Petersfield

Borough

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 freeholders of certain lands (see text)

Estimated number qualified to vote:

see text

Number of voters:

56 in 18201

Population:

1,446 (1821); 1,423 (1831)

Elections

DateCandidateVotes
9 Mar. 1820Hylton JOLLIFFE41
 BEAUMONT HOTHAM, Bar. Hotham [I]40
 Nathaniel Atcheson15
 John Camac15
27 June 1820Sir Philip MUSGRAVE, bt. vice Hotham, chose to sit for Leominster 
2 Apr. 1825JAMES LAW LUSHINGTON vice Musgrave, vacated his seat 
10 June 1826Hylton JOLLIFFE 
 William MARSHALL 
2 Aug. 1830Sir William GEORGE HYLTON JOLLIFFE, bt.31
 Gilbert EAST JOLLIFFE31
 Henry John George Herbert, Lord Porchester6
 John Ogle6
2 May 1831Sir William GEORGE HYLTON JOLLIFFE, bt.29
 Hylton JOLLIFFE29
 John Ogle7
 Charles Marsh7

Main Article

In 1832 the boundary commissioners reported that Petersfield had ‘but little trade, and any consequence which it possesses arises entirely from its lying on the high road from London to Portsmouth, and from its returning at present two Members of Parliament’.2 This privilege had for many years been monopolized by the family of Hylton Jolliffe of Merstham, Surrey, the borough’s patron since 1802. Over a decade earlier his father William Jolliffe had removed them from the town, complaining of its unfitness as a place of residence and the obstructiveness of the inhabitants.3 An independent candidate had taken advantage of Jolliffe’s absence to mount a challenge in 1818, and his reliance on a local agent caused further difficulties after 1820. Three elections were contested, and Commons committees were twice called upon to adjudicate on the right of election, which by a judgment of 9 May 1727 lay ‘in the freeholders of lands, or ancient dwelling houses or shambles, or dwelling houses or shambles built on ancient foundations within the said borough’. This definition was close to burgage tenure, and it suited Jolliffe to interpret the ruling as such.4 From the apparent security which this afforded, and the lack of obligation on nominees to appear at elections, the seats were said to command a high price. (A radical source alleged in 1831 that the Jolliffes had realized some £50,000-£60,000 from their proprietorship of the borough.)5 Hylton Jolliffe continued throughout this period to return himself, relatives or paying guests, evidently without much regard for their political affiliation.

