Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

‘in the freemen'1

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 65 in 18312


1,212 (1821); 1,538 (1831)3


22 May 1827WYNDHAM LEWIS vice Croker, vacated his seat
27 Feb. 1829ARTHUR RICHARD WELLESLEY, mq. of Douro vice Lewis, vacated his seat
25 May 1829SPENCER HORSEY KILDERBEE vice Walker, vacated his seat
3 Aug. 1830ARTHUR RICHARD WELLESLEY, mq. of Douro
29 Apr. 1831ARTHUR RICHARD WELLESLEY, mq. of Douro

Main Article

Commercially impoverished and reduced to ‘the ranks of a small and insignificant fishing town’ by repeated encroachments of the North Sea, Aldeburgh was the inspiration for its erstwhile Member Charles Arbuthnot’s* ‘Harmony in Uproar’ and the poetry of its freeman by birth George Crabbe.4 It was becoming popular in the 1820s as a summer residence for ‘families of distinction’. The head of one such, the proprietor of Marine Villa, Frederick William Thomas Vernon Wentworth of Wentworth Castle, Yorkshire, owned the advowson, the lordship of the manor and most of the 8,271-acre parish.5 Patronage of the borough, which was coextensive with it but built on some 36 acres, had been vested since 1818 in the Rotherham iron founder Samuel Walker†, the purchaser for £39,000 of the interest created by the de Crespigny family, who had ‘closed’ the borough by packing the 37-member corporation with honorary freemen, encouraging the Aldeburgh-born to ‘forfeit their birthright’ and curtailing access to freedom by apprenticeship and service through financial incentives and a restrictive by-law (1812).6 At the last poll in 1812, when 57 votes were accepted, the returning officer had enforced a parliamentary ruling of 3 Dec. 1709 vesting the franchise in the ‘burgesses, capital and inferior and freemen’. However, the potential for government intervention through the customs house at Slaughden persisted, and a Commons ruling of 16 June 1715 confirming the franchise ‘in the bailiffs and burgesses resident within the said borough not receiving alms’, to which Sir Claude de Crespigny’s rival, James Cecil, 1st marquess of Salisbury, and a local cabal had appealed in 1812, when 88 so qualified (including 84 Trinity House pilots) had their votes rejected, had not been fully tested on petition.7 A return to Parliament in December 1831 from the bailiffs Benjamin Bunniss and John Randall (mayor also of Orford) specified that that the right of voting lay with ‘the freemen at large’.8 Anti-slavery petitions were received by the Commons from the town and borough, 7 May 1824, and by the Lords from the Wesleyan Methodists, 16 Nov. 1830.9 The Baptists petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 22 Feb. 1828.10 Inhabitant householders petitioned the Lords, 21 Mar., and the Commons, 19 July 1831, urging the passage of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Aldeburgh was to be disfranchised.11

Walker, an anti-Catholic supporter of Lord Liverpool’s ministry, had replaced the existing corporation and returned himself and his cousin Joshua Walker at the general election of 1818; but, impoverished by the post-war decline in the iron industry and the cost of his borough, he stood down at the dissolution in 1820 and returned Joshua with James Blair, a West India proprietor committed to promoting that interest, as a paying guest.12 Walker sold out for 50,000 guineas to Francis Charles Seymour Conway* directly the latter succeeded his father as 3rd marquess of Hertford in June 1822, for Hertford, whose constituencies included the neighbouring borough of Orford adjoining his Sudbourne estate, coveted the deep water anchorage at Aldeburgh and planned to administer both boroughs in tandem.13 With his man of business John Wilson Croker, secretary to the admiralty, as bailiff, he effected this at Michaelmas 1822 by packing the corporation of Aldeburgh with a select group of his personal friends and relations, newly admitted as honorary freemen, in what the municipal corporations commissioners described as the second transfer of authority ‘from the inhabitants to a body of strangers’; only five corporators had local connections.14 The commissioners dated the attendant change in parliamentary patronage to 1825, but surviving correspondence indicates that an accommodation with the Walkers was under review by 1823, and that Joshua Walker, who was returned ‘for nothing’ at the general election of 1826, turned down an opportunity to pay Hertford £4,000 to ‘sit freely’, confident that as a Tory opposed to Catholic relief, his patron would place no demands on his conscience incompatible with ‘tenure by pleasure’.15 Blair was accommodated at Minehead in 1826 and, discussing the release of the second seat to the treasury, Croker informed Lord Liverpool in May that Hertford required candidates to ‘provide a letter in writing to be deposited in my hands as a mutual friend, which I am to be authorized to burn, whenever Mr. Horace Beauchamp Seymour* shall have anything’. Liverpool rejected as unprecedented the ‘political simony’ inherent in the ‘engagement to vacate’, and Hertford reserved the second seat for Croker, whose arrival at Aldeburgh for the election was deliberately kept separate from Walker’s.16

