Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen paying scot and lot
Number of voters:
rising steadily to about 900 by 1818
|21 June 1790||WILLIAM PULTENEY|
|8 June 1796||(SIR) WILLIAM PULTENEY, Bt.||370|
|HON. WILLIAM HILL||242|
|10 July 1802||(SIR) WILLIAM PULTENEY, Bt.|
|HON. WILLIAM HILL|
|10 June 1805||JOHN HILL vice Pulteney, deceased|
|17 Nov. 1806||HON. WILLIAM HILL||589|
|HON. HENRY GREY BENNET||370|
|Bennet’s election declared void, 24 Apr. 1807|
|20 May 1807||HON. WILLIAM HILL||538|
|Hon. Henry Grey Bennet||321|
|23 Dec. 1811||HON. HENRY GREY BENNET vice Jones, deceased|
|12 Oct. 1812||HON. HENRY GREY BENNET||724|
|SIR ROWLAND HILL||512|
|27 May 1814||RICHARD LYSTER vice Hill, called to the Upper House||551|
|18 June 1818||HON. HENRY GREY BENNET|
|25 May 1819||JOHN MYTTON vice Lyster, deceased||384|
The local ‘gentlemen of fortune’ continued to represent Shrewsbury throughout this period. None of them could command the representation, although Sir William Pulteney of Shrewsbury Castle was perfectly secure in his seat until his death in 1805.1 The other seat had been held since 1784 by John Hill, the younger brother of the county Member Sir Richard, who possessed a strong interest in the borough. It was contested in 1796, to their great indignation, by their young kinsman William Hill, of the cadet branch of Attingham, whose father and grandfather had represented the borough.
William Hill’s brother Lord Berwick had stated his pretensions in a letter to Sir Richard, 12 Oct. 1795, but a family conference on 2 Nov. failed to achieve agreement. On 3 Dec. John Hill published an address, and a lampoon The Free Man was issued on his behalf. While William Hill in his address, 4 Dec., admitted that John was under no positive engagement to withdraw in his favour, he claimed that he had a right to expect it and that Sir Richard had himself acknowledged his claim in the past: he also accused the Hills of Hawkstone of harbouring ‘the bold idea of monopolizing both town and county’. John Hill, on the other hand, deplored his kinsman’s unexpected and public opposition and denied that he was under any engagement to vacate, 3 and 10 Dec. His private canvass, in which he was accompanied by two friends, 9 and 10 Dec., was construed by the other side as a public one. An acrimonious public correspondence between the two parties ensued, Sir Richard intervening on his brother’s behalf with a pamphlet, Hard measure, 15 Dec. (a reply to William Hill’s address of 10 Dec., implicating him) in which he denied there was any engagement to give way to Attingham, described the contest as one for liberty against the aristocratic influence of Lord Berwick and rebuked William Hill as a young and inexperienced member of the cadet branch of the family: he had hoped the interest of the Hills would ‘always be one and the same’. The pamphlet also disclosed the fact that two influential local men, John Corbet of Sundorn (a former Member) and John Mytton of Halston, had transferred their allegiance from John to William Hill. Sir Richard claimed that the Hills of Hawkstone spent more in the borough than their cousins of Attingham, and on this contest, with all the public houses opened for treating, they were said to have spent £100,000 between them. (This figure is an absurd exaggeration, but an analysis of election bills incurred by Attingham shows that at least £15,400 was paid, including £6,384 to 36 innkeepers).
