Berwick-upon-Tweed

Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

260 in 16891

Elections

DateCandidate
4 Apr. 1660SIR THOMAS WIDDRINGTON
 JOHN RUSHWORTH
22 June 1660EDWARD GREY vice Widdrington, chose to sit for York
29 Apr. 1661SIR THOMAS WIDDRINGTON
 EDWARD GREY
10 Jan. 1665DANIEL COLLINGWOOD vice Widdrington, deceased
 Hon. Thomas Grey
2 Mar. 1677PEREGRINE OSBORNE, Visct. Osborne of Dunblane vice Grey, deceased
 John Rushworth
28 Feb. 1679HON. RALPH GREY
 JOHN RUSHWORTH
 Daniel Collingwood
 William Carr
26 Aug. 1679HON. RALPH GREY
 JOHN RUSHWORTH
12 Feb. 1681HON. RALPH GREY
 JOHN RUSHWORTH
1 Apr. 1685PHILIP BICKERSTAFFE
 HON. RALPH WIDDRINGTON
 James Wallis
 Hon. Ralph Grey
11 Jan. 1689FRANCIS BLAKE
 PHILIP BABINGTON

Main Article

The most important interest at Berwick was in the corporation, which controlled the roll of freemen. It remained a garrison town despite the union of the crowns, but the interest which thus accrued to the Government was counterbalanced by the strength of Presbyterianism in the town. Most of the candidates were Northumberland gentry by birth or residence, the chief interests belonging to the Presbyterian Greys of Warke and the Roman Catholic Widdringtons. Sir Thomas Widdrington, however, who was returned with his kinsman, the Presbyterian Royalist John Rushworth, at the general election of 1660, was certainly a Protestant of some kind, though his extreme political versatility hardly permits of further definition. He had been chosen as recorder of the borough in 1631, while Rushworth had acted as solicitor, or London agent, to the corporation since 1638. A new writ was ordered when Widdrington opted to sit for York on 14 May, but the by-election was not held until after the Restoration. Edward Grey, also somewhat of a ‘sport’ in his family since he was a Cavalier and an Anglican, was returned, and re-elected in 1661 with Widdrington.2

The first known contest of the period followed Widdrington’s death in 1664. Both candidates had court connexions, but whereas the loyalty of Daniel Collingwood, an army officer, was unequivocal, the sitting Member’s nephew Thomas Grey was an associate of the Duke of Buckingham, and may have enjoyed Presbyterian support; but he was not returned. He first petitioned nine days after the election, but the indenture was not received until 6 Feb. 1665. Even then the House resolved to postpone the hearing of the case until after the Easter recess, doubtless in view of the difficulty of bringing witnesses three hundred miles from the far north during the winter season. The petition was revived in the Oxford session, but it was not until 22 Nov. 1666 that Collingwood’s election was confirmed. ‘Both bribery and subornation was proved against Grey.’3

Berwick was hard hit economically by the imposition of customs duty on Scotch corn in 1670. Indeed Rushworth told the House of Lords in the following year that ‘salted salmon was the whole trade of Berwick’, which would be ruined by the prohibition of French salt. On the death of Edward Grey in February 1676 during the long recess Lady Widdrington, whose husband had been governor of Berwick till his recent death, urged the candidature of her cousin Edward Osborne, writing to the mayor that she had ‘desired that my lord treasurer would honour the town so much as to persuade my Lord Latimer, his eldest son’, to stand. The candidate’s father improved the government interest by permitting the import of large quantities of Scotch corn, ostensibly for the use of the garrison, and when Latimer himself found an easier seat to contest at Corfe Castle, he put up his younger son Lord Dunblane (Peregrine Osborne) for Berwick, and asked the Duke of Newcastle (Henry Cavendish), to assist. Newcastle in turn applied to Luke Ogle, the Presbyterian vicar of Berwick from 1656 to 1662, who replied disclaiming any interest in the town, but declaring that the electors were already ‘fixed’ against the court candidate. His rival was Rushworth, who, despite financial embarrassment and his wife’s advice, was standing with the encouragement of (Sir) William Blackett. The government interest was now entrusted to the customer, Charles Pratt, and the recorder, Sir Richard Stote, who were more helpful. Pratt wrote to Collingwood on 20 Feb. 1677:

I hope all things will go so well on that you shall meet with a legal and fair return. Tomorrow we shall choose a bailiff instead of Mr Grieve (who hath not performed the law relating to taking the sacrament according to the Church of England), and he is such a person (though nominated by the mayor) [that he] will be our certain friend in the return.

