Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number qualified to vote:
36,811 (1821); 38,063 (1831)1
|10 Mar. 1820||LORD JOHN THYNNE|
|9 June 1826||LORD JOHN THYNNE||17|
|GEORGE CHARLES PRATT, earl of Brecknock||16|
|11 Feb. 1828||BRECKNOCK re-elected after appointment to office|
|13 Feb. 1829||BRECKNOCK re-elected after appointment to office||13|
|Double return. Election declared void 4 Mar. 1829|
|11 Mar. 1829||GEORGE CHARLES PRATT, earl of Brecknock||14|
|31 July 1830||LORD JOHN THYNNE||15|
|George Charles Pratt, earl of Brecknock||13|
|30 Apr. 1831||LORD JOHN THYNNE|
Bath, a ‘highly celebrated and truly elegant city’ with ‘many fine squares, crescents and terraces’, situated on the banks of the River Avon and surrounded by ‘fertile hills, abounding with springs of excellent water’, became a fashionable spa and pleasure resort in the reign of Queen Anne. It underwent extensive development between the 1720s and the 1790s, multiplying severalfold in size and spreading out beyond the city walls into the adjoining parishes of Walcot, Bathwick, and Lyncombe and Widcombe. The main sources of employment were in retailing, small crafts, construction work and domestic service. There were ‘no manufactures of importance’ within the city itself, and the woollen industry, which had ‘formerly flourished’, was now located in Lyncombe and Widcombe. Though still prosperous in this period, Bath was slightly past its peak and had lost ground to its more exclusive rivals, Brighton and Cheltenham.2
The city encompassed the parishes of St. James, St. Michael, St. Peter and St. Paul, and part of Walcot, but the franchise was confined to members of the corporation. This was a purely self-electing body consisting of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, nine other aldermen and 20 common councilmen, who all held their offices for life; aldermanic vacancies were filled by common councilmen on the basis of seniority and new common councilmen chosen from among the freemen. It was possible to become a freeman by serving a seven-year apprenticeship to another freeman, but the corporation also had an unlimited right to sell the freedom for 250 guineas and in 1834, 25 of its 30 members had acquired their status through purchase. In 1820 the corporation membership reflected the prominent position of the medical profession, including as it did eleven surgeons, physicians and apothecaries, together with at least ten ‘gentlemen’ and four printers or booksellers. Admission to the corporation depended, in practice, on ‘interest and connection with the aldermen’, and a local radical newspaper complained in 1830 that ‘of those who ... possess the elective franchise, few ... dare to exercise their privilege freely and independently’. By the same token, they expected to benefit from the efficient procurement of patronage by their patrons and Members. The 2nd marquess of Bath was able to nominate one of the Members, and since 1796 this had been his brother, Lord John Thynne, who supported the Tory administrations and held a place in the royal household until 1820. For many years the nomination to the second seat was in the hands of the 1st and 2nd Earls Camden, who successively held the office of recorder, but John Palmer, a local businessman and alderman, won this seat in 1801 and resisted subsequent attempts to revive the Camden interest. In 1808 Palmer was replaced by his son Charles, who identified himself with the ‘independent’ interest of the citizens and acted in Parliament with the Whig opposition.3 While party labels were not used, there was a party dimension to the highly personalized politics of Bath and it cannot entirely be dismissed as ‘a redundant explanatory category’.4 Popular political feeling also occasionally manifested itself, as in the wealthy freeman John Allen’s protest against the corporation’s monopoly of the franchise, in 1812, and the petition for universal suffrage organized by Henry Hunt*, which was presented to the Spa Fields meeting of 1817.5
