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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 1,700

Number of voters:

1,494 in 1831


8,084 (1821); 9,957 (1831)


 Samuel Ellis Bristowe296
6 Mar. 1829MICHAEL THOMAS SADLER vice Clinton, vacated his seat801
 Thomas Wilde587
 Thomas Wilde652
21 Feb. 1831WILLIAM FARNWORTH HANDLEY vice Willoughby, vacated his seat833
 Thomas Wilde543
3 May 1831THOMAS WILDE849
 Sir Roger Gresley, bt.678

Main Article

Newark was a thriving market town on the Trent, 18 miles north-east of Nottingham and close to the border with Lincolnshire. Its staple industries of brewing and malting were supplemented in this period by recently introduced cotton manufacturing.1 The corporation consisted of a mayor (the returning officer) and 12 other aldermen, chosen by themselves from the inhabitants; there were no freemen. Since 1805 the representation had been controlled by the ‘united interest’, an alliance between the anti-Catholic Tory 4th duke of Newcastle of Clumber Castle, head of the Reds, and the Tory 6th Baron Middleton of Wollaton Hall, patron of the Yellows. The third partner in the arrangement was Sir Jenison William Gordon of Haverholme Priory, Lincolnshire, whose political influence was slight. By far the dominant figure was Newcastle, the leading landowner in and around the borough, where his property included about 1,000 acres leased from the crown. In 1831 it was reckoned that he had about 300 tenants in the borough, occupying at low rates, who were eligible to vote. The corporation’s subservience to the united interest was sustained by treating and the judicious distribution of patronage. From April 1826 its routine management was in the hands of William Edward Tallents, the town clerk and Newcastle’s steward and principal election agent. The Blues, whose opposition to the Newcastle interest had failed in 1790 and 1796, were, as the municipal corporations commissioners discovered, excluded from the corporation and the enjoyment of patronage. Yet they remained a potential threat in a borough with a sizeable electorate, their ‘party spirit’ intensified by jealousy and a sense of injustice. The corporation’s appropriation of about £425 a year of the revenues of estates belonging to various charities gave their opponents a locally exploitable source of grievance.2

At the general election of 1820, the appearance of William Bryant of London (whose son stood against Newcastle’s nominees at Aldborough) in a bid to revive the Blue interest came to nothing. The sitting Members, Newcastle’s kinsman General Clinton and Middleton’s cousin Henry Willoughby, were returned unopposed.3 The absent Willoughby was ‘represented’ by William Farnworth Handley, a local brewer and banker. A week later Newcastle’s then agent Edward Godfrey promised to ‘turn my attention seriously to the adoption of any measures that may appear to be adviseable for the purpose of strengthening’ his interest ‘in the event of an attack’. He told the duke that Clinton had previously been seated for £412, though this did not take into account the distribution of coals at Christmas, which cost an additional £500 for each Member.4 In the spring of 1824, amid rumours of a dissolution, the Blues urged their sympathizers not to be negligent in paying their rates. A January 1825 handbill attacked the united interest and their ‘pliant upstart agents, who are Whigs and Tories as suit their sordid purpose’.5 Merchants, traders and inhabitants petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Acts, 3 Mar. 1823; licensed victuallers did so for relief from the duty on licences, 12 Feb. 1824; owners and occupiers of land petitioned against interference with the corn laws, 28 Apr.; and the corporation and inhabitants called for the abolition of slavery, 27 Feb. 1826.6 The corporation and inhabitants petitioned against Catholic claims, 18 Apr. 1823, 15 Apr. 1825, but some non-Catholic inhabitants petitioned in its favour, 21 Apr. 1825.7 In January 1825 Newcastle wrote to Tallents of his indifference to the ‘odium’ he might incur by furnishing the town’s newsroom with an anti-Catholic paper and his ‘hope that the good sense and right feeling of the inhabitants of Newark will not look upon this vital question in a party view’. Tallents evidently urged caution, and the duke, claiming to be ‘unacquainted with the state of politics at Newark’, conceded that ‘if such a measure is to create a very violent party feeling, it would assuredly be wise not to put flame to the fuel’.8

In the spring of 1826 some potential challengers were named in the local press, including Gordon’s friend Benjamin Handley, a banker of Sleaford and uncle of William Farnworth Handley.9 When Parliament was dissolved in June Clinton and Willoughby were coolly received. Newcastle did not expect the threatened opposition to come to anything, and on the day before the election was shocked to learn that Samuel Ellis Bristowe of Beesthorpe Hall had started as third man, advocating ‘a fair and equitable representation of the people’, retrenchment, relaxation of the corn laws and cautious steps towards the abolition of slavery.10 There was serious violence, clearly incited by Bristowe and his leading supporters, throughout the polling, which Bristowe gave up on the second day. The preparations for the chairing of Clinton provoked a riot, in which the Members were pelted with large paving stones, the platform and processional chairs were wrecked and windows were smashed. For over an hour the mob were ‘masters of the market place’, until a band of special constables, assisted by the Newark troop of yeomanry cavalry and the county militia, intervened. Over 50 rioters were arrested. All further celebrations, including the dinner, were abandoned. Newcastle thought ‘such pusillanimity detracts from a good cause and adds strength to the bad one’ and realized that ‘the foundation is now laid ... for much future trouble, expense and vexation’.11 Of the 893 electors who polled (711 were said to have been unpolled), 73 per cent gave a vote for Willoughby, 67 for Clinton and 33 for Bristowe. The united candidates shared 575 votes (64 per cent of those who polled), while Bristowe got 225 plumpers (25 per cent). Willoughby’s votes split with Clinton represented 89 per cent of his total and 97 per cent of Clinton’s. Fifty-nine men (seven per cent of voters) split between Bristowe and Willoughby and 12 between Bristowe and Clinton.12

