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 freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:


Number of voters:

at least 1,336 in 1710


5 Mar. 1690SIR RALPH CARR 
6 Oct. 1695SIR WILLIAM BLACKETT, 1st Bt. 
10 Aug. 1698SIR WILLIAM BLACKETT, 1st Bt. 
8 Jan. 1701WILLIAM CARR 
3 Dec. 1701SIR HENRY LIDDELL, Bt. 
3 Aug. 1702SIR HENRY LIDDELL, Bt. 
6 June 1705SIR WILLIAM BLACKETT, 1st Bt. 
2 Jan. 1706SIR HENRY LIDDELL, Bt. vice Blackett, deceased 
2 June 1708WILLIAM CARR 
1 Nov. 1710SIR WILLIAM BLACKETT, 2nd Bt.1177
 William Carr609
2 Sept. 1713SIR WILLIAM BLACKETT,  2nd Bt. 

Main Article

Newcastle’s economic expansion created a wealthy corporation, whose revenue in this period was estimated by contemporaries at between £9,000 and £12,000 p.a. Not surprisingly this body was dominated by the merchants and coal owners who had benefited most from economic development. The complex procedure for election to the common council and the bench of aldermen had allowed members of Newcastle’s company of Merchant Adventurers to establish a dominance over the corporation which, despite sporadic demonstrations of opposition, survived long into the 18th century. One observer was particularly struck by the standing of the corporation and described it as

the epitome of all corporations. The ancient citizens of Rome, I am persuaded, never boasted more of their freedom than this arbitrary town. Here 10 years apprenticeship must be served to accomplish it . . . ’Tis the London of this part of the world and country gentlemen just as much regarded in it.

The corporation and various of the town’s economic groups therefore made frequent demands upon Newcastle’s Members to promote their grievances in the Commons and to obtain what they viewed as necessary legislation. Until 1710 all the borough’s Members, though wealthy landowners with country estates, had extensive links to the corporate elite or the coal trade, and frequently both. Contemporaries and modern historians have pointed to the strength of High Church sentiment in the borough, evidenced by the establishment after the Revolution of a non-juring congregation in the town. Though the claim in 1710 that ‘all the magistrates are hearty Churchmen and so are the inhabitants 50 to one’ was only to be expected in the year of the Sacheverell affair, two years earlier, with the Whigs in the political ascendant, one member of the local gentry had written that unless loyal magistrates were appointed for the borough the ‘town will entirely be lost’. Until 1710, however, Newcastle did not send partisan extremists to Westminster. While Sir Ralph Carr was a Tory, and both William Carr and Sir William Blackett, 1st Bt., started their political careers as Tories, by 1698 they had drifted towards support of the Court and ultimately became Whigs; and (Sir) Henry Liddell, (3rd Bt.) consistently voted Whig at Westminster. Though Newcastle’s substantial Dissenting minority, estimated in the Evans list to amount to 2,000, may have provided a counter-balance to the borough’s Church interest, the failure of the electorate to return Tory zealots, or to punish at the polls those who drifted from Toryism, is puzzling.1

The dominance of the local elite, and an absence of partisan tensions in the conduct of parliamentary elections, was evident throughout the 1690s. In 1690 Sir Ralph Carr and his nephew William faced no opposition, and when Sir Ralph decided to stand down in 1695 William Carr was returned unopposed with another member of the corporate trading elite, Sir William Blackett. Some level of controversy at this election is suggested by the subsequent comment that Carr had ‘grown too full of tricks and conceits and by too much kindness and easiness [at]tempted to contrive and set up for himself’, but the substance of the dispute is obscure. The volatility of the town’s population was evident in demonstrations against the effects of the recoinage in the summer of 1696, yet in 1698 Blackett (who earlier in the year had obtained for the corporation the grant of the post of tronor and poiser), and Carr were returned unopposed despite their evident shift at Westminster from opposition to Court. Shortly before the first election of 1701 it was reported that Blackett ‘refuses to stand for Newca[stle]’, and it was thought initially that Sir Ralph Carr would challenge Liddell for the second seat. Such a contest may be explicable in party terms, Carr’s Toryism contrasting with Liddell’s Whiggery, but there is no evidence that Carr took his candidacy to the poll and his nephew was returned with Liddell. The two were returned unopposed at the elections of December 1701 and 1702.2

