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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

about 600


(1801): 3,019


21 June 1790JOHN HUNTER303
 Richard Beckford235
 BECKFORD vice Sawyer, on petition, 28 Mar. 1791 
30 May 1796JOHN HUNTER462
 Robert Biddulph290
14 June 1797 WILLIAM TAYLOR I vice Hunter, vacated his seat328
 Sir Henry Tempest, Bt.184
7 July 1802JOHN LUBBOCK498
 William Taylor I281
31 Jan. 1806 HON. WILLIAM LAMB vice Kinnaird, called to the Upper House 
1 Nov. 1806(SIR) JOHN LUBBOCK, Bt. 
6 May 1807(SIR) JOHN LUBBOCK, Bt. 
 John Chambre Brabazon, Earl of Meath [I]131
25 June 1818(SIR) JOHN WILLIAM LUBBOCK, Bt.493
 John Harcourt200
 HARCOURT vice Cuningham Fairlie, on petition, 15 Feb. 1819 

Main Article

Leominster had been thrown open by 1784, but neighbouring magnates continued to burn their fingers there until 1802 and the borough teemed with electioneering attorneys. The corporation, which was reluctant ‘to rate any inhabitant who was adverse to their own party’, were chiefly influenced by John Bateman, 2nd Viscount Bateman, high steward until his death in 1802, and Thomas Harley*, recorder since 1780. This interest, friendly to Pitt’s administration, held a Whig candidate at bay in 1784. The Whig magnates were the 11th Duke of Norfolk and Viscount Malden*. When on 19 Feb. 1789 John Sawyer arrived at Leominster to canvass as a replacement for Penn Assheton Curzon*, who intended to sit elsewhere in future, Malden at once warned Norfolk of the move; but later that year he deserted the Whigs and instructed his friends to support Sawyer. Even so, Beckford, Norfolk’s candidate, put up a strong fight against Sawyer at the ensuing election. The returning officer, Rev. George Evans, had been one of Sawyer’s sponsors, and Beckford’s and his friends’ petitions, alleging partiality by Evans, succeeded, the House ruling that those who could prove their rateability were entitled to vote and might seek redress by petition to Parliament if refused.1

Norfolk’s success was marred by Beckford’s subsequent conversion to government and he made no secret of his intention to replace him by ‘a violent opposition man’. Thereupon Malden informed him in February 1796 that he meant to sponsor a friend of his at the next election. Norfolk suggested a ‘joint interest’, which would be at the expense of the veteran sitting Member, the wealthy nabob John Hunter. Malden, however, wished to see ‘two who were friends to the minister’ returned. On 9 Feb. he informed Norfolk’s local agent John Morris that he did not know Hunter ‘and that he should not join him if he could help it, but did not know yet how that would be’. It was then supposed that Malden’s friend was one Digby. An agreement then reached not to canvass without mutual notice of three days was almost at once broken by Morris, who introduced Norfolk’s candidate Robert Biddulph* at Leominster on 15 Feb. Malden did not hold Norfolk responsible, but warned him that he would resist Biddulph ‘with the firmest zeal’. At the end of February he canvassed with his candidate Pollen. On 2 Mar., however, he and Norfolk agreed, through their agents, not to trouble the borough with an unceasing canvass until the next election and not to treat the electors without mutual notice of ten days. Norfolk also agreed to dismiss Morris, if he did not mend his ways. He did not, putting it about that Pollen was retiring and that Malden’s party had violated the treating agreement, while they maintained that he had done so. On 19 Mar. Norfolk disclaimed this, assuring Malden that he would not pay for any treating that had taken place, and he renewed the non-treating agreement with him, but his friends gave an Easter treat. Malden blamed Morris, and the duke, who had declined an invitation to the treat, defended him and asked Malden in his turn to investigate allegations of treating by Malden’s agent. But Malden doubted the duke’s good faith in a letter of 12 Apr. and the same day addressed A narrative of facts to the electors, complaining that Norfolk had himself sought to discredit Pollen and caused printed bills to be distributed inscribed ‘Norfolk and Biddulph, Friends to Peace and Liberty’ and ‘Hunter and Pollen, Friends to War, Famine and Slavery’. Norfolk then challenged Malden to a duel, near Paddington, which was bloodless. Malden thereupon withdrew his allegations. Norfolk promised a presbyterian minister who supported his interest in the borough, ‘I again repeat that I will not desert Leominster till Leominster deserts me’.2

