the dynamic of electoral politics at Newcastle-under-Lyme (850 electors). There was a compromise in 1826, after which a legal attack on the corporation’s admission of honorary freemen paralysed it, allowing the independents to secure both seats in 1830. In 1831, however, two anti-reformers were victorious. The other six boroughs were open and, to varying degrees, venal. At Barnstaple (electorate about 740) entrenched and systematic corruption was exemplified in the activities of the London election broker John Stanbury, a native of the town, in providing wealthy candidates. By 1830 there was open conflict between the corporation and a group of resident freemen who resented its exclusivity and creation of honorary non-resident freemen; and that year two wealthy supporters of the Wellington ministry stood as the candidates of the disgruntled residents and defeated Stanbury’s man. Two reformers won the 1831 contest, in which voting patterns were complex. Money and third men were important at largely unmanageable St. Albans (electorate about 750), although there was a natural Tory aristocratic interest belonging to the 1st earl of Verulam. His recently of age heir Lord Grimston topped the poll in 1830, but was defeated in 1831 by two reformers, who spent liberally. At Boston, Stafford and Sudbury venality, with a regular market for votes, flourished in a framework of conflict between the exclusive Tory corporations and independent parties, who at Boston and Sudbury were nourished by religious Dissent. At Stafford the legitimacy of the corporation and its right to create freemen was unsuccessfully challenged in the courts. There was a high degree of political awareness and organization at Sudbury, as also at Maidstone, where every general election between 1715 and 1831 was contested, many of the electors were of low social standing and there was a vicious and unpredictable mob element. Here, too, the Tory corporation was at odds with the Whig Blues, whose interests sometimes chimed with those of radical tradesmen or Dissenters.

The small freeman boroughs, where the importance of corporations and their patrons, who between them could manipulate the admission of freemen, was enhanced, included a few where the size and prosperity of the town contrasted starkly with the smallness of the electorate. The most striking examples were Portsmouth (population rising from 43,000 to 46,000 and an electorate which fell from 60 to 49); Plymouth (population increasing from 21,000 to 31,000 and electorate of 192); Wigan (population rising from 17,700 to 20,700 and electorate of 120); and Cambridge (population increasing from 14,000 to 21,000 and electorate about 160). The combined population of the small freeman boroughs in 1831 was about 231,500, and the estimated total electorate was just under 6,300. Besides the four places just mentioned, Monmouth and its contributories had a population of 13,000. Poole’s was 6,400. The smallest were Dunwich (280), Bossiney (300), Camelford (560), Grampound (668), Queenborough (780) and Winchelsea (960). The largest electorates were at Hythe (430), Evesham (427) Great Grimsby, Hedon and King’s Lynn (400), Wells (350) and Monmouth (313). Twenty-one had electorates of under 100, and twelve had between 100 and 200 electors. A majority of the qualified freemen of Hedon, Evesham, Hythe, East Retford and Totnes were non-residents. Thirteen of these boroughs were uncontested: the Suffolk boroughs of Aldeburgh, Dunwich, Eye and Orford; the Cornish trio of Grampound, Launceston and Liskeard; and Bewdley, Higham Ferrers, Lyme Regis, Lymington, Morpeth and Plympton Erle. The most contentious were Great Grimsby (all five elections), Rye and Wigan (four contests out of six elections), King’s Lynn (four out of eight), Evesham (three out of four), and Huntingdon, Queenborough and Totnes (three out of five). Winchelsea had five by-elections, King’s Lynn, Lymington, Okehampton and Orford four each.

After 20 years of unbridled corruption, Grampound, which had about 70 electors, had been brought to book in 1819, when the Member for Barnstaple, Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes, and 23 Grampound electors had been criminally convicted. Lord John Russell secured ministerial approval for the principle of disfranchisement, but his emergency bill to suspend the writs for Grampound and three other boroughs for the 1820 general election was rejected by the Lords. Thus the sitting Members, the wealthy West India merchants John Innes and Alexander Robertson, were returned unopposed. Russell’s first bill of May 1820 to disfranchise Grampound and give its seats to Leeds was superseded by the Queen Caroline affair. When his second, introduced in February 1821, was amended to raise the Leeds voting qualification, Russell washed his hands of it, but it passed the Commons. After examining witnesses, the Lords voted for Lord Liverpool’s amendment to transfer the seats to Yorkshire with effect from the next general election or on the occurrence of earlier vacancies. Russell accepted this, and the bill received royal assent on 8 June 1821 (1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 47). Innes and Robertson sat throughout the 1820 Parliament, but on the dissolution in June 1826 Grampound became the first borough since Maidstone in 1553 to be disfranchised for delinquency.

Orford, with a restricted electorate of about 22, was the pocket borough of the 2nd and 3rd marquesses of Hertford. In 1822 the latter bought for 50,000 guineas from the Rotherham ironmaster Samuel Walker his property and controlling interest in nearby Aldeburgh, planning to run the boroughs in tandem through his man of business John Croker, secretary to the admiralty. He packed the corporation at Aldeburgh with friends and relations to produce a notional electorate of no more than 65 by 1831. The other small Suffolk freeman boroughs of Dunwich and Eye were also under firm control. Dunwich, which coastal erosion had reduced to a hamlet with 280 inhabitants and 33 electors, was run by the Barne brothers from 1819, after their former coadjutor, the 2nd Baron Huntingfield, had in 1819 ceded full nomination rights to them for 21 years at £600 per annum. In 1820 the patron of Eye, which had 125 electors, many of them non-resident, was the 2nd Marquess Cornwallis. He had to find a substitute (who paid him £6,000) when the corporation vetoed the re-election of his brother-in-law that year. Financial problems forced Cornwallis to sell out, and shortly before his death in 1823 the sale of his Brome Hall estate and the borough interest to the Kerrisons of Hoxne Hall, for a total of £210,000, was effected. Bewdley, a single Member borough whose electorate rose from 13 to about 42, returned Wilson Aylesbury Roberts, who had succeeded his father, a local attorney and leading corporator, in 1819. His interest was buttressed by that of the high steward, the 2nd Baron Lyttelton. Higham Ferrers, also a single Member constituency, was under the total control of the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam, the recorder, who accommodated political friends. There were just over 30 electors. At Launceston, Liskeard, Lyme Regis, Lymington and Plympton Erle, self-electing corporations controlled and restricted the admission of freemen, mostly non-resident, for the benefit of patrons: Launceston (electorate 17 or fewer) was the preserve of the 3rd duke of Northumberland; Liskeard (electorate 51) was the nomination borough of the Tory 1st and 2nd earls of St. Germans, who financed the corporation’s deficit and obtained patronage; Lyme Regis (electorate about 30) was the stronghold of the Tory 10th earl of Westmorland, a member of the Liverpool cabinet, who had no property there but bolstered his control with money; Lymington (electorate limited by statute to 50, but in practice below 40) returned the nominees of Sir Harry Neale and his brother the Rev. George Burrard, who had packed the corporation with relatives and exploited municipal munificence; and Plympton Erle (electorate 54) was jointly controlled by the Tories Paul Treby and the 2nd earl of Mount Edgcumbe, who subsidized the corporation. In all five of these boroughs there was an independent element, usually based in religious Dissent, who tried unsuccessfully to open the freedom to residents, and all experienced quite vigorous reform agitation in 1831. Morpeth (electorate about 230) was under the joint control of the 5th and 6th earls of Carlisle and their fellow Whig William Ord.

Nine small boroughs had one contest. Lord Powis was the patron of Bishop’s Castle, which had about 200 electors, but in 1819 his nominee had been defeated at a by-election by an alliance between the independent burgesses and the wealthy London banker and radical Whig Douglas Kinnaird. In 1820 Kinnaird stood with Robert Knight against Powis’s men, ‘Black Billy’ Holmes, the government whip, and Edward Rogers. They polled 87 votes each and a double return was sent up. The election committee ruled that the franchise lay in ‘the resident and non-resident capital burgesses’ and ‘the common burgesses who have been resident a year and a day before the day of election and have a legal settlement in the … borough’. This confirmed Powis’s supremacy, but he had been forced to spend heavily to regain control. The contest at Chipping Wycombe, which had an electorate of about 50, rising to 104 by the end of 1831, occurred in the dog days of the unreformed House of Commons, at a by-election in late June 1832. The political adventurer Benjamin Disraeli opposed the nominee of one of the patrons, the Whig reformer Sir Thomas Baring, who had agreed to accommodate Lord Grey’s son Charles. Masquerading as a radical, he was defeated by 23 votes to 12. The other significant figure at this time was the Whig Robert John Smith, a son of the 1st Baron Carrington, who after 11 years as Member for Buckinghamshire had come in for Wycombe in 1831, when Sir John Dashwood King, joint-patron with Baring, had been forced out for his opposition to the reform bill. Resident reformers had formed themselves into the Friends of Rational and Efficient Reform and local opponents of the corporation had sustained for 11 years from 1819 a legal campaign against the select body’s claim to exclusive rights of freemen creations. Dartmouth (electorate 43) had been controlled since the 1720s by the Holdsworths, governors of Dartmouth Castle, through the distribution of patronage to their kinsmen on the select corporation. The Seales headed a local independent interest, and in 1830 they were partially successful in their legal challenge to the corporation’s exclusive right to elect the mayor from their own number and to admit freemen. At the general election John Seale and a colleague stood against the sitting Members and tried to poll the votes of 119 claimants to the freedom. These were rejected and Seale’s petition against the return was summarily dismissed. The Cinque Ports of Hastings (restricted electorate about 25), Hythe and Winchelsea (electorate less than ten) experienced contests in 1830 as part of the independents’ campaign to liberate the oppressed Ports. Hastings was a treasury borough, managed by Edward Milward, comptroller of excise. A local Reform Association put up three men against two members of the Wellington ministry, but their attempt to poll the votes of ratepayers was thwarted. A strong reform agitation in 1831 secured the unopposed return of the Whig John Warre and Milward’s nephew Frederick North, who became a pragmatic reformer in order to safeguard the interest. Hythe had since 1812 been the preserve of wealthy strangers from the London commercial world, especially men with access to East India Company patronage. There was a streak of independence among the residents, and in 1830 the sitting Members John Loch and Stewart Marjoribanks were challenged by two independents. They polled the votes of eight freemen against the 270 who split for their opponents, and had 207 ratepayer votes rejected. Their support for the reform bill took the sting out of local agitation in 1831. Winchelsea was the pocket borough of the 3rd earl of Darlington, who began this period as a Whig, but in 1830 turned coat to secure the marquessate of Cleveland. The independents’ bid to poll ratepayers for their two candidates was ruled out of order. Cleveland supported reform to enhance his claim to a dukedom (which he duly obtained), and in 1831 he brought in two supporters of the ministerial scheme. The small Cornish villages of East and West Looe each experienced a contest. The first occurred in West Looe (electorate about 36 at most), where the Tory John Buller was the patron. When his paying guest Henry Goulburn sought re-election on his appointment as Irish secretary in February 1822, he was opposed by the rascally London banker Rowland Stephenson, whose attempt to poll 47 ratepayers was frustrated. The inquiry into the election petition ruled that the franchise was in the resident freemen, and the dissidents’ subsequent efforts to open the freedom by litigation failed. East Looe, with a restricted electorate of about 40, was controlled by Sir Edward Buller until his death in 1824, when his estate and borough interest passed to his son-in-law James Buller Elphinstone. From 1823 independents tried to open the borough and the freedom by recourse to the courts, but this campaign ended in failure in 1827. Before it did so, the 1826 general election was contested by two outsiders, whose claim to poll 41 ratepayers and ensuing petition were thwarted. Elphinstone sold out to Thomas Hope, who returned the Members in 1830 and 1831. Okehampton had an electorate of about 230, of whom about 100 were freeholders. Since 1807 the recorder Albany Savile had controlled both seats, partly by exploiting his freehold properties to create faggot votes. His hegemony was resented by some residents, who in 1826 put up the navy agent Sir Francis Ommanney, but he was beaten by two Tory squires. On Savile’s death in January 1831 his trustees took over. At Plymouth, the essential conflict in municipal affairs was between the aldermen and the freemen, who were organized into the Shoulder of Mutton Club. The former had the upper hand, thanks to restrictive by-laws, but local politics were only tangentially related to parliamentary elections. Since 1806 one seat had been filled by an admiralty nominee and one by a friend of the prince of Wales in his capacity as duke of Cornwall, though this Member was seen as the representative of local interests. As the two became gradually indistinguishable, government officials were expected to be returned. All was peaceful until March 1831, when the freemen established their right to nominate two men each to the freedom, though the aldermen ruled that these freemen would not be eligible to vote at the next general election. When this occurred in early May, one of the sitting Members, Sir Thomas Martin, comptroller of the navy, reluctantly decided to support the ministerial reform scheme. His colleague Sir George Cockburn, a former Tory lord of the admiralty, was an unequivocal anti-reformer. The government sent down their secretary to the admiralty, but Martin refused to coalesce with him. In a violent contest, the old pact proved durable enough to see the sitting Members returned. The dominant interest at Portsmouth was that of the oligarchy of Dissenting Whigs who controlled the corporation under the auspices of the local Carter family of brewers and distillers. In 1818, however, the Tory admiralty interest, which had a minority stake in the corporation, had managed to secure one seat for Cockburn. John Carter retaliated with 16 freeman creations before the 1820 general election, when he and his former colleague John Markham defeated Cockburn in the borough’s first contest since 1774. The scrutiny undertaken in response to Cockburn’s petition confirmed Markham’s return, and subsequent appeals led to confirmation of the right of non-residents to vote. From 1826 Carter and his fellow Whig Francis Thornhill Baring were unmolested. At Winchester (electorate about 130), the widowed mother of Sir Henry Mildmay, a former Member who had retired from politics in 1818, played lady bountiful from her town residence; her son Paulet St. John Mildmay sat throughout this period. Since 1818 the Mildmays had shared the representation with the 2nd marquess (from 1822 1st duke) of Buckingham, whose interest derived from his wife’s inherited estate at Avington. In 1831 St. John Mildmay supported the reform bill, but Buckingham’s Member Sir Edward East was against it and did not seek re-election. His replacement, his son James Buller East, was extremely evasive on the subject, but the established coalition proved strong enough to see him returned, only five votes ahead of the local reformers’ man William Bingham Baring; St. John Mildmay’s plumper for East caused outrage.

