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 freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

7 at most


(1801): 40


17 June 1790JOHN NESBITT 
30 May 1796JOHN PETRIE 
1 Nov. 1796 JOHN HEATHCOTE vice Heathcote, chose to sit for Lincolnshire 
19 Apr. 1799 WALTER STIRLING vice Heathcote, vacated his seat 
29 Apr. 1800 JAMES DU PRÉ vice Petrie, vacated his seat 
5 July 1802MARK WOOD I 
24 Jan. 1803 PHILIP DUNDAS vice Dashwood, vacated his seat1
 Joseph Clayton Jennings 0
22 Apr. 1805 WILLIAM GARROW vice Dundas, vacated his seat 
4 Nov. 1806MARK WOOD I 
8 May 1807MARK WOOD I 
5 Oct. 1812(SIR) MARK WOOD I, Bt. 
15 June 1816 MARK WOOD II vice Congreve, vacated his seat 

Main Article

Between 1786 and 1800 the close borough of Gatton changed hands several times. Sir William Mayne, 1st Baron Newhaven, started the ball rolling in 1786. In 1788, when Samuel Whitbread I* was interested, the land was valued at £36,000, doubled by the ‘peculiar rights annexed to it’ and, with the advowson and houses, the asking price was £86,000. In 1789 George Graham* of Kinross, Newhaven’s step-nephew, sold Lower Gatton to Robert Ladbroke* the London banker for £74,000, after John, 11th Earl of Caithness, had contracted to pay £80,000 for the 2,000 acre estate on an income of £700 a year and promptly committed suicide. At the same time William Currie, another London banker, bought the adjoining Upper Gatton, which had been on the market since the death of Rev. John Tattersall. In 1790 Ladbroke nominated Nesbitt and concurred in Currie’s return. Ladbroke and Currie came to an understanding, and in February 1796 the nabob John Petrie contracted the purchase of the whole estate from Ladbroke for £110,000, reserving £50,000 to meet government claims on the estate of Sir George Colebrooke, a past proprietor. Ladbroke had refused an offer from Robert Smith* to exchange Gatton for his borough of Midhurst.1

Petrie remained proprietor of Gatton for four years only. On his failure in 1800 it was again offered for sale. James Christie, the auctioneer, ‘descanted with uncommon feeling on the virtue of a key belonging to the borough, which opened the doors of St. Stephen’s chapel and the gates of paradise’. Sir Henry Vane Tempest* bid 37,000 guineas and William Moffat* £39,000, but Moffat relinquished. In 1801 Petrie sold Upper and Lower Gatton to Mark Wood I, another nabob, for £90,000. Wood remained proprietor for the rest of this period. According to Farington:

The voters are limited to the parish of Gatton, and there are only seven tenants in the parish, and to them only is the privilege of voting confined ... [Wood] does not let what is tenanted at, on an average, more than 30 shillings an acre. It is remarkable that the tenants have been incorruptible to bribery, though attempted with large offers, such as £500 each. The same families have for a considerable time continued upon the farms, from father to son. They all hold the estates from year to year.

According to Oldfield, Wood was the sole freeholder, occupied one house and let the six others by the week.2

In 1802 Wood returned himself and his brother-in-law Dashwood, as a security against their failure at Shaftesbury, where he was also borough-mongering. They were defeated there. ‘At the particular desire of Mr Pitt and Mr Dundas’, Dashwood vacated to bring in Dundas’s nephew, who encountered unwelcome opposition. Joseph Clayton Jennings, a barrister and reformer, arrived on the scene with Messrs Cartwright, Clifford and Thomas Holt White, known radicals, as his accomplices. The one vote they secured was rejected by Dashwood, acting as Wood’s constable. Philip Dundas informed his uncle a year later that he would rather sit for a Scots borough than Gatton as Wood ‘did not show me any indulgence, which perhaps he might not ... have informed you of’, meaning as to expense. Dundas, however, had warned his protégé William Huskisson in 1802, with reference to Gatton, not to touch what he could not afford.3 When Philip Dundas went off to India in 1805, the seat was believed to be at Pitt’s disposal. Wood ‘brought in Mr Garrow to defend ... Lord Melville, without one sixpence of expense’. In 1806, as Wood later recalled, he brought in his brother and himself ‘at the particular desire of Lord Melville ... for the purpose of waiting possible events. By this I sacrificed 10,000 guineas which Mr Ladbroke (an opposition Member) strongly pressed upon me to accept of.’ He had in fact offered the seats to Lord Grenville.4 In 1807 Wood’s colleague Greenough was recommended by the prime minister, the Duke of Portland, Melville having (in Wood’s view) no eligible nominee to commend.5

In 1812 Wood returned the Prince Regent’s friend Congreve, excusing himself to Lord Sidmouth, who pressed Lord Ellenborough’s son Edward Law on him, by reference to a promise to the Regent and the uncertainty of Law’s politics: Greenough’s conduct had alerted him to this danger. He was prepared to return Law only if guaranteed another seat for himself, at no expense. In 1813 Wood denied the rumour that he was going to sell Gatton—it was Shaftesbury that he was selling—and pointed out that he had entailed the estate on his heir, who in 1816 joined him as Member.6 Oldfield’s garbled story of an opposition to young Wood from his father’s butler ‘Jennings’ has not been confirmed and looks like a travesty of the contest of 1803.7 Father and son retired in 1818, when Wood returned Fleming and Dottin ‘under a clear understanding that both these gentlemen were friendly to government’.8

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 138; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 227; VCH Surr. iii. 198; Whitbread mss W1/1807, 1808, 1810; PRO 30/29/4/6, f. 839; Camden mss C260, Smith to Camden, 15(? or 25) Oct. 1795.
  • 2. The Times, 18 Apr. 1800, 6 Aug. 1801; Farington, ii. 94; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iv. 602.
  • 3. Morning Chron. 26 Jan.; The Times, 27 Jan. 1803; SRO GD51/1/198/21/25; Add. 38737, f. 12.
  • 4. PRO, Dacres Adams mss 6/41; Add. 38368, f. 206; HMC Fortescue, viii. 401-3.
  • 5. NLS, Melville mss (Acc. 6409), Wood to Melville, 3 May 1807.
  • 6. Sidmouth mss, Wood to Sidmouth, 2 Oct. 1812; Geo. IV Letters, i. 164-5, 168, 350.
  • 7. Oldfield, Key (1820), 38. Joseph Clayton Jennings proceeded to Demerara as attorney-general in 1815 (Morning Chron. 6 June 1815).
  • 8. Add. 38368, f. 206.