Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in inhabitant householders
Estimated number qualified to vote:
Number of voters:
739 in 18261
8,534 (1821);2 5,580 (1831)
|6 Mar. 1820||Alexander BARING||404|
|John Ashley Warre||324|
|22 June 1826||Henry SEYMOUR||515|
|Richard Estcourt Cresswell||291|
|Humprey St. John Mildmay||22|
|6 Aug. 1830||Henry LABOUCHERE||430|
|Edward Thomas BAINBRIDGE||280|
|2 May 1831||Henry LABOUCHERE|
|Edward Thomas BAINBRIDGE|
|12 June 1832||LABOUCHERE re-elected after appointment to office|
Taunton, ‘a populous and respectable market town’, situated on the River Tone in a ‘fertile and salubrious valley’, was ‘one of the principal towns’ in the county. Largely through the efforts of the Market House Society, which had obtained private Acts of Parliament in 1768 and 1817, the central streets were ‘spacious, well-paved, and lighted with gas’, giving a general appearance of prosperity, and the town had attracted a number of ‘genteel families’ of independent fortune. However, there were also ‘several lanes and courts (popularly called colleges), branching from the main street’, which were ‘filled with inhabitants bordering on a condition of pauperism’. The town had been a notable centre of woollen textile production since the fourteenth century, but this had almost entirely disappeared and silk manufacturing, introduced in 1778, was now its staple industry, employing some 1,800 people in the early 1820s. In common with other centres of the silk trade, there was serious distress in Taunton in the mid-1820s, allegedly caused by cheap foreign competition, and hundreds of workers were either unemployed or partially employed. On the other hand, the opening of the Bridgwater and Taunton Canal in 1827 gave an ‘impulse’ to the town’s commerce, ‘facilitating the transit of coals from Wales and the export of the agricultural produce’ of the surrounding area.4
The borough covered only a small portion of the town, being confined to part of the parish of St. Mary Magdalene and entirely excluding the adjoining parishes of St. James, Wilton and Bishop’s Hull. Its boundaries were ‘known only by usage’, and the growth of the town beyond the constituency limits had led to regular disputes over entitlement to the suffrage. Since the dissolution of the corporation in 1792, the returning officer’s duties had been performed by two bailiffs chosen by a jury at the bishop of Winchester’s annual court leet. Taunton was a potwalloper borough, and its electorate included some of the poorer inhabitants in the ‘colleges’, who had ‘been drawn into these close and unwholesome recesses’ because they were inside the constituency boundary. According to a Bristol newspaper in 1825, the potwalloper franchise meant that ‘the expense of an election, when the contest is even slight, amounts to £8,000 or £10,000 to each Member’, and one of them, John Ashley Warre, later complained about the ‘gratuity system’ which he considered tantamount to ‘wholesale bribery’. Religious Dissent had long been a powerful force in Taunton’s politics, and there were chapels in the town for the Independents, Baptists, Quakers and Unitarians, as well as two for the Wesleyan Methodists.5 The most influential local landowner and ‘acknowledged patron of the Blues’ was Sir Thomas Lethbridge, the Tory county Member, whose seat was at nearby Sandhill Park; since 1812 his brother-in-law Henry Powell Collins had held one of the Taunton seats. Lethbridge’s connection with the borough was ambivalent, though, as he had tried to sell his property in 1818 for £20,000. Alexander Baring, the Whig Member since 1806, was in the process of building a rival interest, using some of his immense wealth from banking, although his main estate was in Hampshire. Lethbridge apparently claimed in 1824 that he controlled 130 voters, and another 90 were independents who supported the king’s ministers, whereas Baring controlled 60 voters and there were about 120 reformers; but this underestimated the size of the electorate.6
Shortly before the dissolution in 1820 Collins announced his intention of retiring owing to his wife’s poor health. Henry Seymour, a relative of the 11th duke of Somerset but a stranger to the borough, immediately offered in Collins’s place as a defender of the constitution, ‘so proudly the boast of old England’, who was ‘devoted to the ... liberties of the people’ and would support Lord Liverpool’s ministry ‘so long as my unbiased judgement shall lead me to approve its measures’. Being ‘independent in mind’ as well as ‘independent in property’, he wanted ‘no favours from any government’. Two days later, Warre, who came from an old Somerset family and had previously sat for Lostwithiel, started on the independent interest, declaring his support for civil and religious liberty, retrenchment and the ‘correction’ of ‘anomalies in the representation of the people’. Encouraged by the results of his canvass, he felt ‘convinced that a moment is now arrived peculiarly favourable for