Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

No names known for 1510-23


1536(not known)
 (not known)
1542(not known)
1553 (Mar.)(not known)
1554 (Nov.)JOHN ALFORD

Main Article

Leland described Bridport as ‘a fair large town’, a royal borough having ‘privilege for a market and two bailiffs’. Its charters, going back to at least the mid 13th century, were confirmed in 1490, 1549 and later. During the early 16th century it still owed a fee-farm to the crown. James I’s charter of 1619, often considered to mark the incorporation of the borough, probably describes the existing situation when it lays down that there shall be two bailiffs and 15 capital burgesses who are to elect the bailiffs annually from their number. The charter also mentions a recorder, deputy recorder and town clerk but not a high steward, although John Paulet, Lord St. John, later 2nd Marquess of Winchester, had been holding this position in 1550.4

Bridport was famous for ropemaking, and the borough seal incorporates three of the ‘cogs’ or hooks employed in the industry. An Act of 1529 (21 Hen. VIII, c.12) followed a petition claiming that whereas Bridport had from time immemorial supplied the navy and ‘the most part of all other ships within this realm’ its livelihood was now threatened by competition which evaded proper supervision and produced an inferior article. The Act laid down that no one living within five miles of Bridport might sell hemp except at the borough’s market and that within this area only those resident in the town should make ropes and other tackle requiring hemp, unless these were for private use. Originally the Act was to last only until the next Parliament, but it was continued until the reign of Mary and beyond. It may have been of some temporary help, but its more lasting effect seems to have been to drive the rope industry beyond the five-mile limit and it did not save the town from inclusion in the Act of 1540 for the re-edifying of towns westward (32 Hen. VIII, c.19). Although fishing, especially for mackerel, was carried on there, Bridport had no deep harbour and thus little scope for engaging in overseas trade.5

The surviving election indentures for the period all date from the reign of Mary, although the Bridport names were included in the schedule sent up by the sheriff of Dorset in 1545. The indentures, in English, are between the sheriff and the town bailiffs, who signed them as having acted ‘with the consent of the whole commonalty’. No evidence has been found of the franchise or of the method of election. Only two Members are known to have received any wages or expenses and then seemingly at a rate so far short of the statutory one as to imply that the borough was incapable of meeting the full cost: in 1535 the municipal authorities agreed to let William Chard have the bridgehouse rent free for six years and to pay him 20s. in final settlement of his claims, and five years later they promised Richard Moone 53s.4d. ‘for all charges’.6

The large number of names missing, and the fact that Bridport is not known to have re-elected any Member, make it difficult to discover an electoral pattern. Of the 17 known Members, only six were townsmen and the local element seems to have decreased during the period: after the first three townsmen— Chard, the rope-maker Richard Furloke, and Moone— no other is known to have sat until John Alford and John Moynes were returned to Mary’s third Parliament in obedience to the Queen’s request for the election of residents. All of these save Moynes had already served as either bailiff or cofferer, as had Thomas Chard who completed their tally; a brother of William Chard, he was bailiff six times before his election and twice after it. Of the non-townsmen, Edmund Prowte and Robert Fowke lived nearby and William Grimston, sometime tenant of Wardour Castle, Wiltshire, had a house in north Dorset; the rest were ‘foreigners’.

The borough was amenable to various influences, ranging from that of successive admirals to those of its own high steward and of one of its Members, Christopher Smith. The admiralty nominees probably included John Lympany, a former comptroller of customs at Chichester, Richard Watkins, an admiralty official, and (Sir) Henry Gates, a friend of the Seymours and of Sir John Russell, Baron Russell, although Watkins and Gates were also connected with Smith. After being admiral from 1540 to 1543 Russell remained a local magnate, and his son, the 2nd Earl of Bedford, was to wield considerable influence at Elizabethan elections: Moynes, the townsman whose municipal career was least advanced at his election, may have benefited by Russell patronage. William Pole, whose name was inserted in the indenture in a different hand, was related to St. John’s deputy steward and had long been active in Lyme Regis, where St. John was also high steward. He was an Inner Templar but his brother-in-law John Popham (who may have owed his own return for Lyme Regis in 1558 to Pole) belonged to the Middle Temple and was thus a possible link between Pole and two members of that inn, John Hippisley and Thomas Walshe. Another Member who may have been a lawyer, Robert Neale, was married to Pole’s stepdaughter; he is likely to have known both his precursor Smith and his fellow-Member Prowte, who was in turn a neighbour of Sir Giles Strangways II, knight of the shire in the Parliament concerned, and was also perhaps already connected by marriage with the Phelips family. Fowke was related by marriage both to St. John and to Sir John Rogers, knight of the shire in 1555. Grimston had been a servant of Rogers’s father but he probably owed his return to either Sir Thomas Arundell or Matthew Colthurst. Smith was an exchequer official whose father-in-law owned a house near Bridport: in January 1553 he and his brother-in-law Thomas Hyde wrote to one of the bailiffs, John Alford, recommending the election to Edward VI’s second Parliament of Peter Osborne, also of the Exchequer, who was willing to serve without wages. It is not known whether Osborne was returned.7

Author: N. M. Fuidge


  • 1. Bridport doom bk. 189.
  • 2. Hatfield 207.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. Leland, Itin. ed. Smith, i. 245, v. 45; Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 2-3, 16; Bridport doom bk. 213.
  • 5. VCH Dorset, ii. 344-7; G. Roberts, Lyme Regis, 59-60; 28 Hen. VIII, c.8; 33 Hen. VIII, c.17; 37 Hen. VIII, c.23; 5 and 6 Edw. VI, c.17; 7 Edw. VI, c.11; 1 Mary, st. 2, c.13.
  • 6. C219/18C/36, 21/56, 23/48, 24/52, 25/36; Bridport doom bk. 177, 189; Hutchins, ii. 12.
  • 7. HMC 6th Rep. 497.