Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen and, by Act of Parliament in 1830 (1 Gul. IV, c. 74), in 40s. freeholders in the hundred of Bassetlaw
Estimated number qualified to vote:
about 200; increased to about 2,000 in 1830
Number of voters:
1,283 in 1830
(East Retford): 2,461 in 1821; 2,491 in 18311
|8 Mar. 1820||WILLIAM EVANS|
|10 June 1826||WILLIAM BATTIE WRIGHTSON||120|
|SIR ROBERT LAWRENCE DUNDAS||118|
|Sir Henry Wright Wilson||53|
|Election declared void, 1 May 1827. No writ issued before dissolution|
|6 Aug. 1830||CHARLES EVELYN PIERREPONT, Visct. Newark||770|
|HON. ARTHUR DUNCOMBE||697|
|Granville Venables Vernon||611|
|5 May 1831||GRANVILLE HARCOURT VERNON||1075|
|CHARLES EVELYN PIERREPONT, Visct. Newark||954|
|Hon. Arthur Duncombe||610|
East Retford, a thriving and genteel market town in the hundred of Bassetlaw, on the border with Yorkshire, boasted hat and sailcloth manufacturing, but had been superseded by Worksop in the barley trade.2 The gentry and professionals were largely excluded from the defective corporation, which was composed of a shabby set of 12 aldermen, mostly tradesmen and small shopkeepers; a senior bailiff, who was also an alderman, and a junior bailiff, who was chosen from among the roughly 200 burgesses or freemen, only about 50 or 60 of whom were resident. The freemen, in whom the franchise was vested, could qualify by birth (eldest sons only), apprenticeship (on which there were strict limits) and redemption (or payment, a practice discontinued after 1796), provided that they were resident at the time of their admission; only an average of just over six were admitted each year.3 This restriction, blatantly manipulated for electoral purposes, intensified the scope for corruption, which was endemic and proverbial, 20 guineas being paid to each voter by each candidate, or 40 guineas for a plumper; another report noted that 10 guineas was paid to each burgess and that 20 guineas was the price for an alderman’s vote. Although contests were discouraged, since they tended to disrupt the delicate understandings and transparent deceptions that had evolved as a means of preserving a semblance of legality, costs rose when one was expected. George Hudson, who as senior bailiff, 1825-6, was one of the joint returning officers, said ‘he should sit between the candidates, and he should have two large pockets, and them that put the most money in, he should vote for’; while Charles Tennyson later told the Commons that the borough was ‘open to all comers, to all at least who have money in their pockets’. The verb ‘to marsh’, or to fail to pay, entered the local lexicon after the retreat of the former Member Charles Marsh, and it was no coincidence, perhaps, that both Members returned in 1818, William Evans and Samuel Crompton, were bankers brought in from Derby.4
The Tory 4th duke of Newcastle of nearby Clumber Castle, the high steward, whose family were usually allies of the corporation, had traditionally controlled one seat, his kinsman Clinton James Fynes Clinton* serving as recorder. Newcastle refused to bear the expenses at the general election of 1812 and subsequently declined to interfere.5 The political activist Thomas Hinton Burley Oldfield, who had supported the independent interest in its previous struggles, engineered the return of an erratic Whig, George Osbaldeston, as well as Marsh, that year, but was not thanked for his pains.6 Thereafter, encouraged by the sons of the late Rockinghamite Francis Ferrand Foljambe†, notably the banker Henry Savile Foljambe (who acted as his agent), the Whig 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth Woodhouse, Yorkshire, emerged as the new patron, securing some of the corporation offices for his friends and at least one of the parliamentary seats.7 At the general election of 1820 Crompton was continued as Fitzwilliam’s nominee and Evans, who was thought to have the private approval of Newcastle, was also considered safe. One of the key power brokers, Alderman John Parker, who declared himself more than happy with the sitting Members, ‘as they have both behaved very handsomely’, informed Fitzwilliam that the London out-voters wished to put up a third man. In the event they were returned unopposed and, as it later emerged, Evans again paid about £4,400 for the privilege, his (presumably about 210) supporters having received their secret payments by the end of May 1820.8 The petitions of the owners and occupiers of land near Retford and Worksop complaining of agricultural distress were presented to the Commons, 28 Feb. 1821, 21 Mar. 1822, and another against revision of the corn laws was brought up, 28 Apr. 1825.9 The inhabitants’ petition against the Catholic peers bill was presented to the Lords by Newcastle, 7 June 1822, and the corporation’s anti-Catholic one was brought up in the Commons, 15 Apr. 1825.10 Evans, who produced a constituency petition for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Act, 25 Feb. 1823, presented most, if not all, of the Retford anti-slavery petitions that were lodged, 8 May 1823, 8 Mar. 1824, 14 Apr. 1826.11
Following the 1824 session, the popular Crompton, who had ambitions in Derby, announced his retirement from Retford at the next dissolution. Fitzwilliam’s friends, who included Colonel John Kirke of Markham Hall and Sir William Amcotts Ingilby* of Kettlethorpe, Lincolnshire, prompted him to name a successor. Fitzwilliam first suggested Foljambe’s nephew, George Savile Foljambe of Osberton, the young head of the family, but both of them rejected the idea, on the ground that it was a nuisance for a local man to hold the seat, the latter explaining that
