Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:



3,415 (1821); 3,890 (1831)2


9 Mar. 1820WILLIAM ORD
12 June 1826WILLIAM ORD
3 Aug. 1830WILLIAM ORD
30 Apr. 1831WILLIAM ORD

Main Article

Morpeth, a 7,600-acre parish and market town on the River Wansbeck, centrally situated some 17 miles north of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and 18 south of Alnwick, was an important staging post on the Newcastle-Edinburgh road. Ecclesiastically comprised of the townships of Morpeth, Buller’s Green, Catchburn, Hepscott, High Church, Newminster Abbey, Shilvington, Tramwell, Twizell and Ulgham, the parliamentary borough was generally considered to extend northwards from Morpeth to Cottingwood and eastwards to Wansbeck, but excluded Buller’s Green.3 The monopoly of the representation enjoyed by the Howards, earls of Carlisle, as lords of the manor of Castle Morpeth had been successfully challenged in 1802 by their fellow Whig William Ord, owner of the Newminster Abbey estate, who, under a tacit agreement ‘of mutual forbearance’ negotiated two years later to counter any third party challenge through the independent freemen, sat undisturbed with Howard family Members until 1832. The curtailment of freeman admissions at the Easter and Michaelmas courts leet, over which Carlisle’s agents presided, was vital to the patrons’ strategy. Admission was by tally (in groups of up to 24) on presentment, and exclusive to resident elected members (free brethren) of the seven incorporated guilds (merchants, tanners, fullers and dyers, smiths, cordwainers, weavers and butchers). Inclusion in the tallies of minors aged 14 and over, lawfully admitted to the guilds, effectively delayed admission until the youngest came of age, before which no new lists could be submitted. Of 96 admissions, 1819-31, 73 were in tallies of 20, 17, 16 and 20 admitted in 1819, 1822, 1824 and 1830. A further 23 freemen, mostly honorary and non-resident, were created over the same period. Freemen and free brethren alike qualified for post-election treats, free schooling and allotments.4

Ord and William Howard, the 5th earl of Carlisle’s second son and Member since 1806, were returned unopposed in 1820, having as usual canvassed separately to dispel allegations of collusion.5 The ‘independent burgesses’ addressed Queen Caroline in September 1820 and ‘upwards of 300’ free brethren petitioned the Commons for parliamentary reform and their own enfranchisement, 22 Feb. 1821; but the Members shunned their demands and complaints at the delays in freeman creation.6 Both Houses received petitions from the town’s Dissenters in May 1820 and March 1821 requesting a Dissenters’ Marriage Act (on the Scottish model).7 The 6th earl of Carlisle, who had succeeded his father in September 1825, returned his heir Lord Morpeth, a member of the ambassadorial delegation to the coronation of Tsar Alexander, in absentia at the general election of 1826, leaving Howard to deputize for him and to assist Ord in mustering local support for the 2nd Earl Grey’s heir Lord Howick*, who was defeated in Northumberland.8 Lord Morpeth, a supporter of the Canning and Goderich ministries who deplored the separation of the Whigs and Huskissonites in 1828, was fêted at a dinner for 130 freemen, 12 Jan. 1827, when Carlisle agreed to promote legislation for a bridge across the Wansbeck. It was opened in 1831, while the enactment of the 1820 and 1831 Morpeth-Piecy’s Cross road bills and Thomas Telford’s Newcastle-Edinburgh road (1825-31) also improved local communications.9 Petitions for repeal of the Test Acts were adopted by the Dissenters and received by the Commons, 6 June 1827, and by both Houses in February 1828.10 The town’s Roman Catholics petitioned both Houses for relief in May 1828, but the clergy of Morpeth deanery opposed its concession in 1829.11 Morpeth’s transfer to Yorkshire and replacement by his uncle at the 1830 general election was resented by the reformers. Ord accordingly distanced himself politically from Morpeth in his election speech, while Howard (who later went over to the Conservatives) remained largely silent.12

The inhabitants’ petitions for the abolition of colonial slavery were received by the Commons, 18 Nov., and the Lords, 2 Dec. 1830.13 Morpeth was scheduled to lose one seat by the reform bill announced by the Grey ministry, of which Carlisle was a member, 1 Mar. 1831, and it had both Members’ support. The burgesses, resident burgesses and inhabitants petitioned the Commons separately opposing it, 28 Mar., and the bailiffs and burgesses in common court memorialized the home secretary Lord Melbourne, 16 Apr., stating that Buller’s Green had been erroneously omitted from the 1821 census and citing population totals of 3,670 in 1821 and 4,292 in 1831.14 The sitting Members were returned at the general election precipitated by the bill’s defeat, 19 Apr., and the reformers, who gained a county Member in Howick, capitalized on Morpeth’s reprieve, announced, 18 Apr. 1831, on the ground that the 1821 census was defective.15

Morpeth retained both seats when the bill was reintroduced in June 1831. Petitions from the bailiffs, aldermen, free burgesses and free brothers asked the Commons, 1 July, and the Lords, 27 Sept., to amend it by extending the franchise to all future resident burgesses and free brethren. They gave an estimated electorate should this be done of 426 (106 resident freemen, 160 resident free brethren and 166 £10 householders).16 The inhabitants meanwhile petitioned the Lords urging the bill’s passage, 3 Oct. 1831.17 Uneasy at being encouraged by Carlisle’s agents to declare for Northumberland South, Ord sought the advice of his son, the boundary commissioner William Henry Ord†, before the commissioners’ visit in September 1831 and directed their local agent John Moor to make stringent preparations. The younger Ord explained:

