Double Member Borough
Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Number of voters:
|16 Apr. 1754||Edward Digby, Baron Digby||151|
|15 Dec. 1757||Robert Digby vice Lord Digby, deceased|
|27 Mar. 1761||Henry Digby, Baron Digby|
|23 Apr. 1763||Digby re-elected after appointment to office|
|26 Dec. 1765||Peter Taylor vice Digby, called to the Upper House|
|Two returns. CHILD declared elected 15 Jan. 1766|
|18 Mar. 1768||Clement Tudway||171|
|7 Oct. 1774||Clement Tudway|
|8 Sept. 1780||Clement Tudway||126|
|31 Aug. 1782||John Curtis vice Child, deceased||112|
|5 Apr. 1784||Clement Tudway|
Much depended at Wells on control of the corporation, which could manipulate the franchise by creating honorary freemen. Local families had most influence, and during this period the Tudways came close to being patrons.
At the dissolution in 1754 the sitting Members were both Tories. Francis Gwyn, who belonged to the leading Tory family in the neighbourhood, stood again. Opposed to him, standing on a combined interest, were Lord Digby and Charles Tudway. Digby was the head of a family owning large estates in Dorset and Somerset; and, as the nephew of Henry Fox, received the support of Administration. Tudway lived in Wells, and was a member of the corporation. The dean of Wells, Dr. Samuel Creswick, who had considerable influence in the town, exerted it on behalf of Digby and Tudway; who were elected by a large majority.
On Digby’s death in 1757 his brother Robert was returned without opposition; and at the general election of 1761 there was no opposition to Henry, Lord Digby, and Clement Tudway (who replaced his father). But there was a fierce contest in 1765, when Digby went to the House of Lords.
Peter Taylor, the first to announce his candidature, had strong local connexions. His father was a Wells grocer, and had been mayor in 1718; and he himself owned the estate of Burcott, two miles from Wells. He had made a fortune as an army commissary in Germany during the seven years’ war, and it was said that he owned in Wells three times as much property as any other member of the corporation.1 A crucial point in his candidature was the attitude of the Digby family and Lord Holland, formerly Taylor’s patron at the pay office. Lord Digby wrote to Holland, 16 July 1765:2
As to Wells, if you have a mind Ste Fox should come in, and would keep Peter Taylor quiet, I think that might be contrived without much difficulty. Neither of my brothers will stand, and though I think with the Dean’s assistance we could carry it upon reasonable terms for any one of the family, yet it would not be the same if you was to attempt to recommend a stranger. If Peter Taylor stands I think there will be a contest, and it will very soon be as troublesome and expensive as any other borough.
Later, Digby wrote of Taylor:3
I most sincerely wish he had never come with his riches to disturb the peace of the town of Wells, and then we might probably have got one of the family in quietly for a good while. If none of my brothers stood one of your children or Lord Ilchester’s might have had it at a moderate expense as I have, viz. £700 at the general election, but I fear Taylor’s name has already raised the expectation of the lower sort of voters.
The Dean was not anxious to put forward Stephen Fox, who was under age, and the Tudways had already committed themselves to ‘a very rich candidate in order to keep out Peter Taylor’.4 At length Digby joined with Tudway and the Dean in promoting Robert Child. Lord Holland tried to remain neutral, but was eventually forced into a complete breach with Taylor.
In the fierce pamphlet war that followed, Child was attacked as a stranger, and the Tudways were accused of wishing to command both seats. It says much for the strength of their interest that such arguments did not prevail. Two polls were taken. Robert Paris Taylor, son of Peter Taylor, received the writ in his capacity of sheriff of the county, and conducted a poll which returned his father. Robert Tudway, mayor and returning officer, conducted another poll which returned Child. The House of Commons rejected Taylor’s return, and declared Child duly elected.
Taylor tried again in 1768. Since the last election the Tudways had used their control of the corporation to enfranchise a great many honorary freemen, and Taylor was again defeated. He petitioned, contending that only members of the seven city companies could be created freemen, but the Commons refused to hear evidence on this point; and Taylor withdrew his petition.
The hold of the Tudway family on at least one of the seats was now firmly established. Tudway and Child were returned without opposition in 1774. In 1780 they were opposed by George Lovell, a local barrister, but won with ease. A more serious challenge came at the by-election of 1782 from Thomas Coward, whose family had frequently represented Wells in the early part of the century. Coward maintained the exclusive right of the resident freemen; and after an expensive contest only narrowly failed.
Tudway held his seat at Wells until his death in 1815, when he was succeeded by his nephew.