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 freemen and freeholders

Number of voters:

about 3,000


(1801): 36,854


18 June 1790HON. HENRY HOBART1492
 Sir Thomas Beevor, Bt.656
12 July 1794 WINDHAM re-elected after vacating his seat1236
 James Mingay700
25 May 1796HON. HENRY HOBART1622
 Bartlett Gurney1076
27 May 1799 JOHN FRERE vice Hobart, deceased1345
 Robert Fellowes1186
5 July 1802ROBERT FELLOWES1532
 William Windham1356
 John Frere1328
4 Nov. 1806JOHN PATTESON1733
 William Smith1333
4 May 1807JOHN PATTESON1474
 Robert Fellowes546
7 Oct. 1812WILLIAM SMITH1544
 John Patteson1221
18 June 1818WILLIAM SMITH2089
 Hon. Edward Harbord1475

Main Article

Municipal politics continued to play an important part in Norwich parliamentary elections1 and at times candidates for the corporation spent not much less than parliamentary candidates (about £4,000).2 The rivalry between the conservative Orange and Purple party in the corporation and the weaker Blue and White opposition party, which found social expression in rival clubs and had religious undertones, thanks to the attachment of the strong element of dissenters in the city to the Blue and Whites, was however exacerbated by national issues more than ever before. At a time when the Norwich worsted industry was beginning to decline and depended on its export trade, the war with France meant economic depression for the weaver population, and in a constituency where craftsmen formed half the electorate, stimulated the growth of radicalism; when Windham, the Whig Member, reacted strongly against this and joined the government, he brought national issues into the elections of 1794, 1796 and 1802 and cut across the partisan loyalties of his constituents. After 1802, when peace brought a revival of trade, municipal issues again came to the fore and the bogey of ‘Jacobinism’ raised by the Whig victory in 1802 was exorcised in 1806 by the conservative Patteson, wearing his aldermanic gown and accusing his opponents of neglecting the interests of Norwich. Divisions among the Orange and Purple party and their inability to agree on their candidate ensured the Whig victory in 1818 in a more obvious way than the revival of Whig politics.

The election of 1790 was the quietest in this period, after four contests in the 1780s and regular municipal contests since 1782. It was an unequal contest in which Sir Thomas Beevor, who had twice challenged Henry Hobart, the ministerialist Member elected in 1787, in by-elections in which he was supported by the Blue and White friends of the other Member, Windham, contested Norwich for the fourth and last time. Having been dragged in from Hethel after the other two had canvassed, owing to ‘a supposed but disavowed coalition’ of their interests, he fared worse than ever.3 Between 1791 and 1797 the growth of radical societies, inspired by dissenting intellectuals and assisted by the weavers’ distress, added a new dimension to Norwich politics, and when Windham led a crusade against them and accepted office in July 1794, there was a lively by-election. The leader of the Blue and Whites, Bartlett Gurney (d.1803) a member of the Quaker banking family, who had presented an address to Fox congratulating him on his pacifism in 1793, was invited to oppose Windham; but shied away from it, as did Alderman Jeremiah Ives. James Mingay*, the Whig barrister who had clashed with Windham at the county meeting in April, was nominated in absentia the day before the election: he was in fact ineligible, but the dissenters voted for him to a man, including nearly nine-tenths of the weavers who polled. Windham relied on alarmist and corporation support and those of his Whig friends who were prepared to adhere to him and he succeeded easily, though he was roughly treated by the mob.4

Windham was more strongly challenged in 1796 when, after Mingay and Sir Thomas Beevor (who had joined the alarmists) had declined,5 Bartlett Gurney, who had been a ‘subordinate defender’ at the treason trials, opposed him and, to quote Windham, ‘by his residence here, and situation in life, by his numerous private friends and connexions and by the influence of a family long established and respected in this city could not fail to draw to himself an extensive and powerful support’. So it was, for although Gurney preferred to absent himself, he was a professed opponent of the war with France as the cause of economic depression and had, as he afterwards claimed, ‘a very considerable majority’ among the resident voters. It was the London and country voters who saved the day for Windham. Despite his having taken the precaution of issuing a joint address with Hobart, whose family connexion with Norwich was an old one, he was left far behind his colleague on the poll. He also had the dubious distinction of being abused by the radical Thelwall, who had come to Norwich to hinder his election and, if possible, stand as a candidate, but, not being qualified, merely made a nuisance of himself.6

