Available from Cambridge University Press
A single Member constituency
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number qualified to vote:
3,396 (1821); 3,737 (1831)
|10 Mar. 1820||HON. HENEAGE LEGGE|
|10 Feb. 1826||HON. ARTHUR CHARLES LEGGE vice Legge, appointed to office|
|10 June 1826||HON. ARTHUR CHARLES LEGGE|
|30 July 1830||HENRY VILLIERS STUART|
|2 May 1831||JOHN EASTHOPE||6|
|Henry Hely Hutchinson||2|
Banbury, situated on the Cherwell in north Oxfordshire, close to the Northamptonshire border, was a thriving market town and centre of communications. By this period its only significant industry, the weaving of plush and horses’ harness and trappings, still largely a domestic concern, was in relative decline: in 1831, there were 125 plush and girth-weavers in the town, but in the surrounding villages about 550 men, plus women and children, produced goods for Banbury employers.1 The self-electing corporation, in whom the parliamentary franchise was vested, consisted of a mayor and 11 other aldermen and six capital burgesses. There were in addition 30 assistants, chosen by the corporators from the inhabitants at large. As the municipal corporations commissioner noted in November 1833, almost the sole function of the corporation before the Reform Act was ‘that of enabling the patron of the borough to return a Member’.2 From 1740 the Norths, earls of Guilford, who lived at Wroxton, three miles north-west of Banbury, liberal benefactors and honorary high stewards of the town, had controlled the corporation and returned the Member. They had not always done so comfortably, for there were occasional rebellions within the corporation, notably in 1794 and 1806-7, but effective North control was re-established by the 4th earl in 1808. Like his predecessors, he continued the practices of supporting local charities, paying the fees of the deputy recorder and subsidizing two annual corporation dinners. He died in 1817 and was succeeded as 5th earl by his younger brother.3 There was considerable resentment among the inhabitants, notably the more prosperous businessmen, many of whom were Dissenters, of the corporation’s exclusivity, partiality and subservience to Wroxton. The leaders of the later Liberal and reform party at Banbury began to emerge in this period, when they found spheres of action in the vestry and, in particular, the work of the paving commission set up to implement the 1825 Improvement Act, which frequently led them into conflict with the corporation as borough landlords. Their influence, and that of the general spread of liberal ideas, had infiltrated the corporation by 1831.4 Banbury, where the squalid suburb of Neithrop housed a wretched population of non-respectables and worse, could be a violent place, as the events of this period more than once demonstrated.
At the general election of 1820 Guilford, a supporter of the Liverpool ministry, again nominated his kinsman Heneage Legge, brother of the 4th earl of Dartmouth, whom he had returned at a by-election less than four months earlier. Six aldermen, led by the mayor, Robert Brayne, a surgeon, and two capital burgesses, attended to endorse him. (There were nine non-resident members of the corporation at this time, and one vacancy among the capital burgesses.)5 The proceedings were disrupted by a serious riot, apparently provoked by an earlier announcement that the usual distribution of beer and favours would not be made. Enraged by this, a mob of townspeople, many of whom sported ‘deal shavings’ from a carpenter’s yard as mock favours, paraded ‘Old Mettle’, a decrepit match seller, as their ‘Member’, and besieged and stoned the town hall where the election was being conducted. They spurned a belated attempt to appease them with beer, which they poured away, and renewed their assault on the fabric of the building. The Rev. Thomas Lancaster, vicar of Banbury and a capital burgess, sought refuge in the chamber beneath the clock tower, fell through the ceiling and only narrowly escaped serious injury. Another member of the corporation was hit by a brick. Legge eventually escaped unscathed and fled the town in a chaise, but rioting continued into the night.6 Lord Sheffield gave Lord Egremont a highly coloured account of the affair, 17 Mar. 1820:
I hear of savage work in many quarters. Letters from the neighbourhood of Banbury express an opinion that a set of radicals there and, it is supposed, joined by some of [William] Cobbett’s† banditti on the road to Coventry, intended to have murdered Heneage Legge ... He, however, escaped with his life, being dragged over the tops of some of the houses and let down into the inn yard from whence he made his escape in the disguise of a postboy.7
Agriculturists from the Banbury area petitioned Parliament for relief from distress, 15, 19 May 1820, 19 Feb., 27 Mar. 1821. A similar petition was presented to the Commons, 11 June 1823.8 A large part of the town was illuminated to celebrate the abandonment of the prosecution of Queen Caroline in November 1820, and windows were broken in unlighted houses; but no petitions were forthcoming in her support.9 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for mitigation of the criminal code, 4 June 1822; and there were petitions from the corporation and inhabitants for the abolition of slavery in 1823, 1824 and 1826.10 Agriculturists campaigned against any alteration of the corn laws in 1825 and 1826.11
