Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Number of voters:

over 5,000


16 July 1801 JOHN FULLER vice Pelham, called to the Upper House 
29 Jan. 1807 HON. CHARLES WILLIAM WYNDHAM vice Lennox, called to the Upper House 
 Warden Michael Sergison2478
24 June 1818SIR GODFREY WEBSTER, Bt.267
 Edward Burtenshaw Sugden122

Main Article

The division of Sussex into western and eastern constituencies by the Reform Act of 1832 endorsed a hallowed custom. As Lord Sheffield put it, 26 May 1807:

It always appeared to me the true policy of Sussex for the landed men of East and West, each to agree to consider of a proper representative, and that being done, the whole of the county to agree to support them.1

Between 1780 and 1807 political vagaries had been accommodated within this framework without serious disturbance. The western representative from 1790 was the 3rd Duke of Richmond’s nephew (and heir) Charles Lennox. Richmond had secretly informed the 3rd Earl of Egremont of his decision to substitute his nephew for his brother in November 1788. Egremont, it was said, ‘might drive [Lennox] to the deuce, if he would set anybody up against him’; but although he supported the opposition, while Richmond was a member of Pitt’s administration, he offered no resistance. The 11th Duke of Norfolk, left to raise the Whig standard in the west, ‘was certainly stirring heaven and earth to raise an opposition to Mr Lennox’, and, according to James Peachey, had his son John, disappointed of ministerial backing at Shoreham, turned coat under Norfolk’s aegis, he would have defeated Lennox.2 But Peachey renounced any association with Norfolk and his loyalty was subsequently fixed by the bestowal on him of the Selsey peerage. Beyond ‘some signs of mischievous dispositions’, as Richmond informed Pitt, Lennox’s election was not endangered. The expense of both candidates amounted to £315 6s. 6d.3

Pelham, the established representative of the east and heir to Lord Chichester, broke the political compromise of the county when he veered towards government from 1792 and took office. Richmond was temporarily estanged from Pitt, but by the end of 1795 he and Pelham saw eye to eye about the county and there was no resistance to them in 1796. When Pelham obtained a peerage in 1801, the vacancy was to be supplied from the east. The 2nd Earl of Ashburnham’s son, Viscount St. Asaph, was a contender, but the choice fell on John Fuller, a wealthy commoner, who was nominated and elected unopposed. Francis Hare Naylor of Hurstmonceaux refused to be drawn into opposing him. According to Lord Sheffield, Fuller’s sponsor, his vulgarity on the occasion was appalling, and he did not disdain a debate with the radical John Frost, who alone impeded his election.4

No further incident arose until, on Richmond’s death in December 1806, Lennox succeeded as 4th Duke and a vacancy for the west had to be filled. No member of his family was available. William Stephen Poyntz*, whose wife had brought him a Sussex estate, aspired to exchange his borough seat for a county one; but his patron Earl Spencer dreaded the consequences at St. Albans, and Egremont, warned by Poyntz that if he did not sponsor a candidate, Poyntz would offer, stepped into the breach. As he recalled nearly 25 years later:

The county of Sussex has certainly reposed great confidence in me, and I am extremely grateful for it, but I never worked to introduce any of my family into the representation, and when I brought in my brother Charles, who was unfit for it and detested it and only submitted to oblige me, it was because I saw no other way of preventing two or three things which would have [been] very unpleasant to every honest man in the county.

In case Egremont withdrew his brother, Poyntz addressed the county; he had to stake his claim, because a third party (whose name he did not disclose) had warned him that if he did not stand, that person would. He was sure of the Duke of Norfolk’s support, as a friend of the Grenville ministry; and if Charles Wyndham withdrew, he expected Egremont’s as well as Richmond’s backing, though they were hostile to the ministry and therefore relieved when Wyndham’s perseverance secured his withdrawal.5

