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 freemen

Number of voters:

about 300


17 Apr. 1754Sir George Lyttelton 
 Robert Vyner 
29 Nov. 1755Lyttelton re-elected after appointment to office 
11 Dec. 1756William Pitt vice Lyttelton, called to the Upper House 
13 July 1757Thomas Potter vice Pitt, vacated his seat 
24 Nov. 1759George Rodney Brydges vice Potter, deceased 
27 Mar. 1761Alexander Forrester 
 Wenman Coke 
19 Mar. 1768Thomas Pitt 
 Thomas Brand 
20 Oct. 1770Richard Fitzpatrick vice Brand, deceased 
7 Oct. 1774Richard Vernon 
 Alexander Wedderburn 
11 June 1778Humphrey Minchin vice Wedderburn, appointed to office 
12 Sept. 1780Richard Vernon 
 Humphrey Minchin 
 Charles Philip Jennings 
 Richard Heavyside 
25 Apr. 1783Minchin re-elected after appointment to office 
6 Apr. 1784John Luxmoore130
 Thomas Wiggens122
 George Capel Coningsby, Visct. Malden104
 Humphrey Minchin103
 MALDEN and MINCHIN vice Luxmoore and Wiggens, on petition, 27 Apr. 1785 

Main Article

Thomas Pitt of Boconnoc had a long-standing interest at Okehampton. Sir George Lyttelton was first returned there on his interest, but by 1747 had established himself sufficiently to withstand Pitt’s effort to turn him out. The Duke of Bedford, encouraged by Henry Pelham, also cultivated an interest in the borough. By 1754 Pitt, in hopeless financial straits, had pawned his interest to the Administration, while Bedford had gone into opposition; but a compromise was settled concerning Okehampton.

I have been informed by my friends at Okehampton [wrote Lyttelton to Bedford, 3 July 1753] that when your Grace declared your design of recommending a candidate there at the next general election, it was understood that you meant to oppose Mr. Pitt, but not me; for which distinction I return your Grace thanks, and have therefore declared in my letter to the mayor that I will not oppose your Grace’s friend, but stand quite single and upon my own bottom, without either joining with or opposing any other that may be set up. I should have been proud to have joined with your Grace if you had remained in the King’s service or not in opposition to the Administration. But as things now stand I can do no more than not join with any body against your Grace’s interest.

Bedford expressed great satisfaction at the letter—‘in return I think myself obliged to declare that as long as our respective friends will permit us to observe this neutrality, I shall on my part maintain it most religiously with regard to you’.1 (The Pelhams, having resigned themselves to the other seat going to Bedford’s nominee, may have preferred Lyttelton to seem to negotiate for himself at Okehampton.) Rigby, Bedford’s man of business, wrote to him on 21 Apr.:2 ‘I lay one night at Okehampton, and had a visit at my inn from Sir George Lyttelton, to invite me to his and Vyner’s [Bedford’s candidate] ball, which I did, and found him, Sir George, as much disliked and unpopular as I dare say he thinks he is the reverse.’ After Lyttelton had been created a peer, September 1756, his interest at Okehampton faded out completely, and when consulted by the vicar over the by-election of November 1759, ‘I can give you no other rule for your conduct’, he replied, ‘but the inclinations of his Grace the Duke of Newcastle.’3

On 28 Feb. 1755 Thomas Pitt concluded an agreement with Bedford:4 they united ‘their interests there, in a league offensive and defensive’, to act jointly at all future elections, return one Member each, and cultivate and promote peace and good harmony ‘within the said town ... to the increase of the trade and industry, the sure way to prosperity’. A fortnight later Pitt fled to France from his creditors, having again pawned his borough interests to Administration. On 27 Feb., one day before the Okehampton agreement was signed, Robert Andrews, Pitt’s trustee, wrote to Newcastle:5

I must ... observe that Mr. Pitt having by a very strong compromise united his interest at Okehampton, to choose one and one, he has also entrusted me with that interest for his Majesty’s service. I will exert my utmost endeavours to preserve and conduct it, at as small an expense as possible.