the assertion of your independence ... notwithstanding the attempts which may be made to control the free expression of your own sentiments’. The appearance of Seymour and Warre prompted Baring to announce his intention of standing again, resting his claim for support on the way he had ‘discharged my duty with fidelity and ... the most earnest solicitude for the welfare of our common country’. His supporters made strenuous efforts to deny rumours that he was planning to stand for Hampshire instead. In the opinion of the local newspaper, Baring’s success was assured and the real contest was between Seymour and Warre, who made ‘some very eloquent and animated addresses’ during his campaign. Baring was nominated by the physician Malachi Blake, who likened him to Charles James Fox, ‘a lover of order and ... liberty’, and by Mr. Welch (possibly Charles or Joseph, surgeons). Seymour was introduced by the banker Charles Poole and the surgeon John Liddon. Warre, who was proposed by James Melhuish, a member of the gentry, and James Bunter, a woollen draper and prominent local Dissenter, attacked Seymour’s support of a government responsible for the Six Acts, which ‘needlessly infringe on the liberties of the people’ and demonstrated that ‘the House of Commons as at present constituted, was [not] such an admirable piece of perfection as to defy amendment’. Polling was a protracted affair lasting 14 days, as a ‘vast portion of time’ was ‘consumed in the discussion of controversial points connected with the qualification of the electors, the boundaries of the borough, and other incidental topics’, but Baring was always comfortably ahead and Warre finally defeated Seymour by five votes. Seymour demanded a scrutiny, complaining that a ‘secret understanding’ had existed between Baring and Warre in order to deprive him of a ‘fair chance’, and he warned the electors that ‘a coalition was the destruction of their independence’. However, the outcome was to increase Warre’s majority to nine, and Seymour withdrew his case. This provoked ‘an angry conflict of feelings’ between supporters of the rival parties, which ‘led to a temporary disturbance in the town’. A published analysis of the amended result shows that 208 voters plumped for Seymour and 11 for Baring, with 305 splitting between Baring and Warre (76 and 94 per cent of their respective totals), 88 between Baring and Seymour (22 and 28 per cent), and 19 between Seymour and Warre; 44 votes were disallowed, including 13 plumps for Seymour. Some years later it was reported that the total cost of the election to the three candidates had been ‘about £25,000’, Seymour apparently giving the same gratuity to his supporters as if he had been victorious.7
In September 1820 Thomas Jacobs, ‘an eminent brewer and one of the most popular characters in the town’, organized an address expressing support for Queen Caroline, which ‘received upwards of 3,000 voluntary signatures ... a great majority of the adult population’; he headed a deputation to London to present it and ‘attend the patriotic dinner at the Crown and Anchor’.8 The news of the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties in November was celebrated with bell ringing, fireworks and a general illumination. Laurel and white flowers ‘appeared in great profusion at many ... houses’. An ‘immense gibbet’, on which an effigy of the perjured witness Majocchi was suspended, with ‘a green bag at his side’, was ‘carried round the town and finally burnt on the Parade’. The town was ‘tolerably free from disturbance’, save for some window breaking by ‘a few blackguards’. A requisition for a public meeting was rejected by the bailiffs but nevertheless held at an ‘entirely filled’ guildhall, 27 Nov., when Bunter and Dr. Robert Kinglake moved an address of congratulations to the queen, which was ‘unanimously carried’. A loyal address to the king was circulated, expressing confidence that the government would ‘frustrate and defeat the wicked projects and traitorous designs of that revolutionary faction, which has been so long anxious to prostrate the monarchy at the feet of a turbulent democracy’. On 22 Dec. 1820 a meeting at the guildhall, chaired by Blake, ‘unanimously adopted’ another loyal address which called for the removal of ministers responsible for the ‘most anomalous and illegal’ proceedings against the queen. It declared that the ‘great remedy for all the existing political difficulties of the country’ was ‘a full, fair and effectual representation of the people’ in Parliament, which would result in a government committed to ‘unsparing retrenchment ... rigid economy’ and an ‘insular disdain’ for the ‘despotic and uncongenial policies of the European continent’, producing ‘beneficial results’ in the ‘rapid improvement’ of the economy. A petition for restoration of the queen’s name to the liturgy was agreed at a further public meeting, 18 Jan., and presented to the Commons, 26 Jan. 1821.9 The archdeacon and clergy sent anti-Catholic petitions to the