After the election of 1796, Norwich radicalism was less vociferous; its focus, the Patriotic Society formed in 1795, which addressed the inhabitants as ‘manly opposers of a profligate administration’ in August 1797, was countered by an armed loyal association, encouraged by the merchant and banking family of Harvey, leaders of the Orange and Purple party on the corporation, and by Alderman John Patteson.7 Municipal elections were still fiercely contested, but this party strengthened its position by a more vigorous exclusion of dissenters from municipal activities. In the autumn of 1798, when Henry Hobart became very ill, Robert Fellowes of Shotesham, whose family was well known in Norwich and who had been mentioned as a possible candidate in 1784, was thought to be ambitious to come forward. He had in April 1797 moved the county address for the dismissal of ministers. Windham, anxious that the Orange and Purple party should agree on a successor to Hobart, could think of many possible candidates—John Frere of Roydon, an anti-Jacobin acceptable to the county, William Assheton Harbord, Mr Bulmer, Thomas Hare, Brampton Gurdon Dillingham, who offered for the county in 1796, Mr Woodward of Bungay, Smith of Tipcroft, Custance, Sir Thomas Durand, Brograve, Sir Edward Berry—or, if a candidate ‘within the walls’ were to be set up, which he disliked, as ‘citizen’ candidates would not please the ‘county’ interest, Robert Harvey junior: but he added that jealousy of Harvey’s ambition among his own party would probably lessen his chances. To make matters worse Harvey, though disinclined to stand, could not make up his mind to give up the opportunity: he finally did so. Windham had the satisfaction of seeing Frere adopted, and succeed, with strong backing from the country vote, in a contest which he had evidently not anticipated, against Fellowes, despite all the Gurneys could do for the latter,8 the only candidate in this period to be swamped by the outvoters.

Fellowes was known in the autumn of 1801 to be returning to the fray at the next election; the mayor, Alderman Jeremiah Ives, was expected to join forces with him,9 but the Blue and Whites needed a stronger candidate to withstand a probable coalition of Windham and Frere. Frere had neglected his interest, and Windham himself, as the leading spokesman against the peace of Amiens, which was expected to revive the trade of the city, was vulnerable. There was some disillusionment with the peace in the city, but it was thought that Windham might ‘still pay for his speech’. Alderman John Patteson, who took this view, had been approached by the Gurneys with an offer of support if he stood as a candidate acceptable to both sides, in order to displace Frere, but he already had the promise of a seat elsewhere and suggested the recorder Charles Harvey instead. Windham knew Frere was a weak colleague, but was opposed to abandoning him in favour of Harvey, although Frere professed, perhaps bluffingly, his willingness to retire. In any case, the Harveys would not risk the expense of a contest. No compromise therefore took place. The Blue and Whites found in the dissenting and mercantile pacifist William Smith an ideal candidate to espouse ‘the blessings of peace’ with Fellowes, who was not popular with his own party, owing to ugly stories about malversation of the Norwich hospital funds and to his ‘versatility of character’—well illustrated by his willingness to propose, on the eve of the election, a compromise with Windham, to the prejudice of his running partner Smith, whom Windham and Frere in their joint address had criticized as a stranger to the city. Windham rejected the proposal as ‘highly unconstitutional’ and stood by Frere.10 After the highest poll ever, Windham and Frere, who gained the majority of the country vote, were defeated: ‘a mixed triumph of Jacobinism and money, neither being sufficient alone, nor both together, if the interest on which Frere and I stood, had not like other established powers been lost by its own supineness and confidence’. Windham thus described this sensational débâcle and was inclined to make Pitt the scapegoat, for neglecting his repeated applications to replace the unreliable postmaster by a loyal nominee, which he thought would have been enough to sway the election in his favour.11 Although it was thought that Fellowes and Smith, having offered their voters three guineas a man and four if they were successful, could easily be unseated on petition, Windham and Frere, who had spent about £8,000, of which Windham bore the brunt, were disinclined to spend any more: Windham was provided with a seat elsewhere and had had his fill of Norwich elections.12

By 1806 the situation had changed completely: national issues had receded and Fellowes and Smith were under criticism for their management of the Norwich paving bill. They had the support of the Grenville administration, as well as of Windham and the Whig county interest, but even in coalition they were vulnerable, because of the dissatisfaction ‘within the walls’ of the Orange and Purple party. On behalf of the latter, Robert Harvey junior was interested, but restrained by Windham, and their choice fell on Alderman John Patteson, who, though sitting for Minehead, had been a spokesman in Parliament for Norwich interests. After a preliminary canvass, Patteson was reluctant to stand, but his friends encouraged him with a subscription and, parading in his aldermanic robe, he obtained 1,287 plumpers and headed the poll. Fellowes, who had courted the approval of Patteson’s friends, with their help, beat Smith for the second place.13 The parties appear to have spent about £35,000 on the contest. Smith, who obtained 204 out of 263 London votes, blamed his defeat on his desertion by government; on the unexpectedness of the opposition; and on local issues beyond his control, which led to ‘a sudden clamour for a resident’.14

In 1807 Fellowes disgusted his party by deserting them on their dismissal from power and was rebuffed by Patteson when he tried to coalesce with him. Smith was thought to be contesting Bridport and Windham’s agent Amyot hoped that this might provide an opening for his employer, who was without a seat, but he was disappointed: Smith was fetched back to Norwich and with 841 plumpers turned the tables on Fellowes, gaining twice as many votes as he for second place.15 ‘Never’, commented the Morning Chronicle, ‘did punishment more rapidly or more justly follow political delinquency than on the present occasion.’

