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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 160 in 1792 rising to about 300 in 1802


(1801): 1,168


 GEORGE PARKER, Visct. Parker 
2 May 1791 PARKER re-elected after appointment to office 
9 Mar. 1795 THOMAS FOWNES LUTTRELL vice Parker, called to the Upper House 
 Thomas Fownes Luttrell85
 Charles Morice Pole82
 John Langston108
 James Woodbridge106
 Peter Cazalet13
 David Walters13
14 Jan. 1807 JOHN FOWNES LUTTRELL I vice Lethbridge, vacated his seat 
 Hon. Thomas Bowes64
12 Mar. 1816 HENRY FOWNES LUTTRELL vice Luttrell I, deceased 

Main Article

In 1790 John Fownes Luttrell, lord of the manor, continued his usual practice of returning himself and a paying guest who supported government: Viscount Parker, a placeholder, was subsidized by £2,000 out of the secret service fund. Minehead was regarded as a close borough and there was no contest, but 61 of the electors received a gift of four guineas each (minus any rent due from them as Luttrell’s tenants) and 14 one guinea each. Their number had been reduced by 80 after a conflagration in 1787, said by the patron’s enemies to have been instigated by him.1 In return for his support of government, Luttrell enjoyed local patronage and in due course obtained a lucrative customs place for his brother Francis, though not the peerage for himself which he coveted.2

In 1796 there was a contest for the first time since 1768. Luttrell had caused resentment by his ‘overbearing conduct’ and William Davis of Alcombe, a neighbouring Quaker merchant, seems to have led the opposition to him. An approach was made to the borough-monger Paul Benfield*, who expressed a polite interest, but did nothing. William Taylor I* claimed that he, too, was offered an opening. Shortly before the election, Davis advertised for sale some building land at Alcombe ‘in the borough of Minehead’. He explained:

Several gentlemen of property and spirit having stood forward in conjunction with the people of Minehead, in support of their just rights and liberties, it is hoped, will have the desired effect of reviving the fallen trade of this ancient commercial town.

It was James Langston, a London merchant banker previously a successful contender at Bridgwater, who purchased building land and hastily erected houses on it to secure votes.3 His running partner was his wife’s brother-in-law Rear Adm. Charles Morice Pole*, then absent on active service. Pole’s candidature was promoted and financed by his wife’s uncle Henry Hope and he had Capt. Markham ‘to personate’ him. After a campaign against the ‘tyrannical sway’ of the Luttrells and being in turn lampooned as a shady adventurer, Langston, refused a compromise by him beforehand, managed to beat Luttrell’s brother, who had come in unopposed on a vacancy in 1795, for second place. Pole’s brother described him as having been

shabbily deserted by Langston at the close of the business, or he might certainly have been returned, but as it would not have been by more than a vote or two, Mr L. thought it prudent not to poll about 20 votes, but make a compromise with Luttrell ...

Pole was, however, satisfied with the result and hoped to be taken up by Langston again.4

This surprising outcome fomented activity on both sides: Langston consolidated his property, while Luttrell was egged on by his advisers in the borough. Twenty-four of the ‘principal inhabitants’ in his interest, led by F. Bastone, met at the Plume of Feathers inn, 11 Nov. 1796, and resolved a plan ‘for recovering and effectually securing Mr Luttrell’s future interest’. He was advised to appoint a superintendent of his concerns at Minehead, repair his houses, evict those tenants who had deserted him at the late election if necessary, give preference to his supporters as employees, erect a temporary shambles and, in due course, a market house. A list of 82 defaulting tenants, and five others who gave the Luttrells only one vote, was drawn up, with a view to eviction: many of them were ‘occasional’ voters.5

In 1802 Langston came forward with his friend Woodbridge on 18 Apr. and two days later Luttrell canvassed on behalf of himself and an unnamed ‘friend’: this turned out to be a paying guest, John Patteson, who arrived late (17 May). Patteson had been offered the opening by his friend Lord Hobart, with Richard Ellison* as go-between: in June 1801 the terms were ‘£3,800, not to exceed 4,000 guineas, brokerage included’, but as Patteson could not make up his mind to it then and accepted the offer only when he could find none better, he was obliged to accept higher terms: 4,000 guineas plus £200 brokerage, guaranteed for six years, or 600 guineas returned for every year short of that period, with the liberty to substitute another man on payment of £400 if desired. These terms were arranged in February 1802.6

