East Retford

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 the resident freemen

Number of voters:

about 150


15 Apr. 1754John White
 John Shelley
24 Nov. 1755Shelley re-elected after appointment to office
3 Feb. 1758Shelley re-elected after appointment to office
30 Mar. 1761John White
 John Shelley
25 Nov. 1766Shelley re-elected after appointment to office
18 Mar. 1768Sir Cecil Wray
 John Offley
12 Oct. 1774Sir Cecil Wray
 Lord Thomas Pelham Clinton
2 Feb. 1775William Hanger vice Pelham Clinton, chose to sit for Westminster
24 Feb. 1778Lord John Pelham Clinton vice Hanger, vacated his seat
8 Sept. 1780Lord John Pelham Clinton
 Wharton Amcotts
17 Dec. 1781Thomas Pelham Clinton, Earl of Lincoln, vice Lord John Pelham Clinton, deceased
31 Mar. 1784Thomas Pelham Clinton, Earl of Lincoln
 Wharton Amcotts

Main Article

In 1754 East Retford was under the patronage of the Duke of Newcastle. It was managed by John White, M.P. for the borough since 1733, a close friend of Newcastle, who had some interest of his own. Newcastle’s hold on the borough was considered sure, and there was no opposition in 1754 or 1761.

But Newcastle’s position could not be taken for granted. His control of the corporation had been secured largely through the patronage of the Crown, and care was taken to keep the principal citizens in good humour. Behind the front of loyalty to Newcastle there was jealousy of White. Robert Sutton, who owned an estate near Retford, was the leader of the group which aimed at supplanting White; and William Kirke, of an old Retford family, was his lieutenant. Both denied any intention of damaging Newcastle’s interest, and their opposition to White was fitful and often half-hearted. White had Newcastle’s complete confidence, and his position seemed unassailable.

In 1765 Newcastle quarrelled with his nephews Lord Lincoln and John Shelley. Lincoln was heir to Newcastle’s dukedom and to his estates, and Shelley had represented Retford since 1751. In November 1766 Shelley further offended Newcastle by accepting office in the Chatham Administration. Newcastle’s Nottinghamshire friends advised him, against his inclination, not to oppose Shelley’s re-election; about which he wrote on 20 Nov. to George Mason, his agent in Nottinghamshire:1

Though his behaviour towards me has been such as gives me the highest offence, I do not intend to oppose him now. But, as it is not my intention to be for him upon any future election, I desire you will make it my request to all my friends that they should not lay themselves under any engagement for any future election.

White reported Shelley’s re-election to Newcastle on 3 Dec.:2

I have not yet seen Mr. Mason, but do not find that any declaration or request was made with regard to any future election either by Mr. Shelley or anybody else. This is I own to me matter of some speculation, but as this is a subject of much delicacy and may be of the utmost consequence in the borough I must beg that your Grace say as little as possible upon it till I have the honour of a very full conversation with your Grace.

White was concerned because Lincoln, desirous of supplanting Newcastle in his lifetime at East Retford, was coalescing with Sutton and Kirke, equally desirous of supplanting White. But Newcastle appears to have taken no steps to strengthen his position in the borough; and was indignant when he heard in October 1767 that Lincoln, in addition to running his own candidate at Newark, intended to support Shelley at Retford. White, asked for advice, gave none; but seems to have thought that Newcastle’s plan of opposing Lincoln and Shelley was impracticable. Newcastle saw the affair as an attack on the Whig interest in Nottinghamshire, and expected all his friends to stand by him; wherein he was disappointed:

I know enough of that borough [he wrote to Rockingham on 17 Nov. 17673] ... that if the Duke of Portland, myself, Jack White, Mellish, Hewett, and George Mason, my steward, all agree, nothing can oppose there; but if any of them prefer their own ease and security to the service of their friends and the cause, Jack Shelley will be chose.

Newcastle, in the last two years of his life, tended to see the political scene as it had been in the days of his early manhood—a struggle between Whigs and Tories; but his friends, mostly younger men, had a better hold on reality.

Rockingham applied to Mansfield to act as mediator; and an agreement was reached by which Shelley was to be returned for Newark, and John Offley, who was persona grata with both Newcastle and Lincoln, for Retford. Only White appeared dissatisfied, for the agreement did not end Sutton’s and Kirke’s campaign against him.

On 26 Feb. 1768 Newcastle sent Mason his instructions for the election, and on 28 Feb. received the reply:4

I have acquainted all our friends with your Grace’s and Lord Lincoln’s concurrence in recommending Mr. White and Mr. Offley, and indeed have done all that can be done till they come to canvass the town. I am surprised at your Grace’s postscript, that you cannot imagine that we shall meet with any opposition, as I wrote to Mr. White by last Monday’s post to let him know that Sir Cecil Wray canvassed the town that day, espoused by Mr. Sutton, Captain Kirke, etc., and have certainly met with great encouragement, and I am afraid if backed by money will be a serious and expensive affair. The opposition is declared to be against Mr. White, for they say they shall pay great regard to your Grace’s and Lord Lincoln’s recommendation in every respect, but declare their great dislike to Mr. White and that they will oppose him to the utmost.

Despite this White and Offley did not set out for Retford until 5 Mar. On 7 Mar. Offley wrote to Newcastle:

Upon Mr. White’s and my canvass he met with so small encouragement that he declared to his friends at dinner that he should give them no further trouble, but has done me the honour to assure me that he will attend me at the next treat and at the day of election.

And on I9 Mar.: ‘It is the opinion of everybody that Mr. White might have been [returned] if he had taken steps directly contrary to every one he did take.’ Although there was no poll, Offley’s expenses came to over £942, of which £724 was spent on entertaining the town.5

Newcastle died in November 1768, and Lincoln (now Duke of Newcastle) took over the patronage of the borough. The interest he had encouraged in 1768 against his uncle was henceforth turned against himself; and he could control only one seat at Retford.

In 1774 Lord Mountmorres stood in opposition to Newcastle’s candidate and to Wray. William Burke wrote to the Duke of Portland on 5 Nov. 1774:6

I have this moment parted with [John] Lee the barrister, who is just come to town, and passed through Retford. ... Mr. Lee says that Lord Mountmorres speaks of himself as sure of success; and that it is on all hands allowed that he is very popular there, not so much on the merits of his own pretensions as on the demerits of the Duke of Newcastle with whom they are offended, for his having first put Lord Thomas up at Westminster, and secondly, but more seriously, for his having refused to apprise them of the person he meant to put in his son’s place till he was drove to name Hanger by the appearance of Lord Mountmorres. Mr. Lee says that as he understands Hanger will not go down. He says further that Lord Edward Bentinck is spoke of with great respect, and that it is as it were agreed on all hands that he might carry it if he offered.

Portland did not respond; and despite the story of Newcastle’s unpopularity at Retford, Mountmorres did not stand a poll.

In 1780 Robinson wrote about Retford in his electoral survey: ‘An attempt will be made here to throw Sir Cecil Wray out by Mr. Amcotts’ standing with Lord John Clinton.’ Amcotts, a Retford man, was returned unopposed in 1780 and 1784.

Author: John Brooke


C. Bradley, 'Parlty. Rep. of Pontefract, Newark & East Retford, 1754-68', Manchester Univ. M.A. thesis.

  • 1. Add. 32977, f. 443
  • 2. Add. 32978, f. 164.
  • 3. Add. 32987, f. 14.
  • 4. Add. 32988, f. 409.
  • 5. Add. 32989, ff. 73, 218; 33060, ff. 186-92.
  • 6. Portland mss.