Great Grimsby

Borough

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 freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:

unknown

Number of voters:

67 in 1699; at least 82 in 1710

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
3 Mar. 1690SIR EDWARD AYSCOUGH27
 JOHN CHAPLIN27
 Sir Thomas Barnardiston, 2nd Bt.221
1 Nov. 1695SIR EDWARD AYSCOUGH56
 ARTHUR MOORE56
26 July 1698SIR EDWARD AYSCOUGH66
 ARTHUR MOORE66
30 Nov. 1699THOMAS VYNER vice Ayscough, deceased46
 Richard Robinson13
 Sir Thomas Barnardiston, 3rd Bt.8
10 Jan. 1701WILLIAM COTESWORTH62
 THOMAS VYNER42
 Arthur Moore34
 Charles Bransby4
 William Newarke1
 Cotesworth’s election declared void, 6 Mar. 1701 
1 Dec. 1701WILLIAM COTESWORTH65
 ARTHUR MOORE45
 Thomas Vyner22
 Zachariah Alford1
 George Clayton1
20 July 1702JOHN CHAPLIN42
 ARTHUR MOORE32
 William Cotesworth28
9 May 1705ARTHUR MOORE69
 WILLIAM COTESWORTH64
 John Chaplin16
 Thomas Vyner1
6 May 1708ARTHUR MOORE71
 WILLIAM COTESWORTH71
6 Oct. 1710ROBERT VYNER62
 ARTHUR MOORE55
 William Cotesworth472
1 Sept. 1713ARTHUR MOORE74
 WILLIAM COTESWORTH54
 Sir James Clerke23
 Matthew Boucherett93

Main Article

One of the most venal boroughs in the country, Grimsby was no more than ‘a little poor town, not a quarter great as heretofore’. Intensive electioneering clearly pushed up the price of the seats, which increasingly became the preserve of London merchants of somewhat doubtful reputation. Not surprisingly, following one of the most notoriously corrupt elections of the period, calls were made to disfranchise the town, led by John Toland’s Art of Governing by Partys (1701), but to no effect. The most dominant figure in borough politics in this period was the Tory entrepreneur Arthur Moore, who assiduously cultivated the local electorate with bribery, services and loans. However, the rapaciousness of the townsmen made his task of management formidable, especially as their greed was encouraged by a regular turnover of new candidates.4

The 1690 poll was still heavily influenced by local country gentlemen. The sitting Members both owned estates in Lincolnshire, high steward Sir Edward Ayscough at nearby Stallingborough, and town recorder Sir Thomas Barnardiston, 2nd Bt.*, at Silk Willoughby. The challenger was John Chaplin, the son of a former lord mayor of London, who had acquired by marriage an estate at Tathwell, in the north of the county. All three could be broadly classed as Whigs, but the voting figures suggest that Ayscough stood alongside Chaplin in a successful attempt to exclude Sir Thomas. Barnardiston petitioned the House, accusing Chaplin, the sheriff of Lincolnshire, of having illegally procured his own return, but the committee of elections never reported the matter. Barnardiston’s victory at a Sudbury by-election the following October ensured that the case was not taken further, and he subsequently confined his electoral ambitions to Suffolk.

The election of 1695 was a turning-point in Grimsby politics, since it saw Arthur Moore’s first attempt on the borough seats. He had risen from obscurity to become a notable City figure, and quickly impressed voters with his wealth and influence. By the time of the election he had perhaps already broached with Grimsby leaders a scheme to resurrect the local haven, which had long suffered decay through silting. Such was the hope which he inspired in the locality that he was hailed as a ‘messiah’, and he was warned that ‘all eyes are fixed upon you and full of expectation of some good effects to themselves and town through the mediation of your interests, an honour they are not used to attribute to the burgesses of this place’. Even though the haven proposal ultimately failed to revive the town’s trade, Moore found immediate success at the polls, being returned alongside Ayscough. The failure of Chaplin to put up may well have been the result of ill-health.5

