Great Grimsby

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 200


16 Apr 1754William Lock 
 John Gore 
28 Mar. 1761Henry Knight 
 Joseph Mellish 
3 Dec. 1762Robert Knight, Baron Luxborough, vice Henry Knight, deceased 
18 Mar. 1768Anthony St. Leger 
 Joseph Mellish 
10 Oct 1774Francis Evelyn Anderson 
 Joseph Mellish 
11 Sept. 1780John Harrison 
 Francis Eyre 
2 Apr. 1784Dudley Long119
 John Harrison113
 Peter Birt98

Main Article

In 1762 John Page, who had represented Grimsby in the earlier part of the century, told the Duke of Newcastle that the electors of Grimsby were ‘venal to a man’.1 And he added:

Grimsby men hate joining of interest so much that no two candidates ever dared to own they supported each other, though at times there have been private undertakings between them.

Control of the corporation, which had power to admit new freemen, was a very large step towards success in election contests, and for the greater part of the period the voters succeeded in preventing the borough from becoming close.

In 1754 there were three candidates, all supporting Administration. John Gore, a London merchant, was one of the sitting Members: his brother-in-law, Charles Pelham of Brocklesby, exerted considerable influence in the borough. The second candidate was William Lock, another merchant, who had represented Grimsby since 1741, when he had defeated Charles Pelham. The third man, Robert Knight, Lord Luxborough, later Earl of Catherlough, had represented Grimsby 1741-7. Another important interest in the borough was that of the Clayton family, which had held high office in the town for generations. Christopher Clayton, a client of Newcastle, held a post in the customs; he had been brought into the corporation under the auspices of the Pelham family, but was now collaborating with Luxborough. Newcastle surmised correctly that Luxborough was the weakest candidate, and he declined before the poll.2

In 1761 Charles Pelham seems to have entertained hopes of capturing both seats, since there were reports that his son-in-law, Robert Vyner, would stand.3 Lock did not stand and the seats went, without a poll, to Gore’s son-in-law Joseph Mellish and to Luxborough’s only son, Henry Knight. At the same time, Luxborough was elected recorder of the borough.

Henry Knight died in August 1762. Newcastle hoped to persuade Gore and Luxborough to support his own candidate, John Wicker of Horsham, who, the Duke complained, ‘has lain long upon my hands’.4 But Wicker was prepared to spend only £1,000, which the Duke was warned ‘won’t do anything in a place where the best interest can obtain no more than the certainty of succeeding upon the condition of being as good as another, and where I know they have been long used to much larger sums’.5 Gore pointed out that it would be unwise for him openly to support another candidate:6

The chief point my friends at Grimsby have had in view has been to secure an interest for one Member, knowing that the attempting two would be disagreeable to the freemen, and occasion their looking out for a third person, therefore have been very cautious of showing any disposition that way ... To speak openly and with sincerity I believe the best interest there will be from expense.

This assessment was confirmed by John Page:

I am very sure Lord Luxborough’s personal interest is stronger there than any man’s, because they have had more of his money than anybody’s, and he has always been punctual to all his engagements with them and they with him; and yet, should a dashing gentleman go down and offer three or four thousand, Lord Luxborough and Mr. Gore together could not get their man chose for less than was offered by a stranger.

Charles Pelham now made a bid for the second seat, putting forward Robert Vyner, with the support of the town clerk, Hildyard; and Gore would take no part against Pelham. Luxborough’s reply was to declare himself a candidate:

As money can be no consideration in my unhappy situation, and as possibly hereafter it may be an amusement to be in Parliament ... Mr. Vyner may give me trouble and put me to expense, but I do not fear the event ...7

For some weeks Vyner maintained his challenge: on 14 Sept. 1762 he was admitted to the freedom of the borough, and gave the customary twenty guineas to the corporation. But early in October Clayton, who was managing Luxborough’s campaign, assured him that he had secured 120 of the 205 voters.8 Vyner retired, and Luxborough was returned unopposed.

At the general election of 1768 Joseph Mellish was returned with Anthony St. Leger, a friend of Lord Granby. Luxborough seems to have been squeezed out,9 and his interest disintegrated. This gave Charles Anderson Pelham—now the head of the family and enormously rich—the opportunity to capture both seats, and in 1774 he returned his brother, Francis Evelyn, with Joseph Mellish. Clayton seems to have accepted the situation with resignation, though he could not bring himself to vote for Mellish, against whom he had long waged war.10

In 1780 Anderson Pelham commanded both seats. One went to John Harrison, a friend. The second was offered to Lord Rockingham for George Fitzwilliam, one of his followers. Rockingham replied to Anderson Pelham in cautious vein:11

The expense might not be large, but there undoubtedly is risk at Grimsby. I think your family were always sure of one Member there, but as I recollect, there was always an opposite interest. You are the best judge whether it is advisable for you to attempt to carry both Members.

Rockingham was presumably anxious lest the Government should support an opposition, and drag his friend into vast expense. Administration had, apparently, considered intervening, but John Robinson, in his survey for the 1780 general election, came to the conclusion that there could be no effectual contest ‘unless Mr. Clayton should join against Mr Pelham’. The second seat went, ultimately, to Francis Eyre, whom Robinson had thought of sponsoring against Anderson Pelham, but who came in at length on the Pelham interest.

The tense political atmosphere in 1784 led to a contest. Anderson Pelham was a supporter of Fox, and put up two candidates, Harrison and Dudley Long. Robinson, in his calculations, hoped that, for £2,000, the Administration might be able to carry one of the seats, if Clayton’s interest were used.12 Peter Birt of Wenvoe Castle, Glamorgan, came forward, and was defeated by a narrow margin. His petition, complaining of bribery and of the conduct of the returning officer, was never heard.

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Add. 32942, f. 62.
  • 2. Add. 32995, f. 80; Grimsby borough recs.
  • 3. Add. 32915, f. 174.
  • 4. Add. 32941, f. 339.
  • 5. Page to Newcastle, 24 Aug. 1762, Add. 32941, f. 395.
  • 6. Ibid. f. 366.
  • 7. Add. 32942, ff. 60, 62, 80.
  • 8. 14 Oct. 1762, Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss. Lincoln RO.
  • 9. St. Leger to Granby, 7 Nov. 1767, Rutland mss.
  • 10. Grimsby borough recs.
  • 11. 1 Sept. 1780, Rockingham mss.
  • 12. Laprade, 109, 116.