The dissolution in February 1820 came too soon for Camden (now a marquess), as his son, Lord Brecknock, whom he wished to bring forward at Palmer’s expense, did not attain his majority until May. It was consequently arranged that the eminent lawyer Sir William Scott, brother of lord chancellor Eldon and Member for Oxford University, should offer as a ‘locum tenens’ until Brecknock came of age. Considerable influence was reportedly exerted to give effect to this plan, including an ‘incognito visit’ by Camden, and it was stated that one of Palmer’s supporters had ‘lately solicited and obtained a favour’ from Lord Liverpool’s government, ‘the price of which was expected to be the unqualified support of any candidate the patrons of the borough ... chose to dictate’. Another of Palmer’s friends was said to be ‘wavering as to the fulfilment of his pledge of support’. However, Palmer thwarted this scheme by threatening to petition against such a return on the ground of unconstitutional interference by a peer in an election to the Commons, ‘his friends having incontestable proofs of such interference under the hand and seal of the party in question’.6 Camden’s candidate did not offer, and Brecknock was later returned for Ludgershall. Nevertheless, these proceedings had ‘excited a degree of public interest quite unparalleled’, and on election day there was ‘an ebullition of popular feeling’ for Palmer in the ‘crowded’ guildhall. Thynne, who was introduced by Aldermen George Tugwell and William Clark, was met with ‘groans, hisses, and every mark of disapprobation’ throughout his address, in which he pledged himself to promote the ‘tranquillity and happiness’ of the country. Palmer, who was sponsored by Alderman Charles Crook and William Meyler, declared amidst ‘general and heartfelt acclamation’ that he was ‘sincerely happy to be spared the necessity of an exposure’, but observed that recent events had raised the question whether the representation should be ‘handed over and made subservient to the will of the crown and the administration’, or whether the corporators, ‘acting in behalf of their fellow citizens, should be left to the free exercise of their own discretion’. A token poll was conducted, with Thynne gaining 23 votes and Palmer 21, the difference being accounted for by two plumpers for Thynne. The customary chairing of the Members through the city took place, ‘beer was distributed to the populace’ and a corporation banquet held that evening.7
In November 1820 the news of the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline was marked by a ‘very partial illumination’, with distinctive transparencies displayed outside some of the shops. One night a ‘drunken rabble’ roamed the streets and broke several of the guildhall windows, forcing the mayor to read the Riot Act. ‘Nearly 40 of the most violent marauders were taken into custody’, among them persons ‘in that station of life’ which one newspaper did not ‘expect to [find] joining ... in such disgraceful proceedings’. A loyal address to the king was signed by ‘all the magistracy, clergy and respectable inhabitants’, but some others petitioned the Commons to restore the queen’s name to the liturgy, 5 Feb. 1821.8 Anti-Catholic petitions were presented to one or both Houses by the archdeacon and clergy, the corporation and the inhabitants in March and April 1821. The archdeacon and clergy petitioned the Lords against the Catholic peers bill, 3 June 1822, and the Commons against Catholic claims, 17 Apr. 1823. They and the inhabitants petitioned Parliament in the same sense, 15, 28 Feb. 1825.9 The freeholders and inhabitants sent a petition to the Commons against the severity of Hunt’s prison sentence, 2 Apr. 1822.10 All four parishes presented petitions to Parliament for amendment of the Marriage Act, 26, 28 Feb. 1823.11 Several petitions against the house and window taxes, or all assessed taxes, were forwarded to the Commons in 1823, 1824 and 1825.12 The inhabitants sent anti-slavery petitions to the Commons, 15 May 1823, and both Houses, 16 Mar. 1824. They urged the Commons to inquire into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 31 May 1824, and petitioned both Houses against slavery, 21, 27 Feb. 1826.13 The journeymen boot and shoemakers presented petitions to the Commons against the combination laws, 1 Apr. 1824, as did the journeymen coachmakers against their re-enactment, 16 May 1825.14
In the autumn of 1825 Camden was engaged in at least one attempt, using an intermediary, to influence a key supporter of Thynne’s on the corporation, John Francis Gunning, with a view to his son’s candidacy at the next general election.15 When the dissolution was announced in May 1826 it was already thought that Palmer’s chances of re-election were slim, and the radical Bath Journal indignantly reported that Alderman Abel Moysey, a ‘sleeping partner’ who had not visited the city for years, was ‘to be brought down ... to vote for the two Lords, in the hope of unseating our gallant townsman and independent representative’. The ‘septennial farce’ was performed in a guildhall ‘crowded almost to suffocation’, where