Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in inhabitants paying scot and lot
Number of voters:
|18 June 1790||HON. VERE POULETT||186|
|John Perceval, Visct. Perceval||87|
|27 May 1796||GEORGE POCOCK|
|6 July 1802||JEFFERYS ALLEN||166|
|26 June 1804||JOHN HUDLESTON vice Allen, vacated his seat|
|31 Oct. 1806||HON. VERE POULETT||213|
|5 May 1807||WILLIAM THORNTON||172|
|Hon. Vere Poulett||140|
|7 Oct. 1812||GEORGE POCOCK|
|WILLIAM ASTELL (formerly THORNTON)|
|19 June 1818||GEORGE POCOCK||226|
|John Hodder Moggridge||164|
John, 4th Earl Poulett, chosen recorder of the borough in succession to his father in 1788, entered upon a very uneasy electoral inheritance. The sitting Members, both friends of Pitt’s government like himself, were uncertain of their future. Robert Thornton*, whom Poulett claimed to have sponsored, was supported by some of the corporation for the recordership in competition with his patron. Alexander Hood*, after spending his money ‘in support of the Poulett interest’ in 1784 ‘and on the request of government’, informed Pitt that, having had no reassurance from Poulett, he suspected an intrigue (19 Oct. 1788):
If Lord Poulett shall try for two Members, for his own family, I think he will have a difficult, and expensive contest, as I am sure the people of Bridgwater will resist that idea. If his brother, and [his brother-in-law] Mr Pocock, shall be the objects of his choice, I cannot be displeased, but if he canvasses for another gentleman of this county, to join his brother, I shall consider that conduct unfriendly and ungenerous.
On 11 June 1789 Poulett informed Pitt, ‘I find Lord Egmont has had the borough of Bridgwater canvassed for Lord Perceval’. Egmont (in opposition to government) had himself been Member until 1769, when the Pouletts ousted him, and he had waited until his heir Lord Perceval came of age to seek his revenge. He was in league with John Chubb (d.1818), a local merchant who had assisted Charles James Fox and his friends at previous elections. Poulett had decided by July 1789 to sponsor his brother. He was joined, significantly, neither by Hood nor Thornton, who had to look elsewhere, but by John Langston, a London banker.1
Perceval was no match for his opponents, who shared 158 votes: 58 of his votes were plumpers out of a poll of 246 (only ten electors did not vote). His father professed himself well satisfied with the result, accepted the bill and took steps to reward ‘the poorest of our supporters’. He assured Chubb that he meant to continue the fight, but he fell out with his heir over his marriage in 1792 and there the matter ended.2 Langston, who had joined opposition, was no longer acceptable in 1796, when he went off to try his chances at Minehead. Poulett returned his brother-in-law. On the refusal by the Marquess of Winchester of his offer to allow one of his sons to join Pocock, he came to an arrangement with Pitt in favour of Jefferys Allen, whose father had represented the borough as an opponent of the Poulett interest, but who was well disposed to government. There was no contest, though Fox was in touch with Chubb about the possibility of one. Chubb mentioned a ‘Mr Glenfell’ as a potential candidate: Fox was sure Egmont ‘would give his support to any gentleman who would take up the business where he has left it’. On 7 May he sent Chubb Mr Bligh, ‘a gentleman of character and fortune’, in case there was a distinct chance of success, and on 16 May he recommended John Harcourt* as a second man, in case an all-out contest was necessary. No contest materialized.3
In 1801 Harcourt and another city merchant, John Agnew*, sponsored by Fox and assisted by Chubb, appeared to challenge the Poulett interest. An attempt was made in King’s bench to prosecute the corporation for manipulating the rate books for election purposes, but it failed. Harcourt sought the Egmont interest through the Duke of Bedford, whose agent he informed, ‘Fox has used every means to strengthen my interest here but he does not know enough of Lord Egmont’.4 Harcourt and Agnew canvassed in February 1802 and at the election came near to ousting Pocock. Only 14 of 310 electors did not poll; Allen and Pocock shared 145 votes and their opponents 125. Sixteen votes (including Harcourt’s) were rejected. On a petition, which also alleged bribery, Agnew and his friends claimed that seven of their rejected voters were eligible but had been denied the opportunity of paying the rates: the committee of the House conceded them five more votes, not enough to alter the return (18 Mar. 1803). Agnew declared his readiness to try again in future, but did not do so.5
Allen accepted a disqualifying office in 1804. He was replaced on the same interest by Hudleston, a nabob, who boldly appealed to Chubb (16 June) to prevent an opposition to him: ‘I shall regard you as one of my best friends’. But Fox had already written to Chubb:
If you have not anybody ready I will look out for a candidate and in the meantime perhaps there ought to be a handbill stating that a respectable candidate will make his appearance. I can answer for the Marquess of Buckingham and the Grenville interest going with us on this occasion which would I should suppose give you a majority, the numbers being so even before.