A week after the election Newcastle discussed his future strategy with Godfrey and Clinton. Though disheartened by the apparent lack of commitment of Middleton and Gordon to the united interest, he resolved to preserve their alliance, but at the same time to urge the need for ‘a clear understanding that the votes of one shall be reciprocally given to the other’. He also directed that ‘a correct list is to be made out of all the voters and a report made of the state of the votes. I shall then know what I may depend upon and may then form my plans for the future with greater precision’.13 At an orderly parade and dinner in honour of Bristowe, who had, as Newcastle put it, ‘endeavoured to leave a sting behind him’ in the form of ‘a flaming address ... pledging himself to stand on a future occasion’, the Blues did much to restore their political credibility, so recently associated with violence. Bristowe focused attention on the improperly managed charity estates, while Samuel Wells, the Huntingdon attorney, who had offered to defend the election rioters, gave a detailed expose of boroughmongering in the Midlands and, like other speakers, looked to the future assertion of Newark’s independence. The inauguration of an annual dinner for the Blues was indicative of the growth of anti-corporation feeling and provided an alternative to the corporation feasts, which were little more than Red party gatherings held to bolster Newcastle’s interest.14 The duke resolved to assert the solidarity of the united interest to curb the resurgence of the Blue cause. Opening negotiations, Tallents disclosed to Middleton’s agent J.N. Martin, 30 Sept. 1826, that Newcastle

conceived it would be the best policy, if all the members of the united interest acted together, to permit no tenants to remain on the estates but those who voted wholly Red; but that of course ... he would not individually act on this principle, nor remove those who voted for Sir William Clinton and Mr. Bristowe unless ... [Middleton] removed those who voted for Mr. Willoughby and Mr. Bristowe.15

Tallents, now a convert to Newcastle’s hard line on evictions, saw the need to make an example of all the dissident tenants, provided Middleton followed suit: otherwise, ‘a general impression may run through the tenantry that they are not expected to do more than give one vote for their landlord, and are quite at liberty to support a third candidate with the other’.16 But the duke’s thinly veiled ambition to control the united interest alienated his principal allies. Gordon, whose opinion it was reported Middleton would respect, rebuffed Newcastle’s personal appeal for support and ultimately, it seems, dashed all hopes of concerted action against the recalcitrant tenants. William Handley was also consulted, but although he favoured ‘a conference and deliberate consideration of the subject’, the likelihood of his private knowledge of Gordon’s decision forestalled any such meeting and made his endorsement of Newcastle’s wishes unlikely. The duke, however, persisted:

On full consideration I am sure that the straightforward course will be best and that no song no supper, or no votes no houses, shall be the distinguishing rule ... We have now gone so far that we cannot recede and the case stands thus with my tenants: those who voted for Bristowe plumpers will receive notices, the same to those who voted Willoughby and Bristowe, and the fate of those who voted Clinton and Bristowe will be decided by the conclusive opinion of the leading interests.17

Before Middleton’s decision was made known the situation was further complicated by Gordon’s surprise decision to sell some of his Newark property. Newcastle and Tallents were eager to buy in order to keep it ‘out of enemy hands’, but Gordon had already offered first refusal to his tenants, with the reversion to William Handley. In the end Newcastle had to console himself with Handley’s purchase of the lion’s share (20-30 houses) and the reflection that the property had not fallen into ‘adverse hands’.18 Having already delivered notices to quit to ‘such tenants as there could be no doubt ought to be removed’, Tallents urged Middleton to come to a decision over the split voters before Michaelmas. No word had arrived by 7 Oct., when Martin informed Tallents that Middleton

thinks that the evil which has occurred is so limited in its extent, that it may be corrected without resorting to extreme measures, as by the expression of extreme disappointment ... and a strong expectation that a firm reliance might be placed on the several parties upon all future occasions. Lord Middleton hopes the united interest may never be disturbed, but thinks it more judicial in the present instance to endeavour to preserve or restore it by milder measures, than incur the risk of that irritation which the stronger might excite.19

Middleton’s appeasement and Gordon’s irresolution annoyed Newcastle, who determined to adopt a more independent line in order to consolidate his interest:

My allies, it appears, are not at all willing to be led by me, but I am in all instances led by them. As I engaged to act as my allies should act towards the splitting tenants so it must be for this turn, but it is the last. In future I shall take my own line and I am sure that we shall do better and occupy a more commanding situation, for it is a sneaking and pitiful thing to be led by the nose on every occasion and always to be a follower and not a leader ... What you have done about notices is quite right - the arrears must be paid up ... To the tenants who voted Clinton and Bristowe and to those who are suspicious, I should wish you to take special opportunity of declaring to them openly that tenants must always vote with their landlord, that I am highly displeased with their conduct and that nothing has saved them from being turned out but the novelty of the circumstances and the possible ignorance in supposing that if they gave one vote to their landlord, they might dispose of the other as they pleased. Assure them positively that a stop is now put to such proceedings by their eyes being opened, and by my firm determination.20

Following their unsuccessful attempt to convene a public meeting to call for inquiry into the administration of the charity estates, the Blues decided to challenge the Reds’ monopoly and ‘disgraceful partiality’ in local government. During the winter and early spring of 1826-7 the Nottingham and Newark Mercury serialized the Rev. Bernard Wilson’s critique of the management of the municipal estate, first published in 1768. Well in advance of the Easter elections of churchwardens, an independent public meeting resolved to put up alternative candidates to Newcastle’s nominees. Tallents sponsored these men as usual, but called on the Reds to indemnify them from expense in the event of a contest. The authorities barricaded the church and swore in a large number of special constables. The Blues’ connection with the various charities entrusted to them enabled them to control the outlay of considerable sums of money among friendly tradesmen, but they could not match their opponents’ bribery, and they capitulated with only 155 votes to 898. Tallents ignored the recriminations published by the anti-corporation party. In 1828 the Reds were again victorious, by 281 to 118, though almost 1,600 electors remained unpolled.21 On 7 May 1828 Brougham presented to the Commons the petition of several Newark inhabitants and householders for inquiry into the corporation’s management of charitable trusts. The charity commissioners subsequently investigated and, after legal proceedings, the corporation’s scope for misappropriation was curtailed.22 The corporation and inhabitants petitioned the Commons against Catholic relief, 5 Mar. 1827, 6 Feb. 1829, but local Catholics, some inhabitants and the Protestant inhabitants petitioned in its favour, 25 Apr., 9 May 1828, 10 Feb. 1829.23 Protestant Dissenters petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts, 18 June 1827, 28 Feb. 1828.24 Local maltsters petitioned for repeal of the Malt Act, 14 Feb. 1828, and publicans against opening the beer trade, 5 Apr. 1830.25

