Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freeholders
Number of voters:
|19 June 1790||HON. JOHN SOMERS COCKS I|
|JOSEPH SYDNEY YORKE|
|27 May 1796||HON. JOHN SOMERS COCKS I|
|JOSEPH SYDNEY YORKE|
|6 July 1802||HON. JOHN SOMERS COCKS I|
|JOSEPH SYDNEY YORKE|
|17 Feb. 1806||HON. PHILIP JAMES COCKS vice Cocks, called to the Upper House|
|1 Nov. 1806||HON. EDWARD CHARLES COCKS|
|PHILIP YORKE, Visct. Royston|
|8 May 1807||PHILIP YORKE, Visct. Royston|
|HON. EDWARD CHARLES COCKS|
|28 May 1808||JAMES COCKS vice Royston, deceased|
|6 Oct. 1812||JAMES COCKS|
|HON. JOHN SOMERS COCKS II|
|16 June 1818||(SIR) JOSEPH SYDNEY YORKE|
|HON. JAMES SOMERS COCKS|
The co-patrons of Reigate, owning most of the freeholds between them, were the cousins german Charles Cocks†, 1st Baron Somers, and Philip Yorke†, 2nd Earl of Hardwicke. On 10 Apr. 1786 they renewed their family pact to return a Member each.2 From 1790 until 1806 Somers returned his heir, while the Hardwickes were represented by the 3rd Earl’s half-brother. From 1806 the 2nd Baron Somers returned his half-brother and three sons in succession. On the early death of Viscount Royston in 1808, Hardwicke had no member of his family available and the seat went to a member of the Cocks family until 1818, when Hardwicke’s half-brother resumed it.
There had been no contest at Reigate since 1722. The pact of 1786 had followed the purchase of houses by Hardwicke, who then commanded 135 out of 267 franchises, and it required that, for the lives of Hardwicke, Somers and his heir, all future purchases in the borough were to be joint.3 The bequest to the 3rd Earl of Hardwicke by his father’s brother John of his burgages in Reigate in 1801 was not held to upset the agreement, but it was jeopardized by Hardwicke’s quarrel with his steward William Bryant, whom he dismissed for defalcation in 1799. Bryant had eight years before offered Hardwicke some houses at a ‘very high price’, which Hardwicke paid.4 After his dismissal, Bryant swore vengeance, and although he did nothing at the election of 1802, he approached Somers’s heir John Somers Cocks in 1804. The latter informed Hardwicke in November:
Bryant of Reigate some time ago applied to me with declarations of the most violent hostility to you and determination to attack you somehow or other at Reigate—at the same time professing some strong desire of being considered friendly to Lord Somers and myself and promising to be so.You in great measure know, even exclusive of actual election matters, what plague, inconvenience and expense he formerly occasioned us.
Cocks added that he discounted Bryant’s attempt ‘to irritate my feelings by saying you have bought houses since our hearty and entire reconciliation’ and advised Hardwicke to come to terms with Bryant, as he could not trouble his aged father with ‘a dispute’ at Reigate. Cocks readily concurred in Hardwicke’s plea that they should unite against Bryant and warned the latter off. What worried Cocks most was the possibility of opening up the borough on the question of the right of election, upon which the House had never adjudicated, but which the patrons believed to be ‘in the freeholders of the ancient burgage tenements’, i.e. a form of burgage tenure. Hardwicke thereupon asked his half-brother Charles Philip Yorke to investigate the franchise secretly, complaining at the same time that Bryant had bought two houses belonging to former stewards of his, on which he had expected the option. Cocks broke the news to his father, who acquiesced in his proceedings. In 1805 Hardwicke purchased the land tax redemption on his property and urged Somers to do the same to prevent Bryant from doing so.5
All this anxiety proved unnecessary. Neither on Lord Somers’s death early in 1806, when Bryant was expected to strike, nor at the ensuing general election, did he attempt anything. The radical John Frost canvassed the borough in October 1806, but did not venture a poll. In March 1809 Bryant was reported to have betrayed his past correspondence with Hardwicke to Gwillym Lloyd Wardle as ammunition for his parliamentary campaign against corruption, but nothing came of it. By 1811 Bryant’s financial situation was too unhealthy for him to pose any further threat.6
Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne
- 1. Add. 35706, f. 132; W. Hooper, Reigate, 122.
- 2. Add. 35641, f. 128.
- 3. Add. 35706, ff. 132, 136; Hooper, loc. cit.
- 4. Add. 35644, f. 129; 35648, f. 26; for Bryant, see SHAFTESBURY.
- 5. Add. 35395, f. 267; 35706, ff. 132, 136, 138, 141, 162, 279, 280.
- 6. Add. 35395, f. 43; 35646, f. 39; 35648, ff. 26, 28, 50; 35755, f. 288.