Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen1

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

about 30 in 1690


6 Mar. 1690RICHARD COOTE, Earl of Bellomont [I] 
 Sir John Pakington, Bt.8
14 Jan. 1699THOMAS FOLEY I vice Foley, chose to sit for Stafford 
13 Jan. 1701THOMAS FOLEY I 
 Robert Steynor12
25 Feb. 1701PHILIP FOLEY vice Foley, deceased 
24 Nov. 1701CHARLES COCKS 
21 July 1702CHARLES COCKS 
13 May 1708EDWARD FOLEY 
12 Oct. 1710EDWARD FOLEY 
18 July 1711RICHARD FOLEY vice Jeffreys, appointed to office 
 EDWARD JEFFREYS vice Foley, appointed to office 
2 Sept. 1713RICHARD FOLEY 
4 May 1714JEFFREYS re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

Droitwich was synonymous with salt. This useful commodity had been boiled from the lime located in the manor since the 8th century. King John had incorporated the burgesses in 1215 in return for an annual fee farm rent of £100. The two bailiffs and the burgesses (freemen) were empowered to control the organization of the industry. To qualify as a burgess one had to own at least a quarter share in a ‘fat’ (vat). However, there were only three routes open to obtain a burgess-ship: inheritance, adoption or unanimous election by the existing freemen. Thus, as the proprietorship of vats changed hands by purchase, subdivision and inheritance, a growing gulf opened up between the increasingly oligarchic control of a few burgesses and a much larger number of proprietors without any control over the industry. The main policy of the corporation was to restrict the output of the salt springs and to maintain its monopoly intact. On several occasions in the 17th century this had led to conflict between the freemen and non-burgesses (or commoners). It appears that in James II’s reign a determined effort was made by the commoners to gain a say in the government of the pits. These same forces were presumably behind the act of 1689 which reduced the role of the bailiffs in the industry, substituting instead ‘governors’ elected by all the proprietors at an annual meeting.3

The parliamentary franchise was also vested in the freemen of the corporation of the salt springs. However, this traditional interpretation of the franchise was challenged at the 1690 election. That there was a contested election at all owed much to manoeuvring elsewhere in the county. It seems clear that Thomas Foley I*, whose main estate lay nearby and who had an interest in the salt industry, intended to back one of the sitting Members, Lord Bellomont. The other seat was by agreement to go to the young Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.* Bellomont secured his election with little difficulty, being backed by the Earl of Shrewsbury and in his own words carrying it ‘so cleverly that there was but one vote against me’. Pakington, on the other hand, was beaten by Philip Foley, a younger brother of Thomas I. His response was to enter the county contest and defeat Foley’s partner, Sir Francis Winnington*, and then to petition the Commons, claiming that he had a majority of legal votes at Droitwich. The basis of Pakington’s case was that the franchise lay in the proprietors of the salt springs at large, rather than just the freemen. If that were the case he would have beaten Foley by 26 votes to 22. However, the Commons upheld the restricted franchise and confirmed Foley’s election without a dissenting voice.4

In 1692 Robert Steynor, a local landowner, challenged the corporation’s monopoly by sinking several new brine pits on his own freehold land. This precipitated an expensive legal suit in Chancery (costing Steynor in excess of £6,000) which Lord Keeper Somers (Sir John*) eventually settled in Steynor’s favour in 1696 on the grounds that the corporation’s powers only extended to those pits in existence at the time of King John’s grant. It is unclear what effect this dispute had on electoral politics. However, in September 1693 Robert Harley* could report that his father-in-law, Thomas Foley I, was ‘full of uneasy thoughts in the matter of Wich, and with relation to Lord B[ellomont]’. Nevertheless, Harley was confident that an accommodation could be reached. It is clear that the imposition of a tax on salt in 1694 united the rather disparate elements concerned in salt production, for the tellers in favour of letting a petition from Droitwich lie on the table until the 2nd reading of the supply bill were Pakington and one of the Foleys.5

The role of Droitwich as a pawn in a wider electoral configuration became clear in 1695. In August Charles Cocks informed Somers that ‘I can come in at Wich with the consent of the town and Mr Foley’, thereby allowing William Bromley I* a free run at Worcester. Cocks also had the support of his brother-in-law Somers and probably Shrewsbury (who was to be named recorder in 1696). Thomas Foley I kept Droitwich in reserve in case of a mishap in the county election. Thus, Sir James Rushout, 1st Bt.*, could write to Somers that ‘I am told Foley must have one vote and Mr Cox [sic] may have the other if necessity require it’. In the event the county election passed off smoothly, despite rumours of an intervention by William Walsh* with the specific intention of forcing Foley to offer him a seat at Droitwich. With the pressure to come to an accommodation removed by Foley’s success in the county, and ‘with his brother Paul and his son [Thomas III] chosen’, Edward Harley was returned on the Foley interest. Indeed, it was Harley who appeared to sponsor a bill to explain the act of 1689 for better regulating the salt works in Droitwich which was presented on 1 Feb. 1696 but not proceeded with.6