To avoid embarrassment, Luttrell’s treating at the 13 inns he owned at Minehead was debited to his friend John Lethbridge; but Langston continued to treat in a barn after the arrival of the writ. To obstruct a petition, he seems to have encouraged the nomination of another set of candidates, his own banker brother-in-law, Peter Cazalet of Wimbledon, and Woodbridge’s, David Walters of Clapham, towards the end of the poll, which lasted five days. Luttrell triumphed, but his majority fell short of what his canvass had suggested; apparently some of his tenants again deserted him. Langston’s party, terming themselves ‘the true friends of the people’ and ‘the poor man’s friends’, prepared a petition. They were not convinced of its success, and after prolonged negotiation during which the petition was shelved, Langston sold his property to Luttrell, in August 1803, for £7,000. The property consisted of 43 houses at Alcombe ‘more than a mile from the town’ and ten leased under Luttrell, which he had converted into 30 units. Langston had been supported by 28 tenants and 35 lessees of Luttrell’s at the election, while seven of those who voted for Cazalet and Walters were Luttrell’s lessees. Luttrell himself had 151 houses and the reversion of 69 leasehold houses. Langston requested immunity from prosecution for his friends as part of the agreement, to which Luttrell was reluctant to consent, especially as he believed William Davis of Alcombe to be the mainspring of local opposition to him and was suing him for libel. Whether rightly or wrongly, he subsequently branded Davis as the author of an inflammatory address, signed ‘Pink and Green’, 26 May 1804, informing the electors that the patron was charging the poor rates to the tenants ‘contrary to all former usage’ and that they were being ‘treated like slaves’. Davis was obliged to make a public apology to Luttrell, 4 Oct. 1804.7

In 1806 Luttrell intended to come in himself, with Lord Rancliffe as his guest for £5,000; but having treated the electors after the arrival of the writ, he prudently substituted his friend Sir John Lethbridge for himself, until the danger of a petition was past.8 On 6 May 1807 Thomas Bowes, brother of the Earl of Strathmore, invited the electors to free themselves from the ‘shackles and abuses of tyranny and corruption’. A supporting jingle ran:

Shall Britons bold be bought and sold
Slave-like, mere traffic in a fair?

But after a day’s poll, he wrote to say that he ‘would not give Mr Luttrell any further trouble’.9 Luttrell, who was absent, had warned the electors in his address of 6 May against ‘common disturbers and modern agitators’. In 1812 Luttrell and his son were returned ‘by acclamation’ and the family remained in ‘quiet possession’ of the borough until it was disfranchised in 1832.10

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Som. RO, Luttrell mss L1/59/12, 13 and L1/60/14-16, on which this account is based, as is the version of Sir H. C. Maxwell Lyte in Dunster Castle, i. 263-70. See also The Blessings of Boroughmongering (1833), a scurrilous attack on the Luttrells; Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 62; Rep. Hist. iv. 470; PRO 30/8/229, ff. 255, 273.
  • 2. PRO 30/8/153, ff. 230-9; Luttrell mss, shelf 48.25, F. F. to J. F. Luttrell, 4 May 1784.
  • 3. Farington Diary (Yale ed.), iii. 699; Luttrell mss L1/59/13, Benfield’s address, 18 Apr.; ‘Freedom and Trade’, 11 May 1796; PRO 30/8/168, f. 257; 182, f. 89.
  • 4. Luttrell mss L1/59/12, squib ‘Minehead Races’; NMM, WYN/107, Hope to Pole, 2 June, Pole Carew to same, 21 June; Pole Carew mss CC/K/26, Rev. Pole to Pole Carew, 30 May 1796; CC/K/27, C. M. Pole to same, 28 June 1797; Morning Chron. 7 June 1796.
  • 5. Luttrell mss L1/59/12-13.
  • 6. Bucks. RO, Hobart mss H53, 56-58, 60, 93, 94; C338, 339, 369, 371, 390.
  • 7. The Times, 16 July 1802; Luttrell mss L1/59/12, poll bk; L1/60/14-16; CJ, lviii. 67; lix. 110.
  • 8. Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2621n; Bury and Norwich Post, 26 Nov. 1806.
  • 9. Luttrell mss L1/60/15.
  • 10. Maxwell Lyte, op. cit.