Seaford

Double Member Cinque Port

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 the populacy’, which in 1761 was held to mean in inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

below 100

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
16 Apr. 1754William Hall Gage 
 William Hay 
21 Nov. 1755James Peachey vice Hay, deceased 
30 Dec. 1755William Hall Gage, Visct. Gage, re-elected after appointment to office 
2 Dec. 1760Peachey re-elected after appointment to office 
25 Mar. 1761James Peachey27
 William Hall Gage, Visct. Gage26
 George Medley12
 James Evelyn11
23 Dec. 1765Gage re-elected after appointment to office 
18 Mar. 1768William Hall Gage, Visct. Gage 
 George Medley 
8 Oct. 1774William Hall Gage, Visct. Gage29
 George Medley29
 Stephen Sayre1
 John Chetwood1
13 Sept. 1780John Durand26
 John Robinson24
 John Molesworth12
 George Medley12
4 Dec. 1780Christopher D'Oyly vice Robinson, chose to sit for Harwich 
 John Molesworth 
30 Mar. 1784Henry Nevill12
 Sir Peter Parker12
 Lewis Thomas Watson11
 Thomas Alves11
 Election declared void, 21 Mar. 1785 
29 Mar. 1785Sir John Henderson14
 Sir Peter Parker14
 Sir Godfrey Webster11
 Thomas Alves11
 Henry FloodO
 Sir Laurence ParsonsO
 Election declared void, 13 Mar. 1786 
21 Mar. 1786Sir John Henderson16
 Sir Peter Parker16
 Henry Flood8
 Sir Godfrey Webster8
 FLOOD and WEBSTER vice Henderson and Parker, on petition, 26 Apr. 1786 

Main Article

Seaford was a decayed port; its electorate was deliberately restricted; and a large number were officers of the customs and excise. In 1754 the borough was under the patronage of the Duke of Newcastle; but Newcastle’s hold was never complete and always depended on the support of the Treasury.

When in January 1761 it was rumoured that George Medley intended to stand for Seaford, William Michell, an agent of Newcastle, warned him that Medley would receive considerable support:1‘The lowest class of the people, especially the fishermen, are very desirous of having an opposition in order to get money ... and have entered into an association to stand by each other.’ An expensive contest was to be expected, although Michell did not doubt but that Newcastle’s candidates would be successful. On 13 Feb. he reported that Medley’s supporters had been promised £20 each—‘But I cannot find that any money has been offered.’2 A different account of Medley’s electioneering was given by Thomas Chowne, another agent of Newcastle (15 Mar.).3 He had been told by an elector of Seaford that Medley had offered no money.

I then asked him [wrote Chowne] by what means it was possible that the lower class of Mr. Medley’s voters could attach themselves so firmly to him (almost a stranger) in opposition to your Grace, who has been a continued patron to them for so many years. He answered it was through animosity for many grievances and injuries they imagine they have suffered, and also in the firm confidence they placed in Mr. Medley’s performing his promises whether he gains his point or not, such as erecting a free school at Seaford, procuring immediate admission into the hospitals (all expenses paid) for the poor people on any occasion, large donations every Christmas, etc.

But the returning officer was in Newcastle’s interest, and most of the corporation held Government posts: 16 of them voted for Gage and Peachey, and only 4 for Medley and Evelyn. The voting of the householders paying scot and lot was more evenly distributed: from this class of electors Gage and Peachey together received 21 votes, and Medley and Evelyn 17. The votes rejected, about the same number for both sides, came mostly from the labourers and fishermen to whom Medley had specially appealed.4

Medley in his petition claimed that the term ‘in the populacy’ included not merely those paying scot and lot but all resident inhabitants not receiving alms. He hoped to widen the franchise to include a class who could not aspire to Government appointments, but who might be won over by bribery and schemes of public welfare. His petition had no chance of success, and was rejected without a division.

Although in 1762 Newcastle left office and went into opposition, he hoped to retain influence in the boroughs he had managed for the Treasury. Bute, of course, had no intention of allowing him to do so: at Seaford he appointed William Levinz, receiver-general of the customs, as Government manager, and all voters dependent on the Treasury were expected to follow their new master. The situation was complicated by the actions of Medley, intent on driving both Newcastle and the Treasury out of Seaford.