In the course of the succeeding Parliament Moore consolidated his interest, making a £200 loan to the corporation, building a townhouse at Grimsby, and investing in local property. Furthermore, he appeared a committed constituency Member, not only subscribing £320 to the haven scheme, but also encouraging projects to promote fishing and woollen manufacture. In spite of these good works, he was warned by one of his local agents to be ever vigilant to meet town demands, there being ‘those that are not able to show their ill will any other ways than by envying the progress of that esteem you have acquired here. At the 1698 election Moore’s greatest problem centred on the incumbent mayor, who had travelled to London and declared his intention of never coming back. The corporation appear to have agreed on the election of Moore and Ayscough on 20 July, but in the absence of the mayor there was no returning officer to receive the writ. However, on 2 Aug. the assembly reconvened, resolved that the mayor had abdicated his responsibilities, and reaffirmed the election of Moore and Ayscough.6

The death of town recorder Barnardiston in October 1698 saw a new threat to Moore’s control, for the successor was the Whiggish Lord William Powlett*, who has been identified as owner of the manor of Grimsby. Moreover, the death of Ayscough the following year occasioned a bitter contest for the vacant seat, with three new candidates coming to the fore. The most predictable of the trio was Sir Thomas Barnardiston, 3rd Bt., the young heir of the late recorder. He received great support from Moore’s agents, who were ready to assume responsibility for local debts in order to free voters from the ‘tyranny’ of Sir Thomas’ opponents. His fiercest rival was Thomas Vyner, a Tory who had become a Lincolnshire landowner by very questionable means. He was a complete stranger to the borough, and had to purchase his freedom for £20, but was ready to spend his way into the affections of the local populace. The challenge of Richard Robinson, appointed deputy recorder by Powlett, was generally dismissed by Moore’s allies. However, they reported a ‘common apprehension’ that only a Powlett nominee could be chosen, and Lord William’s influence helped Robinson to finish runner-up to Vyner. As usual electoral corruption had dominated the contest, with even Moore’s agents expressing concern for Vyner’s ‘irregular proceedings’, but only Robinson took up the matter in the Commons. His petition on 8 Dec. 1699 accused Vyner of bribing his way to victory, and revealed that at the hustings Robinson had ‘read the Act against expenses . . . and charged the voters with breach thereof, and none of them denied the same’. These allegations were never fully investigated, since on 6 Feb. 1700 Robinson withdrew his petition. Yet another round of elections ensued as the corporation turned to select a high steward to replace Ayscough, and, in contrast to the recent parliamentary poll, choice fell on Barnardiston. However, he died in November, and the following month the former Member Chaplin was appointed as his replacement after defeating Thomas Vyner, a result regarded as a ‘very surprise’ by the Moore camp.7

The first election of 1701 was dominated by the struggle between the Old and New East India companies, a clash which appears to have promoted even greater corruption than usual. The Old Company was represented by Moore, one of its most influential directors, who faced up to the challenge of William Cotesworth, a London merchant described as ‘a very busy man’ in the New Company. Vyner also stood, but it is unclear whether he joined with either the Tory Moore or the Whig Cotesworth. Moore supporters certainly feared that Vyner might align himself with Cotesworth, but the final polling figures do not suggest firm alliances between any of the candidates. After intensive canvassing over the Christmas period Cotesworth and Vyner managed to secure their return, leaving Moore and two townsmen trailing. Charles Bransby may well have been put forward to boost Moore’s interest, since he remained the Member’s principal borough contact. William Newarke, on the other hand, came from a family which in this period was associated with both Moore and Cotesworth. Even while expending much effort on defending his seat, Moore must have expected failure, as he fought a simultaneous campaign at Southwark. However, having failed to bribe the metropolitan electorate into submission, he was forced to pin his hopes on an appeal to the Commons over the Grimsby election.8

Thanks to widespread condemnation of New Company electioneering, the Grimsby case aroused great interest in the Commons, particularly after it heard the lurid tales of corruption contained in Moore’s petition. In particular, Moore alleged that

some of the freemen . . . did enter into treaties with several persons in London for sale of the choice of a burgess to such as would give most money; and accordingly one of them did agree with Mr Cotesworth in London for a great sum to elect him a burgess of this borough, though his name was never heard of there until he was actually on the road thither; and the said Mr Cotesworth, by the mayor and his other agents, did bribe most of the voters of the town with money, giving none less than five pounds, but to many of them more, and promising them larger sums after the election, in case they voted for him.