On 13 Feb. 1829 Clinton, lieutenant-general of the ordnance since 1825, told Newcastle of his intention to resign if the duke insisted on opposition to the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation. Newcastle, who was incensed by their apostacy, immediately proposed to bring in Lord Encombe*, but after consultation with his grandfather Lord Eldon decided to nominate ‘someone of more experience’. He selected the Leeds linen merchant Michael Sadler, a prominent Evangelical Protestant and an anti-Malthusian pamphleteer.26 Only when he was in possession of Sadler’s agreement to stand, 20 Feb., did he take Tallents into his confidence and acquaint him with the fait accompli of Clinton’s impending resignation and replacement, stressing the need for continued secrecy in order to avoid opposition and expense. Later, but before the moving of the new writ, apprehensive that such an arbitrary nomination might not be well received, he exhorted Tallents to present his case to the electors in the best possible light and explained his reasons for wishing to seat Sadler.27 The demoralized Blues were taken by surprise, and their overtures to the Sleaford Handleys were unsuccessful. A cabal of lawyers associated with the Midland circuit asked the king’s serjeant, Thomas Wilde, to stand. After taking soundings through the London attorney Charles Pearson, one of those who had contacted him, he decided to go ahead and left London for Newark, where Sadler was already canvassing.28 Under Pearson’s direction, the Blues concentrated on Newcastle’s electoral tyranny and portrayed the contest not as a clash between Catholic and Protestant principles but as ‘a struggle’ against ‘an insulting and domineering attempt to stifle the spirit of free election ... heretofore drowned in the vortex of unconstitutional and dictatorial power’. On his arrival Wilde, who was assisted by a number of London lawyers, denounced Newcastle’s overbearing conduct. Sadler harped constantly on the threat to the Protestant ascendancy.29 Wilde was proposed without interruption by William Kelk, chairman of the Blue committee, and seconded by John Simnett, a pipe maker and one of the evicted tenants. Sadler, proposed by the vicar, William Bartlett, and John Orme Norton, was barracked as he denounced emancipation and evaded questions about his relationship with Newcastle. Wilde branded the anti-Catholic slogans of his opponents as part of a ruse ‘to make you forget the duke of Newcastle, and the tyranny exercised at Newark’.30 At the start of polling, objections by Wilde’s legal cronies forced Tallents, who had canvassed in Newcastle’s interest, to relinquish the assessorship. There were also complaints of obstruction to access to accurate copies of the rate books. At the close of the first day Wilde led by 138 to 47, but Sadler was ahead by 525 to 452 on the third and by the end of polling on the fifth had a majority of 214 from 1,388 votes cast. Wilde promised to stand again and appealed to Newcastle’s agent to intercede on behalf of those tenants who had voted in defiance of the duke. Pearson called for inquiry into the administration of the charity estates and claimed that the Blues had succeeded in opening the borough. Both parties celebrated lavishly.31 Pearson remained in Newark for six weeks to promote Wilde’s interest, strengthen ties with the Blues and try to safeguard Newcastle’s recalcitrant tenants from eviction. He published a farewell Address to the Electors of Newark, 7 Apr., urging zeal in the cause of independence. The election marked the Blues’ first substantial challenge to the Reds for over 30 years, though significantly it was promoted and organized by outsiders. Newcastle was gratified by the success of a dinner in honour of Sadler and Willoughby, who had also opposed emancipation in the House, 24 July 1829, reflecting that Sadler had ‘done his and my interest very great good’ by fostering ‘a good and zealous spirit which was much wanted’.32

The churchwardens’ elections in April 1829 gave the Blues a chance to test their strength, but they were defeated by 628-371.33 In September Newcastle, still convinced that Wilde had been sent by government to besmirch his name and heedless of the consequences, issued eviction notices to 54 tenants, including 17 of Tallents’s, who had voted for Wilde.34 Reaction in Newark was coordinated by Kelk and his coadjutors, but the corporation ignored a requisition for a public meeting to consider the issue. Bristowe, one of the signatories and now chairman of what Newcastle described as a ‘committee of ragamuffins’, invited the duke to attend the requisitionists’ planned meeting, but in his polite refusal he stated:

As I respect the liberty of others, so must I demand that others shall not attempt to interfere with that freedom and independence which is my right as well as theirs ... Is it presumed, then, that I am not to do what I will with my own, or that I am to surrender my property and the inherent rights belonging to it into the hands of those who desire to deprive me of it? This is the simple question - to which I answer, that whilst the laws of England exist and are respected, I shall permit neither clamour nor threats nor even force itself to deter me from doing as I may think fit with my property.35

The meeting, 5 Oct., which was reported at first hand in the London press, was attended by Wilde, Bristowe, Pearson and Kelk. James Hitchins, an auctioneer, read Newcastle’s letter to Bristowe (thus ensuring the public notoriety of the phrase ‘to do what I will with my own’) and exposed the extent of his influence derived from possession of the locally extensive crown lands. Wilde recommended a petition to the Commons, continued his attack on Newcastle’s doctrine of inherent right at the ensuing dinner and, having undertaken a full canvass, addressed a Blue gathering, 13 Oct., and spoke of his ambition to become their true representative by turning out Newcastle’s nominee.36 The duke, defying the torrent of abuse in the local and national press, issued further eviction notices in mid-October.37 In early November the radical Member Daniel Whittle Harvey visited Newark to survey Newcastle’s holding of crown lands with a view to raising the subject in the House. Pearson’s appearance later that month kept the spirit of opposition alive, and when the duke visited the playhouse, 18 Dec. 1829, he was hissed and confronted with placards, such as ‘Notice to quit from crown lands and pig sties’.38

