Double Member Borough
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|19 Apr. 1754||Henry Crabb Boulton|
|30 Mar. 1761||Henry Crabb Boulton||1296|
|16 Mar. 1768||Henry Crabb Boulton|
|25 Nov. 1773||Thomas Bates Rous vice Boulton, deceased||900|
|Sir Watkin Lewes||635|
|Election declared void, 8 Feb. 1774|
|1 Mar. 1774||Nicholas Lechmere||796|
|Sir Watkin Lewes||713|
|12 Oct. 1774||Thomas Bates Rous||981|
|Sir Watkin Lewes||736|
|19 Sept. 1780||Thomas Bates Rous||1106|
|Sir Watkin Lewes||711|
|2 Apr. 1784||William Ward|
|4 Mar. 1789||Edmund Wigley vice Ward, called to the Upper House|
The main power in Worcester politics was the corporation, working in close association with the bishop, the cathedral chapter, and the lord lieutenant of Worcestershire. To maintain its ascendancy the corporation made full use of its right to create nonresident freemen, who formed a large proportion of the voters and considerably increased the cost of elections. There was also an anti-corporation or independent party, supported by the Dissenters, and until political issues began to appear in the early seventies the two sides divided on a Church and Dissent basis. But according to one commentator, writing in 1773:1
[Their conflicts] were actuated ... more by the animosities which had long subsisted between them than by any commendable partiality to the cause they espoused. It has ... for a long period of time been always understood that a candidate proposed by the one would be opposed by the other; and from this certainty of opposition every gentleman of our county has been deterred from offering us his services.
Another thing that deterred the country gentlemen was that Worcester was extremely venal and had a reputation for violence at election times.
At the dissolution of 1754 the sitting Members, Thomas Vernon and Robert Tracy, were Government supporters. In September 1753 a new candidate, Henry Crabb Boulton, a merchant and director of the East India Company, canvassed the city and was accorded a rapturous reception.2 Tracy then turned to Pelham for financial aid. If Crabb Boulton stood, he wrote, ‘which I am pretty confident he will’, his own expenses would be at least £3,000: if Crabb Boulton declined on polling day, they would still amount to £1,500.3 There followed protracted negotiations, first with Pelham, then with Newcastle. Lord Coventry, the lord lieutenant of Worcestershire, though supporting Tracy, agreed that his demands were ‘extravagant’, but thought it would have an ill effect on the Whig interest if he gave up. On the other hand, if he proved too obdurate, they should ‘see then what can be done with Mr. Boulton’. Newcastle noted that Tracy ‘has had £1,000 for his election, demands 3,500 more’, and John Roberts added, for Newcastle’s information, that Pelham had ‘seemed desirous to break off all engagements here, if he had known how to extricate himself’.4 The argument dragged on throughout March 1754. At length Tracy threatened to ‘stand the poll for Worcester unassisted by your Grace ... Tomorrow I shall begin executing the plan necessary to secure my election, and will be put off no longer.’5 In the event, however, his candidature fell through completely, and his opponents were returned unopposed.6
Vernon retired from Parliament in 1761, and the corporation offered the seat to Robert Clive, who suggested his secretary John Walsh.7 Tracy once more declared himself a candidate, and approached Newcastle for support. But Newcastle, mindful of his previous dealings with Tracy, was reluctant to commit himself. On 3 Dec. 1760 Tracy asked for £500. Newcastle made a painstaking minute of the whole transaction: he would certainly ask the King at a suitable moment, but could not guarantee that any money would be forthcoming. The same day Clive wrote to tell him of Walsh’s candidature, and Newcastle explained: ‘I had not the least knowledge of your desire relating to the election at Worcester, before I had engaged to serve Mr. Tracy there.’ Tracyseems to have experienced difficulty in keeping Newcastle firm, and sent him statements from ‘persons of considerable rank’ at Worcester that his interest was ‘as good as ever’, and that he had ‘a fair prospect of success’. Nevertheless, when the poll was taken, he came a bad third. Newcastle was unable to stop him petitioning against the return, but he was persuaded to withdraw it in January 1762.8
At the next general election the corporation put up the same candidates. The independents, according to Walsh, worked hard to ‘raise a storm’, but could find no one prepared to stand against such odds.9 Crabb Boulton and Walsh were returned unopposed.
In 1773, on the death of Boulton, the independents put forward William Kelly, an American merchant, while the corporation sponsored another of Clive’s associates, Thomas Bates Rous, who was alleged to have declared that he would spend £10,000 to carry his election.10 Kelly’s supporters described themselves as
labouring freemen of this city, who, though poor, are determined to vote for no man but what shall act independent, and use his utmost interest to obtain a Triennial Parliament (in return for which their votes will be given him gratis).11
But a few days before the poll Kelly retired, giving as his reason the near approach of the general election:
Two contests in close succession to each other, and each attended with an enormous expense, is more than I ought to encounter. ... The profusion with which my opponent has given into every kind of expense ... has made it impossible that I should any longer keep pace with him.
Kelly’s supporters at Worcester were enraged at his retirement: he was mobbed in the streets by voters bearing banners ‘I have my friends betrayed’, while his wife was sent into fits.12 But the independents succeeded in finding another candidate in Sir Watkin Lewes, who arrived from London an hour before the poll was due, and was at once declared a candidate on a programme of Wilkite radicalism. Despite his late start he managed to poll 635 against 900 for Rous, whose campaign was said to have cost him £20,000.13
Lewes at once petitioned against the return, alleging gross bribery; the election was declared void, and a new writ issued. According to the local newspaper,14 Administration thought it prudent to drop Thomas Bates Rous,
as doubts may possibly be entertained, whether a candidate is not disqualified by giving those common entertainments which the usual festivity of an election demands, but which the nice and delicate virtue of Sir Watkin Lewes forbids.
