Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number qualified to vote:



4,123 (1821); 4,748 (1831)


 Sir John Walter POLLEN, bt.
11 May 1821THOMAS ASSHETON SMITH II vice Assheton Smith, vacated his seat

Main Article

Andover was situated on one of the main westward coaching routes from London, and its trade in malt, hops and fine woollens had prospered with the opening of a canal link with Southampton.1 William Cobbett† characterized the place in 1822 as a ‘neat and solid market town’, but while he stressed the primacy of agriculture in the local economy, the celebrated Weyhill fair, held just outside the town, was in decline by the 1830s.2 For many years the local government of Andover and the return of its Members had been controlled by a self-elected corporation of 12 burgesses, ten ‘approved men’, a bailiff and a steward (six of whom were non-resident in 1830). For nearly two decades before 1820 the borough had been represented by Thomas Assheton Smith of Tidworth, a Tory, and the Whig steward Newton Fellowes, brother of the 3rd earl of Portsmouth, the nominal patron of the corporation, whose principal estate lay at nearby Hurstbourne Park. At the 1818 general election, however, Portsmouth, who was certified mad five years later, had attempted to replace his brother with his father-in-law, John Hanson, a Bloomsbury attorney, only to be defied by the corporation, who kept faith with Fellowes. Their resistance was led by Ralph Etwall (1773-1832), who with his father and namesake (d. 1798) had dominated the corporate offices of the borough for more than half a century. In 1820 Etwall was named by Oldfield as the borough’s co-patron.3

At the 1820 general election Assheton Smith offered again. Rumours that ‘Mr. Hanson, jun.’, probably John Hanson’s son Charles, with whom he was in practice, would appear came to nothing, but Lord Malmesbury noted that there had been an encouraging canvass for Sir John Walter Pollen of Redenham, whose family had long sought to revive their interest, dormant for 50 years.4 A few days before the nomination Fellowes, who was reportedly confined in Devon by ‘a severe fit of gout’, announced his withdrawal. (Although he remained steward of the borough until 1835, it was alleged in 1830 that he had not performed any of his corporate duties for ‘the past 12 or 15 years’.) Assheton Smith and Pollen were duly returned unopposed, but there being a custom to conduct a poll even at uncontested elections, their carriages were ritually hauled to the house of Etwall, the bailiff, where ‘the road was completely thronged with spectators’, prior to a count at the town hall, at which Pollen secured 18 votes to Assheton Smith’s 16. Pollen’s supporters afterwards drew his carriage the six miles to Redenham, where they were ‘refreshed with a barrel of strong beer, and remained singing and dancing until two o’ clock on Thursday morning’.5 Pollen joined Assheton Smith in supporting the Liverpool ministry in the House.

An address of congratulation and condolence to the new king had been framed by the corporation, 3 Mar., and a loyal address was got up at an inhabitants’ meeting, 29 Nov. 1820. An address of the following year in support of Queen Caroline from the Benefit Club was supposed to have been disavowed by the majority of its members.6 In May 1821, with the support of the corporation, Assheton Smith handed over his seat to his son and namesake, who took the same general line in politics. Fourteen-hundred inhabitants partook of the subsequent entertainments.7 That July a dinner was held to mark the coronation of George IV, at which a subscription was raised for the poor, and in September the Members separately gave dinners to the corporation.8 An inhabitants’ petition against slavery was reported to be in the hands of the Members, 5 May 1823, and was presented two days later. Another, for repeal of the duty on seaborne coals, reached the Commons, 10 July 1823.9 It was almost certainly the county Member John Fleming who presented the petition from the town against alteration of the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825. Pollen presented one for the bill to facilitate the recovery of small debts, 24 Feb. 1826.10