The 1695–8 Parliament witnessed a growing divide between the Foleys on one hand and the more Court-orientated Whiggery of Somers and Shrewsbury on the other, thus ensuring that Droitwich retained its importance in local electoral calculations in 1698. Shrewsbury reported to Somers in May that, in the opinion of Lord Coningsby (Thomas*), Cocks ‘will find a very good interest at Wich’ and Foley should be challenged for the other seat (whether in the county or at Droitwich is unclear). Conversely, opposition to Thomas Foley I in the county (and to Thomas Foley III at Stafford) raised the prospect of a challenge to Cocks in order to provide against a Foley defeat elsewhere. Cocks’s interest was no doubt strengthened by Somers’ successful efforts to obtain from a majority of the Treasury lords a promise that the new ‘double duty’ on salt would not be levied retrospectively. Although Cocks was ill at Bath in June 1698, a compromise was worked out whereby the representation was shared by Cocks and Thomas Foley III. When the latter elected to serve for Stafford, his father, Thomas Foley I (who had been defeated for Worcestershire) was returned unopposed at the by-election.7

At the general election of January 1701, Robert Steynor, the most controversial figure in Droitwich affairs, stood as a candidate. Steynor’s destruction of the corporation’s monopoly of salt production had begun an economic war. By 1699 he had boasted that he would ‘break all the rest of the proprietors’ by expanding production, cutting prices and forcing his competitors out of business. However, the fact that all the freemen had some interest in the ancient salt pits shielded the borough from electoral strife on this issue. Steynor’s lack of influence among the freemen saw him poll only one vote, Cocks and Thomas Foley I being returned. The Foley influence was in some disarray, however, as Foley was described less than a fortnight before the election as ‘not well enough in body or mind to pretend’. The problem was a shortage of candidates to replace him, most of the family being secured elsewhere and Philip Foley declining to stand. The death of Thomas Foley before Parliament sat forced the issue. Thomas Foley III was optimistic that ‘my interest is very good at Droitwich’, and correctly assumed that Steynor had no grounds to petition and delay the election. Pressure was applied to Philip Foley to fill the seat which he tried to avert by suggesting Edward Harley as a suitable replacement. In the end Foley demurred, being returned unopposed in February 1701.8

While Steynor used Parliament as a forum to further his campaign against the ancient proprietors by petitioning the Commons over the smuggling of salt at Droitwich, the feud had no direct repercussions on electoral politics. In October 1701 Walsh suggested to Somers that ‘Mr Foley’s interest declines there by their choosing neither him nor his uncle for bailiff this year’. Moreover, Walsh speculated that Pakington (lessee of the fee farm rents) ‘keeps it for a reserve in case he fail in the county or as some others think to bring Mr Foley to higher terms’. The view of Lord Weymouth (Thomas Thynne†) was that Pakington and Foley should join together to fight the county (where Pakington stood single) thereby leaving Droitwich or Stafford free for someone else. In all these scenarios Cocks appeared to be safe. With Pakington and Thomas Foley III both successful elsewhere, Cocks was returned unopposed with Edward Foley in both November 1701 and 1702. The 1702–3 session of Parliament saw both the corporation of Droitwich and some of the other proprietors, headed by Sir John Talbot†, opposed to an initiative from the Earl of Plymouth to make the Stour and Salwerp navigable by amending the act passed for that purpose in 1662. This opposition was successful as the bill never emerged from committee. In January 1704 there were rumours that some Droitwich men were meeting with William Bromley I* (a defeated candidate for the county in 1702) and a ‘Mr Sandys’, possibly Martin Sandys (guardian to the young Samuel Sandys†), with a view to contesting the borough at the next election. In the event, Bromley emerged victorious from the county election in 1705, leaving Cocks and Foley to be returned unopposed at Droitwich.9