Respecting the number of £10 houses, or houses with land in the borough and parish, if these amount to 300, there will be no occasion for further increase, indeed the power of the commissioners to increase in that case will be limited within the adjoining rural district; but should less than 300 be found, their seven league boots may be put on and they may then and very probably will favour you with the addition of Blyth or some such place. I have no doubt that the parish does contain 300, but they should be ready with the proofs of it from rate books, etc., so as to stop the prie en consideration of such an addition. The understanding is certainly that where the borough has been saved from schedule A or B by the parish being taken in and counted in aid of the population, the commissioners are not to restrict the boundary. However, by the bill they have the power to do so, and may prefer the addition of the nearest town whose parish comes within seven miles of the borough to adding the rural district in the neighbourhood, even should it form a portion of the parts. You had better not mention this power, for at present they are all acting on the understanding above mentioned and probably will continue to do so; and in that case the proof of the 300 within the parish and (the fact of which the commissioners may as well be reminded by someone on the spot) that the borough has been saved by including the parish, will be sufficient to prevent any further discussion upon it.18

Morpeth, which ranked 83rd in the amended disfranchisement list, was restored to schedule B in the revised reform bill announced in December 1831. The patrons did not publicly oppose the change, but Ord, who was among the bill’s staunchest supporters, declared his candidature for Northumberland South, 29 Dec. 1831. (He was defeated there a year later.)19 The inhabitants petitioned the Lords against any increase in the £10 borough voting qualification, 7 May, and also urged them to alter the bill to permit them to elect two Members as previously, 11 May 1832.20 Morpeth also petitioned on behalf of the Deacles, 9 Sept. 1831, against the general registry bill, 28 Feb., and against the Durham University bill, 20, 27 June 1832, which the minister and elders of the Presbyterian chapel, who later reached a comprise with the diocese, feared would deny them their proprietorial rights, when part of the parish’s advowson and certain properties were used to fund the university.21 The boundary delineated by the commissioners on the assumption that the borough would return two Members was adhered to in the 1832 Act, which added all the extra-burghal townships and the parish of Bedlington, a detached part of county Durham, which included the Blyth coalfield, to the constituency, increasing its area from 0.4 to 23.3 square miles.22 It made little difference to the size of the registered electorate of 321 in December 1832, 131 of whom qualified as freemen, 104 as £10 voters, and 75 with dual qualifications, nor to their allegiance, for they returned Carlisle’s second son Frederick Howard (a Liberal) unopposed.23 The Howards and their relations sat undisturbed until 1868.

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Totals for Apr. 1820 and Dec. 1831 (Durham Univ. Lib. Howard of Naworth mss HN/xliii/5, Castle Morpeth court rolls, p. 282; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 555).
  • 2. Excluding Buller’s Green.
  • 3. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), iii. 448-50.
  • 4. Northumb. RO BMO/B/9 (Morpeth freeman admissions); NRO989 (Morpeth guild minute bk. 1741-1835); PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 555; (1835), xxv. 219; D.L. Stoker, ‘Elections and Voting Behaviour: A Study of Elections in Northumb., co. Dur., Cumb. and Westmld. 1760-1830’ (Manchester Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1980), 9-10; Key to Both Houses (1832), 364.
  • 5. Newcastle Courant, 12 Feb., 18, 25 Mar. 1820.
  • 6. CJ, lxxvi. 100; Add. 36458, ff. 407, 409.
  • 7. CJ, lxxv. 122; LJ, liv. 126.
  • 8. Add. 51580, Carlisle to Lady Holland, 2 May; Castle Howard mss, Howard to Carlisle, 10 June 1826, 4 Jan. 1827; The Times, 12 June; Tyne Mercury, 13 June 1826.
  • 9. Castle Howard mss, Loch to Carlisle, 4 Jan., Morpeth to Lady Carlisle [Jan. 1827, May 1828]; CJ, lxxv. 149, 202, 353, 403; lxxx. 367; lxxxiv. 138, 354; lxxxvi. 443, 571; LJ, liii. 274; lxi. 528.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxii. 520; lxxxiii. 87; LJ, lx. 55.
  • 11. CJ, lxxxiii. 319; lxxxiv. 146; LJ, lx 307; lxi. 193.
  • 12. Tyne Mercury, 20 July; Newcastle Chron. 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxvi. 108; LJ, lxiii. 146.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxvi. 446; PP (1831), xvi. 45.
  • 15. Tyne Mercury, 26 Apr., 3, 10 May 1831.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxvi. 600; LJ, lxiii. 1011.
  • 17. LJ, lxiii. 1034.
  • 18. Northumb. RO, Blackett-Ord mss NRO324/A/36, W.H. Ord to fa. 18 Sept. and Sept. 1831.
  • 19. PP (1831-2), iii. 40-41, 94-95, 150-1.
  • 20. LJ, lxiv. 184, 201.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 855; lxxxvii. 152, 423, 453.
  • 22. PP (1831), xxxix. 169-70; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 432.
  • 23. PP (1833), xxviii. 189; Newcastle Courant, 15 Dec. 1832.