Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the corporation
Number qualified to vote:
4,269 (1821); 4,312 (1831)
|14 Mar. 1820||CHARLES DUNCOMBE|
|SIR LEONARD THOMAS WORSLEY HOLMES, bt.|
|18 Feb. 1825||HON. JOHN STUART vice Worsley Holmes, deceased|
|13 June 1826||GEORGE CANNING|
|HON. WILLIAM HENRY JOHN SCOTT|
|24 Apr. 1827||HON. WILLIAM LAMB vice Canning, appointed to office|
|25 May 1827||SPENCER PERCEVAL vice Lamb, appointed to office|
|7 Aug. 1828||PERCEVAL re-elected after appointment to office|
|2 Aug. 1830||SPENCER PERCEVAL|
|2 May 1831||WILLIAM MOUNT|
|JAMES JOSEPH HOPE VERE|
Newport, the chief market town and capital of the Isle of Wight, was located close to the centre of the island on the Medina, which was navigable for small craft. Its chief trade was the export of timber and grain, but there was also a lace factory, employing ‘600 or 700 hands’. For many years a ‘fashionable resort’, a report of 1824 described it as a ‘charming little town’ and cited the sale of land for building purposes as an illustration of its prosperity, but a reduction of the military presence at the nearby barracks the following year was ‘severely felt’. In 1831 the boundary commissioners noted that rent levels had halved from their peak and that the town was ‘said to be on the decline’.1 The franchise was exercised by the self-elected corporation of 12 chief burgesses and 12 aldermen, one of whom served annually as mayor and returning officer. Most burgesses were non-residents and vacancies were not readily filled: five were pending in 1823, and three in 1832. For many years the corporation had been ‘used as a machine’ for returning the nominees of the Holmes family of Westover and Pidford, who directed all its affairs and possessed ‘great property and influence’ in the neighbourhood. The 1835 municipal corporations commissioners reported:
The parliamentary seats have been, as the inhabitants generally believe, considered as family property. But no instance of municipal malversation or negligence appears to have been permitted; and the pecuniary concerns have been a constant source of expense to the patron ... No unpleasant feeling was produced by this state of things, till within the last few years.2
Since 1811 the patron had been Sir Leonard Thomas Worsley Holmes, who occupied one of the seats until his death in 1825 and simultaneously held the aldermanic office of recorder.3 The other Members were usually paying guests returned at the behest of ministers, and the borough was thus a berth for some political notables. Apart from the patron, only William Mount of Wasing Place, Berkshire, a burgess since 1813, is known to have been present at his return during this period. Lord Palmerston*, who had begun his parliamentary career when returned for the borough in 1807 by Worsley Holmes’s father, recalled that it had then been stipulated ‘that I should never, even for the election, set foot in the place; so jealous was the patron lest any attempt should be made to get a new interest in the borough’. (He demonstrated his ignorance of the place by confusing it with adjacent Newtown.)4 The inhabitants took little part in elections beyond partaking of the entertainments on offer, and most petitioning activity was largely subsumed in that of the Isle of Wight as a whole. Inhabitants’ petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 7 May 1824, 20 June 1828, 29 Mar. 1831.5 Petitions from Dissenting congregations were presented to the Commons against slavery, 28 Feb. 1826, for repeal of the Test Acts, 25 May, 11 June 1827, 25 Feb. 1828, and in favour of Catholic emancipation, 10 Mar. 1829.6
At the 1820 general election it was reported in ironic vein that ‘the form of election for the borough of Newport was observed by the corporation, who re-elected the late Members’, and that Worsley Holmes, the ‘hereditary patron’, had thanked the corporate body for their ready acquiescence in his choice of colleague, namely Charles Duncombe of Duncombe Park, Yorkshire, who, ‘though utterly unknown to them, had given him ample proof his competency to fill a seat in the House’. After the election Worsley Holmes gave dinner to 200 freeholders and principal inhabitants to celebrate his return and that of John Fleming for the county. His canvass on behalf of the latter was, by his own admission, the first he had made of the borough’s inhabitants.7 The Revolution Club, which had met to celebrate the anniversary of the Glorious Revolution for over a century, was the closest that Newport possessed to a political club. At its meeting, 6 Nov. 1820, the Six Acts and the Peterloo massacre were condemned by its chairman, the Rev. Stevens, as encroachments on the liberties of the people, and a general abhorrence was expressed of the proceedings against Queen Caroline.8 In spite of the obstructive efforts of the churchwardens, the news of her acquittal was greeted with a peal of bells and a symbolic ‘green bag’ was carried through the town with slogans attached. The mayor, Sir Richard Bassett, was among those who refused to join in a general illumination, during which some windows were broken, despite a large military presence on the streets. Another was held to mark the king’s coronation in July 1821, when the patron’s munificence enabled the inhabitants to toast the event.9 A bill to light the town with gas was introduced by Edmond Wodehouse, Member for Norfolk, 5 Mar., passed the Commons, 16 Apr., and gained royal assent, 28 May 1821.10