Newcastle had controlled Seaford by restricting the number of voters to those upon whom he believed he could depend. For this he needed to control the corporation, which Medley now attacked. Medley won over the bailiff and with his help began enlarging the number of those rated to pay scot and lot. Newcastle believed that Medley was backed by the Government, but Medley’s plan to increase the electorate was directed against the Treasury just as much as against Newcastle. The Crown contested the legality of the bailiff’s actions and won its case. ‘By which we have not only got a fresh confirmation to this borough’, wrote Levinz to Bute, 18 Sept. 1764,5 ‘but to all the other Cinque Ports, for had this point been carried against us it must have made them all totter.’ The way was now clear for the Treasury to resume control of the borough and drive Newcastle out; yet at the general election of 1768, though Newcastle was apprehensive of Treasury interference, in fact there was none.

Newcastle had determined to drop Peachey, and was considerably upset when Thomas Pelham advised him to adopt Medley. Medley, wrote Gage to Newcastle, 17 Oct. 1767, ‘had seen the Duke of Grafton, who wished him very well’, but gave no indication that he would interfere in the election.6 On 26 Oct. Pelham reported to Newcastle a conversation he had had with Lancelot Harrison, the Duke’s principal supporter at Seaford:7

Harrison told me there was about 32 or 36 votes, that 12 were placemen, and their whole dependence was on their places. Those he said would certainly go with the Ministry. I then asked him how many of the other 20 or 24 your Grace could depend upon, he told me he could answer only for Stone, Washer, and himself, and two or three more; and that he thought that if Mr. Medley did stand supported by the Ministry it would be a very hard run thing, if you did not lose it; and would cost an immense deal of money, and create ill blood and a flame for a long time to come.

Pelham concluded by advising Newcastle to ‘agree with Mr. Medley upon the best terms you can make with him’.

‘I never was so much mortified in my whole life as with the contents of your letter’, replied Newcastle, 28 Oct. 1767.8

After the expense, the immense expense, I have been at for near sixty years to secure that town; with a property of my own in and about the town of a thousand pounds per annum; the property of Mr. Harrison ... the great property of Lord Gage ... after having chose two almost without opposition ... to be reduced to the necessity of acquiescing in Mr. Medley is what nothing but the last extremity shall oblige me to consent to.

And on 3 Nov.:9‘I see very plainly that my interest there is lost entirely by the neglect of my agents ... but I shall endeavour by new management to retrieve it.’ He was obliged to accept Medley, but found some consolation from their union: ‘One of the good consequences of it will be’, he wrote to Pelham, 6 Nov. 1767,10 ‘the exclusion at present and for the future of all court influence at Seaford.’ He hoped that Pelham, the heir to his Sussex estates, would also inherit his interest at Seaford.

On 19 Nov. 1768, two days after Newcastle’s death, Pelham wrote to Grafton:11 ‘I cannot but wish to continue the interest my family have had for so long a course of years at Seaford.’ His succession to the barony of Pelham vacated his seat for the county, which was offered to Gage. Over the seat which would be vacant at Seaford if Gage was accepted for the county, Gage and Pelham quarrelled, Gage wanting it for his brother-in-law Sir Sampson Gideon, and Pelham for Peachey.12 Each hoped to succeed Newcastle as patron of the borough, and both tried for the support of the Treasury. In the end Gage refused to stand for the county, probably fearing that were he to leave Seaford his interest would suffer.

After Newcastle’s death Harrison became the Government manager at Seaford, the Treasury reasserted its control, and the Pelham interest sank almost into insignificance.

In 1774 Stephen Sayre and John Chetwood attempted, as Medley had done in 1761, to win Seaford by extending the franchise.13 Previous to the poll, a number of their supporters applied to the jurats to be rated to the poor (the eighteenth century equivalent of scot and lot), but were refused; and on polling day 50 persons who tendered for Sayre and Chetwood were rejected, because they were not so rated. According to counsel for Sayre and Chetwood

It appeared that about fourteen of the voters for the sitting Members were custom house officers, or boatmen, by which they got £30 a year. That exclusive of what they got in that way, several of them were in worse circumstances than several of the persons who were not rated. It seemed to be admitted that those who were not custom house boatmen were of sufficient substance to be rated.

But the committee who heard the petition reaffirmed the decision of 1761, that inhabitant householders who did not pay scot and lot were not entitled to vote.

