Single Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

A single Member constituency

Right of Election:

in the bailiff and burgesses

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

25 in 1705


19 Nov. 1694SALWEY WINNINGTON vice Herbert, called to the Upper House 
 Hon. Henry Herbert11
 John Soley2
 Salwey Winnington 
2 Mar. 1709CHARLES CORN(E)WALL  vice Herbert, called to the Upper House 
 Salwey Winnington 
 WINNINGTON vice Lechmere, on petition, 20 Dec. 1710 
 Grey James Grove 

Main Article

The representative history of Bewdley in these years revolved around the rivalry of the Herbert and Winnington families. The Herberts owned property at Ribbesford and Dowles, each within a mile of the borough, and as a consequence Henry Herbert (like his father Sir Henry Herbert†) had sat for the town during the Restoration period and again in the Convention of 1689. They had not been beyond challenge, however, as Thomas Foley†, the great ironmaster, and his third son, Philip Foley*, had both represented Bewdley before 1689. The Winnington interest rested on the twin props of first, Salwey Winnington’s marriage in July 1690 to Anne Foley, the daughter of Thomas Foley I* (and hence Philip Foley’s niece), who owned property at nearby Kidderminster, and second, the lordship of the manor of Bewdley which had been leased by his father, Sir Francis Winnington*, in the 1670s. The crucial element in the borough’s politics were the capital burgesses (including the bailiff) or aldermen, known as ‘the Twelve’, who had the right to create ordinary burgesses or common councilmen, known as ‘the Twenty-Five’ and honorary burgesses (usually neighbouring gentry), and who thereby controlled the franchise. Further, vacancies in their own ranks were filled through co-option. This remained the case after a new charter was granted by James II in 1685 when, despite an increase in the number of capital burgesses to 15, nearly half of those appointed by the crown being Tory gentry who failed to act, control was left in the hands of an even smaller group of men carried over from the old charter.

Considering the later controversy over the borough charter, politics in Bewdley were remarkably tranquil for most of William III’s reign. At the 1690 election, the sitting Member, Henry Herbert, was returned without a contest. Just over a week prior to the election Thomas Foley I had predicted that there would be no opposition, and Herbert did not even attend the election. At least one Foley was in attendance, however, to see Herbert ‘unanimously chosen’, suggesting substantial agreement among the two main interests that in troubled times unanimity was important. Paradoxically, the family interest was eclipsed by Herbert’s promotion to the peerage in April 1694 and the subsequent unopposed return of Salwey Winnington in a by-election the following November. The Foleys were keen to ensure the success of their relation, making sure that they controlled the timing of this election as well as the one pending at Stafford where Thomas Foley III* (Winnington’s brother-in-law) was a candidate. For his part, Lord Herbert could not find a suitable candidate to succeed him: his son was still a schoolboy and another possibility, William Walsh*, declined the opportunity. A similar situation obtained at the general election of 1695. Well over two months before the election Sir James Rushout, 1st Bt.*, was predicting Winnington’s success.1

In May 1698, with a general election imminent, an interesting letter came from Walsh to Lord Chancellor Somers (Sir John*), a leading Worcestershire Whig. It provides the first insight into the way in which Lord Herbert was working to retrieve his control over the borough. Specifically, it referred to a plan for a new charter wherein Herbert’s influence would be established by a purge of opponents among the capital burgesses. Walsh was sceptical, fearing that it might prove counter-productive; Somers’ interest probably lay in the desirability of removing an opponent of the ministry from the Commons before what promised to be a difficult session. Without such a plan being put into effect Winnington was safe, the only evidence of any opposition being Abigail Harley’s ambiguous comment upon hearing of the dissolution that ‘my Lord Herbert is making an interest for somebody’. In February 1699 Lord Herbert proceeded with his scheme and petitioned the King for the restoration and confirmation of the 1605 charter on the grounds that its surrender had been procured by ‘surprise and undue practices’. The beneficiaries would be those men created burgesses under the old charter (and still living), made up to a full complement by crown nominees. The Privy Council declined to meddle in the affair, advising the King that the dispute be settled through the normal course of the law, and fortified no doubt by the groundswell of opinion which led the Commons to investigate all the charters granted since the Revolution in November 1699. Lord Herbert clearly adopted this course, asking Somers for his advice in January 1700 on the ‘old charter, the validity of which surrender is to be tried this term’.2