Croker’s resignation in May 1827 to stand for Dublin University released a seat for the former Member for Cardiff Boroughs Wyndham Lewis, who in 1826 had been defeated on Hertford’s interest at Camelford.17 Opposition, organized by Henry Muller, a naval lieutenant, and one Andrews, whose patronage requests had recently been rejected, thwarted Hertford’s bid to have John Peacock installed as bailiff an hour before the by-election, but Lewis’s return in absentia was readily effected.18 His ‘tenure by pleasure’ ceased in February 1829, when Hertford, who had resisted government pressure to create a vacancy for Arbuthnot, persuaded the premier the duke of Wellington to permit him to return his son Lord Douro.19 A convert with Peel and Wellington to Catholic emancipation, Hertford directed his Members to vote for it or risk ejection, and Walker, who voted only to consider the issue, 6 Mar. 1829, tendered his resignation, 17 Mar., but was allowed to stay ‘for the moment ... in perfect freedom’ while a replacement was found.20 The new ordnance secretary Sir Henry Fane*, the Tory earl of Stradbroke’s son-in-law Spencer Horsey Kilderbee and a previous contender for the seat, the treasurer of the navy, William Vesey Fitzgerald* were short-listed, 4 Apr. Fane and Vesey Fitzgerald were deemed suitable ‘for this Parl[iamen]t without any promise as to the next’, but Hertford chose Kilderbee, who was ‘tied down by a strong promise to hold during pleasure and to follow my politics’, because of his Suffolk connections, nearby residence at Great Glemham and ability to serve on the corporations of Aldeburgh and Orford.21 According to Crabbe, who attend the by-election and signed the nomination at Croker’s request

there was not a shadow of opposition. Some witty gentleman posted up a paper, ‘The Election is a farce by Lord Hertford’, but the sailors did not understand it and nobody seemed to give it notice. It is not a place for squibs!22

With Croker in Dublin, where he was defeated, Hertford supervised the ‘parish business’ of elections at Aldeburgh and Orford, 3 Aug. 1830, returning Croker with Douro for Aldeburgh and switching Kilderbee to Orford.23 The arrangement was adhered to in 1831 when the defeat of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which scheduled both boroughs for disfranchisement, precipitated a dissolution.24

Opposing the reintroduced bill in committee, 15 July 1831, Croker failed to force a division on Aldeburgh. However, before Orford’s place in schedule A was confirmed, 22 July, he and Kilderbee exploited Aldeburgh’s geographic proximity to it and, developing a proposal for more contributory borough constituencies made on the 13th by Charles Watkin Williams Wynn, they vainly suggested either amalgamating the boroughs as a single Member constituency or transferring the franchise to nearby Woodbridge as a means of restoring the balance of representation between agriculture and industry.25 In December 1831 Aldeburgh, which contained 325 houses and paid £297 in assessed taxes, was placed 49th in the list of boroughs to be disfranchised under the revised reform bill. Croker moved again to unite it with Orford as a single Member constituency, 23 Jan. 1832, but the bill’s architect Lord John Russell objected, there was no division and it was accepted that both boroughs were ‘dead’.26 Aldeburgh, like Dunwich and Orford, was absorbed into the Eastern division of Suffolk under the 1832 Reform Act. Hertford had realized that borough ‘funds would always suffice to work the corporation’ and he ‘would not pay a penny’ for Aldeburgh, which, after 1835, had the only unreformed corporation in Suffolk.27

Author: Margaret Escott


Entries for Aldeburgh/Aldborough in PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 38, 39, 52, 53, 492 and elsewhere confuse and conflate information from returns for both boroughs.

  • 1. Disputed between the freemen at large and the resident burgesses. See Oldfield, Boroughs (1792), ii. 536-8, and Rep. Hist. (1816), v. 158; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 367-9; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 52, 53, 179.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 179. W. White, Suff. Dir. (1844) gives a pre-1832 figure of ‘about 40’.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 52, 53 (borough and parish).
  • 4. Suff. RO (Ipswich), J. Glude, 'Materials for Hist. Aldeburgh', 165; H.P. Clodd, Aldeburgh, 69.
  • 5. J. Ford, Aldeburgh Described, 7-72; Clodd, 36, 131-44; A. Jobson, Aldeburgh Story.
  • 6. HP Commons 1790-1820, ii. 367-9; PP (1835), xxvi. 5-22; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Aldeburgh bor. recs. EE1/C3/2.
  • 7. Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 536-8; Aldeburgh Pollbook (1812) ed. T. Tippell; Aldeburgh borough recs. EE1/K3/1-4; CJ, lxviii. 63, 108.
  • 8. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 52, 53; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Orford borough recs. EE5/8/37. 59.
  • 9. CJ, lxxix. 336; LJ, lxiii. 91.
  • 10. CJ, lxxxiii. 96.
  • 11. LJ, lxiii. 345; CJ, lxxxvi. 673.
  • 12. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 492; A.H. John, Walker Fam. 24-31; HP Commons, 1790-1820, iii. 216; v. 467; Suff. Chron. 4, 11, 18 Mar.; Ipswich Jnl. 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 13. Eg. 3263, f. 142.
  • 14. Add. 40350, ff. 28, 30; PP (1835), xxvi. 7, 14, 16, 17, 20.
  • 15. PP (1835), xxvi. 21; Add. 60286, f. 376; 60288, ff. 37, 166, 144-56.
  • 16. Add. 60287, ff. 194-200, 215; The Times, 6, 20 June 1826.
  • 17. Add. 60287, ff. 205, 209, 276, 281.
  • 18. Ibid. ff. 250-7, 281-8, 292-6; Suff. Chron. 19, 26 May 1827.
  • 19. Bodl. Hughenden Dep. D/I/D/97, 102; Wellington mss WP1/967/13; 1002/9; Add. 60288, ff. 22, 25, 29, 30, 101, 107, 125, 133; Coker Pprs. ii. 11.
  • 20. Add. 60288, ff. 116, 144, 150, 151.
  • 21. Add. 40322, f. 278; 60288, ff. 122, 144, 147, 154, 156.
  • 22. N.F. Hele, Notes about Aldeburgh, 69.
  • 23. The Times, 23 July; Suff. Chron. 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830; Add. 60288, ff. 281-3.
  • 24. Add. 60288, ff. 341, 342, 368, 369; Wellington mss WP1/1179/32; Suff. Chron. 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 25. The Times, 14, 16, 23 July 1831.
  • 26. Add. 60289, f. 27.
  • 27. Ibid. f. 70; White, 156.