At the 1820 general election Nathaniel Atcheson, the London attorney who had unsuccessfully challenged Jolliffe in 1818, tried again. He brought with him John Camac, a lieutenant-colonel in the 128th Foot. A ‘spirited address’ avowed their intention to force a poll and challenge the right of election on petition.6 The proceedings opened with mutual demands for statements of the qualifications of the candidates then present. Jolliffe cited his property in the town, Atcheson swore to freeholds in Northumberland and Hampshire, and Camac to an estate at Neath, Glamorgan. The proposal of Hylton Jolliffe by his brother, the Rev. William Jolliffe, was greeted with general disapprobation by the assembled inhabitants. After blandly professing support for the agricultural interest, Jolliffe became animated over allegations of financial irregularity in the administration of Churcher’s College, a local charity of which he was the principal trustee. (He was eventually exonerated by the court of chancery in February 1825, after Atcheson and others had gone into print with their story.)7 On the hustings Atcheson pointedly promised his audience that ‘in my hands your rights and privileges never will be injured’. The independent candidates had been at pains to disavow radical politics in their address, and this was underlined by Camac, who expected to support the Liverpool ministry if returned, ‘but if they by imprudence drive the country into anything like distress I shall be found in the ranks of opposition’. Jolliffe’s nominee Lord Hotham, the son of a former regimental colleague, was expected but failed to appear. This was ascribed to a delay on his journey by the patron, who jokingly reassured the electors that Hotham was certain to arrive before the poll closed, given the numbers that his opponents had promised to bring up.8 (Such bravado evidently disguised concern, for Jolliffe’s agent, Cornwaithe John Hector, was later convicted at the assizes of making a forcible entry to a house with the aim of securing a vote.)9 After a one-day poll, in which nine or ten votes for Atcheson and Camac were disallowed by the assessor, Jolliffe and Hotham were returned. In his victory address Jolliffe alleged that his opponents had ‘sent for people from all parts of the neighbourhood to come and exercise franchises they do not possess’. Atcheson, in reply, predicted that Jolliffe’s triumph would be ‘of short duration’. The defeated candidates failed to pursue the petition against the return which was presented to the Commons, 5 May, but followed it with another on 11 May, when a petition from two of their supporters was also received. On 6 June a committee was appointed to consider their case, which as promised included a challenge to the right of election. Jolliffe’s submission sought to remove all doubt on this by adding to the previous determination the phrase ‘such lands and dwelling houses being entire and undivided tenements and freeholds of the nature of burgage tenure’. It was the petitioners’ contention that the right of voting lay ‘in the burgesses (being the inhabitants, householders, paying scot and lot), and in the freeholders of lands in general, and in the freeholders of ancient dwelling houses or shambles, or dwelling houses or shambles built on ancient foundation within the borough of Petersfield ... not restricted to houses or shambles of burgage tenure’. They based this claim on a Commons’ judgment of 1658, for, according to their counsel, the subsequent ruling of 1727 placed no prohibition on burgess votes. When the committee refused to entertain this the petitioners fell back on a scrutiny of the sitting Members’ votes. They alleged that five had been tendered for bogus freehold sites in the marketplace marked by stones, and that another 22 were ‘occasional’, having been fraudulently conveyed merely for electoral purposes. To their own total they sought to add the nine or ten votes rejected as split freeholds, observing that the mayor (the returning officer) could not have been ‘indifferently and impartially selected’ by a court leet over which Jolliffe presided, and that the assessor Samuel Twyford of Rogate, Sussex, who was Jolliffe’s kinsman, had been chosen without consultation. The committee allowed two or three of Atcheson and Camac’s disputed votes, but in judging the validity of another, they came to the conclusion that the franchise was vested ‘in the freeholders of lands, or ancient dwelling houses or shambles ... built upon ancient foundations ... such dwelling houses being entire ancient tenements’. The final clause, an addition to the determination of 1727, clearly prohibited split votes. This annulled not just the votes lately added to the petitioners’ total, but another eight that had been allowed by the returning officer, and persuaded them temporarily to drop the case. After eight days of deliberation the Members were confirmed in their seats, 16 June 1820.10 With this settled, Jolliffe was able to replace Hotham, who had chosen to sit elsewhere, with Sir Philip Musgrave of Edenhall, a distant kinsman. According to Julia, wife of the Rev. William Jolliffe, his unopposed return ‘went off quite pleasantly. Col. Camac made a speech and then went to London’.11 The subject of Camac’s address was a planned appeal against the committee’s decision on the right of election.12 A petition lodged on 2 Feb. 1821 secured a second hearing, 20 Feb., and a committee was appointed, 23 May. Jolliffe was heard through his counsel in support of the original determination, as he had requested in a petition on 10 May. Several Petersfield inhabitants and voters also testified, including a former mayor, whose inept attempts at obfuscation only served to illustrate Jolliffe’s hold over the borough and the power wielded by his agent, Hector. Another witness, doubtless to the chagrin of the patron, insisted that all the freehold property in the borough was ancient and failed to demonstrate convincingly that the plot for which he voted had never been divided. The committee, which contained more Members of the opposition than its predecessor, substituted a new final clause in its determination, stating that the franchise was vested in freehold property ‘not being restricted to entire ancient tenements’, 30 May.13 As a contemporary report remarked, the flat contradiction of the previous decision offered carte blanche for unlimited freehold splitting, as practised most notoriously at Weymouth, and according to a Jolliffe agent this began almost immediately. In 1822 the Association for the Improvement of Petersfield was founded by Atcheson, with the purported aim of opening an inn free from brewery control. Fifteen subscribers, all outsiders bar one, invested 50 guineas in the Red Lion, the freehold of which was divided in 1824, for the evident purpose of manufacturing votes.14 When Musgrave vacated his seat in April 1825, the local press speculated that ‘the long disputed question of Mr. Jolliffe’s influence ... will speedily be settled’.15 Hector, however, thought it ‘most possible the opposite party will not contest it this time, there being nothing ... worth fighting for, and only one vacancy’, though he expected that Camac might come down again.16 In the event, Atcheson and his colleague, the Whig bastard, Henry Frederick Stephenson*, declined to come forward on this occasion, but promised to contest the next general election. James Law Lushington was returned unopposed, presumably as a paying guest.17 Petitions reached the Commons on agricultural distress, 25 May 1820, and against alteration of the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825, 18 Apr. 1826.18 There is no official record of any petition concerning the Queen Caroline affair, though a loyal address was reportedly stolen by ‘some radical pilferer’ in December 1820.19

