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 (1792)

Number of voters:

about 700


(1801): 4,604


 Thomas Fletcher281 
 Clement Kynnersley254 
15 Sept. 1792 WILLIAM EGERTON vice Leveson Gower, deceased2842871
 Thomas Fletcher286282
22 Feb. 1793 SIR FRANCIS FORD, Bt., vice Macdonald, appointed to office309 
 Thomas Fletcher253 
 Oliver Beckett247 
 Joseph James242 
 John Fenton Boughey Fletcher311 
 Joseph Minet283 
 Edward Wilbraham Bootle307 
22 July 1815 SIR JOHN CHETWODE, Bt., vice Gower, vacated his seat323 
 Robert John Wilmot307 
 (Sir) John Fenton Boughey, Bt.223 

Main Article

Newcastle was considered to be a close borough of the 1st Marquess of Stafford and was so listed by the Treasury before the elections of 1790 and 1796. He secured it by cultivating the corporation and tradesmen and by letting his property rent free for five, ten or 15 years. But whereas there had been only one contest between 1734 and 1790, there were no less than eight in this period—with a minimum of four days’ polling and of over 500 voters. Nearly a third of the electorate was composed of feltmakers (journeyman hatters), the majority of whom voted against the marquess’s nominees. As the expense mounted, the marquess had to cede one seat in 1812 and the other in 1815, until his influence was revived in 1818 at the cost of £20,000.2

The independent or ‘blue’ party, seeking to prevent Newcastle from becoming ‘the miserable heirloom of the house of Trentham’, challenged the marquess’s brother-in-law and brother in 1790. At their head was Thomas Fletcher of Betley Court who, contrary to advice that he should stand alone, took as running partner Clement Kynnersley of Loxley, who had last opposed the patron in 1774. The marquess’s candidates were sponsored by his younger son Lord Granville Leveson Gower. After ‘a furious contest’, Adm. Leveson Gower defeated Fletcher for second place by two votes. An election parade was banned for fear of riot. A petition against the return alleged bribery and invalid votes. The House decided that it turned on the right of election. The petitioners alleged that it was in the resident freemen who had not been absent for a year and a day since their admission or whose families had not been absent; the sitting Members alleged that it was in resident freemen not receiving alms who had not been absent more than a year and a day. The committee of the House declared that it was merely in the freemen residing in the borough, and the petition failed (21 Mar. 1792). Ironically Fletcher had been told that if he had been content to seek to void the election for treating alone, he might have succeeded, three voters on the other side having died since the election.3

Fletcher returned to the fray on Adm. Leveson Gower’s death in 1792. This time the marquess’s nominee, Egerton, did not have the advantage of Lord Granville Leveson Gower’s presence and succeeded only on a scrutiny, ‘the returning officer being in that gentleman’s interest’. The poll had been stopped while the Dragoons were called in from Manchester to quell supposed riots. The marquess’s daughter-in-law Lady Sutherland wrote to Trentham, where Fletcher was regarded as an ‘upstart’ with nothing but ‘riches’ to commend him, 13 Sept. 1792:

We are extremely provoked and sorry ... to hear of this troublesome factious spirit at Newcastle, and sincerely hope it will like all mauvais tons be crushed very soon ... if it is not, I confess I wish some Duke of Brunswick may come to put Mr Fletcher and his friends au feu et au flamme, and to crack all the earthen vessels in the neighbourhood as I cannot help suspecting Mr Wedgwood and his pots de chambres to be aiding and abetting ... You manage matters very ill to let opposition flourish so much in your neighbourhood ...

Within a few months there was another by-election, but this time Fletcher lost ground at the poll. George Canning, who had thoughts of being the marquess’s candidate, was relieved that he was not: ‘for even without opposition or with very little, it cost £2,000—and in all cases, and at all times, I am told must do so’. Yet all was quiet in 1796.4

Fletcher (who obtained a baronetcy in 1798) faded out but gave his blessing in 1802 to two new challengers, the London wine merchants John Kingston* and Thomas Warre of East Barnet. The marquess, let down by Sir John Edensor Heathcote, who had offered to stand on his interest, put up his son Granville’s friend Wilbraham Bootle again, with Pitt’s nominee, George Smith*. Smith withdrew because his brother Lord Carrington took fright at the expense, but he was replaced by Sir Robert Lawley. Kingston and Warre discovered that they had rendered themselves liable to disqualification for treating and withdrew in favour of Oliver Beckett (also of East Barnet) and the little known Joseph James. The latter were defeated and petitioned separately against the return, alleging bribery and treating and improper interference in the election by the marquess, but in vain.5 In 1806 there was no contest, but a petition alleged that Joseph Minet (a London merchant) was to have been nominated by the ‘blue’ party, but was cheated of the opportunity by irregular proceedings. This petition lapsed, 16 Jan. 1807.6