there was so much noise from citizens ‘incensed at being led to believe there was a conspiracy against General Palmer’ that little of the proceedings could be heard. Thynne was nominated by Clark and Gunning, who praised him as a ‘firm supporter of church and state’. Palmer was again proposed by Crook, who commended his long and conscientious service to the city and stout defence of ‘those principles of our constitution which corruption has so long overwhelmed’, and seconded by Sir George Gibbes. He denied that his recent Commons speech praising the corporation’s independence had been intended as flattery. Brecknock was sponsored by Moysey and John Hutton Cooper*. Palmer’s defeat was ‘received with hisses and execrations’ and the uproar continued ‘for several minutes’. Brecknock was unable to obtain a hearing, and he and Thynne were chaired through streets ‘crowded with the people to a degree of almost impenetrable density, in mournful silence’. Thynne and Brecknock shared 13 split votes, Brecknock and Palmer two, and Thynne and Palmer one, while Palmer received nine plumpers, Thynne three and Brecknock one. There were clear signs of a generational difference within the corporation, as seven aldermen split their votes between Thynne and Brecknock, one plumped for Thynne, one split between Thynne and Palmer and one between Brecknock and Palmer, whereas all nine of Palmer’s plumpers were cast by common councilmen. This held out the hope, as one correspondent to a newspaper put it, that the ‘hand of time’ might eventually rejuvenate the corporation and bring about Palmer’s restoration. Shortly after the election a dinner, attended by nearly 200 people, was given in Palmer’s honour at the guildhall, where he broke down while making his speech.16
The archdeacon and clergy petitioned the Lords against Catholic claims, 22 Feb., and the Protestant Dissenters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 11 June 1827.17 In February 1828 a by-election was necessitated by Brecknock’s appointment to the admiralty council, but Palmer chose ‘not, at present’ to challenge him. Only 17 corporators attended the election to vote for Brecknock, while most of Palmer’s supporters stayed away. Following the announcement of the result, there was ‘hissing, and cries for General Palmer’, and Brecknock was chaired ‘under an escort of constables, decorated with ribbons and armed with staves’.18 The archdeacon and clergy sent petitions to Parliament against Catholic claims, 18 Mar., 3 June, but local Catholics petitioned in favour of relief, 28, 30 Apr. 1828.19 In February 1829 another by-election was precipitated by Brecknock’s membership of the reconstituted admiralty board, and on this occasion Palmer was encouraged to offer by the recent deaths of two of Brecknock’s most prominent supporters, Clark and Cooper, and the resignation of a third, Moysey. Palmer’s friends were said to have calculated their strength ‘secretly among themselves’. On election day the guildhall was ‘crowded to excess’, as was ‘all that portion of High Street opposite’. Brecknock was introduced by Aldermen Edmund Anderdon and John Wiltshire, while Palmer was again nominated by Crook and Gibbes. The unprecedented outcome was a double return, which was ‘quite unexpected to the friends of both candidates’; all the votes cast were plumpers.20 A second contest was held the next month, when the proceedings were largely inaudible owing to the crowd’s ‘alternately hooting and mimicking the bleating of goats in derision of Lord Brecknock’, who was again nominated by Anderdon and Wiltshire. Palmer’s chief supporter, Crook, was absent owing to ‘indisposition’, and he was proposed by Gibbes and seconded by George Norman. Brecknock’s victory by a majority of two was accounted for by Crook’s absence and the additional presence of one of his supporters.21 Petitions from the archdeacon and clergy, the four parishes, Dissenting groups and the inhabitants (with 5,086 signatures) against Catholic emancipation were presented to one or both Houses in 1829, along with friendly ones from certain Protestant inhabitants and 293 inhabitants.22 All four parishes sent petitions to the Commons for repeal of the house and window taxes, 19 Feb., 4 May 1829. A deputation from Bath, including Palmer and both county Members, lobbied the chancellor of the exchequer on this subject, 15 Feb. 1830.23 The Jews of Bath petitioned the Lords for removal of their disabilities, 3 May 1830.24