Negotiations for a compromise proposed by Sir Richard in March 1796 failed. The case for Attingham was then presented in the anonymous pamphlet Measure for measure, 28 Mar., and in Edward Burton’s simultaneous publication of his correspondence with Sir Richard and John Hill, in which the latter denied Burton’s allegation that Sir Richard, in conversation with him at Caernarvon, 21 Aug. 1785, had acknowledged the Attingham claim to a seat, John Hill failing to see how any such conversation could be construed as ‘an agreement for me to resign my seat whenever a son of Lord Berwick’s was capable of taking it’ (14 Dec.). Further squibs by John Hill’s friends were designed to show him as Sir William Pulteney’s friend (though Pulteney professed neutrality), while the Hills of Attingham were accused of having been Pulteney’s avowed enemies; William Hill’s candidature was characterized as a stratagem by a coalition of country gentlemen to obtain a seat, if not now, on Pulteney’s death, and this ‘secret tribunal’ was ‘exposed’ by the squib-writers.2
The election of parish officers in April 1796, regarded as a test of strength before the general election and liable to influence the rate assessments, went in favour of the Attingham family, except in one parish, but the new assessments were postponed until after the election. An attempt at conciliation by arbitration proposed on the first day of the poll by Rowland Hunt of Boreatton, which involved sharing the term of the Parliament, failed—‘a clergyman cried out for a poll’. A severe contest ensued in which ‘the different parties were near coming to a general engagement’. William Hill was awarded victory after the rejection of unassessed votes, but both candidates were chaired and John Hill claimed that rejected tenders (unassessed voters) amounted to, for Pulteney 1,514, John Hill 854, William Hill 721, and threatened a petition ‘to establish his friends’ right of voting’. Bribery and corruption were also alleged in his petition of 18 Oct. 1796. Consideration of it was deferred and meanwhile John Hill, in an address of 3 Nov., declared that he would not pursue it, hoping that he would thereby ensure peace in future and the enfranchisement of his friends. Sir Richard announced in a pamphlet that the additional expenditure deterred his brother from pursuing the petition, which was accordingly discharged. Sir Richard described the ‘unnatural’ contest as ‘a warning to the Shropshire gentlemen not hastily to engage in another’, and its excesses as a warning against reliance on ‘sublunary enjoyment’, 24 Dec. 1796. He deprecated the disappointment of the rejected voters, who according to another account consisted of non-assessed burgesses who ‘are nonresident collected from all quarters, tag, rag and bob tail fresh imported on this occasion, far fetched and dear bought indeed if they turn out mere cyphers’.3
In consequence of the armistice William Hill retained his seat unopposed, and when John Hill obtained the other seat on Pulteney’s death in 1805, he was ‘the means of preserving ... quiet’ when a contest had been threatened between Henry Grey Bennet (whose father Lord Tankerville possessed local property) and Richard Lyster junior, who declined in Hill’s favour and went on to propose him. The operation of a Hill family pact was condemned by Bennet, but denied at the election.4
In 1806 Thomas Jones of Stanley Hall, reviving that family’s pretensions, offered himself, 20 Oct., as an independent seeking to emancipate Shrewsbury, though he was described by Charles Williams Wynn* as standing ‘on the Paull and Burdett principles and interest’. John Hill thereupon retired, 22 Oct., his brother Sir Richard alleging that he and his nephew Col. John Hill were giving up all thoughts of the borough with a view to a county seat for the latter. Bennet also came forward, 24 Oct., and as a friend of the Grenville administration received the support of Lord Darlington, heir to Pulteney’s property.5 The contest was really between Jones and Bennet. The latter joined with William Hill and after an acrimonious 12-day contest in which he was ‘knocked down twice by the mob’, who were also ‘personal and abusive’ to Hill, defeated Jones, who alleged that ‘threats, tortures, altered assessments, sham successors, false inhabitants, swapped voters, resurrection men, paper eaters and a monopoly of agents’ had conspired against him. In the subsequent pamphlet warfare between the parties, Jones’s friends defended him in Popular rights vindicated, 15 Dec. 1806, characterizing Bennet as an aristocratic opportunist. His petition of 29 Dec. led to Bennet’s being unseated for lack of qualification, but his own due election was not accepted either.6
