Bishop's Castle


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the resident freemen

Number of voters:

about 170


(1801): 1,313


19 June 1790WILLIAM CLIVE 
19 July 1794 STRACHEY re-elected after appointment to office 
12 July 1802WILLIAM CLIVE85
 Richard Bateman Robson59
 John Charlton Kinchant44
31 Oct. 1806WILLIAM CLIVE 
19 June 1818WILLIAM CLIVE106
 Hon. Douglas James William Kinnaird64
 Sir William Francis Eliott, Bt.57
10 July 1819 HON. DOUGLAS JAMES WILLIAM KINNAIRD vice Robinson, deceased87
 George Arthur Annesley, Visct. Valentia83

Main Article

Bishop’s Castle was the only pocket borough in Shropshire where the patron’s hold was effectively challenged and, briefly, undermined in this period. Since 1768 it had been in the pocket of the Clive family, the principal proprietors in the borough; and the Treasury classed it as a ‘close’ borough in 1795 (though not in 1788). In 1790 Edward, Lord Clive* again returned his uncle and former mentor, William Clive of Styche, with Henry Strachey, another old friend and connexion of the family. This arrangement was not challenged until 1802, when Clive was absent in India and there was a general attack on his boroughs.

Early in 1802 a dissident group in the borough led by Samuel and Robert Griffiths (agent to John Charlton Kinchant of Park Hall), Robert Oakeley, Alderman Bird and a curate, Rev. Taylor, agreed ‘to make the most of their franchise as they thought the favours they had received heretofore were not equal to what they deserved’. Taylor was credited with procuring them a candidate in Thomas Clarke of Peplow Hall, high sheriff the year before, ‘lately a slave dealer’ in Liverpool and even more recently winner of £6,000 in the lottery: but the real sponsor was Kinchant, who owned much of the land adjoining the borough and whose father had made it a merit to support the Clive interest, with the reward of situations in India. Clarke offered £1,500 security for the payment of £25 to each supporter: the usual douceur at Bishop’s Castle was 20 guineas. He canvassed on 26 Mar. and alarmed Lord Clive’s managers, his uncle William Clive the Member, his estate agent John Probert of Copthorne and his lawyer Thomas Ryder of Lincoln’s Inn.1 Henry Strachey wrote to Lord Clive, 15 Apr.:

They could not venture to assail both the seats. Therefore I am the stalking horse—and when Mr W. Clive went down, the opposition had got to such a height, that there was no chance of carrying the second seat, unless a near relation of your own should start ... They had a delicacy about my feelings upon the occasion. I had none that should interfere with your interest. My declared opinion was, without hesitation, that I ought to be put out of the question at Bishop’s Castle, for that the securing of the borough to Lord Clive, ought to be the only object. In consequence, Col. Robinson was instantly dispatched, to join your uncle, and I hope they will succeed against Clarke, who is treating away, and holding forth great promises of money. ... I attribute all the mischief to those in the country, who have not kept a sharp look out—otherwise they might have discovered the plot in time to have defeated it and W.C. and I might have gone down months ago, and canvassed the town as usual. The cry of Clarke and his crew is that Lord Clive shall not name both Members. But, of course, they allow you to have your uncle, and not the master of H.M.’s household. As affairs now stand, even if Robinson is carried, your exclusive power in the borough will be considered as sapped, for it is not your own, when you cannot successfully recommend two.

