Chippenham

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1386-1421, ed. J.S. Roskell, L. Clark, C. Rawcliffe., 1993
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Elections

DateCandidate
1386Thomas Gay
 Robert Chandler I
1388 (Feb.)Thomas Gay
 John Suyput
1388 (Sept.)Thomas Gay
 Thomas Lote
1390 (Jan.)Thomas Gay
 Thomas Lote
1390 (Nov.)
1391
1393
1394Nicholas Sambourn II
 Hugh de la Lynde
1395
1397 (Jan.)
1397 (Sept.)
1399
1401
1402
1404 (Jan.)
1404 (Oct.)
1406
1407
1410
1411
1413 (Feb.)
1413 (May)John Worth
1414 (Apr.)
1414 (Nov.)
1415
1416 (Mar.)
1416 (Oct.)
1417
1419
1420
1421 (May)
1421 (Dec.)

Main Article

Chippenham, situated in west Wiltshire near the borders with Gloucestershire and Somerset, possessed one of the few bridges over the Avon and so became an important local route centre. Though it had apparently been a town of some note in the early part of the 14th century—its contribution to the subsidies of 1334 being larger than that made by any other Wiltshire borough except Salisbury—it seems to have suffered a decline in population in the second half of the century, possibly because of a severe outbreak of the plague. By 1377 it would appear from Chippenham’s taxable population of just over 250 that, though then larger than Calne or Cricklade, the town was smaller than its neighbours Devizes, Malmesbury, Corsham and Lacock, and less than half the size of Melksham or Bath.1 As a market town at the convergence of several roads, such prosperity as Chippenham enjoyed was based on trade, and it is appropriate that many of the more affluent burgesses whose occupations are given in the poll tax return of 1379 were either merchants or victuallers of some sort, the latter no doubt catering for travellers passing through the shire. Smaller numbers of townsmen were employed as tailors or leather-workers. As far as can be seen from surviving records, however, the town was not a wealthy one, and only three men contributed more than 1s. per head to the tax.2

The early history of Chippenham is obscure. As far as is known it grew up around a hunting lodge of the West Saxon kings, placed conveniently close to the extensive woodlands which subsequently became the royal forests of Chippenham, Pewsham and Blackmoor. Chippenham remained crown property until the mid 13th century, when its potential for achieving corporate status (and with it the possibility of developing powers of jurisdiction) was stunted following the division of the royal estate and its alienation to two separate tenants-in-chief. The first of the manors thus created, in which the greater part of the vill lay, passed by 1250 to the Gascelyn family, the last of whom, Christine, the wife of Edmund Hales, held it from 1395 until 1424, before selling her inheritance to Sir Walter Hungerford*. The latter soon also acquired the other constituent manor, known as Rowden. This, held from 1231 until 1392 by the Husseys, was conveyed to Sir John Erleigh of Beckington, Somerset, from whose daughter Hungerford was to obtain it in 1434. Throughout our period Chippenham technically fell within the bounds of the forest of the same name, the lordship of which was attached to Devizes castle and assigned in dower first to Queen Anne, the wife of Richard II, and afterwards to Queen Joan, wife of Henry IV. These queens successively received the fines and amercements collected in the forest and appointed, directly or indirectly, the officials who administered the area.3

Save only for a few deeds, no borough records survive for the period under consideration, and little is known about such corporate institutions or privileges as the inhabitants possessed. Like Great Bedwyn, Ludgershall and Downton, Chippenham was a borough by prescriptive right only, since it received no charter before 1554. Nor, apparently, did the local people create a guild merchant. The town was ruled by a bailiff appointed, not by either of the lords of the constituent manors, but by the Crown. The proceeds of three of the four fairs held there annually appertained to one or other of those lords, while the profits of the fourth went to the parish church. The weekly market was under the surveillance of the royal bailiff, who collected stallage and other dues—a privilege never apparently farmed out to the burgesses.4 The lack of local records and also the paucity of electoral returns during our period make it difficult to discover whether Chippenham’s overlords, royal or seigneurial, ever influenced the outcome of parliamentary elections there.