Pre-empting Willoughby’s intention to distribute coals at Christmas 1829, Tallents wished to limit the allocation to proven loyal Reds, but Willoughby was alleged to want to extend it to all those tenants who had received coals in 1826. Tallents, aware that this would include many who had never voted for either Red candidate and who had plumped for Wilde at the by-election, urged that all such should be considered as ‘decided enemies to the united interest’. On the other hand, Willoughby’s agent was reluctant to alienate them, as the contest in 1826 had been too brief in duration to test all allegiances. Middleton was too ill to take an active part in the discussions and left the final decision to his agent and Handley, neither of whom would adopt Tallents’s preferred policy of punishing all the 600 who had voted for Wilde, except those of them who had voted for Willoughby in 1826. Anticipating Newcastle’s reaction, Tallents suggested that it would be inexpedient to abandon the electoral union, which

if cordially sustained, would defy all attempts to bring in a Blue candidate, and the dissolution of which I really think would be much more prejudicial to your ... interest under existing circumstances, than its continuance even under the unfavourable circumstances which have on several occasions of late years given it more the aspect of a hollow truce than a system of secure and cordial cooperation.

A compromise acceptable to Tallents was agreed by the joint committee, but Handley, who presumably had an eye to the revival of the Yellow interest in his own favour, proved awkward. To avoid further conflict Middleton ignored his advice and acquiesced in the committee’s resolution, though it was clear that Willoughby was still anxious that the distribution of coals should not be restricted. For Newcastle, who was determined to maintain the united interest by every means ‘except the concession of principle’, this was an important victory, since Tallents had induced the Yellows to adopt a course which was ‘peculiarly our own’.39

On 1 Mar. 1830 the Whig Charles Poulett Thomson presented to the Commons the petition of ‘several Newark inhabitants’ detailing Newcastle’s abuse of his powers as lessee of the crown lands. With the ultimate intention of addressing the king to refuse a renewal of the leases, he moved for inquiry. Tallents had briefed Clinton Fynes Clinton, Newcastle’s Member for Aldborough, with carefully doctored statistics which glossed over the more incriminating aspects of the case and understated the total number of evictions.40 Poulett Thomson was supported by Sir Francis Burdett, Lord Howick, Sir Robert Wilson and John Cam Hobhouse, while Lord Lowther, Fynes Clinton and Sadler denied all the charges against Newcastle. The home secretary Peel argued that no committee could determine the duke’s motives in ordering evictions and that he had a right to treat his property, ‘whether hired from the crown or derived from any other source, as he liked’. Much to the relief of Tallents, who had feared a summons to the bar of the House, the motion was crushed by 194-61.41 Newcastle tried to forestall Harvey’s expected attack by offering to buy the crown estate, but he was told that ‘no minister in the treasury would dare to sell to me’, which confirmed his belief that there was ‘a regular plot against me’.42 On 30 Mar. Harvey’s motion for inquiry into the management of crown lands revenues was defeated by 98-46. The Blues made some headway in the churchwardens’ election in April 1830, when their sole nominee trailed the last of the Reds by only 106 votes. The publication of the charity commissioners’ report on the trust estates gave them an additional boost.43

In early May 1830 Tallents contacted Sadler in anticipation of the king’s death, and on the 27th he and Fynes Clinton settled the final arrangements for the general election with Newcastle, who recorded that

I shall do everything through Mr. Sadler, who will give all directions and orders for the election and Mr. Tallents is to [be] clear too of all agency and directions. We are to have a host of lawyers, but I have desired that the expenses may be kept down to the utmost.44

By 7 July Newcastle was satisfied with the state of affairs at Newark, where both Members had canvassed before the dissolution.45 Wilde, whose candidature was announced by Pearson, deferred his appearance until the 17th, when he made a spectacular entrance in a parade which included a contingent of the discharged tenants and 50 of their children, all carrying apposite placards. He attacked Sadler as Newcastle’s tool and professed his object to be the liberation of the borough from aristocratic dictation.46 On 27 July the Blues held a public meeting, chaired by Bristowe, to promote the cause of ‘purity of election’ by establishing a fund to protect electors from future ‘persecution’; £173 was raised on the day.47 At the nomination, 2 Aug., Willoughby was proposed by Handley, Sadler by Alderman Fillingham and Wilde by Bristowe. Willoughby received some criticism for his poor attendance record. Sadler avoided the issue of local politics and concentrated on general matters of economic policy, and Wilde, as well as peddling electoral independence, advocated retrenchment and the abolition of slavery. He had a majority of 79 over Willoughby at the close of the first day, but by the end of the fourth was last, 52 below Sadler and 77 behind Willoughby. Newcastle, wishing to trounce the ‘abominable’ Wilde, advised Tallents to swear in ‘respectable special constables’ and to infiltrate the crowd with Red hirelings in order to counteract the devices of Wilde’s supporters. At the close of polling, 6 Aug. 1830, Willoughby and Sadler were safe, though Wilde trailed them by only 123 and 94 votes respectively.48 Of the 1,361 electors who polled, 57 per cent gave a vote for Willoughby, 55 for Sadler and 49 for Wilde. Splits for the united candidates were cast by 50 per cent of those who voted, and plumpers for Wilde by 38 per cent. There were 77 votes for Willoughby and Wilde and 42 for Wilde and Sadler.49 The Blues had gained ground since 1826, and the united interest, though allegedly reinforced by bribery and intimidation, was under threat.50