At the ensuing general election Poyntz revived his claims, but Egremont, who thought he overrated them, though he had the support of Lord Gage, secured Richmond’s and Norfolk’s support for his brother in the west. He was, however, unable to control events in the east. Poyntz himself, in his disappointment, had sought Egremont’s opinion as to whether his ‘two or three farms’ in the east would enable him to stand. Norfolk, at loggerheads with Egremont over the Shoreham election, was supposed to be prodding Poyntz. Failing him, he had in mind a son of Lord George Cavendish, who objected. In the event Norfolk settled for another protégé, Col. Warden Sergison of Cuckfield, whose interest in the east appeared to be slender, to challenge Fuller. There was some doubt as to Sergison’s politics, although his sponsor was a Whig; his friends steered clear of the issues of the dismissal of the Grenville ministry and Catholic relief, and attacked Fuller ad personam as a slave owner supported by an array of aristocracy. The dissenters rallied to Sergison, as did Sir Charles Merrik Burrell II*, whose brother had quarrelled with Fuller. Fuller could count on the other leading interests in the east: Lords Sheffield, Abergavenny, Chichester, Ashburnham and his son St. Asaph, Gage, Hampden, the Duchess of Dorset, the Websters, Campions, Courthopes, Newnham of Maresfield, George Shiffner* and his own clan rallied to him. But he had himself to blame for the contest for his seat. In the first place his indecision about standing had conjured up other contenders such as Shiffner and Thomas Read Kemp*, though they did not persevere; but, more disadvantageously, it had prevented an agreement between him and Wyndham for the latter’s second votes to keep out a third man. This left the leading interests in the west neutral. Richmond, who was by then viceroy of Ireland, admitted that his good wishes must go to Fuller against the Norfolk nominee. Egremont was ‘quite of opinion if there should be opposition to give the second vote to Mr Fuller in bar of any stranger coming in’, but he was not approached by Fuller. In the event Sergison was able to gain numerous second votes in the west, particularly on Richmond’s interest, before Lord Bathurst, acting for the absent viceroy, directed Richmond’s agents to canvass discreetly for Fuller. This line was approved by Egremont, whose brother was safe.

Fuller squeezed home by 57 votes on a 15-day poll during which 5,348 freeholders voted. The contest was reported to have cost him and Sergison £10,000-£12,000 each. Sergison, refused a scrutiny, petitioned against the return, challenging hundreds of Fuller’s votes, while his leading supporters petitioned alleging bribery and treating. Once again, Fuller’s conduct outraged his reluctant supporters. It was anticipated that Sergison’s petition was a bluff which he could not afford to pursue; but Fuller informed the House (not in person), that he would not defend himself against the petition, but left it to his friends to subscribe for the purpose. There were some hopes that in doing so he would place his seat at their disposal. Not so: the election committee declined a scrutiny of the votes (there were probably as many bad ones for Sergison as for Fuller) and dismissed the treating charge on 31 Mar. 1808, when Sergison gave up the petition. Opposition protested in vain at the committee’s handling of the petitions in debate.6

It was thought unlikely that Sergison could afford to remain in the running for the next election, but the contest had frightened the leading interests on both sides of the county. Lord Sheffield, who had himself directed the slogan ‘No interference of peers’ against Norfolk, was of the opinion that unless east and west collaborated more effectively in future, ‘the landed interest will be dictated to, by the mobility and upstart freeholders of Worthing, Brighton and Lewes, who are becoming very numerous’. This view was echoed by Egremont, writing to Richmond, 5 June 1807:

But I consider this election ... as a sort of new era in the representation of Sussex which will give a very different complexion to it in future and make it much more troublesome and difficult and will require a good deal of forethought in the landed proprietors to counteract a new sort of house and trade interest which will in future have great power. I have foreseen it for some time and have called the attention of the principal persons in the east to it in some degree but I was restrained by a sort of delicacy as such anxiety on my part would have looked as if I was only thinking of saving my own money which has been thrown away in the contest. This new interest arises from the great sums of money which have been brought to Brighton by the camping and the military and by the numerous new buildings and the division of property at Brighton where there are now near four hundred voters which with the shopkeepers of Lewes make a regular disciplined force of about seven hundred and before another election I shall not be surprised if they amount to one thousand ... Mr Sergison was brought forward entirely by this interest though afterwards the Duke of Norfolk supported him as he would have done anybody for the sake of sport and for the chance of getting a vote in Parliament. This interest besides the idea of maintaining their consequence against the landed interest which is strong in their minds has also a strong private pecuniary interest of their own to provoke and prolong contests as the money spent must fall among some of them, and acting as they have done as a regular disciplined body they have from their situation when the election is at Lewes great power, and they have the means of carrying on the contest for the first four or five days at very little expense to their candidate as their votes are all upon the spot and can command a certain majority the first day or two while those who are to bring their voters from a distance must incur great expense.

He went on to allege that ‘many of those who came from the west and did not care between the two eastern candidates gave their votes to Sergison only to protect themselves from abuse and ill usage at the hustings and in [Lewes] and at Brighton during their stay there’. He added that it seemed to be the ambition of Thomas Kemp*, whose son had withdrawn in favour of Sergison, to make himself ‘the head of this new interest’. Kemp’s son’s marriage to the daughter of Sir Francis Baring reinforced this, as with Baring’s money he was interested in buying an estate at Rowhall,

where he will reside and be ready to start either as an eastern or western Member but this new interest does not care at all about the old division of east and west. Their object is to oppose the landed interest with success if they can but to have a contest at any rate and it will require in future great attention to counteract them.7

In July 1809 Egremont warned Richmond that his brother was not likely to offer at the next election. Richmond, who had wished his son and heir Lord March to succeed Wyndham, was dismayed, as March was only 18 years old and there was no obvious alternative except Poyntz, who had been studiously neutral in the election of 1807 and had lost his chief supporter with the death of Lord Gage. On reflection, other candidates sprang to mind, such as Lord Selsey’s son and Sir Charles Merrik Burrell (Egremont’s son-in-law), but Richmond’s chief wish was to secure a locum tenens for his son. Egremont had no wishes of his own and urged collaboration with Lords Sheffield and Chichester in the east, especially as they might be seeking to replace Fuller, possibly by one of the Ashburnham family. They had recently thwarted a bid by ‘inferior persons’ at Lewes and Brighton to vote the county’s thanks to Col. Wardle for his parliamentary campaign against the Duke of York, and were anxious now to concert measures in secret for a future election. They were unable to do so, as the decision in the west turned on whether Lord March would be of age, and in the east on whether Fuller would retire, a subject on which he resisted Lord Chichester’s importunities. In October 1811 Sir Godfrey Webster of Battle Abbey volunteered as a replacement for Fuller, seeking to conciliate Richmond with an offer of support for his son. He was suspected, however, to be a Whig. Meanwhile, fears for his interest at Chichester caused Richmond to decide to put up March there. He was unable to persuade Egremont to force his brother to offer again for the county, being ‘a person so notoriously unfit for the situation’. In the end, failing with Lord Selsey’s son, Egremont induced Walter Burrell (Sir Charles’s brother) to stand as western candidate and Richmond concurred, reserving his son’s pretensions, though he was warned by Egremont and Burrell that he deluded himself if he imagined that it would be easy to substitute March for Burrell in future. In the east, Fuller retired, not in favour of Viscount St. Asaph as the prime minister Lord Liverpool wished, nor to let in Liverpool’s half-brother Cecil, as Lord Sheffield wished, but in favour of Sir Godfrey Webster, who promised to support administration. Had Fuller persevered, a contest was anticipated, in which he would have beaten Webster. The latter was a rake who obtained easy credit for himself by squandering several thousands on the same mobs of Brighton and Lewes that haunted Egremont’s imagination when he wrote of ‘the immense wealth which has flowed into [Sussex] from all parts of England by the bathing places ... and the great number of new freeholders (thousands of them) totally independent of the old landed interest and rather disposed to undervalue it’. Lord Sheffield and Richmond were most uneasy about the new eastern Member, and their fear that he would be the cause of a contest at the next election was justified by his radical tendencies in Parliament.8