At the election of 1807 Minet was able to stand with and under the aegis of Boughey Fletcher, Sir Thomas Fletcher’s son. The 2nd Marquess no doubt frightened his tenants into loyalty when he threatened to wash his hands of the borough. Wilbraham Bootle, who had opposed the Grenville ministry stood again, an unblushing anti-Catholic. He was joined, after all, by the marquess’s cousin James Macdonald, who concurred with the marquess in upholding the Grenville ministry. This unhappy compromise succeeded, but only just: Macdonald defeated Boughey Fletcher by a mere three votes for second place. According to the latter’s petition (which failed) the poll was closed prematurely and some of his friends were prevented from voting. Even so, a contemporary analysis of the poll showed that of 622 voters, 262 were tenants of Lord Stafford and, in all, some 400 were ‘operated upon’ by him.7

Wilbraham Bootle’s complacency at the marquess’s predicament in 1807 was requited by his defeat in 1812 (though his fellow Canningite Lord Granville Leveson Gower came to his assistance) when the marquess could secure only the return of his heir, Lord Gower. Sir John Fenton Boughey, the unsuccessful candidate of 1807, received 220 plumpers and shared 116 votes with Gower in a poll of 645, and defeated Bootle for second place. There was ‘a cry raised against Bootle’, and his only hope, that Boughey would ‘cut and run on account of having been detected in committing bribery’, was dashed. Lord Talbot, who anticipated this result, was reported as saying ‘that he thought if Macdonald had stood he wd. have lost it—that Ld. Stafford cd. not convey all his interest to any person but Ld. Gower’.8

In 1815, when Lord Gower transferred to the county seat, Robert John Wilmot was the marquess’s clandestine nominee. He appeared after the supposed Trentham nominee had withdrawn and the corporation backed him, but he hoisted a blue cockade, as a bait to the independent party. The ruse did not work: Boughey was persuaded to produce his father-in-law, Sir John Chetwode, who the year before had actually applied for the marquess’s interest on a vacancy. He gained a startling, if narrow, victory at the poll.9 This humiliation spurred Wilmot and the marquess to rally their forces. Between 1815 and 1818, 202 new freemen were admitted by a pliant corporation. William Shepherd Kinnersley, a leading member of the corporation, who also favoured the restoration of legitimism, joined Wilmot in 1818 under the pink and white colours of Trentham and had no great difficulty in defeating Boughey, who stood alone against them. Closer scrutiny of votes reduced the poll to 523 electors. Boughey gave up on the fourth day, whereupon most of 154 unpolled supporters of his opponents tendered their votes—at the Roebuck inn. Wilmot had ‘a taste for waggery ... unknown to the worthy burgesses of Newcastle under the Trentham and Buffy [sic] dynasties’, but the expense (he himself spent more than 6,000 guineas in 1818) soon proved beyond a joke.10

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Second vote: on scrutiny
  • 2. Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 98; Staffs. RO, Aqualate mss D.1788, p. 2, ‘To the worthy freemen of Newcastle-under-Lyme, the Tradesman’s Points answered’; S. M. Hardy and R. C. Baily, ‘The Downfall of the Gower interest in the Staffs. Boroughs 1800-30’, Colls. Hist. Staffs. (1950-1), 265.
  • 3. Aqualate mss loc. cit., election pprs. 1790; Staffs. RO, Sutherland mss D593/S/16/10, election pprs. 1790-3; Add. 48222, ff. 37, 38; Spencer mss, Mrs Howe to dowager Countess Spencer, 26, 28 June 1790; CJ, xlvi. 28; xlvii. 581.
  • 4. Leveson Gower, i. 51, 54, 55, 122; Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 101; PRO 30/29/5/4, ff. 651, 737, 739; Harewood mss, Canning to Rev. Leigh, 27 Apr. 1793.
  • 5. Aqualate mss, election pprs. 1802; Leveson Gower, i. 284-5; Sutherland mss D868/11/6; Kent AO, Stanhope mss 751/2; CJ, lviii. 45, 49, 62, 112, 461; O. Beckett, A Statement of Facts, 1803.
  • 6. CJ, lxii. 29, 67.
  • 7. Buckingham, Court and Cabinets, iv. 173, 174; Fortescue mss, Macdonald to Grenville, 27 Apr., Stafford to same, 11 May; Grey mss, Lauderdale to Howick, 11 May 1807; Newcastle Pub. Lib. A Copy of the Poll (C. Chester, 1807).
  • 8. Add. 38739, f. 42; 48223, f. 8; Carlisle mss, Ld. to Lady Morpeth, 1 Oct., Lady to Ld. Morpeth 4, 7 Oct. [1812].
  • 9. Aqualate mss D.1788, p. 52, election pprs. 1815; Sutherland mss D.868/11/69, 78; Wedgwood, Staffs. Parl. Hist. (Wm. Salt Arch. Soc.), iii. 40; Staffs. Advertiser, 29 July 1815; Hardy and Baily, 272.
  • 10. Staffs. Advertiser, 27 June 1818; Wedgwood, iii. 44; Letters of Countess Granville, i. 182; Add. 40370, f. 293.