Commons, 26 Mar. 1821, 17 Apr. 1823, and both Houses, 25, 29 Mar. 1825. The Unitarians and the inhabitants petitioned the Lords for and against the relief bill respectively, 6, 16 May 1825.10 Petitions from the inhabitants were forwarded to the Commons for revision of the criminal code, 29 Mar. 1821, and against the severity of Henry Hunt’s* imprisonment at Ilchester, 1 Mar., and of the criminal law, 25 Mar. 1822.11 The silk weavers urged the Commons to maintain protective duties against silk imports, 8 Mar. 1824, 6 Feb., as did the crepe and silk manufacturers, 15 Feb. 1826.12 Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants were presented to Parliament, 19 Mar. 1824, 24 Feb., 3 Mar. 1826; they also pressed the Commons for inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 27 May 1824.13 The inhabitants of St. Mary Magdalene and St. James petitioned the Commons for revision of the land tax assessment, 5 May 1824, as did the inhabitants of the whole town, 23 Feb., who similarly petitioned for repeal of the house and window duties, 6 May 1825.14
Between the spring and autumn of 1825 Taunton was in a state of near continual political convulsion as a ‘church and king’ agitation was raised against the sitting Members, who both supported the Catholic relief bill. In May, a public meeting on the issue ended in uproar, and a subsequent anti-Catholic petition to the Lords reportedly received over 1,300 signatures. A poster appeared in the town which conveys the intensity of outraged Protestant feeling:
Stand firm in defence of your religion and your rights. Your homes, your liberty, your lives, with those of your beloved wives and families, above all, the safety of your country is in danger. Tell those Popish advocates, that you are determined by every means, to resist any encroachment of their pernicious doctrines; then will our glorious constitution (the admiration of the world) which our forefathers died to establish, be handed down unimpaired to your children’s children, who will bless the memories of those fathers, who now so nobly withstand the advances of Popery!15
The following month Lethbridge visited the town, where his carriage was drawn around by the crowd amid ‘deafening cries of "No Popery!"’, before he spoke at the Castle Inn. He was responsible for the appearance of two candidates in August, William Peachy, formerly Member for Yarmouth, Isle of Wight, and Henry Mervyn Baylay of Hoo Meavy House, near Plymouth, who canvassed ‘on True Blue Principles’ in the conviction that ‘the political sentiments and conduct of your present representatives are not in unison with the well known opinions of the great body of the electors’. A Bristol Tory newspaper reported that supporters of the sitting Members were deserting in large numbers and that it was apparently ‘useless for Baring or Warre to try the contest’. Baring’s friends published a letter in his name, without authorization, in which he promised to offer himself ‘as a real candidate’ when the dissolution was announced, and claiming that Lethbridge had recently offered to sell him his property in Taunton, ‘with a guarantee of one seat in Parliament’, for £27,000. This allegation was never repudiated by Baring, and Lethbridge was evasive when pressed on the matter at a public meeting. However, the letter failed in its object of drawing Baring into the field, as he announced in September that he would not stand again for health reasons. (At the 1826 general election he retreated into his own pocket borough of Callington.) Privately, he wrote that ‘it was not very agreeable to yield the place to the no-Popery champion of Somersetshire’, but he was ‘tired of brickbats and fifteen days’ polling’ and had ‘made up my mind to quit the field after the last election’. He nevertheless maintained that ‘I could certainly have kept one seat; the second one we should have lost and should indeed never have tried for’. Despite his belief that Warre could survive, he feared that his colleague might instead take ‘fright’, which was quickly confirmed when Warre announced his decision not to enter into what was bound to be an expensive contest.16 The friends of Baring and Warre immediately formed themselves into a committee to find new candidates ‘of respectability and independent principles’, and early in October they agreed, after some hesitation, to endorse Richard Estcourt Cresswell of Pinckney Park, Wiltshire, ‘a free and unbiased Englishman’, who proceeded to canvass the borough. Meantime, drama had descended into farce within the ‘True Blue’ camp, when their committee dissociated itself from Baylay because of rumours about his private character and brought forward Seymour, the unsuccessful candidate in 1820, to run with Peachy. Baylay, who was evidently unbalanced, denounced the ‘unconstitutional’ behaviour of the committee and claimed to be the victim of a Jesuit conspiracy. He arrived in the town on 21 Oct. 1825, and ‘stood erect in the carriage, with a brace of pistols under his arm’, threatening to shoot the first person who insulted him and abusing those in the crowd who tried to question him, before he embarked on a canvass and met with such an ‘unpleasant reception’ that he was forced to retire. The abrupt switching of Blue candidates provided ammunition for Cresswell’s supporters, who argued that it showed how Lethbridge was treating the electors ‘like a herd of swine’. Cresswell’s brother issued a poster urging the electors to follow the example of Westminster, when it had returned Sir Francis Burdett, and warned them to ‘beware of splitting your votes, for every buff plumper shall "drive a nail" into the "coffin" of corruption’.17