Malden’s candidate defeated Norfolk’s for second place by one vote in 1796. Hunter was secure. He offered 5 guineas each to 402 of the 544 electors who polled, his other 60 supporters being his debtors, men of property or Quakers.3 Hunter and Pollen shared 242 votes compared with 217 for Hunter and Biddulph. Rejected votes numbered 21 for Biddulph and seven for Pollen and were the basis of petitions from Biddulph and his friends. They failed, as Norfolk complained, ‘because some of our voters had received parish relief and some had, despite our injunctions, boasted of receiving money for their votes’.4 Norfolk found some consolation in 1797 when Hunter retired and the ducal protégé ‘Opera’ Taylor, recommended to him by the Prince of Wales, was returned, though not without a contest: he was opposed by Sir Henry Tempest, 4th Bt., of Caldwell, husband of a local heiress, on an ‘independent’ interest. It is clear that Hunter’s interest was not made over entirely to Taylor, for although Thomas Coleman, the town clerk (an attorney and banker) who had been Hunter’s agent, backed Taylor, the other members of the Coleman family voted for Tempest. So did Francis Edwards, Malden’s agent in 1796.5 In March 1800 another contest was anticipated, in which Malden, now Earl of Essex, put up his brother with Pollen against Taylor and Tempest. By the end of 1801 Norfolk learnt that Taylor was ‘become unpopular’. Meanwhile Pollen had gone abroad and nothing came of Essex’s or Tempest’s intentions, though Essex was chosen high steward of the borough. Instead, a new candidate appeared in Lubbock, a London banker, in January 1802. By May, supported by the Coleman clan and afterwards by ‘all the leading interest of the town’, he was thought to be secure, and Taylor’s chances of averting a contest, which he could ill afford, were marred by the appearance of a London banker’s son, Kinnaird, sent down by his father ‘without having the smallest connection in the county’. Norfolk clung to Taylor, but the expense of £3,000 in a vain effort to save his seat fell on Taylor. Of 578 electors who polled, 498 gave Lubbock a vote and 275 gave their second votes to Kinnaird. Taylor, who was ruined, went abroad and an electors’ petition alleging bribery and treating came to nothing.6

After 1802 Norfolk was little more than a spectator. Lubbock reinforced his hold on one seat, which he passed on to his nephew and heir in 1812. The other seat was open to dispute, though William Lamb succeeded Kinnaird by a previous arrangement between them approved by the Whig leader Fox, his father paying 2,000 guineas ‘for the remainder of the term’, in 1806. Robert Wigram II* could not persuade his father to contest the seat with Lamb, though there was a report that Wigram senior was putting up two candidates in 1806.7 There was no contest until 1812. In 1807 Henry Bromley* wished to stand and W. Davies, who claimed to have secured the return of Bonham in 1806 ‘on condition of never voting against the [Grenville] administration in or out of office’, was sure he could secure Bromley as well, if Grenville was not sure of Lubbock’s support; but Bromley withdrew.8 In 1812 Bonham was replaced by another London banker, Harcourt. Of 595 votes cast, Lubbock received 575. The third man, the Earl of Meath, a new member of Brooks’s Club, shared of his 131 votes with Lubbock, and plumpers for him included a consortium of attorneys, Toldervy, Allen and Bayley. Meath did not try again, as anticipated, in 1818, but there was a third man, Cuningham Fairlie. The latter, who shared with Lubbock 303 out of 528 votes cast, defeated Harcourt, but was unseated because of his insufficient property qualifications. He had at first refused the oath after declaring that he had Scottish property and some in Suffolk through his wife; but had taken it after the sham conveyance of local property to him by two of his supporters. This manoeuvre was disclosed to the committee of the House, which, in view of the fact that Harcourt’s counsel had given due notice of Fairlie’s disqualification before the poll commenced, decided in Harcourt’s favour. The case inspired 59 Geo. III c.37 which allowed Scottish property as a qualification for candidature in England and Fairlie regained his seat in 1820.9

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, i. 306; Arundel Castle mss, Malden to Norfolk, 19 Feb. 1789; Blair Adam mss, Douglas to Adam, 4 Aug. 1789; PRO 30/8/146, f. 3; Baldwin’s London Weekly Jnl. 3 July 1790; CJ, xlvi. 18, 353.
  • 2. Arundel Castle mss, Norfolk to Malden, 9 Feb., Morris to Norfolk, 9 Feb., Malden to Norfolk, 18, 20 Feb., 1 Mar., memo 1 May; Malden. A Narrative of Facts (12 Apr.), Leominster 1796; NLW mss 7755; Norfolk to Rev. Llewellyn, 16 Mar., 4 May 1796; Farington Diary (Yale ed.), ii. 537; Salopian Jnl. 4 May 1796.
  • 3. State of the Poll (1796), annotated copy at IHR, London.
  • 4. NLW mss 7755, Norfolk to Llewellyn, 16 Dec. 1796; CJ, lii. 15, 45, 191.
  • 5. State of the Poll (1797); Morning Chron. 17 June 1797.
  • 6. The Times, 19 Mar. 1800, 25 Jan., 6, 23 Mar., 7 July 1802; NLW mss 7755, Norfolk to Llewellyn, 27 Dec. 1801; Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2414; CJ, lviii. 52.
  • 7. NLW mss 7755, Norfolk to Llewellyn jun. 18 Oct. 1805; Windham Diary, 455; Add. 47566, ff. 233, 234; PRO, Dacres Adams mss 7/1; Spencer mss, Spencer to Bedford, 28 Oct. 1806.
  • 8. Fortescue mss, Williams Wynn to Grenville, Wed. [29 Apr.] enc. Davies to Williams Wynn, 29 Apr. 1807.
  • 9. Gloucester Jnl. 4 May 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 167; A List of the Poll (1819); CJ, lxxiv. 20, 127; U. Corbett and E. R. Daniell, Controverted Elections (1821), 1-25.