In the boroughs which had two or more contests, rival patrons or competing interests shaped electoral politics in five. Lords Darlington and Hertford vied for supremacy at Camelford (electorate 27), with the latter eventually prevailing. There was a venal element here. Poole (electorate 160) was fought over by three fluctuating and interrelated interests: the Newfoundland merchants, led by the Garlands, Christopher Spurrier and the local squirearchy, and the government of the day, with the corporation also a player. Totnes (electorate 90) was the battleground for the Adams family and their allies, who dominated the corporation, the Farwells, backed by Darlington, and some resident independents. At King’s Lynn the earls of Orford, Sir William Browne Ffolkes and Lord William Cavendish Bentinck, brother of the 4th duke of Portland, and the corporation were the chief protagonists. The local businessmen the Hodsons, the 6th earl of Balcarres, who owned nearby coal mines, and the earls of Bradford were in competition at Wigan, a lawless manufacturing town, where elections in this period were drunken and extremely violent affairs. There was also an unsuccessful attempt to establish the validity of a ratepayer franchise. In nine of the boroughs patrons or corporations were challenged, mostly without success, by resident independents, who usually tried to open the franchise by legal actions or appeal to the House of Commons or both. The independents of Bossiney (electorate 25) failed to establish the freeholder franchise, but did bring the patron James Stuart Wortley (Lord Wharncliffe from 1826) to a compromise in 1824. At Cambridge, a corrupt, irresponsible and self-perpetuating corporation of 41 men was the instrument by which the anti-Catholic Tory 5th duke of Rutland, the high steward, controlled the borough. An independent minority in the corporation, in alliance with some resident freemen and liberal members of the University, some of whom were Dissenters, tried to poll 33 inhabitant ratepayers in 1820, and their subsequent legal campaign to establish this franchise was frustrated by the courts. The opposition to the Rutland Members in 1826 was a token gesture. The 6th duke of Beaufort, in alliance with the Morgans of Tredegar, returned his son Lord Worcester for Monmouth (electorate rising from 130 to about 350), but found the constituency costly and troublesome on account of a local anti-Beaufort campaign. There was a complicated series of law suits and municipal contests in this period. In 1831 Worcester was narrowly beaten by a reformer, who benefited from the votes of a number of Newport freemen recently and controversially enrolled. The inquiry into Worcester’s petition invalidated most of these and seated Worcester. At New Woodstock (electorate 200), the Blenheim interest of the 5th duke of Marlborough lost a seat to a Whig independent in 1820, but the tables were turned in 1826. There was a futile bid to poll householders in 1831. The duke of Buckingham returned the Members for St. Mawes (electorate 24), but in 1830 local independents put up two men who tried to poll the votes of 28 tenants from adjoining manors. They were rejected but, as noticed above, the committee which investigated the ensuing petition enfranchised the inhabitant ratepayers. In 1831 two reformers stood against Buckingham’s nominees, seeking to exploit this, but the votes of non-resident freeholders frustrated them. At Wells the resident independents’ legal campaign against the Tudway-Taylor alliance wrested control of the corporation from them in 1828. The token challenges of 1820, 1824 and 1831 did not threaten the dowager countess of Sandwich’s controlling interest at Huntingdon (electorate 180), although attempts by the independents to open the borough through litigation did cost the subservient corporation much money. Politics at Queenborough (electorate 300) revolved around the conflict between the exclusive junto of the corporation, in alliance with the declining ordnance interest, and the independent burgesses and impoverished fishermen. A mid-1820s rebellion, inspired by exclusion from municipal affairs, economic distress and by-laws that restricted access to local oyster fisheries, led to a succession of law suits. Anti-reformers won the 1831 contest. The patron of the Cinque Port of Rye (20 electors) was the Rev. Thomas Lamb. In 1830 his local opponents, who had formed themselves into the Rye Independent Association after the initial frustration of their campaign to open the franchise to ratepayers, achieved a startling success when the election committee which investigated their petition arising out of a by-election ruled that all resident householders paying scot and lot were entitled to the freedom and therefore to the vote, and seated the independent radical candidate. The committee which considered Lamb’s later appeal on the right of election reversed this decision, thus forcing the independents to give up the legal struggle at Rye and in the other oppressed Cinque Ports. However, at the 1831 general election, extreme violence and intimidation forced Lamb to concede one seat to his opponents.

Respectable Guildford, with an electorate of 170, was in some ways open, although the Member Arthur Onslow represented the interest of the 2nd and 3rd earls of Onslow, and the 3rd Baron Grantley, the high steward, revived his family interest in 1826. It was defeated in 1830, but successful in 1831, when two reformers won a contest in which voting patterns were confused. The other contested small freeman boroughs were predominantly venal. At Great Grimsby, where there was a fixed tariff for votes, bribery operated within a framework of party conflict, with the Whig Blues led by the 1st and 2nd Barons Yarborough ranged against the anti-Catholic Tory Reds. The latter won close contests in 1831. Hedon was difficult to manage, but corporation-backed candidates were returned unopposed in 1830 and 1831. Evesham was corrupt and turbulent, although the corporation and the 2nd Baron Northwick controlled one seat. Investigation of the defeated independent candidate’s petition after the 1830 general election exposed extensive bribery. The election was declared void and the Ultra Chandos, seeking to impede the new Grey ministry’s impending reform scheme, had the writ suspended and brought in a bill to transfer the seat to Birmingham. It foundered, and two reformers won the contested 1831 general election. East Retford, where a shabby select corporation of tradesmen and small shopkeepers restricted the largely non-resident electorate to about 200, was blatantly corrupt: plumpers customarily earned 40 guineas, split votes 20. Fitzwilliam and the 4th duke of Newcastle had interests. The inquiry into the petition arising out of the violent 1826 contest revealed systematic corruption and exposed Fitzwilliam’s financial involvement. The election was voided and no new writ was issued before the next dissolution, as the Commons deliberated through four sessions whether to disfranchise the borough and give its seats to Birmingham or adopt the traditional remedy of sluicing it by extending the franchise to the freeholders of Bassetlaw. The latter course, which played into Newcastle’s territorial hands, was adopted shortly before the 1830 election, when some 210 freemen and above 2,000 freeholders formed the new electorate.


Scot and lot. The franchise in 36 boroughs was in the inhabitants who paid poor rates. They were Abingdon (a single Member constituency), Aldborough, Amersham, Arundel, Bridgwater, Bridport, Callington, Chichester, Corfe Castle, Dorchester, Fowey, Gatton, Great Marlow, Leominster, Lewes, Malton, Milborne Port, Mitchell, Newark, New Windsor, Penryn, Peterborough, Reading, St. Ives, Seaford, Shaftesbury, Southwark, Stamford, Steyning, Stockbridge, Tamworth, Wallingford, Wareham, Warwick, Westminster and Wootton Bassett. At Corfe Castle, Malton and Tamworth, the electors were rate paying householders; and at Chichester, Callington, Penryn, Wareham and Gatton (in theory), some freeholders were also able to vote. The Leominster electorate included the bailiff and capital burgesses. At Fowey tenants of the prince of Wales had the vote, and at Newark many of Newcastle’s tenants occupied property leased from the crown. Only at Warwick was there a significant non-resident element. Five of these boroughs were in Cornwall, five in Dorset and Sussex, and four in Berkshire (all that county’s parliamentary boroughs). The estimated total electorate in 1831 was about 32,800, an increase of 29 per cent from 1818. Westminster (13,000) and Southwark (4,000) accounted for 52 per cent of the total. If they and the three boroughs with electorates of above 1,000, Newark (1,700), Warwick (1,400) and Reading (1,250), are left out of the calculation, along with the five smallest boroughs, Seaford (90), Aldborough (80), Corfe Castle (50), Gatton and Mitchell (seven each), the average electorate of the remaining 26 was 431. The combined population of these boroughs in 1831 was 396,000; but Westminster accounted for 202,500 (63 per cent) of this total, and between them Southwark (62,000), Reading (15,500) and Newark (10,000) made up a further 22 per cent. The average population of the other 32 boroughs was therefore only 3,300. Of the 192 elections in this period, 66 (35 per cent) were contested. For the previous period the percentage of contests (omitting Eye from the calculation) was 29. Of the 144 general elections, 56 (39 per cent) were contested. There were 48 by-elections, of which ten (21 per cent) were contested. Corfe Castle had six, Milborne Port and Peterborough four each. Nine of these boroughs saw no contests in this period: Amersham, Corfe Castle, Dorchester, Gatton, Malton, New Windsor, Steyning, Tamworth and Wareham. One occurred at Abingdon, Aldborough, Bridport, Fowey, Milborne Port, Mitchell, Peterborough and Westminster. Bridgwater, Callington, Lewes, Shaftesbury, Stamford, Stockbridge and Warwick had two. There were three at Arundel, Great Marlow, Reading, St. Ives, Seaford and Wootton Bassett. The most contentious constituencies were Chichester and Southwark, with four contested elections; Leominster, Newark and Penryn with five; and Wallingford, which had contests at all six of its elections. In a letter to lord chancellor Brougham, 3 June 1831, Sir Ralph Franco, Member for Westbury, noted one aspect of the more venal scot and lot boroughs, namely ‘the privations the most destitute will undergo to keep themselves on the rate for the purpose of being voters. Numbers who ought to be receiving relief are paying to the maintenance of the poor, that when the time of election comes round they may be reimbursed in a lump with interest that which they have put out in dribbles’.26

Amersham, with a notional electorate of about 130, had no contest after 1734, and remained under the beneficent control of the Tory Tyrwhitt Drakes. Corfe Castle, uncontested since 1718, was jointly controlled by the Bankes and Bond families. Dorchester had about 500 ratepayer electors, but at least half were non-residents. Lord Shaftesbury and Robert Williams, a London banker and the Member, 1812-34, shared the representation. Leases, including those on uninhabited waste lands, were manipulated for electoral purposes, and it was the custom for candidates to nominate themselves on the hustings. Gatton vied with Old Sarum for notoriety as a rotten borough. Its owner since 1801 was the nabob Sir Mark Wood, who sold the seats to supporters of Tory governments. After his death in 1829 his son sold out to the Tory 5th Baron Monson at a handsome profit. The patron of Malton (500 electors) was Fitzwilliam, whose tenants made up most of the electorate. It was traditional for the Members to pay electors a guinea each and dine them. There were about 650 qualified electors at New Windsor, where the compromise of 1806 between the Castle or Court interest and the independent town interest, the preserve of the Ramsbottoms, popular local brewers and bankers, continued. There was much venality among the electors, who expected and got random distributions of money and ale at elections. Steyning, with an electorate of about 118, was in the pocket of the duke of Norfolk. At Tamworth, where the electorate rose from 322 to about 470 in this period, the wealthy cotton entrepreneur Sir Robert Peel, and after his death in 1830 his eldest son, the future Conservative prime minister, shared the representation with a member of the family of the 3rd Marquess Townshend (a continental exile from sexual disgrace). Wareham’s electorate, which included the corporation, rose to about 180 by 1831. It had seen its last contest in 1754, and since 1768 had been in the hands of the Calcraft family, whose head in this period, the double political turncoat and suicide John Calcraft, was the Member, 1786-90, 1800-6, and 1818-31.