At the 1826 general election nothing occurred to disturb the return of Jolliffe and his nominee William Marshall of Patterdale Hall, Westmorland, a Whig, whose seat was apparently negotiated by James Brougham* for 5,000 guineas.20 A relative of the patron referred to the ‘late ineffective opposition’ and urged that ‘everything that had passed should be forgotten’.21 Petitions reached the Commons against alteration of the corn laws, 29 Mar. 1827, and for repeal of the Test Acts, 30 May 1827, 21 Feb. 1828.22 Shortly before the 1830 general election, the independent cause was given fresh impetus by the defection of Hector, who had fallen out with Jolliffe over his exclusion from the board of trustees of Churcher’s College.23 Within days of the king’s death, a prospectus was issued by the Petersfield Improvement Association. Although its stated aim was the construction of ‘respectable houses, schools, and institutes for instruction and moral improvement’, it was simply a more audacious version of Atcheson’s earlier vote-making scheme. Hector owned a piece of ground on the outskirts of the town known as the ‘cricket field’, which was divided into 1,500 ostensible building plots. These ‘freeholds’ were conveyed to individuals on payment of a consideration. (Hector appears to have realized a considerable profit from the scheme.)24 Following Hector’s defection, Jolliffe had put his affairs in the hands of James Currie, a London attorney. In April 1830 he had instructed a Petersfield agent, William Mitchell, to ensure that his voters’ credentials were unimpeachable. On discovering the scale of the cricket field ruse, however, Currie decided to adopt similar tactics. On 23 July he explained to the Rev. William Jolliffe that he wished ‘to be prepared with as great a number of names as our opponents can muster’, for ‘the object must be always to have always a resource near at hand in case the opposition is carried to a great length’. One plan was to manufacture 100 2s. freeholds from a single house valued at £5 a year, for whom electors would be found, at considerable expense, through a network of local agents. Currie confided to one agent that 3,000 votes might be needed, though ‘how they are to come and where from nobody can tell’. On 24 July he regretfully informed Hylton Jolliffe that ‘you cannot rely on the people of the town’, and three days later he told Mitchell to ‘pay any money for intelligence, if you can get it, of what is going on ... I have told Mr. W[illiam Jolliffe?] to cultivate popularity with the mob that we may make use of them’. Wary of a future petition, he advised a Gosport agent that voters should be treated outside the borough, and to another urged discretion in the use of bogus conveyances.25