Robinson, Lord Clive’s brother-in-law, joined William Clive on 5 Apr. and Probert began ‘to have a much better opinion of our cause than we had yesterday’. Strachey was given to understand that Robinson was introduced ‘upon the express condition of his relinquishing when required’, that is in his favour; but he did not realize how unpopular he was when he suggested that he should be substituted for Robinson at the dissolution, or that his hope that Lord Clive would return to England before then and put matters right would not be fulfilled.2

At the dissolution Clarke withdrew his candidature: his indiscreet largesse would have ensured a petition against his return. Kinchant turned elsewhere and Richard Bateman Robson*, whose associate in Parliament John Nicholls was thought to be challenging the Clive interest at Ludlow simultaneously, was substituted for Clarke. Kinchant joined him ‘merely to take the second votes of the electors’. The Clive interest won back at least ten electors who had been engaged to Clarke. On the second day of Robson’s canvass, 30 June 1802, a Clive agent reported: ‘we are now enabled to see a little into Mr Robson’s intended ground, which is likely to give much trouble, and render the assistance of counsel more necessary’. Robson had chosen the qualification for residence of the freemen as his ‘intended ground’, but the challenge misfired. Kinchant petitioned, 1 Dec. 1802, alleging partiality, illegal voting, bribery, corruption and intimidation by Clive tenants ‘armed with bludgeons’.3 This petition was given up and rejected as frivolous, 13 May 1803. Thomas Jones reported, 18 Apr. 1804, that the sitting Members ‘bought off Kinchant with the means to return to India, which he has since done’.4 But a group of burgesses supporting Robson tried to promote another petition, against a ‘system of corrupt management’ in the borough, and to get opposition ‘to bring Bishop’s Castle before the House’. They also fostered actions for bribery. While this caused considerable embarrassment to the Clives, who contemplated counteraction, in November 1803, as they wished to make ‘certain payments’ to secure their interest at the next election, by July 1804 nothing had transpired and, with the return of Lord Clive from India, the borough calmed down.5

In 1806 opposition was ineffective. A Clive agent reported, 24 Nov.:6

A brother of Lord Anson and the elder son of Sir [William] Wolseley [Charles Wolseley7] with their counsellor actually arrived at Bishop’s Castle very early on the morning of the election—they made a slight attempt at a canvass but found it would not do—they attended the election, then left the town not a little disappointed. Mr Jennings [a local attorney] and two candidates came as far as Worcester on their way to Bishop’s Castle where they were told the election was over the day before. It is clear to me that Robert Oakeley [a leading burgess] kept up a correspondence with Clifford [? a lawyer kinsman of Wolseley’s, Henry Clifford of Tixall] and Jennings separately and disappointed both.

Before the election of 1807, Lady Griselda Tekell wrote to Lord Grenville informing him that her husband had been offered a seat for Bishop’s Castle on advantageous terms by ‘a Mr Jennings a lawyer, who depends partly on a Mr Kinchant’s support’. She asked Lord Grenville what Tekell’s prospects would be if he challenged the Clive interest. Lord Grenville, in reply, said he knew nothing of Bishop’s Castle and, although he had reason to fear that Lord Powis (as Lord Clive now was) disagreed with him politically, he had ‘feelings of personal regard towards Lord Powis which would not permit him to take any steps adverse to his interests’.8 In the event, the challenge came from the same quarter as in 1806: Charles Wolseley, an advanced Whig, and Lord Anson’s brother again canvassed in April, but the Clive agents were confident that ‘in point of numbers, we have at least eight to one’, though they feared that the Whigs would ‘stand a poll and expose the secrets of the borough’. The fear proved groundless, but intrigue continued: in November 1807 the town clerk, abetted by Robert Oakeley obtained leave in common hall to keep possession of the borough charter, which he had kept from the bailiff on the eve of the preceding election. The Clive agents observed that he was supported not only by ‘the former rebels’, but also by ‘some of our firmest friends’, and that Wolseley and Anson were hovering nearby ‘under pretence of ... shooting, but doubtless with the intention ... to blow up the flame and take every advantage’. The mode of payment to Clive supporters again presented a tricky problem.9

