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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 400


15 Apr. 1754Edward Wortley Montagu 
 Matthew Lamb 
27 Mar. 1761Armstead Parker 
 Matthew Lamb 
16 Mar. 1768Sir Matthew Lamb306
 Matthew Wyldbore291
 Baker John Littlehales104
29 Nov. 1768Henry Belasyse, Visct. Belasyse, vice Lamb, deceased 
16 Feb. 1774Richard Benyon vice Belasyse, called to the Upper House 
7 Oct. 1774Richard Benyon259
 Matthew Wyldbore219
 James Phipps212
9 Sept. 1780James Phipps 
 Richard Benyon 
31 Mar. 1784James Phipps 
 Richard Benyon 
28 Feb. 1786Lionel Damer vice Phipps, deceased 

Main Article

The most important interest at Peterborough was that of the Fitzwilliam family who owned large estates in the neighbourhood and almost invariably returned one Member. But it was ‘by no means ... a commanding interest’;1 it always required attention, and was expensive to maintain. Richard Terrick, bishop of Peterborough, wrote to Lord Hardwicke, 6 Oct. 1762:2

The dean and chapter have a very considerable interest ... having the appointment of the returning officer and the command of many votes. They have been for some years unanimous in the support of Lord Fitzwilliam’s interest, at present under the care of Sir Matthew Lamb, the dean’s brother, and of course have lived in great harmony.

The Wortley and Parker families also had interests in the borough, that of the Parkers apparently coming to the fore on the death of Edward Wortley Montagu in 1761.

In June 1767 a Peterborough man, Matthew Wyldbore, unexpectedly declared himself a candidate, and though he stood in opposition to Armstead Parker, Matthew Lamb found it necessary to spend large sums to maintain the Fitzwilliam interest. He wrote to Lord Fitzwilliam, 29 Oct. 1767:3

There are 374 voters, and much the greatest part of them are very necessitous people not influenced by anybody, have long been without an opposition, but have readily caught at this, and seeing all parties eager ... made those low people soon begin to think themselves of importance, and to set a high value upon themselves.

After several months of expensive campaigning, Parker’s son, who had succeeded him as candidate, agreed to withdraw in return for £1,000 to be paid by Wyldbore towards his expenses ‘and £1,000 more for the benefit of the town’. But the expense continued, and at the last moment a ‘third man’, an attorney named Littlehales, was persuaded to stand, presumably by the ‘necessitous people in the borough’. He was overwhelmingly defeated by Lamb and Wyldbore, but at a very high cost.

During the campaign Fitzwilliam acknowledged how ‘silly a figure’ he would make if he attempted to influence the return of more than one Member.4 On 1 Jan. 1771 he wrote to Matthew Wyldbore: ‘I stand single and unconnected and intend to continue so, I can have no objection to any person pursuing whatever measures may be agreeable to him.’ He himself felt bound to listen to the dictates of his friends with regard to the second Member. But when in 1773 he had quarrelled with the Parkers and was eager to buy some Peterborough property which was then let by Sir Brownlow Cust to Armstead Parker, he wrote to his uncle, Lord Rockingham, 24 Nov. 1773: ‘This estate would be highly serviceable to me as it would kill two birds with one stone—it would weaken Mr. Parker’s interest and strengthen mine.’ He now felt at ‘full liberty to take whatever part I may choose at any future election, as well in behalf of the second candidate, as of the one set up on my own interest’. Rockingham replied, 26 Nov.:

I imagine you mean to content yourself with one Member, and if so, your interest is surely strong enough ... the attempt to have two and to keep two, will I should fear be an endless trouble and expense to you, and perhaps it would be wisest to avoid the temptation.5

When in 1775 Fitzwilliam was still thinking of buying the property he was warned by Rockingham that, his intentions being well known, it would now more than ever prove ‘a very dear bargain’: ‘You will not strengthen your interest in Peterborough by letting the lands higher than Sir Brownlow has raised them to ... in order to swell the rental in order to sell the estate for more money.’6

Before the general election of 1780 Robinson noted: ‘Mr. Wyldbore can’t come in here again, but a Mr. Phipps will, on the interest of Mr. Parker of Peterborough and Lord Fitzwilliam’s acquiescence. Mr. Phipps will be against [Government].’ Phipps and Fitzwilliam’s candidate, Richard Benyon, were returned unopposed in 1780 and again in 1784.

Author: Mary M. Drummond


  • 1. Matthew Lamb to Ld. Fitzwilliam, 28 Dec. 1767, Fitzwilliam mss, Northants RO.
  • 2. Add. 35607, f. 2.
  • 3. Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 4. Fitzwilliam to his mother, 15 Sept. 1767.
  • 5. Fitzwilliam mss.
  • 6. 26 July 1775, ibid.