Newcastle’s assumption that Wilde would ‘hardly be fool enough to come again’ was a delusion, but, with his leadership of the united interest now unassailable, he was more resolved than ever to purge his tenantry of all dissidents. Eviction notices wee served not only on those who had plumped for Wilde, but also on those who had only plumped for Sadler. According the The Times, these reprisals fomented a revolutionary spirit, but the duke and Tallents disregarded press attacks and made ‘no exception’ in the issue of about 70 evictions. Tallents reported that the Nottingham and Newark Mercury’s campaign in defence of the rebel tenants had failed miserably: ‘A few ragged rascals carried a large flag about with a death’s head ... upon it, which they stood with before my house for a very short time; and then after parading about the town they quietly shrank into the alehouses’. A political union was established at about this time, but it had lapsed by the following spring.51 Newark Methodists petitioned the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 10 Nov. 1830.52 In December 1830 Newcastle, not troubling to take Middleton into his confidence, submitted to the consideration of the joint committee a proposal to restrict the Christmas distribution of coals to staunch supporters of the united interest. Middleton, nettled by Newcastle’s discourtesy, persisted in his view that they should go also to those who had split for Willoughby and Wilde. In response to what Newcastle described as Middleton’s ‘obstinacy and disregard of the opinion of the united interest committee’, that body dissolved itself, 31 Dec. 1830. Newcastle, who tried unsuccessfully to persuade them to continue ‘temporarily’ to allow for ‘cooler consideration’, observed that ‘the united interest may be presumed to exist no longer’. He encountered some ‘menaces and insults’ from the ‘low party’ on a visit to Newark in January 1831.53 At the end of the month Willoughby decided to leave Parliament, ostensibly for health reasons, and Middleton told Newcastle that he ‘must now feel it right to decline (for the present at least) any further interference at Newark’. Newcastle, who had just been warned by Tallents that feeble management during the last election had led to increased expenses, which threatened to get out of hand, took Middleton at his word, though he noted that Handley would probably stand.54 With no relatives immediately available, the duke prevailed on the ‘wavering’ Robert Nassau Sutton of Langwith to stand and ‘wrote forcibly to Newark’ in his favour.55 Tallents thought the collapse of the united interest might be turned to advantage, though his forecast of the inevitability of a compromise with the Blues was anathema to Newcastle:

I shall be mortified at seeing Serjeant Wilde after all the money spent in keeping him out, succeed ... but I see not who can oppose him with any chance of success, and your Grace may perhaps use the present occasion for strengthening your own interest and placing it out of the reach of danger.

Tallents warned that any attempt to impose a second Member would curb Newcastle’s freedom to deal with rebel tenants and consolidate his interest, and that in any case it would be unwise not to evict tenants who had plumped. Sutton soon took fright at the prospect of spending £5,000, a contest with Wilde which would ‘nearly kill him and harass his wife to death’ and a strong feeling in support of Handley. Although there was an unsubstantiated report that Middleton would ‘throw the influence of his property into ... [his] scale’, Sutton withdrew on 7 Feb.56 Wilde, who was detained throughout in Hampshire on the special commission trying the ‘Swing’ rioters, was the Blues’ natural choice, and steps were taken to get him to stand and to canvass for him. After an initial demur Handley responded to a requisition and immediately solicited Newcastle’s support, anticipating that this would enable them to ‘secure future peace in the borough’.57 In Wilde’s absence Pearson stood in for him. Tallents reported that the Blues appeared ‘sad and sulky’, but were not disposed to see Handley as the popular candidate ‘as one might have hoped, given that he never turned out a Blue tenant nor had a foul word from Serjeant Wilde’. Fearing a succession of contested elections in consequence of the Blues’ solidarity, he was thankful that Newcastle’s support for Handley was low key, and took steps to safeguard the duke’s interest.58 At the nomination, 16 Feb., Handley’s sponsors were shouted down. In proposing Wilde, Kelk advocated radical reform and the ballot. Handley spoke in favour of reform and retrenchment. One of the Blues nominated the radical Charles Wilkins of Shaftesbury, ‘an occasional lecturer in politics and education’, as Talents understood, who had ‘a good command of language, especially of the violent vituperative class and glories in calling himself an agitator’. While Tallents knew that the Blues, ‘having no money and no man at their head’, had not ‘the least chance of succeeding’, though they would keep the poll open for a few days, he feared for the future: it was, he saw, illusory to imagine that Handley could stifle the cause of independence, since whenever a genuine Blue candidate appeared ‘all the old Blue party’ would realign. He admitted that Sutton’s resignation had made Newcastle’s support for Handley inevitable, but argued that this did not mean that Handley would not be indebted to the duke for his seat, for if Godfrey ‘out of regard to’ Newcastle ‘had not forborne to induce a Blue candidate to come’, Handley ‘would in all probability have been defeated’.59 The five-day contest, in which Handley led throughout, was marked by sporadic outbursts of violence. On the third day the crowd attacked Handley, who was reckoned to have been lucky to escape ‘with the loss only of his coat’. The mayor was knocked down and the hustings destroyed, but the deployment of yeomanry cavalry and the militia within two miles of the town prevented further disorder. Handley had a comfortable majority of 290 in a poll of 1,376. Wilde’s absence may have cost him the election. Tallents was pleased that one of the leading Blues attested to Newcastle’s neutrality, particularly as this was a falsehood. Privately he reaffirmed the importance of Newcastle’s influence in securing Handley’s victory: there was no evidence to suggest, as Handley had supposed, that his candidature would divide the Blues and, ‘without spending anything worth consideration’, they had polled far too many votes to make a future resurgence improbable.60

