Lyme Regis


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 freemen 1660-85; in the freemen and freeholders 1689

Number of voters:

under 50 in 1660-85; over 50 in 1689


4 Apr. 1660WALTER YONGE 
18 June 1660HENRY HYDE vice Moore, chose to sit for Heytesbury 
15 Apr. 1661SIR JOHN SHAW 
30 Sept. 1679HENRY HENLEY 
21 Feb. 1685HENRY HENLEY 
19 Mar. 1685JOHN POLE 
11 Jan. 1689JOHN POLE 
 Sir William Drake, Bt.29

Main Article

Lyme was still a thriving port in the later 17th century, thanks to the Cobb, the artificial breakwater that provided a safe harbour for small ships on an otherwise open coast. Its upkeep was costly, but the town prospered on the cross-Channel trade, and leading merchants employed factors in Holland. It was best known, however, for its obstinate and successful resistance to the Cavaliers in the Civil War, which its inhabitants continued to commemorate long after the Restoration ‘by cleansing their streets, shouting, feasting and the like’.1

Henry Henley enjoyed the principal property interest in the town, though a long-standing dispute with the corporation over rates must have affected his popularity. In 1660 he preferred to stand for Bridport, but no doubt gave support to his fellow-Presbyterians, Walter Yonge and Thomas Moore. Their influential pastor, Ames Short, preached an enthusiastic sermon on the Restoration, and is not likely to have opposed the election of the lord chancellor’s son, Henry Hyde, when Moore chose to sit for a Wiltshire borough. Though a pillar of the Church, Hyde was a Wiltshireman himself, and so probably acceptable to Moore; and as a link with the Government he was more than acceptable to the corporation. The mayor, on a visit to London on the recurrent task of securing a government grant for the Cobb, had no doubt which of the Members mattered. He spent £8 10 s. ‘for a treatment for Mr Hyde and his friends, where was also Mr Yonge’. Hyde was to transfer to Wiltshire in 1661, and his friends may have included Sir John Shaw, one of his father’s principal confidants, who succeeded him at Lyme. Shaw’s marriage into the Ashe family may have also earned him Moore’s approval, though he was of course a Royalist and an Anglican. It is not known whether Yonge stood for re-election, but Henley’s claim to the second seat could not be denied.2

The commissioners of corporations in 1662 removed five ‘capital burgesses’ and three ‘burgesses’, and the three new burgesses with eight others immediately took out their freedom. Ten of the new freemen, however, were non-residents, and are not recorded as present at parliamentary elections. Gentrification signally failed to secure harmony in the borough, or even a unified government interest. The merchants, it was alleged, were equally addicted to conventicles and smuggling, with the connivance of the municipal authorities, and the commission of inquiry into customs frauds, set up in September 1678 and including such prominent churchmen as Thomas Strangways and John Pole, was probably aimed at driving the leading dissenters, John Burridge and his brother Robert, out of public life. In this they failed; but at the first election of 1679 Henley divided the borough with a court supporter, Sir George Strode, the recorder. Their return was signed by the mayor, 12 ‘capital burgesses’ and 33 freemen. At the dissolution Edmund Prideaux thought himself safe to succeed Strode; but it was Henley and Moore who were elected in September ‘with one assent and consent’. In 1681 the sitting Members, both exclusionists, were returned without expense or ‘the least contradiction of any persons whatsoever’. Well might Sir Leoline Jenkins lament: ‘I have for a long time known a great part of Lyme to be steeped in the dregs of disaffection’; while Bernard Granville could assert that the inhabitants were ‘sufficiently known to his Majesty to be of dangerous and rebellious principles’. These verdicts were not to be overturned by a somewhat belated response with 151 signatures to the King’s justification of the dissolution of Parliament:

We will use our utmost endeavours, whenever your Majesty shall be pleased to call a Parliament, to make choice of such worthy Members as are of known loyalty, integrity and affection to the established Government, and none shall be more ready with their lives and fortunes to defend your Majesty’s royal person and prerogatives, heirs and lawful successors, and the Protestant religion as now by law established.

