Double Member Cinque Port
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen paying scot and lot
Number of voters:
less than 40
|13 Apr. 1754||Phillips Gybbon|
|30 Mar. 1761||Phillips Gybbon|
|20 Mar. 1762||John Norris vice Gybbon, deceased|
|16 Mar. 1768||John Norris|
|10 Oct. 1774||Rose Fuller|
|20 Apr. 1775||Thomas Onslow vice Middleton Onslow, vacated his seat|
|20 May 1777||William Dickinson vice Fuller, deceased|
|8 Sept. 1780||Thomas Onslow|
|1 Apr. 1784||William Dickinson|
|Charles Wolfran Cornwall|
|13 Jan. 1789||Charles Long vice Cornwall, deceased|
By 1754 the custom of creating freemen had fallen into disuse; and the electorate had become a close oligarchy, members and dependants of a few families who had united to secure for themselves the advantages derived from a parliamentary borough. In 1759, for example, there were 38 electors, of whom 17 held office under Government and one a secret service pension. The Lamb family were the leaders of this oligarchy, and managed the borough under the Treasury. Newcastle had recommended to all Treasury employments at Rye since 1714, and by 1754 had come to regard the borough as his own. But apart from personal loyalty, there was no Pelham family interest at Rye. Strangers were not welcome, and Newcastle usually took care to see that its representatives were either Sussex men or members of his own family.
During Newcastle’s time at the Treasury Edwin Wardroper, the Government manager at Winchelsea, made a determined attempt to wrest control of Rye from the Lambs. There was an old feud between Rye and Winchelsea about the payment of harbour tolls, and Lamb had strong support from the rest of the corporation. In 1753 they dismissed Wardroper from his office of town clerk of Rye, and petitioned Newcastle to remove him from that of collector of the customs. Newcastle did nothing, as usual trying to keep in with both sides; which encouraged Wardroper to try a further advance. In 1758 he secured the election of a friend, Nathaniel Pigram, as mayor; Pigram nominated Wardroper a freeman, and next tried to get him elected a jurat. They retaliated with an action against Pigram for the removal of the town records; and all Rye was in an uproar. Newcastle was forced to intervene, and imposed a compromise which gave each side something and satisfied neither. Wardroper retained his office; Pigram was removed from the command of the custom house sloop, which was given to John Lamb, the manager’s brother; William Davis, the corporation’s candidate for Wardroper’s place, was given a secret service pension of £100 p.a.; and the Treasury paid £350 of the town’s law charges.
In 1761, in order to keep Wardroper firm to the Treasury interest at Winchelsea, Newcastle promised to confirm him in his place and to restore Pigram. This brought a passionate protest from Rye. Thomas Lamb, the manager, wrote to George Onslow on 16 Feb.:1
The mayor, his brother, Davis, my brother James, and Dr. Watson are now with me, and they insist on my saying this usage they did not expect and that they are resolved ... that unless Mr. Wardroper be immediately removed and Mr. Davis put in his place, and that John Lamb has a promise of not being turned out of his, they will not on any account whatever give their votes or interest to any person coming here under the recommendation of anyone whatever, but will themselves look out for a Member who shall be able to support them ... I wish to God you may be able to send me such an answer to this letter as may stop further proceedings of this kind here, otherwise I am convinced that the Duke of Newcastle will lose this corporation.
The threat to break with the Treasury was an indication of the corporation’s state of mind rather than of their intentions. The situation had reached a delicate point: Newcastle had no wish to antagonize the corporation, nor they to throw him over. For a while he did nothing. Then, on 20 Mar., a few days before the election was due, Phillips Gybbon wrote to the Duke:2
I think it absolutely necessary you should know that the corporation of Rye are very near a thousand pounds in debt, and have had an offer lately made them that this debt shall be discharged if they will choose a person recommended to them.
Newcastle probably took the hint and paid the debt himself. On 25 Mar. Chiswell Slade, mayor of Rye, replied to his letter recommending John Bentinck as Member:3
As your Grace promises to assist him in his attention to the interest of the town and every member of it, it was unanimously agreed to. We shall always be ready to show your Grace how much we are at your command.After the election Wardroper was removed and his place given to William Davis, an equivalent being provided for Wardroper.
When Newcastle went into opposition in 1762 Rye, alone of the Cinque Ports, remained faithful to him; and, what is more, successfully defied the Treasury. Fear of Wardroper, who had gone over to Grenville, dominated their politics: the issue was not whether the corporation should be independent of the Treasury, but whether they should be independent of Winchelsea. With Treasury backing, Wardroper should have proved successful; but in 1763 and 1764 he failed to carry his candidate for mayor. The explanation of his failure seems to be that the Treasury shrank from a complete purge of the Rye oligarchy and a wholesale creation of new freemen. Rye seems to have escaped unscathed from Henry Fox’s purge of December 1762, and only two of the custom house officers were removed by the Grenville Administration. One was John Lamb, who was replaced by a friend of Wardroper; even so, Grenville promised to find Lamb an equivalent. When a real issue was involved, even a Treasury borough had to be handled with care.
In March 1766 Newcastle promised Rose Fuller his support at Rye at the next general election, probably wishing to gratify the town by the choice of a Sussex man. As the election approached he grew anxious lest the Treasury should interfere. On 6 Sept. 1767 John Norris, who had followed Newcastle into opposition to the Grafton Administration, sent him an account of a conversation with Bradshaw, secretary to the Treasury:4
I told Mr. Bradshaw I came to town to endeavour to see the Duke of Grafton ... and that I hoped his Grace would not think to make a disturbance at Rye, that he could gain no end by it as the gentlemen of the corporation were not to be dictated to or bought on any terms. He made me for answer ... that it was natural to sound the boroughs at such a juncture, but that he learnt from Mr. Lamb that Rye was not of the nature they expected. Mr. Lamb behaved with such firmness and resolution to Mr. Bradshaw that I fancy if there were any intentions of making a trial at Rye they will now be totally dropped.
Wardroper was no longer feared, and Lamb’s ‘most meritorious and unfashionable steadiness to his friends’5 could have had no origin but personal loyalty. Yet it may be doubted whether it was as great as Newcastle liked to imagine. In November 1767 Norris succeeded on his father’s death to a sinecure in the customs, incompatible with a seat in Parliament; and resigned it when he found the corporation wanted a candidate approved by the Administration.6
After Newcastle’s death Rye became once more a Treasury borough, and Lamb was given a secret service pension of £150 p.a. The revenue officers were disfranchised by Crewe’s Act in 1782, and in 1792 Oldfield estimated there were only six voters. Robinson, in his survey for the general election of 1784, noted the effect of Crewe’s Act, but counted on Government holding both seats. He was wrong. Lamb, according to Oldfield,7‘made an attempt at setting up a private interest of his own, independent of the Treasury’; and returned Cornwall, Speaker of the House of Commons, and William Dickinson, an opponent of Pitt. But by 1790 Rye was under Treasury control again.
Author: John Brooke
M. Cramp, ‘Parlty. Rep. of Five Suss. Boroughs, 1754-68, (Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis).