Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in inhabitant householders and, by Act of Parliament in 1804 (44 Geo. III, c. 60), 40s. freeholders in the hundreds of Risborough, Stone and Aylesbury
Estimated number qualified to vote:
Number of voters:
1,150 in 1831
4,400 (1821); 5,021 (1831)1
|10 Mar. 1820||GEORGE GRENVILLE, Bar. Nugent [I]|
|15 June 1826||GEORGE GRENVILLE, Bar. Nugent [I]|
|3 Aug. 1830||GEORGE GRENVILLE, Bar. Nugent [I]|
|3 Dec. 1830||NUGENT re-elected after appointment to office|
|10 May 1831||WILLIAM RICKFORD||986|
|GEORGE GRENVILLE, Bar. Nugent [I]||606|
|Thomas John Hamilton, Visct. Kirkwall||509|
Aylesbury, the county town, was a market centre in the Vale of Aylesbury, whose once flourishing lace manufacture had ‘fallen into decay’ by the end of this period. An unincorporated borough, its local government was in the hands of the vestry and four constables, chosen at the court leet of the lords of the manor, the 1st (d. 1813) and 2nd marquesses of Buckingham, heads of the Grenville family of Stowe, in the north-west of the county, and Wotton Underwood, six miles west of Aylesbury.2 The exposure of systematic venality had led to the borough being sluiced into the three surrounding hundreds in 1804. This had allowed the Grenvilles and the Whig Cavendishes of Latimers to return a Member each for 14 years, partly through the creation of 40s. freeholds for their tenants and non-resident supporters, despite the presence in the town of a vigorous independent interest, which was led by well-to-do tradesmen, shopkeepers and professional men, many of them Dissenters of an Evangelical cast. Nonconformists made up about a quarter of the urban population. At the general election of 1818 William Rickford, a native of Aylesbury and head of the Old Bank, stood as an independent against and overthrew the Cavendish interest. The situation was complicated by the fact that the other successful candidate, the advanced Whig Lord Nugent of nearby Lilies, Member since 1812, had split politically from his alarmist elder brother the 2nd marquess of Buckingham in 1817. Buckingham nevertheless bankrolled his return, to the tune of about £6,354: money, deployed largely on treating and the transport of non-resident freeholders, was still an important factor in Aylesbury contests. Like his brother, Nugent was a leading advocate of Catholic emancipation; but anti-Catholic feeling was strong in the borough, not least among the Dissenters. Rickford, an agricultural protectionist, shared this prejudice, but otherwise generally acted with the Whig opposition to the Liverpool ministry in the House.3
As the general election of 1820 approached the Whig Commons leader Tierney feared that Nugent, who in late 1819 had been prominent in the campaign for inquiry into the Peterloo incident and opposition to the Six Acts, was ‘not considered by any means safe at Aylesbury’. Thomas Digby Aubrey of Clifton House, the nephew and heir of the Whig Sir John Aubrey of Dorton, Member for Aylesbury in the 1790 Parliament and about to come in for Horsham, offered and canvassed, but withdrew before nomination day, allowing the sitting Members to walk over. It is not clear whether Buckingham paid Nugent’s expenses of about £1,000.4 He complained to his henchman William Fremantle* in July 1820 that his brother’s ‘politics encourage all sorts of violence’ at Aylesbury, where an address of support to Queen Caroline was got up by ‘some of the most opulent and respectable citizens’ and presented to her in London by Nugent and Rickford on 16 Aug.5 When Buckingham’s carriage stopped in Aylesbury on the way to Stowe, 11 Nov. 1820, he was surrounded by an angry crowd, who abused him for his ‘conspicuous part’ in the Lords’ proceedings against the queen and impeded his departure. In contrast the 5th earl of Jersey, a Whig supporter of Caroline, was drawn in and fêted on his way to his Oxfordshire seat. Buckingham’s aunt Lady Williams Wynn commented that he would probably attribute
the insult and ill-will ... to the line of conduct and politics so unfortunately pursued by his brother. That it is connected with it, one cannot but see, though at the same time I must ... own that from what I have heard I do believe Lord B’s personal popularity in Aylesbury has for some time been, not gradually, but rapidly decreasing.