On 29 May 1682 (very appropriately), 67 inhabitants subscribed to an undertaking that they would not

vote for any person who shall appear as candidate for this borough but such as shall first give us good testimony and assurance of their utter detestation and abhorrence of that most treasonable form of association.

On the news of the Rye House Plot, no fewer than 181 declared themselves ‘transported with joy to hear of your sacred majesty’s wonderful deliverance’. But nothing could save Lyme’s charter. Its successor, on 22 Dec. 1684, declared that the franchise lay in ‘the mayor, capital burgesses, and freemen, or greater part, as heretofore in times past has been used and accustomed’. Robert Burridge was replaced as mayor by the chief promoter of the addresses, a customs official called Alford, who three months later returned two Tories to James II’s Parliament, Pole and the old courtier Sir Winston Churchill. Only 26 voters signed the indenture, and within a few months Monmouth had landed at Lyme amid considerably greater enthusiasm, putting Alford to flight.3

The Lyme Presbyterians were among the first to benefit from James’s attempt to win over the nonconformists. Short was granted letters of protection on 9 Jan. 1687, and before the end of the year a purge of the Tory corporation was under way. Even Alford’s affirmative answers on the repeal of the Test Act and Penal Laws could not save him. He went out with three other capital burgesses on 22 Jan. 1688; but two of the replacements proved equally unsatisfactory to the Government, and disappeared in their turn two months later. The King’s electoral agents reported that the right of election was in the mayor, ‘burgesses’, and freemen, in number about 50, adding:

This town was averse, but now by their humble address, which will suddenly be presented to your Majesty they will assure you that they will choose right men, and propose to choose Mr Burridge, and one other that is undoubtedly so.

An address of thanks for the Declaration of Indulgence promptly followed, signed by Short, the two Burridges and 44 others, and promising to

use our utmost endeavours to choose such representatives for this place as shall concur with your Majesty in your generous desires of making all your people easy and happy by establishing and perpetuating the liberty granted by your Majesty.

The agents were still confident that ‘the election will be good’ in September, but the charter was withdrawn in the following month, and the election of 1689 was held in circumstances of some confusion. There was no opposition to Pole, who had rendered considerable services to William of Orange, and he was expected to bring in another Tory, Sir William Drake, 4th Bt., of Ashe. But after some hesitation John Burridge decided to stand, and defeated him by one vote. Drake petitioned, complaining that the admission of freeholders to the poll was unprecedented, which seems to have been true as far as this period was concerned. John Burridge himself, as mayor in 1681, had signed the return in the name of the ‘capital burgesses and freemen’ only. On the other hand, the Whigs disputed the votes of five non-resident freemen who voted for Drake, and one of their witnesses asserted that Henley had created ‘faggot votes’. If so, there seems no reason why Drake, as lord of the manor of Lyme Abbots, should not have done the same, unless he was taken by surprise by the Burridges’ manoeuvre. The evidence was contradictory and in part mendacious; the elections committee recommended that Drake should be seated, but the House rejected this view by 121 votes to 82.4

Author: John. P. Ferris


  • 1. North, Lives, i. 151-2; PC2/59/541, 66/55; Add. 31947, f. 107; Sir John Northcote, Note Bk. 126; CSP Dom. 1683-4, p. 179.
  • 2. Hutchins, Dorset, ii. 75; PC2/56/50, 476; A. G. Matthews, Calamy Revised, 440-1; Lyme Regis mss, B1/9/366, N23/3/11, 4/ 11.
  • 3. Lyme Regis mss, D2/1, B6/11/24, B1/10/222, 236, 262, 366, A3/1/1-6; Cal. Treas. Bks. v. 1109; Som. RO, Sanford mss, Clarke to Sanford, 28 July 1679; Jones, First Whigs, 163; CSP Dom. 1682, pp. 60, 73, 84, 1683-4, pp. 20, 179-80, Hutchins, ii. 48.
  • 4. Lyme Regis mss, A3/1/9, D2/1; PC2/72/555, 582, 639; Duckett, Penal Laws (1883), pp. 222, 242; Churchill Coll. Cambridge, Erle-Drax mss, Flory to Dolling, 21 Dec. 1688, 16 Jan. 1689; CJ, x. 140-1.