These charges were further elaborated in The Case of Mr Cotesworth’s Election, which suggested that the Whig candidate’s election bills came to ‘near £1,000’. Moreover, the mayor, George Clayton, described as Powlett’s ‘bailiff’, was identified as Cotesworth’s key agent. As a matter of urgency, the case was heard at the bar on 6 Mar., when counsel for both sides had an opportunity to make their claims. It was quickly established that ‘there was pretty plain proof’ of Cotesworth’s guilt, and even that ‘Mr Shepheard [Samuel I*] had used an interest for him’. Tories such as John Grobham Howe and Simon Harcourt I were voluble opponents of Cotesworth, but they could not disguise Moore’s illegalities. The House ultimately ruled that Cotesworth be unseated, and unanimously agreed to commit him to the Tower. However, a motion that Moore had been duly elected was defeated, and only after debate had gone ‘very hard a great while with Mr Moore’, was he acquitted of bribery and indirect practices. Finally, the House ended the day by sending five of Cotesworth’s agents into the custody of the serjeant, including Mayor Clayton. The next day two of Moore’s local contacts were handed the same fate, and further light was thrown on the election by the revelation of an intimidatory letter from a Hull customs officer, who had informed one of Moore’s men that ‘Lord William Powlett and Sir William St. Quintin [3rd Bt.*] recommend one Mr Cotesworth’. The official was duly incarcerated for having tried to secure victory for Cotesworth ‘by threats and promises’, and an impatient House ruled that no new writ be issued during this session. It also showed its anger at the artifices of both parties, directing the attorney-general to prosecute all who had illegally taken affidavits of witnesses at Grimsby in readiness for the election hearing. The matter continued to preoccupy the Commons until 9 May, when the last of the imprisoned agents was released after acknowledging his offence.9

Despite this bad publicity, Grimsby politics saw no great upheaval. Moore and Cotesworth both put up at the second election of 1701, and were returned by a comfortable margin over Vyner. In addition, two townsmen, one of whom was the disgraced mayor George Clayton, polled a single vote. Vyner petitioned on 5 Jan. 1702 against the result, accusing Moore and Cotesworth of having stood on ‘a joint interest’, and having gained votes by ‘expenses, bribery and other illegal practices’. Perhaps emboldened by recent calls for electoral reform, he even launched into a spirited defence of the constitution, perceiving it to be endangered by the ‘exposing to sale in like manner many of the boroughs of this kingdom to public companies and joint stocks’. Although his impassioned plea was referred to the elections committee, the matter was never reported.

Moore and Cotesworth were still prepared to work together in April 1702, when they presented the borough’s address to the Queen. They may have been in alliance at the next general election, when both lagged behind Chaplin, who chose that moment to resurrect his political career. Moore managed to secure second place, and thereafter actively courted local popularity, obtaining convoys for the protection of the Grimsby marine, and continuing to lend money to the corporation. Town agents also warned him to extend his proprietorial influence, observing it to be ‘for your honour and interest, which are two incidents inseparable from an estate of inheritance’.10