Soon after the introduction of the Grey ministry’s reform scheme, 1 Mar. 1831, Newcastle asked Tallents to assess its consequences for Newark (which was scheduled to retain both seats) should the ‘revolutionary bill’ become law. Tallents replied that there appeared to be no immediate cause for anxiety, as the proposed £10 householder franchise would eventually reduce the electorate from about 1,600 to between 500 and no more than 600, which would still leave the Reds with a secure majority (as at present) of about 140. Taking this contraction into account, there would be ‘a more decisive and conclusive majority against the Blues’, and it seemed ‘strange that the Blues should (as it is said) be friendly to the measure’. Even so, the duke was eager to encourage the corporation to petition against the bill.61 At the end of March Tallents thwarted the ambition of the solicitor-general Sir William Horne* to offer as a prospective candidate on the ground that the fragile balance of power following the collapse of the united interest made it impolitic to abandon Handley, despite his vote for the second reading of the reform bill, the prime consideration being to exclude Wilde. At about the same time, the independent Whig Sir Robert Heron* of Stubton, Lincolnshire, considered intervening, much to Newcastle’s displeasure, but he was seen off by Tallents, though he later claimed that he had withdrawn in deference to Handley. Anticipating a dissolution, Tallents sought clarification of Newcastle’s wishes, reporting that Handley, whose vote would ‘give him the air of a popular candidate, while the mob have been burning an effigy of Mr. Sadler’, an opponent of the bill, was in Newark and would ‘seize the first moment to canvass’, while the Blues were already doing so ‘but without naming a candidate’. Newcastle thought there would be no dissolution, but saw the necessity of supporting Handley under present circumstances, however unpalatable his reform vote had been: ‘I shall maintain my ground as long as I can, and ... shall not dream of being beaten’.62 Handley voted for the wrecking amendment to the reform bill, 19 Apr., which precipitated a dissolution. Tallents told Newcastle three days later that ‘many’ of the tenants who were under notice to quit at Lady Day were ‘overholding’ and setting him ‘at defiance’, and warned him that ‘if the contest is to be made to turn on the question of reform there will be some strange defections ... for many of our Reds signed the petition in favour of the ministers’ plan’. Newcastle saw Handley on 23 Apr. and informed Tallents that ‘if it shall appear desirable to the respectable persons who take the most interest in my welfare that a junction with Mr. Handley as an united interest should be formed I am ready to enter into it, as is Mr. Handley’. At the same time he stressed that he was ‘quite determined not to be led into the lavish expenses of the last election’ and urged on Tallents, whose offer to take the place of counsel in arguing on disputed votes he accepted, ‘the necessity of the utmost economy’. He was ‘dreadfully perplexed about a Member’, having been persuaded to return the locally unpopular Sadler for Aldborough and nominate Lord Stormont* for Newark, only to find that Stormont’s father Lord Mansfield would not sanction this. But later that day he made an arrangement, through the Tories’ London election committee, with Sir Roger Gresley* of Drakelow, Staffordshire. He hoped to ‘learn that the united interest is restored’ and to frighten Wilde off ‘when he perceives our determination to overcome him’.63 Tallents, who saw Handley and set to work to organize the united interest’s campaign, alerted Newcastle to the ‘extraordinary spirit abroad for reform’ and pressed for Gresley’s immediate appearance.64 When he turned up to canvass with Handley, 25 Apr., there was such a serious riot, in which Gresley ‘lost my hat and coat’, that electioneering had to be suspended while special constables were sworn in. Newcastle noted that ‘many of my friends have left me, and I have considerable apprehension that I shall be beaten’.65 Canvassing resumed on 26 Apr., when Talents reported pessimistically to the duke:

I grieve to state that many respectable Reds upon whom we have been accustomed to depend say they cannot vote for anyone who opposed the reform bill and the workmen of some of our best supporters are likely to give Serjeant Wilde one vote and (if not a plumper) the other to Mr. Handley ... The maddening fever of reform seems to run through the land like a pestilence infecting the bulk of its inhabitants. On my telling one of the violent Blues that in 20 years or less the operation of the bill would destroy three-fourths of the votes of the labouring class here, he said I was mistaken, for a reformed Parliament would restore them and give them vote by ballot ... This is the way they reconcile themselves to the disfranchising clause.66

Despite Wilde’s attempt to discredit Handley for his equivocation over reform, it was soon obvious that Handley rather than Gresley would receive the split votes of the ‘Red reformers’. As the canvass progressed Handley became increasingly discomfited by his association with Gresley, and Tallents, uneasily aware of the growing strain on the alliance, particularly when it became clear that Handley’s anti-reform vote was a temporary aberration, justified the coalition on the ground of expediency alone:

We had the choice of evils and I am satisfied we selected the least of them in uniting with Mr. Handley, for incongruous and discordant as it is with reference to the great question which exclusively occupies public attention, a contrary course would have brought on a junction of Mr. Handley and the Serjeant, a splitting of many of our old Reds and a certainty of defeat.

The alliance foundered in acrimony son after the nomination, 28 Apr. Middleton could not be persuaded to bolster Newcastle’s interest: he signified his wish for one vote to be given to Handley, but left the disposal of the other to the discretion of his tenants. During the early stages of the election Handley pledged neither to influence the casting of second votes nor to prevent their allocation to Wilde, or so Godrey told Tallents, commenting that such a declaration was ‘utterly inconsistent’ with the principle of their joint canvass. The coalition was at an end, to the ‘disappointment’ and ‘mortification’ of Newcastle, who told Tallents:

My friends have deserted me, and left me in a condition in which I never expected to see myself at Newark. I am highly incensed at their conduct and pained beyond all power of expression by so much treachery, ingratitude and lukewarmness... Of anything more base and perfidious [than ‘Handley’s conduct’] I never before heard. I am released and violently driven from my engagements... My object is to seat ... Gresley, do it how you can ... [and] poll the last vote ... If Sir R.G. be beaten, I will never cease to disturb the peace of the town on every occasion on which I can annoy and oppose those Members who may be seated. They shall not enjoy their seats in quiet ... and many other things which I will do, if I am beaten, and which nothing on earth shall determe from doing, I will communicate to you when we meet.67

On the fourth day of polling, when Gresley trailed Wilde by 174 and Handley by 74, Newcastle exhorted Tallents to try to get up all Gresley’s unpolled votes and seduce ‘nearly 50’ from Handley’s remaining unpolled 70: ‘Wonders were performed at Crecy and Agincourt, wonders may be wrought on the hustings at Newark.68 At the close of the contest next day Wilde was 103 ahead of Handley and 171 above Gresley. Of the 1,494 who polled, 59 per cent cast a vote for Wilde, 50 for Handley and 45 for Gresley. Wilde received 599 plumpers (71 per cent of his total and 40 per cent of those who voted). Wilde shared 175 votes with Handley (21 and 23 per cent of the respective totals and 12 per cent of those who polled). Splits between Handley and Gresley numbered 531 (71 and 78 per cent of their respective totals and 36 per cent of those who voted). Forty-six voters were objected to, 43 were turned away and 185 were reckoned not to have polled.69

