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 140


(1801): 643


16 June 1790JOHN CATOR78
  Double return. FOSTER BARHAM and PORTER declared elected, 22 Feb. 1793 
 James Bulkeley13
8 Apr. 1799 JOHN AGNEW vice Foster Barham, vacated his seat 
10 Jan. 1807 SIR JOHN FLEMING LEICESTER, Bt., vice Foster Barham, chose to sit for Okehampton 

Main Article

Stockbridge had a reputation for venality and no patron had ever succeeded in establishing a lasting interest there. By 1788 the Luttrell interest had vanished and a state of virtual anarchy prevailed. With no patron to manage affairs, direction of the voters was assumed by two of themselves, Christopher Bishop, a plumber and glazier, and one Horner, each of whom had grouped around himself a party of electors. The two coalesced with a combined following of 84 and contact was established with John Cator with whom a satisfactory understanding was reached for the return of two Members. Bishop, however, was not altogether faithful to his ally and, independently of and unknown to Horner, contrived, late in 1788, to obtain £500 from Cator for the ostensible purpose of buying houses in the town in order to strengthen Cator’s interest there. Instead of purchasing houses, Bishop used the money to set himself up in business as a butcher, making regular issues of meat to the Eighty-Four, the style under which the Bishop-Horner party now passed, it being understood that payment need not be made until after the election when each elector would receive his price, which it was anticipated would amount to about £70. Horner, feeling he was being edged out, took himself to Cator in London where he received sufficient reassurance to mollify him for the moment. In the meantime the Eighty-Four were kept happy by regular meetings at the Red Lion where they received free beer and reports from Bishop on developments. In addition, to Bishop’s meat distribution, beer and coals were made available from the New inn on similar terms. By about April 1790 Horner’s dissatisfaction had been excited to the point of trying to organize a breakaway and dispose of the borough to someone else. At a Red Lion meeting he was roundly abused for his pains and shortly afterwards came to satisfactory terms with Cator, whose prospects were thus secured at a total cost of £7,000, less £4,000 which he received from John Scott for the other seat.1

Foster Barham and Porter, who began to dabble in the autumn of 1789 but did not appear at Stockbridge until about March 1790, were too late in the field to offer an effective opposition at the poll but they secured a double return, using their own returning officer. It may be inferred that they were already resolved on a petition once they had suborned enough of the Eighty-Four to muster a convincing body of evidence as to bribery. To secure this and to consolidate their hold on the borough they set about buying up the houses of the voters. By December 1790 they had spent nearly £6,000. Succeeding eventually in getting them all into their possession, they employed a London attorney to manage them and permitted the tenants to live rent free in return for their votes.2 But Foster Barham’s and Porter’s zeal in securing evidence of bribery nearly undid them. On the basis of the disclosures a bill was introduced to merge the borough with the neighbouring hundreds. Happily for the new patrons, this bill, against which the electors petitioned, was finally lost by 42 votes to 33 (27 May 1793); on 3 May a bill to disfranchise the Eighty-Four had been defeated by 53 votes to 27. Henceforth Stockbridge was almost as secure as a burgage borough, as is indicated by the feeble opposition at the next, the only other contested election of the period. Shortly after the election 12 houses ‘possessing a desirable contingency’ were for sale.3

In 1799 and 1807 Foster Barham was able to substitute others for himself with impunity. Porter, who lived near Stockbridge, thought the risk minimal, though he could not answer for the electors if they were tempted by ‘another coming down and offering them the full sum, at the beginning of an election’. In 1808 Foster Barham was indignant at Porter’s not meeting his share of the expenses in maintaining their borough interest and Porter supposed his partner was prepared to sell his moiety. Relations between them were again uneasy in 1812 and in 1815, when Porter was weary of the management of Stockbridge, where their tenants were often improvident and disqualified themselves by taking poor relief. He hoped to find an eligible purchaser and bought more property to strengthen the patrons’ hold. Nothing came of the allegation of a Whig agent, 16 Dec. 1816: ‘Porter is beaten for Stockbridge by young Wall (Baring’s nephew) if the Barings do not play the same trick as at Colchester’.4 Subsequently Foster Barham ridiculed an offer by Porter to buy him out for £18,000, but a threatened rupture between them did not take place.

Author: Brian Murphy


  • 1. House of Commons Sess. Pprs. of the 18th Cent. ed. Lambert, lxxxix. 1-66.
  • 2. CJ, xlvi. 53, 60; xlviii. 9, 257, 630; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iii. 516; Bodl. Clarendon dep. C.370.
  • 3. Reading Mercury, 23 May 1796.
  • 4. Bodl. C.369, Stockbridge purchases 1814-15; C.380, Porter to Foster Barham, 5 Nov. 1806, 10 May 1808, 19 Feb., 29 Oct. 1815, undated drafts from Foster Barham to Porter; Grey mss, Goodwin to Grey, 16 Dec. 1816.