Newcastle-under-Lyme

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 resident freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:

unknown

Number of voters:

295 in 1699; 306 in 1703; 309 in 1708; 370 in 17151

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
4 Mar. 1690SIR WILLIAM LEVESON GOWER, Bt. 
 SIR THOMAS BELLOT,  2nd Bt. 
8 Jan. 1692SIR JOHN LEVESON GOWER, Bt. vice Leveson Gower, deceased 
26 Oct. 1695SIR JOHN LEVESON GOWER, Bt. 
 JOHN LAWTON 
26 July 1698SIR JOHN LEVESON GOWER, Bt. 
 SIR THOMAS BELLOT, 2nd Bt. 
28 Nov. 1699ROWLAND COTTON  vice Bellot, deceased155
 John Lawton140
18 Jan. 1701SIR JOHN LEVESON GOWER, Bt. 
 ROWLAND COTTON 
25 Nov. 1701SIR JOHN LEVESON GOWER,  Bt. 
 ROWLAND COTTON 
22 July 1702SIR JOHN LEVESON GOWER,  Bt. 
 ROWLAND COTTON 
24 Nov. 1703JOHN CREWE OFFLEY vice Leveson Gower, called to the Upper House223
 Sir Thomas Bellot,  3rd Bt.83
  Election declared void, 1 Feb. 1704 
8 Nov. 1704JOHN CREWE OFFLEY 
 Sir Thomas Bellot, 3rd Bt. 
11 May 1705SIR THOMAS BELLOT, 3rd Bt.182
 ROWLAND COTTON173
 Crewe Offley168
 John Lawton138
 OFFLEY and LAWTON vice Bellot and Cotton, on petition, 27 Feb. 1706 
5 May 1708SIR THOMAS BELLOT, 3rd Bt.190
 ROWLAND COTTON178
 Crewe Offley149
 John Lawton99
 OFFLEY and LAWTON vice Bellot and Cotton, on petition, 1 Feb. 1709 
7 Oct. 1710ROWLAND COTTON 
 WILLIAM BURSLEM 
29 Aug. 1713ROWLAND COTTON 
 WILLIAM BURSLEM 
 Crewe Offley 

Main Article

Newcastle-under-Lyme was a small market town governed by a corporation consisting of a mayor and 24 capital burgesses which was able to exercise considerable political influence through its regulatory powers over trade and its control over the franchise. However, these powers were insufficient to wrest the parliamentary representation of the borough away from the neighbouring gentry, particularly those families with property in the town such as the Leveson Gowers of Trentham. A further source of tension within the borough was the thriving Nonconformist community which provided several mayors during this period and according to one estimate numbered 300 people, including 50 voters, in 1717.2

In 1690 Newcastle elected the same two Members it had returned to the three Exclusion Parliaments. Both Sir William Leveson Gower, 4th Bt., and Sir Thomas Bellot, 2nd Bt., were neighbouring gentry and both could still be described as Whigs, although the former was moving towards the Tories. They may have faced some opposition, for only two weeks before the election Walter Chetwynd I* wrote, ‘we imagine Sir Will[iam] Leveson Gower will also lose it at Newcastle’, but there is no evidence of a poll. Continuity was preserved on Leveson Gower’s death in 1691 when his 17-year-old son, Sir John, inherited his seat in an uncontested election. The 1695 election also witnessed an unopposed return, with Leveson Gower joined by John Lawton, who had served as Member for the borough in the Convention of 1689. This represented a division of seats between an Anglican Tory and a Court Whig, who was also the brother-in-law of Charles Montagu*. Lawton may well have desisted in 1698 after a canvass revealed strong support for a revival of the Leveson Gower–Bellot partnership, which again divided the representation between Tory and Whig. However, on Bellot’s death, Lawton stood against Rowland Cotton*, whose uncle had been a generous benefactor of the local school. In a close poll Cotton triumphed by 15 votes in a victory perceived by Robert Harley* as a rejection of the Court. Lawton petitioned claiming a majority of legal votes and accusing Cotton and his agents of polling unqualified voters and spending £300 on meat and drink in addition to outright bribery. No proceedings were taken on this petition before it was withdrawn. This action signified Lawton’s decision to lay aside political activity in view of a deepening crisis in his personal finances precipitated by the insolvency and then death of Thomas Spendelowe (mayor of Newcastle in 1698–9), the receiver-general of Staffordshire, for whom Lawton was one of the principal sureties. Cotton’s position, on the other hand, had been bolstered by his association with Leveson Gower ‘who principally supports Mr Cotton’s interest at Newcastle’. Leveson Gower improved his position yet further at Lawton’s expense by obtaining the vacant receiver-general’s post for William Burslem, who may already have been his chief election agent in the borough. The strength of the Tory interest, plus Lawton’s financial troubles, probably explains the unopposed return of Leveson Gower and Cotton at the three elections held in 1701 and 1702.3