Patrons changed but the effective management of Okehampton remained with the Luxmoore family, local notables who owned considerable property in the borough. John Luxmoore of Northmore House, Okehampton (died 1750), was an attorney who dabbled in elections: his son John, usually referred to as ‘Esquire’ Luxmoore, became agent to Bedford; while his nephew, John Luxmoore of Fair Place, acted for Pitt. In May 1754 Luxmoore of Fair Place was made comptroller of the stannaries in Devon and Cornwall. On 1 Aug. 1756 he wrote to Andrews: ‘The time of year being come for the usual remittance of £100, I desire you’ll be pleased to apply for that sum and send me a bill by the first opportunity, as I have already laid out the greatest part of it.’ Andrews forwarded the letter to Newcastle: ‘This is the annual sum your Grace pays to defray the common expenses of the corporation.’6 But the first time that the payment for Okehampton occurs in Newcastle’s secret service accounts is on 18 July 1758.7 Another payment of £100 p.a. starts in 1759 to Luxmoore’s brother Henry, who on 13 Feb. complained to Newcastle that, in spite of solicitations and promises, his ‘eight years services in this borough’ were still unrewarded—‘My brother [John of Fair Place] being now in town he hath it in charge from me to wait upon your Grace again to solicit an immediate fulfilling of my long expectations.’

Between 1755 and 1759 there were four by-elections for the seat pawned to the Government. On the last vacancy Thomas Pitt pressed Newcastle to let him fill it himself,8 but on refusal told Andrews that ‘in regard to Okehampton, he would not appear at all in it’, and that Andrews should act as he did when Pitt was abroad.9 Still, in 1761 the proper forms were observed, and on 7 Mar. Bedford and Pitt, in a joint letter to the mayor, recommended the candidates to the borough.10 After the election John Luxmoore of Fair Place wrote to Newcastle, 30 Apr. 1761:11

I know your Grace is not now to be informed what a considerable interest I have been able to support in Okehampton, and your Grace has experienced how zealously and faithfully I have exerted that interest in favour of your Grace’s recommendation, for six several successive elections, all succeeding without contest, and also without any extraordinary expense. These services, my Lord, surely deserve some return.

On 27 July 1762 ‘Esquire’ Luxmoore, Bedford’s agent, wrote to Bute:12

The Members in Parliament for this borough are chosen by freemen and freeholders, and I have many more freeholds, and as much personal interest, as any one in it, which I am willing to dispose of, and which in such hands as your Lordship’s will secure the election for any gentleman you shall at any time hereafter recommend, and perpetuate an interest in your family for ever. If you approve of engaging herein (it appearing feasible) I will send you soon a plan of the constitution and circumstances of the borough with the connexions of the most considerable people in it for your consideration, and if, after perusing it, your Lordship shall not think proper to be concerned, send it back to me and it is over; in the meanwhile I entirely rely upon your Lordship’s great honour for this letter and the whole matters being kept a profound secret.

The sequel to this letter, if any, is not known.

Thomas Pitt died on 17 July 1761 and his son, Thomas Pitt jun., resumed the management of his parliamentary interests, at Okehampton through John Luxmoore of Fair Place. But while Pitt and Bedford wished to maintain the agreement of 1755, difficulties arose through the rivalry between the two branches of the Luxmoore family.13 Bedford wrote to Pitt, 20 Sept. 1766:

I fear that Mr. Luxmoore of Fair Place thinks more of his own interest in the corporation than of yours, and desires nothing so much as these two things, to embroil us with each other, and to satisfy his own resentment against his cousin and my other friends. However, I hope he will succeed in neither, and I do again assure you that my interest, whether great or small in the corporation, shall ever be at your service upon the terms we have heretofore agreed.

Co-operation was preserved in 1768, when Pitt returned himself. Meantime the secret service payment of £100 a year was continued to Henry Luxmoore, even under the Rockingham and the Chatham Administrations, when both Bedford and Thomas Pitt were in opposition; also by North; it is among the ‘Secret pensions delivered to Lord Rockingham, April 21st 1782’;14 and in Shelburne’s list of August 1782; but neither ‘date of grant’ nor ‘cause’ is named—by then probably forgotten.