Following the dissolution in July 1830 it was reported that Palmer’s return seemed certain, thanks to the ‘steady co-operation and friendly understanding of [his] staunch supporters’. Thynne, who had abandoned his former anti-Catholic stance by supporting the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill in 1829, found that he had been ‘abandoned ... to his fate’ by many of his old friends in the corporation and that the ‘scattered votes’ he ‘can collect’ were ‘too insignificant for public exposure’. Brecknock was therefore led to believe that he had the ‘fairest expectations of success’, despite the death of another old ally, Alderman John Kitson. However, the day before polling Camden complained to Wellington that circumstances had changed and that while ‘Brecknock stands the poll ... he will lose it ... in consequence of a very discreditable ... junction of his opponents’.25 Palmer’s supporters, once satisfied that their man was safe, had in many cases decided to split their votes with Thynne in the hope of defeating Brecknock. The crowds inside and outside the guildhall on election day displayed great enthusiasm for Palmer, and Thynne was ‘rather well received’, but ‘no very friendly feeling’ was exhibited towards Brecknock. Thynne was introduced by Tugwell and Gunning, who stressed his long service to the city, Palmer was again nominated by Gibbes and Norman, and Brecknock by Anderdon and Wiltshire. As he cast his vote, one of Palmer’s supporters, Thomas Cam, praised the ‘spirited and independent conduct’ of the ‘junior members’ of the corporation. Nine votes were split between Palmer and Thynne, four between Thynne and Brecknock and one between Palmer and Brecknock, while Brecknock received eight plumpers, Palmer five and Thynne two. All but two of Palmer’s votes came from common councilmen, whereas seven of Brecknock’s supporters were aldermen. None of the four men appointed to the corporation since 1826 voted for Brecknock. After the result was announced, Thynne made some inaudible remarks and Palmer delivered a ‘manly address’, amidst ‘soul inspiring cheers’, recounting how
my kind supporters, consisting of a bare majority of the body, had from the first secured my election in the only way by which it could be rendered certain, namely, by turning a deaf ear to all the solicitations of either of my powerful opponents, and by keeping your whole and undivided votes at the service of your fellow citizen, who had nothing but his thanks to give in return. By this unexampled conduct on your part, the same parties who at the last election combined successfully to throw me out, were now compelled to oppose each other.
Thynne then had to endure a reminder of how Palmer’s supporters had taken pity and given him, ‘consistently with my security ... that entirely gratuitous support, by which alone he still holds his seat’. Brecknock, who ‘rose amidst tremendous uproar’, defiantly maintained that he had ‘resorted to no mystifications, no coalitions, no confederacy’. The Members were seated in chairs ‘handsomely mounted in gold and crimson velvet, decorated with laurel and silk draperies and cockades of their respective colours’, and carried through the city accompanied by a procession ‘never exceeded in number’. Tickets for ‘12 hogsheads of beer, to be had at various public houses’, were handed out, and ‘a large quantity of silver’ was distributed. By the time of the customary corporation dinner that evening, Brecknock had already left the city.26
Several anti-slavery petitions from Protestant Dissenting groups, and one from the city with over 2,000 signatures, resulting from a public meeting (22 Oct.) attended by William Wilberforce*, were presented to Parliament in November and December 1830.27 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the window tax, 23 Dec. 1830.28 A plan to requisition the mayor for a public meeting in favour of parliamentary reform apparently received little encouragement, but a petition was organized which attracted 5,000 signatures and was presented to the Commons by Palmer, 8 Feb. 1831. The inhabitants petitioned the Lords for reform, ballot and shorter parliaments, 10 Feb., and the Commons for the ballot, 26 Feb.29 Following the introduction of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed to leave Bath’s representation intact but end the corporation’s monopoly of the franchise, it was reported that ‘party spirit is absolutely gone to wreck in the overflowings of general approbation of the measure’. Many corporators were allegedly ‘frightened into saying "we always wished to open the city"’. All four parishes held meetings to agree petitions in favour of the bill, which were forwarded to the Commons, 19 Mar.; an obscure ‘Bath political union’ petitioned in the same sense, 28 Mar. 1831.30 Palmer supported the bill, but Thynne helped to defeat it. At the ensuing dissolution Brecknock, another opponent of reform, arrived to contest the city again. There was ‘considerable excitation ... for two of three days’, as rumours spread that Palmer faced defeat, and one night ‘the walls of the city were abundantly chalked with the words "General Palmer, or a Row!"’ Brecknock was advised by his father not to persist unless he was certain of victory, as the ‘continued shabbyness’ of many in the corporation ‘makes the representation little desirable’, and the recent retirements of Aldermen George Allen and Wiltshire meant that ‘you and I have hardly any connections now’. Brecknock eventually withdrew and found another seat at Dunwich, leaving the way open for the sitting Members’ unopposed return. Nevertheless, it was reported that Palmer would be ‘indebted to thirteen only ... staunch supporters for his success on this occasion, three of his former friends having ratted’.31 On election day Thynne slipped into the crowded guildhall through the rear entrance, while Palmer’s arrival was greeted with loud acclamations, ‘which continued for near three-quarters of an hour!’ Thynne was again nominated by Tugwell and Gunning, who commended him for ‘supporting the principles of our constitution’ and opposing the ‘attempt to deprive the people of their just rights’. Palmer, who was as usual sponsored by Gibbes and Norman, congratulated the corporation on returning Members of opposing views and thus taking ‘neutral ground’ on the momentous question of reform; he acknowledged that some former supporters had deserted him over this issue. On this occasion the Members’ return was confirmed by a show of hands rather than a poll. As they were chaired through the crowded streets, ‘one or two missiles were ... so correctly aimed’ as to strike Thynne.32
In September 1831 meetings were held in the four city parishes, ‘far more numerously attended than ... anticipated’, to agree petitions to the Lords urging the speedy passage of the reintroduced reform bill; these were not presented.33 When news of the Lords’ rejection of the bill reached Bath, many shops were ‘partially closed’ and ‘the bells of St. James rang a muffled peal’. Several leading citizens not on the corporation, including James Keene, (proprietor of the Bath Journal), John Kingsbury, the wine merchant William Metford and the attorney George Stallard, who had all been prominent in promoting William Gore Langton’s successful candidacy for the county earlier that year, organized a reform meeting for 13 Oct. The procession that day, which included representatives of the various city trades, many people from nearby villages and ‘numerous banners and bands of music’, gathered in Queen Square and marched to the hustings in front of the Sydney Hotel in Pulteney Street, which was ‘literally crowded on both sides from the top to the bottom ... and as far as the eye could reach’. It was estimated that ‘about 23,000 persons’ were present, and Palmer and Sanford, the county Member, appeared on the platform. The chairman, Captain Rowland Mainwaring, and other speakers, urged the need for calm and patience and the importance of not being provoked into any breach of the peace. Henry Godwin, a bookseller, declared that he saw before him ‘that highly respectable and intelligent body of people, the middle classes’, and was confident that ‘with such a phalanx of wealth and intelligence’ behind the measure, ‘we are as sure of reform as that the sun will shine tomorrow’. A loyal address to the king was agreed, expressing support for his ministers and all steps necessary to carry the bill, which was presented at a levee.34 A violent incident did occur on 30 Oct. when a crowd attacked the White Hart, where a detachment of yeomanry on their way to help quell the riots at Bristol had been forced to take refuge; the troublemakers were repelled with red-hot kitchen pokers, some being ‘partially singed’. It appears that ‘the miscreants who occasioned all this uproar did not amount to more than a hundred, and three-fourths of these [were] lads from 14 to 17-years-old’. Next day some 300 special constables were enrolled and arrangements made for them to patrol the streets, which thereafter remained quiet. Of the six rioters who were arrested, two were sentenced to death (later commuted to transportation for life), and the other four given short prison terms.35 On 