Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen
Number of voters:
|1 Feb. 1715||SIR ROBERT RICH||24|
|Sir Robert Kemp||1|
|Sir George Downing||1|
|23 Mar. 1722||SIR GEORGE DOWNING||31|
|Sir Robert Rich||7|
|7 Dec. 1722||SIR JOHN WARD vice Vernon, chose to sit for Penryn||28|
|4 Apr. 1726||JOHN SAMBROOKE vice Ward, deceased|
|18 Aug. 1727||SIR GEORGE DOWNING||23|
|26 Apr. 1734||SIR GEORGE DOWNING|
|SIR ORLANDO BRIDGEMAN|
|21 Feb. 1738||WILLIAM MORDEN vice Bridgeman, appointed to office|
|4 May 1741||SIR GEORGE DOWNING|
|JACOB GARRARD DOWNING|
|2 July 1747||SIR GEORGE DOWNING|
|21 June 1749||SIR JACOB GARRARD DOWNING vice Sir George Downing, deceased|
At the accession of George I Dunwich was a decayed but independent borough, contested by Suffolk landowners, at great expense. In 1721 Sir George Downing, who had lost his seat in 1715 but recovered it in 1722, estimated that not ‘less than £5,000 would carry it for the person who should be his partner’; one of the sitting Members, Charles Long, was said to be prepared to pay the same sum rather than lose the seat, and the other, Sir Robert Rich, to be offering £50 a vote.1
Soon afterwards Dunwich lost its independence, which was derived from a crown grant of the borough to the burgesses and townsmen in fee farm at a rent fixed by Edward I at £75. Under Charles II this rent had been reduced by letters patent to £5 in consideration of ‘the decay of trade and frequent inundations by the sea’. The letters patent had expired on Charles II’s death, but the corporation had continued to pay at the reduced rate.2 In 1718 proceedings were instituted against them for the arrears of rent,
and upon non-payment ten burgesses were incarcerated in Beccles jail; and others, to avoid the like confinement, were obliged to abscond.
The upshot was that the arrears were remitted and the borough was granted in fee farm on a 99 years lease at a rent of £5 p.a. to Sir George Downing,3 who thenceforth treated it as a pocket borough, returning himself for one seat and Walpole’s nominees for the other,4 till 1741 when he returned himself with his cousin and heir, Jacob Downing. Before the next general election ‘a respectable number of freemen’ approached another Suffolk landowner, Miles Barne, with a view to his standing as their representative. According to Barne’s son, writing in 1813 after his own return for Dunwich in 1812:
Sir George Downing either residing at too great a distance or for want of an heir had not thought it worth his while to pay that attention to the freemen that they thought they deserved, and though he possessed all the land and houses, still he was obliged to give way to the wishes of the freemen and my father was elected with himself in the year 1747.5
After Sir George Downing’s death in 1749 Jacob Downing recovered control of Dunwich, which the 2nd Lord Egmont describes in his electoral survey, c.1749-50, as ‘in the Downing family’.
Author: Romney R. Sedgwick
- 1. A. Bence to Ld. Strafford, 5 Dec. 1721, Add. 22248, f. 131.
- 2. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1714-19, pp. 413-14, 436; ibid. 1720-8, p. 129; Cal. Treas. Bks. xxxii. 417.
- 3. Thos. Gardner, Dunwich (1754), p. 26.
- 4. See, e.g. Sir Arthur Croft to Walpole, 24 Dec. 1732, Cholmondeley (Houghton) mss.
- 5. Memo. respecting the borough of Dunwich, Barne fam. recs. Ipswich and E. Suff. RO.