The Duke of Bedford died on 14 Jan. 1771, and during the minority of the 5th Duke the Bedford electoral interest was managed by his grandmother Gertrude, Duchess of Bedford. Thomas Pitt was willing to renew the agreement at Okehampton but insisted on succeeding the late Duke as recorder: he further proposed that each party should name the mayor in alternate years and that no new freemen should be created. These terms were agreeable to the Duchess but not apparently to Pitt’s agent, John Luxmoore of Fair Place; to whom Pitt wrote on 18 Feb. 1771:15

I received your letter of the 3rd instant, and it is no wonder I should find it wanting in respect to me since it appeared so to you when you wrote it. I must tell you (and that very seriously) that I have not been used to receive a dictatorial style from any man; you will best judge whether it is a lesson I shall be inclined to learn from you. I am not to ask you whether you are averse or otherwise to any agreement I think fit to make for my peace and happiness; and as to anything further which I may endeavour for the peace, quiet, and harmony of the borough, I shall not think myself obliged to consult your pride, whatever character and figure you may have chosen to assume to yourself in the corporation. I can easily conceive indeed that my peace and the peace of the corporation, which go together, may lead me in a track very different from that in which your pride and the figure you affect may be engaged, but assure yourself whatever interest I have I desire to have it my own, and not to hold it at the will and discretion of another, who is to give me the law as he thinks proper and fight me with the very weapons I have put into his hands.

There is a gap in the materials available for Okehampton during the years 1772-7. Shortly after Pitt’s fracas with Luxmoore he sold his Okehampton estate to Lord Clive; and at the general election of 1774 Alexander Wedderburn was returned on Clive’s interest jointly with the Bedford candidate, Richard Vernon.

On 2 June 1778 Lord Spencer purchased Clive’s freehold estates ‘at Okehampton and elsewhere in the county of Devon’ for £15,000;16 and the seat was at his disposal, having been vacated on 3 June 1778 in consequence of Wedderburn being appointed attorney-general. But the change in ownership of the Okehampton estate was as yet kept secret: a circular letter to Okehampton notables from Robert Palmer, Bedford’s estate agent, 4 June 1778, states that Lord Clive had requested him to recommend Humphrey Minchin (the Spencer candidate) to succeed Wedderburn. It appears from Palmer’s letter books 1777-87,17 that ‘Esquire’ Luxmoore was still Bedford’s chief manager, but, independent and discontented, had to be coaxed and cajoled. Another correspondent of Palmer’s was ‘Esquire’s’ brother, T. C. Luxmoore, town clerk till 1783, when he handed over the office to his son Charles. To him Palmer wrote, 8 Feb. 1780: ‘I conceive your influence and interest will check the rage that seems from your relation of matters to appear in the minds of several of our brother freemen to have an opposition in your town.’ Early in August Charles Philip Jennings and Richard Heavyside appeared as candidates, and in the election the Bedford and Spencer interests were firmly united though the rivalry in the corporation between the two branches of the Luxmoore family continued. ‘The deputy recorder’s [John Luxmoore of Fair Place] speech was folly itself’, Palmer wrote to ‘Esquire’ Luxmoore, 23 Sept. 1780. And further:

I have always steadily supported everyone who is in the Duke of Bedford’s interest, and am now doing it by keeping the mayoralty in the Duke’s friends. This is confined to corporation business; though I will not solicit for a single vote for the Duke’s friend while the union subsists between the Duke and Lord Spencer, but always ask a vote for Lord Spencer’s friend also.

When he obtained an appointment for a son of Luxmoore of Fair Place, he added: ‘Pray don’t publish by what interest you got your son made chaplain of a man of war.’ Before the general election of 1784, on 14 Feb., Palmer sent £50 to ‘Esquire’ Luxmoore for the Okehampton poor, and Thomas Harrison, Spencer’s estate agent, sent the same to Luxmoore of Fair Place; both hoping the cousins would co-operate. Palmer wrote to Luxmoore of Fair Place, 14 Feb.: ‘Mr. Harrison and myself shall act in united and strong friendship, we shall not suffer anything to divide our interest. I trust that most of our friends will abide steady with us.’ On 16 Mar. Palmer wrote to ‘Esquire’ Luxmoore that his nephew Charles, the town clerk, should prepare for a dissolution of Parliament—he was to ‘make votes’. And Harrison to Spencer, 23 Mar.:18 ‘Herewith I send the Okehampton freeholds that we could get names for, and I cannot help thinking we shall have sufficient with what Mr. Palmer will have and what we can muster there between the Esquire Luxmoore and your Lordship’s agent Luxmoore of Fair Place.’ Parliament was dissolved on 25 Mar., and the same day Palmer wrote that he was bringing the new Bedford candidate, Lord Malden, to Okehampton: ‘Mr. Charles Luxmoore will get the precept at Exeter, and bring [it] with him on Monday. If you can with convenience make half a dozen more freeholders, it will be advisable.’ Here, with Palmer’s arrival at Okehampton, the correspondence breaks off, and it does not appear when exactly he learnt of ‘Esquire’s’ intention to stand for Okehampton.