A month later Buckingham noted that ‘the radicals tried to get a queen’s meeting at Aylesbury but failed’ and that ‘the people there are somewhat upon their good behaviour now, hoping thereby to tempt me back to them’. Yet on 29 Jan. 1821 there was a meeting, chaired by the Dissenter brewer Thomas Dell, a leader of the independent interest, and attended and addressed by Nugent and Rickford, which petitioned the Commons in support of the queen and for economy, parliamentary reform and army reductions.6 A year later Nugent evidently offered, not for the first time, to resign his seat if his brother, who was about to be made a duke on coalescing his parliamentary squad with the government, so wished; but Buckingham would not hear of it, and Nugent noted that ‘if I am hereafter to hold the seat, I must consider it (as he himself authorized me before in considering it) as to be retained as far as I can by my own personal interest with my constituents’.7 At a meeting of local agriculturists to petition the Commons for relief from distress, 9 Feb. 1822, an amendment for reform was got rid of on a technicality, but a spokesman for Buckingham was barracked when he claimed that ministers would soon deal with distress. Some inhabitants petitioned the Commons for reform, which both Members supported, 25 Apr. 1822.8 Early the following year Buckingham claimed to know that the treasury possessed ‘a letter ... from Rickford after his first election offering his support to government "on consideration"’, which he was keen to get his hands on as its disclosure ‘would inevitably next election turn Rickford out’. Nothing came of this unlikely tale.9 Aylesbury inhabitants petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 4 June 1824, 11 May 1826, and to condemn the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 11 June 1824; and both Members addressed the petitioning meeting of 19 Apr. 1826, when Nugent took a particularly prominent part.10 A bid to petition Parliament for a lighting and watching bill was abandoned in January 1826 in view of the prevailing distress and heavy parochial burdens. On 15 May 1826 the committee opposed to the measure recommended the electors to require candidates at the impending general election to pledge themselves to resist it; and next day a ratepayers’ meeting resolved to levy a 6d. rate on town houses to finance watching only.11
In September 1825, when a dissolution was expected, Buckingham was disinclined to ‘take any part in the politics of Aylesbury’. His uncle Thomas Grenville† did ‘not wonder’ at this, but observed:
Although you may personally adhere to that line ... it is perhaps the only line in which you cannot much expect that the lower or even the higher orders of your friends will follow you; they must do something, and will never content themselves with doing nothing.12
When the dissolution came in 1826 Nugent adopted a ‘purity of election’ stance, on the model of Sir Francis Burdett* in Westminster and following the contemporary example set by Lord Tavistock* in Bedfordshire: he refused to stand uninvited, solicit votes, canvass or spend money. In response his supporters met, under the chairmanship of Sir John Dashwood King of West Wycombe, independent Member for Chipping Wycombe, to invite him to offer and to take steps to secure his return. Prominent at the meeting, which selected a steering committee, were Gibbs, who forgave Nugent his support for Catholic claims, the Rev. Sir George Lee of Hartwell, Robert Greenhill Russell of Chequers, Whig Member for Thirsk, John Gibbs, an auctioneer, Jasper Jackson, a cabinet maker, and Dr. William Edmunds, a surgeon.13 Buckingham told Fremantle that he considered Nugent’s attitude ‘a virtual abandonment of his seat’ and that if it was true that Charles Compton Cavendish of Latimers, Whig Member for Newtown, would not stand for Sussex, ‘his being applied to, to keep the tap going at Aylesbury’ was ‘certain’:
I have represented this to George, saying that I have no advice to give him on that subject, but that if he stands my friends will gratify me by voting for him; and this is all I can do upon the subject.