At the 1830 general election Jolliffe retired and brought forward his two nephews Sir William George Hylton Jolliffe and Gilbert East Jolliffe. It was noted that ‘all in that usually quiet place, is drunkenness, noise and confusion’ at the nomination, when Hector introduced Lord Porchester* (later 3rd earl of Carnarvon), the veteran of an attempt to open East Looe in 1826, and John Ogle of Itchen, near Southampton, son of the Rev. John Savile Ogle of Kirkley Hall, Northumberland, whose seconder, Mr. Fullager, could have been the Dissenting minister and Chichester radical of that name. Both promised to support ‘temperate and moderate reform’.26 Pressed for his family’s views on reform, Sir William Jolliffe expressed a wish to abolish out-voters, which prompted a wag to observe, ‘they are expensive’, while his brother Gilbert, after claiming to be ‘perfectly unfettered’ on the issue, lost his temper with a heckler. After denying any personal rift with the family Hector somewhat indecorously observed that ‘it is quite clear these two persons who have been proposed have never been in Parliament, nor I should think in decent company in their lives’.27 The ensuing poll lasted three days, on account of the protracted arguments over the validity of votes tendered on both sides. A large proportion were rejected as fraudulent, though it appears that vote manufacturing had not been carried on to the extent that had first been reported. Evidently the Jolliffes’ tactic was to wait until their opponents had recorded their doubtful votes (given as 165 in a pollbook, and 157 in a newspaper), and then bring up enough of their own (279 in the pollbook, 302 in a newspaper) to ensure their return. The vast majority of admitted voters belonged to the gentry or the professional classes. Only seven of the good votes and 12 of those rejected were residents. Most of the others came from Hampshire, Sussex, Surrey and London, with Chichester, Portsmouth and Gosport the most favoured areas for recruitment.28 After the election, the Jolliffe camp denounced Hector for his disloyalty in a newspaper advertisement, which alleged that John Bonham Carter, Whig Member for Portsmouth and one of the independent candidates’ handful of admitted voters, had been instrumental in organizing their campaign.29 It was later hinted by Mitchell that Sir Harry Featherstonhaugh of nearby Uppark, Sussex, had also taken an interest in the attempt to open the borough.30 Petitions reached the Commons for the abolition of slavery, 12, 25 Nov. 1830, 28 Mar. 1831, and for election by secret ballot, 26 Feb. 1831.31

A petition from Porchester and Ogle against the return, alleging bribery, treating, and partiality in the admission of votes by the returning officer, who, as in 1820, was said to be completely subject to the patron, was presented to the Commons, 16 Nov. 1830. A similar one from two electors was submitted the same day, but not pursued. The committee was chosen, 15 Mar. 1831, and seven days later determined in favour of the sitting Members. (After two ‘cricket field’ votes were scrutinized and declared to be ‘fraudulent’ the petitioners had dropped their case.)32 This judgment did not deter the independents from trying again at the 1831 general election, when Ogle stood as a supporter for the Grey ministry’s reform bill with Charles Marsh, Member for East Retford, 1812-18, who was seconded by his brother-in-law Sir James Macdonald*, a reform candidate for the county. Hylton Jolliffe, who opposed the bill, had resolved to return himself with his nephew Sir William, and the appearance of opposition was plainly a surprise to him. Despite objections, he obtained a one-day adjournment from the mayor, ostensibly to allow hustings to be built. As at the 1830 election, the two-day proceedings were largely occupied by arguments between the candidates’ agents over the validity of votes.33 Citing the decision of the committee, the returning officer rejected at least 56 votes tendered for Ogle and Marsh,34 but his inexplicable decision to allow one ‘cricket field’ vote and another for the split freehold of the Red Lion paved the way for another petition. Announcing this to his supporters from the hustings, Ogle declared, ‘you are all cricketers, and you all know that a match of cricket depends very much upon the second innings’.35 The petition, alleging that the partial returning officer had disallowed numerous perfectly good votes, was lodged, 22 June, but lapsed following Ogle’s death, 14 July 1831.36

In their closing remarks on the hustings in 1831, Marsh and Macdonald had celebrated the anticipated extinction of Petersfield, which was scheduled for complete disfranchisement in the reintroduced reform bill, in support of which a petition reached the Lords, 12 Oct. 1831.37 Another was presented to the Commons for the borough to retain one Member, with the addition of the parish of Buriton, to the south and west, and the tithing of Sheet, to the east, 11 July 1831.38 In the House, 22 July, the Members advanced a dubious argument that Petersfield did not possess an entirely separate parochial jurisdiction from these areas, which should therefore be considered as a part of the town in any reckoning of its population. Lord John Russell and Lord Althorp briefly dismissed this claim, the ground for which had been laid in an earlier return by the mayor.39 Bonham Carter triumphantly referred to the refusal of the 1820 election committee to admit freehold voters from neighbouring parishes as positive proof that they did not form part of the borough, and its disfranchisement was approved without a division. Yet although its population had actually fallen between 1821 and 1831, Petersfield was narrowly afforded a reprieve in the revised bill outlined on 12 Dec. 1831. It was the least significant borough to retain its status, and did so because its 272 houses paid comparatively high assessed taxes of £540. (According to the mayor, however, there had ‘not been any general valuation or assessment of the parish or borough for very many years’ and the figures included 29 houses situated outside the borough but deemed to be part of the town.)40 On 21 Feb. 1832 Richard Sheil moved an amendment for Petersfield’s complete disfranchisement, observing that in terms of population and houses it had far less claim to return a Member than Amersham, the final borough in Schedule A. Russell and Althorp both admitted that by the spirit of the bill, few arguments could be adduced in favour of the borough’s continued existence, but they were unwilling to risk alienating support by making late additions to Schedule A. Peel could find nothing to say in Petersfield’s defence, and the Members stayed silent, but out of deference to ministers Sheil withdrew his amendment, and its continuation as a single Member borough was confirmed.