What happened at Seaford at the two elections of 1780 is by no means clear. Robinson, in the survey he drew up for the general election, wrote under Seaford: ‘The same gentlemen it is hoped.’ The notices of the election in the London newspapers simply give the result of the poll as quoted above.14 In the Sussex Weekly Advertiser for 18 Sept. is a fuller account:

On Wednesday came on the election for Seaford, when John Robinson and John Durand Esqrs. were chosen in the room of Lord Gage and George Medley Esq. The former, being made an English peer, recommended his brother the General, who, with Mr. Medley, were both thrown out.

A different story is told in an account of John Durand which appeared in 1780 or 1781 in the English Chronicle.

Lord North ... had named General Gage and Mr. Mellish in private for the representation of Seaford. Mr. Durand soon obtained the knowledge of this secret ... and not perceiving any reason why he might not avail himself of the Minister’s influence as well as another man ... without leaving any intimation of his purposes behind him, proposed himself and Mr. Robinson as the candidates for that place. Mr. Mellish, with all the confidence of unsuspecting certainty, gave himself little trouble about the matter, and did not arrive till a few days previous to the election. ... It was in vain to contend against the secretary of the Treasury and his friend, and therefore without attempting opposition he left Mr. Durand to the sweets of a cheap representation.

There are obvious mistakes in this account: General Gage was not named as Government candidate, Mellish is a mistake for Medley, and Medley did not leave without attempting opposition. Nor is it likely that Medley, who lived near Seaford, should not know what was happening in the borough, or that Robinson should have been named candidate without his consent. Two things are clear: that Durand and Robinson had the Treasury interest, and that before 1782 it was almost impossible to succeed at Seaford against the Treasury. According to Oldfield,15 Molesworth at the by-election of December 1780 stood on the extended franchise and had a majority on the poll, but D’Oyly was returned with a majority on the scot and lot franchise.

The position at Seaford, as at certain other Cinque Ports, was radically altered in 1782 by Crewe’s Act disfranchising revenue officers. The electorate was reduced to 24, the Treasury control was endangered, and in 1784 an attempt was made to re-establish the Pelham interest in the borough. The Pelham candidate, Lewis Thomas Watson, joined Thomas Alves, who had been cultivating his own interest; but they were defeated by the Treasury candidates. Watson petitioned, contending that the bailiff had failed to give four days’ notice of the election, as required by law; and the election was declared void.

Between March 1784 and March 1785, according to Oldfield who was actively concerned at Seaford, 26 candidates offered themselves.16 The election of March 1785 was contested by three sets of joint candidates: Parker and Henderson, on the Treasury interest; Webster and Alves, on the Pelham interest; and Flood and Parsons, on the extended franchise.

The petitions presented against the return of Henderson and Parker, and the very full account of the case given by Oldfield, show how the Treasury tried to manage Seaford after the disfranchisement of the revenue officers. Some of these had been appointed overseers of the poor, and by restricting the number rated to the poor contrived to keep a majority of the electorate in the Treasury interest. In 1784 appeals were made to quarter sessions to be included in the rate, but these were rejected because of failure to give sufficient notice; and the overseers, rather than levy a fresh rate until the Commons had determined on the election, paid the parish expenses out of their own pockets—presumably to be later reimbursed by the Treasury. At the by-election of 1785 the excuse of non-rateability was used to reject all votes cast for Flood and Parsons and to give Government candidates a majority over Webster and Alves.

The committee of the House of Commons which heard the subsequent petitions refused to admit evidence submitted by Flood and Parsons which would have contradicted the resolution of 1761. Next it considered individual votes, rejected three cast for Henderson and Parker, brought the number equal to those for Webster and Alves, and declared the election void.

Alves, writes Oldfield, ‘by this time had received a complete surfeit of the Seaford contest’; he now withdrew, and Webster and Flood joined interests against the Treasury candidates. The election of April 1786 followed the pattern of March 1785: 24 voters for Webster and Flood were rejected because they were not rated to the poor, and the Government candidates were returned. But circumstances had altered to the disadvantage of the Treasury, Flood’s supporters ‘having had a second opportunity of appealing to the Seaford sessions ... were now in a situation to prove their rateability’.17 Before the committee of the House counsel for Parker and Henderson conceded that Flood and Webster had a majority of legal votes; and they were accordingly seated.

‘The system of politics in this place now took an entire change’, wrote Oldfield; Flood’s supporters were placed upon the poor rates, but the decision of 1761 was not reversed and the Treasury retained control of the corporation. By bribery and the creation