Wilde claimed with justification that his success afforded ‘the strongest evidence of the progress of the cause of reform in the minds of the people’, while the Nottingham Review attributed it not only to the general enthusiasm for reform and the presence of a impartial assessor, but to the Blues’ intrusion into local government, hitherto the preserve of Reds. At a celebratory dinner for Wilde, 21 May 1831, the emphasis was on conciliation, and Kelk was ‘checked’ for launching into an attack on administration of the charity estate.70 Newcastle noted privately:

I shall not try Newark again upon speculation or to spend money. If they solicit me, I will send somebody, but I will be guaranteed against expense. In the meantime I shall raise my rents to the double and see how they like that ... Gresley ... confirms what I suspected, that little was done at first to secure success; on the contrary, the want of preparation invited and entailed defeat.71

Gresley tried to impress on Newcastle ‘the expediency of a conciliatory rather than vindictive course in future’, but the duke was soon under fire from the Newark Times for evicting tenants, although some concessions were made in consequence of the ‘strange events of the last election’.72 Gresley’s popularity among the Reds and their keenness to fête him as their prospective candidate, added to a belief that Wilde had ‘no great taste for the Yellow’, prompted Tallents to press the duke to contemplate a future compromise, but Newcastle claimed to be ‘quite indifferent about it’.73 However, in July 1831 the Reds formed a club to support future Tory candidates, which flourished and was ready to defer to Newcastle in the choice of men, in return for financial backing.74

In September 1831 unfounded rumours that Wilde was to be appointed solicitor-general raised the prospect of a by-election. Gresley was the obvious Red candidate to oppose him, but while Newcastle said he would ‘unhesitantly’ assist him he refused to promise financial support. This episode forced the duke to consider the notion that his interest could only be revived by compromise; and in early December Tallents told him:

I shall certainly be sorry to see the Serjeant walk over the course, and had some little hope that it might have been thought worth the while of a candidate to have fought one losing battle with so good a chance of success in the second encounter when a general election shall take place; for the first fight would have given him an increased claim to support in a second, and it would have inculcated a pretty strong belief that the Newarkers in the old Red interest will not rest till they succeed in sending a Member to Parliament and so eventually drive one of their opponents from the field.75

The mayor and some inhabitants petitioned the Lords in favour of the reform bill, 3 Oct. 1831.76 Soon afterwards Fynes Clinton successfully solicited the corporation for the vacant recordership of Newark. His appointment, in the wake of the peers’ rejection of the bill, incensed the Blues, and a public meeting chaired by Bristowe deplored the choice of such a notorious ‘political partisan’ and published a remonstrance. An anonymous letter to Newcastle promised to serve Fynes Clinton in the same manner in which the Bristol rioters had greeted Sir Charles Wetherell, the duke’s Member for Boroughbridge. Godfrey was so alarmed by subsequent tales of assassination plots and the prospect of riots abetted by Nottingham ruffians that he recommended Newcastle to persuade Fynes Clinton to resign and disbanded the Red club in an attempt to defuse the situation. Newcastle and Fynes Clinton would not be intimidated. Precautions were taken to strengthen the civil power and ensure the provision of regular troops, but in the event the quarter sessions passed off quietly.77 At the meeting called in May 1832 to petition Parliament and address the king in support of the Grey ministry and unadulterated reform, Tallents claimed that the measure would ‘disfranchise one out of 16 of the inhabitants’, but this made no impression on the reformers.78

The boundary commissioners recommended no change to the constituency. At the 1832 general election, when the borough had a registered electorate of 1,575, Newcastle’s nominee William Ewart Gladstone unexpectedly topped the poll, with Handley, standing as a Conservative, in second place, 72 ahead of Wilde. A compromise in 1835 allowed Wilde to come in with Gladstone, and Newcastle’s control over one seat continued until his death in 1851.79