Yet there was no opposition in 1812, and in 1818 it came from a different quarter. On 8 Jan. 1818 some ‘free and independent burgesses’ of the borough met and resolved to emancipate themselves by sending to Parliament ‘one man of their own choice, unconnected with any great neighbouring family’. As a sop to the patron, they fully acquitted themselves ‘of all obligations to the family of Clive by returning for the other seat one of its nominees’. Their candidate was Douglas Kinnaird, a radical banker who was also a prospective candidate for Westminster and who in January 1818 canvassed the borough, assisted by (Sir) Francis Burdett*. Indeed it was Burdett who named Kinnaird, for on 13 Jan. the same group of burgesses met at the Guildhall and in his presence thanked him for enabling them by ‘his virtuous example and his assistance ... to throw off the yoke of an overgrown family, whose interest and endeavour it has long been to contract our rights and to make our privileges subservient to their selfish aggrandizement’. Kinnaird sought the help of John Charlton Kinchant, asking him to ‘favour this borough with a visit’ in company with Kinnaird’s friend John Cam Hobhouse, on the grounds that Kinchant’s presence ‘may turn the election, which is now too near-run to make me at ease’. Kinnaird was strongly backed by Francis Kinchant, of the same family. Brougham reported that Kinnaird

won’t allow one to whisper a doubt of the purity and independence of the place or the certainty of his return, says it is no more a close borough than Westminster, describes the voters crying and performing all manner of scenes etc. What is very strange is that I know some very long headed people quite connected with him and even hostile to him who say the same thing.10

On 9 June Joseph Hume*, who had heard from Kinnaird that a second candidate would be nearly certain to succeed and had addressed and canvassed the borough, considering himself pledged ‘to go to the poll or provide a substitute’, announced that he had arranged for Sir William Eliot, 7th Bt., of Stobbs to step into his shoes. Eliot joined Kinnaird, 13 June, but they were defeated. Eighteen votes for them were rejected. In their farewell address they anticipated the emancipation of Bishop’s Castle from ‘a borough-mongering family’ and announced a petition, which did not materialize.11 On the death of Col. Robinson in 1819, Kinnaird returned to the fray and reported, 4 July: ‘I have a clear majority, and nothing but the roguery of the returning officer can prevent me from getting the return’. He narrowly defeated Lord Valentia (George Arthur Annesley), who stood on the Clive interest; the latter prepared a petition, but the dissolution prevented its being heard.12 In 1820 there was a tie, but the Clive candidates were seated on petition, after a redefinition of the right of election, and the Clive hold was re-established.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Salop RO, Powis mss, case of Bishop’s Castle election for counsel’s opinion, Nov. 1803; Heber Letters, 118; Salopian Jnl. 7 Apr. 1802; NLW, Powis Castle mss 5242-6, 5257, 5265, 5306.
  • 2. Powis Castle mss (Clive collection) 556, 561.
  • 3. Powis Castle mss 5247, 5249; Salop RO, Powis mss, loc. cit.; CJ, lviii. 41, 409. Two poll books in the Bishop’s Castle corpn. mss (ex inf. Dr J. F. A. Mason) give variant poll figures, namely 84, 76, 50 and 45; and 84, 71, 57 and 47.
  • 4. India Office Lib. mss Eur G37/71; Powis Castle mss 5511. J. C. Kinchant had a younger brother Richard (d. 1809) who was political agent to the E.I. Co. at Pondicherry. On Kinchant see Gent. Mag. (1832), i. 185.
  • 5. Powis Castle mss 5316, 5511, 5515-19, 5528-9, 5531-8; Salop RO, Powis mss, loc. cit.
  • 6. Powis Castle mss 5627.
  • 7. DNB .
  • 8. Fortescue mss, Lady G. Tekell to Grenville, 26 Apr., reply 27 Apr. 1807.
  • 9. Powis Castle mss 5649, 5684, 5686.
  • 10. Salopian Jnl. 7 Jan. 1818; Bishop’s Castle corpn. mss; Add. 36457, ff. 44-46; 51565, Brougham to Lady Holland, n.d. [1818].
  • 11. Add. 36457, f. 42; Bishop’s Castle mss, addresses, 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 14; Shrewsbury Chron. 26 June 1818.
  • 12. Add. 36457, f. 316; CJ, lxxv. 181, 316.