Great Marlow


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 220


(1801): 3,236


 John Fiott71
 Anthony Bushby Bacon45
14 Dec. 1802 PASCOE GRENFELL vice Thomas Williams, deceased 
17 June 1818OWEN WILLIAMS 

Main Article

The principal interests at Marlow changed hands with the neighbouring property in the decade before 1790, but the borough retained its essentially venal character and continued to require attentive management.1 In 1781 the estates of Little Marlow and Medmenham were purchased from one of the sitting Members, Sir John Borlase Warren*, by Sir William Lee of Hartwell, in trust for his ward William Lee Antonie, who came of age in 1785.2 In November 1786 Lee Antonie’s brother-in-law John Fiott, an East India shipping merchant, was told that William Clayton, who had the strongest single interest at Marlow, intended to sell all his houses in the town, was prepared to give Lee Antonie the first refusal and that the property ‘procured so many votes for the borough as gave Mr Clayton a seat in the House’. Fiott was ready to negotiate on Lee Antonie’s behalf, but had reservations:

I added if it was desirable as a purchase, perhaps he might add to his property there, but that as I was well informed Marlow was a very venal borough ... I should imagine they were not very desirable on that account.

On 23 Nov. 1786 he reported the initial bargaining with Clayton’s agent:

he says the houses in general are in very good situations, but many very old and would require very great repairs; he said that if Mr Lee [Antonie] wished to be in Parliament he could not do better than to purchase them, for many of the poorer sort are not to be depended on, yet he makes no doubt that, with his interest now there, he would be perfectly secure ... I wished him to understand if the purchase was made it would be only on the real value of the houses ... the price ... mentioned was about ten thousand pounds.

The negotiations continued until August 1787 when, with Clayton now demanding £20,000 for the property, and Fiott, convinced that ‘not the least certainty of a seat could be conveyed with the houses’, not prepared to advance beyond £12,000, they seem to have collapsed. Fiott reported, 20 Mar. 1788, however, that one Martyn, a local resident who subsequently worked in Lee Antonie’s interest, had no doubt that his existing property, ‘with proper attention and management, would always command a seat for the borough’.

The intervention of a Mr Scott and a Mr Grant prompted Fiott to arrange Lee Antonie’s appearance at Marlow in November 1788, when he declared his intention of standing at the next election. Subscriptions to the poor by Scott and Grant were countered in January 1789 by a larger one from Fiott in Lee Antonie’s name. When in April 1789 Clayton announced his intention of retiring at the dissolution, Fiott pressed on Lee Antonie the necessity of taking up residence at Little Marlow, and a token visit was made. At the request of the Prince of Wales, ‘who interests himself for Mr Lee’s success’, the Duke of Norfolk placed the services of his election manager, Robert Hurst*, at Lee Antonie’s disposal. Fiott was confident, but anxious that prospects should not be blighted by lack of attention to the leading inhabitants, and keen ‘to get the election in the completest manner possible, looking forward to it, as a security for his future elections’. By November 1789 the nabob Paul Benfield*, who had unsuccessfully contested Marlow in 1780, had entered the field; and on 30 Apr. 1790 Fiott expressed his fears of the possible consequences of Lee Antonie’s consistently wayward behaviour:

Mr Martyn, Mr Hurst and myself have repeatedly and for a long time pressed Mr Lee Antonie to go and reside at Marlow; he went about a month ago and stayed but two days. Mr Hurst who went with him was told in plain terms that Mr Lee was expected to come and reside there and visit his neighbours in a friendly manner, or if he did not, scarcely one of the independent voters would vote for him ... He ... at last on Tuesday set off with Mr Martyn to stay a week and arrange matters, he is to come up again for a week or ten days, and then return to Marlow to reside for some time. I wish it may reconcile all those who wished him well from the first and were hearty in his interest but who (and I think with much reason) had taken great offence at his want of attention towards them.

By the dissolution Scott and Grant were out of the running. Lee Antonie, Benfield and Thomas Williams, the ‘copper king’, who two years earlier had purchased copper mills on the Berkshire side of the river at Temple and Wraysbury (which had provided William Ockenden with the basis for an interest and a seat at Marlow in 1744) were the only candidates. In a trial of strength for the second seat, Williams ‘succeeded in turning near twenty of Mr Benfield’s voters’ and the latter withdrew, leaving Lee Antonie and Williams to be returned unopposed.

Fiott was initially confident that, with due care, Lee Antonie could secure the seat for life, but on 30 Apr. 1791 he wrote:

There is something brewing now between Mr Williams and Mr Clayton about his houses, which are now surveying etc. for the third time, and some think Mr Williams is inclined to be the purchaser. If it should prove so Mr Lee Antonie need only show a proper attention to the independent gentlemen and to the chief people of the town and he will secure his future election; but without it I doubt much, and this I have repeatedly told him.

It seems likely that Williams bought the Clayton property in the borough and, according to Oldfield, he made a further purchase from Warren.3

By December 1795 Fiott was distressed at Lee Antonie’s neglect of his interest, the consequent local discontent and its exploitation by Williams, ‘who is crafty and will stick at nothing to serve his purposes’, which were to bring in his elder son for the other seat. He reported an inclination among Lee Antonie’s leading supporters to resist Williams’s attempted coup by inviting Warren to stand and thought that ‘any respectable person willing to spend about £3,000 would get elected’. When Lee Antonie privately confirmed in March 1796 his determination not to stand again for the borough, Fiott tentatively pressed on Sir William Lee his own claims to do so as his locum, in order to keep the interest alive. His case was supported by Martyn,4 but Sir William’s reply was evidently a frosty one and Fiott promised to drop the matter. Pressed by a group of his supporters for a final decision, Lee Antonie publicly announced his intention to retire in April 1796. He was warned in reply that the success of a candidate recruited by private or public invitation would probably invalidate his own future claims, but assured that a man directly recommended by himself would be considered as his locum, that such a nominee, especially Fiott, had an excellent chance of success, and that ‘£50 or 60, to order a supper at a few public houses, would be sufficient for the present’.5 A meeting was arranged with Fiott and Hurst, who disclosed that since Lee Antonie’s decision to retire, Williams had sought to retain his services, and Fiott informed Sir William Lee that he had complied with Lee Antonie’s ‘repeated desire’ that he should stand ‘under his patronage, and upon his interest, till he should think proper again to be a candidate’. Fiott was easily beaten by the Williamses, who controlled both seats for the rest of the period, a degree of domination enjoyed by no single interest at Marlow during the previous century.

The unsuccessful opposition of Anthony Bacon at the general election of 1802 was a reprisal for the intervention of Williams’s younger son against Bacon’s father-in-law Richard Ramsbottom* at Windsor. On the death of Thomas Williams in 1802 his seat went to Pascoe Grenfell, his associate in the copper trade.

Author: David R. Fisher


  • 1. This account is based principally on letters from John Fiott to Sir William Lee between 1786 and 1796 (Bucks. RO, Lee mss D3/50-76) from which, except where otherwise stated, all quotations and references are taken.
  • 2. VCH Bucks. iii. 81, 87.
  • 3. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 95.
  • 4. Lee mss D7/52A.
  • 5. Ibid. J2/1-2.