But a different story was told by Henry Strachey in a letter to Clive of 11 Feb. 1774:15
You will scarcely believe, though I tell you, that Rous, with almost an absolute certainty of his being re-chosen, determined not to stir from his arm chair in Berners Street ... When Walsh and I called upon him, he said that Lechmere had offered to stand (if he, Rous, did not choose it) and if elected, would resign to him at the general election, that he had accordingly ... written to Worcester in recommendation of Mr. Lechmere. Mr. Walsh desired him to observe that he had done this without any participation on the part of Lord Clive or his friends, that he had sacrificed your Lordship’s interest and that of the corporation. ... It was to no purpose that we remonstrated how impossible it was for any man (after what had passed) to expend a shilling, and as to Sir W. Lewes, he had neither money nor reputation to support him. Rous had spent a great deal and the same friends would have stuck by him now.
Lechmere, as a country gentleman and a native of the city, might be expected to pull in the extra votes that could decide a close contest; and though Lewes improved his position considerably, he was again beaten.
As soon as the general election was announced, Walsh and Thomas Bates Rous were nominated as the corporation candidates, with the support of Lord Coventry. The independents were anxious to find a second man to stand with Lewes, but Colonel Thomas Clarke, who canvassed the city, withdrew before the poll. Lewes signed a declaration calling for shorter Parliaments, fairer representation, a place bill, and ‘the vindication of the Middlesex electors’. During the poll he found it a handicap to stand single, and Edward Bearcroft, his lawyer, was nominated to take the second vote. Though Lewes improved his own showing, the corporation candidates carried the day. The petition against the return was not heard until 1776, when the sitting Members were confirmed in their seats.
Before the general election of 1780 there was a general reappraisal. Walsh did not offer himself again, and Rous and Lewes agreed to divide the borough, claiming that there was a ‘universal wish’ for a coalition. But there were persons on both sides working against it. Some of Lewes’s former friends tried to put up Bearcroft. On the Government side, John Robinson was anxious to keep out Lewes if it could be done. He wrote about Worcester in his survey for the general election:
It is an uncertain place, depending much on popularity. If the gentlemen of Worcester and the neighbourhood can agree among themselves they will bring in a person. If not Sir W. Lewes or some such man will get in perhaps.
The difficulty was to find a candidate. Sir Charles Cocks, a placeman, canvassed the city in August, but was confronted by a deputation deploring the intrusion of a third man, and forced to withdraw. The following week Lord North’s half-brother, the bishop of Worcester, wrote:16
It is a mortification to me that the seat should fall to the lot of Sir Watkin Lewes. But Sir Charles Cocks and Bearcroft having declined ... there is now no competitor with Sir Watkin. The corporation have sent two of their body privately to me wishing that a friend of mine should stand. Their account of the matter is that the corporation have never yet been beaten, that they are stronger now than they ever have been, as the Quakers are with them, that they have the assistance of all the country gentlemen against the knight, and that in short they are certain of success if I will procure them a candidate with £1,500.
The Government offered to put up £1,000, but a fortnight before the election Robinson was in despair over the position. Henry Drummond the banker would not stand. Edmund Poulter, a local man related to the Norths, would venture no more than £500, which would not go far in a contest at Worcester.17 At the last minute William Ward, son of Lord Dudley, came forward. Rous threw overboard his understanding with Lewes, though a façade of independence was maintained, and the Government candidates carried both seats. Mark Beaufoy explained the circumstances to his son, Henry:18
It is very well that Will Smith did not accept of the offer made him from Worcester, for though Mr. Ward has carried his point, no other person in all probability would have met with the like success. It was apprehended that Mr. Ward designed to stand for the county, and the principal gentlemen of interest in the county, in order to preserve peace, came to an agreement that if Mr. Ward would give no opposition to the county members, they would support his interest for the city of Worcester—thus fell poor Sir Watkin Lewes.
Lewes’s vote was no better than it had been in his first campaign, and he abandoned Worcester for the City of London. In 1784 Robinson hoped to get rid of Rous, a Coalitionist. Once more a last-minute candidature was successful. Samuel Smith, a friend of Lewes and a supporter of Pitt, came down two days before the poll, and was returned with Ward after Rous had declined. The return of Wigley, a local man, on a vacancy in 1789, was unopposed.
Author: J. A. Cannon
- 1. A Circumstantial and Impartial Account of the Grand Contest, pamphlet in Worcester City Lib.
- 2. Worcester Jnl. 13, 20 Sept. 1753.
- 3. Add. 32733, f. 421.
- 4. Add. 32995, ff. 98, 104.
- 5. Add. 32734, f. 332.
- 6. Worcester Jnl. 18 Apr. 1754.
- 7. Add. 32915, f. 276.
- 8. Add. 32915, ff. 274, 276; 32916, ff. 29, 263; 32931, ff. 9, 11, 31.
- 9. Walsh to Clive, 26 Feb. 1768, Powis mss.
- 10. Public Advertiser, 23 Oct. 1773.
- 11. Worcester Jnl. 14 Oct. 1773.
- 12. Ibid. 18 Nov. 1773; Public Advertiser, 17 Nov. 1773.
- 13. Worcester Jnl. 25 Nov. 1773.
- 14. Ibid. 10 Feb. 1774.
- 15. Mss of Lord Strachie.
- 16. Laprade, 34.
- 17. Ibid. 35.
- 18. G. Beaufoy, Leaves from a Beech Tree, 29.