Only brief reports survive of the 1826 general election, when the sitting Members were returned ‘unanimously’ and provided a ‘splendid entertainment’.11 A meeting of local landowners, 22 Sept. 1826, to petition against alteration of the corn laws received greater attention, as it was taken over by the radical Henry Hunt*, who accused Pollen of using the plight of agricultural labourers as a cover for self-interest and helped to carry an amendment calling for economies and a reduction of the national debt.12 Undeterred, Pollen presented constituency petitions against corn law reform, 16 Feb., 12 Mar. 1827.13 In February 1827 a new town hall was opened, to which the Members had each subscribed £1,000, and they were reported to have made liberal donations to the poor a year later.14 Thereafter, several dinners and balls were held for the benefit of the corporation and other prominent townsmen. On his retirement as bailiff in September 1828, Etwall returned the compliment with a dinner in the Members’ honour.15 Petitions reached the Commons for protection from wool imports, 30 May 1827, 6 May 1828, and repeal of the Test Acts, 18 Feb. 1828.16 When the government conceded Catholic emancipation in 1829, Pollen opposed it, while Assheton Smith adopted a neutral stance, but there is no trace of any related political activity in the borough. At the 1830 general election the Members offered again, Assheton Smith rejecting reports that he had inappropriately canvassed the corporation ‘in contemplation of a demise of the crown’ earlier that summer. The fact that Pollen too was reported to have canvassed, albeit ‘with every certainty of success’, suggests that an opposition was anticipated, but none materialized. The candidates were again conveyed by supporters to the residence of the bailiff, who, with the rest of the corporation, then joined a procession to the town hall. After the election they retired to the Star for refreshment with ‘most of the respectable inhabitants of the neighbourhood’. Elsewhere, dinner was given to every male inhabitant over 17, though the ball usually held for the ladies did not take place, to their reported chagrin.17

The area around Andover was badly affected by the ‘Swing’ disturbances in the late autumn of 1830. From the confused accounts that exist, it appears that a mob attacked Andover gaol to release a prisoner and held sway in the town for three days, until order was restored by military intervention, 22 Nov. Hunt was supposed to have declined to mediate with the words, ‘Let the mayor and the corporation, who have raised the storm, quell it’.18 At the same time the corporation faced a legal challenge, in the form of an attack on their exclusive right to the elective franchise. Behind this was Thomas Mann, a local attorney, who claimed that the franchise had been illegally appropriated by the corporate body in the reign of Elizabeth I, before which it had resided in the ‘commonalty’ or ‘inhabitants at large’. He contended that the Commons’ judgement in favour of the corporation in 1702 was founded on false premises, and that the Latin phrase probi homines used in early returns did not in itself signify the existence of a select franchise. Mann also uncovered evidence of corporation malpractice over residency requirements, quoracy, and multiple office-holding, which forced the election of George Barnes as bailiff to be rerun. Henry Alworth Merewether, a serjeant-at-law whose opinion was taken, believed that Mann had a strong prima facie case, but warned that ‘in the present mood of committees, I conceive there is little chance of the inhabitants succeeding upon a petition to establish their rights against the determinations of 1689 and 1702’. He advised that any petition should include a call for repeal of the Last Determinations Act of 1729, which had set in stone all previous pronouncements on rights of election. This was done, and Lord Brougham, whose counsel had also been sought before his elevation to the woolsack, praised the ‘reasonable and judicious’ prayer adopted.19 The petition, from the ‘inhabitant householders and burgesses’, was presented to the Commons, 8 Feb. 1831 by Denman, the attorney-general. Another, in similar terms, was presented to the Lords by the duke of Norfolk, 22 Mar. 1831.20 The costs were defrayed by a subscription among the inhabitants, whom Mann had addressed, 20 Dec. 1830, expressing his hope that the Grey ministry’s anticipated parliamentary reform would meet their aspirations.21 An inhabitants’ petition in favour of the reform bill was presented by Denman, 22 Mar. 1831, and bells were rung in the town that day to celebrate the passage of the second reading in the Commons, which was opposed by both the sitting Members.22 A petition for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 28 Mar. 1831.23 Next month Thomas Creevey* reported that Assheton Smith had discovered that ‘not one’ of the corporation was prepared to support him ‘or any one else who does not pledge himself to support our reform bill’.24

At the 1831 dissolution both Members quietly retired, whereupon the inhabitants presented the corporation with a ‘numerously signed’ request to return Henry Arthur Wallop Fellowes, son of Newton Fellowes, and Ralph Etwall, junior, son of the corporation’s leading light, to which it agreed.25 Etwall senior had privately expressed concerns to Newton Fellowes about the details of the reform bill, which he feared would only ‘furnish about 150 voters’ from the town and exclude many ‘respectable inhabitants’ in possession of farms with unrated outbuildings, thereby injuring ‘your interest ... by depriving you of the votes of your worthy tenantry’.26 (The difficulty was later remedied by clause 27 of the Act.)27 On the hustings, however, both candidates pledged to give the proposed measure their unswerving support. Charles Marsh, then a reform candidate for Petersfield, praised the ‘handsome manner’ in which the select body had agreed that ‘their fellow townsmen should enjoy equal rights and immunities with themselves’. The Members were returned unopposed. Shortly beforehand a subscription had been raised in the town to send poor voters to the county poll.28 Further evidence of pro-reform enthusiasm came in an address from a meeting, 24 Oct. 1831, urging the king ‘to endeavour by all constitutional means’ to ensure the bill’s passage. An illumination to mark its final enactment was held, 22 June 1832.29

