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

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 280


16 Apr. 1660JOHN DRAKE 
1 Feb. 1677GEORGE BOWERMAN vice Bishop, deceased198
 John Hurding 
27 Feb. 1677WADHAM STRANGWAYS vice John Strangways, deceased 
22 Aug. 1679SIR ROBERT HENLEY, Bt. 
 Sir Robert Henley, Bt. 
21 Apr. 1685HUGH HODGES 
 John Michell II 
 Richard Brodrepp 

Main Article

Economically, Bridport was static or declining. Its rope industry (based on local-grown flax and hemp) was faced with increasing competition from other areas using imported raw materials of better quality, and an attempt to open up its sand-choked harbour came to nothing. Resentment at the hearth-tax actually caused the death of one of the collectors in 1668. Ideologically there was a dissenting majority, at least by 1688; but although the franchise was extensive this was counter-balanced by the local prestige of the Strangways family, who enjoyed a strong deference vote.1

In 1660, when the Strangways influence was in abeyance, two Parliamentarians, John Drake and Henry Henley, were elected; but neither enjoyed a strong territorial interest, and in 1661 John Strangways was returned with a local royalist gentleman, Humphrey Bishop. The commissioners for corporations removed the recorder and eight of the 15 members of the corporation. The charter of 1667 required crown approval for the recorder and town clerk, and strengthened the hold of the local gentry by permitting five of the freemen to be non-resident, provided that they lived within ten miles of the borough. But the result of the next by-election was not to their liking. An outsider and court dependant, George Bowerman, had been spending much time and money in the constituency, and on Bishop’s death in November 1675

the bailiffs and most of the electors of that place sent to Mr Bowerman, desiring him to serve them as their burgess. Immediately after such their request, Mr Bowerman went to the borough, and expected a warrant from the sheriff upon the said writ; but the writ being detained in some private hand, he could not then have the fruit of his journey.

Not till December 1676 (by which time John Strangways had also died) was it worth while for Bowerman to resume his canvass. Sir George Strode began collecting support for Wadham Strangways; and on 22 Jan. the sheriff (John Every) endorsed the writ (dated 20 Nov. 1675) ‘delivered warrant to Mr John Strode’ (a distant relation of Sir George’s). But all this finesse was to no avail; a short campaign convinced Strangways that he stood no chance against Bowerman, and on 1 Feb. he withdrew before the poll. John Hurding, the recorder, was defeated by two to one, though his petition was not finally rejected till 12 Feb. 1678. Meanwhile, the second by-election had gone much more smoothly. Every endorsed the writ: ‘Received Saturday being 10 at night of Col. [Thomas] Strangways being the 17th of Feb. and next morning delivered his brother, Mr Wadham, a precept’. On 27 Feb. Wadham Strangways was duly declared elected by the returning officers; there is no record of a poll, though the removal of Hurding as recorder a few months later, and his replacement by Hugh Hodges, suggests that he may have incurred the wrath of the Strangways interest by standing again.2

Before the first general election of 1679 Bowerman stood down on the grounds that all the voters were completely at Strangways’s disposal. Nevertheless they rejected one of the Strangways nominees, George Ryves, in favour of Every, who was connected by family with the Opposition but was also a personal friend of the Strangways family. He died before the autumn election, and Wadham Strangways declared at the assizes that he would only stand again on certain conditions, which were apparently not fulfilled. In the second Exclusion Parliament, therefore, Bridport was represented by an exclusionist, Sir Robert Henley, and William Bragge, an opponent of the bill. A second exclusionist, John Michell, stood in 1681, but failed to defeat Bragge, and Henley’s petition could not be reported before the dissolution. The corporation was sufficiently docile to present a thoroughly Tory address, approving the dissolution. But the enforced surrender of the charter suggests that the Government was not over-confident of its grip on the borough. The new charter, rushed through just before the 1685 election, raised the number of nonresident freemen from five to seven, and widened the residential qualification to include the whole county. Two Tory candidates, Hodges and Thomas Chafe, both closely connected with the Earl of Bristol, were elected, but the result was close enough for the Whigs, John Michell II and Richard Brodrepp, to present a petition, on which the elections committee failed to report. There seems no doubt that Monmouth’s rebellion enjoyed active support in Bridport, which was the home of Christopher Battiscombe, his principal agent in the west.3

The corporation was three times regulated in 1688 under the powers reserved to the crown in the 1685 charter. The recorder, both bailiffs, 11 capital burgesses and the town clerk were all dismissed. Although the borough presented a dutiful address of thanks for the Declaration of Indulgence, further changes were required, and another new charter was issued on 31 Aug. 1688, restricting the franchise to the bailiffs and 13 ‘burgesses’. Hurding was reappointed as recorder; presumably he was regarded as a Whig collaborator, in spite of his negative replies to the lord lieutenant’s questions on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws in the previous October. Under the franchise, reduced to bailiffs and burgesses, the government agents considered the seats safe for Michell and a London alderman, Thomas Rodbard. Rodbard, a Presbyterian, had been born in Somerset and may have been introduced to the constituency by Henry Henley; the families were later connected by marriage. The drastic reduction of the electorate under the 1688 charter was no doubt wise; few of the inhabitants would have forgotten the rotting quarters of Battiscombe and their other neighbours so soon. Under the restored charter in 1689, Bridport duly elected two Whigs, but not Michell and Rodbard. This time Brodrepp was returned with the London radical, John Manley, who may have owed his seat to Edmund Prideaux.4

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. VCH Dorset, ii. 347; CSP Dom. Add. 1660-70, p. 406; 1667-8, pp. 222, 224; 1676-7, p. 522.
  • 2. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 7, 10, CSP Dom. 1676-7, pp. 522, 535, 1677-8, p. 203; SP29/402/162; CJ, ix. 437.
  • 3. Dorset RO, D124, corresp. of Thomas Strangways; CJ, ix. 707, 717; London Gazette, 4 Oct. 1681; Hutchins, iii. 566.
  • 4. PC2/ 72, pp. 567, 588, 613; Luttrell, i. 434; CSP Dom. 1687-9, p. 259; R. Morrice, Entering Bk. 2, p. 189; Collinson, Som. ii. 171, J. R. Woodhead, Rulers of London, 140.