Double Member Borough
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen paying scot and lot
Number of voters:
|16 Apr. 1754||Thomas Hill|
|27 Mar. 1761||Thomas Hill|
|19 Mar. 1768||Noel Hill||233|
|Robert Clive, Baron Clive||149|
|14 Oct. 1774||Robert Clive, Baron Clive||210|
|Pulteney vice Leighton, on petition, 8 Mar. 1775|
|17 Mar. 1775||John Corbet vice Clive, deceased|
|12 Sept. 1780||Sir Charlton Leighton|
|2 Apr. 1784||Sir Charlton Leighton|
|29 Oct. 1784||John Hill vice Leighton, deceased|
Before 1722 the number of freemen exceeded 1,300. But by 1747 the corporation, allied to the Whigs, managed to reduce it to about 300, first by a decision of the House of Commons in 1723 which greatly narrowed down the boundaries of the parliamentary borough, and next by restricting admission to its freedom. The opposite interest was aided in its lawsuits against the corporation by neighbouring Tory country gentlemen whom it supported in parliamentary elections. The Dissenters, mostly Presbyterians, formed a third interest in the borough.
In 1749 Thomas Hill was returned unopposed: he ranked originally as a Tory but in Parliament followed Lord Powis, the leader of the Shropshire Whigs; and his election marked the beginning of a compromise whereby the Tories left Shrewsbury to the Powis group who, in exchange, left the county to the Tory country gentlemen.
In 1754 Robert More stood at the invitation of the Dissenters, and on a joint interest with Hill who had the support of both Powis and the Tories. Their return was unopposed. On More declining to stand in 1761, a contest started between Robert Clive, of a Shropshire family and about to return from India, and Lord Pulteney, whose father Lord Bath (a very rich man and notorious miser) had acquired the reversion to the vast Bradford estates in Shropshire. When Powis and the corporation declared for Clive, Bath tried to constrain them by threatening to revive the struggle within the borough; but having failed in both attempts, withdrew his son’s candidature a month before the death of George II. The local conflict then merged into a wider hunt of hangers-on of the new court against their old opponents, but was renewed at Shrewsbury.1
A club ‘of the lower kind of burgesses’ formed toward the end of I767 ‘in opposition to the friends of the corporation’, by February 1768 numbered 70: they were to contribute to a fund for mutual relief, ‘act unanimously’, and ‘bind themselves to vote for any neighbouring gentleman who will add £500 to their bank’.2 Clive and Noel Hill, who replaced his father as candidate, were advised by their friends, among them Powis, firmly to unite, which they did in a joint declaration; and the canvass undertaken early in March proved so favourable that no opposition was expected.3
But about the same time William (Johnstone) Pulteney, through his wife (whose name he assumed) heir to Bath’s fortune and his parliamentary interest at Shrewsbury, started to reconnoitre the borough through Bath’s old election agents.4 Hostile to Clive also at India House, he tried to detach Noel Hill from him, and assured Hill that his opposition was against Clive only; and when canvassing the town, asked his friends to vote also for Hill, who wrote to his father, 15 Mar.:5
I have conducted myself with the strictest friendship to Lord Clive ... I shall continue still steady to his interest ... but I shall not ... act disrespectfully to Mr. Pulteney to whom I am obliged for his interest.
In fact, 144 voted for Hill and Clive, 88 for Hill and Pulteney, and only 5 for Clive and Pulteney.6 Pulteney petitioned against the return, but soon dropped the petition.
In 1774 Clive and Leighton stood jointly, and Pulteney singly: 138 voted for Clive and Leighton, 68 for Clive and Pulteney, and 35 for Leighton and Pulteney; and Pulteney had 68 plumpers.7 But Pulteney was seated vice Leighton because of applicants wrongly refused admission to their freedom.
John Robinson wrote about Shrewsbury in 1780: ‘There is some talk of an opposition here, but it has not yet come forward.’ Nor did any election again go to the poll during this period.
Author: Sir Lewis Namier
- 1. Namier, Structure, 257-,68.
- 2. Letters to Clive: from T. Wingfield, mayor of Shrewsbury, 26 Dec. 1767; Dr. W. Adams, rector of Cound, nr. Shrewsbury, 29 Dec. 1767, 7 and 11 Jan. 1768; John Walsh, 14 Feb. 1768, Clive mss; letters to Thos. Hill from Ld. Powis, 2 Jan. 1768, and from Ld. Clive, 3 Jan. 1768, Attingham mss.
- 3. Clive’s letters to Thos. and Noel Hill, 3 Jan. 1768, Attingham mss; their replies, 5 Jan. 1768, Clive mss.
- 4. Bowdler mss, Bodl. Top. Salop c.3.
- 5. Attingham mss.
- 6. Two broadsheet lists, Shrewsbury Borough Lib.
- 7. Printed poll book, ibid.