Warwickshire

Double Member County

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

Number of voters:

about 4,000

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
17 Apr. 1754Sir Charles Mordaunt 
 William Craven 
8 Apr. 1761Sir Charles Mordaunt 
 William Craven 
6 Feb. 1765William Throckmorton Bromley vice Craven, called to the Upper House 
30 Mar. 1768Sir Charles Mordaunt  
 William Throckmorton Bromley 
29 Mar. 1769Thomas George Skipwith vice Bromley, deceased 
20 Oct. 1774Thomas George Skipwith2954
 Sir Charles Holte1845
 John Mordaunt1787
27 Sept. 1780Sir Robert Lawley 
 Sir George Augustus William Shuckburgh 
7 Apr. 1784Sir Robert Lawley 
 Sir George Augustus William Shuckburgh 

Main Article

The leading noblemen in the county of Warwick were Lord Craven, Lord Hertford, Lord Warwick, and Lord Aylesford. The representation was in the hands of the gentry, the leading family being the Mordaunts of Walton, who held one seat for 82 years between 1698 and 1820. The most significant feature of the county’s parliamentary history 1754-1790 was the growing influence exerted by Birmingham and the manufacturing districts of the north.

The years 1754-74 were uneventful, and the sitting Members, Sir Charles Mordaunt and William Craven, were unanimously re-elected in 1754 and 1761. The feeling that the peace of the county should not be lightly disturbed was very powerful. Craven succeeded to the peerage in November 1764, and exerted himself to bring in William Bromley, who was returned without opposition.1 On Bromley’s death in 1769 the seat went to Thomas George Skipwith, a relative of the Cravens. Skipwith was acceptable to the Birmingham freeholders, and the Birmingham Gazette drew attention to the ‘unanimous zeal’ which prevailed there among ‘every sect or denomination, as is not to be paralleled with any former similar occasion’.2

This harmony in the county was shattered at the election of 1774. Sir Charles Mordaunt, who had represented the county for forty years, retired on account of his age and infirmities.3 Lord Craven then began to promote the candidature of Lord Guernsey, son of Lord Aylesford: an inspired newspaper puff declared that ‘it seems to be the prevailing sense of the freeholders ... that they cannot place the sacred deposits of their interests in better hands than those of Lord Guernsey’. The report failed to conjure up any enthusiasm, and Lord Craven, in high dudgeon, took himself off. In a letter intended to be read at the county meeting, he wrote:

Had it been my inclination to have disturbed the peace of the county, I flatter myself the means were in my power ... I set out early tomorrow morning for Berkshire, where I have always met with a grateful return for that independence I and my family have long contended for.

At the county meeting the candidature of Skipwith, the sitting Member, was unanimously supported, but the second place was disputed between John Mordaunt, Sir Charles’s son, and Sir Charles Holte, of Aston, the nominee of the Birmingham commercial interests.

The struggle which followed demonstrated the amazing growth of Birmingham. Holte was lauded as ‘the man, who ... is most likely to serve the county at large, but particularly this populous and commercial town, which at this present critical era requires in our representatives the utmost vigilance, activity and ability’.4 In 1700 the population of the town had been estimated at about 15,000; by the end of the century it was 78,000, and the most rapid period of growth seems to have been in the 1760’s and 1770’s.5 Most of the industrial development in the county had been in the north, in the hundred of Hemlingford. It was from this hundred that Holte drew nearly two-thirds of his total vote, polling 1,175 against 315 for Mordaunt.6 In fact, in Hemlingford Holte even outpolled Skipwith, whose seat was not in dispute. In the other three hundreds Mordaunt outpolled Holte by more than two to one, but the weight of Hemlingford carried the election for Holte. Birmingham itself gave him 366 against 39 for Mordaunt; Solihull gave him 107-3, Aston 134-8, and Tamworth 106-4. Mordaunt had more support from the gentry: 134 electors of the rank of esquire or above polled for him, against 99 for his opponent; and the clergy were even more decisively in Mordaunt’s favour, giving him 74 votes against 33 for Holte. The poll lasted eleven days, and Holte made a triumphant entry into Birmingham ‘attended by upwards of 700 gentlemen and freeholders’.7

Neither of the sitting Members stood for re-election in 1780, and the Birmingham freeholders were determined not to relinquish the advantage they had gained. The Birmingham Gazette, 11 Sept. 1780, carried the following notice:

It is probable two other gentlemen may be nominated in their stead, in a great measure unconnected with this opulent town and its vicinity, and therefore not very likely to attend closely to its interests. Under these circumstances, a meeting of some of the most respectable freeholders has been convened, and ... is determined to form an association of the independent freeholders in this town and county.

The objects of the association were explained in a letter from Thomas Gem to Lord Dartmouth:8

The various commercial regulations so frequently made by the legislature affect the trade and manufactures of this place very much and render it an object of great importance to its inhabitants that gentlemen may, if possible, be chosen for the county who are connected with the people and not entirely uninformed of the particulars in which their interest consists. ... We have applied to Sir Robert Lawley for this purpose, who has consented to stand forth as a candidate ... The freeholders in this place and its environs are almost unanimous in his favour.

At the county meeting, Lawley’s nomination was accepted without opposition, but two other candidates, Sir George Shuckburgh and William Holbech were proposed for second place.9 Holbech was not willing to face a contest, however, and Lawley and Shuckburgh were returned unopposed; and again in 1784.

Author: J. A. Cannon

Notes

  • 1. HMC Denbigh, v. 294.
  • 2. Aris’s Birmingham Gaz. 20 Mar. 1769.
  • 3. Jopson’s Coventry Merc. 10, 17 Oct. 1774.
  • 4. Aris’s Birmingham Gaz. 17 Oct. 1774.
  • 5. Showell, Dict