There was no Cavendish intervention, nor did anything come of a hint that the 6th earl of Chesterfield might put a man forward.14 Nugent, whose committee paid his legal costs of £33, came in again with Rickford, who had no scruples about making good use of his wealth, mainly in treating. Lee, Dashwood King, John Smith, Whig Member for Midhurst, and Burdett’s friend Colonel Leslie Jones were among the guests at a dinner to celebrate Nugent’s ‘free’ election, 10 July 1826, when he offered to resign his seat if a body of his constituents amounting to half the number of those who had signed the invitation were to express dissatisfaction with his conduct.15
In April 1827 the ‘friends of liberty and independence’, led by Gibbs, Jasper Jackson, James Jackson, another auctioneer, and Charles Thorpe, a butcher, dissolved the anti-lighting bill committee and reconstituted it as the Aylesbury Independent Society, to scrutinize all issues affecting the interests of the town.16 Protestant Dissenters of Hale Leys Independent Chapel met to petition for repeal of the Test Acts, 26 May, when Nugent advocated religious toleration for all creeds. He and Rickford were requested to support repeal, which they duly did in February 1828, when another petition was sent to both Houses.17 Nugent’s election was celebrated on 15 June 1827 with an anniversary dinner, chaired by Lee and addressed by Nugent, who reiterated his support for economy, reform, the abolition of slavery and religious liberty, and by the Whig Members Lord Ebrington and Alexander Dawson. The third (and last) anniversary dinner was held on 28 May 1828, when Nugent urged relieved Dissenters now to support Catholic emancipation and advocated ‘practical reform’ through the enlightenment of electors. Other speakers included Rickford, who reserved his conscientious right to oppose Catholic relief, and the Members Burdett, Dawson and Charles Poulett Thomson.18 Petitions against Catholic claims from the clergy and inhabitants of the hundreds and the inhabitants of the town were presented to the Lords, 8 May, 9 June 1828.19 On his return from a visit to Ireland in October 1828 Nugent issued a public letter to his constituents condemning the bid to form a Buckinghamshire Brunswick Club by his nephew Lord Chandos, the county Member, who had been stirring up anti-Catholic opinion during his father Buckingham’s absence in Italy since the late summer of 1827.20 Early in 1829 Nugent received from his brother in Rome a letter promising him ‘his whole support at Aylesbury, with this remark, that his son has no power from him to influence the votes of his people’.21 Petitions against Catholic emancipation, which Nugent supported and Rickford opposed, were presented to both Houses in 1829, but some inhabitant householders got up a favourable one. Gibbs, a recent convert to emancipation, was active in the promotion of this petition with other leading independents, including the Rev. William Gunn and William Rolls, a currier.22 In April 1829 one Isaac Maydwell, said to be a former travelling cattle doctor who had come into money, condemned the 1828 relaxation of the corn laws at a meeting at the George and subsequently announced that he would stand on ‘principles of independence’ at the next election to try to ‘preserve the few remaining sparks of the constitution in church and state’; he was not taken seriously.23 However, Chandos, one of the leaders of the Ultras alienated from the Wellington ministry by emancipation, began openly to work against Nugent. Fremantle, who believed that ‘unless the duke is prepared to spend largely he cannot carry his brother’s election against any candidate with money’, met Chandos in October and reported to his nephew Sir Thomas Fremantle, Member for Buckingham, that he was
most hostile to Lord Nugent at Aylesbury, where he said his father must oppose, in order to maintain and secure his own interest there; that he could not if he would bring in Lord Nugent, and he was quite sure the duke would see this the moment he came to England, and in short that he Lord Chandos would at any rate set up any man to oppose his uncle (this is certainly affectionate).