Westminster was sui generis. With the patrician radical Sir Francis Burdett, returned on ‘purity of election’ principles in 1807 by the Charing Cross tailor Francis Place and his network of parish committees, impregnable, the 1820 contest for the second seat saw the reformers’ man John Cam Hobhouse, now an imprisoned radical martyr, reverse the result of the 1819 by-election by defeating the orthodox Whig sitting Member George Lamb. The Members were secure for the rest of this period, although they were periodically denounced in public as closet Whigs by such extremists as William Cobbett and Henry Hunt. Behind the scenes there was some apathy and disillusionment, as Place failed to mould Hobhouse, who took ministerial office in 1832, into an efficient constituency Member. In the metropolitan constituency of Southwark elections were boisterous and sometimes violent, but the electorate was not notably venal. There were contests at the general elections of 1820, 1826 and 1830, when an obscure local hatter, John Harris, surprisingly topped the poll at the expense of the sitting Whig brewer Charles Calvert. Harris’s death soon afterwards allowed Calvert to regain the seat at a contested by-election. In 1831 the quasi-radical Sir Robert Thomas Wilson, Member since 1818, was forced out as a result of his unexpected lukewarmness over the ministerial reform plan.

Attempts, mostly unsuccessful, to establish electoral independence of established interests were behind the majority of the contests in the other scot and lot boroughs. At Fowey (George Lucy), Peterborough (Fitzwilliam), Callington (the 18th Baron Clinton, then Alexander Baring), Shaftesbury and Stockbridge (Lord Grosvenor), Great Marlow (Owen Williams), Seaford (Charles Rose Ellis, Lord Seaford), Wootton Bassett (the 3rd earl of Clarendon and the 4th Viscount Bolingbroke) the patrons were not seriously threatened. However, there were notable successes for independents, albeit boosted by enthusiasm for reform, in 1831 at Newark, Stamford and Warwick, where Newcastle, the 2nd marquess of Exeter and the 3rd earl of Warwick respectively suffered reverses. Independents had some limited success at St. Ives and Chichester, where Richmond’s control over one seat was unchallenged. There was a significant venal element in some of these boroughs, notably Great Marlow, St. Ives and Wootton Bassett. In half a dozen others, venality was even more marked, though at Bridport (electorate rising to 350), following the contest and subsequent petition in 1820, the Tory Sir Horace St. Paul and the largely Dissenting Whig corporation returned a Member each without trouble. Many of the 460 or so electors of Bridgwater had a taste for ‘third men’ and lucrative contests, but the contests in 1826 and 1831 did not upset the prevailing coalition between the Tory William Astell and the local Whig independents. The duke of Norfolk returned to one seat for Arundel, but venality among the electorate of 460 encouraged contests in 1820, 1823 and 1831; the last was a mere token affair. Reading was open, venal and keenly politicized: there were hard-fought contests in 1820, 1826 and 1830. Leominster, with an electorate of some 785, was virtually uncontrollable, and the Tory corporation, the Whig Orange party and the independent Greens fought it out. Wallingford, with about 290 electors, was a byword for blatant and systematic bribery. A reward of £20 was customarily given to each voter when the time for petitioning had expired by ‘the Miller of Wallingford’, one William Gill, a shoemaker. The principal beneficiary of this corruption was the wealthy absentee Whig William Hughes, whose seat was safe; but the other was disputed at every election between the various Whigs whom Hughes endorsed and Tories put up by the local true Blue Club, formed, ostensibly at least, to resist corruption. Penryn, with an electorate of nearly 500, was grossly venal and was earmarked for disfranchisement by Lord John Russell’s bill, which was overtaken by the 1820 dissolution. Sir Christopher Hawkins, the corporation and the 1st Baron De Dunstanville had interests, but money held the key, and investigation of the petitions arising out of the 1826 contest led to a report that there had been gross bribery then and at the 1824 by-election. A parliamentary examination of witnesses and legislation to give Penryn’s seats to Manchester ensued, but nothing came of the latter.

The isolated contests at Abingdon (300 electors), Aldborough, Milborne Port (about 170 electors) and Mitchell reflected struggles for patronal control, though Ebenezer Fuller Maitland’s unsuccessful 1830 challenge to the sitting radical manufacturer and banker John Maberly at Abingdon arose out of distress in the local hemp industry. The 1820 contest at Aldborough was part of the conflict in neighbouring Boroughbridge between Newcastle and the Lawsons. The patron of Milborne Port, the 1st marquess of Anglesey, the lord of the manor, was challenged in 1820 and for a few years afterwards by Darlington, who eventually cried enough and sold out to his rival. The hamlet of Mitchell saw a contest in 1831, when the Tory co-patron, the 1st earl of Falmouth, put up and secured the return of a second reformer over the nominee of his supposed coadjutor John Hawkins. Bitter public recriminations ensued. The contests of 1826 and 1830 at highly politicized Lewes, where many of the 780 or so electors were aligned in rival Tory and Whig clubs, saw the Whig Thomas Kemp and the Tory Sir John Shelley challenged by an Irish radical Whig, who was put up by a new ‘Pink and Strong’ club. He made way for a local reformer in 1831 when the anti-reformer Shelley called it quits.


Burgage. There were 30 burgage boroughs: Appleby, Ashburton, Bere Alston, Bletchingley, Boroughbridge, Bramber, Castle Rising, Chippenham, Clitheroe, Cockermouth, Downton, East Grinstead, Great Bedwyn, Heytesbury, Horsham, Knaresborough, Midhurst, Newport (Cornwall), Newton, Newtown (Isle of Wight), Northallerton, Old Sarum, Petersfield, Richmond, Ripon, Saltash, Thirsk, Weobley, Westbury and Whitchurch. Six were in Wiltshire and six in Yorkshire, while Sussex contained four and Hampshire three. The right to vote depended on tenancy of a specific house or other property designated as a burgage for parliamentary purposes. An additional scot and lot qualification applied in Bramber, Newport and Weobley. The estimated total nominal electorate of these boroughs on the eve of reform was 2,490. Richmond had 273 burgages, Cockermouth 235 and Northallerton 200. At the other extreme, there were fewer than 11 at Old Sarum, 17 at Bramber and 26 at Heytesbury. The average was 83. The combined population of the burgage boroughs in 1831 was about 67,900. The most substantial were Knaresborough (5,300), Clitheroe (5,200), Horsham and Ripon (5,000), and Cockermouth (4,400). These boroughs, where the franchise lay in real properties rather than individuals, were more likely than other types to be in the pockets of patrons who owned all or a majority of the burgages. By this period, most of them were snug nomination boroughs, and 23 of them were uncontested. Only 12 of the 181 elections were contested, a slightly higher proportion than in the 1790-1820 period (6.6, as against 5.4 per cent). Of the 61 by-elections, only three were contested: Newport in 1823; Knaresborough in 1830; and Bere Alston in 1831. The high incidence of by-elections reflected the security of patronal control. Bletchingley had six, Knaresborough and Newport five each, Ripon and Saltash four. Only Boroughbridge, Chippenham, Midhurst and Thirsk had no by-elections.