Andover was untouched by the disfranchisement schedules of the Reform Act. The boundary commissioners noted a rise in the number of houses belonging to both ‘opulent persons and of the industrious classes’ and predicted that there would be 318 £10 houses within the bounds of the old borough and parish, which were co-extensive. While this was sufficient to make up the required constituency, they recommended two minor additions: the small tithing of Foxcote, whose relationship to the borough had hitherto been unclear, and the even smaller parish of Enham Knights, the scattered segments of which were entirely surrounded by the old borough. This took the population to 4,953 and the predicted number of qualifying houses to 325, but in the event the number of registered electors in 1832 was 246, of whom six retained their qualifications as resident burgesses of the corporation.30 That November the duke of Wellington offered a pessimistic prognosis for Conservative prospects in the reformed constituency, where ‘the voters are nearly all shopkeeping Dissenters’.31 The sitting Members were duly returned unopposed as Liberals at the general election of 1832, but the Conservatives reasserted themselves in 1835, when Pollen reclaimed his seat.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon


  • 1. R. Mudie, Hants (1838), i. 165; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 307; J. Priestley, Navigable Canals (1831), 20.
  • 2. Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, i. 107; J. Spaul, Andover, 49.
  • 3. PP (1835), xxiv, 422-3; Hants RO, Andover borough recs. 37M85 11/PE/56; Oldfield, Key (1820), 174; Reg. of Unreformed Corporation of Andover (Andover Local Archives Cttee. no. 7), unpaginated.
  • 4. Hants Telegraph, 14 Feb.; Malmesbury mss, Malmesbury to Fitzharris, 19, 22 Feb. 1820; Oldfield, Key (1820), 174.
  • 5. Salisbury Jnl. 6, 13 Mar.; Andover borough recs. 11/PE/56; Hants Chron. 13 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. Salisbury Jnl. 13 Mar., 4 Dec. 1820, 18 Dec. 1821.
  • 7. Ibid. 14 May 1821.
  • 8. Ibid. 23 July, 17, 29 Sept 1821.
  • 9. Ibid. 5 May 1823; CJ, lxxviii. 292, 471.
  • 10. CJ, lxxx. 351; lxxxi. 101.
  • 11. Hants Telegraph 12 June; Salisbury Jnl. 12 June 1826.
  • 12. The Times, 25 Sept. 1826.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxii. 181, 305.
  • 14. Salisbury Jnl. 29 Jan., 4 Feb. 1827; Hants Chron. 15 Feb. 1828.
  • 15. Hants Chron. 4 Sept. 1828; Salisbury Jnl. 15 Sept. 1828, 26 Jan., 19 Oct. 1829, 18 Jan. 1830.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxii. 505; lxxxiii. 79, 320.
  • 17. Salisbury Jnl. 31 May, 7 June, 5 July, 9 Aug.; Hants Chron., 9 Aug. 1830.
  • 18. The Times, 22, 23 Nov. 1830; E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 90-91.
  • 19. Salisbury Jnl. 22 Sept. 1830; Spaul, 53; Andover borough recs. 11/PE/56; 18/AH/17.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxvi. 221-2; LJ, lxiii. 258.
  • 21. Andover borough recs. 18/AH/17.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 221-2; Hants Chron. 28 Mar. 1831.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvi. 445.
  • 24. Creevey mss, Creevey to Miss Ord, ?29 Apr. 1831.
  • 25. Hants Chron., 2 May; Salisbury Jnl. 2 May 1831.
  • 26. Hants RO 15M84 5/5/26.
  • 27. See P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 30.
  • 28. Hants Chron. 9 May; Salisbury Jnl. 9 May 1831.
  • 29. Hants Telegraph, 31 Oct. 1831; Hants Chron. 25 June 1832.
  • 30. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 209-10.
  • 31. Hatfield House mss, Wellington to Lady Salisbury, 23 Nov. 1832.