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 the freemen

Number of voters:

about 100


16 Apr. 1754Griffith Philipps 
 Sir Thomas Stepney 
2 Apr. 1761Ralph Verney, Earl Verney 
28 Mar. 1768Griffith Philipps52
 Joseph Bullock42
7 Oct. 1774John Adams 
11 Sept. 1780George Philipps 
5 Apr. 1784John George Philipps 

Main Article

Since 1746 a chaotic situation had existed in Carmarthen. The town had two corporations, each claiming to be the only legal one. One corporation was Tory, controlled by Sir John Philipps of Picton Castle; the other, Whig, was controlled by Griffith Philipps of Cwmgwili. At the general election of 1754 each side presented a candidate, and as the writ was sent to the Whig corporation, the Whig candidate, Griffith Philipps, was returned. In 1761 Philipps did not stand, and Lord Verney was returned as the candidate of the Whig corporation. Sir John Philipps, writing to George Grenville on 18 May 1764,1 claimed that Verney had gained the seat ‘by procuring the writ through Lord Talbot’s means (and the side which got the writ in the then confused state of the borough was sure of the election) and by purchase, he being an entire stranger to the place’. Verney is alleged to have paid £2,000.2

In 1763 both parties petitioned for a new charter, and each sought to obtain one which would give it control of the borough. The Grenville ministry came under pressure from Sir John Philipps on one side, and from Verney, Griffith Philipps, and George Rice, the county Member, on the other. The solution devised by Grenville was ostensibly a compromise, for each party was to choose twenty of the forty freemen named in the new charter. But Sir John Philipps failed to obtain the additional safeguard that each side should choose equally the members of the new corporation; and when no agreement was reached on the choice of a mayor, Grenville accepted the Cwmgwili candidate. Griffith Philipps and his allies had secured a firm hold on the new borough machinery, and the death of Sir John Philipps on as June 1764 removed their most dangerous adversary.3

At the general election of 1768 a contest resulted from a split in the successful party. Griffith Philipps was proposed by Rice, while Verney sponsored Joseph Bullock, who was supported by the former opponents of the Cwmgwili interest.4 Philipps defeated Bullock; but petitions were presented against his return by Bullock and by a group of freemen who had been admitted under the old charter and whose votes had been disallowed. A motion declaring their right to vote was defeated, and the House confirmed Philipps’s election.

Philipps left Parliament in 1774, but maintained his control of the constituency. He was succeeded by John Adams, who in 1767 had given £4,000 towards the erection of a town hall.5 In 1780 three candidates came forward, all seeking support from Griffith Philipps and his choice, George Philipps, was eventually returned unopposed. Griffith Philipps died in 1781, and his influence at Carmarthen passed to his son John George Philipps, who was returned unopposed in 1784.

Author: Peter D.G. Thomas


Hist. Carm. ii. 36-52.

  • 1. Grenville mss (JM).
  • 2. Trans. Carm. Antiq. Soc. xxiv. 52.
  • 3. Grenville to Sir Fletcher Norton, 8 June 1764, to Sir John Philipps, 17 June 1764, Grenville letter bk.
  • 4. Add. 38457, ff. 181-2.
  • 5. Glocester, Jnl. 10 Oct. 1774.