In July 1831, the 3rd earl of Radnor observed that ‘of the burgages at Downton I have no more doubt than I have of my footman’s answering the bell when I ring’;27 and the same statement might have been made by most of the patrons of these boroughs. (It is only fair to add that Radnor, a Whig of advanced views, had inherited the Downton interest in strict entail from his Tory father in 1828 and was therefore unable to get rid of something which he despised. To make the best of things, he returned political sympathisers, though he never went through with his notion of bringing in Cobbett.) There were nominally about 100 burgages, but the practice was to lease them to a few dependable tenants for the duration of elections. It was ‘unheard of’ for candidates to attend the formalities. Appleby (99 burgages) was shared by Lonsdale and the earls of Thanet. Lonsdale also had in his pocket Cockermouth, where he owned over half the burgages. A campaign to liberate the borough by admitting new burgage holders at the court leet of the lord of the manor, the 3rd earl of Egremont, which was part of the wider war of attrition waged by the Westmorland, Cumberland and Carlisle Whigs against the Lonsdale interest, had little impact. Bletchingley was controlled by the Durham coal owners Matthew Russell of Brancepeth and his son William, who owned all but four of the 70 or so burgages and relied on the management of their kinsman Charles Tennyson. Candidates were not required to show their faces. The village of Bramber was jointly controlled by Rutland and the Tory 3rd Baron Calthorpe, who took the trouble to entertain 300 people at an election dinner in 1826. Castle Rising, with perhaps 40 burgages, was also under joint control, exercised through local acolytes by the 1st marquess of Cholmondeley and Fulke Howard, a younger son of the 1st Baron Templemore. Clitheroe, an expanding manufacturing town, had only 36 nominal electors, of whom seven were resident in 1831. Its representation was shared by the 2nd Viscount Curzon (created Earl Howe in 1821) and Lord Brownlow. East Grinstead was in thrall to Arabella, Lady Whitworth, widow of the 3rd duke of Dorset, who by the time of her death in 1825 owned 29 of the 36 burgages. The interest was then divided between her sons-in-law, the 5th Earl De la Warr and the 6th earl of Plymouth (19 votes between them) and her kinsman the 5th duke of Dorset, who got 16. After protracted negotiations, Dorset sold out to the other peers for £15,000. Great Bedwyn was the pocket borough of the anti-Catholic Tory 1st marquess of Ailesbury, who owned 99 of the (eventual) 140 burgages. However, when his Member Sir John Nicholl resigned in August 1821 order to contest a vacancy for Oxford University but asked for the seat to be kept open for him in case of failure (which duly occurred), Ailesbury observed that while he ‘had no doubt of the steadiness of my friends at Bedwyn’, he thought it important that ‘every attention should always be paid to them’.28 He grudgingly took Nicholl back. Sir William A’Court (created Lord Heytesbury in 1828), the lord of the manor, owned all the burgages of Heytesbury, a decayed cloth-making place which had not been contested since 1754. He paid poor rates for at least seven of the electors. Horsham was Norfolk’s borough. There were 103 burgages in 1831. Beer and silver were customarily distributed to the populace at elections. A lone vocal protest at Norfolk’s hegemony was heard at the 1830 election. The Nottingham and London Whig bankers John and George Smith, brothers of Carrington, controlled Midhurst as owners of most of the 148 burgage freeholds (of which only 41 were providing an electoral qualification by 1831). Newton, which had about 52 burgages, was under the complete control of the lord of the manor, Thomas Legh. Newtown (Isle of Wight) was a decayed village, where the 39 burgage sites lay beside the overgrown streets of the vanished town. The patrons were Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington and Charles Anderson Pelham (later Lord Yarborough), the husband of the niece and heiress of Sir Leonard Thomas Worsley Holmes, the electoral patron of Newport and Yarmouth on the island. Worsley Holmes owned some burgages, but did not challenge the status quo, and on his death in 1825 the interest passed to his trustees, of whom Yarborough was the principal. Northallerton was shared by the 2nd earl of Harewood and Henry Peirse, who had represented the borough since 1774. On his death in 1824 his interest was taken up by his unmarried daughter Mary Anne, who returned her brother-in-law Sir John Poo Beresford. Old Sarum, ‘a large circular mound of earth, surmounted in the centre by a smaller mound’,29 was in the eyes of reformers the quintessential rotten borough and the extreme example of the preposterous anachronisms which disfigured the old electoral system. The handful of parchment burgages were conveyed for electoral purposes to friends by the absentee proprietors, who in this period were the 2nd earl of Caledon and, after his purchase of the burgages by instalments totalling £41,675 between 1820 and 1823, Caledon’s cousin, the East India merchant James Alexander, the Member, 1812-32. Richmond remained in the hands of the 1st and 2nd Barons Dundas. At nearby Ripon, a controlling majority of the 146 burgages (of which only about 43 were operative by 1831) belonged to Miss Elizabeth Sophia Lawrence. One of her Members (1807-27) was the liberal Tory minister Frederick Robinson (later, as Lord Goderich, the lachrymose prime minister), an exception to the rabid anti-Catholics whom Miss Lawrence otherwise returned. Control of Saltash (154 burgages) was initially shared between the Russells of Brancepeth, in conjunction with Tennyson, and the former East India merchant Michael Prendergast, who had bought the right of return or nomination for life from the other substantial burgage proprietor, James Buller. From 1826, following a settlement which remains something of mystery, William Russell had both seats in his pocket. A threatened Tory opposition in 1831 came to nothing. All but one of the 50 burgages at Thirsk belonged to Sir Thomas Frankland, who on election days transferred them to friends and relations. He died in January 1831, and his son and successor Sir Robert, one of the Members, took up the reins. Weobley was the nomination borough of the 2nd marquess of Bath, who owned almost all the 93 burgages. At Westbury Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes had bought the controlling interest for £75,000 and, by restricting leases to less than the term stipulated in the 1715 Commons ruling and allowing some of the houses to fall into decay, had reduced the nominal electorate of 61 to under two dozen. In practice, the franchise was vested in the 13 members of the self-elected and subservient corporation who were also burgage occupiers. In March 1829 Masseh Lopes was induced by a payment of £7,000 to vacate his seat to accommodate the home secretary Robert Peel, defeated when seeking re-election for Oxford University after his turnabout on Catholic emancipation. Masseh Lopes’s died in March 1831, and his nephew and heir Franco returned himself and another reformer at the ensuing general election. The 2nd and 3rd Viscounts Sydney and the 4th Viscount Middleton owned between them a majority of the 37 burgages at Whitchurch, but it is possible that Middleton’s Member Sir Samuel Scott, who sat for the borough from 1818, had bought out the peer by the end of this period.

Electoral independence was the theme of the challenges to established interests in five of the burgage boroughs which saw contests. The two at Bere Alston (30 burgages) in 1831 were token affairs, in which independent opponents of the 2nd earl of Beverley sought to open the franchise by polling the votes of inhabitant ratepayers. The Knaresborough by-election contest of December 1830 was a contrived business which posed no threat to the controlling interest of Devonshire, who held 84 of the 88 or so burgages, which were conveyed by deed to his tenants on his Landesborough estate as required. At Chippenham, where there was a significant venal element among the 129 burgage tenants, a rich adventurer standing on the independent interest secured an unopposed return in 1826, but in 1830 and 1831 the nominees of the new proprietor (by purchase), Joseph Neeld, easily defeated independent challenges. Persistent neglect and non-residence by Hylton Jolliffe and the defection of his local agent encouraged his independent opponents at Petersfield, which had 56 burgages, to try their strength in 1820, 1830 and 1831, but to no avail. However, at Ashburton, where there were about 100 burgages, the local independents, with backing from the Grey ministry, managed to oust the negligent co-patron and anti-reform Member Sir Lawrence Palk in 1831, in a contest which became a protracted scrutiny. The stronger interest of Palk’s coadjutor Lord Clinton was not disturbed. At Newport (Cornwall), a suburb of Launceston, most of the approximately 70 qualified burgage tenants paying scot and lot held their property from the lord of the manor, Northumberland, the patron of Launceston. His rival Thomas Phillips supported the unsuccessful candidacy of a rich London banker in 1823, but subsequently sold out to Northumberland, who thus became undisputed master of the borough. The patronal struggle for control of Boroughbridge, a hamlet with about 65 burgages, between Newcastle and the Lawson family, inheritors of the former Wilkinson interest, was played out at the polls in 1820 and 1830, and in election committees and the courts throughout this period; Newcastle remained in command, though at a considerable price.


Corporation. This restricted franchise, vested solely in members of the corporation, operated in 25 boroughs: Andover, Banbury (a single Member constituency), Bath, Bodmin, Brackley, Buckingham, Bury St. Edmunds, Calne, Christchurch, Devizes, Droitwich, Harwich, Helston, Lostwithiel, Malmesbury, Marlborough, Newport (Isle of Wight), New Romney, Salisbury, Scarborough, Thetford, Tiverton, Truro, Wilton and Yarmouth (Isle of Wight). Their total electorate was about 726 (an average of 29), which ranged from 81 at Helston and 54 at Salisbury, to 12 at Yarmouth, the same or fewer at Marlborough, and 13 at Buckingham and Malmesbury. Their combined population (in 1831) was about 136,000. Even at the smallest place, Yarmouth, with 586 inhabitants, the disproportion between population and electorate was striking; and at Bath (38,000), Bury (11,400), Salisbury (9,800), Tiverton (9,500) and Scarborough (8,700) it was ludicrous. Of a total of 138 elections, only 18 (13 per cent, but more than the eight per cent of the preceding period)) were contested, and at least four of these were token affairs. There were 38 by-elections (28 per cent of the total), of which only three were contested; as ever, the generally manageable nature of these constituencies facilitated by-elections for new Members or the re-election of sitting ones. In 1820, Devizes, Helston and Truro were contested; in 1826 Bath and Marlborough; in 1830, Bath, Calne, Marlborough, New Romney and Truro; and in 1831, Banbury, Bury St. Edmunds, Malmesbury, Salisbury and Truro. Thus 14 of these boroughs (four more than in the previous period) were uncontested. In some of them, the last contest was beyond living memory: for instance, Wilton (1710), Buckingham (1715), Lostwithiel (1727) and Calne (1734). Other examples of long electoral desuetude were Droitwich (1747), Brackley (1754), Tiverton (1765) and Yarmouth (1768).

All the uncontested boroughs were under stable patronage, but not all were entirely trouble free. Nine were more or less quiescent pocket boroughs. Brackley, whose corporation numbered 31, was controlled by Lord Stafford, the inheritor of the interest of the late 3rd duke of Bridgwater, although he left management to the sitting Member, Robert Haldane Bradshaw, Bridgwater’s former factotum. Christchurch, where the electorate never exceeded 36, was in the hands of the Tory Sir George Rose, whose strict control of the corporation was underpinned by philanthropic expenditure and the possession of town property. Droitwich, whose deliberately restricted electorate had fallen to 28 by 1831, gave no anxiety to its recorder, the Whig 3rd Baron Foley, who returned kinsmen. Harwich, with its corporation of 32 men, was in the grip of the treasury, whose control was based on patronage, especially in the local naval yard and packet service. There were five by-elections. From 1826 John Herries, who held a succession of offices in the Liverpool, Canning, Goderich and Wellington ministries, built up a personal following, which proved handy in 1831, when he, now in opposition, and his fellow sitting Member, another ex-minister, were returned in defiance of the Grey administration. The Isle of Wight boroughs of Newport (24 corporators) and Yarmouth were under the control of Sir Leonard Worsley Holmes until his death in 1825, when they became the preserve of his six trustees, all Tories like him with the exception of Yarborough. The seats continued to be sold to supporters of Tory administrations, but by 1831, when there was reform agitation in Newport, Yarborough seems to have gained the upper hand. He returned three supporters of reform with one of the Holmes trustees, who paid lip service to the need for moderate reform but opposed the reform bill in the House. The allegation that Yarborough had sold the seats to the government for £4,000 to advance his claims for promotion in the peerage has not been corroborated. Scarborough, which had 36 electors, remained under the joint control of Rutland, whose kinsman Charles Manners Sutton, Speaker of the House, occupied one seat throughout, and his fellow Tory, the 1st Earl Mulgrave. Thetford’s corporation had 31 members and was in thrall to the Whig 4th duke of Grafton and Lord Petre, who operated in mutual alliance. In 1822, Petre sold his interest to Alexander Baring, and the same arrangement prevailed. In 1831 there was agitation among the inhabitants for reform and an extension of the franchise, and Baring’s decision to turn out his pro-reform son Francis and come in himself as an opponent of the reform bills prompted an attempt by local dissidents to put up an aristocratic reformer on the putative ratepayer franchise. His candidature was disallowed by the returning officer. Wilton remained in the pocket of the 11th earl of Pembroke, who packed the corporation of 30 with friends and dependants, many of whom were non-residents. On his death in 1827 he was succeeded by his only son, who lived largely abroad, but exercised the interest through his acolytes on the spot. The sitting Member Henry Lytton Bulwer was forced to stand down in 1831 because he supported the reform bill, and he was replaced with an aged anti-reformer.

The five other uncontested boroughs were under the control of patrons, but were at times troublesome. At Andover, where the corporation numbered 24, the patrons were the Tories Thomas Assheton Smith and (from 1822) his son and namesake, and Sir John Pollen. In late 1830 a local attorney began legal proceedings in support of his claim that the original franchise had been vested in the inhabitants at large. Reforming sentiment was strong among the inhabitants and the corporation, who at the 1831 general election forced out Assheton Smith and Pollen and brought in two supporters of the Grey ministry’s scheme. Bodmin, with 36 electors, was under the somewhat precarious control of Lord De Dunstanville, who relied on patronage, expenditure on civic improvements, assumption of responsibility for the corporation’s £3,000 debts and small loans and gifts of money to the needy. In 1822 his interest was disposed of to Lord Hertford, who was appointed recorder, at his own insistence, on the understanding that he and De Dunstanville’s Member Davies Gilbert should take equal shares of the municipal debt. Hertford soon found himself on a bed of nails, but after a bitter struggle, he and Gilbert regained control of the corporation and the representation by 1824. Buckingham’s seats were regarded by the fat duke of Buckingham as his personal property, and the small corporation was largely composed of his creatures and dependants. Yet his dictatorial attitude was resented by at least two members of the select body, whose dissidence was nourished by their and many of the unfranchised Dissenter inhabitants’ hostility to Catholic relief, of which the duke was a keen supporter. ‘No Popery’ sentiment was whipped up by his Ultra son Chandos, and in 1827 the duke purged the corporation of Chandos and two other burgesses who had refused to vote for his pro-Catholic nominee at a by-election. With his father abroad for two years, Chandos continued to make trouble for the Members, but they were unopposed in 1830 and 1831, when there was strong popular support for reform. The corporation of Lostwithiel, which numbered 24, was mostly subservient to Mount Edgcumbe, who, by dint of property deals, loans and gifts for town improvements, secured the return of paying Tory guests and his eldest son. However, in 1830 there was a challenge to his hegemony by several resident householders, who tried to nominate two independent candidates. They were evicted from the town hall and threatened to bring the issue before Parliament, but nothing came of this. Tiverton was the family borough of the 1st earl of Harrowby, but it contained a strong radical element, who focused on a mythical freeman franchise, supposedly conferred by the first charter, and on the argument that it lay in the inhabitant householders. Bids to test this claim at the poll in 1826 and 1831 were abortive; but the limits of the pro-Catholic Harrowby’s influence were revealed in late 1827, when the corporation refused to accept his like-minded son Granville Ryder as a replacement for his ailing anti-Catholic brother Richard Ryder, who was obliged to remain in the seat.

The contests in 1830 at New Romney and Calne (20 electors each) arose out of attempts by local independents to open the corporation and the franchise, in the case of the former to ratepayers (as part of the campaign to liberate the oppressed Cinque Ports), and in the latter to inhabitant householders. In neither was the control exercised respectively by the Tory Dering family and the conservative Whig, the 3rd marquess of Lansdowne, threatened. Resentment of corporation exclusivity informed the contests at Devizes (36 electors), where the sitting Members defeated the candidate of an embryonic independent party in 1820, and the wealthy West India proprietor George Watson Taylor consolidated the status quo from 1826; at Marlborough, where the controlling interest of Ailesbury survived independent challenges in 1826 and 1830; and at the single Member borough of Banbury (18), where Dissent fuelled political intransigence and where in 1831, when reforming zeal penetrated the corporation, the Irish absentee nominee of the patron, the 2nd marquess of Bute, was defeated by the corporation’s reform candidate. A refractory element within the 37-strong corporation of Bury St. Edmunds, which was under the joint patronage of Grafton and the liberal Tory 5th earl (later 1st marquess) of Bristol, caused problems for the former in 1831, when his pro-reform nominee scraped in by one vote. Enthusiasm for the Grey ministry’s reform scheme inspired an unsuccessful challenge in 1831 to the ruling interest at Malmesbury of the Tory Joseph Pitt, and at Salisbury a bid by local reformers, who had some corporation backing, to oust the Tory Member Wadham Wyndham. The advanced Whig, Lord Radnor, who returned the other Member, declined on a point of honour to coalesce with them against Wyndham. At Helston, Truro (24 electors) and Bath (30), contests arose out of struggles between patrons and would-be patrons: the 6th duke of Leeds and the Cornish boroughmonger Sir Christopher Hawkins at Helston; Lord Falmouth and the war hero Sir Richard Hussey Vivian, backed by Hertford, at Truro; and the local Whig Charles Palmer and the recorder, the 1st Marquess Camden, for one seat at Bath, where Lord Bath had a firm grip on the other.


Householder. There were 12 householder or ‘potwalloper’ boroughs, where the franchise was in the inhabitant householders. (In Preston, it was in ‘the inhabitants at large’, who required six months’ residence and a year without claiming poor relief in order to qualify.) The others were Cirencester, Hindon, Honiton, Ilchester, Minehead, Northampton, Pontefract, St. Germans, Taunton, Tregony and Wendover. The inclusion of St. Germans in this category must be qualified: there was some uncertainty as to the nature of the franchise (which had not been exercised since 1640) in the early nineteenth century, when various sources suggest that there was a burgage element. With the exception of St. Germans, where there were no more than 30 electors, these boroughs were notable for the high proportion of adult males who were qualified to vote. The total electorate of these boroughs was almost 13,400. Preston had over 7,100 electors and Northampton 2,400. Leaving out these and St. Germans (23 electors), the average for the other nine boroughs was 428. Of a total of 55 elections in this period, 26 (47 per cent) were contested, as against 33 per cent in the previous period. Half the 48 general elections and two of the seven by-elections were contested. Tregony went to the polls at all its five elections, and Northampton at all four. Preston was contested at four elections out of five, Ilchester and Pontefract at three out of four. Taunton had three contested elections out of five and Honiton two out of four. There was one contested election out of four at Hindon and Wendover. Cirencester, Minehead and St. Germans were uncontested.

St. Germans, which had a population of fewer than 700, remained in the pocket of Lord St. Germans and his son, who succeeded him as 2nd earl in 1824. Minehead, whose population of 1,666 in 1831 included some 215 qualified electors, was under the control of the Fownes Luttrell family, who had bought up much property in the borough. At Cirencester, where the population was over 4,400 and two-thirds (about 700) of adult males had the vote, the representation was shared between the Tory 3rd Earl Bathurst, a cabinet minister, and his fellow Tory Joseph Cripps, a local banker and brewer, who sat throughout this period as the representative of the town or independent interest. Wendover, an inconsiderable place with a population in 1831 of only 802 (of whom about 140 could vote) was the largely docile nomination borough of Carrington, whose family candidates easily overcame an opportunistic challenge in 1830.

Hindon, where there were about 200 electors in a population of some 900, had a strong venal element, but was under the dual patronage of the Whigs, the 3rd Baron Calthorpe, and, from 1826, Earl Grosvenor, who bought out the Scottish nabob, John ‘Filthyman’ Farqhuar. With about 150 tenants between them, they subsequently co-operated to end the payment of an annual ‘gift’ of 20 guineas to loyal voters and to implement steps to improve the physical condition of the town. There was a token Tory challenge in 1831. Honiton, where about three-quarters (510) of the adult males were entitled to vote, was an open and ruinously venal battleground for a group of jobbing attorneys, who introduced strangers, sometimes at the behest of government, and negotiated a price with them. An independent third party, which was partially sustained by religious Dissent, won one seat in 1826, but lost it to an anti-reformer in 1831. Ilchester, where the 1831 population of 975 contained about 200 electors (the bailiff and 12 other capital burgesses of the corporation, as well as the potwallopers) was fought over at the polls (1820, 1826 and 1830), on petition and in the courts by Lords Darlington and Huntingtower. The former had the better of things. Pontefract, which had about 820 electors in a population of 4,500, was open and venal, and saw expensive contests in 1820, 1826 and 1830. The 2nd and 3rd earls of Mexborough managed to hold on to their one seat. Taunton’s electorate (about 800 out of 1,200 adult males in 1821) included some of the poorer inhabitants who occupied rookeries off the main street. Election costs were high and an expensive ‘gratuity system’ operated, but religious Dissent was strong and played a part. The contests of 1820 and 1826 turned on the Catholic question, over which the rich Whig Alexander Baring, Member since 1806, was forced out. After 1829 Taunton politics were realigned on the issue of parliamentary reform, with its advocates successful in 1830 and unopposed in 1831. Venality was notorious at Tregony, a decayed port whose largely impoverished population of 1,127 in 1831 included about 265 electors. Most of them relied heavily for their subsistence on the rewards for voting. The requirement that voters had to be resident for six weeks before an election led to an influx whenever a dissolution seemed imminent. Darlington, the patron and proprietor of 163 tenements, saw off attacks by wealthy outsiders in 1820 and 1826, but later sold out to one of them, James Adam Gordon, who withstood three challenges, 1830-2.

At Northampton, which had a population of 15,000 in 1831 (when 62 per cent of adult males voted), the basic conflict was between the Tory 1st marquess of Northampton, in alliance with the large (90), self-electing and exclusively Anglican corporation, and the independents, who consisted mainly of Dissenters, including most of the leading shoe manufacturers, and had support from the Whig Bouveries and Spencers. The corporation exploited the distribution of charity patronage for electoral purposes, while the Dissenting manufacturers exercised their influence as employers. Elections were politically partisan and disorderly, with plentiful treating. Whigs and independents were successful in 1820 and 1826 (when the corporation’s exertions for the defeated Tory came under parliamentary scrutiny). The Tories recovered a seat in 1830, but their man was ousted in 1831 by two reformers, whose supporters were controversially treated and accommodated in neighbouring barracks. Preston’s electorate was over 7,100 by 1831, when its population was some 33,000. The coalition between the earls of Derby and the Tory cotton manufacturer Samuel Horrocks attracted opposition from independents, backed by local Whigs and radicals. Elections were increasingly costly, disorderly and difficult to manage. Careful monitoring of property tenure by Derby’s agents and leading supporters of the alliance was bolstered by a network of poor law district and street ‘captains’, who organized treating at favoured public houses, sent voters to the polls and brought defectors to book. The alliance candidates won the 1820 contest, but the coalition lapsed on Horrock’s retirement in 1826, when Derby’s grandson, Edward Smith Stanley, was returned with the independent Unitarian John Wood, ahead of an anti-Catholic and Cobbett. They were challenged by Henry Hunt of Peterloo notoriety in 1830, but were comfortably returned. The Derby interest had, however, seemed increasingly vulnerable, and in December 1830 it suffered a spectacular defeat when Hunt beat Smith Stanley, seeking re-election on his appointment as Irish secretary in the Grey ministry, by 3,730-3,392. Hunt had 3,730 commemorative medals struck, but it appears probable that over 1,200 of his votes were fraudulent, with personation rife and unchecked. He and Wood were returned unopposed in 1831.


Freeholder. The eight boroughs in this category were Aylesbury, Cricklade, Haslemere, Ludgershall, New Shoreham, Reigate and Tavistock, which returned two Members each, and the united boroughs of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, which returned four. They were joined in 1830 by the corrupt freeman borough of East Retford, which was sluiced by an Act extending the franchise to the freeholders of the hundred of Bassetlaw. Tavistock and Weymouth had a simple freeholder franchise, while at Haslemere electors were required to be resident. At Ludgershall, certain leaseholders for life were also allowed to vote. At Reigate, the franchise was in freeholders of ‘ancient messuages or burgage tenements’, who in practice were friends and dependants of the patrons. New Shoreham (1771), Cricklade (1782) and Aylesbury (1804) had been supposedly reformed by Acts extending their franchises to surrounding hundreds. Influence in these boroughs generally lay with the largest local property owners. Their estimated electorates were as follows: East Retford (from 1830) 2,000; New Shoreham 1,600; Aylesbury 1,400; Cricklade 1,200; Weymouth 800; Ludgershall 150; Haslemere 130; Reigate 59, and Tavistock 30. The combined electorate was about 5,370. Their populations covered a wide range, from 40,000, 35,000, 30,000 and 28,000 at East Retford, Cricklade, New Shoreham and Aylesbury, through 7,600 at Weymouth, 4,100 at Tavistock, 1,400 at Reigate and just over 500 at the villages of Haslemere and Ludgershall. They were contested at 11 of 49 elections (22 per cent) in this period. Eight of the 34 general elections (including those of 1830 and 1831 at East Retford) went to a poll, and three of the 15 by-elections. Five of these contests occurred at Weymouth and two at New Shoreham. There were no contests at Haslemere, Tavistock, Ludgershall and Reigate. The two last were burgage boroughs in all but name. All were under stable patronage: Haslemere by Lonsdale; Tavistock by Bedford, though a rebellious local banker and industrialist plagued the life out of his steward; Ludgershall jointly by Sir James Graham and his son and successor Sir Sandford Graham, and Joseph Everett; and Reigate jointly by the 3rd earl of Hardwicke and 1st Earl Somers.

Aylesbury was represented throughout this period by the independent anti-Catholic Whig William Rickford, a local banker, who used his wealth to exploit the borough’s venal element, and the advanced Whig Lord Nugent, an Irish peer. After the concession of Catholic emancipation, Nugent’s Ultra nephew Chandos began to work openly against him, and at the general election of 1831 the sitting Members were opposed by his friend Lord Kirkwall, who ran Nugent quite close for second place. Cricklade and New Shoreham were county constituencies in microcosm. When the joint-patron and Member Joseph Pitt retired from Cricklade in 1831, his colleague ‘Bum’ Gordon joined forces with a fellow reformer, but the latter was pushed into third place by a Tory endorsed by Pitt. Norfolk and Egremont each influenced the return of a Member for New Shoreham, though neither was allowed to do so unchallenged. The unsuccessful challenge to Egremont in 1820 was a sideshow to the Sussex contest, while in 1826 Norfolk’s Member narrowly prevailed against a ‘No Popery’ candidate. East Retford, with its electorate increased tenfold by its sluicing, saw the temporary revival of the influence of Newcastle, whose preferred candidates, one a nominee, one the son of an aristocratic county ally, were successful in 1830. In 1831, however, he was unable to prevent the defeat of his anti-reform candidate in a contest which turned as much on the issue of local independence as on reform. Weymouth was turbulent and corrupt, and the practice of splitting freeholds was prevalent. Quarrels among the Johnstone trustees destabilized their 1818 compromise with the local independents and led to contests at the general elections of 1826 and 1831 and by-elections in 1828, 1829 and 1831, though two of these were token affairs. The success of a Johnstone-backed anti-reformer in the last affair owed much to a decision of the mayor which had the effect of disqualifying about 300 would-be voters.