Although this suit was unsuccessful it illustrates that Herbert was putting pressure on Winnington’s interest. He may have been assisted by the tightening oligarchy which increasingly dominated Bewdley’s affairs, achieved by not creating any new burgesses and thus shrinking the electorate. Herbert may also have wished to enlist the support of the town’s vigorous Nonconformist community now that Winnington’s stance in national politics was allying him with the Tories. Indeed, it was Winnington’s role in the 1701 Parliament which threatened his seat at Bewdley in November. Walsh lucidly described the state of affairs in the borough in October:

Mr Winnington seems to stand upon very ticklish ground at Bewdley, they having been very angry at the proceedings of the Parliament the last session and he having been in London ever since. Mr [John] Soley whose interest in a great measure brought him in has declared very publicly his dislike of their proceedings and that he would never be for anyone who had been for the impeachments. Upon this some have thought Mr Soley had thoughts of standing himself and I am apt enough to believe he might easily be brought to do it.

However, Soley was also at odds with Lord Herbert, possibly because he opposed the campaign against the charter of James II (under which he acted as recorder), and perhaps also Herbert’s ambition to turn Bewdley into a pocket borough. Walsh detected a way out of this impasse which was preventing a united front against Winnington: Soley could be elected and eventually give way to Lord Herbert’s heir. However, Walsh also entered a caveat questioning the strength that Herbert could bring to Soley’s interest; as he perceived it only two burgesses would support Soley on account of an intervention by Herbert. In the event there was no contest in November 1701 or in 1702, but the alignment of forces foreshadowed in Walsh’s letter came to pass in 1705.3

Whether through the accidents of death, or merely a commitment from Soley to support Hon. Henry Herbert, Winnington faced a serious challenge at the 1705 election. That he emerged victorious by one vote was due to the manoeuvres on his behalf of Henry Toye, the deputy-recorder and returning officer. Upon Herbert demanding a poll, Toye declared him ineligible to stand as a candidate because he was not a burgess. Soley then intervened saying that rather than be tricked out of the election he would stand himself, whereupon two burgesses voted for him. Other burgesses pressed the claims of Herbert to be a candidate, Toye changed his mind, but refused to allow the other two burgesses to retract their votes for Soley. Winnington thus topped the poll by 12 votes to 11 leaving Herbert to petition against the return. As a firm adherent of the Court Lord Herbert attempted to ensure that the ministry’s supporters backed his son’s petition. Unfortunately for him, Winnington’s friends in the ministry, men associated with the Harley–Foley group, declined to do so, despite efforts from Lord Godolphin (Sidney†) in Herbert’s favour. With Tories like Pakington determined to remain in London to aid his cause, Winnington triumphed by 159 votes to 133 in the committee and by 186 to 138 in the full House.4

