Double Member County

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

Number of voters:

about 2,000


25 Apr. 1754Sir George Dalston 
 John Dalston 
14 June 1759Robert Lowther vice John Dalston, deceased51
 Henry Fletcher 113
 Sir Philip Musgrave9
16 Apr. 1761Sir James Lowther1169
 John Upton1005
 Edward Wilson979
3 Mar. 1763Robert Lowther vice Sir James Lowther, vacated his seat 
5 Jan. 1764John Robinson vice Robert Lowther, vacated his seat 
7 Apr. 1768John Robinson1126
 Thomas Fenwick981
 John Upton900
13 Oct. 1774Sir James Lowther1102
 Sir Michael le Fleming1063
 Thomas Fenwick853
7 Dec. 1775James Lowther vice Sir James Lowther, chose to sit for Cumberland 
5 Oct. 1780Sir Michael le Fleming 
 James Lowther 
15 Apr. 1784Sir Michael le Fleming 
 James Lowther 

Main Article

Oldfield wrote about Westmorland in 1792:

This small county is as much under the command of an individual as the most rotten borough in the kingdom. The great estates which the Earl of Lonsdale possesses are sufficient to procure a passive obedience to the dictatorial authority of his Lordship.

Electorally Westmorland was one of the smallest counties in England, and approached nearer than any other to being controlled by one man. Sir James Lowther’s interest in Westmorland was even greater than in Cumberland (in 1767 he claimed that he could control directly the votes of 800 freeholders), and there was no one prepared to act as the centre of resistance against him. Lord Thanet, hereditary sheriff of Westmorland, was the only landowner qualified to play such a part; but Thanet was more concerned with maintaining his interest at Appleby, and usually only intervened in the county to protect himself in the borough. Lord Suffolk and the Wilsons of Dallam Tower also carried weight; but neither could challenge Lowther.

Westmorland did not succumb to Lowther without a struggle. At the general election of 1754 one Member recommended by Lowther and one by Thanet were returned, but Lowther was determined at the first opportunity to secure the second seat. His chance came in 1759 when John Dalston, Thanet’s friend, died; and Lowther put forward his younger brother Robert, who was under age and absent on the grand tour. At that time relations between Lowther and Thanet were bad, and Thanet tried to find a candidate for Westmorland. Failing, he put up two men of straw who were to poll only a handful of votes, but who could petition against Robert Lowther. No petition, however, was put forward.

In 1761 Edward Wilson offered himself ‘to support the independency of the county’, backed by many of Thanet’s friends but not apparently by Thanet himself. Robert Lowther was still absent and under age, and Sir James decided to stand himself. With him stood John Upton, a country gentleman; and votes were solicited for Lowther and Upton jointly. The number given for Wilson justified Lowther’s decision to stand, and indicated that his interest was by no means as secure as he could have wished.

The contest of 1768 had its origins in the disputes in Cumberland. Lowther, with contests on his hands in Cumberland and Carlisle, was prepared to accept a compromise in Westmorland; and offered to give his interest to a friend of Lord Suffolk, if Suffolk could secure for him the Egremont interest in Cumberland.2 But Suffolk was engaged to Portland for the Egremont interest, and negotiations broke down. Portland and Thanet, far from wanting a compromise, were anxious ‘to effect a powerful diversion in Westmorland’;3 but could not find a suitable candidate, Wilson being unwilling to stand again.

On 25 Feb. 1768 John Robinson and Upton issued a joint address and began their canvass. On 8 Mar. Robinson wrote to Jenkinson:4

The joint success of Mr. Upton and myself [is] sufficient I think with what we shall assuredly meet with in the good parts we shall come to (having first attacked our enemy’s quarters) to secure our election, though indeed we have lately received many agreeable accounts that confirm our hopes there will be no opposition.

But on 28 Mar. Thomas Fenwick, financed by the Portland and anti-Lowther party in Carlisle, declared himself a candidate.

It seemed impossible that Fenwick should succeed. He had announced his candidature only ten days before the election and had left himself insufficient time to canvass the county (which had been thoroughly canvassed by his opponents)—indeed, it is probable that many freeholders did not realize until almost the day of the poll that there was to be a contest. In addition he was deprived of the Thanet interest; for Thanet had now reached an agreement with Lowther over Appleby and had promised to be neutral in Westmorland.

After six days’ polling the figures were: Robinson 1005; Upton 808; Fenwick 698. But the wards where Lowther was strongest were almost polled out; which was by no means true of Kendal ward, where Fenwick’s main interest lay. Kendal ward was furthest away from Appleby (where the election was held), and as more of its freeholders came in, Fenwick began to overtake Upton. At the end of the seventh day he was only 49 behind; the next day he was 47 ahead; and on the last day he increased his lead still further.

On 16 Apr. Henry Brougham wrote to Portland:5

I have just had the pleasure, and great it was, of seeing Mr. Fenwick chaired. There cannot be a more convincing proof of the enmity this county bears to Sir James Lowther than its being able to carry an election by a candidate just starting at the post, himself by no means a favourite in the country, and labouring under many disadvantages.

Undoubtedly this enmity was the main reason for Fenwick’s success, but there were other contributory factors. Although Thanet was neutral, his deputy in the office of sheriff of Westmorland allowed many dubious votes for Fenwick and rejected some for Robinson and Upton which they contended were good. More important was Upton’s failure to secure a fair proportion of the split votes: only 63 voted for Fenwick and Upton as against 260 for Fenwick and Robinson. Lowther had made a great mistake in not standing himself.

As the general election of 1774 approached it became clear that the county was to be contested for the third successive time, and Lowther early took steps to reverse the decision of 1768. In June 1773 he published an advertisement in the Belfast newspapers inviting 600 Irishmen and their families to settle on his Westmorland estates, and offering them a house and garden rent free for three lives. James Wallace wrote to Portland, 26 July 1773:

The time of the invitation, above a year before the general election, and the terms of leasing for three lives which vests a freehold interest, demonstrate the purpose of creating votes, but the scheme indicates a distempered brain, for surely the freeholders who are disposed to him will revolt at the idea of receiving into their corps such detestable succours.

In addition the Irish did not respond, and nothing came of the plan.

There was no need for Lowther to adopt such measures: his natural interest was sufficiently strong to carry both Members, provided he chose good candidates and did not go out of his way to offend the freeholders. In 1774 he stood himself with Sir Michael le Fleming, a popular candidate, as his partner. Fenwick was supported by neither the enthusiasm nor the cash which he had received in 1768, and had made himself unpopular in the county. His defeat was decisive. For the remainder of this period the Lowther family carried both seats for Westmorland without a contest.

Author: John Brooke


B. Bonsall, Sir Jas. Lowther and Cumb. and Westmld. Elections, 1754-75 .

  • 1. This was Henry Fletcher of Hutton-in-the-Forest (who never sat in Parliament), not Henry Fletcher of Clea Hall (q.v.).
  • 2. Thomas Whately to Geo. Grenville, 2 Aug. 1767, Grenville mss (JM).
  • 3. Portland to Newcastle, 20 Oct. 1767, Add. 32986, f. 59.
  • 4. Add. 38457, f. 212.
  • 5. Portland mss.