Chippenham had first sent burgesses to Parliament in 1295, and was thereafter represented in at least eight of the 15 Parliaments summoned between then and September 1313. There is no evidence, however, to show that the borough returned Members to any Parliament held from 1314 to 1361, or, indeed, whether it was ever required to do so. Representation was then resumed, but, remaining intermittent for the rest of Edward III’s reign, it was not until after the accession of Richard II that it became fairly regular, with burgesses being sent to all but three of the 17 Parliaments assembled between October 1377 and January 1390. From that date until December 1421 there is an almost complete failure of evidence regarding Chippenham’s representation. During that period the borough is actually known to have returned Members only three times, in 1394, 1413 (May) and 1421 (Dec.); and in the second of these instances the electoral indenture is so mutilated as to reveal only one of the two names, and in the last instance both have long since been torn off. From 1422 the returns for the borough survive with a fair consistency throughout the rest of the 15th century.

Nothing is known about the actual conduct of the parliamentary elections for Chippenham during our period, but it is safe to assume that these followed the practice obtaining in other Wiltshire boroughs. On receipt of a royal writ of summons, the sheriff sent a precept to the chief official or officials of each borough (in Chippenham’s case probably the King’s bailiff), who then reported to him the names of those elected. The electoral statute of 1406 provided for the return for the county to be made in the form of an indenture and so a new system was then adopted: every borough sent a small delegation to the shire court to announce the names of its Members, following which these were then recorded in the Wiltshire indenture as having been chosen by the ‘community of the burgesses’ of each place. But as to what was done locally before report was ever made to the sheriff, we are left in the dark. Even so, judging from the number of local men returned before 1390, it seems likely that, during the early part of our period at least, the elections proper were carried out in the town.

No more than six returns survive for the 32 Parliaments of this period. Since the names of only seven Members are known, it has been thought advisable to consider along with them the individuals who sat immediately before 1386 and after 1421 as well, in order to obtain a less incomplete impression of the borough’s representation. The burgesses returned for Chippenham between 1380 and 1390—Robert Chandler I, Thomas Lote, Thomas Gay, Robert Chapman and Thomas Ironmonger—were all resident in the town, where they were plainly the most substantial inhabitants. (Ironmonger, Lote and Gay paid the highest contributions towards the 1379 poll tax).5 Chapman, Lote and Gay were merchants, and Ironmonger was a mercer. While these men were no doubt of some note in Chippenham itself, they carried little, if any, weight outside it. Nevertheless, Gay was returned not less than ten times between 1378 and 1390; Lote sat in six Parliaments, including the consecutive assemblies of 1388 (Sept.) and 1390 (Jan.); Chapman appeared in five, consecutively in 1383 (Oct.) and 1384 (Apr.); Ironmonger was elected four times (consecutively in 1384 (Nov.) and 1385), and Robert Chandler I twice. So, between 1380 and 1390 Chippenham’s parliamentary representatives were drawn from a small group of resident burgesses who, for the most part, acquired in time a considerable experience of the workings of the Commons.

The MPs chosen in 1394, Hugh de la Lynde and Nicholas Sambourn II, were men of a rather different type. So far as is known, both sat only once for Chippenham, but de la Lynde appeared three times for Bath (in 1391, 1393 and 1397 (Sept.)) and Sambourn was subsequently returned for Malmesbury, in the immediately following Parliament of 1395. Neither was a resident burgess, though Sambourn’s family held property in and close to the town, and he himself witnessed a number of deeds there. De la Lynde, on the other hand, appears to have been a complete outsider, for his only known links with Chippenham followed as a result of his association with the Sambourns. Both men were of a higher social class than the Members of earlier years: Sambourn, who was married to an heiress, possessed lands in both Wiltshire and Berkshire, as well as being Sir Peter Bessels’* feoffee of estates in other counties. He was connected by marriage with Thomas Cricklade* and other members of the north Wiltshire gentry. In addition, he acted for some years as the abbot of Glastonbury’s bailiff in Wiltshire, and served on at least three royal commissions. Less is known about de la Lynde, but he practised as a lawyer and served for a while as a minor admiralty official and, though apparently a citizen of Bath, he also owned considerable property in central Wiltshire.

Of the 14 MPs known to have been returned for Chippenham between 1422 and 1450 few, if any, were resident burgesses of the type elected before 1390. Nevertheless, with one exception (John Langley, a Gloucestershire man), all of them lived in Wiltshire, and most owned property there. Four (Langley, John Ludwell*, William Stirrop and John Wing) were lawyers, and no less than six followed the practice, initiated at Chippenham by Sambourn and de la Lynde, of sitting for more than one Wiltshire borough in the course of their careers.6 Langley even served five times as knight of the shire for Gloucestershire. The most noticeable feature of Chippenham’s parliamentary representation between 1422 and 1450, however, is the influence exerted by Sir Walter (latterly Lord) Hungerford who, having acquired two-thirds of the borough in 1