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 the freemen

Number of voters:

about 800


16 Apr. 1754Thomas Fonnereau625
 Thomas Walpole542
 Richard Rigby242
25 Mar. 1761Thomas Fonnereau449
 John Henniker384
 William Gordon373
17 Mar. 1768Patrick Blake618
 Walden Hanmer526
 Thomas Fonnereau254
12 Oct. 1774Thomas Fonnereau181
 Philip Champion Crespigny179
 Sir Patrick Blake74
 Sir Walden Hanmer73
 BLAKE and HANMER vice Fonnereau and Crespigny, on petition, 22 Mar. 1775 
15 Sept. 1780Sir Patrick Blake416
 Philip Champion Crespigny344
 Sir James Marriott334
 John Henniker jun.262
 Marriott vice Crespigny, on petition, 26 Apr. 1781 
2 Apr. 1784John Langston359
 William Smith286
 Francis Dickins189

Main Article

‘As open as the day and night too’, wrote John Robinson about Sudbury in 1783.1 Every election 1754-90 went to the poll, and the borough had a well-deserved reputation for venality. Though there appears to have been a large Dissenting element in the town, neither religious nor political issues had much weight in its elections.

About 1754 the strongest interest was in Thomas Fonnereau, who had been one of the Members since 1741. Henry Pelham promised Fonnereau Government support at the general election, but tried to find a candidate to oust Rigby, the other sitting Member, who was then in opposition. Finally he hit upon Thomas Walpole, son of ‘old’ Horace Walpole, a merchant and Government contractor; and Fonnereau and Walpole were elected.

In 1761 Fonnereau complained that Walpole had been intriguing with Thomas Fenn, receiver of the land tax for Suffolk, to develop an interest at Sudbury. Again there was difficulty in finding a second candidate, until John Henniker, another Government contractor, agreed to stand. Fenn found a third man in William Gordon, who came very close to beating Henniker.

Fonnereau now tried to secure Fenn’s dismissal. ‘It is the only thing that can restore peace and tranquillity’ in the borough, he wrote to Barrington on 20 May 1762.2 James Marriott, who had an estate near Sudbury and claimed to have an interest in the borough, wrote to Bute on 5 Feb. 1763:3

Venal as this borough has got the name of being ... yet if the receiver general was a person agreeable to the general body of Dissenters and freemen, I am much disposed to believe that to a candidate who in that case should not be opposed, £1,500 would be all the expense of the election.

Fenn’s patron was the Duke of Grafton, who could hardly claim a favour from the Bute Administration. But Henry Fox intervened on his behalf, and Fenn retained his office until his death.

In 1768 Grafton, now first lord of the Treasury, supported Fenn’s candidates, Blake and Hanmer, and Fonnereau was well beaten. Without Government assistance it was very difficult for a private interest to survive in such an expensive borough. In 1774 Fonnereau and his brother-in-law Crespigny were returned through the partiality of the mayor, but were unseated on petition.

Fonnereau died in 1779 and Crespigny seems to have taken over his interest. At the general election of 1780 he and Blake stood jointly, and were opposed by Marriott and John Henniker, son of the Member returned in 1761. Both Crespigny and Marriott supported Administration, while Blake generally voted with the Opposition; and each side claimed to have Government assistance. The poll was continued all night by candles, and concluded in the early hours of the morning with Blake first, and Marriott beating Crespigny for second place by one vote. On scrutiny, the mayor struck off 11 of Marriott’s votes and returned Blake and Crespigny; but Marriott was seated on petition.

In a survey of open constituencies, drawn up shortly before the general election of 1784, Robinson wrote about Sudbury:4

Mr. Rose says a seat is secure through Crespigny; Mr. Robinson says there can be no contest more insecure. Crespigny says if you will not oppose he will come in himself and bring a friend for £1,500.

In the event, Administration put forward two of their own candidates, William Smith, a Dissenter, and John Langston. Francis Dickins, a Suffolk gentleman standing on the Crespigny interest, was well beaten.

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Laprade, 77.
  • 2. Add. 32938, f. 371.
  • 3. Bute mss.
  • 4. Laprade, 117.