Fremantle cautioned Sir Thomas against Chandos’s notion of getting Buckingham (who returned to Stowe in November 1829) to put him up for Aylesbury, ‘where [Chandos said] you had a good interest’ and ‘could be supported and carried with the greatest ease’.24 Meanwhile the opponents of the lighting and watching bill had carried by a small majority a proposal to form a deputation, headed by the independent John Churchill, a grocer, to collect voluntary subscriptions to pay for watching. About £50 was obtained, but Churchill warned that such expedients had been exhausted and that a bill was inevitable; but none was forthcoming in this period.25 A large meting of tradesmen and agriculturists, held in response to a requisition signed by 64 men, including 27 opponents of Catholic emancipation, chaired by Churchill and addressed by Dell, Maydwell, Nugent and Rickford, 24 Feb. 1830, petitioned the Commons for economy, retrenchment and reform.26
At the general election of 1830 Nugent, who this time offered himself to dispel stories that he had lost support and to defy a threatened challenge, came forward again, as did Rickford. Nugent encountered a few cries of ‘No Popery’, but there was no opposition, and he told Lord Holland, who had promised to do what he could to assist him in the event of a contest, that ‘all passed off in a way the most satisfactory and flattering to me, and ... the old story of the Catholic question rather tended to do me good than harm among the good people there, whose support of me has again been most eager and generous’.27 Both Members voted to bring down the government on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830. Nugent was appointed a lord of the treasury in the Grey ministry and was re-elected without incident.28 Wesleyan Methodists petitioned the Lords, 16 Nov. 1830, and the Commons, 28 Mar. 1831, for the abolition of slavery.29 Inhabitants of Aylesbury petitioned the Commons, 28 Feb., and the Lords, 30 Mar. 1831, for reform and the secret ballot.30 Nugent and Rickford voted for the government’s reform bill and stood at the general election which followed its defeat. They were challenged by the 27-year-old Lord Kirkwall, grandson and heir of the aged dowager countess of Orkney, who lived at Taplow. An associate of Chandos in the Brunswick business, he professed to approve the principle but to object to many of the details of the reform bill, and declared his support for the constitution in church and state and for the agricultural interest. He was nominated by the attorney Edward Prickett, deputy registrar of the archdeaconry of Buckinghamshire, and seconded by Dr. John Lee of Hartwell (Sir George’s successor), a deserter from the reform camp. Nugent, who had again refused to canvass in person, was sponsored by Abraham Wing, a corn dealer, and Aubrey; and Rickford by Dell and Sir Thomas Sheppard of Thornton. Lee, whose assertion that failing Kirkwall Sir Harry Verney† of Claydon would have stood was confirmed by Verney himself, denied any involvement by Chandos. So did Kirkwall, though he admitted that Chandos had promised to divide his own votes between him and Rickford; while George Carrington claimed to have been authorized by Chandos to state that he had had and would take no part in the election. Yet as the polling, in which Kirkwall was always in third place, proceeded over four days, considerable numbers of ‘pocket voters’ from Buckingham’s territory came in to plump for Kirkwall or, more often, to split for him and Rickford in the largely vain hope of obtaining reciprocal second votes. Nugent, whose legal costs were met from the Loyal and Patriotic Fund, condemned ‘a tyrannical and unnatural combination against the liberties of the people’ and complained of ‘a system of fraud and intimidation and corruption’ which sought to turn Aylesbury into ‘a corrupt borough in the hands of Lord Chandos’, whom he openly attacked. He announced after the election that on the advice of his committee he would in future make a personal canvass. Rickford, whose strong Protestant views and advocacy of agricultural protection made him attractive to many Tories, drew support from both pro and anti-reformers and easily topped the poll.31 He was supported by 86 per cent of those who voted, Nugent by 53 per cent and Kirkwall by 44 per cent. Only 199 (18 per cent) of the voters cast plumpers (43 for Rickford, 58 for Nugent and 98 for Kirkwall, who derived 19 per cent of his support from this source). Of the 951 who gave split votes, 540 (47 per cent of those who voted) voted for Rickford and Nugent (55 per cent and 89 per cent of their respective totals) and 403 (35 per cent) divided for Rickford and Kirkwall (41 per cent and 79 per cent of their respective totals). Six-hundred-and-forty-one (56 per cent) voted for one or both of the reform candidates, while only Rickford’s plumpers (nine per cent) voted unequivocally against reform. Of the 314 Aylesbury residents who polled (28 per cent of the total), 93 per cent voted for Rickford, 57 for Nugent and 42 for Kirkwall; while the freeholders gave their support in the proportion of 83, 51 and 45 per cent respectively. Thus Rickford was significantly stronger in the borough than with the voters as a whole, but there was no marked bias in favour of Nugent or Kirkwall in either quarter.32 Chandos’s local agent later attributed Nugent’s success to ‘Kirkwall’s late announcement as a candidate, the absence of the assistance and influence of several professional and other friends who were engaged in the contest for the county, and the reform mania’.33
