New Shoreham

Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in inhabitants paying scot and lot, and, by Act of Parliament 1771 (11 George III, c.55), 40s. freeholders in the rape of Bramber

Number of voters:

about 100, increased in 1771 to about 800


16 Apr. 1754Robert Bristowe 
 Richard Stratton 
27 Dec. 1758Sir William Peere Williams vice Stratton, deceased 
25 Mar. 1761Sir William Peere Williams 
 George Brodrick, Visct. Midleton 
4 Dec. 1761John Savile, Baron Pollington, vice Williams, deceased 
23 Dec. 1765Samuel Cornish vice Midleton, deceased 
16 Mar. 1768Sir Samuel Cornish 
 Peregrine Cust 
26 Nov. 1770John Purling vice Cornish, deceased37
 Thomas Rumbold11
 William James4
 Rumbold vice Purling, on petition, 17 Dec. 1770 
15 Oct. 1774Charles Goring372
 Sir John Shelley320
 James Butler245
 John Clater Aldridge199
14 Sept. 1780Sir Cecil Bisshopp 
 John Peachey 
12 Apr. 1784John Peachey411
 Sir Cecil Bisshopp313
 John Clater Aldridge272

Main Article

About the middle of the eighteenth century New Shoreham was notorious for its corruption. On 8 Nov. 1753 William Michell, one of the Duke of Newcastle’s agents in Sussex, wrote to him about a conversation Michell had had with Harry Bridger, one of the leading men in Shoreham:1

Last Thursday Mr. Stratton, a Turkey merchant, and Mr. Jollibut, an Italian merchant, came to Shoreham and stayed there for some days, and made interest against the next election by the assistance of Mr. Bridger. While they were there, about 100 of the electors, being a considerable majority of the town, have received £20 apiece and are promised 20 more. ... This bold push will have such an effect upon the people that it will be a difficult matter to bring them back, but I never heard of anything being done in so public a manner.

Nothing further was heard about Jollibut. On 13 Mar. 1754 James West informed Newcastle of the arrangements made by Henry Pelham for New Shoreham at the general election:2

Mr. Stratton to come in at his own expense. Mr. Bristow to be brought in by his father-in-law Mr. Phillipson, receiving £1,000: the remainder of the expense, which it is thought will amount to £1,000, is to be furnished (as Mr. Phillipson proposed to have it done) amongst themselves or by Mr. Bristow.

John Phillipson had some interest at New Shoreham, and had represented the borough 1734-41. He now received £1,000 from secret service funds towards the expenses of Bristow’s election; and Bristow and Stratton were returned unopposed.

Newcastle had no direct influence at Shoreham, but after he became first lord of the Treasury the borough applied to him for his recommendations. On Stratton’s death in 1758, Newcastle named Sir William Peere Williams; who was chosen ‘with the greatest unanimity ever known on the like occasion’ and (surprisingly) ‘without any other expense than that of entertainment’.3 At the general election of 1761 Bristow declined standing, and Newcastle recommended Williams and Lord Midleton. ‘Such measures have been already taken’, wrote Bridger to Newcastle, 10 Mar. 1760,4‘as will wholly put it out of the power of any one to molest or oppose those gentlemen.’

About 1760 corruption at New Shoreham became organized and regulated. A majority of the electors formed themselves into the Christian Society, ostensibly for charitable purposes, but really to arrange the sale of the borough’s parliamentary representation. According to evidence given before a committee of the House of Commons in 1770,5 ‘none but voters ... were ever admitted into the society’; the members ‘took an oath of secrecy, and entered into a bond under a penalty of five hundred pounds to bind them altogether with regard to burgessing’; ‘upon any vacancy in the representation of the borough the society always appointed a committee to treat with the candidates for the purchase of the seat, and ... the committee were constantly instructed to get the most money ... they could’.