Each session of the 1705–8 Parliament saw an initiative from Droitwich aimed at resolving or ameliorating the problems engendered by the end of the corporation’s salt monopoly. In 1705–6 there was an abortive turnpike bill to repair the road running from Worcester to Birmingham through Droitwich, the main highway for the carriage of salt by land. In October 1706 the ancient proprietors of salt springs entered into a subscription to obtain an act to enable them to convey their brine by pipes to the Severn and to construct a salt works to boil it into salt. This had the advantage of avoiding the Salwerp navigation under the Earl of Plymouth’s control (if ever completed), and undercutting the price of salt pits that had recently been sunk on the manorial waste. However, there was opposition to the project: from Plymouth, from Pakington (anxious to recover the arrears on his fee farm rents), from Sandys (over the damage to his nephew’s estate), and from Steynor. Furthermore, the salt proprietors were divided among themselves, the non-freemen being particularly mistrustful of the corporation. Indeed, Talbot criticized Cocks for supporting ‘the Wich men’s interest even to the restoring the power of the bailiffs’ and drawing clauses by their advice. Foley chaired the committee, but the bill fell victim to the procedural manoeuvres of its opponents and to the opposition of Sandys, and did not emerge from committee before the end of the session. In the 1707–8 session this bill was revived under the management of Cocks. It proposed an exchange of land between the bishop of Worcester and William Norton to enable the salt works to be built. It was opposed by Steynor, the other new pit owners and the land carriers. However, it fell in committee ‘in the softest manner that can be’. One of the burgesses of the corporation refused to consent ‘to their being so divested’. The chief loser by this failure was Cocks: his conduct was criticized by Foley, who claimed that only a few people were in the secret before the bill was prepared.10

It seems clear that as a result of this last legislative failure Foley’s hold on the borough was strengthened, because at the election of 1708 Cocks was replaced by Edward Winnington (later Jeffreys). Although Steynor thought that the bailiffs’ election might have been ‘prejudicial’ to Jeffreys, the latter was returned unopposed with Foley in 1710. Both Members were appointed to office at the end of the 1710–11 session, thereby necessitating a double by-election in July. Jeffreys was re-elected and Foley was replaced by his younger brother, Richard. An indication of the strength of the Foley interest as seen by contemporaries can be gauged by the comment of Bishop Lloyd of Worcester, that he had met ‘Mr Foley, the prothonotary, at his borough of Droitwich’. Foley and Jeffreys were re-elected in 1713, and yet another by-election was necessary when the latter was again appointed to office in 1714. He held the seat. Both Jeffreys and Foley retained their seats until their respective deaths in 1726 and 1732.11

Author: Stuart Handley


  • 1. CJ, x. 466.
  • 2. Add. 70227, Thomas Foley III to Robert Harley, 5 Feb. 1700[–1].
  • 3. E. Hughes, Studies in Admin. and Finance, 20; E. K. Gillan, ‘Droitwich and the Salt Industry’ (Birmingham Univ. M.A. thesis, 1956), 13, 53–55, 88–89; VCH Worcs. ii. 259; CSP Dom. 1687–9, p. 177; HMC Lords, ii. 110; Hereford and Worcester RO (Worcester, St. Helen’s), Vernon mss 705: 7/BA7335/63/ii/5.
  • 4. Add. 70014, ff. 286, 290; Epistolary Curiosities ed. Warner, i. 141–2; CSP Dom. 1689–90, pp. 456, 464.
  • 5. Hughes, 225–38; Nash, Worcs. i. 298; Gillan, 89–90; VCH Worcs. 261; Add. 70017, f. 166.
  • 6. W. L. Sachse, Ld. Somers, 107–8; Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/O1/7, Cocks to Somers, 31 Aug. 1695; 371/14/J4, 5, 7, Rushout to same, 3, 10 Aug., 4 Nov. 1695; Add. 70227, Thomas Foley III to Harley, 7 Nov. 1695; 70236, Edward Harley to same, 8 Nov. 1695; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 185.
  • 7. Somers mss 371/14/E14, Shrewsbury to Somers, 11 May 1698; VernonShrewsbury Letters, ii. 119; Shrewsbury Corresp. 537–9, 541.
  • 8. Add. 36914, f. 9; 29579, ff. 248, 254, 256; 70225, Philip Foley to Harley, 18 Dec. 1700, 5 Feb. 1700[–1]; 70227, Thomas Foley III to same, 5 Feb. 1700[–1].
  • 9. Somers mss 371/14/B20, Walsh to [Somers], 26 Oct. 1701; HMC Portland, iv. 26; CJ, xiv. 70, 83, 88; Hereford and Worcs. RO (Worcester, St. Helen’s), Hampton mss b705: 349/4657/iii/16, Charles Stephens to Pakington, 5 Jan. 1703[–4].
  • 10. CJ, xv. 97, 307, 346, 502, 515, 528, 533; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 77/55, subscription, 23 Dec. 1706; 77/59, [James Vernon I*] to Shrewsbury, 6 Mar. 1706[–7]; 77/72, 81, Talbot to same, 21 Jan., 25 Feb. 1706–7; 77/86, proposals of William Norton to the proprietors of the ancient salt works, 13 Aug. 1707; 48/193, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 24 Feb. 1707–8.
  • 11. Hampton mss b705: 349/BA4657/iii/46, Steynor to Pakington, 3 Oct. 1710; HMC Portland, v. 128.