In June 1831 Nugent, Russell, Aubrey and others promoted the formation of the Aylesbury Independent Union to maintain the right of free elections. Its first meeting was an elaborate breakfast at Lilies, 10 Oct., when Nugent planted a yew tree of reform and rallied support for the ministry after the recent defeat of the reform bill in the Lords. Russell became the first president.34 Aubrey chaired and Burdett and John Smith addressed a reform dinner in honour of Nugent and Rickford, 17 Nov. 1831, when Nugent tried to conciliate Lee.35 Aylesbury reformers met on 15 May 1832 to address the king and petition the Commons after the resignation of the Grey ministry; and when the news arrived a few days later of their reinstatement the town bells were rung in celebration.36 As lord of the manor, Buckingham refused to allow the market house and square to be used for the festival planned to mark the enactment of reform, 19 June, but Thomas Fell of Walton made his meadow available, and 600 poor men and their families were fed and entertained.37
Some Conservatives were now eyeing Aylesbury, whose limits were not changed by the Boundary Act, and where existing qualified freeholders resident within seven miles of the constituency would be entitled to vote in the reformed system. Lord Mahon, Member for Wotton Bassett, the son of the 4th Earl Stanhope, a kinsman of Chesterfield, sounded Chandos in June 1832 and found him encouraging, though committed in the first instance to support any of the family of Kirkwall, who had succeeded as 5th earl of Orkney in December 1831. When Orkney informed Chandos of his intention to start his brother William Edward Hamilton, Mahon assumed his chance had gone; but within three weeks Hamilton pulled out because of poor health and, as Mahon told his father, 12 July, Chandos was ‘ready to assist me with all the Buckingham interest’, together with those of Chesterfield, the 1st Lord Carrington of Bledlow and his brother Samuel Smith, Member for Wendover, and Thomas Tyrwhitt Drake of Shardeloes, Member for Amersham. Mahon added that ‘it is said that Lord Nugent is so pinched for money that he would not improbably retire from a contest’. Four days later Chandos’s Aylesbury agent, who estimated that the electorate at the first post-reform election would be ‘between 1,200 and 1,300’ (the disfranchisement of about 200 non-resident freeholders being only partially balanced by the enfranchisement of about 100 £10 householders), urged Mahon to give ‘some attention to the proper registration of voters’ and to canvass in person. He reckoned that the loss of friendly non-resident freeholders were be ‘more than counterbalanced by the decided support of the new £10 occupiers, who are mostly farmers occupying under landlords friendly to the cause’. Another Aylesbury attorney, however, ludicrously estimated a reformed electorate of ‘not less than 3,000’ and a minimum cost of £2,000. On 20 July Nugent’s appointment to the government of the Ionian Islands, which it was assumed would necessitate an immediate by-election, became known and Mahon, unwilling to vacate Wotton Bassett so close to a dissolution, had to renounce his pretensions. On 21 July Colonel Henry Hanmer, uncle of Sir John Hanmer of Stockgrave and briefly Tory Member for Westbury in 1831, canvassed the town and subsequently the hundreds. He was reported to have given up, but in the Commons, 24 July, the Conservatives tried to have a new writ issued so that an election could be held on the old franchise. Ministers thwarted this bid, and Nugent, who secured an apology in the House next day, remained Member until the dissolution on 3 Dec. 1832.38
At the general election, when there were 1,654 registered electors, Rickford, now a Conservative thanks to his views on the Protestant church and protection, easily topped the poll, and Hanmer defeated the reformer Thomas Hobhouse†, Nugent’s choice as his successor.39 The borough, which occupied a fifth of the county, remained in Conservative hands until 1847 when Nugent, who was defeated there in 1837 and 1839, came in again and helped to resuscitate the Liberal interest.40
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. Figures are for the borough of Aylesbury only. The hundreds had a population of 23,434 in 1831 (PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 327).