When the dissolution was announced in May 1826, Cresswell travelled to Taunton where he joined the radical, Hunt, who was standing for the county. Seymour and Peachy arrived together two days later, and at ‘about 10 o’clock at night the populace became very noisy and riotous’; special constables were sworn in to help the yeomanry restore order. Peachy, who was nominated by William Charles Cox, an ironmonger, and James Jeboult, a china and glass dealer, declined to label himself as either Whig or Tory, as he was simply the ‘firm and invariable friend of my king and my country’. He stood for the principles of 1688 and recalled the persecution suffered by the people of Taunton during James II’s reign, urging the electors to ‘remember the blood that flowed through your streets’ before their liberties and privileges were secured. Seymour was sponsored by the attorney Henry James Leigh, his ‘professional agent’, and the grocer John Bluett. According to Leigh, Seymour too would ‘not espouse the side of Whig or Tory’ but would ‘go on in the straightforward path of independence’, and he expatiated on Seymour’s proud ancestry, which was ‘associated with the brightest periods of the history of our country’. Cresswell, who was introduced by Charles Welch and Bunter, declared that the laws of the land must guarantee ‘liberty and security to mankind’, and that he would resist such measures as the suspension of habeas corpus, attacks on the press and the unjust imprisonment of individuals. Although he was a substantial landed proprietor, he favoured corn law repeal. On the delicate issue of Catholic emancipation, he announced that he would not vote for or against it until the government decided to act, but as a ‘friend to religious and civil liberty, I wish from my heart ... to support those feelings which I hope every good Christian, and Englishman, and honest man, would abide by at the day of trial’. The show of hands was narrowly in favour of Seymour and Cresswell, but Peachy demanded a poll which lasted for eight days. On the second, with Seymour and Peachy already ahead, Cresswell, whose health seems to have been fragile, failed to appear on the hustings. Bunter referred to ‘rumours of a most unexpected and unpleasant kind’ having reached the Buff committee, and promised that ‘no longer than Mr. Cresswell is likely to be an efficient candidate, are we likely to continue the poll on his behalf’. It subsequently emerged that Cresswell had left the town, to the embarrassment of his supporters, and though his brother Henry continued the campaign on his behalf it was later reported that the Buff committee had broken up owing to a misunderstanding with Cresswell over finance. Meantime, on the day of Cresswell’s disappearance his brother Edmund had offered in conjunction with him, presumably to keep the poll going, and he found sponsors in Joseph Welch and Aaron Smetham, a tailor and publican. Two more candidates, both related to Baring, offered on the third day of polling, his son Francis, who was proposed by the hatmaker Abraham Whitwham and the publican John Small, and his son-in-law Humphrey St. John Mildmay, who was proposed by the brush maker John Bastable and John Coombes. Ostensibly, each man stood in conjunction with the absent Cresswell, but it is possible that their intervention reflected the tensions within the Buff camp and that they were hoping to share the Buff vote between them. However, while Cresswell never reappeared, he continued to be the most successful of the Buff candidates, and in any case the position of Seymour and Peachy proved unassailable. Peachy greeted the result as ‘a triumph of spirited and independent men asserting their birthright’, and he thanked not only those who had voted for him but ‘the unpolled numbers who were waiting (had it been necessary) to complete my victory’. Of the 739 who did poll, 50 plumped for Cresswell, eight for Seymour and two for Peachy, while 437 split between Seymour and Peachy (85 and 95 per cent of their respective totals), 69 between Seymour and Cresswell, one between Seymour and Baring, 19 between Peachey and Cresswell, 121 between Cresswell and Baring, 22 between Cresswell and St. John Mildmay and ten between Cresswell and his brother Edmund. Twenty-four votes were rejected. The anonymous chronicler of Taunton’s elections lamented the mischievous effects of ‘a long and premature contest’ spanning ‘about three-quarters of a year’, during which time ‘houses of entertainment were kept open’, ‘enormous expenses ... incurred’ and ‘habits of idleness and licentiousness ... formed’.18