The accession of Queen Anne saw a notable rise in the religious temperature in Newcastle. The news of William III’s death was greeted with an attack on the local meeting-house. It also secured office for Leveson Gower as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster in a reconstructed ministry, and ultimately his elevation to the peerage as Lord Gower in 1703 as part of an effort to strengthen the administration in the Lords. In the ensuing by-election, held in November 1703, John Crewe Offley defeated Sir Thomas Bellot, 3rd Bt., in a contest marked by so much illegal activity on both sides that in response to Bellot’s petition the Commons declared the election void. In the second by-election Offley was again returned. The general election of 1705, fought amid widespread Anglican alarm that the defeat of the Tack heralded an attack on the Church, saw Bellot and Cotton defeat Crewe Offley and Lawton in a close contest. According to the Tory propagandist, John Dyer, the victorious candidates carried the election due to the ‘assurances they gave their electors of their firm adhesion to the Church in this day of danger’ and despite ‘a great sum of money’ spent by their opponents. The Commons saw the election in a different light when it considered a petition from Offley and Lawton, complaining against the bribery and intimidation committed by their opponents, and abetted by Burslem, who by this date was leasing Gower’s property in the town and presumably putting it to political uses. The House overturned the election, declared Offley and Lawton returned, and agreed to address the Queen to discharge Burslem from his employment for his role in proceedings. The 1708 election saw a virtual re-run of the events of 1705, with Bellot and Cotton returned and Offley and Lawton petitioning. An extant poll reveals Lawton as the odd candidate in that he was unable to attract a significant number of cross-votes; Offley on the other hand attracted 51. Lord Gower’s view of events was portrayed in a letter in which he asked an unnamed recipient (probably James Grahme*) for his assistance

in managing and soliciting my election at Newcastle on Thursday next. We have all the villainy and roguery you ever heard of to encounter with, the sum of the country carried up to give a made evidence but I will leave the proof you will have made of it to satisfy you of their characters nor will you want any of their subornation and other practices.

Gower’s final plea was the need to defend the reputation of Bellot, who had recently died. In the event the Commons again amended the return, declaring Offley and Lawton elected, and ordering Burslem into custody for bribery. On his return to Newcastle the latter was expelled from the ranks of the capital burgesses, along with John Parrot, an event which precipitated a long legal battle in an effort to secure reinstatement.4

The corporation was much more firmly under Whig control after Burslem’s expulsion, as was evinced by the three-year mayoralty of the Dissenter, Henry Hatrell, in strict contravention of the corporation’s rules. Furthermore, Gower’s death in 1709 (leaving a minor) enhanced the position of Lawton and Offley. However, the rise in Tory fortunes following the trial of Dr Sacheverell (aided in Staffordshire by the doctor’s triumphant ‘progress’ through the county), together with Lady Gower’s determination (when pressed by her sister-in-law, Lady Hyde) to back Burslem as the best way of maintaining the family interest for the future benefit of her sons, saw Cotton and Burslem emerge victorious at the 1710 election. Indeed, one report suggested that Offley had not concerned himself. The Whigs in the corporation were further weakened by a spate of resignations in 1712 when the Occasional Conformity Act came into operation. This opened the way for the reinstatement of Burslem in December 1712 and an active drive to recruit burgesses, although within the existing rules. As a consequence of these developments, and the continued Tory dominance at Westminster, only Offley opposed the incumbents at the 1713 election. His main hope seems to have been to petition against Burslem’s return on the grounds that he did not possess the requisite property qualification of £300 p.a. to sit for the borough. Not surprisingly, the Tory-dominated Commons took no action on his petition. The Tories were now secure enough to defend successfully both seats in the 1715 election, although Cotton and his new partner Henry Vernon I* of Sudbury were unseated on petition by Offley and Sir Bryan Broughton†. Significantly, however, the amount of cross-voting was much reduced compared to the 1708 contest.5

Author: Stuart Handley

Notes

  • 1. Copy of 1708 poll in possession of Hist. of Parl.
  • 2. R. W. Bridgett, ‘Hist. Newcastle-under-Lyme, 1661–1760’ (Keele Univ. M.A. thesis, 1982), 11, 78, 213.
  • 3. Harl. 7001, f. 350; H. Horwitz, Parl. and Pol. Wm. III, 332; Add. 70019, f. 143; BL, Lothian mss, Ellis Cunliff to Thomas Coke*, 21 Dec. 1700.
  • 4. Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 15; Dyer’s newsletter 15 May 1705 (Speck trans.); 1708 poll; Bagot mss at Levens Hall, Gower to [?James Grahme], 22 Jan. 1708[–9]; Bridgett, 178.