- 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 148; (1830), 71-72; R.W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity, 16, 18.
- 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 20-22; Davis, 43-58, 68-69, 71; F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 262, 280, 344, 361.
- 4. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 27 Feb.; The Times, 8 Feb., 7, 9, 13 Mar. 1820; J. Beckett, Rise and Fall of the Grenvilles, 111; J. J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 25.
- 5. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/31; The Times, 17, 25 Aug. 1820.
- 6. The Times, 16 Nov. 1820, 8 Feb. 1821; Williams Wynn Corresp. 253-4; Fremantle mss 46/11/38; CJ, lxxvi. 15.
- 7. Davis, 73, 234.
- 8. The Times, 12 Feb. 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 27, 205.
- 9. Fremantle mss 46/11/68.
- 10. CJ, lxxix. 459, 481; lxxxi. 344; Bucks. Chron. 22, 29 Apr., 16 May 1826.
- 11. Bucks. Chron. 21, 28 Jan., 20 May 1826.
- 12. Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, ii. 282.
- 13. Bucks. Chron. 3, 10 June 1826; Davis, 81.
- 14. Fremantle mss 46/11/138; Buckingham to Fremantle, 13 June 1826.
- 15. Bucks. Chron. 17, 24 June, 15 July 1826.
- 16. Ibid. 28 Apr. 1827.
- 17. Ibid. 2 June 1827, 23 Feb. 1828; CJ, lxxxii. 578; lxxxiii. 101; LJ, lx. 113.
- 18. Bucks. Chron. 23, 30 June 1827, 31 May 1828.
- 19. LJ, lx. 332, 520.
- 20. Bucks. Chron. 25 Oct. 1828.
- 21. Fremantle mss 139/10/13.
- 22. Bucks Gazette, 21, 28 Feb. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 33, 105, 145; LJ, lxi. 146, 366; Davis, 80-81.
- 23. Windsor and Eton Express, 12 Apr. 1829; Davis, 92-93.
- 24. Fremantle mss 139/10/47, 55.
- 25. Windsor and Eton Express, 18 Apr., 9, 16 May 1829.
- 26. Bucks Gazette, 27 Feb. 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 182; Davis, 79-83.
- 27. Bucks Gazette, 24, 31 July, 7 Aug.; Add. 51835, Nugent to Holland, 5 Aug. 1830.
- 28. Bucks Gazette, 4, 11 Dec. 1830.
- 29. LJ, lxiii. 72; CJ, lxxxvi. 445.
- 30. Bucks Gazette, 19, 26 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 324; LJ, lxiii. 401.
- 31. Bucks Gazette, 23, 30 Apr., 7, 14, 21 May 1831; Fremantle mss 139/20/23; Davis, 86-87.
- 32. Aylesbury Pollbook (1831).
- 33. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C381/1, Newman to Mahon, 16 July 1832.
- 34. Bucks Gazette, 11 June, 1, 15 Oct. 1831.
- 35. Ibid. 19 Nov. 1831.
- 36. Ibid. 19, 26 May 1832.
- 37. Ibid. 18, 23 June 1832.
- 38. Berks. RO, Pusey mss D/Ebp C1/23, 27, 31; Stanhope mss C130/8, Mahon to Stanhope, 19 June, 12, 21 July; C381/1, Newman to Mahon, 16 July, Rose to same, 20 July; Bucks Gazette, 21, 28 July; The Times, 26 July 1832.
- 39. Bucks Gazette, 4, 11, 18, 25 Aug., 1, 8, 15, 22 Sept., 8, 15, 22, 29 Dec. 1832; Three Diaries, 279; Davis, 110-16.
- 40. Davis, 136-7, 143-6, 159-60, 226.