The archdeacon and clergy petitioned Parliament against Catholic claims, 12, 15 Mar., as did the inhabitants, 15, 17 May 1827. Petitions against the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill from the clergy and the inhabitants were forwarded to both Houses, with favourable ones from certain inhabitants, in March 1829. According to the local newspaper, while the town was ‘by no means exempt from the excitement felt elsewhere on this subject’, discussion of it ‘both in public and private’ was characterized by ‘good sense and liberal feeling’.19 Several petitions from Protestant Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts were presented to the Commons in June 1827 and both Houses in February 1828.20 The silk weavers petitioned the Commons for regulation of their wages, 6 June 1827, and restoration of prohibitory tariffs against foreign silks, 8 July 1828, 13 Apr. 1829.21 The inhabitants sent petitions to Parliament for relief from distress, 8, 18 Mar., the maltsters and corn dealers for repeal of the duties on malt, hops and beer, 10, 18 Mar., and the manufacturers, traders and inhabitants against renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 5, 6 Apr. 1830.22
The settlement of the Catholic question in 1829 paved the way for a realignment of political forces at Taunton around the issue of parliamentary reform. Lethbridge’s extraordinary decision to abandon his uncompromising Protestant stance and support emancipation divided the True Blues, with Seymour following his patron’s lead and Peachy adhering to his original position; Lethbridge himself, who had just purchased a new estate in Hampshire, retired from the Somerset county seat in 1830. It was subsequently alleged that he had made another attempt to sell his Taunton property, and any influence he continued to exert in the borough was entirely behind the scenes.23 During George IV’s final illness in 1830 the manoeuvring for position by prospective candidates was already under way. In May it was reported that Henry Labouchere, Whig Member for Mitchell and Baring’s nephew, intended to offer on his uncle’s interest. Early in June Seymour, to the surprise of many, announced that he would not stand again, claiming that he had made this decision several months before but felt obliged to disclose it now owing to the ‘state of excited feeling ... already produced amongst you by the prospect of a threatened contest’. Next day an address was issued by the London banker Edward Bainbridge, a stranger who had apparently been introduced to the town by an attorney named Stephens, offering for ‘the vacancy ... to be created’ by Seymour’s retirement. He was ‘independent alike in principle and in fortune’, and a friend to ‘moderate and cautious reform’. Bainbridge’s appearance prompted Peachy to confirm that he would defend his seat, relying on ‘the approbation of my steady and warm friends’ and ‘the consciousness of having redeemed every pledge as faithfully as it was given sincerely’. Labouchere now felt obliged to declare himself a candidate, trusting that ‘my near relationship to one who, for nearly twenty years, was honoured by your confidence, will be considered ... as a circumstance not unfavourable to my pretensions’, and affirming his commitment to civil and religious liberty and retrenchment in government expenditure.24 The news of the king’s death reached Taunton at 9 o’clock on 27 June, and within half an hour Peachy appeared in the town, followed shortly afterwards by Bainbridge; Labouchere arrived the next morning to commence his canvass. Bainbridge, who was clearly hoping to combine Whig votes with those of Seymour’s former supporters, even changing his colours from blue to green during the course of the campaign, became more specific in his commitment to reform. He expressed approval of Lord John Russell’s resolutions on the subject, but emphasized his ‘most anxious desire ... to keep inviolate our glorious institutions’, for which purpose he would ‘give them all the additional security which they will undoubtedly derive from a moderate and progressive reform, in every department which needs it’. Peachy, in declaring his ‘unshaken loyalty’ to traditional institutions, also stressed his support for ‘the abolition of unnecessary expenditure’ and desire to ‘assist in gradually producing a moderate reform’. A local newspaper judged that the contest between Bainbridge and Peachy was likely to be ‘a stout one’, whereas Labouchere’s return seemed certain. Peachy was nominated by William Blatch Cox, a maltster and wine merchant, and Colonel Barrow; Bainbridge was introduced by Leigh, formerly Seymour’s agent, and William Charles Cox, previously Peachy’s supporter; Labouchere was sponsored by Blake and