Stote now brought his tactics out into the open, warning the mayor, ‘who seemed very much startled therewith at first’, that he would require the disqualification of all voters who stood excommunicated. He admitted that ‘the opposite party still exceed us in votes ... and it is now talked here they could lose it but by tricks in law. I care not what is said so long as my own judgment and reason is satisfied in what I shall do, though perhaps such things have been rarely, if ever practised.’ He stood firm by his opinion at the hustings, ‘giving it under my hand’, and the mayor and bailiffs declared Dunblane elected. Rushworth twice petitioned against the return, but the elections committee failed to report before the dissolution of the Cavalier Parliament. Orders were sent to the mayor to expel Ogle under the Five Mile Act, but in reply it was stated that he had not lived in the town for many years.4

The concession to Berwick over the import of Scotch corn was presented as a grievance by the Northumberland grand jury in October 1678, but no action was taken in the Treasury until after the first general election of 1679. It was reported on 31 Jan. that ‘the town resolves to choose for Members two gentlemen whose principles conform not to the laws, viz. Mr Rushworth and William Carr, a counsellor’. But it was Ralph Grey, the 17-year-old brother of a prominent exclusionist peer, who was returned with Rushworth. Danby’s sons found other seats, and a petition from Collingwood was never reported. In the autumn he transferred to Morpeth, and the sitting Members were re-elected to the second and third Exclusion Parliaments, probably unopposed.5

After the dissolution of the Oxford Parliament, Ralph Widdrington, deputy governor of Berwick, complained to the Privy Council of the conventicles in the town, and the corporation were warned that a quo warranto would be issued if the laws were not put into execution. Although the borough failed to produce any loyal addresses, no steps were taken to implement this threat until 1684. The Government was informed that:

four schismatical preachers are resident in the town who keep up the people in their disobedience to the laws. The magistrates make use of conformity only to keep themselves in their places. Their wives never appear in the public place of worship; they leave them in the hands of the dissenters as hostages. No one with any zeal for his Majesty or the Church can ever hope for the white staff, any considerable place, traffic, or friendship in the town. The trade is in the hands of a few rigid dissenters. The other inferior creatures are their dependants.

A quo warranto was first ordered in January, and Newcastle was asked to obtain evidence, but it was found to be insufficient. Another writ was ordered in September, and after taking legal advice from Henry Pollexfen and John Holt, the common council voted to surrender their charter, though only by a majority of six. The town clerk, who brought the charter up, believed that Widdrington and another courtier, Philip Bickerstaffe, intended to disfranchise all the existing freemen except those to be named in the charter. Proceedings were delayed by the death of Charles II, but on 16 Mar. 1685 a temporary municipal administration was proclaimed at Berwick. Bickerstaffe, who had acquired an estate in Northumberland by marriage, was approved as court candidate, but James Wallis of Coupland, a longserving officer in the garrison, refused to join interests with him. It looked as if Grey might retain his seat, though Rushworth, incapacitated by drink and debt, never stood again. By Widdrington’s account he himself ‘made no effort to be chosen, but his friends had declared they would vote for him, whether he would or not’. Writs de excommunicato capiendo effectively deprived 140 freemen of their votes, while the Tories on the municipal commission ‘made twenty burgesses that were for their purposes, but would admit of none (though it was their right) that might appear against them in their elections’. Bickerstaffe and Widdrington were returned, and the new charter authorized on 8 Aug. 168