Following Worsley Holmes’ death his estates passed to his daughter Elizabeth, a minor, leaving the management of his borough interests in the hands of his trustees, the 2nd Baron Yarborough (who succeeded him as recorder), Mount, Robert Clark of Carisbrooke, the Rev. Henry Worsley of Godshill, and the Newport solicitors Thomas Sewell and William Hearn, whose monopoly of the town clerkship and other municipal offices was later identified as a source of resentment.11 In accordance with Worsley Holmes’s instructions, Mount offered Lord Liverpool the vacant seat for the remainder of the Parliament and the premier nominated John Stuart of Cambus Wallace, Perthshire, son of the 10th earl of Moray, who was returned in absentia. Details of his residential address were sent direct to the mayor, Benjamin Jollife, which did not please Sewell, who expected to direct the local arrangements in person.12 No report has been found of the 1826 general election, when the seats were evidently again placed at the disposal of government and the Members returned were William Henry John Scott, the son of lord chancellor Eldon, and George Canning, the foreign secretary. The latter was entrusted with an address of condolence to the king on the death of the duke of York in January 1827 and vacated the seat for another on his accession to the premiership that April, according to one account because it was not considered secure enough. His place was taken by William Lamb, whose first biographer alleged that he faced a contest and a threatened petition, but there is no hint of this in a contemporary account, which merely reported that ‘the mayor entertained the corporation, and a select party, to a dinner at the Bugle Inn’.13 According to Lamb’s sister Lady Cowper, the terms of his election were ‘very favourable’, but he was obliged to vacate five days later on his appointment as Irish secretary. Writing to Sewell, Herries, the treasury secretary, hoped that there would be ‘no objection’ from the trustees to Lamb’s immediate re-election, 27 Apr. Difficulties evidently arose, however, and on 7 May Herries informed Yarborough, ‘I presume it may on the whole be more satisfactory to your Lordship that another person should be returned on this new vacation’.14 Lamb was duly elected for Bletchingley that day and replaced at Newport by Spencer Perceval, an under-secretary at the home office. It was reported from the town that ‘the deepest sorrow was evinced’ at the death of Canning in August. At a meeting of the Revolution Club, 5 Nov. 1827, his reconstruction of the ministry was applauded and toasts were drunk to parliamentary reform, repeal of the Test Acts, free trade and the abolition of slavery.15 Towards the end of the year a subscription for poor relief was started by the mayor and curate of the town, the Rev. Peter Geary, who chaired a meeting to seek an end to the use of climbing boys by chimney sweeps in July 1828.16 In April 1830 a meeting registered its concern that the proposed bill to free the beer trade would result in ‘immorality and intemperance’.17
Perceval was re-elected without incident after his appointment as clerk of the ordnance in August 1828 and again at the 1830 general election, when he was ‘unanimously’ returned with Horace Twiss, the colonial under-secretary, following which 300 sat down to dinner in a ‘true spirit of conviviality’.18 The seats were secured on favourable terms by the Wellington ministry, according to the patronage secretary Planta, who reckoned the trustees could have asked for three times as much money. Wellington was evidently less happy with the arrangement, for there were strings attached. Places had to be found, notably for Charles Powlett Rushworth, a commissioner of taxes and a relative of Worsley Holmes, who had long pestered the trustees for a more remunerative post, and for the Rev. Geary, who sought his own living and proved difficult to please.19 In late November there was some agricultural unrest, including a labourers’ strike and several fires, but by the new year ‘prudent measures’ had restored calm and the watch instituted in the town had been abandoned.20 At a meeting of the Revolution Society, 4 Nov. 1830, the ‘unanimous tone’ was in favour of parliamentary reform, and though a requisition to the magistrates from tradesmen and farmers for a reform meeting was ignored, one was held nevertheless, 15 Dec. 1830.21 It was chaired by Charles Day, a Cowes surgeon, who denounced the ‘milk and water’ petition for ‘moderate reform’ got up by the corporation, which reached the Commons, 18 Feb. 1831. Other