Buckingham had a tenant at Bridgwater who was of the corporation, but his interest could only be of moment in an equal contest. Humphrey Howorth*, whom Fox sent down to oppose Hudleston, nevertheless backed out. On 16 Sept. 1804 Fox wrote to Chubb:
I have received an application from the Marquess of Buckingham in favour of General Poulett as a future Member for Bridgwater in opposition to Lord Poulett’s interest. I have scarcely seen Howorth since he returned ... and therefore do not know whether he has any further thoughts of the borough, but, if he has not, I should like very much to forward General Poulett’s interest as I understand his politics may be relied on.
To William Windham who was on the look-out for a seat, Fox wrote, 30 Aug. 1805: ‘With respect to Bridgwater I should think with some money, and the interests which we had against us last time, but which it is presumed would now be for us, the prospect would be very favourable’. He added that Howorth must still have the option.6
Poulett offered in 1806 in conjunction with his former running partner Langston. The earl disliked his brother’s political commitment, but found, on Fox’s death, that Lord Grenville considered himself pledged to Fox’s recommendation.7 Hudleston, assisted by a fellow East India Company director, Thornton, put up a resistance, but the confusion of the Poulett interest told against him. He shared only 29 votes with Poulett or Langston as compared with 89 with his colleague. His opponents shared 190 votes in a poll of 311 (electorate 336).
In 1807 Earl Poulett resumed control of the situation. He discountenanced his brother and Langston, who blamed the ‘No Popery’ cry for his withdrawal, and, as his heir Viscount Hinton prudently declined an expensive contest, supported his brother-in-law, who allied with Thornton, Hudleston’s running partner the year before. Gen. Poulett stood alone against them and lost his seat. He was supported by Chubb and secured 123 plumpers, but made few inroads on his brother’s interest. Pocock and Thornton shared 161 votes in a poll of 303 (19 electors did not vote). Gen. Poulett attempted, through an electors’ petition, to unseat his opponents for bribery and corruption; bribes of £200 were evidently offered. He thought they would be easier to prove against Pocock than against Thornton (whose secret weapon was East India Company patronage). He advised Chubb that Samuel Rogers would make a good Foxite Member if his petition succeeded: but it failed, 24 Mar. 1808.8
By 1812 Gen. Poulett was dead, and the sitting Members firmly in the saddle. James Parsons, an attorney associated with Chubb, appealed to Lord Holland (Fox’s legatee) to procure Lord Buckingham’s interest for an all-out contest: but Buckingham declined interference henceforward and no contest materialized.9 There was one in 1818, but the Whig opportunists assisted by the Chubb party were defeated. Moggridge (of Llanrumney, Monmouthshire), ‘a magistrate and author of several statistical publications’, was better known as the foe of the Duke of Beaufort’s political hegemony. His colleague (whose votes were all shared with him) was of Chesfield House, Hertfordshire. Only 16 of 369 electors did not vote; two votes for the Whigs were rejected. Moggridge assured Earl Grey, 15 Jan. 1819, that his friends were growing stronger: ‘I am confident that I have opened the borough and two Tories cannot go up the next time.’ He was wrong. The Poulett interest was maintained, as before, by a judicious alliance with wealth and patronage.10
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. PRO 30/8/116, ff. 136, 138; 168, ff. 230, 232, 234.
- 2. Chubb mss, Egmont to Chubb [6 July 1790], 16, 29 July, 27 Dec. 1791, 17 July; Perceval to same, 7, 13, 28 July 1792.
- 3. PRO 30/8/107, f. 239; 108, f. 257; T. B. Dilks, C. J. Fox and the Borough of Bridgwater, 32.
- 4. The Times, 18 May, 16 June; Devon RO, Bedford mss L1258 bdle. 17, Harcourt to Adair, 18 Oct. 1801.
- 5. CJ, lviii. 18, 25, 65, 76, 237; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1804), i. 101; The Times, 11 Mar. 1803.
- 6. Chubb mss; Dilks, loc. cit.; Add. 37843, f. 256.
- 7. Fortescue mss, Poulett to Grenville, 15 Sept., reply 18 Sept. 1806.
- 8. Oxford Jnl. 9 May 1807; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 10/19; CJ, lxii. 680; lxiii. 204; Som. RO, Kemeys Tynte mss S/WH box 53, Poulett to Kemeys Tynte, 14 June; Chubb mss, V. Poulett to Chubb. 4 July 1807.
- 9. Fortescue mss, Holland to Grenville, 2 Sept.; Add. 51530, reply 3 Oct. 1812; 51829, Buckingham to Holland, 21 June 1818.
- 10. Taunton Courier, 11, 18 June 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 23; Grey mss; Key to both Houses (1832), 303.