Bunter, formerly supporters of Baring and Warre respectively. Polling lasted for six days, with Labouchere always comfortably ahead, and Bainbridge finally secured second place by a margin of 57 votes. Of the 538 electors who cast their votes, 74 plumped for Labouchere, 55 for Peachey and 14 for Bainbridge, while 227 split between Labouchere and Bainbridge (53 and 87 per cent of their respective totals), 129 between Labouchere and Peachy (30 and 58 per cent) and 39 between Bainbridge and Peachy. It was later reported that 209 votes had been rejected. One sign of the intensity of the electioneering was the fact that ‘the number of political and party jeux d’esprit, addresses, placards, etc., published ... exceeded 160’. There is no evidence that the revolution in France affected the course of the contest, but at a celebratory dinner given afterwards to Labouchere his supporters expressed enthusiasm for the ‘moral and physical resistance to misrule and sanguinary violence’, which was ‘a theme for heartfelt exultation’.25 Peachy immediately announced that he would petition against Bainbridge’s return, on grounds of bribery and treating, and a Commons committee was duly appointed in February 1831. Large numbers of people, including whole families, were summoned to London to give evidence, and Bainbridge exclusively engaged several coaches to transport them. On their arrival, the witnesses were ‘gaily treated ... after a handsome dinner [they] are each night conveyed in coaches to and from the theatres, into which they are passed free of expense’. Ironically, the cost to Bainbridge of defending himself against charges of bribery amounted to ‘an enormous sum’. The committee sat for 14 days before confirming his election, 10 Mar. 1831, but the outcome had been a ‘touch and go business’. Bainbridge triumphantly declared that his opponent’s petition had ‘crumbled into dust’, observing that most of the charges made against him were ‘utterly false and unfounded’, while others ‘arose from those customary hospitalities in which the petitioner was at least equally involved with myself, and of which ... it is a little surprising that he should have thought it reasonable ... to attempt to take advantage’. He alluded ‘particularly to the orders for entertainment, commonly called tally tickets’. One specific accusation of attempted bribery, made against Bainbridge personally by an elector and his wife, ‘became a question of credibility’, and the committee concluded that it had not been established.26
Anti-slavery petitions were sent to one or both Houses by various Dissenting chapels, the inhabitants (following a meeting at the Castle chaired by Blake, 26 Oct., when Kinglake and Bunter were among the speakers), and the ladies of Taunton, in late 1830 and early 1831.27 At a public meeting on parliamentary reform summoned by requisition, 13 Dec. 1830, Kinglake proposed resolutions declaring that the franchise ‘inherently and equally belongs to every adult male individual’, that the ballot was required, and that reform would lead to ‘rigid and unsparing retrenchment’, including the ‘permanent reduction of the army to the lowest peace establishment’ and abolition of the ‘oppressive’ system of tithes. Other speakers included Bunter, who objected to the ballot as ‘calculated to induce duplicity’ and inconsistent with the national character. Separate petitions in favour of household suffrage and the ballot were therefore forwarded to the Commons, 14, 28 Feb. 1831.28 The Grey ministry’s reform bill left Taunton’s representation intact, and at a ‘very large and no less respectable’ meeting summoned by requisition, 9 Mar., Kinglake moved to petition in its favour. He declared that ‘for the first time in the political history of this country ... the government [has] frankly and honestly identified itself with the inalienable rights and privileges of the people’, and he welcomed a measure that would end the dominion of the boroughmongers, which had resulted in a ‘profligate waste of public money’ and a crippling national debt. He personally favoured the ballot and shorter parliaments, but did not press these for the sake of unanimity. Bunter, the seconder, claimed that Taunton’s potwallopers ‘rejoiced’ at the prospect of sharing their political privilege with more of their fellow citizens. The petition was ‘signed by several hundred persons’ and presented to the Commons, 19 Mar. The inhabitant householders of St. James petitioned for their inclusion in the borough, 20 Apr.29 At the general election of 1831 Labouchere and Bainbridge, who both supported the bill, were cordially received, and ‘a rumour of an intended opposition soon died away’. They benefited from the fact that the ‘professional gentlemen ... agreed to bestow their services gratuitously’. Labouchere was nominated by Blake and Bunter, and Bainbridge by the attorney John Pinchard and Leigh; after a unanimous show of hands they were declared elected. Bainbridge, in congratulating the electors on their public spiritedness, which had led them ‘to decline those hospitalities, by which your representatives have from time to time been expected and accustomed to signalize their success’, saw this as proof that ‘the people of England are in earnest in their endeavours to support their patriot king in his wish to reform the representative system of the empire’. Shortly afterwards, the Members spoke at a public meeting which organized an address to the king praising him for allowing Parliament to be dissolved.30