no distance would be too great between the representative and the represented ... The less the good freemen of Retford see of their Member the more he is in their favour ... If I were placed in that situation I should hardly be able to call myself master of my own house and property. I should have my house daily filled with them and my woods and manors daily overrun.12
By October it was known that Evans, who had proved too much of a Whig for Newcastle and was increasingly disgusted by the internal politics of the borough, would also relinquish his seat, so Parker warned Fitzwilliam of the need to pre-empt the entry of any candidate on the Clumber interest. Henry Foljambe, who favoured Sir John Vanden Bempde Johnstone* of Hackness Hall, Yorkshire, shared Parker’s sense of urgency (while suspecting him of mischief-making) and even flattered Fitzwilliam with the prospect of securing the return of two friends.13 However, the appearance of the Tory Joshua Walker, a member of the wealthy Rotherham iron manufacturing family, whose tenure at Aldeburgh was insecure, and the possibility of another supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration also coming forward, alarmed Foljambe, who pressed Fitzwilliam to act, assuring him that ‘any two persons with a good recommendation, who first canvass the burgesses, will succeed’. It was probably for this reason that Foljambe, with the assistance of Parker and Crompton, introduced the earl’s nephew Sir Robert Lawrence Dundas of Loftus Hall, Yorkshire, who boasted on 8 Nov. 1824 of having obtained the promises of 65 of the 94 resident freemen, with the expectation of support from at least 15 others.14 Newcastle, who was appalled to be told that ‘it had cost the present Members not less than £10,000 each for two elections’, had made it clear that he was reluctant to become personally involved. He failed in his attempts to inveigle the 3rd marquess of Hertford of Ragley Hall, Warwickshire, an equally prominent boroughmonger, into naming a candidate, but contemplated backing the anti-Catholic ministerialist Henry Alexander* (or one of his brothers), whose name was mentioned as a candidate at this time, and presumably favoured the like-minded Walker. However, on the 11 Nov. 1824 he recorded his astonishment at receiving a visit from Aldermen William Clarke and Joshua Cottam, who had recently pledged him their allegiance but now, presumably influenced by Dundas’s intervention, declared that ‘there was no chance whatever for my friends and that they came to advise me ... "not to throw good money away" ... Thus they have lifted me over in the true Retford style’.15
To everyone’s surprise, Walker, who in fact persisted at Aldeburgh, withdrew on the pretext of ill health in September 1825, when a dissolution was expected. Various anti-Catholics, including Sir Roger Gresley* of Drakelow, Staffordshire, were rumoured to be in the field, but the only certainty, according to a correspondent of the Whig Nottingham Review, was the likelihood of a severe contest. The Welsh businessman William Alexander Madocks*, whose electoral patron had sold his interest at Chippenham, addressed the burgesses as a free trader and opponent of Catholic claims, but was soon chased out of the borough. Foljambe took advantage of the vacuum created by Walker’s withdrawal to introduce William Battie Wrightson of Cusworth Hall, Yorkshire, whose father held an account at Foljambe’s bank; with Dundas, he was supposed to be secure, having ‘above 150 promises out of 197’. In response to this overt attempt to establish Fitzwilliam’s hegemony, the True Blue Club was formed in October, under the auspices of hostile local freemen and the Newcastle rump on the corporation, though their efforts were encouraged and later co-ordinated by influential townsmen and outsiders, particularly as a vehicle for popular anti-Catholicism. The following month they secured the candidacy of Sir Henry Wright Wilson of Crofton Hall, Yorkshire, the wealthy Member for St. Albans, whose violently anti-Catholic canvass dinner set the tone for much of what was to follow.16 Newcastle, who was still ‘afraid to have any concern with such slippery people’, was impressed by the determination of the burgesses to have a Protestant representative and gave his full backing to Wright Wilson as a ‘staunch opposer of Roman Catholic pretensions’.17 By December 1825, partly encouraged by the Rev. Joshua William Brooks’s stinging denunciations of the Catholics, the ‘no Popery’ feeling had begun to spill over into street violence.18 In February 1826 a low-key visit by Dundas and Wrightson, who were set on and driven out of the town, immediately provoked disturbances and recriminations. Complaints about the supporters of Wright Wilson, who enjoyed a spurious popularity, were made to Newcastle, but he refused to act in his capacity as lord lieutenant and privately recorded that the
Popery candidates and their abetters deserved all that had or might happen to them. They will be very mad when they find that all their arts and machinations fail, for what amuses me most is that these ragamuffins threaten to take away my character.19