At the 1705 election Blackett replaced Liddell as Carr’s partner and on Blackett’s death in December 1705 Liddell was returned unopposed, though one local correspondent reported that another individual had been approached to stand. The invasion scare of 1708 led to troops being sent to Newcastle. A Northumbrian Whig subsequently reported that these soldiers had been treated with an ‘insolence’ which became ‘the subject of all conversations’, and these disturbances may have contributed to a controversial election later the same year. Initially Carr and Liddell faced no opposition, but both claimed the right to be first-named in the return and the unwillingness of either to yield the point caused Liddell to threaten to set up a third candidate. Carr, supported by the majority of the corporation and the clergy, ignored this threat and the dispute was taken to a poll involving an unnamed third candidate. Liddell was comfortably defeated for the first seat by Carr, who according to one observer demonstrated at the poll that he ‘has learned the great art of his master H-ley [Robert Harley*]’. The corporation’s support for Carr is puzzling given his Whiggery at Westminster, since its Tory sentiments were clear from the letter of a local Whig sent shortly after the election to the wife of Lord Chancellor Cowper (William*). This letter requested the addition of some justices to Newcastle’s commission of the peace ‘whose affection and zeal for the present government is void of suspicion’, the writer complaining of current justices who ‘would not qualify themselves nor take the oaths in the late reign’. The same correspondent warned that the town would be lost ‘unless some method be found to curb the insolence of these present magistrates who are as arbitrary within their dominions as the King of Fr[ance]’. This forecast of imminent Tory dominance at Newcastle was borne out in 1710, when the Sacheverell affair brought national concerns to the centre of Newcastle politics. Carr’s opposition to the High Church backlash of 1710 was evident in his obtaining and presenting to the Queen an address supporting the war, affirming loyalty to the Protestant succession and condemning ‘such workers of iniquity as would turn religion into rebellion and faith into faction’. At the Newcastle election he was opposed by two Tory candidates. It was thought at first that owing to the minority of Sir William Blackett, 2nd Bt., these would be William Wrightson, who had married the heiress to a significant amount of Newcastle property, and Nicholas Ridley, a long-serving alderman. Though Liddell was reported to have travelled with Carr to Newcastle in August, the baronet decided to withdraw from the election, and Carr was left to stand alone. During July the borough had witnessed widespread rioting during a strike of local coal workers. By September Blackett decided to stand, despite his minority, in alliance with Wrightson. The Tory candidates secured the support of the majority of the corporation, including the mayor, and their popular support was clearly demonstrated by those inhabitants who paraded round the borough with a picture of Dr Sacheverell at their head and wearing ‘red and blue favours in their hats with this motto in letters of gold, vizt: for the Queen and Church. B[lackett]. W[rightson].’ Canvassing and campaigning occasioned confrontations between supporters of the rival interests, some of which led to cases before the borough’s quarter sessions later in the year, with the issues at dispute clearly demonstrated by the post-election song which portrayed Blackett and Wrightson as standing ‘for Church, the Queen, for Peace and the Protestant succession’ against ‘the Whigs and Dissenters’. Carr was convincingly defeated at the poll. In 1712 and 1713 Blackett and Wrightson presented addresses from Newcastle praising the peace, and, despite rumours in September 1712 that Carr and Liddell intended to stand again and had ‘underhand contrived that five or six Churchmen set up each with his single interest’, in 1713 Blackett and Wrightson were returned unopposed. However, party conflict at Newcastle was to continue into the reign of George II.3

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Richard Harrison


  • 1. Transformation of Eng. Provincial Towns ed. Clark, 192–4, 202–6; Bath mss at Longleat House, Thynne pprs. 24, f. 398; Add. 40775, f. 35; 70278, Robert Price* to Harley, [c.Aug. 1710]; K. Wilson, Sense of the People, 292–3, 318–21; Arch. Aeliana ser. 4, xxxiv. 18–20; P. Monod, Jacobitism and Eng. People, 144.
  • 2. Add. 70018, ff. 94–95; Thoresby Letters (Thoresby Soc. xxi), 44–45; Newcastle Univ. Lib. Montagu pprs. 1692–1704 misc. mss 85 I, f. 55, Hon. Charles Montagu* to George Baker, 25 Nov. 1695; Bodl. Ballard 18, f. 16; Cal. Treas. Bks. xiii, 91, 94; HMC Portland, iii. 637, 640.
  • 3. Clavering Corresp. (Surtees Soc. clxxviii), 210, 215; Luttrell, Brief Relation, v. 626; J. Brand, Hist. Newcastle, ii. 508; Arch. Aeliana 16–20; Northern Hist. xxviii. 165–6; J. Oldmixon, Hist. of Addresses (1711), ii. 292; HMC Portland, iv. 575; Add. 70278, Price to Harley, [c.Aug. 1710]; 70421, newsletter, 7 Nov. 1710; 70197, George Flint to [Ld. Oxford], 13 Sept. 1712; LiddellCotesworth Letters (Surtees Soc. cxc), 8; Transformation of Eng. Provincial Towns, 203–4, 212; SP 24/12, ff. 141, 162–3, 170, 192; Northumb. RO, Blackett (Matfen) mss ZBL 189, Sir Edward Blackett, 2nd Bt.*, to Sir William Blackett, 3 Sept. 1710 (Speck trans.); Wilson, 318, 320–36; London Gazette, 8–10 July 1712, 9–12 May 1713.