In February 1826 Heneage Legge necessarily vacated his seat on his appointment as a commissioner of customs. He was quietly replaced by his younger brother Arthur, a captain in the Life Guards, for whom nine aldermen and three capital burgesses formally voted. (Eight of the corporators were non-resident at this time.)12 He came in again without disturbance at the general election four months later, when eight aldermen and three capital burgesses attended.13 On Guilford’s death without issue the following year he was succeeded by a cousin in holy orders. He was replaced as patron of Banbury and resident of Wroxton by his niece’s husband, the 2nd marquess of Bute, who had been recorder and senior alderman since 1824. Bute became high steward in November 1827, and two months later his kinsman William Stuart of Tempsford, Bedfordshire, Member for Armagh in the previous Parliament, was appointed recorder.14 Banbury produced a petition to the Lords against Catholic relief, 16 Mar. 1827.15 The local agriculturists petitioned them for adequate protection, 19 Mar., 15 May 1827, 12 June 1828, and the Commons to the same effect, 30 Apr. 1828.16 Dissenters petitioned Parliament for repeal of the Test Acts, which Legge opposed, in 1827 and 1828.17 The inhabitants’ petition against Catholic claims was presented to the Commons by Legge, 6 May 1828.18 There were no petitions against Catholic emancipation, which Legge opposed, in 1829. The following session petitions were got up for repeal of the malt and beer taxes, 11 Feb., and mitigation of the criminal code, 30 Mar., 24 May 1830.19
At the general election of 1830 Bute replaced Legge with his first cousin, Henry Villiers Stuart, Member for County Waterford in the 1826 Parliament and a supporter of Catholic relief. He was drawn into the town by the crowd, spouted the cant of independence and attention to local interests, and was formally elected by eight aldermen and three capital burgesses. (Ten of the corporators were now non-resident.) He visited Banbury in September 1830 to demonstrate support for the town’s National School Society.20 Banbury inhabitants and Dissenting congregations petitioned Parliament for the abolition of slavery, 4, 12, 16 Nov., 14 Dec.1830.21 At the end of November there was as serious outbreak of disorder of the ‘Swing’ variety, as a mob gathered in the town and marched out to destroy machines in surrounding villages and at Neithrop. Villiers Stuart, who had voted with the Wellington ministry in the crucial division on the civil list, 15 Nov., was burnt in effigy. The rioters saw off a detachment of the county yeomanry, but were prevented from running riot in the town by special constables. Subsequent sporadic trouble was quashed by regular troops sent from Coventry. Of the 20 rioters brought to trial (nine were acquitted), 13 were residents of Banbury, mainly artisans and craftsmen.22 Support for parliamentary reform was widespread and increasing in Banbury by early 1831, when a ‘most respectably signed’ petition in its favour and complaining of dictation from Wroxton was presented to the Commons, 11 Feb.23 A petition in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, signed by over 800 people, was presented, 21 Mar. 1831, when Villiers Stuart declared in the House that although he personally approved of the measure, he felt constrained to vote against the second reading in deference to the views of his constituents, the corporation of Banbury, and indicated that he would resign his seat as soon as was practical.24 This statement infuriated the local reformers, who were led by Thomas Gardner, a retired grocer and a Baptist, John Munton and Thomas Timms, attorneys, William Spurrett, a Unitarian seedsman, Timothy Rhodes Cobb, a partner in his family’s Old Bank and girth-weaving business and a Unitarian, and Samuel Beesley, a Quaker confectioner. When Parliament was dissolved after the defeat of the reform bill, Bute sought to replace Villiers Stuart with another Irishman, Henry Hely Hutchinson, an army officer, a nephew of the 3rd earl of Donoughmore connected to the Norths through his wife, the widowed daughter-in-law of Lord Glenbervie, a former recorder. The reform leaders met members of the corporation and impressed on them the injustice of returning an anti-reformer in defiance of majority opinion in the town, to the strength of which an address signed by 277 people attested. Their sympathizers on the corporation, namely the aldermen Thomas Brayne, the mayor (a surgeon like his uncle Robert, who took the same line), William Judd, John Salmon and Richard Griffin, and the capital burgess Richard Edmunds, a seedsman and Wesleyan lay preacher, adopted resolutions calling on Hely Hutchinson to stand down and release those who had promised to vote for him. On his refusal the corporation reformers got Cobb and Spurrett to find a suitable candidate, and they produced John Easthope, a wealthy London stockbroker and once a clerk in the Cobbs’ bank, Whig Member for St. Albans in the 1826 Parliament.25 Early on the day of the election, 2 May 1831, the populace, who had kept Banbury in a state of ferment for days, erected barricades against the expected appearance of a military force. The authorities announced that there would be no resistance to the return of Easthope, but an hour later Hely Hutchinson, chaperoned by the Rev. Edward Gibb Walford, vicar of Elsfield and an alderman, entered the town to canvass the rebellious corporators. When they were surrounded and jostled by an angry mob, Hely Hutchinson flourished a dagger, which further inflamed passions. Many years later Sarah Beesley (then Rusher, the daughter of a Banbury printer) recalled the scene which she had witnessed as an 18-year-old girl:
I heard a great noise, and as bills had been circulated saying what dreadful things would be done if Colonel Hutchinson was elected - fire and blood being named in the bills - I felt alarmed and went to our front window and saw a hundred people or more being hustled about, and in the centre of the crowd a man without a hat, looking dreadfully excited. People pushed him about, and compelled him to go on towards the bridge. I recognized him as Colonel Hutchinson. Close by him was Mr. [Francis] Francillon, the lawyer, a tall man, who threw up his hands to keep the mob off. He talked or rather shouted to make himself heard amongst the hooting and groaning. In this way they went on towards the bridge. This Mr. Francillon was an opponent in politics, and as desirous to prevent Colonel Hutchinson being elected as any of the roughs were; on that account all the more praise and thanks were due to him.26
Francillon eventually forced a safe passage out of the town for Hely Hutchinson, who was hit on the head by a stone. The reform leaders were desperate for an end to the violence, and to their great relief Thomas Brayne and the deputy recorder, Andrew Amos, a lawyer of liberal views, who advised against calling in the military, secured the removal of the barricades, the restoration of order and a guarantee of free access to the poll for all except Hely Hutchinson himself. Six corporators, the Braynes, Judd, Salmon (a non-resident), Griffin and Edmunds, voted for Easthope. Walford defiantly nominated and voted for Hely Hutchinson, along with Colonel Fiennes Sanderson Miller of Radway, a capital burgess, whom he roped in to act as a seconder. None of the other ten corporators, of whom five lived in Banbury, turned up, and Walford conceded defeat on behalf of Hely Hutchinson.27
The affair, and the recriminations between Thomas Brayne and Hely Hutchinson, who wrote a formal protest on the day of the election, complaining that he had been ‘assaulted, wounded, and driven from the town’ and that Brayne had connived in the ‘reign of terror’ at Banbury, received considerable publicity in the national and local press. Brayne defended himself vigorously.28 The threat of a petition came to nothing, but there was much bitterness in Banbury in the aftermath of the election. Judd and Robert Brayne resigned as aldermen in August 1831, and the following month Thomas Brayne was hounded out. In his resignation speech, he said that he had been ‘grossly calumniated and wilfully misrepresented’, and that he had supported the reform bill in the hope that it would end the long feud between the town and the corporation: he attributed the many ‘acts of outrage and insubordination’ of recent years to ‘the jealousies and party feelings consequent upon the corporate restriction of the electoral privilege’. He was subsequently presented with a vase, subscribed for by 180 inhabitants, in recognition of his services as mayor during the last year. In a blatant act of political revenge (which was noted as such by the municipal corporations commissioner) Bute, who discontinued the payments for the deputy recorder and the corporation dinners, had Amos removed, on the specious ground that his attendance on the Midland rather than the Oxford circuit was an inconvenience. His replacement, Thomas Noon Talfourd, contrived to keep aloof from party squabbles.29 Almost 1,800 people signed the Banbury petition to the Lords in support of the reform bill which was presented by the duke of Sussex, 30 Sept. 1831. The town was said to be ‘perfectly tranquil’ despite the disappointment felt over its rejection, but Bute, who voted against it, was hissed and his carriage was stoned when he passed through the town at the end of October. A political union was said to be in the offing at this time. Soon afterwards the reform press reported that Bute had considered trying to appease the inhabitants and to attempt to restore his influence by giving a lavish dinner, but that his agents had advised him to forget it.30 News of the defeat of the reform bill and the resignation of ministers in May 1832 was greeted with ‘deep feeling and indignation’ and there was some violent talk. In the event, an address to the king for the restoration of the reform ministry was got up. A planned petition to the Commons for the supplies to be withheld until reform had been carried was overtaken by events. The enactment of reform was celebrated with a public procession and fête, 13 July 1832.31
By the Boundary Act, the borough was made co-extensive with the parish, which embraced Neithrop and the hamlets of Calthorpe, Easington, Wickham and Hardwick, and that of Grimsbury on the east bank of the Cherwell in Northamptonshire.32 The new borough had a population of 5,906 and a registered electorate in 1832 of 329. Bute put up Henry Pye of nearby Chacombe Priory, who professed to be an independent supporter of reform. Easthope decided not to stand again, and the reformers made contact through Joseph Parkes with Henry William Tancred†, a prominent king’s counsel. After a lengthy and abrasive campaign, which was marked by a serious riot in September, Pye withdrew shortly before the general election in December 1832.33 Banbury was thereafter the scene of fierce party conflict, but it remained in Liberal hands until its disappearance as a separate constituency in 1884.