The following month Charles Ogilvy, clerk of the board of customs, who was described by Parker as a nobody, canvassed ostensibly as an independent, but in reality as Wright Wilson’s second string. He ‘got not so many votes as Wilson did by half a score’, according to Parker, who was anxious for Fitzwilliam to tighten his grip by winning over more of the corporators, and soon departed of his own accord. In retaliation, the Whig candidates were driven to costly electioneering, so that by April 1826 their joint expenses stood at over £1,300. At Dundas’s request, Fitzwilliam agreed to pay his nephew’s share and Foljambe received £700 from him to this end.20
On the eve of the general election of 1826 Wright Wilson, for whom Fynes Clinton acted as agent, received assurances of support from electors in Retford and London, but Parker warned Fitzwilliam of the need to secure military assistance, following an escalation of unrest:
The Riot Act has been twice read already and the civil power is quite set at defiance ... Some men have been nearly killed, not by freemen but by a hired mob of the scum of the neighbourhood, no doubt hired by our opponents ... The freemen have every reason to expect their lives will be in danger if they go to vote ... The principals in these riots are the most abandoned characters about Retford (not freemen), but encouraged privately by party zeal ... All this is occasioned by an infernal Blue Club, in number about 200, who pretend they are inimical to Popery and have tried to compel the freemen to break their promises, but in vain.21
Dundas entered Retford in defiance of the wild threats against him and, having refused ugly demands to give an assurance of his opposition to Catholic relief, had to be ‘lodged in the bank, but not before he was completely spencered’. Wrightson arrived in secret and was also obliged to remain indoors for his own safety. However, they were not deterred from going to the poll, 9 June, when 123 of their supporters, appearing en masse for their own protection, voted (almost entirely as splits) in their joint favour (comprising 70 per cent of those who polled); by comparison, Wright Wilson, who had stirred up the mob with an inflammatory anti-Catholic speech, received only 53 plumpers (or 30 per cent). Following a rumpus, Dundas and Wrightson were attacked by the mob and had to run for their lives, the former, who was lucky to have got away unscathed, taking refuge at Foljambe’s house, and the latter only just escaping in time into Parker’s, whose windows were immediately smashed. As most of the 150 special constables proved reluctant to act, a wholesale riot erupted and two troops of lifeguards had to restore order, reacting ‘very improperly’ in Newcastle’s opinion, although only a few people were hurt. Dundas and Wrightson, considering that they had a majority which could not be overturned, left town during the night. The following morning, despite apparently having 60 burgesses waiting to poll, Wright Wilson, who had probably intended to provoke military intervention for just that reason, refused to continue and promised to petition against his opponents, who were then returned.22 Foljambe, who called the contest ‘unprecedented for rancour and malevolence’, informed Fitzwilliam that he had had to dissuade Parker from summoning a meeting of freemen ‘to congratulate you upon the termination of the election’ and, thanking the earl for another £500 towards out-voters’ travelling expenses, advised that ‘it will not be prudent to pay any more bills incurred until the Members are safely seated and the time of petitioning passed’. In late July 1826 he scouted the practicality of trying to proceed at law against Wright Wilson or his associates, notably his henchman Peter Lacy Dickonson, over the rioting, and dismissed the necessity of gaining control of the aldermen, since the nine who had opposed them at the election had been powerless to influence the burgesses against the pro-Catholic candidates.23
Wright Wilson’s petition against Dundas and Wrightson’s return, alleging improper interference by the military, was lodged, 4 Dec. 1826, but by the time a committee was appointed, 3 Apr. 1827, party feeling in Retford had been reanimated by the Members’ votes for Catholic relief the previous month.24 The committee began their examination of witnesses, 4 Apr., and continued to hear copious evidence of bribery and corruption for another seven sittings before Easter. Between 50 and 60 individuals had been summoned to attend, and a local committee (invariably members of the True Blue Club) met at the Turk’s Head in order to prepare evidence of corruption by the Whigs. John Hornby, a disreputable lawyer and sometime agent to Wright Wilson, drilled the witnesses in the language of corruption, using such terms as ‘joss’ (drinking at the candidate’s expense), ‘tick’ (receiving a promise of money) and ‘losing your election’ (backing the wrong horse). The Members’ counsel cross-examined the witnesses aggressively from the outset, but the full extent of Fitzwilliam’s culpability, as revealed in Foljambe’s election accounts, put them in an impossible position and greatly embarrassed the leading Whigs, who were largely ignorant of his electoral connection with the borough.25 Wright Wilson, who was confident of success, promised to carry on and a new candidate was rumoured in the form of Mathew Wilson† junior of Eshton Hall, Yorkshire, but the general expectation was that the borough would be ‘Grampounded’. The chairman, Charles Callis Western, reported to the House on 1 May that Wrightson and Dundas, who were both found guilty of bribery (at least by their agents), should be unseated and that the writ should be postponed, pending further investigation by the Commons of the ‘notorious, long continued and general practice’ of venality.26 Anxious to safeguard the existing