Author: Simon Harratt


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 327; R. Vernon, Newark before Victoria, 42-45.
  • 2. W. Dickinson, Hist. Newark, 141; J. Golby, ‘A Great Electioneer and his Motives’, HJ, viii (1965), 206-7; Notts. Archives, Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 30 Sept., 2 Oct. 1831; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 4505; PP (1835), xxv. 539-40.
  • 3. Nottingham Rev. 7 Mar. 1820.
  • 4. Newcastle mss NeC 6275, 6277.
  • 5. Newark Pollbook (1826), 23-24.
  • 6. CJ, lxxviii. 84; lxxix. 27; lxxx. 350; lxxxi. 106.
  • 7. Ibid. lxxviii. 226; lxxx. 325, 369.
  • 8. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 29 Jan., 8 Feb. 1825; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F2/1/122.
  • 9. Nottingham Rev. 24 Apr. 1826.
  • 10. Newark Pollbook (1826), 24-26; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F2/2/142.
  • 11. Nottingham Jnl. 17 June; Nottingham Rev. 23 June; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F2/2/142-3; Tallents mss, J.E. Denison to Tallents, 12, 16 June 1826.
  • 12. Newark Pollbook (1826).
  • 13. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F2/2/144-5.
  • 14. Newark Pollbook (1826), 29-30; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F2/2/144; Report of Grand Dinner, 27 July 1826, pp. 9, 11-12, 15, 19-20, 25-27.
  • 15. Tallents mss.
  • 16. Ibid. Tallents to Newcastle, 15 Sept. 1826.
  • 17. Ibid. Newcastle to Tallents, 17, 22, 25 Sept., reply, 29 Sept. 1826.
  • 18. Ibid. Tallents to Newcastle, 29 Sept., 2, 10 Oct., reply, 30 Sept. 1826.
  • 19. Ibid. Martin to Tallents, 7 Oct., Tallents to Newcastle, 9 Oct. 1826.
  • 20. Ibid. Newcastle to Tallents, 12 Oct. 1826.
  • 21. PP (1835), xxv. 539; Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 19 Apr. 1827; Nottingham and Newark Mercury, 31 Jan., 24, 31 Mar., 14, 21, 28 Apr. 1827, 12 Apr. 1828.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxiii. 329; PP (1835), xxv. 539-40.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxii. 272; lxxxiii. 268, 335; lxxxiv. 8, 20.
  • 24. Ibid. lxxxii. 574; lxxxiii. 96.
  • 25. Ibid. lxxxiii. 57; lxxxv. 262.
  • 26. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/100, 108, 110.
  • 27. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 16 Jan., 20, 23 Feb. 1829.
  • 28. Particulars of 1829 Newark Election, 3-10.
  • 29. Particulars, 10-14; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/113; The Times, 27, 28 Feb., 2 Mar. 1829.
  • 30. Particulars, 15-28.
  • 31. Ibid. 30-82; The Times, 6, 8, 9 Mar. 1829.
  • 32. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/161; Full Report of Public Dinner, 24 July 1829.
  • 33. Nottingham Jnl. 25 Apr. 1829.
  • 34. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/171; The Times, 21 Sept.; Tallents mss, J.Fox to Tallents, 16 Sept., Tallents to Newcastle, 25 Sept., reply, 30 Sept. 1829.
  • 35. The Times, 28 Sept.; Tallents mss, Newcastle to Bristowe, 27 Sept. 1829.
  • 36. The Times, 7, 8, 16 Oct.; Nottingham Rev. 10, 17 Oct. 1829.
  • 37. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/172-3; Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 14 Oct.; The Times, 13 Oct.; Nottingham Rev. 17 Oct. 1829.
  • 38. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/180, 186; The Times, 6 Nov.; Nottingham and Newark Mercury, 26 Dec. 1829.
  • 39. Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 28 Dec. 1829, 2, 3, 5, 6 Jan., 28 Feb., 6 Mar., replies, 2, 5 Jan., G. Hodgkinson to Tallents, 4 Jan., Tallents to R. Caparn, 4, 5 Jan., Caparn to Hodgkinson and rely, 4 Jan., jt. election cttee’s minute, 1 Jan. 1830.
  • 40. CJ, lxxxv. 115-16; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/208; Tallents mss, Fynes Clinton to Tallents, 23 Feb., reply, 24 Feb., Tallents to Newcastle and reply, 28 Feb. 1830.
  • 41. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 4 Mar., reply, 6 Mar. 1830; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/210.
  • 42. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/208.
  • 43. Nottingham Jnl. 10, 17 Apr. 1830.
  • 44. Tallents mss, Sadler to Tallents, 16 May; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/228.
  • 45. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/245.
  • 46. Report of Newark Election (1830), 5-36.
  • 47. Ibid. 45-47.
  • 48. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 5 Aug.; Nottingham Jnl. 7 Aug. 1830; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/259-60.
  • 49. Newark Pollbook (1830).
  • 50. The Times, 27 July; Nottingham Jnl. 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 51. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/273-4; Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 24, 29 Sept., reply, 28 Sept.; The Times, 24 Sept.; Nottingham Rev. 15 Oct. 1831.
  • 52. CJ, lxxxvi. 52.
  • 53. Tallents mss, Caparn to Newcastle, 28, 31 Dec. 1830; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/307, 311-13.
  • 54. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/318; Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 28 Jan., Middleton to Newcastle, 28 Jan. 1831
  • 55. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/319.
  • 56. Ibid. Ne 2 F3/1/319-20; Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 4, 5 Feb., reply, 4 Feb., J. Gell to Newcastle, 5 Feb. 1831.
  • 57. Tallents mss, Handley to Newcastle and reply, 8 Feb.; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F3/1/320; Lincoln and Newark Times, 9 Feb. 1831.
  • 58. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 9, 18 Feb., replies, 10, 11, 14, 17 Feb. 1831.
  • 59. Nottingham Jnl. 19 Feb.; Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 17 Feb. 1831.
  • 60. Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 18-21 Feb.; Nottingham Jnl. 26 Feb. 1831.
  • 61. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 2, 15 Mar., reply, 11 Mar. 1831.
  • 62. Ibid. Tallents to Newcastle, 30 Mar., reply, 2 Apr. 1831.
  • 63. Ibid. Tallents to Newcastle, 22 Apr., replies, 23 Apr. 1831; Newcastle mss Ne 2 F4/1/17-18.
  • 64. Newcastle mss NeC 4527.
  • 65. Lincoln and Newark Times, 27 Apr. 1831; Newcastle mss NeC 4530, 4531; Ne 2 F4/1/18.
  • 66. Tallents mss.
  • 67. Ibid. Godfrey to Tallents [23, 29], reply [29 Apr.], Newcastle to Tallents, 30 Apr.; Lincoln and Newark Times, 4 May 1831; Newcastle mss NeC 4529, 4533.
  • 68. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 2 May 1831.
  • 69. Newark Pollbook (1831).
  • 70. Lincoln and Newark Times, 4, 11, 25 May; Nottingham Rev. 6 May; Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 22 May 1831.
  • 71. Newcastle mss Ne 2 F4/1/23; Tallents mss, Newcastle to Tallents, 4 May 1831.
  • 72. Tallents mss, Gresley to Tallents, 5 May; Lincoln and Newark Times, 11, 25 May 1831.
  • 73. Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 22, 25 May, reply, 2 June 1831.
  • 74. Nottingham Jnl. 30 July; Tallents mss, Godfrey to Newcastle, 22 Sept. 1832; Golby, 213-14.
  • 75. Tallents mss, Newcastle to Mrs. Tallents, 13 Sept., Gresley to same, 19 Sept., Tallents to Newcastle, 27 Nov., 3 Dec. 1831.
  • 76. LJ, lxiii. 1038.
  • 77. Tallents mss, Clinton to Tallents, 4 Oct., 10, 8, 24 Nov., replies, 9, 25 Nov., 2, 4 Dec., Newcastle to Tallents, 2, 11, 14 Nov., 2 Dec., replies, 9, 13, 23, 25, 28 Nov., 3 Dec. 1831.
  • 78. Tallents mss, Tallents to Newcastle, 9, 2 May 1832.
  • 79. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 243; Golby, 214-18.