Great Bedwyn

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 freeholders and burgage holders

Number of voters:

about 120


15 Apr. 1754Sir Robert Hildyard 
 William Sloper 
13 Dec. 1756Robert Brudenell vice Sloper, appointed to office 
26 Mar. 1761Thomas Cotes83
 William Woodley83
 Lascelles Metcalfe36
 Lord Verney36
16 June 1766William Burke vice Woodley, vacated his seat 
2 Dec. 1767Sir Thomas Fludyer vice Cotes, deceased 
19 Mar. 1768James Brudenell 
 Robert Brudenell 
20 May 1768William Burke vice Robert Brudenell, chose to sit for Marlborough 
13 Nov. 1768William Northey vice James Brudenell, vacated his seat 
17 Apr. 1770Northey re-elected after appointment to office 
29 Jan. 1771Benjamin Hopkins vice Northey, deceased 
8 Oct. 1774James Stopford, Earl of Courtown 
 Paul Methuen 
30 Dec. 1774James Cecil, Visct. Cranborne, vice Courtown, vacated his seat 
12 Sept. 1780Sir Merrick Burrell 
 Paul Methuen 
3 Mar. 1781Paul Cobb Methuen vice Paul Methuen, vacated his seat 
3 Apr. 1784James Graham, Mq. of Graham 
 Robert Manners 
10 Aug. 1789Graham re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

In 1754 the foremost interest at Great Bedwyn was in Lord Bruce, who owned the estate of Tottenham Park; next came Lord Verney, who in 1752 had bought the manor of Stock. There was also a number of independent burgages.

At the general election of 1754 Bruce and Verney agreed to choose one Member each. Newcastle wrote in his electoral survey: ‘They join in interest, and all the neighbouring gentlemen concur, and yet an opposition is apprehended.’ On 20 Mar. he noted: ‘ Mr. Huske ... makes a great opposition’; and on 21 Mar.:1

Lord Verney ... has been at Bedwyn, made a considerable expense for himself and Mr. [James] Brudenell, amounting to near £2,000. Captain [Robert] Brudenell declines joining in the expense. To talk to Lord Cardigan and Captain Brudenell and mention to them the interest of Sloper, and particularly what expense they will be at.

Sloper was a formidable candidate: he was one of the sitting Members; his father had represented the borough 1715-22 and 1729-41; and his seat at West Woodhay in Berkshire was only a few miles away. Roger Townshend, brother of Charles Townshend, was Huske’s candidate, and was probably financed by Lady Townshend. In the end Bruce and Verney agreed to recommend Sir Robert Hildyard, a stranger, who paid £2,000 for his seat.2 The second seat went to Sloper.

When Sloper left Parliament in 1756, Bruce and Verney agreed in recommending Robert Brudenell. But this condominium could not last, and they prepared to fight it out at the general election of 1761. Verney offered to compromise the borough;3 but Bruce refused, and his candidates were successful.

The struggle for control continued; and Verney began buying up the independent burgages. Bruce in 1765, ‘to put an end to the unhappy dissensions in my neighbourhood’, made an approach to Verney. He refused to consider the idea of dividing the borough, but offered to buy Verney’s estate and guarantee him a seat for life. Verney replied by making the same offer to Bruce. It was agreed to nominate two referees, who should ‘determine which of the parties is in reason and justice bound to sell to the other’.4

No agreement had been reached when in May 1766 Woodley was named governor of the Leeward Islands. Verney proposed William Burke for the seat about to become vacant, and a decision became urgent. Eventually an agreement was reached on 13 June 1766. Bruce bought the Verney interest for 18,000 guineas, agreed to bring in Burke at once, and to place one seat at Verney’s disposal in the next Parliament. For the remainder of this period Bruce was in undisputed control.

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Add. 32995, ff. 105, 110-13.
  • 2. Ibid. f. 193.
  • 3. Add. 32920, f. 115.
  • 4. Marquess of Ailesbury’s mss; letters from Bruce and Verney to Rockingham, Rockingham mss.