Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot
Estimated number qualified to vote:
7 in 18311
135 (1821); 146 (1831)
|9 Mar. 1820||JESSE WATTS RUSSELL|
|9 June 1826||HON. WILLIAM SCOTT|
|MICHAEL GEORGE PRENDERGAST|
|8 Mar. 1830||JOSEPH NEELD vice Scott, vacated his seat|
|30 July 1830||JOHN VILLIERS SHELLEY|
|JOHN THOMAS HOPE|
|30 Apr. 1831||JOHN CHARLES GEORGE SAVILE, Visct. Pollington|
|HON. ANTHONY JOHN ASHLEY COOPER|
Gatton, which was situated two miles north of Reigate in the east of the county, had once been ‘a considerable town’, but by the 1830s it was ‘an insignificant village’. The borough was coextensive with the parish. Political control was firmly in the hands of Sir Mark Wood† of Gatton Park, the lord of the manor since 1801, who appointed the constable, the returning officer for parliamentary elections. Although the official return in 1831 stated that there were seven electors, Oldfield claimed in 1820 that Wood was the only freeholder and that he owned all the qualifying rated properties, which were let on weekly leases. In fact, it was alleged, ‘he pays the taxes and retains the whole right of election to himself’.2 Gatton was frequently cited as an example of the gross iniquities of the unreformed electoral system, and in the Commons, 6 July 1831, the county Member Lord William Lennox asked: ‘Can there be a more ridiculous burlesque than a Gatton election, in which the patron, the candidates [and] the constituents, if constituents there be ... including the footman, cook and gardener, can all be packed and sent down by the Brighton omnibus?’
In 1820 and 1826 Wood continued his policy of returning paying guests who were friendly to Lord Liverpool’s ministry. It appears that in May 1828 Gatton was being prepared as a fallback for Sir George Murray in the event of his failing to secure re-election for Perthshire, following his appointment as colonial secretary in the duke of Wellington’s administration.3 William Scott opposed the government’s Catholic emancipation bill in 1829 but Michael Prendergast, an Irishman, supported it; the borough was silent on the matter. That February Wood died and his heir, also Sir Mark Wood*, put the Gatton estate up for sale. In November 1829 Lord Lowther* remarked that ‘close boroughs have not fallen in price, whatever depreciation there has been on other property’, and he understood that ‘large sums, even extravagant sums, have been offered for Gatton’. The same month George Robert Dawson* wrote wistfully: ‘Oh! what a delightful seat Gatton would be ... it is now on the market and "Chin" [Alexander Cray] Grant* has offered £130,000 for it, but they asked £220,000’.4 It was probably the by-election occasioned in March 1830 by Scott’s retirement that John Maberly was referring to in the Commons (20 July 1831), when he alleged that it was ‘notorious’ that Gatton had been ‘absolutely in the hands of a broker and ... a seat had been sold for £1,200 on ... condition that the Member should vote for [Wellington’s] administration’. The Member returned on this occasion, Joseph Neeld, a Wiltshire landowner, was certainly well able to afford such a sum for what proved to be a very short stay in the House. In July 1830 the 5th Baron Monson, who had recently come of age, commenced negotiations for the purchase of the estate, which Wood was anxious to dispose of quickly, and, having been assured of his ‘perfect safety’ in the borough, Monson closed the deal on the 28th, reportedly for the sum of £160,000.5 At the general election two days later he returned two ministerialists, one of whom, John Villiers Shelley, was a distant relative.
The Grey ministry’s reform bill of March 1831 proposed the total disfranchisement of Gatton. Shelley and his colleague John Thomas Hope both opposed the measure, but at the ensuing general election Monson, who had shed his early Whig politics, replaced them with two more anti-reformers, one of them being his cousin Lord Pollington. Lennox mentioned this episode in the Commons, 6 July, as proof of the nature of nomination boroughs, maintaining that Shelley had ‘without warning’ been given ‘notice to quit, not because he did not do his duty to his patron, but because his patron, on principle of doing what he liked "with his own", accommodated another friend of the family’. In the discussion on Gatton’s inclusion in schedule A of the reintroduced reform bill, 21 July, the mere mention of its name elicited ‘roars of laughter’, though one unidentified Member defended it, perhaps facetiously, as one of ‘the mysteries of the constitution which has puzzled the heads of our wisest and greatest statesmen’. The new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831 confirmed its fate, as it was placed among the ten smallest English boroughs. Its disfranchisement was agreed to without dissent, 20 Feb. 1832, and it was absorbed into the Eastern division of Surrey.
Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 32, 33.
- 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1832-4), 991; Oldfield, Key (1820), 37; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 32, 33.
- 3. HMC Bathurst, lxxvi, 654.
- 4. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 2 Nov.; PRO NI 642/242, Dawson to Sir George Hill, 25 Nov. 1829.
- 5. Surr. Hist. Cent. Wood mss 216/1/7; 4/23-130; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Barne mss, Mrs. Boucherett to John Angerstein, 2 Aug. 1830.