Four Members Borough
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the livery
Number of voters:
|7 May 1754||Sir John Barnard||3553|
|Sir Robert Ladbroke||3390|
|Sir Richard Glyn||2655|
|Sir William Calvert||2650|
|30 Nov. 1758||Sir Richard Glyn vice Bethell, deceased|
|4 Apr. 1761||Sir Robert Ladbroke||4306|
|Sir Richard Glyn||3285|
|Sir Samuel Fludyer||3193|
|25 Mar. 1768||Thomas Harley||3729|
|Sir Robert Ladbroke||3678|
|Sir Richard Glyn||2823|
|11 July 1770||Richard Oliver vice Beckford, deceased|
|23 Dec. 1773||Frederick Bull vice Ladbroke, deceased||2695|
|18 Oct. 1774||John Sawbridge||3456|
|19 Sept. 1780||George Hayley||4062|
|28 Nov. 1780||John Sawbridge vice Kirkman, deceased|
|2 Oct. 1781||Sir Watkin Lewes vice Hayley, deceased||2685|
|26 Jan. 1784||Brook Watson vice Bull, deceased||2097|
|7 May 1784||Brook Watson||4776|
|Sir Watkin Lewes||4541|
London was probably the most politically conscious constituency in Great Britain, and political movements emanating from London affected the neighbouring constituencies of Westminster, Southwark, Middlesex, and Surrey. The franchise was not as wide as that of the freeman boroughs, and did not include the labouring classes; but only Westminster, among the urban constituencies, had a larger electorate. In its court of aldermen and common council London had an elective system of local government, which could be used to organize and channel political agitation. Because of the concentration of population and the relatively selective franchise, London was peculiarly susceptible to political movements.
Its electorate was divided almost on a class basis. The larger merchants had an intimate connexion with the Treasury, and in politics they and their adherents were usually to be found on the Government side. They were the principal subscribers to Government loans, and tendered for Government contracts for remitting money and victualling troops abroad. They controlled the three great joint-stock companies: the Bank of England, the South Sea Company, and the East India Company; and many of them were financiers rather than merchants. It was essential for the Treasury to work closely with the chief sources of credit in the City of London, and the alliance between the Government and the ‘monied interest’ was natural and advantageous for both.
The mass of smaller merchants, shopkeepers, and artisans, could not aspire to these profitable financial connexions with Government. Jealous of the larger merchants and the monopolizing companies, and traditionally hostile to the court, they were almost always in opposition to Government. The political history of London during this period turns on the careers of their three successive leaders: Sir John Barnard, William Beckford, and John Wilkes; and its theme is the growth of urban radicalism.
Sir John Barnard had represented London since 1722 and in 1754 was returned head of the poll. But he was then nearly seventy; the period of his greatest influence was over; and new men were becoming prominent in City politics. The fourth candidate on the poll in 1754 was William Beckford, a wealthy West Indian planter, who had only taken out his freedom two years previously in order to stand for London. Beckford was the first politician from outside the City to use it as an instrument in national politics, and his example was later to be followed by Wilkes. Beckford was searching for a national leader to whose standard he could rally City opinion; and in 1754 he was allied with the Duke of Bedford, leader of the only Whig group then in opposition.
Barnard had one brief moment of influence before he was finally superseded by Beckford. As the spokesman of the smaller merchants and traders, Barnard had long advocated open subscriptions to Government loans instead of the Treasury practice of raising loans by closed subscriptions from wealthy individuals and the great joint-stock companies. Henry Bilson Legge, chancellor of the Exchequer in the Devonshire-Pitt Administration, tried to raise the loan of 1757 by an open subscription, but the money did not come in fast enough and after Legge’s resignation the Duke of Devonshire reverted to the normal method of a closed subscription. Politically, this was a victory for the ‘monied interest’ and a defeat for Barnard; and it marks the end of his career as a popular leader.
Meanwhile Beckford had found in William Pitt the national leader for whom he was searching, and during the period of the Pitt-Newcastle coalition the City found itself for once supporting an Administration. Colonial and maritime wars were always popular with the commercial classes in the eighteenth century, and Pitt’s successful leadership during the seven years’ war made him the idol of the popular party in the City. Of the successful candidates at the general election of 1761, Beckford and Glyn were both followers of Pitt and only Harley was truly representative of the ‘monied interest’.
Pitt lost a good deal of his popularity in London after his resignation in 1761, partly because he accepted a pension and peerage for his wife, but more because he did not trouble to cultivate his party. Beckford too was losing some of his influence. The end of the seven years’ war was followed by a period of bad harvests, a rise in the cost of living, and a sudden influx of demobilised soldiers and sailors into the labour market. There was severe rioting among the silk weavers in 1765 and further large-scale disturbances in 1768. Beckford, a wealthy man, was unsympathetic to the economic grievances of the lower classes. Amongst the smaller merchants and shopkeepers there was towards the end of the ’60s a good deal of malaise, part economic, part political in origin, which had not yet found expression in a clearly defined political programme.
At the general election of 1768 the successful candidates were: Harley, a supporter of the court; Ladbroke, independent, but generally voting with the Opposition; Beckford; and Trecothick, a friend of Lord Rockingham. John Wilkes came bottom of the poll. Yet twelve months later, after he had been returned for Middlesex and declared by the Commons incapable of being elected, he was well on the way to superseding Beckford as the leader of popular opinion in London. In January 1769 he was elected an alderman; the Society of Supporters of the Bill of Rights was founded to secure redress of his grievances; and in July 1770 a follower of Wilkes was elected unopposed M.P. for London.
To begin with, Wilkes had neither a programme nor a party, nor was he capable of forming either. The political ferment which spread through the metropolitan area was not of his making. Wilkes’s case turned a mass of inchoate, deeply-felt discontent into political channels; and the new political force of urban radicalism came into being. New men, such as John Sawbridge and James Townsend entered City politics; Beckford gave the movement his support; and it spread to other large towns. A precise radical programme was drawn up, calling for shorter Parliaments, a reduction of the influence of the Crown, and parliamentary reform. These were primarily the aims of the lower middle class, which now entered politics as a force under its own banners.
Wilkes set out deliberately to take advantage of this political enthusiasm and capture the corporation of London for himself, and he was greatly helped by Beckford’s death in 1770. There was a split in his following when the nature of his personal aims became clear, and some of his supporters attached themselves to Lord Shelburne, others formed a ‘flying squadron’ of their own. The Rockinghams tried to take advantage of the Wilkite movement for their own purposes but they never became a force in City politics: aristocratic Whiggism had no appeal for the urban lower middle class, and parliamentary reform was as much disliked by Rockingham and Burke as it was by the King and Lord North.
At the general election of 1774 the popular party gained a complete victory, and three of the successful candidates (Hayley, Oliver, and Bull) were followers of Wilkes. During the remainder of the North Administration, London always returned Members pledged to vote with the Opposition. By 1782 the Wilkite movement was dying out; Wilkes himself, having secured the lucrative office of chamberlain of London, was no longer interested in it. But urban radicalism had come to stay.
Author: John Brooke
L. S. Sutherland, ‘The City of London in 18th Cent. Politics’, Essays presented to Sir Lewis Namier; The City of London and the Opposition to Government, 1768-74, Creighton Lecture, 1958; The City of London and the Devonshire-Pitt Administration, 1756-7, Raleigh Lecture, 1960.