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 burgage holders

Number of voters:

about 100


15 Apr. 1754James Cope  
 James Hayes  
13 Dec. 1756Edward Poore vice Cope, deceased  
13 July 1757Charles Pratt vice Hayes, vacated his seat  
27 Mar. 1761James Hayes  
 Charles Pratt  
1 Feb. 1762Thomas Pym Hales vice Pratt, appointed to office  
18 Mar. 1768Thomas Duncombe  
 Richard Croftes  
11 Feb. 1771James Hayes vice Croftes, vacated his seat  
10 Oct. 1774Thomas Duncombe22 
 Thomas Dummer22 
 John Cooper11 
 Sir Philip Hales10 
 COOPER and HALES vice Duncombe and Dummer, on petition, 14 Feb. 1775  
8 Sept. 1779Thomas Duncombe vice Cooper, deceased  
17 Dec. 1779Bartholemew Bouverie vice Duncombe, deceased8 
 Robert Shafto3 
 Shafto vice Bouverie, on petition, 21 Feb. 1780  
13 Sept. 1780Robert Shafto33 
 Henry Seymour Conway32 
 Alexander Hume8 
 John Saunders7 
6 Apr. 1784Robert Shafto502
 Henry Seymour Conway491
 Edward Bouverie3844
 William Scott3743
 Two returns. SHAFTO declared elected and second seat devoid, 19 July 1784  
26 July 1784William Seymour Conway4947
 Edward Bouverie4251
 Two returns. SEYMOUR CONWAY declared elected, 11 Mar. 1785  

Main Article

Anthony Duncombe, M.P. for Downton from 1734 until created Lord Feversham in 1747, leased the manor of Downton (with the appointment of the returning officer) from the bishop of Winchester (the lord of the manor), and owned a majority of the burgages. Until his death in 1763 he controlled Downton without any serious opposition.

Feversham’s will resulted in the division of his interest between his daughter, Anne, and his distant cousin, Thomas Duncombe. Duncombe inherited the estate of Barford and most of the burgages, while the lease of the manor and about a quarter of the burgages were left on trust for Feversham’s daughter. But the part of the will which directed the trustees to sell her property, giving Duncombe the first refusal, was overruled after long litigation in Chancery. Through two marriages, first, of Feversham’s widow to William, 1st Earl of Radnor, and secondly, of Feversham’s daughter to Jacob, 2nd Earl of Radnor, this property was acquired by the Bouverie family.

At the general election of 1768 Duncombe named both Members without opposition. But in 1774 the struggle began for control of the borough. The Radnor party made no attempt to win votes from Duncombe or to use the returning officer to give their candidates a majority; but relied upon a petition to the House of Commons. They claimed that a number of votes cast for Duncombe’s candidates were invalid, and that the practice of conveying burgages for election purposes was illegal. Duncombe’s candidates were unseated.

It is possible that this petition was in the nature of a test case, to be followed by a compromise between the two interests. In 1779, on the death of John Cooper, Duncombe was returned unopposed; but if any compromise had been reached, it broke down on Duncombe’s death later in the year. The Duncombe interest was inherited by his son-in-law Robert Shafto, who contested the by-election against Bartholomew Bouverie. The returning officer is said to have rejected 28 votes offered for Shafto, but Bouverie was unseated on petition.

The general election of 1780 caught the Radnor party unawares. Edward Poore, returning officer for the last thirty years, died in May, and his successor had not been appointed when the dissolution came. On polling day Shafto produced the bishop of Winchester’s bailiff as returning officer, who was accepted by the Radnor party under protest. In their petition they relied upon their argument of 1774—that occasional conveyances of burgages for electoral purposes were illegal; but the committee of the House of Commons reversed the previous decision, and Shafto’s candidates were declared duly elected.

In 1784 each side had its own returning officer, two polls were taken, and two returns made. The committee which tried the case upheld Radnor’s right to nominate the returning officer, reaffirmed that occasional conveyances were legal, and then considered individual votes. The revised poll was: Shafto 41; Seymour Conway 40; Bouverie 40; Scott 39. Shafto was declared duly elected, and a new writ ordered for the second seat.

With the parties so evenly balanced bidding began for the remaining independent burgages. There were again two polls and two returns; but, when the case came before the Commons, Shafto abandoned his claim to appoint the returning officer, and the issue turned upon the validity of individual burgages. Shafto’s candidate was declared duly elected.

It seemed that Shafto had now won: he had a majority of the burgages, and his right to convey them to occasional voters had been admitted. But the struggle between him and the Bouveries for control of Downton continued after 1790.

Author: J. A. Cannon


J. A. Cannon, ‘Parlty. Rep. six Wilts. Boroughs, 1754-90’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis).