Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1660-1690, ed. B.D. Henning, 1983
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

A single Member constituency

Right of Election:

in the inhabitants paying scot and lot and not in receipt of constant alms

Number of voters:

over 500


  Double return.  LENTHALL allowed to sit, 27 Apr. 1660. STONHOUSE declared elected, 23 May 1660 
19 Apr. 1675SIR JOHN STONHOUSE, Bt. vice Sir George Stonhouse, deceased 
 Sir Robert Hanson 
 ?John Wickham 
14 Feb. 1679SIR JOHN STONHOUSE, Bt. 
11 Sept. 1679SIR JOHN STONHOUSE, Bt.171
 Major Dunch297
11 Feb. 1681SIR JOHN STONHOUSE, Bt. 
17 Mar. 1685SIR JOHN STONHOUSE, Bt. 
 Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.87
 Election declared void, 7 May 1689 
22 May 1689JOHN SOUTHBY243
 Sir John Stonhouse, Bt.263
 STONHOUSE vice Southby, on petition, 8 Jan. 1690 

Main Article

The interest of the Stonhouse family of Radley predominated at Abingdon during the period, though, perhaps because of the practice of scrutinizing qualifications only after the poll, there were a number of disputed returns. In 1660, the seat was contested by the Royalist, Sir George Stonhouse, and John Lenthall, a dexterous complier with every regime. A double return ensued, with Stonhouse’s indenture signed by the two bailiffs and Lenthall’s by the mayor. The latter was allowed to sit on the merits of the return, but the elections committee rejected two of his voters as aliens and 54 as almsmen, and on 23 May he was unseated. The mayor, who was probably in Lenthall’s pocket, was not present in the House to amend the return and was committed to the custody of the serjeant-at-arms, but released three days later. Stonhouse was reelected in 1661, probably unopposed, and on his death in 1675 one of Lord Wharton’s Presbyterian chaplains set to work to find a nonconformist candidate to succeed him. Wharton’s nominee was probably John Wickham of Garsington, who was granted the freedom of the borough on 6 Apr. together with Sir Robert Hanson, a prosperous London scrivener of local origins. Neither candidate was able to shake the dominant interest, and Stonhouse’s son was returned. Hanson petitioned, and did not renounce his claim to the seat until 21 Mar. 1678.1

Stonhouse retained his seat in the Exclusion Parliaments. Although he voted for the bill, he was opposed at the second general election of 1679 by Wharton’s son-in-law Major Dunch. A pamphlet written by one of Dunch’s supporters accused the mayor of delaying the poll to increase his expenses. Tenants of the borough and of Christ’s Hospital property were threatened with increases in their rents and rates and non-renewal of leases if they did not vote for Stonhouse. The general cry was ‘A Dunch! a Dunch!’, according to the pamphlet, and after a three-hour poll, it was reported that Dunch had 297 votes and Stonhouse 171, including every Papist in Abingdon except one. After two days’ scrutiny, a number of Dunch’s voters who did not pay scot and lot were disqualified. But when Stonhouse was declared elected, Dunch came into town with 100 horse and 200 supporters on foot, and the mayor was obliged to go into hiding. The return was sealed only on 11 Sept., after Dunch’s men had quitted the town. There was no petition, Dunch dying later in the same month before the second Exclusion Parliament met. No contest is recorded in 1681.2

Although the corporation sent loyal addresses abhorring the ‘Association’ and the Rye House Plot, it was computed that the dissenters outpolled the churchmen by five to one at the municipal elections of 1683, ‘for many of the dissenters are so rich that many beholden to them, though not of their judgment, dare give no votes’.

Stonhouse, who seems to have veered towards the Court after the Plot, was again returned in 1685, apparently unopposed. In the following year Abingdon surrendered its charter, which was carried to Radley, or so Stonhouse’s enemies averred. Under the new charter the franchise was restricted to the corporation. But after the reversal of James’s policies in 1687 this had to be twice purged. In February 1688 the King was assured that future Members of Parliament would meet with his approval, though this was one of the few constituencies where the dissenters were divided. It was reported that John Southby, apparently a Whig collaborator, had been proposed by the Presbyterians, but a third purge occurred in August, perhaps in the interests of Thomas Medlycott, the recorder, and the local Baptists.3

The general election of 1689 was marked by violence. Southby did not appear, but Medlycott challenged the Stonhouse monopoly. Rumours were spread that Stonhouse would not stand, and when he appeared in the town on the Saturday before the election, he was knocked down by a mob brandishing the Medlycott colours and shouting ‘No Radley charter!’. He was so ‘barbarously used’ that he could not attend the election, at which Medlycott was declared successful with a majority of 18 in a low poll. The election was declared void on petition on 7 May because of the violence: Medlycott did not stand again, and Southby took his place as Whig candidate at the by-election. He was declared elected on 22 May, but Stonhouse petitioned on 3 June, and again after the recess, claiming a majority of 20 in a poll of over 500. Eventually on 8 Jan. 1690 the elections committee reported in Stonhouse’s favour. When the report was debated in the House, the Presbyterian Roger Morrice was informed that:

all the Tories were united for Sir John Stonhouse; but the Whigs who were for Mr Southby were divided by the influence of the Lord Lovelace, who prevailed with and drew off all that he had or could make any interest in.

On the first division it was agreed by 136 votes to 116 to deny the franchise to all those in receipt of constant alms, whether weekly, monthly, quarterly or yearly. Southby was unseated by the much larger majority of 160 to 117, and Stonhouse declared duly elected without a division.4

Authors: Leonard Naylor / Geoffrey Jaggar


  • 1. Nicholas Pprs. (Cam. Soc. ser. 3), xxxi. 201-2;; CJ, viii. 42, 46; ix. 459; x. 123; Abingdon bor. mins. 1, p. 229; J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 84; HMC 7th Rep. 464; Berks. Arch. Jnl. xxv. 39.
  • 2. Berks. Arch. Jnl. xxvi. 54; Bodl. Gough, Berks. 3/32; CJ, x. 123; Misc. Gen. et Her. (ser. 3), ii. 47.
  • 3. Luttrell, i. 213; London Gazette, 6 Sept. 1683; CSP Dom. July-Sept. 1683, p. 354; 1686-7, p. 34; PC2/72/542, 561, 727; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), 235, 237.
  • 4. CJ, x. 13-14, 123-4, 162, 277-8, 326-7; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 552; 3, p. 81.