Single Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 250


15 Apr. I754John Morton133
 Henry Thrale100
25 Mar. 1761John Morton 
15 Dec. 1762Morton re-elected after appointment to office 
17 Mar. 1768John Morton126
 Nathaniel Bayly116
 BAYLY vice Morton, on petition, 8 Feb. 1770 
7 Oct. 1774John Mayor146
 Nathaniel Bayly116
 Election declared void, 6 Mar. 1775 
11 Mar. 1775John Mayor 
6 Sept. 1780John Mayor137
 Thomas Wooldridge55
21 Dec. 1782Henry Howorth vice Mayor, vacated his seat 
19 May 1783Edward Loveden Loveden vice Howorth, deceased 
20 Mar. 1784Edward Loveden Loveden 

Main Article

Although neighbouring landowners had a natural interest in the borough, it did not amount to patronage—‘one of the few boroughs’, remarked Oldfield in 1792, ‘over which aristocratical influence or corruption has not yet been able to extend its control’. But Shelburne in his electoral list of 1761 placed Abingdon among the ‘venal boroughs’, apparently not without justification.

The opposition party in the borough would at times seek powerful outside backing. On 21 Mar. 1753 Joseph Newcome, vicar of St. Helen’s, Abingdon, and rector of Barton-in-the-Clay, Beds. (father of William Newcome, later Archbishop of Armagh) called on the Duke of Bedford at the request ‘of many of the most considerable inhabitants of Abingdon’ to find a candidate who could defeat Morton. ‘They have offered’, wrote the Duke to R. N. Aldworth, ‘to take my recommendation in preference to any other. The gentleman must be a Whig and of the Church of England.’ The necessary expense was estimated at £1,500. ‘I am well acquainted with ... the influence [Newcome’s] so long residence at Abingdon has gained him over his parishioners’, replied Aldworth. But he advised the Duke to support Morton; ‘as to a stranger ... our Berkshire boroughs ... only want such a person to pluck and defeat him’; and Morton could not be ousted except ‘at an immoderate expense indeed, or by the death of Mr. Woods the schoolmaster there, who has great influence’. Finally Henry Thrale became the opposition candidate, although he apparently courted Newcastle—national politics did not determine those of Abingdon.1

In 1761, on the day of election, a local man, Mr. Hawkins, appeared as candidate, but Morton having a great majority on a show of hands, no poll was demanded. In 1767 an unsuccessful attempt was made to interest Lord Clive in the borough. An anonymous letter from Abingdon complained of Morton’s ‘narrowness of spirit’; he had not spent £3,000 during the twenty years he had represented Abingdon.2

According to the Glocester Journal of 18 Jan. 1768, Nathaniel Bayly on the 15th entered Abingdon ‘accompanied by two noblemen’ [?Lords Abingdon and Irwin] and ‘a great body of inhabitants’, and ‘was immediately declared a candidate’. The story of how this came about is told in a leaflet dated Abingdon, 18 Apr. 1768 (a month after the poll):

An opposition to Mr. Morton’s election interest at Abingdon was resolved upon, and formed, by a considerable number of old voters, several months before Mr. Bayly’s name was so much as heard of by any of them; which opposition, though neither supported nor countenanced by any gentleman in the town or country, continued and increased more and more, ’till at last it became very formidable. Mr. Bayly was so far from officiously intruding into Mr. Morton’s interest here, that he was sought after and pressingly solicited by sixty-seven old voters to appear as a candidate amongst them; and on the very first day of his appearance was received and welcomed by a greater number of such voters than Mr. Morton even polled at the election; though not any one of the leading gentlemen of the town had then declared for him.

In spite of new voters having been added, most of them in Morton’s interest, on the poll he had a majority of only two; and Bayly petitioned against the return. In January 1770 an accommodation was proposed by Grafton. James Grenville sen., who sat as Government candidate at Horsham on the interest of Lord Irwin, Bayly’s brother-in-law, wished to vacate his seat; and Grafton (whose real concern was for Morton) suggested to Irwin on 16 Jan. that this would make ‘an opening to relieve Mr. Bayly of his difficulties and put an end to the disagreeable business of Abingdon’. Irwin in reply seems to have offered to return Morton. Morton hesitated, and further strenuous, and some rather devious, attempts were made to persuade Irwin and Bayly to leave Abingdon to Morton. But Bayly refused: his reply was, he wrote to Irwin, 24 Jan., that he had pledged himself to the electors of Abingdon, ‘and therefore could not on any consideration decline it, and indeed I never could show my face if I was to do it’. And on 7 Feb.: Morton agreed to give up Abingdon on Bayly’s agreeing to cease prosecuting him in three actions of bribery. The next day Morton’s counsel admitted the disqualification of three of his voters, and Morton was unseated.3

In August 1774 Abingdon received what Bayly described in the House of Commons as a ‘new charter’ which ‘puts it in the power of the corporation ... to return any Member to Parliament they pleased’; and this was the work of its recorder, Morton. Wedderburn replied that the alteration was only the provision for five j.p.s instead of three. But from a note in the Gentleman’s Magazine it appears that these two additional justices were to be chosen every year by the corporation ‘out of their body’.4

John Mayor, who defeated Bayly ‘and the Dissenters’ party’ in October 1774, had the support of the corporation and Government; but the election was declared void because at that time Mayor had been sheriff of Berkshire. At the ensuing by-election an opposition to Mayor was attempted by Colonel Skinner, brother-in-law to the Earl of Abingdon, but it seems doubtful whether it was carried to a poll.5

Wooldridge, who stood against Mayor in 1780 as an Opposition Whig, was a London alderman removed in 1783 ‘by the court of aldermen on account of his bankruptcy in July 1777 and circumstances connected with it’.6 Edward Loveden Loveden, returned on 19 May 1783 as a determined opponent of the Fox-North Coalition, was the first Berkshire squire to represent Abingdon during this period.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Bedford mss 29, ff. 37, 39; Add. 32995, f. 104.
  • 2. J. Townsend, News of a County Town, 46; Clive mss, India Office Lib.
  • 3. Rockingham mss; Irwin mss at Templenewsam; HMC Var. viii. 184-7; Albery, Parlty. Hist. Horsham, 105-11.
  • 4. Commons debate, 1 Dec. 1775, Almon, i. 413; Gent. Mag. 1774, p. 387.
  • 5. News of a County Town, 75, 79, 81.
  • 6. A. B. Beaven, Aldermen of London, i. 61, 412; City Biog. (1800), pp. 114-15.