The Society also expected Shoreham to benefit in a corporate capacity from its representatives. Thus, Midleton advanced £1,000 against a mortgage on the tolls of the harbour.6 And when in May 1761, on Williams’s death, Nicholas Turner wished to stand for Shoreham, he wrote to Newcastle:7 ‘I own I thought a person ... that would be very active in the affair of their pier and harbour was likely to gain their consent and approbation.’ A merchant was the most popular type of candidate, especially one who ‘may have it in his power to assist in building merchant vessels ... the chief manufacture of the borough’.8

In 1763 Anthony Bacon and John Sargent, two merchants in search of constituencies, began to cultivate an interest at Shoreham.9 Bacon, who seems to have been the dominant partner, was a shipowner and shipping contractor; and began to build up his own party at Shoreham, independent of the Christian Society. He persuaded Grenville to remove Thomas Snooke, a leading member of the Society, from the place of boatman at Shoreham; and secured the appointment of a man devoted to Sargent and himself.

Midleton died in August 1765. Newcastle tried to persuade Barlow Trecothick to stand; and Bridger, on behalf of the Christian Society, offered him the seat.10 Bridger demanded £10 each for 80 electors ‘who have associated together to stand by each other’; and promised that the total expense of the election, including ‘treats and other necessary expenses’, would not exceed £1,050. It would also be of ‘great service’ if Trecothick ‘would contract with the shipbuilders ... to build any ship not exceeding 300 tons’. Lastly, Bridger expected that Newcastle would secure the reinstatement of Snooke. This was a point of crucial importance to the Society, since it would mean the defeat of Bacon’s attempt to build up an interest against them.

Trecothick declined to stand, and Newcastle replaced him by Samuel Cornish, a naval officer. Cornish was prepared to pay the sum demanded, and ‘promised to endeavour to get his friends at London to join him in building a ship’. He was warned ‘to take no notice of the voters out of the club’.11

But although Newcastle was in office again, he found it difficult to secure Snooke’s reinstatement. Hurdis, Newcastle’s secretary, wrote to Michell, 29 Sept. 1765:

Mr. Bacon has been with my Lord Rockingham and told his Lordship that he has twenty-five votes at Shoreham to be depended on; that it is true there is a combination of eighty voters, but not above eight of them sure, the rest will be for the highest bidder. ... Now Mr. Bacon is ready and willing to give up his pretensions and to assist Admiral Cornish, but hopes he shall not be disgraced—meaning the affair of Mr. Snooke; and therefore it is proposed for consideration whether it would not be right to defer the restoring Mr. Snooke till after the election, and thereby securing Mr. Bacon’s assistance.

Michell suggested that Snooke should be reinstated, and Buckoll (Bacon’s man) given a tide waiter’s place in London—‘which will also strengthen our interest there very much, for Buckoll is well respected at Shoreham and can command several votes.’ Cornish pressed Snooke’s reinstatement strongly upon Newcastle, and Newcastle did all he could with Rockingham—‘I hope your Lordship will not let me have the mortification to see the application of such a fellow as Mr. Bacon be preferred to mine, by the Marquess of Rockingham, in my own country.’12

Rockingham was as anxious as Newcastle to see Cornish returned at Shoreham, but had no knowledge of the internal politics of the borough and did not wish to offend Bacon: he hoped to secure Bacon’s support for Cornish, whereas Newcastle and the Christian Society wanted Bacon driven out of the borough.

I saw Mr. Bacon and Mr. Sargent this evening [Rockingham wrote to Newcastle, 8 Oct. 1765]. They seem to think that a degree of understanding between them and the Admiral might have made all matters easy at Shoreham, but that there are some there who for their own importance try all means to prevent it. They certainly imagine that they have an interest there and do not mean to neglect it. In all our lists they are both marked plump against us in the House of Commons, and I am sure with a little moderation might be changed to plump for us.13

In October 1765 Sargent laid before Grenville the state of affairs at Shoreham. ‘I would certainly ... advise you’, replied Grenville, 9 Oct.,14 ‘to cultivate your interest at Shoreham ... and to confirm it by choosing a Member there now.’ And on 20 Oct.: ‘I have a gentleman ready who is very willing to go as far as the £2,000 which you mention, if there is a reasonable prospect of success.’ This was Topham Beauclerk, the friend of Dr. Johnson. But Beauclerk soon backed out, and Sargent and Bacon seem to have found no other candidate to replace him. Perhaps they realized that their interest was not strong enough to oppose the Christian Society.