Summary of borough contests. The 202 surviving English boroughs had an estimated electorate of 168,298 in 1831, an increase of 37 per cent on the 1818 figure. Of the 1,103 elections, 337 (30 per cent, as against 24 per cent in the previous period) were contested. There were contests at 277 of the 809 general elections (34 per cent, compared to 30 per cent, 1790-1818) and at 60 of the 294 by-elections (20 per cent, compared to 12 per cent, 1790-1819). Sixty-seven boroughs (33 per cent of the total) were uncontested: 14 freeman, nine scot and lot, 23 burgage, 14 corporation, three householder and four freeholder boroughs.

There were 44 boroughs (including sluiced East Retford from 1830) with electorates of over 1,000, consisting of 33 freeman, five scot and lot, two householder and four freeholder boroughs. Twenty-nine had electorates of between 500 and 999: 15 freeman, nine scot and lot, four householder and one freeholder. The boroughs with under 500 electors numbered 131: 44 freeman, 22 scot and lot, all 30 burgage and all 25 corporation, six householder and four freeholder boroughs. There were 101 boroughs with fewer than 200 electors. (East Retford has been included twice in these calculations.) The large boroughs had 119 contests, an average of 2.7 each. The medium-sized boroughs saw 84 contests, an average of 2.9 each. The small boroughs had 136 contests, an average of 1.03 each.

At the general election of 1820 there were 60 borough contests (30 per cent), 36 in freeman and 12 in scot and lot boroughs. In 1826 74 (37 per cent) were contested, including 47 freeman and 16 scot and lot boroughs. In 1830 76 (38 per cent) went to the polls, with contests in 45 freeman and 15 scot and lot boroughs. In 1831 there were 67 (33 per cent) contests, including 37 in freeman and 13 in scot and lot boroughs.

Analysis of English borough contests at general elections 

Type of borough










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Patrons. Of the 202 English boroughs (excluding disfranchised Grampound), 107 returned Members sponsored by a patron or patrons in this period. Sixty-nine were uncontested. In 60 other boroughs patrons had varying degrees of control, but were either restricted to one seat or challenged for both. At Andover, Ashburton, Banbury, Bridgnorth, Carlisle, Chester, East Retford, Grantham, Great Grimsby, King’s Lynn, Lichfield, Lincoln, Maldon, Monmouth, Newark, Newcastle-under-Lyme, New Woodstock, Preston, Rye, Sandwich, Shrewsbury, Stamford, Stockbridge, Warwick, Wells, Wigan, Worcester and York established interests were overthrown at some point, though in some cases only temporarily. Reform candidates achieved this feat in 1831 at Andover, Ashburton, Banbury, Bridgnorth, Carlisle, Dover, Hertford, East Retford, King’s Lynn, Monmouth, Newark, Rye, Stamford, Warwick and Wigan. Lord Derby’s grandson Edward Smith Stanley was spectacularly defeated by Henry Hunt in the Preston by-election of December 1830. At Arundel, Bath, Carlisle, Chichester, Dover, Evesham, Hereford, Lincoln, Poole, Rochester, St. Ives, Sandwich, Sudbury, Totnes and Warwick one seat was usually under patronage and the other open to competition.

Thirty-five boroughs might be regarded as open. Fifteen of these were so classified in the 1790-1820 volumes of the History. Four others had fallen under patronage: Devizes, Hertford, Ilchester, and Nottingham. The open constituencies included 19 large and seven medium sized freeman boroughs, three large and two medium scot and lot, and one large and three medium householder boroughs. Westminster, London and Southwark qualify by dint of their size (although it could be argued that after the reformers’ double success in the 1820 Westminster election the place was snug enough for Burdett and Hobhouse). The following boroughs were too large to control and expensive to contest, generally on account of their large proportion of out-voters: Berwick-upon-Tweed, Beverley, Bristol, Canterbury, Colchester, Coventry, Exeter, Gloucester, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Kingston-upon-Hull, Lancaster, Leicester, Liverpool, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Northampton, Norwich, Oxford, Reading and Southampton. Of these, Berwick, Beverley, Great Yarmouth, Ipswich, Kingston-upon-Hull, Leicester, Liverpool and Southampton had significant venal elements in their electorates. Thoroughly venal and almost impossible to manage were Barnstaple, Boston, Hedon, Honiton, Hythe, Leominster, Maidstone, Penryn, Pontefract, St. Albans, Stafford and Taunton.

In the 167 boroughs which were amenable to total or partial patronage, some 198 individuals secured the returns to them. This influence accounted for the election of about 300 of the 403 English borough Members. The patrons consisted of 106 peers or prospective peers, 91 commoners and two kings (George IV and William IV at New Windsor). Three of the peers were women: Lady Warwick, widow of the 4th Lord Monson, at Lincoln; the dowager countess of Sandwich at Huntingdon, and Lady Whitworth, widow of the 3rd duke of Dorset, at East Grinstead. Miss Elizabeth Lawrence was the patroness of Ripon, and Miss Mary Anne Peirse returned a Member for Northallerton from 1824. Of the commoners, 24 were or became baronets. Two were clergymen: the Rev. George Burrard (Lymington) and the Rev. Thomas Lamb (Rye). By inheritance during the period, 16 peers and 12 commoners took over borough interests. The corporations of at least six boroughs effectively returned one or both Members: two at Nottingham and Wells, one at Bridport, Derby, Salisbury and Sudbury. The government of the day (at least until 1831, when matters became more complicated with the advent of the largely Whig Grey ministry) returned both Members for Harwich and Plymouth, and one for Dover, Rochester and Sandwich. Multiple patronage was far more prevalent among peers than commoners: 27 of the aristocratic patrons had an effective interest in two or more boroughs; while only three commoners, Alexander Baring (who was created a peer in 1835), Joseph Pitt, William Russell, were involved in two.

The conservative Whig 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam had a stake in five boroughs, Kingston-upon-Hull having left his portfolio: Higham Ferrers, Malton and Peterborough were in his pocket, while he nominated one Member for York, 1820-26, 1830-32, and bankrolled the other Whig, and had a say in matters at East Retford until 1827. As his health deteriorated, his son Lord Milton, Member for Yorkshire and Northamptonshire, took over management of their concerns. Four other Whig peers had interests in four boroughs. The Catholic 12th duke of Norfolk had inherited stakes in the Sussex boroughs of Arundel, Horsham, New Shoreham and Steyning. The fabulously wealthy 2nd Earl Grosvenor, whose income from his Cheshire estates was boosted by the profits of urban development in London, returned at least one Member for Chester and bought interests in the distant boroughs of Hindon (Wiltshire), Shaftesbury (Dorset) and Stockbridge (Hampshire). The 2nd Baron Yarborough had a major say at Great Grimsby and by 1830 was able, as the most influential of the Holmes trustees, to name four Members for the Isle of Wight boroughs of Newport, Newtown and Yarmouth. The 3rd earl of Darlington, with the Cinque Port of Winchelsea already secure, spent heavily in acquiring and building his interests in the Cornish boroughs of Tregony and Camelford and the Somerset one of Ilchester. He was promoted to marquess (of Cleveland) by the Goderich ministry in 1827, adhered to the duke of Wellington’s ministry in 1830 and in 1831 switched back to the Whigs in power, who rewarded him with a dukedom in 1833. The leading Tory boroughmonger was the 1st earl of Lonsdale, who was able to return two Members each for his pocket boroughs of Cockermouth and Haslemere, one for Appleby and one for Carlisle. The 3rd marquess of Hertford controlled the Suffolk boroughs of Aldeburgh and Orford and had interests in the Cornish ones of Bodmin and Camelford. The Ultra 4th duke of Newcastle returned the four Members for the adjoining Yorkshire boroughs of Alborough and Boroughbridge, and one each, at least until 1831, for East Retford and Newark, which were closer to his Nottinghamshire home. The Tories, the 1st duke of Buckingham (Buckingham, St. Mawes and Winchester) and the 5th duke of Rutland (Bramber, Cambridge and Scarborough) had effective interests in three boroughs; Newark had escaped from Rutland by this period and Buckingham left his nephew Lord Nugent, from whom he was estranged politically, to his own devices at Aylesbury. The following peers had a stake in two: 2nd earl of Ailesbury (Great Bedwyn and Marlborough); 2nd marquess of Bath (Bath and Weobley); 6th duke of Bedford (Bedford and Tavistock); 1st Earl Brownlow (Clitheroe and Grantham); 3rd Baron Calthorpe (Bramber and Hindon); 18th Baron Clinton (Ashburton and Callington); 6th duke of Devonshire (Derby and Knaresborough); 2nd earl of Mount Edgcumbe (Lostwithiel and Plympton Erle); 1st Earl Falmouth (Mitchell and Truro); 4th duke of Grafton (Bury St. Edmunds and Thetford); Lord Huntingtower (Grantham and Ilchester); 3rd duke of Northumberland (Launceston and Newport in Cornwall); 1st earl of Powis (Ludlow and Bishop’s Castle); 3rd earl of Radnor (Downton and Salisbury); 1st and 2nd earls of St. Germans (Liskeard and St. Germans); 1st Earl Somers (Hereford and Reigate); and 2nd marquess of Stafford (Brackley and Lichfield). The financier Alexander Baring returned two Members for Callington and one for Thetford. The self-made Wiltshire attorney and banker Joseph Pitt returned himself for Cricklade and both Members for Malmesbury, but lost control of Wootton Bassett in 1820. William Russell of Brancepeth, Durham, inherited from his father Matthew interests which gave him control of Bletchingley and Saltash.

Of the aristocratic patrons, 20 had clearly defined and effective English county interests. Lonsdale returned three Members for Cumberland and Westmorland until 1831, when he lost two. Rutland had power over one seat for Cambridgeshire and Leicestershire, but both were prised from his grasp in this period. The 6th duke of Beaufort returned a Member for Gloucestershire until 1831 and one for Monmouthshire throughout. The other 17 peers confined their attention to one seat for one county; not all these interests survived the period unscathed. The 1st marquess of Anglesey had electoral interests in Wales, as did the 2nd marquess of Bute, who also controlled one Scottish county. Lord Stafford, through his wife the countess of Sutherland, also had a Scottish county in his pocket. Devonshire, Fitzwilliam and Hertford were successful patrons in Ireland. Of the commoner patrons of English boroughs, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and his brother Charles were in control of Denbighshire and Montgomeryshire. The majority of the commoner patrons (70 of 91) were Members of the Commons in this period, mostly representing the constituencies where their electoral interests lay.

Tory ministerialists outnumbered opposition Whigs by over two-to-one among the patrons as a whole. Whig magnates who habitually used one or more of their seats to accommodate prominent members of the party were Cleveland, Devonshire, Fitzwilliam, the 3rd marquess of Lansdowne and Norfolk. Buckingham, Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and the 18th Lord Clinton were Grenvillites. The first two coalesced with the Liverpool ministry in 1822, while Clinton gravitated to the Whigs. Anglesey, Charles Ellis (Lord Seaford) and the 4th duke of Portland were Canningites. Anglesey became a Whig reformer, Seaford remained a liberal Tory after Canning’s death and Portland inclined to the Whigs. Only half-a-dozen instances of borough patrons taking reprisals against recalcitrant tenants have come to light. The most notorious was Newcastle’s recourse to summary evictions at Newark after the 1826 election, which was brought to the notice of the House. Anglesey evicted dissident tenants at Milborne Port before the 1820 election. Owen Williams did so at Great Marlow in 1826, but they were rehoused by his rival William Clayton, who eventually came in for the borough. The 2nd marquess of Exeter made evictions at Stamford in 1830, as did Grosvenor at Shaftesbury. Salisbury used this tactic at Hertford in his war with Tommy Duncombe in 1831.