speakers mocked the corporation’s extravagant dining habits, while Samuel Pring, a Newport tradesman later compared to ‘a second Attwood’, referred to the borough as ‘this nest of corruption, this pest to the state’. The resulting petition calling for adoption of the secret ballot was presented to the Commons, 26 Feb.22 At a second meeting attended by 500 held to petition the Lords, 9 Mar., every speaker registered support for the Grey ministry’s reform bill, but no trace of its presentation has been found. The meeting concluded with ‘a grand hiss for Horace Twiss’, who was condemned for his speech in the House against the bill and his refusal to subscribe to local poor relief, from which he had excused himself by citing his ‘precarious’ links with the borough. (Perceval had not replied to a similar application.)23 Both Members opposed the second reading of the bill. News of its passage was received with general rejoicing in the town, where the windows of some anti-reformers were broken, but the day of illumination, which was observed by three-quarters of the inhabitants, passed off quietly, 1 Apr. 1831.24
At the 1831 general election it was reported by Greville that Yarborough, ‘by a very questionable piece of political morality’, had ‘given the Holmes boroughs ... to government’ for the ‘large price’ of £4,000.25 Lord Ellenborough, who heard a similar rumour, wondered how Yarborough, once a Whig alarmist, could ‘reconcile this with his former line of conduct, or with his duty to his ward’.26 In fact, one of the Members returned at this election was Mount, who despite a lengthy speech on the ‘propriety and necessity of reform’ from his proposer, the Rev. P.W. White, declared against the bill on the hustings. His pledge to support a ‘moderate and constitutional’ measure did not satisfy and he made a hasty retreat from an interrogation by Pring, who had been denied a hearing before the proceedings commenced. He was, of course, returned unopposed, the corporation ‘having nodded assent thereto’, and the inhabitants who thronged the town hall afterwards manifested their ‘strongest disapprobation’ as his party processed through the streets. The select body marked the occasion with another dinner, while the reformers’ rival festivities were enlivened by ‘two bands of music’. The second Member, James Joseph Hope Vere of Craigie Hall, Edinburgh, who went on to support the reform bill, was proposed by Sewell and returned in his absence.27 A hazard of this mode of election was illustrated when his first names were found to have been incorrectly recorded as John James, and he was unable to take his seat until this was amended, by order of the House, 28 June 1831.28 Following the Lords’ rejection of the reform bill a meeting was held, 10 Oct. 1831, and an address to the king and Lord Grey was entrusted to Yarborough.29 News of the defeat and resignation of ministers in May was received with ‘much regret’ and prompted a meeting chaired by Day and addressed by Sir Richard Simeon, Member for the Isle of Wight, 1832-7, for an address to the king urging their recall, 17 May 1832.30
In the tables produced for the first reform bill, the population of Newport parish was given as 4,051, which was just sufficient to keep it out of the disfranchisement schedules. This figure did not include the part of the parish of St. Nicholas, Carisbrooke called the Castle Hold, and the mayor’s submission that this formed a part of the borough was accepted without query.31 In the schedules for the revised bill, the town was reported to contain 498 houses, which, allied to an assessed tax figure of £1,894 narrowly ensured its survival as a two Member constituency. It was later admitted, however, that this was an underestimate and that the mayor had been substantially correct in asserting that there were 1,161 houses ‘within the turnpike gates’.32 This area included recent building developments extending south-west of the town into the parish of Carisbrooke, which the boundary commissioners reported would make an ‘important and valuable addition’ to the existing limits, as it contained ‘a numerous and respectable population’. The so-called ‘New Village’ in Carisbrooke was also incorporated, giving a combined population of 6,700 and a registered electorate of 425, which included 15 who retained their ancient rights. Three- hundred-and-sixty-five polled at the 1832 general election, when two reformers, John Heywood Hawkins* of Bignor, Sussex and William Henry Ord of Whitfield Hall, Northumberland, triumphed over their Tory opponent, Sir James Willoughby Gordon*.33 A Conservative Union was founded in November 1834, and after two close contests the party secured both seats in 1841.34 With the electoral influence of the corporation ‘completely destroyed’, payments by the Worsley Holmes family towards its upkeep, which they had financed for many years, were soon ‘discontinued’.35 Yarborough, who had so readily acquiesced in the erosion of this influence, was given an earldom by the Melbourne ministry in 1837.
Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon
- 1. PP (1831-2), xl. 91; (1835), xxiv. 113, 128; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 318; (1830), 427-8; Hants Chron. 31 May 1824.
- 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 82-83; (1835), xxiv. 115-16, 118; Key to Both Houses (1832), 367-8.
- 3. G.D. Herapath, ‘Holmes and Leigh Fams. of I.o.W.’ Blackmansbury, v (1968), pt. iii, p. 83.
- 4. Bulwer, Palmerston, i. 22-23.
- 5. CJ, lxxix. 336; lxxxiii. 455; lxxxvi. 454.
- 6. Ibid. lxxxi. 111; lxxxii. 490, 540; lxxxiii. 101; lxxxiv. 121.
- 7. Hants Telegraph, 20, 27 Mar.; Hants Chron. 27 Mar. 1820.
- 8. Hants Telegraph, 13 Nov. 1820, 12 Nov. 1827; The Times, 13 Nov. 1820.
- 9. The Times, 17 Nov.; Hants Telegraph, 20 Nov. 1820, 30 July 1821.
- 10. CJ, lxxvi. 136, 272, 384.
- 11. PROB 11/1702/430; I.o.W. RO, Heytesbury mss JER/HBY/232/16; F. Black , Parl. Hist. I.o.W. 41; PP (1835), xxiv. 116-17.
- 12. Berks. RO, Mount mss D/EMt F14, pp. 1-7, 21, 26-27.
- 13. Hants Telegraph, 29 Jan., 30 Apr. 1827; Torrens, Melbourne, i. 223.
- 14. Canning’s Ministry, 240.
- 15. Hants Telegraph, 13 Aug., 12 Nov. 1827.
- 16. Ibid. 3, 10 Dec. 1827; Hants Chron. 4 Aug. 1828.
- 17. Hants Chron. 26 Apr. 1830.
- 18. Ibid. 11 Aug. 1828; Southampton Mercury, 7 Aug.; Portsmouth Herald, 1, 8 Aug. 1830.
- 19. Wellington mss WP1/1134/14; 1154/33, 42; Mount mss F14, pp. 8-34.
- 20. E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985) 93; Hants Chron. 3, 17, 24 Jan. 1830.
- 21. Southampton Mercury, 13 Nov.; Hants Chron. 13, 20 Dec. 1830.
- 22. Portsmouth Herald, 19 Dec. 1830; Corw. RO, Hawkins mss 10/2000, 2201; CJ, lxxxvi. 272, 310.
- 23. Portsmouth Herald, 13 Mar.; Hants Chron. 14 Mar.; Kentish Gazette, 15 Mar. 1831.
- 24. Hants Chron. 4 Apr. 1831.
- 25. Greville Mems. ii. 142.
- 26. Three Diaries, 90.
- 27. Portsmouth Herald, 8 May; Hants Chron. 9 May 1831.
- 28. CJ, lxxxvi. 578. An inexplicable footnote to the published Return (Pt. II, vol. i, p. 333) states that the mistake was rectified ‘by erasing the name of John Joseph Hope Vere, and substituting that of George Augustus Frederick Villiers’. Child Villiers, as he was correctly styled, was returned at the same election for Minehead, and there is no evidence that he or any other third candidate appeared at Newport, let alone petitioned against the return.
- 29. Hants Chron. 17 Oct. 1831.
- 30. Hants Telegraph, 14, 21 May 1832.
- 31. PP (1830-1), x. 37, 89, 147; (1831-2), xxxvi. 82-83.
- 32. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 29, 101, 169.
- 33. Ibid. (1831-2), xl. 91-93; I.o.W. RO, Newport borough recs. 45/206; P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 259.
- 34. The Times, 22 Nov. 1834.
- 35. Ibid. 19 June 1832; PP (1835), xxiv. 118, 127. P.J.S./H.J.S.