Meanwhile the delay in reinstating Snooke continued to worry both Newcastle and Cornish. ‘Our club are in such a rage with me about it’, wrote Michell to Hurdis, 5 Nov. 1765, ‘... that I have been advised by some of the principal people not to venture myself at Shoreham till this affair is settled, and that they can’t answer for the consequences of it if I should come there.’ But on 12 Nov. he wrote again: ‘I take this first opportunity to acquaint you that Admiral Cornish sent me an exceeding good letter concerning Snooke’s being reinstated, which I have communicated to the club at Shoreham, and they are so extremely well pleased with it that there can’t be the least doubt of his success.’ On 23 Dec. Cornish was returned unopposed, everything being conducted ‘with decency and ease to the candidate’.15

On 4 Jan. 1766 Newcastle received a letter, signed by 47 members of the Christian Society:16

Your Grace’s generous inclinations for the interest of this borough, and more particularly your kind remembrance of the Friendly Society, demand our most sincere and hearty thanks. The instance of your recommendation of our new Member, Admiral Cornish, ought not to be forgot, whose bountiful behaviour has made a deep impression in the minds of his constituents, who most earnestly implore your Grace would think of a proper person to join with him in the next general election, and such a one as may have it in his power to promote the trade of building ships ...

P.S. We must crave your Grace’s pardon for our objection to Mr. Bacon in particular, for we are determined never to accept him a candidate for this borough or any one in his interest.

Newcastle named Peregrine Cust; and in 1768 he and Cornish were returned unopposed. How much they paid is not known.

Cornish died in October 1770; and the Society declared that at the by-election ‘they would support the highest bidder’.17 Five candidates came forward. Richard Smith offered £3,000 and promised to build a ship of 600 tons, but Thomas Rumbold ‘bid above him’ and was adopted as the Society’s candidate. According to John Inott’s evidence before the House of Commons, ‘the members of the club were to have £34 or £35 per man’.18

There was however a minority, led by Hugh Roberts, the returning officer, who were uneasy at this auction of the borough and afraid of the consequences if the story should become known. Roberts withdrew from the Society—‘I said ... I would belong to no society which obliged me to vote as the majority, nor go to a poll where I should be perjured.’ Rumbold’s agent tried to bribe him; but the Society appear to have been little concerned at this defection from their ranks. The news leaked out, and presumably Purling and James decided that in these circumstances it was worth their while to stand a poll.

At the poll Roberts refused to accept 76 votes given to Rumbold by the members of the Society on the grounds that they had been bribed, and returned Purling. Rumbold petitioned, and the story came out before the committee of the House which tried his petition. The committee decided that he should have been returned, but recommended the House to hold an inquiry into the election. After hearing evidence from Roberts and other voters, an act was passed disfranchising by name 68 electors and throwing open the electorate to 4os. freeholders in the rape of Bramber—since which time, wrote Oldfield in 1792,19 ‘the borough has ... been represented by independent country gentlemen, and every election has been conducted with constitutional decorum’.

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Add. 32733, f. 222.
  • 2. Add. 32995, f. 69.
  • 3. Bridger to Newcastle, 27 Dec. 1758, Williams to Newcastle, same date, Add. 32886, ff. 492, 490.
  • 4. Add. 32903, f. 202.
  • 5. CJ, 17 Dec. 1770.
  • 6. Wm. Foster of Shoreham to Ld. Midleton, 15 July 1765, Midleton mss.
  • 7. Add. 32923, f. 21.
  • 8. Letter signed by 80 members of the Christian Society to Newcastle, 25 Sept. 1766, Add. 32977, f. 163.
  • 9. Namier, ‘Anthony Bacon, M.P.’, Jnl. Econ. Business Hist. ii. 32-35.
  • 10. Add. 32969, f. 446.
  • 11. Add. 32970 f. 194; evidence given by Hugh Roberts before the House of Commons, 8 Feb. 1771, Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 12. Add. 32970, ff. 95, 194, 198.
  • 13. Ibid. f. 228.
  • 14. Grenville letter bk.
  • 15. Add. 32971, ff. 283, 362; 32972, f. 376.
  • 16. Add. 32973, f. 41.
  • 17. CJ, 17 Dec. 1770.
  • 18. Roberts’s evidence, 8 Feb. 1771, Brickdale’s ‘Debates’.
  • 19. Boroughs, iii. 59.