7 Nov. 1831, at a meeting ‘attended by 3,000 of the most respectable tradesmen, professional gentlemen, mechanics, etc.’, a Bath political union was formed, inspired by its counterparts at Bristol and Birmingham. The union’s council consisted of 36 members elected by ballot, of whom 20 were to be ‘operative mechanics’; James Crisp, a hatter and Baptist, was appointed president. Prior to this meeting, 14 delegates had waited on the mayor and offered their services as special constables, to show their commitment to preserving law and order.36 The union held regular weekly meetings and during the crisis of May 1832 it enjoyed ‘an accession of at least 1,500 respectable members’. At an ‘overflowing meeting’ it was resolved to organize a petition to the Commons for withholding supplies until the Lords passed the reform bill, which obtained ‘nearly 6,000 signatures’ and was presented by Palmer along with similar petitions from the four parishes, 18, 25 May.37 With the bill’s passage finally assured, a ‘public meeting’ of members of the union and ‘the inhabitants of Bath generally’ was held on High Common, 28 May, attended by ‘upwards of 55,000’ people, who joined in a vast procession from the Sydney Hotel. Delegations were sent from the unions at Frome, Trowbridge and Bradford-upon-Avon, and the council of the Bristol union brought up the rear. There were ‘many well-dressed persons’ in the crowd and ‘all in it who belonged to the lower grades of society were in holiday trim’. John Allen, the veteran reformer, took the chair, and an address of thanks to Grey and his colleagues was carried.38
The boundary commissioners recommended that the whole of that section of the parish of Walcot lying ‘in contact with the city’ and separated from its rural section by the parish of Charlcomb, together with the parishes of Bathwick and Lyncombe and Widcombe, should be brought within the new constituency boundary, as they were ‘integral’ parts of the city.39 The population of the enlarged borough was 50,817 and there were 2,853 registered electors in 1832. Thynne stood down at the general election of that year and Palmer was returned at the head of the poll, followed by the prominent radical Roebuck. Despite the Conservatives’ capture of both seats in 1837, Bath usually returned Liberals until the late 1850s. By then its radical reputation was being undermined by economic and social changes, as it ‘declined as a pleasure resort and became instead a place of permanent residence and retirement’, losing many of its artisans and gaining more ‘old ... women, female domestic servants and unskilled labourers’.40
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. Including part of the parish of Walcot beyond the city boundary (PP (1831-2), xxxix. 217).
- 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 667; Robson’s Som. Dir. (1839), 8-11; Gen. Dir. Som. (1840), 41, 42; PP (1831-2), xxxix. 215; R.S. Neale, Bath, 1680-1850, pp. 12-48, 262-75.
- 3. PP (1835), xxiv. 451-3; Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 12 July 1830; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 343-4.
- 4. As by F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 343, 344.
- 5. Neale, 330-4.
- 6. HMC Fortescue, x. 454; Bath and Cheltenham Gazette, 16 Feb., 8 Mar. 1820.
- 7. Bath RO, corporation minute bk. 10 Mar.; Bath and Cheltenham Gazette, 15 Mar. 1820.
- 8. R. Mainwaring, Annals of Bath, 212-16; Taunton Courier, 22 Nov., 13 Dec.; Bristol Mirror, 25 Nov. 1820; CJ, lxxvi. 32.
- 9. CJ, lxxvi. 172, 203; lxxviii. 214; lxxx. 48, 49; LJ, liv. 187, 349; lv. 216, lvii. 93, 94.
- 10. CJ, lxxvii. 167.
- 11. Ibid. lxxviii. 80; LJ, lv. 541.
- 12. CJ, lxxviii. 80, 84; lxxix. 90, 179; lxxx. 16, 157, 427.
- 13. Ibid. lxxviii. 312; lxxix. 167, 436; lxxxi. 106; LJ, lvi. 84; lviii. 50.
- 14. CJ, lxxix. 244; lxxx. 421.
- 15. Cent. Kent Stud. Camden mss U840 C202/11/14.
- 16. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 29 May, 5, 12 June; Bath Chron. 15, 29 June; corporation minute bk. 9 June 1826.
- 17. CJ, lxxxii. 541; LJ, lix. 96.
- 18. Bath Herald, 9 Feb.; Bath and Cheltenham Gazette, 12, 19 Feb.; corporation minute bk. 11 Feb. 1828.
- 19. CJ, lxxxiii. 181, 287; LJ, lx. 249, 503.
- 20. Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 9, 16 Feb.; Bath and Cheltenham Gazette, 17 Feb.; corporation minute bk. 13 Feb. 1829.
- 21. Corporation minute bk. 11 Mar.; Keenes’ Bath Jnl. 16 Mar.; Bath and Cheltenham Gazette, 17 Mar. 1829.
- 22. CJ, lxxxiv. 109, 127, 133, 146, 182; LJ, lxi. 14, 39, 110, 333, 381; Bath Chron. 12 Mar. 1829.
- 23. CJ