So Webster was, but not in a way anticipated by any of the leading interests. Shortly before the election, Edward Burtenshaw Sugden (the future lord chancellor), a new Sussex resident of humble origins, offered, promising an independent support of government. On 21 June Webster, who had vowed that he would poll to the last day and was assumed to have to be in Parliament to stave off his creditors, withdrew. This was a signal for the eastern managers to cast about for a suitable candidate. Ashburnham refused to supply his son; Cecil Jenkinson again demurred; so did (Sir) Charles Wetherell*, another newcomer to Sussex. At length John Gage, Lord Gage’s uncle, agreed, provided his expenses were guaranteed. Egremont, who was putting up £5,000 for Burrell, the western Member, offered to extend it to Gage. (George Shiffner wrote, 21 June, ‘I suppose it will be chiefly settled by those in the west, as the distance is so far, for the eastern men to travel’ [i.e. to Chichester].) But Gage was frightened off at the nomination meeting and Sugden, who had promised to retire ‘if any man of consideration in the county (except Sir Godfrey Webster) would come forward’, held his ground even when, on election day, Sir Godfrey’s friends insisted on reviving his candidature—he was seconded by a Lewes radical. After only a day’s poll in which 403 votes were cast, Sugden withdrew. Webster’s friends glossed over his previous retirement by stating that he believed the heir of an East Sussex peer had meant to stand.9

Writing to Lord Liverpool to deplore the outcome, William Huskisson claimed, 3 July 1818:

We should have found no great difficulty in returning any producible candidate, if the eastern part would have sent us one only an hour before, instead of an hour after the election—and Perry [editor of the Morning Chronicle] would not have been able to make (as he now does) his foolish boast that the Whig interest was irresistible in Sussex.

Egremont assured Huskisson:

This was literally a contest between the gentlemen and property of the county, on one side, and the rabble on the other. We must be better prepared against the death of the King, which, I hear ... is near at hand.10

So they were.

Authors: Brian Murphy / R. G. Thorne


  • 1. NLI, Richmond mss 69/1233.
  • 2. Petworth House mss, Richmond to Egremont, 1 Nov. 1788; Rhodes, Harlequin Sheridan, 154; Add. 33129, f. 3; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Newcastle mss NeC 2596.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/171, f. 149; Suss. Weekly Advertiser, 14 June 1790; Add. 33059, f. 207.
  • 4. Morning Chron. 29 Dec. 1795; Suss. Weekly Advertiser, 6 June 1796; The Times, 2 May 1801; A. Hare, Mems. of a Quiet Life, i. 146; Add. 33107, ff. 106, 129.
  • 5. Spencer mss, Poyntz to Spencer, 28, 31 Dec. 1806, 2 Jan. 1807; Petworth House mss, Richmond to Egremont, 29, 31 Dec. 1806; Add. 51725, Egremont to Holland, 25 July 1831; Lonsdale mss, Ward to Lowther, 10 Jan. 1807.
  • 6. Richmond mss 69/1223-4, 1227-9, 1233-6, 1239-46; 70/1323, 1359, 1361; Bathurst mss, Richmond to Bathurst, 16 May; Arundel Castle mss, Ld. R. Spencer to Norfolk [May 1807]; Farington, iv. 158; CJ, lxii. 612; Parl. Deb. x. 82, 1156-8, 1306-9.
  • 7. Richmond mss 69/1233, 1241.
  • 8. Ibid. 61/333; 69/1230-2, 1245, 1247-8, 1252-60; 70/1297; 74/1859; Bathurst mss, Richmond to Bathurst, 25 Nov. 1811; Add. 38328, f. 41; 40185, f. 170; NLW, Pitchford Hall mss, Jenkinson to Sheffield, 4 Oct.; PRO 30/9/16, Sheffield to Abbot, 6 Nov. 1812.
  • 9. Add. 33112, ff. 362-388; 38741, f. 222; The Late Elections (1818), 342-3.
  • 10. Add. 38191, f. 112; 38741, f. 326.