The inhabitant householders of St. Mary Magdalene petitioned the Commons to bring those of them outside the borough boundary within it, 8 July, and the ‘poor voters’, who were to retain the franchise for their own lifetimes, urged the Commons to grant a ‘perpetual right’ to their descendants, 23 Aug. 1831. The inhabitants petitioned the Lords for the speedy passage of the reintroduced reform bill, 30 Sept.31 When the news of its rejection reached Taunton, on a Sunday morning, sentiments of ‘dismay intermingled with no small share of indignation’ were manifested and ‘the centre of the town was immediately thronged by various groups of persons in earnest conversation’. A packed public meeting summoned by requisition, 8 Oct., unanimously endorsed Kinglake’s resolution to address the king for the creation of new peers, after Henry Shillibeer’s resolutions attacking the bishops were withdrawn. In the aftermath of the Bristol riots, a ‘Loyal Political Union’ was established at Taunton, a ‘united body’ which involved ‘many of the most wealthy and influential characters’ in the town, including Kinglake (the chairman), Blake, Bunter and Leigh. Its declared object was to ‘support our gracious and patriotic sovereign and his enlightened ministers’ and ‘further by every constitutional means the great measure of parliamentary reform’, while using ‘every exertion for the maintenance of order’. It did not consider itself to be covered by the subsequent royal proclamation against political unions and therefore continued to operate.32 During the crisis of May 1832 the union experienced ‘a very great increase in its numbers’, and at the ‘most numerous and respectable meeting ... ever witnessed’ by the local newspaper, 15 May, a petition was agreed urging the Commons to withhold supplies until the Lords passed the revised reform bill; it was presented on the 24th.33 A petition, ‘by no means numerously signed’, against any system of national education in Ireland inconsistent with the ‘distinguishing principles of the Christian faith’, was sent to the Commons, 7 May, while a well-attended meeting forwarded an anti-slavery petition, 24 May.34 In June 1832, when Labouchere was re-elected unopposed after taking office, a canvass revealed that of nearly 700 electors only 33 had been unwilling to support him.35
The boundary commissioners recommended that as the town had ‘outgrown the ancient limits of the borough in every direction’, an ‘entirely new’ boundary was necessary. This was drawn so as to include large parts, but not the whole, of the parishes of St. Mary Magdalene, St. James, Wilton and Bishop’s Hull, and covered ‘grounds already extensively built over or which will, in a few years, be occupied by tenements in possession of persons closely connected in interests with the town’.36 There were 941 registered electors in 1832. Labouchere and Bainbridge were returned unopposed at the general election of that year,37 and they retained their seats until Bainbridge’s retirement in 1842 and Labouchere’s elevation to the peerage in 1859. Taunton remained a predominantly Liberal borough, albeit one with an unsavoury reputation for corruption, and it was only from the 1850s that the Conservatives occasionally managed to win a seat.
Author: Terry Jenkins
- 1. PP (1830-1), x. 105.
- 2. The 1821 census return covered the whole of the parishes of St. Mary Magdalene and St. James, but the borough only comprised part of the former. The bailiff thought the number of adult males in the borough at that time was around 1,200: ibid. (1830-1), x. 105; (1831-2), xxxix. 236.
- 3. After a scrutiny, the original figures being Baring 407, Warre 326, Seymour 321 (Taunton Courier, 29 Mar., 12 Apr. 1820).
- 4. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 722-3; Robson’s Som. Dir. (1839), 201; PP (1831-2), xxxix. 233; J. Toulmin and J. Savage, Hist. Taunton, 368-76, 380-3, 582, 583; G. Kite and H. Palmer, Taunton, 17-27, 32-34; Taunton Courier, 25 Jan., 31 Mar. 1826.
- 5. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 233; Toulmin and Savage, 277, 278; Bristol Mirror, 27 Aug. 1825; Taunton Courier, 18 Aug. 1830; F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 361, 362.
- 6. Som. RO DD/SAS/TN 160/3, ‘Investigator’ ; Lethbridge mss A/ARW/2/1, T. Ireland to Lethbridge, 23 Feb., H. Collins to same, 23 Feb. 1818; Ashburton mss DD/AS/6, Baring’s Taunton rental for 1829, showing that he then possessed 71 properties yielding net receipts of £520; Taunton Courier, 30 Nov. 1825.
