Double 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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 500


13 Apr. 1754Thomas Potter 
 John Willes 
10 Dec. 1756Potter re-elected after appointment to office248
 Frederick Halsey267
6 July 1757John Wilkes vice Potter, appointed to office 
25 Mar. 1761John Wilkes 
 Welbore Ellis 
22 Dec. 1762Ellis re-elected after appointment to office 
25 Jan. 1764Anthony Bacon vice Wilkes, expelled the House 
 Thomas Scrope 
16 Mar. 1768Anthony Bacon 
 John Durand 
6 Oct. 1774Anthony Bacon222
 John Aubrey215
 John Durand197
 Charles Lowndes196
7 Sept. 1780Anthony Bacon433
 Thomas Orde374
 John Smith135
31 Mar. 1784Sir Thomas Hallifax 
 William Wrightson 
16 Feb. 1789Scrope Bernard vice Hallifax, deceased237
 Gerard Lake177

Main Article

Aylesbury was squalid and venal, and without an established patron. Most of the neighbouring gentlemen preferred to leave the borough alone; elections were expensive; and rich outsiders were welcome. When Thomas Potter was appointed joint paymaster general in November 1756 he tried to conceal it from his constituents as long as possible, thus reducing the danger of a contested re-election. ‘I absolutely can’t afford above £500’, he wrote to his friend John Wilkes. ‘I will distribute that among them, but not till after the election.’ In spite of his precautions his re-election was opposed, and he was actually defeated on the poll. But on Potter’s demanding a scrutiny his opponent, Frederick Halsey, withdrew. In 1757, on being appointed to office in the Pitt-Newcastle ministry, Potter found a cheaper and safer seat at Okehampton, and resigned Aylesbury to Wilkes.1

Welbore Ellis’s experience at Aylesbury may be regarded as typical. On 20 Aug. 1765, when it was generally expected that he would shortly be given office, Ellis wrote to Lord Holland:2

I have an excellent piece of news from Aylesbury. The worthy voters, taking [it] for granted that I should have some other place, have assembled and come to a resolution that though they have had two elections and had owned that I had behaved most generously towards them, having given five [pounds to each voter] at the first and three at the second election, which was higher than had ever been given before, but now they expect three and, if any opposition should arise, five. If I make any difficulty that they will bring someone in gratis, rather than lower their rate.

And Anthony Bacon, who stood for Aylesbury on Wilkes’s expulsion in 1764 and was faced with a contest, paid five guineas a man.3

Bacon, a rich merchant and munitions contractor, built up the strongest interest at Aylesbury during this period; and at the contests of 1774 and 1780 he topped the poll. John Durand, his colleague in 1768, was described as ‘fully determined to get into the House at any rate, provided money can effect it’.4 His money frightened away competitors in 1768 but did not save him in 1774. John Aubrey, who defeated Durand, was a rich Buckinghamshire country gentleman, but he did not care to build up a lasting interest at Aylesbury and in 1780 he found another constituency. In 1780 Bacon and Thomas Orde stood on a joint interest, supported by Government, the Earl of Chesterfield (who had some influence in the borough), and £1,500 from secret service money. Their opponent John Smith was pledged to support the Opposition, but his political principles were not by themselves sufficient to ensure him success. Hallifax and Wrightson, returned unopposed in 1784, were both rich men; Hallifax was a supporter of Pitt, Wrightson of the Fox-North party. There was a similar political flavour about the contest of 1789 when Bernard, supported by Lord Buckingham, stood as a follower of Pitt, and Lake of the Duke of Portland.5

Author: John Brooke


  • 1. Add. 30867, ff. 125-34.
  • 2. Henry Fox mss.
  • 3. Jenkinson Pprs. 259.
  • 4. Eyre Coote to Sir W. Lee, 23 Feb. 1768, Lee mss, Bucks. RO.
  • 5. Corresp. about Aylesbury in Lee mss.