Double Member Borough
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
about 60 in 1754, increasing to 250 by 1774
|19 Apr. 1754||Thomas Duncombe|
|29 Nov. 1755||Sir Matthew Fetherstonhaugh vice Ord, appointed to office|
|28 Mar. 1761||Thomas Duncombe||31|
|John Stewart, Visct. Garlies||26|
|21 Mar. 1768||Peter Beckford||51|
|Sir Matthew White Ridley||29|
|13 Oct. 1774||Francis Eyre||162|
|Thomas Charles Bigge||132|
|Byron vice Eyre, on petition, 27 Jan. 1775|
|16 July 1776||Gilbert Elliot vice Byron, deceased|
|20 Feb. 1777||John William Egerton vice Elliot, vacated his seat|
|11 Sept. 1780||Peter Delmé|
|Anthony Morris Storer|
|26 July 1781||Storer re-elected after appointment to office|
|5 Apr. 1784||Peter Delmé|
|Sir James Erskine|
|22 Feb. 1785||Erskine re-elected after appointment to office|
|14 Sept. 1789||Francis Gregg vice Delmé, deceased|
At Morpeth there were seven trade guilds, each of which had the right to elect a certain number of freemen. These were then admitted at the court leet of Lord Carlisle, who owned the manor. To an increasing extent during the eighteenth century the Carlisle family exercised control by restricting the number of freemen, and in 1747 the fourth Earl persuaded the guilds to pass a resolution that no freemen should be elected without his consent. But the Carlisle interest still needed careful management and goodwill, and during the minority of the fifth Earl, who as a boy of nine succeeded his father in 1758, opinion in the borough was alienated by the high-handed actions of his guardians. A legal brief drawn up after the election of 17611 relates that some of the family, having come to regard the borough as part of their private property,
treated the freemen de haut en bas and in such manner as they judged tyrannical and an insult upon their liberties, the whole corporation, and those who wished well to it were in uproar. ... To such a height had this political contest inflamed the minds of the freemen that any opponent of the family of Carlisle would have been received with open arms.
And at the general election of 1761 Lord Garlies was returned in opposition to the Carlisle interest. Though Garlies immediately abandoned his supporters, their numbers increased when the Carlisle agents began interfering with the ownership of common lands and later admitted at the court leet freemen not elected by their guilds. In 1764 a group calling themselves ‘the friends of liberty’ determined to reject the agreement of 1747 and secure the admission of genuinely elected freemen. They were advised to bring an action in King’s bench. In 1767 they persuaded Francis Eyre, a London attorney, to support the struggle and stand at the next general election. At Eyre’s expense they brought a successful action, but the court leet having already been held, the new freemen were sworn in at Newcastle in the steward’s house. This gave the pro-Carlisle returning officers an excuse to reject the votes of the new freemen and return the Carlisle candidates; and on the same grounds the return was confirmed by the House of Commons and Eyre’s petition rejected.
During the next few years, while both sides prepared to renew the struggle at the general election, the Carlisle agents by judicious bribery and coercion succeeded in winning over many of Eyre’s supporters among the freemen. The ‘friends of liberty’ received a final setback when certain guilds ran out of members eligible for election, and as the other companies continued to elect freemen, the balance was upset, thus casting doubts on the legality of their votes. In 1774 this provided a further pretext for the returning officers, who once more elected the Carlisle candidates, but were forced by a riotous mob of Eyre’s supporters to substitute his name. Eyre was, however, unseated on petition, and financial difficulties prevented him from continuing the struggle at Morpeth, where the Carlisle control remained virtually undisturbed during the remainder of this period.
Author: Mary M. Drummond
J. M. Fewster, ‘The Politics and Administration of the Borough of Morpeth in the later 18th Cent.’, Durham Univ. Ph.D. thesis.
- 1. Quoted by Fewster, p. 81.