- 7. Taunton Courier, 9, 16 Feb., 1, 15, 22, 29 Mar., 5, 12 Apr. 1820; Toulmin and Savage, 363-5; The Times, 5 June 1826.
- 8. The Times, 30 Sept. 1820.
- 9. Taunton Courier, 15, 22, 29 Nov., 13, 27 Dec. 1820, 24 Jan. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 12.
- 10. CJ, lxxvi. 203; lxxvii. 214; lxxx. 285; LJ, lvii. 469, 759, 812.
- 11. CJ, lxxvi. 217; lxxvii. 72, 135.
- 12. Ibid. lxxix. 131; lxxxi. 12, 49.
- 13. Ibid. lxxix. 185, 422; lxxxi. 124; LJ, lvi. 92; lviii. 56.
- 14. CJ, lxxix. 325; lxxx. 119, 384.
- 15. Taunton Courier, 11 May; Bristol Mirror, 14 May; Som. RO DD/SAS/TN 160/4, ‘A Protestant’, 12 May 1825.
- 16. Bristol Mirror, 11 June, 20, 27 Aug.; Taunton Courier, 17, 24 Aug., 14, 21 Sept.; Lansdowne mss, Baring to Lansdowne, 16 Sept. 1825.
- 17. Taunton Courier, 21, 28 Sept., 5, 12, 19, 26 Oct.; Bristol Mirror, 24 Sept., 8, 29 Oct.; W. Naesmyth, Cresswell Politics, 31-40; Som. RO DD/SAS/TN 160/4, Baylay, 17 Oct., Rev. Henry Cresswell, 21 Nov.; 161/5, ‘An Observer’, 11 Oct. 1825.
- 18. Taunton Courier, 31 May, 21, 28 June; The Times, 21, 23 June 1826; Som. RO T/Ph/Up 1, a handwritten account of Taunton elections, 1714-1842, apparently intended as a continuation of that for 1714-1820 printed in Toulmin and Savage but not used in the 1874 ed. prepared by C.G. Webb. No pollbooks have survived for this period.
- 19. CJ, lxxxii. 320. 460; lxxxiv. 115, 121, 133, 141; LJ, lix. 153, 314; lxi. 129, 191, 193, 320; Taunton Courier, 4 Mar. 1829.
- 20. CJ, lxxxii. 521, 585; lxxxiii. 87, 96; LJ, lx. 53, 83, 99.
- 21. CJ, lxxxii. 523; lxxxiii. 512; lxxxiv. 224.
- 22. Ibid. lxxxv. 148, 158, 269; LJ, lxii. 131, 194.
- 23. Bristol Mirror, 13 Feb., 19 June; Taunton Courier, 25 Aug. 1830. Lethbridge’s land agent, John Easton, apparently acted on Edward Bainbridge’s behalf during the 1830 contest, but Lethbridge’s own role is unclear: Trial of the Taunton Election Petition (1831, copy in Som. Stud. Lib. Taunton), 16, 40, 42, 50.
- 24. Taunton Courier, 19 May, 9, 16 June; NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, Walsh diary, 24 June 1830.
- 25. Taunton Courier, 30 June, 7, 28 July, 4, 11, 18 Aug., 1 Sept. 1830; Taunton Election Petition, 16, 62, 238, 243; Som. RO T/Ph/Up 1, handwritten account of the poll; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 590.
- 26. Taunton Courier, 23 Feb., 2, 16 Mar.; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 16 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 43, 44, 283, 285, 357; Taunton Election Petition, passim.
- 27. Taunton Courier, 3 Nov. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 130, 175, 435; LJ, lxiii. 54, 69, 485.
- 28. Taunton Courier, 15, 22 Dec. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 245, 324.
- 29. Taunton Courier, 16 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 406, 511.
- 30. Taunton Courier, 27 Apr., 4, 11 May 1831.
- 31. CJ, lxxxvi. 635, 776; LJ, lxiii. 1022; Taunton Courier, 28 Sept. 1831.
- 32. Taunton Courier, 12, 26 Oct., 9, 30 Nov. 1831.
- 33. Ibid. 16 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 337.
- 34. Taunton Courier, 14 Mar., 9 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 294, 336.
- 35. Taunton Courier, 13 June 1832.
- 36. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 233-5; Taunton Courier, 28 Nov. 1832.
- 37. Taunton Courier, 19 Dec. 1832.