Lyme Regis


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1715-1754, ed. R. Sedgwick, 1970
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 100 in 1734; 65 in 1752


1 Feb. 1715JOHN HENLEY 
 William Smith 
 Thomas Parish 
21 Aug. 1727HENRY DRAX 
 Henry Holt Henley41
 George Cresner 
 HENLEY vice Burridge, on petition, 28 Feb. 1728 
29 Jan. 1729HENLEY re-elected after appointment to office, majority of41
 Thomas Parish 
 John Burridge14
 James Edward Colleton 
7 May 1741JOHN SCROPE 
29 June 1747JOHN SCROPE64
 Henry Drax6
24 May 1748ROBERT HENLEY vice Henry Holt Henley, deceased 
19 Jan. 1753THOMAS FANE vice Scrope, deceased 

Main Article

Lyme Regis was an ancient but decaying port, where the Government had an interest through the local customs officers. There was a long-standing dispute between the corporation and the freeholders as to the right of election. In the 18th century it was generally considered that the right lay in the freemen, many of them non-resident, who were elected by the corporation. This was not, however, finally established till 1785; and at contested elections those freeholders who were not freemen were usually canvassed and polled, though on a separate list. Objection was also made to the votes of non-resident freemen.

The representation was shared by two local Whig families, the Henleys and the Burridges, from 1710 to 1727, when John Burridge lost his seat on petition. In 1734 John Scrope, secretary to the Treasury, standing jointly with Henry Holt Henley, defeated Burridge and another Whig candidate, James Edward Colleton, in the following circumstances:

The freeholders for Mr. Scrope were 50, for Mr. Colleton 55, for Mr. Henley 57, and these being the legal voters, Colleton and Henley were duly elected, but they then polled honorary freemen ... and this gave a majority to Scrope and Henley who were returned by the mayor.... The setting down of Mr. Colleton’s name without any number against it is very remarkable, and I don’t know with what design it was done. Scrope and Henley behaved to Mr. Colleton with great affectation of civility and respect and invited him to sit between them at the poll. Burridge none of them took notice of, he and his family having behaved infamously, giving their interest first on one side, then on the other ... 5 or 6 custom house officers, who had promised Mr. Colleton their votes, came to him and told him they were resolved to keep their word with him, though Sir Robert Walpole threatened to turn every one of them out if they did so. Mr. Colleton said the election cannot be of such consequence to me, as your bread to you, so I discharge you of your promise and desire you to vote for Henley and Scrope, which they did.1

After 1734 Scrope, though he had no property in the neighbourhood, soon obtained control of the borough by customs house and other patronage. He also strengthened his position by reducing the number of freemen and introducing non-residents, such as his Fane nephews, into the corporation. The 2nd Lord Egmont, in his electoral survey, c.1749-50, describes Lyme Regis as ‘in Scrope’s hands’.

On Scrope’s death in 1752 his interest passed to his heir, Francis Fane. But an opposition was gathering which disputed the corporation’s right of election, on the ground that by ancient usage the Members should be chosen ‘by the gentlemen of the town’, not merely by ‘the custom house officers and non-residents’. On 25 May 1752 George Coade, of an influential Lyme Regis family, four of whom were on the corporation of fourteen members, wrote to Pelham’s secretary:

The thing is now gone so far that I believe both sides must battle it out ... I was prevailed on a fortnight since to write Mr. Francis Fane and to propose to him that his brother [Thomas Fane] would most assuredly be chosen at the next vacancy without the least trouble or expense ... on condition he would consent that Mr. Samuel Dicker [M.P. Plymouth 1754-60] be now chosen; I urged to him that by this comprehension all would be kept quiet. And his own interest fixed on a basis and foundation more firm and permanent than ever, but Mr. Fane never gave any reply ... The present voters at Lyme are 65 in number including the 14 corporators, not one more or less. Many of them will be at sea. It is supposed they’ll not poll above 53 or 54. All sides agree that whoever polls 30 will carry it. Mr. Fane’s opponents pretend they can have 5 of the corporation and 14 freemen without one farthing expense, and that they have but 11 more to get over which they make no doubt of, but to tell you the naked truth they have all got a notion in their heads that Mr. Fane will be at no expense to support his interest, and that when he finds a strong and vigorous opposition supported by a person of considerable rank, that he will give up at once.2

The Coades next attempted to persuade the Duke of Bedford to interfere in the borough. On 13 Aug. 1752 Richard Rigby reported to Bedford that the Fanes were ‘alarmed’ but ‘not terrified, though so great a name was made use of, for that the right of election was such, they were not to be dispossessed and that Frank Fane ... would ... spend anything rather than part with it’.3 Next month the Duke of Newcastle wrote to Pelham:

Westward there is a good deal of noise ... occasioned almost singly by the Duke of Bedford and his agents; upon the vacancy at Lyme by the death of Mr. Scrope, his Grace sent down his first minister, Mr. Butcher, who in conjunction with some people of the town, who are angry with Mr. Fane, endeavoured to oppose his brother, but to no purpose; they offered, as I am told, £500 a man to 3 persons upon the choice of magistrates, but were refused .... However, they so far succeeded that they got the collector of the customs, who was put in by old Scrope, to vote against us. I shall take care of that gentleman in a proper manner.4

Bedford would not commit himself but the Coades continued to press him. On 12 Jan. 1753 Robert Fowler Coade wrote to Butcher:

[I] see his Grace declines entering into the engagement I mention, though I believe might easily carry it with the assistance of some few officers. But as their removal will be certain and their families fall on me, I can’t think it prudent for me to engage, as you see Mr. Fane does what he pleases with the great man ... by the removal of the collector and by ordering Captain Randall away to an inferior vessel to what he ever served ... only for espousing his Grace’s interest here, which indeed gains him no credit amongst English men that abhor arbitrary government, but looks as if he were under apprehensions of doubt.

Coade seems to have contemplated standing himself, for he concluded by saying that if Bedford would not change his mind it might

possibly be of some service (were I to stand a poll) if his Grace would enclose me a few lines to those freemen that signed the letter to him, recommending me as a friend that he is willing to support or assist if a poll should be demanded in favour of him.

But on 20 Jan. he wrote again to Butcher:

Our election came on yesterday (as his Grace declined being concerned at this time) we thought it prudent to lie still till the general election, though had you been here or any friend of my Lord Duke’s but the day before you might have succeeded for a trifle of expense.5

At the election of 1754 both Fanes were returned unopposed.

Author: R. S. Lea


  • 1. Lady Sarah Cowper’s diary, 5 May 1734, Cowper (Panshanger) mss, Herts. RO.
  • 2. Geo. Coade jun. to John Roberts, 25 May 1752, Newcastle (Clumber) mss.
  • 3. Bedford Corresp. ii. 112-13.
  • 4. 22 Sept. 1752, Add. 32729, f. 336.
  • 5. Bedford mss.