The events of 1705 finally split the corporation, each side setting up its own bailiff and excluding its opponents from office. During 1707 the attendant legal suits to determine the rightful bailiff (Slade v. Walter in Queen’s bench) produced a surprising outcome. The charter of James II was found to be invalid because the charter of James I had been surrendered under the incorrect title of bailiff, recorder and burgesses, and therefore was still in force. Lord Herbert immediately seized the initiative, petitioning for a new charter in November 1707 on the grounds that the 1605 charter was now also invalid for want of duly appointed officers, there being only one capital burgess remaining alive who had been appointed under it (Herbert’s supporter, Samuel Slade). As he could not renew the corporation by himself, the crown should issue a new charter filling up the vacancies. The advantage to Lord Herbert in this proposal was that by using his influence at Court with the increasingly dominant Whig ministers, he could influence the composition of the new corporation for the benefit of his son at the next election. Not surprisingly, Winnington recognized the danger to his position. He championed the rights of the existing capital burgesses, citing the legal cases of the previous two years. These showed a corporation in being, which since the 1685 charter was invalid, must have been acting under the charter of 1605. Therefore, to grant a new charter would be to infringe the rights and liberties of the existing burgesses. Herbert’s petition was referred from the Privy Council to the lord chancellor (William Cowper*) and Lord Chief Justice Sir John Holt† who reported in favour of a new charter. As Winnington refused to nominate a list of capital burgesses, the new charter was filled with Lord Herbert’s supporters and issued in April 1708, almost simultaneously with the writs calling a new Parliament.5

With Winnington and his supporters refusing to accept the new charter, and rival corporations claiming legitimacy, there were two elections held in May 1708. The high sheriff accepted the return proffered to him by Samuel Slade (bailiff under the new charter) so it was Herbert who took his place in the House. Winnington petitioned, and was backed up by a petition from the old capital burgesses. As in 1705, the case was determined by the House, but the Whigs had been returned in much greater numbers in the new Parliament and, furthermore, with Robert Harley and his friends out of office, Winnington could expect little support from the Court. Nevertheless, the Tories turned the case into a cause célèbre accusing the Whigs of manipulating accepted procedures for partisan advantage and in the process destroying the rights of the corporation. Worse still they were able to portray this as an abuse of executive power, threatening the freedom of Parliament. This case was made most effectively in ‘a flaming speech’ by Sir John Pakington, 4th Bt.*, probably delivered on 8 Feb. 1709 when the House heard the merits of the case at the bar. Despite Pakington’s fierce contribution, the political arithmetic was against Winnington’s allies as the Commons agreed that, under both the 1685 and 1708 charters, the recorder, John Soley, should be allowed to give evidence on the proceedings over the charter, and, in the crucial division voted that Thomas Smith (Winnington’s bailiff) was not the rightful bailiff. Herbert was then declared duly elected. Ironically, this decision necessitated a by-election because in the interim Herbert had succeeded his father to the peerage. By winning the case, however, the new Lord Herbert had ensured that the next Member would be acceptable to him and so the Whig naval officer, Charles Corn(e)wall, was returned unopposed.6

In July 1710, Dr Sacheverell avoided going through Bewdley during his triumphant progress through the Midlands. This was not, however, an accurate pointer to Winnington’s chances of regaining the seat when Parliament was dissolved in September 1710. Even though the Whig charter was still in place optimism must have been engendered by the formation of the Harley ministry and the promise of a Tory ascendancy in the new Commons. Thus, when Anthony Lechmere* was returned after the election, Winnington petitioned and, as before, was backed up by a separate petition from the old corporation. The Tory majority in the House ensured a favourable audience when the case was heard at the bar. Lechmere produced a printed ‘case’ outlining his position that the new charter ‘was unexceptionable in the nature of it’, but the Whigs went down to a heavy defeat. Not only was Winnington declared elected but the Commons voted that the 1708 charter ‘attempted to be imposed upon the borough of Bewdley against the consent of the ancient corporation is void, illegal and destructive to the constitution of Parliament’ and resolved to address the Queen to direct the attorney-general to take the proper measures to recall the charter. The Whigs certainly suffered fierce attacks in these debates, Anne Clavering remarking that those ex-ministers involved ‘were roasted’ by attacks from Ralph Freman II, William Shippen, Sir Robert Raymond* (the solicitor-general) and Pakington; while Cowper noted on his diary that although Walpole, Sir Joseph Jekyll and Nicholas Lechmere (Anthony’s brother) had performed well on his behalf, Henry St. John II and John Aislabie had been ‘particularly rude, both without any provocation’. According to a correspondent of Sir William Trumbull*, it was only the determination of Cowper’s friends ‘to distinguish themselves’ which led to the House dividing.7

