Wootton Bassett


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 250


(1801): 1,244


 George Tierney13
 George Shum13
27 May 1796JOHN DENISON 
7 July 1802HON. HENRY ST. JOHN 
18 Dec. 1802 PETER WILLIAM BAKER vice St. John, vacated his seat 
9 May 1807JOHN MURRAY 
2 Feb. 1808 BENJAMIN WALSH vice Severn, vacated his seat 
14 May 1811 ROBERT KNIGHT vice Murray, vacated his seat 
 John Attersoll 
14 Mar. 1812 JOHN ATTERSOLL vice Walsh, expelled the House 
11 Mar. 1813 RICHARD ELLISON vice Kibblewhite, vacated his seat 
6 Apr. 1813 ROBERT RICKARDS vice Attersoll, vacated his seat 
8 July 1816 WILLIAM TAYLOR MONEY vice Rickards, vacated his seat118
 Horace Twiss113
20 June 1818RICHARD ELLISON126
 Horace Twiss125
 John Wray125

Main Article

Wootton Bassett was an open borough. Although the dominant interest of the St. Johns of Lydiard Tregoze, Viscounts Bolingbroke, had been challenged in 1784 by the 1st Earl of Clarendon, lord of the manor, with Treasury support, the bid failed: the returning officer was named by the St. Johns.1 The St. Johns, however, could not afford further contests and a compromise was agreed, to the embarrassment of the Whig election managers who negotiated with Gen. Henry St. John*, uncle and manager to the patron during his absence abroad, for the seats. By the compromise, Robert Seymour Conway* was left without a seat, while the other sitting Member George Augustus North* could not afford the terms of £3,000. After some manoeuvring Viscount Downe, who was willing to pay 4,000 guineas for a seat, replaced North on the 3rd Viscount Bolingbroke’s interest. The 2nd Earl of Clarendon’s nominee, Stanley, had this to say, 10 May 1790, in explanation of his return:

Two peers, whose estates are situated in the neighbourhood, had contended with each other repeatedly who should name the Member for the place. Their interests were so nearly balanced, however, that for once they thought it advisable to unite, and bring in each one Member for the place, as it has a right of electing two. Lord Bolingbroke, or more properly his uncle, one of the parties, has named Lord Downe, a strong partisan of the opposition. Lord Clarendon, the other chief, has given me his interest. Thus, like the two kings of Brentford, Lord Downe and myself come hand in hand.

Opposition to this arrangement was offered by George Tierney and his friend George Shum*. Tierney had been the Treasury candidate in 1784, but was now a Whig adventurer. He was also contesting Colchester and received little backing at Wootton Bassett where the electors, according to Oldfield, were ‘mostly poor labouring men in the employment of these noblemen, or their tenants’.2

In 1807 the compromise was dramatically overthrown: Murray and Cheesment, candidates on the ‘independent interest’, were returned. The person responsible was a Gray’s Inn attorney of a local family, James Kibblewhite, who achieved his end by erecting ‘108 houses of the meaner sort’ and by raising the price of votes, allegedly, from 20 to 45 guineas a man. Kibblewhite got the best price he could for the seats; Walsh in 1808 paid £5,000 before going bankrupt. His election was at first opposed by Robert Knight, one of the Members in 1806, but he declined the contest.3 In 1811 Kibblewhite approached the prime minister as to the credentials of Joshua Jephson Oddy,another would-be paying guest: he was anxious to return friends of government—which may have ensured that Lord Bolingbroke did not attempt to challenge him.4 Nothing came of this, and when the vacancy arose, Robert Knight, Bolingbroke’s protégé, who had continued to cultivate the borough, was returned against an ally of Kibblewhite’s. This was John Attersoll, who after an unsuccessful petition alleging that the rate books had been manipulated, came in at the next vacancy early in 1812 in place of Kibblewhite’s nominee Walsh. He was also returned with Kibblewhite at the ensuing general election. Sheridan was then to have paid £3,000 or £4,000 for a seat for Wootton Bassett and to have gone down with Attersoll, but needed the money, not the seat, so the arrangement fell through and perhaps that was why Kibblewhite returned himself. To add to the confusion, after the election Joseph Pitt of Cirencester purchased Kibblewhite’s interest, the price being quoted as £22,000, and in the spring of 1813 both the sitting Members vacated their seats, evidently in favour of Pitt’s nominees. There is, however, a reference otherwise unconfirmed in a letter of March 1812 (from Lord Suffolk to Lord Holland) to Pitt having the nomination of one seat at Wootton Bassett.5

Nor did Joseph Pitt enjoy undisturbed possession of the borough. Kibblewhite had ousted five of the 15 corporators for informality of proceedings and secured a majority on that body by his own nominations; Pitt now placed himself, his son and his clerk in three vacancies engineered for the purpose. But in 1816, on a vacancy, his nominee was nearly defeated by Horace Twiss, standing on the and Earl of Clarendon’s interest, in a three-day poll. (The St. John interest would seem to have gone into abeyance.) Twiss’s petition against the return failed. In 1818, when Pitt sold the seats to the sitting Members, the challenge was renewed by Twiss, joined by Col. Wray. After four days they were defeated by one vote and would, according to their subsequent petition, have secured a majority, but for corruption and the partiality of the mayor, who was alleged to have rejected about 25 votes in their favour.6 The petition failed, but in 1820 Clarendon’s challenge was successful.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. J. A. Cannon, ‘The Parl. Rep. of six Wilts. Boroughs 1754-90’ (Bristol Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1958), i. 343.
  • 2. Ginter, Whig Organization, 50, 53, 100, 251; J. T. Stanley’s ‘Praeterita’, pub. in The Early Married Life of Lady Stanley ed. Adeane, 96; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. v. 231.
  • 3. Morning Post, 2 May; Morning Chron. 2 May 1807; Oldfield, loc. cit.; Parl. Deb. xxi. 1196; The Times, 5 Feb. 1808.
  • 4. See KIBBLEWHITE, James; Blair Adam mss, North to Adam, 24 Nov. 1811.
  • 5. Horner mss 3, ff. 207-9; CJ, lxvi. 380; lxvii. 14, 308; Geo. IV Letters, i. 160; Croker Pprs. ed. Jennings, i. 306; Oldfield, loc. cit; Add. 51826, Suffolk to Holland, 28 Mar. 1812.
  • 6. Hon. Mrs Hardcastle, Life of John Lord Campbell, i. 349; Salisbury Jnl. 15, 29 June 1818; The Late Elections (1818), 412; CJ, lxxiv. 25, 192.