franchise, Parker solicited the support of the new prime minister Canning for a petition which he had entrusted to Fitzwilliam’s heir, Lord Milton*. This, setting out counter-allegations against Newcastle and other Tories, was brought up by Charles Dundas, 6 June, and another from Wright Wilson, acquitting himself of any misconduct, was presented, 19 June.27 After considerable debate, 11 June, Tennyson, who had served on the committee, obtained leave for a bill to transfer East Retford’s seats to Birmingham. The corporation’s petition against this was presented, 18 June, as was one from the burgesses in its favour, 29 June. The second reading passed by 35-17, 22 June, but in consequence of the approaching prorogation the bill was put off to the following session and the writ accordingly suspended, as it was to be repeatedly, 29 June 1827.28
On 31 Jan. 1828 Tennyson reintroduced the bill, which was read a second time, 25 Feb., when witnesses were again summoned. Petitions from the corporation and Parker against it were brought up by Fynes Clinton and Daniel Sykes, 8, 29 Feb., and ones from the inhabitants for extending the right of voting in the borough, instead of disfranchisement, were presented by Fynes Clinton and Robert Cutlar Fergusson, 22, 25 Feb. A Retford petition for repeal of the Test Acts was lodged, 22 Feb.29 The expectation that the borough would be axed encouraged a certain amount of extra-parliamentary pressure from Birmingham, and this was promoted by Tennyson, who hoped to find a future berth there. Edward John Littleton*, who had been asked to support one such deputation that month, broached the subject of the transfer of Retford’s seats to Birmingham with the new premier, the duke of Wellington, who, when confronted with Retford bribery, merely retorted, ‘Well, but don’t they do that everywhere?’30 Robert Gordon, who chaired the proceedings on the examination of witnesses, 3, 4, 7 Mar., and presented his report on the 10th, led the call for punitive action against Jonathan Fox, who was accused of withholding evidence, and William Leadbetter, who was found guilty of perjury; both later apologized and were reprimanded by the Speaker. Crompton, having intervened in defence of Fox, was fortunate to avoid being questioned himself, and the sight of burgesses trying to explain away their all too explicit evidence prompted Robert Waithman to exclaim, with some geographical licence, that ‘these low Yorkshiremen were possessed of as much cunning as any honourable Member in that House’. On 21 Mar. 1828 Nicolson Calvert, giving effect to the ministerial compromise whereby Penryn’s seats would be transferred and East Retford’s electorate would be sluiced, wrested control of the bill from Tennyson by securing (by 157-121) an instruction to the committee to extend the right of voting to the freeholders of the hundred of Bassetlaw.31 The ill temper and poor speech of the home secretary Robert Peel, who had been influenced by the arguments of John Wilson Croker* in favour of this arrangement, displeased many Tory backbenchers, and the government was reduced to an uncomfortably narrow majority.32
The Nottingham Review now found it impossible to advocate the freemen’s cause, since their hands were ‘so stained with bribes’ that they deserved to lose their privilege, but denounced the proposal to enlarge the borough because, as was frequently alleged, it was believed that this would give Newcastle a preponderating interest.33 Impervious to vilification during the Commons debates, Newcastle, who had already envisaged making it subservient to the cause of Ultra Toryism, privately observed that ‘I am as much sans peur as sans reproche’. He made encouraging noises to his neighbour the 2nd Earl Manvers of Thoresby Hall, who was ambitious of seating his heir Lord Newark, but set about seeking a candidate of his own stamp, preferably in the shape of the former lord chancellor Lord Eldon’s grandson, Lord Encombe*. He soon opined that ‘I have endeavoured all in my power to make the place more respectable with a view to its preservation, but the rascals are so low they will not allow me to lift them out of the mire’.34 In March 1828 Henry Gally Knight* of Firbeck Hall, Yorkshire, whose father-in-law was the local landowner Anthony Hardolph Eyre† of Grove Park, made an impetuous bid for the enlarged constituency, but he quickly withdrew his foolish address and gave over his pretensions to a younger son of the archbishop of York, Granville Harcourt Vernon (then known as Venables Vernon), who, like Manvers, had also married one of Eyre’s daughters.35 That spring Fitzwilliam, informed by Parker of the possible entry of Tory interlopers, contemplated putting up Thomas Denman*, who had acted for the electors at the bar of the Commons, and possibly another Whig barrister, Henry Frederick Stephenson*, who later appeared for them before the Lords. Crompton, his popularity with the freemen undiminished, introduced his relation Henry Preston, who had succeeded his uncle Robert Preston to Moreby, Yorkshire the previous year, as a liberal Tory, but apologized to Milton for having accidentally risked dividing the local Whigs.36 With no by-election in prospect, two petitions from the aldermen and burgesses complaining about the unrepresented state of the electors were brought up, 7 May 1828.37