Bennet, who had anticipated this decision, had offered himself anew on 7 Feb. 1807, as the advocate of popular rights, against Jones, and on 28 Apr. claimed to be a friend of the freedom of the borough and was described as a friend of Protestant ascendancy. Owing to the dissolution, the by-election was merged in the general election, May 1807, William Hill claiming neutrality between Bennet and Jones. This time Jones was the friend of government and, after a 12-day poll, successful. Amid ‘quarrels and discords in private families’ and riotous scenes Bennet, who claimed that the majority of tradesmen were on his side, petitioned, unsuccessfully. Rejected tenders numbered for Hill 75, for Bennet 57 and for Jones 46. Bennet informed his friends, 24 Jan. 1808, that he had given up the petition because many of his votes had become doubtful ‘by recent circumstances’. He was referring to Jones’s manoeuvre of having the rate assessments of the parishes of St. Julians, St. Mary’s and St. Alkmunds quashed, so that, to quote Jones, ‘now there are actually no other rates in existence but those of 1806’ (19 Jan. 1808). Jones was prepared to defend his proceedings in King’s bench if necessary, but Bennet did not pursue it, merely promising future intervention. At the same time, Bennet’s father bought houses from Sir Richard Hill in Shrewsbury and Bennet saw to it that Jones’s rowdier supporters were brought to book: in April 1808 ‘the judge expressed great indignation at the colliers and bullies being brought into the town as fighting men in the course of the election’.7
On Jones’s death in 1811, Bennet regained his seat. Benjamin Benyon*, a rich manufacturer and Bennet’s seconder in 1806 and 1807, had begun a canvass ‘upon the same mob interest which returned Jones’ (he retained Jones’s agent, Asterley), but decided to wait for the general election, a tactical mistake, as Bennet was materially strengthened by possession, and there was even some talk of his elder brother Lord Ossulston joining him. At the election of 1812 William Hill withdrew in favour of Sir Rowland Hill, his cousin of the Hawkstone branch, whose father Sir John put him up in absentia after a ‘requisition’ from some respectable electors. He was represented by his brother Col. John Hill, who was met with cries of ‘We want you’. Hill was regarded as a friend of government, while Bennet, a Whig, described Benyon, who now came forward, as one of the radical ‘Mountain’. Benyon described himself in his address as ‘a friend, a fellow-townsman and a tradesman’, and surprised Bennet, who regarded himself as secure, by giving Hill a hard fight for second place.8
When Hill was raised to the peerage in 1814, for the first time for 30 years no member of the family came forward, but the Hill interest went to Richard Lyster, the would-be candidate of 1805, returned after an unequal contest of five days with Benyon, who thereafter looked elsewhere for a seat. In 1818 Lyster, an independent country gentleman, was criticized as a friend of government, but there was no opposition.9 On his death in the following year, one of his supporters, the eccentric squire John Mytton of Halston, came forward. Married to a daughter of Sir Thomas Jones and descended from former Members for the borough, he was thought in some quarters too disreputable (he confessed in his address to ‘the follies of his youth’) and was opposed by the more conventional Panton Corbett† of Leighton Hall, son of Archdeacon Corbett.10 There was nothing to choose between their politics, but Mytton, who was successful in the contest at an alleged expense of nearly £7,000, was not in earnest and retired in 1820 in favour of Corbett.
Author: R. G. Thorne
- 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 29; Rep. Hist. iv. 375.
- 2. Sir R. Hill, Hard Measure (1795); Dr P. R. L. Brown, ‘The Shrewsbury Election of 1796’, ex. inf. the author; Salop RO, Attingham mss 112, Measure for Measure, letters between Sir R. Hill, Bt., John Hill and Edward Burton; Rev. J. C. Hill mss 549/1-35.
- 3. Salopian Jnl. 13 Apr., 25 May, 1, 8, 15 June; True Briton, 2 June 1796; Rev. J. C. Hill mss 549/35; ‘Balaam’s Ass’ [viz. Sir R. Hill], A Christmas box for the freemen and burgesses of Shrewsbury (1796); CJ, lii. 40; liii. 38; Heber Letters, 97.
- 4. Salopian Jnl. 5 June; Shrewsbury Chron. 14 June 1805.
- 5. Salopian Jnl. 22, 29 Oct.; Spencer mss, Williams Wynn to Spencer, 10 Nov.; Fortescue mss, Darlington to Grenville, 16 Oct.; Bradford mss, Sir R. Hill to Bradford, 27 Oct. 1806.
- 6. Rev. J. C. Hill mss 549/36-46; Salopian Jnl. 19 Nov. 1806; Letters of Lady Harriet Cavendish, 176, 178; CJ, lxii. 20, 360.
- 7. NLW, Aston Hall mss 4136; CJ, lxii. 638; Salopian Jnl. 10 Dec. 1806, 11 Feb., 29 Apr., 13, 27 May 1807; Salop RO, Tyrwhitt Jones mss 840/151, Jones to Asterley, 19, 28 Jan.; 840/150, Bennet’s address, 24 Jan.; Asterley to Jones, 26 Jan., 9 Apr. 1808.
- 8. NLW mss 2791, C. to H. Williams Wynn, 8 Dec. 1811; Grey mss, Tierney to Grey [Oct. 1812]; E. Edwards, Parl. Elections of the Borough of Shrewsbury, 1283-1859, p. 16; Shrewsbury Chron. 9 Oct. 1812; Brougham mss 32131.
- 9. Edwards, 20; Shrewsbury Chron. 27 May 1814; The Late Elections (1818), 274.
- 10. Salopian Jnl. 12, 19, 26 May 1819.