Thirty-five boroughs were under stable joint-patronage. Of these, 25 were controlled by the same two patrons throughout this period. The were no contests in 17 of these: Appleby, Bramber, Castle Rising, Cirencester, Clitheroe, Corfe Castle, Derby, Dorchester, Ludgershall, Morpeth, Newtown (Isle of Wight), New Windsor, Plympton Erle, Reigate, Scarborough, Tamworth and Whitchurch. Contests occurred at Aylesbury, Bridgwater, Bury St. Edmunds, Cricklade, New Shoreham, Salisbury, Tewkesbury and Winchester, but the patrons kept control. In ten boroughs, changes of patronage occurred for a variety of reasons. Five of these were not contested: East Grinstead, where after the death of the patroness Lady Whitworth in 1825 joint control passed by bequest and negotiation to the 5th Earl De la Warr and the earl of Plymouth; Hindon, where Grosvenor bought a share of the borough (with the 3rd Baron Calthorpe) before 1826; Northallerton, where on the death of Henry Peirse in 1824 he was replaced as partner of the 2nd earl of Harewood by one of his daughters; Saltash, where the Russells of Brancepeth shared with Michael Prendergast until 1826, from when William Russell had sole control; and Thetford, where Grafton’s coadjutor the 11th Baron Petre sold out to Alexander Baring in 1822. At Bossiney James Stuart Wortley (Lord Wharncliffe) controlled one seat throughout, but had two partners, Mount Edgcumbe until 1823 and Edward Tunno from 1824. At Chipping Wycombe Sir Thomas Baring shared the honours with Sir John Dashwood King until 1831, when the latter, an anti-reformer, peaceably gave way to the Whig Robert John Smith. At Lichfield Stafford initially continued to share with the 2nd Viscount Anson, but sold out to him for £120,000 in 1825. The 1st earl of Falmouth and Sir Christopher Hawkins jointly ran Mitchell until Hawkins’s death in 1829, but in 1831 Falmouth captured both seats in a contest. At Wenlock the severe challenge mounted by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn to the Forester interest in 1820 led to a compromise in 1822.

The sale of interests in proprietary boroughs continued. In addition to the examples at Hindon, Lichfield and Thetford mentioned above, sales took place at Shaftesbury and Stockbridge, where Grosvenor paid respectively £70,000 to the 4th earl of Rosebery and £81,000 to Joseph Foster Barham. The cost of his Hindon purchase is not known, but he spent £45,000 on additional parish lands. The 2nd Marquess Cornwallis sold his Eye interest and Brome Hall estate interest to the Kerrisons for £210,000 in 1823. The son and successor of Sir Mark Wood sold his commanding interest at Gatton for £170,000 in 1829, a profit of £80,000 on the sum paid by Sir Mark in 1802. Hertford parted with £50,000 for Samuel Walker’s interest at Aldeburgh. James Alexander purchased Old Sarum from the 2nd earl of Caledon for £41,675. Alexander Baring paid Clinton a mere £30,000 for Callington in 1824. Darlington sold his Milborne Port interest to Anglesey for only £5,000. Stuart Wortley bought out Mount Edgcumbe at Bossiney in 1823. James Buller Elphinstone sold East Looe to Thomas Hope in 1827, only three years after inheriting it from his father-in-law Sir Edward Buller. William Russell evidently bought out Prendergast at Saltash before 1826. Darlington and Hertford fought tooth and nail over Camelford until 1827, when an amicable settlement left the former in sole charge.

The practice of selling seats continued, probably more extensively than the patchy evidence suggests. A few patrons are known to have sold seats as a matter of course: Northumberland (Launceston); Lord St. Germans (St. Germans); Lord Hertford (Aldeburgh); Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington (Newtown, Isle of Wight); Joseph Everett (Ludgershall); John Fownes Luttrell (Minehead); Thomas Legh (Newton); Joseph Pitt (Malmesbury); Albany Savile (Okehampton), and Sir Mark Wood (Gatton). Doubtless there were others. The cost of known transactions varied, but the minimum for a Parliament seems to have been £5,000. This is what Northumberland charged at Launceston. Pitt ran to £6,000 at Malmesbury, and Sir Miles Nightingall handed over this sum to Cornwallis for a berth at Eye in 1820. Sir Charles Forbes was reported to have paid Pitt £12,000 for both Malmesbury seats in 1826. Sir Henry Russell was willing to part with £4,000 for a safe seat in 1820, as was John Norman Macleod in 1827. The terms for an annual or sessional bargain were between £1,000 and £1,500. Hudson Gurney paid Barrington £1,200 a year for his Newtown seat. At Chippenham John Grosett secured a seat from John Maitland in 1820 for £2,000 down for two years and £1,000 a year thereafter. Fownes Luttrell charged £1,000 a year at Minehead. Some patrons may have come close to pricing themselves out of the market. For example, William Russell offered the Bletchingley seats to the Grey ministry in 1831 for £1,500 down and £1,000 annually thereafter, terms which the premier considered exorbitant, although the treasury must have stumped up the cash. The conditions on which seats were to be held by the purchasers presumably varied, but evidence has survived of two such bargains. In 1830 Lord Mahon came in for Wootton Bassett after agreeing with George Villiers, the representative of Lord Clarendon, that

he was to pay £1,500 provided no petition had been presented against his return within the prescribed 14 days and to pay the same sum annually thereafter for the duration of the Parliament. He was liable for no expenses arising out of the canvass or election proceedings, and was to sit with absolute freedom of political action.

Fitzwilliam required his Whig nominees for Malton to meet the expenses, which averaged £1,200 and included payments of a guinea to each elector and a dinner. When Hertford offered an Aldeburgh seat to government in 1826, he asked for a written undertaking by the Member to vacate in the event of political differences with him. Lord Liverpool considered these terms to be too stringent and rejected the offer.


The cost and conduct of elections. Borough electioneering could be a costly business for patrons and candidates. The maintenance of an interest might involve the former in the payment of corporation debts, charitable donations, the financing of civic improvements, the purchase of property or of a complete interest. Perhaps some of the more spectacular contemporary allegations of patrons’ expenditure need to be treated with caution, but it is clear that vast sums were laid out. Some of those expended on the outright purchases of interests in nomination boroughs have already been noticed. Darlington went through £40,000 at Milborne Port before selling out to Anglesey in 1824, and by 1827 had spent £40,000 at Ilchester, where he was at war with Huntingtower, whose involvement in the borough was reported to have cost him a scarcely credible £200,000. Daniel Whittle Harvey reputedly expended £25,000 in sustaining his assault on Colchester, while William Poyntz was relieved of £15,000 at Chichester between 1823 and 1830. Contested elections of course inflated costs dramatically in some boroughs, especially those where large numbers of out-voters had to be brought up, accommodated, fed and entertained or where electors expected bribes or rewards. Some of the most striking examples are the £115,000 credibly reported to have been spent (much of it on bribery) by the two candidates in the Liverpool by-election of December 1831; £50,000 supposedly spent by the contenders at Maldon in 1826; £48,000 at Leicester in 1826, and £42,000 by the two victorious ‘Yellows’ at Ipswich in 1820. Sir William Scott’s bill for success at Carlisle in the 1829 by-election was £30,000. At Durham in 1830 £28,0000 was spent, and the Chester election of 1826 cost Grosvenor £20,000. The same amount was laid out at Newcastle-under-Lyme in 1830, half of it by Edmund Peel. James Baillie spent £18,000 at Bristol in 1830 and two Whigs £17,000 between them at Canterbury that year, while Fitzwilliam forked out £16,000 at York in 1820. The Derby-Horrocks alliance had to pay £11,560 at Preston in 1820. There are numerous other examples of candidates, successful or not, paying between £3,500 and £10,000. Lord Howden’s defeat at York in 1820 cost him £8,000 and the expense of a canvass and preparations by John Hodgson at Newcastle-upon-Tyne in 1830, when there was no contest, came to £10,000. The expense of prosecuting or contesting petitions, of fighting law suits and of measures taken to regain control of boroughs could be punitive. For example, it cost Lord Powis £24,000 to regain control of Bishop’s Castle after 1820. Legal fees of £15,500 were paid by Beaufort in disputes over Monmouth. Charles Fyshe Palmer’s petition and the resulting scrutiny for Reading in 1826-7 cost him £10,000. At the other extreme, Francis Thornhill Baring never paid more than £25 for his three elections at Portsmouth on the Carter interest. In 1828 Thomas Davies, the advanced Whig Member for Worcester, introduced a bill to restrict borough elections to eight days of polling and provide multiple booths in the larger towns. It encountered some opposition, but reached the statute book in July as 9 Geo. IV, c. 59.

At least 50 boroughs were systematically or significantly venal, although in many of the larger ones venality operated alongside party or personal allegiance or political preference as a determinant of voting behaviour. In this period Parliament punished (retrospectively) Grampound and East Retford, and gave varying degrees of scrutiny to events at Evesham, Grantham, Liverpool and Penryn. There had been no general legislation to deal with electoral bribery since the Act of 1729, and it was easy to find ways round it, especially its requirement that bribery had to be proved to have occurred, by promise or vote, before the poll. The need for election petitions to be presented within 14 days of the start of the new Parliament or from the date of a by-election made evasion a simple matter. Bribery and treating were routinely alleged in election petitions, but in this period no more than ten were successful on these grounds. In 1826 Lord John Russell introduced but abandoned a bill to deal with bribery by enhancing the powers of election committees; and his declaratory resolutions of 26 May, carried by the Speaker’s casting vote, were a dead letter. More often than not, a blind eye was turned. Surviving accounts show that at Liverpool in December 1830 1,303 of William Ewart’s voters received a total of £22,360, while John Denison handed out bribes amounting to £22,368. The rates for votes varied enormously. At East Retford, it was 40 guineas for a plumper and 20 for a split; at Bridport £30 and £20; at Great Grimsby £20 and £10, and at Stafford £14 and £7, paid a year after the election. At Wallingford, the notorious ‘Miller’ openly distributed £20 each to the electors, on behalf of William Hughes and his colleagues. Stockbridge was under patronage, but electors were rewarded with payments of up to 60 guineas. Joseph Pitt gave the 13 compliant corporators of Malmesbury £50 a head after each election. More widely bribes of between two and ten guineas were commonplace. At Grantham it was customary to reimburse out-voters for loss of time to the tune of £8. The Reform Act of 1832 did almost nothing to curb bribery and the potentially ruinous allied practice of treating, which had long been and remained intrinsic to the electoral process. Effective legislation to deal with bribery did not start to reach the statute book until 1842.30

Violence remained a common occurrence at borough elections. There were fatalities at Carlisle and Leicester in 1826, and at Northampton and Norwich in 1830. Troops were called in on these and at least a dozen other occasions. Unpopular candidates were physically attacked at Banbury (1831), Boston (1831), Chester (1820, when Tom Grosvenor was forced in his carriage into the Dee), East Retford (1826), Harwich (1831) Kingston-upon-Hull (1820 and 1830), Lincoln (1826) and Sandwich (1831). At New Woodstock in 1826 Lord Blandford and his brothers joined in street brawls. Mob violence and intimidation at Rye in 1831 won a seat for the independents.