Tennyson had postponed proceedings on the bill, but once it became evident that the Lords would not assent to transfer Penryn’s seats to Manchester, he attempted to revive the original proposal of giving Retford’s seats to Birmingham. Bad feeling and misunderstandings in the cabinet led William Huskisson, who was apparently committed to the enfranchisement of at least one large northern town, into voting against Peel, 19 May, when, after a ‘long and angry discussion’ characterized by ‘much tumult’, Calvert again successfully proposed extending the borough to the hundred. In this way, what Lord Granville termed ‘the wretched trumpery East Retford bill’, a measure of minor political importance, provoked the resignation of the Huskissonites from office.38 Long explanations were aired, 2 June, but amendments moved by both Huskisson, who argued that since the majority of burgesses had been proved guilty of corruption it would scarcely suffice to enfranchise the local freeholders, and Tennyson, who maintained his resistance to the revised bill throughout the session, were heavily defeated that day. Calvert obtained permission to bring in a bill to disqualify the corrupt burgesses of Retford, 24 June, against which petitions from many of the named individual voters were presented, 30 June, 11, 14 July; it was abandoned before the end of the session. Strong opposition to the main measure was shown on 27 June, with Tennyson’s proposal to postpone it until the following session being defeated by a majority of 55; Lord Howick’s motion to give Retford’s Members to Yorkshire by 78; Alderman Wood’s bid to put an end to the bill altogether by 71, and Lord John Russell’s proposition for the total disfranchisement of Retford by 65.39 On the 30th Robert Otway Cave unsuccessfully suggested extending the franchise to include West Retford. With the prorogation approaching, Calvert moved that the report be deferred, 11 July, and Tennyson gave notice, 25 July 1828, that in the next session he would introduce separate bills to disfranchise East Retford and enfranchise Birmingham.
Tennyson, who informed an equally despondent Huskisson in December 1828 that Retford was ‘irretrievably transferred from the moneyed to the agricultural interest’, was reluctant to revive the question in the 1829 session.40 The town’s anti-Catholic petition was brought up by Fynes Clinton, 10 Mar., and George Lamb presented petitions from the innocent burgesses calling for a new writ to be issued, 10 Apr., 5 May.41 Much to the delight of ministers, who secured the backing of the Ultras, on 5 May Tennyson’s motion to transfer the seats to Birmingham was defeated (197-111) by Calvert, who, despite Russell’s delaying tactics, obtained leave (by 180-86) for a bill to prevent bribery at Retford.42 Henry Sutton Fane was persuaded to withdraw his motion for the writ, 7 May, but he reintroduced it, 2 June, when he presented a petition from the burgesses to this effect, but was defeated (135-44) by Calvert and Tennyson, who were united in their wish to defer the matter for another year.43 Forwarding a letter from Parker, Fane commented to Wellington that the freemen ‘are a set of radicals or Whigs, but they have quarrelled with their party who, for friends, have given them rather hard measure’.44 It was reported to Milton at the end of May 1829 that a ‘Mr. Walker’, presumably Joshua, had canvassed the out-voters, but that the Whigs’ two candidates were kept informed of all developments regarding any potential by-election.45 Early the following year Stephenson was reported to have declined an offer of a seat elsewhere because he was still pledged to Fitzwilliam, while one newspaper rather implausibly suggested that Serjeant Wilde* would try his hand.46
Calvert reintroduced his bill to enlarge Retford, 11 Feb. 1830, when Peel conceded the case for disfranchising boroughs on the ground of delinquency, but Tennyson’s amendment to transfer its seats to Birmingham was defeated by 27 votes; the expected ministerial majority, which again included the Ultras, rose to 99 when Howick, who stated his preference for a general reform measure, divided the House on the main question.47 A burgesses’ petition calling for the representation to be restored to them was presented by John Savile Lumley, the county Member, 11 Feb., and two others, objecting to the proposed exclusion of freemen by redemption, were brought up by Fynes Clinton, 4 Mar. The second reading took place, 26 Feb., but Tennyson once more failed in his attempt to reinstate Birmingham (by 152-119), 5 Mar. After proceedings in committee, 5, 8 Mar., John Cam Hobhouse’s bid to kill the bill on the third reading was lost by 164-83, 15 Mar., when Daniel O’Connell’s rash amendment for the inclusion of the ballot was defeated by 179-21.48 The Lords decided to hold their own inquiry, 26 Mar., and on the 29th Lord Salisbury introduced a bill to indemnify witnesses from prosecution for corruption, which, despite Lord Holland’s protest, passed rapidly through both Houses the following month.49 This measure ensured that plenty of damaging evidence was revealed during the numerous hearings held by the Lords between 26 Apr. and 9 July, for which the witnesses’ costs came to £9,000. In particular, it was shown that 96 of the 144 burgesses were proved to have sold their votes, that the Turk’s Head co-ordinating committee had exaggerated the extent of bribery by their opponents and that the bailiffs had abused their authority.50 Newcastle commented after attending on 13 May that
the business appears to me to be poorly conducted by Lord Salisbury and most vexatiously opposed by Lord Durham, who is determined to gain time and lose the bill. Apparently he may be successful. The whole on both sides seems to be a tissue of trick and chicanery.
