East Grinstead


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 the burgage holders

Number of Qualified Electors:

about 40

Number of voters:

31 in 1702


18 Jan. 1693SIMON SMITH vice Sackville, deceased 
26 Feb. 1695LIONEL BOYLE, Earl of Orrery [I] vice Smith, deceased 
19 Nov. 1695SIR THOMAS DYKE, Bt.16
 Lionel Boyle, Earl of Orrery [I]13
 Hon. Spencer Compton11
25 July 1698LIONEL BOYLE, Earl of Orrery [I] 
7 Jan. 1701JOHN CONYERS 
24 Nov. 1701LIONEL BOYLE, Earl of Orrery [I] 
17 July 1702JOHN CONYERS25
 Lionel Boyle, Earl of Orrery [I]111
11 May 1705JOHN CONYERS 
 John Conyers 
7 Oct. 1710JOHN CONYERS 

Main Article

East Grinstead was a borough by prescription, where the right of election traditionally lay with some 40 burgage holders. From time to time the inhabitants paying scot and lot had successfully claimed the right to vote, notably between 1679 and 1681, but their claim had been denied by the Commons in 1689, when it overturned a report of the elections committee which had favoured the wider franchise. The chief interest belonged to a Whig, the 6th Earl of Dorset (Charles Sackville†), the lord of the manor and borough, who owned a large part of the town, and at whose yearly court the burgesses chose the bailiff, the returning officer. Dorset could usually nominate for one seat, but the second often went to a candidate from one of the local Tory families.2

In 1690 the two outgoing Members were returned unchallenged: Dorset’s Whig kinsman, Thomas Sackville, and Sir Thomas Dyke, 1st Bt., a Tory. Dyke had his own interest in the town, owning two burgages including one of the local inns, but he had previously been elected on Dorset’s interest and the Earl may have again supported his candidacy. On Sackville’s death in 1693, he was replaced by another Dorset nominee, Simon Smith, who had sat for the borough in 1685 and whose family were clients of Dorset. When Smith died in February 1695, Dorset brought in his nephew the 3rd Earl of Orrery [I], a Whig, who in 1693 had married Dorset’s illegitimate daughter. His steward’s account of the ‘charge of selecting my Lord Orrery’ amounted to about £44. The general election of that year was contested. Dorset’s two candidates were his former brother-in-law, Hon. Spencer Compton, a younger son of the 3rd Earl of Northampton, and Orrery. They were opposed by Dyke and another Tory, John Conyers. Conyers had a strong interest of his own in the borough through property in the town that he had acquired by his marriage to the daughter of Robert Goodwin, a former Member for East Grinstead. Before the election John Freke reported to Robert Harley* that Orrery would be returned, but that Compton’s uncle, the bishop of London, was giving his support to Dyke. In the event, the two Tories were returned, and Compton, Orrery and some of the inhabitants all presented petitions. A committee hearing on 31 Dec. lasted from the afternoon until 2 a.m. and it reported on 9 Jan. 1696, when the House heard that the petitioners claimed that the right of election lay with both the burgage holders and the inhabitants paying scot and lot, and that they had a majority of both. To uphold the first claim their counsel produced a number of earlier indentures and on the second it was ascertained that even on a poll of the burgage holders only the petitioners should have had the majority because the bailiff had refused to accept a number of qualified votes. One witness claimed that when Dyke had canvassed him before the election, ‘he pulled out a handful of money: that he then told him, he would do him as much kindness as Mr Compton should’ and ‘offered him the running of a horse’ if he would vote for him. Counsel for the sitting Members claimed that the right of election lay with burgage holders only, and a witness was produced who said that the agent for Orrery and Compton had ‘promised to be a good friend to him: and told him that Sir Thomas Dyke had been in the House a good while and had done no good; and that he was a Jacobite, and kept a Jesuit in his house’. The man further testified that he refused to vote for the petitioners and ‘was threatened with a stone-doublet [imprisonment]; and accordingly, three days before the election, he was arrested’. Another witness testified that when canvassed for Orrery and Compton he had been told ‘if they did disoblige my Lord of Dorset they should be troubled with soldiers and lose the assizes’, while a third mentioned

a letter from the Earl of Dorset, directed to the bailiff, and the rest of the burgage holders at East Grinstead, by which he took notice of their promise to choose Lord Orrery; he recommended the Earl of Orrery; and offered them his service, which . . . was read publicly before they went to the election, and before the precept was read.

The committee resolved that the right of election lay in the burgage holders only and declared Dyke and Conyers duly elected. The House agreed.3

Probably to avoid expensive contests a compromise seems to have been reached in 1698 whereby Conyers and Dorset agreed to share the representation. Conyers took one seat, which he held for the rest of the period with one break in 1708. The second seat went to Dorset nominees, Orrery in 1698, Matthew Prior, poet and diplomat and a protégé of the Earl, in February 1701 and Orrery again in November 1701. In 1702, however, the agreement seems to have broken down and two Tories were returned, Conyers and John Toke, Dyke’s grandson. Conyers and Toke held the seats again in 1705, both elections apparently unchallenged by Dorset candidates. Dorset died in 1706 and his son, Lionel Cranfield Sackville, the 7th Earl, although still a minor, disappointed at not succeeding his father as lord lieutenant of Sussex, seems to have been determined to recover the family seat at East Grinstead. In 1708 he put up Hon. Richard Lumley, a younger son of the 1st Earl of Scarbrough and a strong Whig. Conyers stood as usual, but was opposed by a Jacobite, Henry Campion, who had acquired property and an interest in East Grinstead by his marriage with the heiress of the Courthopes of Danny Park, Sussex. Campion managed to defeat Conyers, who petitioned, claiming that Campion had been returned through illegal practices, including the acceptance of two votes for one burgage, but he withdrew the petition. Campion did not stand again at East Grinstead, and the 1710 election was uncontested. Conyers recovered his seat and the second went to another local Tory, Leonard Gale, the son of a blacksmith who had made a fortune out of iron manufacture. Gale seems to have quickly become disillusioned with politics and stood down in 1713 when Conyers was returned with Spencer Compton, the latter no doubt on the Dorset interest. These two represented the borough until the end of the period.

Author: Paula Watson


  • 1. Centre Kentish Stud. Sackville mss U269/057, E. Grinstead poll, 1702.
  • 2. W. H. Hills, Hist. E. Grinstead, 42–45; Bodl. Willis 15, f. 32.
  • 3. Hills, 43; Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Stanhope mss U1590/059/4, Robert Yard* to Alexander Stanhope, 31 Dec. 1695.