In 1812, when Smith stood alone on the Blue and White side, the contest was due to a squabble on the Orange and Purple side. The year before, Smith had thought little of his prospects unless the Regent offered power to the Whigs. Fellowes could not afford another contest, but the Harveys, with Windham’s restraining influence gone, saw no reason why Patteson should monopolize their representation. In 1807 Charles Harvey the recorder had been prepared to stand; in 1812 he came forward. Relations between Patteson and his family had been made worse by a quarrel over militia affairs and Harvey was more moderate in his politics than Patteson and prepared to stand singly. In the event they coalesced, which ensured the defeat of one of them. Harvey was returned, but refused to take part in the traditional chairing procession because Smith, who headed the poll and received 1,298 plumpers, was given precedence.16

Harvey thought it prudent to retire in 1818 and the Orange and Purple party were at a loss for a candidate. The Blue and Whites were in a strong position: economic distress had led to riots in May 1816 and agitation for parliamentary reform in October, accompanied by the revival of reform clubs. They were successful in the municipal elections in the spring of 1818. A creation of new freemen ensued. They put up a second candidate with irresistible local influence, Gurney, and the formula of ‘Jacobinism and money’ again worked. The Orange and Purple candidate, Edward Harbord, was an unexceptionable representative of the county interest, but he came too late, and, despite a subscription, too short of funds to succeed.17 When he displeased his party by sympathizing with the Peterloo meeting of 1819, he was dropped by them, and in the absence of a replacement enabled the Blue and Whites to carry the first uncontested election since 1774.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. B. D. Hayes ‘Pols. in Norf. 1750-1832’ (Camb. Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1957), 55, 234. The freeholder vote, much of it in the ‘country’, constituted about one-fifth of the electorate.
  • 2. Ibid. 432; Add. 37885, f. 10.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/164, f. 161; Norf. RO, Colman Lib. mss 37, ‘Norwich 1788 to 1795’; T. Amyot, Speeches of W. Windham, i. 28; NLS mss 11140, f. 141.
  • 4. Norf. Chron. 15 June 1793, 12, 19 July 1794; Add. 37908, ff. 62-103; Portland mss PwF9536; Cozens-Hardy, Mayors of Norwich, 132; Colman Lib. mss loc. cit.
  • 5. True Briton, 24 May 1796; Add. 37908, f. 177.
  • 6. True Briton, 28, 31 May, 25 June 1796; Add. 37908, ff. 63, 104-280; The Poll 1796; W. H. Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank, 112-114; HMC Kenyon, 544; Colman Lib. mss 17, ‘Events in Norfolk and Norwich 1795-7’.
  • 7. Morning Chron. 22 Aug. 1797; Colman Lib. mss 27.
  • 8. Norwich Mercury 29 Apr. 1797; Colman Lib. mss 632, ff. 16-21; Frere mss, Frere to his wife and son, 14-28 May 1799.
  • 9. The Times, 30 Oct. 1801; Ipswich Jnl. 1 May 1802.
  • 10. Bucks. RO, Hobart mss H95-98; Fitzwilliam mss, box 60, Laurence to Fitzwilliam, 24 Feb. 1802; Colman Lib. mss 632, f. 31; The Poll 1802, pp. vi-xii; Norwich Mercury, 29 May, 12, 19, 26 June, 3, 10, 17 July 1802; HMC Fortescue, vii. 97, 99; The Times, 8, 16 July 1802.
  • 11. Add. 41854, f. 315; Kent AO, Stanhope, mss 731/9; (for Windham’s applications, Windham Diary, 368; Add. 37884, ff. 187, 247, 250, 253; and Stanhope mss 761/2); The Times, 19 July 1802.
  • 12. Bucks RO, Hobart mss H99, 100; Add. 37885, f. 10.
  • 13. The Poll 1806 pp. v-xvi. 95-97; Add. 37884, ff. 205, 209, 212, 216; 379089 f. 313; 51573, Smith to Lady Holland, 29 Oct. [1806]; HMC Fortescue, viii. 398, 418; Fortescue mss, Mrs Atkyns to Grenville, 8, 28 Oct. 1806.
  • 14. Add. 37906, f. 16; Grey mss, Smith to Howick, 29 Oct. 1806.
  • 15. Add. 51573, Smith to Lady Holland [4 May 1807]; The Poll 1807, pp. 1-9; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1808), 445-6; Norf. Chron. 2, 9 May; Bury and Norwich Post, 16 May; Colman mss 632, ff. 40-44; Morning Chron. 7 May 1807.
  • 16. Blair Adam mss, Smith to Adam, 6 Aug. 1811; Bidwell, 145; The Poll 1812, pp. 3-12.
  • 17. Bacon, Mem. Baron Suffield, 55-56; Norf. Chron. 30 May, 6 June; Fitzwilliam mss, box 92, Maltby to Milton, 19 June; Norwich Mercury, 20 June 1818.