To make up the required number of qualifying houses, the boundary commissioners accepted the inclusion of Buriton and Sheet in the new borough, and recommended the addition of the parishes of Froxfield, Steep and Liss, in the north, and the three tithings of Ramsden, Langrish and Oxenbourn to the west of the town. The new constituency, which covered 35.5 square miles, had a population of 4,391 and included 298 £10 houses. The commissioners predicted that since a proportion of these were in the same ownership, ‘the number of votes’ would ‘not be so great as the number of holdings’, and the 1832 registered electorate was only 234.41 Two-hundred-and-ten polled at that year’s general election, when Hylton Jolliffe, who had asserted in the House, 22 July 1831, that even by the more modest enlargement then under consideration, his influence in the borough would be destroyed, lost by a single vote to the reformer John Shaw Lefevre, and was then seated on petition.42 (He successfully challenged the eligibility of some ‘cricket field’ electors admitted by the revising barrister.)43 Although he suffered the indignity of defeat by Hector in 1835, his nephew Sir William Jolliffe came in unopposed in 1841 and continued to represent the borough as a Conservative until his elevation to the peerage in 1866.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon

Notes

  • 1. PP (1830-1), x. 93.
  • 2. Ibid. (1831-2), xl. 211-3.
  • 3. H.G.H. Jolliffe, Jolliffes of Staffs. 59-61.
  • 4. R.S. Atcheson, Report of Case of Borough of Petersfield ... in 1820 and 1821, pp. 97, 101 and passim.
  • 5. The Times, 7 May 1831; [W.D. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 296-7.
  • 6. Hants Chron. 6 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. E.L. Minty, Hist. Petersfield, 39-40; Hist. Churcher’s Coll. (1823).
  • 8. Som. RO, Hylton mss DD/HY, box 17, Procs. at Petersfield Election (1820), on which the following account of the election is based.
  • 9. Hants Chron. 6 Mar.; Hants Telegraph, 24 July 1820.
  • 10. Atcheson, 32-138; Jolliffe, 74; Hants Telegraph, 19 June 1820; CJ, lxxv. 151, 183, 232-3, 278, 281, 315.
  • 11. Jolliffe, 174, 233.
  • 12. Hants Telegraph, 3 July 1821.
  • 13. Atcheson, 139-179; CJ, lxxvi. 28, 91, 326-7, 365-6, 369, 393.
  • 14. Hants Chron. 4 June 1821; Hylton mss, box 17, Procs. at Petersfield Election (1831).
  • 15. Hants Telegraph, 28 Mar. 1825.
  • 16. Hylton mss, box 22, Hector to ?Hylton Jolliffe, 24 Mar. 1825.
  • 17. Hants Telegraph, 4 Apr. 1825; F.G. Hilton Price, London Bankers, 137-42.
  • 18. CJ, lxxv. 236; lxxx. 351; lxxxi. 254.
  • 19. Southampton County Chron. 20 Dec. 1820.
  • 20. N. Gash, Pillars of Government, 78; W.G. Rimmer, Marshalls of Leeds, 111; Jolliffe, 197.
  • 21. Hants Telegraph, 12 June 1826.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxii. 371, 504; lxxxiii. 90.
  • 23. Hylton mss, box 17, Procs. at Petersfield Election (1830).
  • 24. Ibid. box 22,