Although he mostly abstained on the issue, deliberately maintaining a low profile so as not to jeopardize such a beneficial measure, he voted against Lord Wharncliffe’s attempt to transfer the franchise to Birmingham, 20 July, when Wellington ruled out extending the vote to such places and Holland privately commented that the prime minister ‘will live to see it done’.51 The Whigs, whose commitment to extensive parliamentary reform dated from this time, argued that session that Retford had been unjustly singled out, but ministers could not backtrack on the decision that had cost them the Huskissonites; in any case, they needed the backing of the Ultras, who favoured bolstering Newcastle’s influence by opting for Bassetlaw. After surviving a few wrecking amendments in the Lords that month, the bill, at Peel’s insistence, was finally given royal assent, 23 July 1830.52
The Act was in force by the general election that summer, when the constituency, now sometimes referred to as ‘Bassetlaw’, was thought to have just over 210 freemen and upwards of 2,000 freeholders qualified to vote.53 Neither of the former Members stood, Dundas having since been returned for Richmond and Wrightson now coming in for Hull. Newcastle, who had long intended to bring forward a candidate, agreed with the 1st Baron Feversham of Duncombe Park, Yorkshire to put up one of his sons, Arthur Duncombe, a naval officer. Although dreading the expense and being ‘matched single handed against almost all the aristocracy of the hundred’, he was confident of Duncombe winning the seat with Newark, whom he considered a possible county Member, ahead of (Harcourt) Vernon, whom he described as ridiculously unpopular.54 The last, for whom Gally Knight made way, espoused independence, like his opponents, but found himself an easy prey to cruel squibs as the choice of the Bassetlaw gentry and as the associate of his nephew, Newark, whose father secured the support of the 4th duke of Portland of Welbeck Abbey.55 Newark (who finished with 60 per cent of the votes cast) headed the poll from the outset, while extensive canvassing and heavy treating, as well as the remarkable volte face of Parker, secured the return in second place of the equally young Duncombe (with 54 per cent). The refusal of Vernon (48 per cent), who had initially been optimistic, to bribe the electors, led to his withdrawal after two full days of the contest, when only 1,283 of them, including 96 freemen, had polled. Newcastle, who claimed that his resignation was motivated by a desire to deprive Duncombe of first place, damned the conduct of his supporters, Foljambe, Portland and Lord Surrey*, and gloated at having re-established a secure interest.56 Newark spent over £2,500 on his campaign, but Duncombe’s expenses amounted to nearly £4,500, of which the ‘serious sum’ of £3,500 was borne by Newcastle.57 John Evelyn Denison*, complaining, as did the radical press, that ‘the two Members, who were to be beyond the reach of aristocratical influence, come from Thoresby and Clumber’, attributed Vernon’s defeat to his unpopularity and poor management, and pointed out that Gally Knight, who regretted abandoning the independent interest at Retford once he had lost St. Albans, would have beaten the outsider Duncombe.58 Charles Ross* counted Duncombe’s return as a seat ‘gained’ for government, but Huskisson, echoing Denison’s frustration, expressed his belief that Wellington ‘will now live to regret his obstinacy about East Retford, and to see reform assume a far wider range’.59
The apologists for Newcastle, who invited Duncombe’s voters to a day’s coursing on his estate, denied the extent of the ‘dictation of Clumber’ in newspaper correspondence in August and September 1830, when it was acknowledged that the defeated candidate’s failure to adopt ‘common electioneering alacrity’ and to emerge from the shelter of the Manvers interest had also contributed to his defeat. However, Harcourt Vernon (as he became at the turn of the year) issued an impressive parting address, promising to offer again, and spoke out effectively in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill at a well-attended meeting in Retford, 19 Mar. 1831.60 The ensuing petition was presented to the Commons by Newark, a reformer, 21 Mar., and to the Lords, 22 Mar., while an anti-reform counter-petition, reportedly signed only by Newcastle’s tenants, was brought up in the Commons, 28 Mar., by Duncombe, who voted against the bill.61 At the ensuing general election, which in Retford turned as much on the issue of local independence as of national reform, Newark coalesced with Harcourt Vernon, who, as even Newcastle privately conceded, was this time rightly confident of the success of his electioneering. Even with the duke’s interest exerted to the full, the appearance of his heir Lord Lincoln† and the mustering of the clergy, Duncombe (who secured