Prior to the contest of 1705 Moore was in bullish mood, his supporters boasting that he ‘did not want a single voice’ in the town. He took the precaution of travelling to Grimsby, but the confidence of his backers was vindicated when he emerged top of the poll. Cotesworth, who may have again allied himself with Moore, finished close behind, and well ahead of the third-placed Chaplin. A single vote was cast for Vyner, but he does not appear to have fought any serious campaign. In the ensuing Parliament a petition from several Grimsby freemen alleged that Cotesworth had been unduly returned, and that the mayor had employed bribery and other malpractice. The petitioners were disappointed, but both sitting Members still had to work hard to maintain their seats. In April 1706 Charles Bransby informed Moore that the townsmen were eager for reward, and urged him to shore up his interest now rather than wait until the next election, when ‘the people [will become] big with expectation from fresh faces’. A year later Moore’s supporters expressed concern at Cotesworth’s visit to the town, and had to quell rumours that their patron would desert the borough in favour of his office on the calling of the first Parliament of Great Britain. Such attentiveness to constituency feeling ultimately paid off for both sitting Members, since they shared an unopposed victory at the general election of 1708.11

The veneer of local unity did not withstand the political upheavals of 1710. In July of that year Moore joined with Robert Vyner, son of recently deceased Thomas, to present a virulently Tory address, which expressed astonishment that ‘none should be accounted honest, faithful or just but those whose principles . . . are found to be repugnant to monarchy’. Three months later both stood at the election and prevailed over Cotesworth. Moore’s contacts later revealed that one of his supporters had been ready to desert him to make Vyner’s seat safe, and implored him to seek a post within the corporation as a means to render his position impregnable. He was encouraged to have designs on the recordership, even though it was forecast that Powlett ‘will be angry at parting with an office that he has neither done or received any good in’. Lingering enmity between Moore and Cotesworth was evident in March 1712, when Bransby took delight in the latter’s rebuff over the Boston election, and mused that Cotesworth would now ‘call Grimsby the lady and Boston the whore’. Four months later Moore’s allies scored a notable victory by overcoming opposition to a High Tory address to congratulate the Queen for communicating peace terms. Clayton, who labelled it ‘a covenant with you [Moore] and Mr Vyner to elect you during your lives’, wanted Powlett to present it, and nearly came to ‘the breaking of heads’ with Bransby. However, the Tories had their way, it being attended at court by the two Members and Moore’s patron, Viscount Bolingbroke (Henry St. John II*).12

Although the current Parliament had still a year to run, only a month later electioneering was already under way, as local factions strove to secure the mayoralty. Moore was warned that one of his tenants sought the office for revenge, ‘thinking that a powerful motive to the endearing the freemen’. At the general election of 1713 two new candidates put up alongside Moore and Cotesworth, who again do not appear to have campaigned together on this occasion. Sir James Clarke of East Molesey, Surrey, had no obvious connection with the borough, and it is most likely that he was promoted by fellow Surrey resident Moore, particularly as Clarke had voted for the Tory candidates at the Surrey contest of 1710. Matthew Boucherett, a subsequent Whig supporter, was a Lincolnshire landowner, and had served as sheriff of the shire in 1706–7. Two weeks before the poll Bransby expressed concern for the loss of ‘mutineers’ who were ‘violent for Mr Vyner’, but the sitting Member did not put up. Both the newcomers failed to make a strong showing on election day, permitting Moore and Cotesworth to be returned. Despite the wide margin of their victory, in the following session the Commons received two petitions against the result. Clarke alleged that Cotesworth employed ‘bribery and undue practices’, while four local inhabitants protested on behalf of ‘many others’ against Moore on similar grounds. However, on 1 Apr. both petitions were withdrawn. Although their opponents had failed to trouble Moore and Cotesworth, within a year both Members had been removed at the first election of the Hanoverian age. Neither was to predominate thereafter, as money continued to be the key criterion for the successful candidate.13

Authors: Paula Watson / Perry Gauci

Notes

  • 1. N.E. Lincs. RO, Grimsby bor. archs. 1/102/10, ff. 1, 220–1, 296–8, 358–9, 404–6, 425–6, 453–4, 541–2, 636–7 gives the polls for 1690–1708.
  • 2. Lincs. Hist. and Arch. vi. 99.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Diary of Abraham de la Pryme (Surtees Soc. liv), 153; Art of Governing by Partys [1701], 75