Author: David R. Fisher
- 1. PP (1835), xxiii. 151; VCH Oxon. x. 5, 12, 64-66; W. Potts, Hist. Banbury (1958), 186, 189; B.S. Trinder, Victorian Banbury (Banbury Hist. Soc. xix), 2, 32.
- 2. PP (1835), xxiii. 145-7, 150; Potts, 208.
- 3. VCH Oxon. x. 90; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 321-3; PP (1835), xxiii. 150.
- 4. VCH Oxon. x. 13; Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 12, 26-28, 38 and (ed.) A Victorian M.P. and his Constituents (Banbury Hist. Soc. viii), p. xii.
- 5. Oxon. Archives, Banbury borough recs. B.B. XIX/iv/6.
- 6. S. Beesley, My Life, 18-19; G. Herbert, Shoemaker’s Window ed. C.R. Cheney and B.S. Trinder (Banbury Hist. Soc. x), 6, 84, 128; Potts, 203-4; VCH Oxon. x. 91; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 18 Mar.; Northampton Mercury, 18 Mar. 1820.
- 7. Petworth House mss bdle. 69.
- 8. CJ, lxxv. 210; lxxvi. 85; lxxviii. 382; LJ, liii. 80; liv. 135.
- 9. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 18 Nov. 1820.
- 10. CJ, lxxviii. 285; lxxix. 110; lxxxi.41; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 21 Feb. 1826.
- 11. CJ, lxxx. 350; lxxxi. 254; LJ, lvii. 748; lviii. 157.
- 12. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 11 Feb. 1826; Banbury borough recs. B.B. XIV/iv/7b.
- 13. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 17 June 1826; Banbury borough recs. B.B. XIX/iv/7a.
- 14. Banbury borough recs. B.B. XV/ii/2, pp. 90, 128-30, 132-3.
- 15. LJ, lix. 169.
- 16. LJ, lix. 172, 301; lx. 532; CJ, lxxxiii. 287.
- 17. CJ, lxxxii. 520; lxxxiii. 105; LJ, lx. 146.
- 18. CJ, lxxxiii. 319.
- 19. CJ, lxxxv. 26, 242, 463; LJ, lxii. 176.
- 20. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 7 Aug., 25 Sept. 1830; Banbury borough recs. XIX/iv/8.
- 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 35, 175; LJ, lxiii. 45, 62; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 28 Aug. 1830.
- 22. E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 112-13, 218, 220; VCH Oxon. x. 12; Potts, 191; Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 48-49; Wellington mss WP1/1158/2; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 4, 11 Dec. 1830.
- 23. VCH Oxon. x. 13; Oxford University, City and County Herald, 5 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 237, 311.
- 24. CJ, lxxxvi. 415.
- 25. Potts, 204-5; VCH Oxon. x. 91-92; Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 47-48; Oxford University, City and County Herald, 15 Oct. 1831.
- 26. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 30 Apr., 7 May; The Times, 4 May 1831; Potts, 205; D. McClatchey, Oxon. Clergy, 210-12; Beesley, 39-40.
- 27. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 7 May; Oxford University, City and County Herald, 7, 14 May; The Times, 14 May 1831; Potts, 205-6; Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 49; VCH Oxon. x. 91; Banbury borough recs. B.B. XIX/iv/9.
- 28. The Times, 9, 14 May; Oxford University, City and County Herald, 14 May; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 14, 21 May 1831.
- 29. Oxford University, City and County Herald, 10 Sept., 22 Oct., 12, 26 Nov., 3 Dec. 1831; Banbury borough recs. B.B. XV/ii/2, pp. 152-3, 161, 163; PP (1835), xxiii. 150 Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 49; Potts, 206.
- 30. Oxford University, City and County Herald, 24 Sept., 1 Oct., 8, 15, 29 Oct., 5, 12 Nov., 3 Dec. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1021; Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 49.
- 31. Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 12, 19, 26 May, 30 June, 14, 21 July 1832; Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 49; Potts, 207.
- 32. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 189-90.
- 33. Victorian M.P. and his Constituents, pp. x-xii; Potts, 207; Trinder, Victorian Banbury, 49-51; VCH Oxon. x. 91; Jackson’s Oxford Jnl. 23 June, 14 July, 8, 29 Sept., 8, 15 Dec.; The Times, 4, 7 Dec. 1832.