the votes of 41 per cent of the 1,491 electors polled) trailed badly and finished 344 adrift of Newark (with 64 per cent), who himself ended 124 short of Harcourt Vernon (on 72 per cent), after a three-day contest.62 Duncombe secured 291 (or 48 per cent) of his votes in plumpers and shared 233 splits with Harcourt Vernon (38 per cent) and 86 with Newark (14 per cent). Harcourt Vernon and Newark had 829 splits (representing 77 and 87 per cent of their totals) and only 39 and 13 plumpers respectively. Of the 182 freemen polled, 45 per cent split for Harcourt Vernon and Newark, while 30 per cent plumped for Duncombe and 22 per cent split their votes between him and one or other of the reformers. Duncombe, who failed to command a majority in any division of the hundred, received only 29 and 21 per cent of the votes from Retford and Tuxford, where Newcastle certainly owned property. In the Worksop division, where Gally Knight, Manvers and Surrey were among the principal landowners, he fared badly with just 17 per cent, and in Bawtry Harcourt Vernon and Newark obtained 79 per cent of the vote.63 Newark’s accounts show that he spent over £3,000 to ensure his re-election.64
The inhabitants celebrated the triumph of independence at a dinner attended by both Members, 18 May, and their reform petition was presented to the Lords by Lord Grey, 3 Oct. 1831.65 Although it was assumed that Newcastle’s territorial strength would give him control of one seat in normal circumstances, his power was limited by the uneven distribution of his estates in the hundred and the presence of other large landholdings.66 In fact, it was Manvers who had the stronger interest, and with the county borough franchise maintained under clause 34 of the Reform Act and Newcastle again declining to spend, he manoeuvred to secure Newark’s return with Harcourt Vernon, who was run close by the Conservative Sir John Beckett*, at the general election of 1832, when there were 2,312 registered electors.67 Newcastle’s second son Lord Charles Pelham Clinton† was the defeated Conservative candidate at the general election of 1835, when Duncombe replaced Newark. He was criticized in the municipal corporations report for his patronage of East Retford, where the system of government was judged to be hopelessly inadequate, but took comfort late that year from the favourable local election results for the Conservatives, who dominated the representation of the borough until the 1850s.68
Authors: Simon Harratt / Stephen Farrell
Partly based on R.A. Preston, ‘Structure of Government and Politics in Notts. 1824-35’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1978), 75-80, 332-60, and ‘E. Retford: Last Days of a Rotten Borough’, Thoroton Soc. lxxviii (1974), 94-103.
- 1. The hundred of Bassetlaw had a population of 37,252 in 1831.
- 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 344; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of England (1844), iii. 632; J.S. Piercy, Retford, 10, 146-9.
- 3. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 337-9; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 572; (1835), xxv. 455-6, 464-5; W. White, Notts. Dir. (1832), 300-3; Piercy, 89.
- 4. Preston, ‘E. Retford’, 94-95; PP (1835), xxv. 465; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 315.
- 5. Unhappy Reactionary ed. R. A. Gaunt (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xliii), pp. xix-xx.
- 6. Oldfield, iv. 339-46.
- 7. Preston, ‘E. Retford’, 96; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 314.
- 8. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F49/66, 71; Nottingham Jnl. 18, 25 Mar. 1820; LJ, lxii. 315, 318-19, 351, 354.
- 9. CJ, lxxvi. 120; lxxvii. 127; lxxx. 350.
- 10. Ibid. lxxx. 309; LJ, lv. 225; The Times, 8 June 1822.
- 11. CJ, lxxviii. 127; lxxix. 309, 350; The Times, 26 Feb. 1823, 9 Mar. 1824, 15 Apr. 1826.
- 12. Fitzwilliam mss, Parker to Fitzwilliam, 26 Sept. 1824; 118/10, 11.
- 13. Ibid. 118/5-7, 9, 11.
- 14. Ibid. 118/1-4, 8; Nottingham Jnl. 13, 17 Nov. 1824.
- 15. Unhappy Reactionary, 44-45; Add. 40370, f. 201.
- 16. Nottingham Rev. 5 Aug., 28 Oct.; Nottingham Jnl. 17 Sept., 1, 29 Oct., 26 Nov., 3 Dec. 1825; LJ, lxii. 652-4, 658, 700-2; Electionana Retfordiensis (1825), passim.
- 17. Unhappy Reactionary, 45.
- 18. Rev. J.W. Brooks, Letter to Inhabitants of E. Retford (1825) and Papist’s Portrait Retouched (1825); Nottingham Jnl. 10, 31 Dec. 1825.
- 19. Nottingham Jnl. 11, 25 Feb. 1826; Unhappy Reactionary, 49-50.
- 20. Fitzwilliam mss 124/1, 4; 125/15.
- 21. Ibid. Parker to Fitzwilliam, 23 May; Nottingham Rev. 19, 26 May 1826.
- 22. Nottingham Rev. 16, 23 June; Nottingham Jnl. 17, 23 June 1826; Fitzwilliam mss 125/13, 14; LJ, lxii. 395, 413, 522, 541, 622-3; Add. 40388, f. 37; Unhappy Reactionary, 51.
- 23. Fitzwilliam mss 125/6, 9; 126/4; LJ, lxii. 704.
- 24. CJ, lxxxii. 71-73, 382, 384; Nottingham Rev. 30 Mar. 1827.
