Corfe Castle


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

Right of Election:

in freeholders and leaseholders paying scot and lot

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 135 in 1698; 114 in 1699


3 Mar. 1690Richard Fownes  
 William Culliford  
26 Oct. 1695Richard Fownes  
 William Culliford  
4 Aug. 1698William Culliford85 
 John Bankes70 
 Edward Clavell63 
 Richard Fownes52 
 Culliford’s election declared void, 6 Apr. 1699  
26 Apr. 1699Richard Fownes61159
 William Culliford5378
6 Dec. 1700John Bankes  
 Richard Fownes  
22 Nov. 1701John Bankes  
 Richard Fownes  
20 July 1702John Bankes  
 Richard Fownes  
11 May 1705John Bankes  
 Richard Fownes  
11 May 1708John Bankes  
 Richard Fownes  
10 Oct. 1710John Bankes  
 Richard Fownes  
1 Sept. 1713John Bankes  
 Richard Fownes  

Main Article

The chief interest at Corfe Castle lay with John Bankes, whose family had owned the manor since 1635 and usually controlled one seat. The other had been held since 1681 by Richard Fownes, a Dorset landowner and High Tory. In 1690 Bankes, who had only recently succeeded his father, declined to stand, being unwilling immediately to embark on a political career. This gave an opportunity to William Culliford, a local placeman in the customs service with a longstanding association with the borough. A defeated candidate himself in 1689, Culliford had previously managed the government electoral interest and had a justified reputation for venality. Fownes and Culliford shared the representation until 1698. In that year Bankes and Fownes put on a united front against Culliford and the fourth candidate, Edward Clavell*, a member of an old Dorset family with an estate at nearby Smedmore. Bankes and Culliford were returned, and on 12 Dec. 1698 Clavell petitioned against Bankes, and Fownes against Culliford. Clavell complained about the multiplication of votes for Bankes through the splitting of leaseholds, to which Bankes replied that a number of Clavell’s voters were not qualified. Fownes’s petition accused Culliford of treating, bribing, and intimidating voters. The elections committee reported in favour of Bankes and Fownes on 6 Apr. 1699. Although the House agreed with the first recommendation, it overruled the second by declaring neither Fownes nor Culliford duly elected. A new writ was issued, and both men stood at the ensuing by-election, in which Fownes was successful, with the help of the Tory Members for the county, Thomas Strangways I and Thomas Freke I. Culliford petitioned on 16 Nov. 1699, alleging partiality on the part of the returning officer, the mayor. His counsel later produced witnesses who claimed that not only had the mayor canvassed for Fownes but that he had been heard to declare that ‘no matter how the poll went he would return Fownes’. On the other side the sitting Member brought in evidence that ‘the mayor carried himself very fair in the said election . . . but that Mr Culliford made short speeches, and aspersed the gentlemen; which incited the mob to make a noise: and they abused Colonel Strangways and Mr Freke and others’. On 2 Mar. 1700 the House confirmed Fownes’s return.2

In the first 1701 election there was a rumour that Culliford intended to contest one of the seats, but it is not known whether he proceeded to a poll. Thereafter Bankes and Fownes were returned unopposed in every election until 1714, in which year they both died. The seats remained vacant until the 1715 election when, in a keenly fought contest, more than a hundred new votes were ‘very artfully made’, according to a correspondent of Browne Willis*, ‘many whereof since appear to be sham votes’.3

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Mayor's poll
  • 2. L. Inn Lib. MP100/155–7, Case of Edward Clavell [1698], Short and True State of the Case, Relating to the Election for the Borough of Corfe Castle [1698], True State of Mr Culliford’s Case [1699].
  • 3. PRO 30/24/20/4; Bodl. Willis 48, f. 235.