The cry of electoral independence was widely adopted, usually in opposition to established proprietary interests, though at Bedford, Canterbury, East Retford and Gloucester it was a convenient blind for partisan activity. Independents and party opponents of established regimes had no success in the 107 boroughs under stable patronage, but, as indicated above, they scored victories in almost half those under partial control. Religious Dissent was a significant electoral factor at Banbury, Bedford, Boston, Cambridge, Colchester, Exeter, Hertford, Leicester, Lincoln, Northampton, Reading, Sudbury and Worcester, where it provided a focus of opposition to self-elected corporations or dominant patrons. At Great Yarmouth, Nottingham and Portsmouth it sustained ruling Whig interests, and at Norwich it was crucial to the Whig Blue and Whites. Party conflict was central to electoral politics in Bedford, Bristol, Canterbury, Exeter, Gloucester, Hereford, Leicester, London, Maldon, Norwich, Nottingham, Rochester, Worcester and York. In many others it had a part to play along with local concerns or the issue of independence. The detailed constituency articles in these volumes reveal a vibrant electoral and political culture in all but the most abject and servile nomination boroughs. Even among the boroughs where patrons were unassailable and which were abolished in 1832, there were very few whose inhabitants, whether enfranchised or not, did not send petitions to the 1830 and 1831 Parliament for the abolition of slavery and parliamentary reform.

In about 30 boroughs, where closed corporations were significant electoral players, reformers tried to open them through legal proceedings, particularly by appeals to king’s bench for writs of quo warranto and mandamus. Most of these suits ended in failure, but those brought against the corporations of Stafford and Newcastle-under-Lyme were successful and effectively neutralized the select bodies, to the electoral benefit of their independent opponents. However, these local campaigns for municipal reform contributed to the broader parliamentary reform movement which made such rapid strides in 1830-31, providing a groundwork of organization and personnel. About two-thirds of the 90 or so boroughs in which the corporations had an important role in elections returned one or two reformers in 1830 and 1831.31

The Universities

Oxford and Cambridge each returned two Members. In both, the seats were available only to members of the university. The franchise was in the doctors and masters of arts, excluding bishops, peers and minors. Lists compiled in 1828 and 1831 put the Oxford electorate at 2,350 and 2,524 respectively. It was of course largely non-resident and widely scattered: 1,131 voted in the by-election of August 1821 and 1,364 in that of February 1829 (about a 58 per cent turnout in both cases). The Cambridge electorate was estimated at about 2,000 in 1832, and the highest number polled in this period was 1,450 at the general election of 1831 (a turnout of roughly 72 per cent).

At Oxford, Christ Church remained numerically dominant and claimed one seat almost as of right, but it could not afford to provoke a hostile combination among the other 18 colleges and five halls. In 1828, for example, Christ Church had 429 electors, with the next highest numbers belonging to Brasenose (218), Queen’s (166), Oriel (151), St. John’s (125), Magdalen (122) and University College (112). The convention whereby Members and candidates did not address or openly canvass the university (they were expressly forbidden to approach within ten miles during elections) still held in this period; and aspirants to the seats relied on the efforts of influential friends and supporters living in or belonging to the university. As members of the political and social elite, the majority of the electors were susceptible to the normal pressures of influence and patronage. The temper of the university remained overwhelmingly Tory and anti-Catholic, and in early 1829 there occurred a contest of extreme bitterness at the centre of national attention. When the duke of Wellington and Robert Peel, his home secretary, decided that Catholic emancipation had to be conceded, Peel (misguidedly as some of his friends thought) offered to resign his seat for the university. His resignation was accepted by convocation, although the timing of it was left to him. Complex discussions and intrigues ensued, at the end of which Peel, who had already arranged to come in for Westbury, reluctantly allowed his supporters in the university to nominate him for re-election. His opponents put up his Christ Church contemporary, the staunch Protestant Sir Robert Inglis. The rowdy by-election threw Oxford into ferment and divided senior common rooms. Despite enjoying the support of members of the government, many Whigs, almost all sitting Members of Parliament who voted, and a majority of the most academically distinguished residents, Peel, who took his own college of Christ Church by 163-79, was defeated by 146 votes. Outraged rural clergymen, some travelling from far away, went to Oxford in droves to register their disgust at his apostasy. Oxford was relatively quiet for the rest of this period. There was some support in convocation for parliamentary reform in 1831, but the future Member William Gladstone led the promotion of an anti-reform petition among the undergraduates, and Inglis and the other sitting Member, Thomas Bucknall Estcourt, opponents of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme, were returned unchallenged at the 1831 general election.

As previously, Cambridge, where Trinity College and St. John’s dominated the 17 colleges, providing over half the electorate, was more volatile than Oxford: in this period five out of nine elections were contested. The Catholic question had long been a lively issue, but by the early 1820s its opponents had had gained a significant numerical advantage in the senate and the constituent body in general. The compromise of 1812 was undisturbed in 1820, when the sitting Members, Lord Palmerston, the pro-Catholic Tory secretary at war, a Johnian, and the Whig John Smyth of Trinity, were unopposed. Smyth’s death in October 1822 precipitated a contest that turned largely on the Catholic question and heralded a decade of turbulence. Three men went to the poll: Lord Hervey (Trinity), the pro-Catholic son of the 5th earl of Bristol and nephew of the premier, Lord Liverpool; the Whig lawyer James Scarlett, and William Bankes (Trinity), the celebrated Egyptian traveller, who offered as the uncompromising opponent of Catholic claims and had the support of Peel. There was confusion as to where the government interest lay, but Hervey was its principal beneficiary. Thanks in part to a great influx of rural clergymen on the second day, Bankes finished top of the poll, with Harvey second and Scarlett a poor third, even though they respectively won in St. John’s and Trinity. Bankes was an embarrassing failure in the House, and at the general election of 1826, which followed a six-month canvass, he was opposed by the attorney-general Sir John Copley and Henry Goulburn, the anti-Catholic Irish secretary, while Palmerston stood his ground. The contest thus involved three prominent members of the administration and one of their backbench supporters. An attempt by a group of influential senior residents to obtain a general agreement to stop the practice of paying the travelling expenses of non-resident voters, which Bankes had abused in 1822, was unsuccessful. There was intensive bargaining and manoeuvring among the candidates over the disposal of second votes. In a departure from traditional practice, whereby voters in the Senate House had written their own and their choices’ names on slips of paper and put them in boxes, the pollbook procedure was adopted. An insistence by two electors that the bribery oath should be administered to all voters provoked disturbances, but polling was subsequently allowed to proceed unimpeded. Copley comfortably topped the poll, and Palmerston, with strong Whig support, finished well ahead of Bankes and Goulburn, whose chances were wrecked by the division of the anti-Catholic vote. When Copley was raised to the peerage as lord chancellor Lyndhurst in May 1827, the anti-Catholic solicitor-general Sir Nicholas Tindal (Trinity) defeated Bankes. Tindal pragmatically supported the concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829, when an attempt to get up a hostile petition was defeated in the senate by 52-44. Later in the year Tindal was made a judge, and Bankes’s brother George (Trinity Hall) offered on the anti-Catholic interest. Senior residents of Trinity College put up the Whig William Cavendish, the 21-year-old cousin and heir presumptive of the 6th duke of Devonshire. Bankes received government support, but Cavendish defeated him by 158 votes in a poll of 1,017. This success for liberalism was repeated at the general election of 1830, when the university’s Tory diehards failed to mount a challenge to the sitting Members, who were both in active opposition to government (Palmerston as one of the Huskissonite squad). In 1831, however, the tables were turned, for Palmerston, foreign secretary in the new Grey ministry, and Cavendish, a supporter of their reform scheme, were defeated by Goulburn and Peel’s brother William, members of the Tory parliamentary opposition, who professed to favour ‘moderate’ reform. The contest was marked by striking partisan voting: only 21 of those who polled split their votes between reformers and anti-reformers, and there were only 51 plumpers in a poll of 1,450. This was the ministry’s only defeat in a large open English constituency, but it was easily shrugged off by reformers. Both universities were unaffected by the Reform and Boundary Acts of 1832, and became strongholds of Conservatism thereafter.

Ref Volumes: 1820-1832

Author: David R. Fisher

End Notes

  • 1.  F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties (Oxford, 1989), pp. 240-4; P. Jupp, British and Irish Elections, 1784-1831 (Newton Abbot, 1973), pp. 15-17; M. Brock, The Great Reform Act (1973), pp. 28-30.
  • 2.  Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 10 Sept. 1827.
  • 3.  W. Devon RO, Bastard mss 74/281.
  • 4.  Glos. RO, Beaufort mss D2700/QB4/1/4/7/4, 6, 7.
  • 5.  Add. 51677, Russell to Holland, 23 June 1826.
  • 6.  Hatherton diary, 13 Oct. 1831.
  • 7.  See Jupp, Elections, 61-62 for a possible one in Cornwall in 1826.
  • 8. See J. Cannon, Parliamentary Reform, 1640-1832 (Cambridge, 1972), 293-8, for a list of contested counties for which 'the aggregate number of voters with freeholds in towns of more than 100 voters in all is given as a percentage of the total county poll'. Eighteen of these contests fall within the period 1820-32. The percentage of urban voters ranges from seven in Lincolnshire (1823) to 34 in Surrey (1826 and Durham (1820). In only three other cases does the percentage exceed 20: Cambridgeshire in 1830 (33 per cent)' Northumberland in 1826 (30); and Leicestershire in 1830 (28). See ibid. 245-50 for a convincing refutation of Moore's thesis that the exclusion of urban freeholders from the counties was 'the over-riding consideration' of the authors of the 1832 Reform Act (D.C. Moore, The Politics of Deference: A Study of the Mid-Nineteenth Century English Political System (Hassocks, 1976, 143).
  • 9.  The 1831 total is higher than that of 247,000 for the English and Welsh counties given in Brock, 312, and adopted in P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work (Woodbridge, 2002), p. 23. The notional Welsh county electorate was about 20,000, making a total of around 287,7000.
  • 10.  See D. Beales, ‘The electorate before and after 1832’, PH, xi (1992), 145.
  • 11.  These figures are derived mostly from surviving county pollbooks or, in their absence, a considered estimate based on the distribution of votes between the candidates.
  • 12.  Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C130/9, Mahon to Stanhope, 24 May 1830.
  • 13.  Herts. Archives, Panshanger mss F/Elb F78.
  • 14.Arbuthnot Corresp. 138.
  • 15.  Beds. RO, Russell mss R 767, C. Haedy to J. Fisher, 18 June 1826.
  • 16.  Fitzwilliam mss, Tavistock to Milton, 5 July 1830.
  • 17.  Russell mss R 767, Fisher to Haedy, 2 May, to S. Brown, 4 May 1831.
  • 18.  Add. 36466, ff. 368, 370.
  • 19.  Fitzwilliam mss, Russell to Milton, 23 June 1826.
  • 20.  See E.J. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985 edn.), appendices I and II; B. Hilton, A Mad, Bad, and Dangerous People? England, 1783-1846 (Oxford, 2006), pp. 416-17.
  • 21.  TNA C110/96, Cornewall to Jay, 9 Feb. 1820.
  • 22.Unhappy Reactionary ed. R.A. Gaunt (Thoroton Soc. recs. ser. xliii), 79-81.
  • 23.  NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/6, p. 83.
  • 24.  Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Bloomfield to Sidmouth, 15 Mar. 1820.
  • 25.  Wellington mss WP1/1202/28; 1213/18.
  • 26.  Brougham mss.
  • 27.  Brougham mss, Radnor to Brougham, 19 July 1831.
  • 28.  Merthyr Mawr mss L/204/43, 44, 46, 47; Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss 9/34/34; 35/109.
  • 29.The Times, 27 July 1830.
  • 30.  See N. Gash, Politics in the Age of Peel (1953), pp. 119-36; O’Gorman, 142; Salmon, Electoral Reform, 102.
  • 31.  For more details see P. Salmon, ‘“Reform Should Begin at Home”: English Municipal and Parliamentary Reform, 1818-32’, in Partisan Politics, Principle and Reform in Parliament and the Constituencies, 1689-1880 ed. C. Jones, P. Salmon and R.W. Davis (Edinburgh, 2005), pp. 93-113.