- 25. PP (1826-7), iv. 760-951; Nottingham and Newark Mercury, 21, 27 Apr.; Nottingham Jnl. 28 Apr. 1827; Preston, ‘E. Retford’, 94, 98-99.
- 26. Add. 40393, f. 114; Nottingham Jnl. 21 Apr., 2 June; Nottingham Rev. 27 Apr., 4 May 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 417-18.
- 27. Canning Official Corresp. ii. 378-9; CJ, lxxxii. 521-2, 579-80; The Times, 7 June 1827.
- 28. CJ, lxxxii. 543-4, 574-5, 596, 604.
- 29. Ibid. lxxxiii. 9, 25, 96, 97, 101-2, 117.
- 30. S. Humberside AO, Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss 2Td’E H85/3, 9; Hatherton diary, 20, 22 [Feb.] 1828.
- 31. CJ, lxxxiii. 122, 126, 138-9, 146, 151-2, 191, 195, 199; PP (1828), iv. 37-129.
- 32. Croker Pprs. i. 410; Ellenborough Diary, i. 63-65, 67; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 173, 176; Wellington mss WP1/923/6.
- 33. Nottingham Rev. 14 Mar. 1828.
- 34. Unhappy Reactionary, 53-55.
- 35. Derbys. RO D239 M/8651, 8656; Nottingham Rev. 28 Mar., 4 Apr. 1828.
- 36. Fitzwilliam mss, Parker to Fitzwilliam [17 May], to Milton, 18 May, Crompton to same, 21 May 1828.
- 37. CJ, lxxxiii. 329-30.
- 38. Add. 38762, ff. 185-91; Broughton, Recollections, iii. 269; Ellenborough Diary, i. 109-10; N. Gash, Secretary Peel, 470-1; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 51, 342.
- 39. CJ, lxxxiii. 473, 484-5, 489, 523, 526, 529.
- 40. Add. 38757, ff. 147, 155, 184.
- 41. CJ, lxxxiv. 121, 219, 264.
- 42. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 27, 29, 32; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 271; Croker Pprs. i1. 14-15.
- 43. CJ, lxxxiv. 272, 364
- 44. Wellington mss WP1/1023/27; 1029/5.
- 45. Fitzwilliam mss, Richards to Milton, 30 May 1829.
- 46. Grey mss, Durham to Grey [8 Feb.]; Nottingham Rev. 19 Feb. 1830.
- 47. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 191, 194; Brock, 75, 82-83.
- 48. CJ, lxxxv. 26-28, 107, 133-4, 142, 150, 180.
- 49. Ibid. 256, 266, 273, 278, 322; LJ, lxii. 167, 171, 177, 192-3, 215.
- 50. LJ, lxii. 223-862; PP (1830-1), x. 209.
- 51. Unhappy Reactionary, 64-66; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 318.
- 52. LJ, lxii. 905, 910-11, 913, 917; Ellenborough Diary, ii. 299, 315, 317, 321; Brock, 75, 82-85, 346.
- 53. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 572.
- 54. Unhappy Reactionary, 63-67.
- 55. Nottingham Rev. 23, 30 July 1830; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland mss PwH 987.
- 56. Castle Howard mss, Lady C. Lascelles to Lady Carlisle [24 July]; Nottingham Rev. 30 July, 13 Aug.; Nottingham Jnl. 14 Aug. 1830; Unhappy Reactionary, 68-69; PP (1830-1), x. 96-97.
- 57. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Thoresby accts. (domestic) 1829-30; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 4520-4; Unhappy Reactionary, 69, 196.
- 58. [W. Carpenter] People’s Bk. (1831), 241; Add. 61937, f. 115; Nottingham Rev. 1 Oct. 1830; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G2/11, 27.
- 59. Add. 40401, ff. 132, 139, 140; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 76.
- 60. Nottingham Rev. 13 Aug., 29 Oct.; Doncaster, Nottingham and Lincoln Gazette, 13, 20, 27 Aug., 3, 10, 24 Sept. 1830, 25 Mar. 1831.
- 61. CJ, lxxxvi. 415, 446; LJ, lxiii. 352; Nottingham Rev. 22 Apr. 1831.
- 62. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 F793, Becher to Sotheron, 26 Apr.; Nottingham Rev. 1, 29 Apr., 6, 13 May; The Times, 9 May; Lincoln and Newark Times, 11 May 1831; Unhappy Reactionary, 79-82; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 572.
- 63. E. Retford Pollbooks (1831).
- 64. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Holme Pierrepont acct. bk. 1831.
- 65. Doncaster, Nottingham and Lincoln Gazette, 27 May 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1037.
- 66. A. C. Pickersgill, ‘Agricultural Revolution in Bassetlaw’ (Nottingham Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1979), 432-4.
- 67. Key to Both Houses (1832), 297; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 68-69, 439; Unhappy Reactionary, 94, 98; J. Golby, ‘A Great Electioneer and his Motives’, HJ, viii (1965), 213.
- 68. PP (1835), xxv. 465-7; Unhappy Reactionary, 105.