The affair of Bewdley’s charter once more came before Parliament in the 1710–11 session, as part of a concerted design to force a rift between Harley and his remaining Whig allies in the ministry. Lord Nottingham (Daniel Finch†) has been seen as the prime instigator of the representation to the Queen concerning the mismanagements of the previous ministry, which passed the Commons on 31 May 1711. One paragraph referred to the Bewdley case: ‘the arbitrary attempt of new-modelling corporations by imposing a charter’ which was ‘destructive of the constitution of Parliament in transferring the rights of electors to others and injurious to your Majesty’s subjects in divesting them of their franchises and freeholds’. The Whigs decided to respond to the representation in print with Lord Godolphin writing to Cowper in July 1711 for materials on Bewdley. The outcome may have been the re-publication of Arthur Maynwaring’s* A True State of the Bewdley Case in November of that year.8

The years 1711–14 seem to have been taken up by renewed legal battles, attendant upon Winnington’s attempts to secure the annulment of the charter. In this he was assisted by his brother Edward Winnington* (now Jeffreys) and Treasury funding of their cause through the courts. Needless to say, they were opposed at every turn by the Whigs. These legal proceedings did not prevent Winnington’s return at the 1713 election, although the Whigs held their own contest choosing Grey James Grove†. However, proceedings on the charter were not completed before the death of Queen Anne, thereby ensuring Winnington’s defeat by Grove in 1715.9

Author: Stuart Handley


Unless otherwise stated this article is based on P. Styles, ‘Corpn. of Bewdley under the later Stuarts’, Univ. Birmingham Hist. Jnl. i. 92–115.

  • 1. Add. 70014, f. 290; 70017, ff. 321, 249; 70225, Philip Foley to Robert Harley, 5 Nov. 1694; Epistolary Curiosities ed. Warner, i. 98–99; Surr. RO (Kingston), Somers mss 371/14/J5, Rushout to Somers, 10 Aug. 1695.
  • 2. Somers mss 371/14/B20, Walsh to Somers, 30 May 1698; Add. 70117, Abigail to Sir Edward Harley*, 10 July 1698; Northants. RO, Montagu (Boughton) mss 47/156, Vernon to Shrewsbury, 14 Mar. 1698–9; Epistolary Curiosities, ii. 1–2.
  • 3. Somers mss 371/14/B20, Walsh to Somers, 26 Oct. 1701.
  • 4. HMC Portland, iv. 268; Bull. IHR, xlv. 48–49; Yale Univ. Beinecke Lib. Osborn coll. Sebright pprs. Pakington to Charles Littleton, 10 Jan. 1705[–6]; Luttrell, Brief Relation, vi. 18.
  • 5. Add. 61607, f. 118; 61652, ff. 37, 49; Harl. 6274, ff. 192–226; Boyer, Pol. State, ii. 598–607; The Case of the Hon. Henry Herbert (1708).
  • 6. Wentworth Pprs. 69–70; Cobbett, Parlty. Hist. vi. 932–4.
  • 7. HMC Portland, iv. 550; Add. 70263, Salwey Winnington to Robert Harley, 13 Oct. 1710; L. Inn Lib. MP100/126, Anthony Lechmere . . . The Case (1710); SRO, Montrose mss GD220/5/807/12, Mungo Graham* to Montrose, 21 Dec. 1710; Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxxviii), 104–5; Cowper, Diary, 50–51; BL, Trumbull Alphab. mss 51, Thomas Bateman to Trumbull, 20 Dec. 1710.
  • 8. H. Horwitz, Revol. Politicks, 227; Literatur als Kritik des Lebens ed. R. Haas et al., 129.
  • 9. Cal. Treas. Bks. xxvii. 356, 380, 394; xxviii. 39, 330, 366; xxix. 450; Folger Shakespeare Lib. Newdigate newsletters, 26 June, 29 Nov. 1712.