Harrison wrote to Lord Spencer from Okehampton, 2 Apr. 1784:

The infamous conduct of the Esquire Luxmoore, his perfidy, baseness, and ingratitude are without parallel. ... He and his supporters are raising heaven and earth to secure his election ... from the conduct of the mayor, prompted by, and not a whit less infamous than, his brother the candidate, I am led to presume he is determined at all events to make a return against us. I hope and trust he will have the honour of seeing the inside of Newgate. He has this day sworn in 35 new freemen, not more than six of whom have legal claims to freedom. The others are admitted in direct opposition to the established custom of the borough. ... It is a most disagreeable business and will I fear be a very expensive one.

Luxmoore and his fellow candidate, Thomas Wiggens, were returned; Malden and Minchin petitioned. The Fair Place Luxmoores naturally did not support their cousin, and on 19 Jan. 1785 Palmer wrote to Luxmoore of Fair Place: ‘I do not yet know that the place which Esquire Luxmoore enjoys is taken from him and if it was I have not interest to get it for any one.’ It was Luxmoore of Fair Place and his son Charles whom Palmer now employed on borough business. On 22 Mar. 1785 Palmer reported to the Duke of Bedford:

Last week we had 19 Quo Warranto causes tried at Exeter by special juries and obtained verdicts in every cause, which will destroy the freedom of 19 persons who were made free on the Friday before the election for the borough of Okehampton and voted for Luxmoore and Wiggens.

On 27 Apr. 1785 Malden and Minchin were declared to be duly elected. But Spencer’s conclusions can be gathered from Minchin’s letter to him, 7 Nov. 1787:

I did understand that your Lordship for prudential and undoubtedly right reasons intended to dispose of your Devonshire estate. ... I saw great difficulty attending it, because when Okehampton was purchased from Lord Clive, it was supposed to be a perfect secure borough ... but the contested elections, particularly the last, having proved the contrary, it appeared to me that few would be found to pay anything near what it had cost.

Spencer replied:

My [intentions] with respect to the borough of Okehampton were decidedly not to stand the expense and trouble of another general election there, and if between this time and that I could not find a purchaser for the estate, to take some convenient opportunity of informing the electors that I had no more to say to the borough interest in that place.

He added that he had offered the estate to Bedford, who replied that he, too, intended to sell out.

On 20 Dec. 1789 Spencer wrote to his mother:

I have been obliged to leave it to Harrison to conclude the treaty about Okehampton and to receive part of the price ... Notwithstanding the conclusion of this business I must beg of you not to say a word to anybody that I have sold it, as it is essential to the interests of the purchaser that it should be kept secret, and I am engaged by the bargain to do all I can to forward his views in carrying a Member there at the next general election, which engagement however on my part was thrown into the bargain, as the price he gives for it is entirely fixed from a valuation of the estate, without considering at all the borough interest, which indeed I can consider myself as only a dead weight upon it and a cause of constant expense instead of profit.

In Oldfield’s History of the Boroughs, published in 1792, Spencer and Bedford are still named as the patrons of Okehampton.

Author: Sir Lewis Namier


  • 1. Bedford mss 29, ff. 62, 68.
  • 2. Bedford mss 30, f. 36.
  • 3. Add. 32915 f. 252.
  • 4. Bedford mss 31, f. 22.
  • 5. Add. 32852, f. 631.
  • 6. Add. 32866, ff. 382-3.
  • 7. Namier, Structure, 452.
  • 8. Add. 32892, ff. 278, 417, 448, 464, 494.
  • 9. Add. 32898, f. 163; 32885, ff. 42-43.
  • 10. Bedford mss 43, f. 150.
  • 11. Add. 32922, f. 280.
  • 12. Bute mss.
  • 13. Bedford mss 52, f. 158; 54, ff. 44, 48, 56.
  • 14. Royal archives, Windsor.
  • 15. Rob. Palmer to Rich. Turner, 24, 31 Jan. 1771, Pitt to Luxmoore of Fair Place, 18 Feb. 1771, Palmer’s letter bk. 1768-71, Bedford mss.
  • 16. Humphrey Minchin to Ld. Spencer, 5, 10 Nov. 1778, Spencer mss at Althorp.
  • 17. Bedford mss.
  • 18. Spencer mss.