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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 460 in 18311

Number of voters:

348 in 1820


2,511 (1821); 2,803 (1831)


8 Mar. 1820ROBERT BLAKE185
 John Goble Blake157
 Arthur Atherley157
21 Feb. 1823THOMAS READ KEMP vice Blake, deceased221
 Joseph Wilfred Perkins62
9 June 1826EDWARD LOMBE 
30 July 1830JOHN ATKINS 
29 Apr. 1831JOHN ATKINS68
 Sir Godfrey Webster, bt.2

Main Article

Arundel, a small market town situated on the River Arun in the south-west of the county, about four miles from the English Channel coast, was said in 1833 to be in an ‘average state of prosperity’. Its principal trade was in coal which, assisted by the recent canal link with Chichester, was ‘sent up the river to Guildford, Horsham and Petworth’. The corn and cattle markets were ‘tolerably well attended’, but there was ‘no manufacture of any kind’.2 The borough was coextensive with the parish and included ‘an agricultural area, the greater part of which forms the park and domain of the castle’, owned by the lord of the manor, Bernard Edward Howard, 12th duke of Norfolk. Local power was exercised by the corporation, which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, and 12 other capital burgesses (vacancies were often left unfilled), who held their offices for life. Norfolk did not interfere in the corporation’s affairs, and it took no ‘active part as a body’ in parliamentary elections, although some of its members were hostile to the ‘Castle’ (or Green) interest. The franchise was in the resident ratepayers, and Arundel had a long tradition of venality. According to the radical Brighton Guardian in 1830:

The great majority of voters receive a gratuity. Formerly £15 was placed at the disposal of each voter by each candidate, and no great many refused the indirect bribe. The bonus is now reduced to £10 per candidate. The bribery, together with sundry other expenses, are [sic] calculated at £2,000 for each Member.

Norfolk, a Whig, was an absentee and less assiduous in maintaining his interest than his father who, until his death in 1815, had made the Castle his principal residence and ‘commanded the return of the Members by his purse’. A radical publication claimed that ‘unless he [the duke] or the person he recommends expends large sums of money, his influence is trifling’. It was rumoured in Whig circles that Norfolk’s ‘apathy’ was owing to the fact that his heir had converted to Toryism, although George Tierney* accused him of ‘mismanagement’. This had created an opening for a ‘Town’ (or Blue) party, which triumphed at a by-election in 1819 when Robert Blake, a neighbouring Tory landowner, heavily defeated the Whig Arthur Atherley*, who had offered when Norfolk’s nominee, Lord Bury, withdrew after a disappointing canvass.3

In 1820 Norfolk, whose brother Lord Henry Molyneux Howard* had transferred to Steyning, brought forward Bury and Atherley, while the Blues, ambitious to capture both seats, put up Blake and his son John. The contest was ‘severe in the extreme’ and after three days of polling, in which 348 electors reportedly polled, Blake senior and Bury, who had shared ‘several’ split votes, were declared elected. An allegation made some years later that Norfolk had spent £8,000 on the 1819 and 1820 contests cannot be verified, but on the latter occasion his steward’s bill amounted to £1,623, of which £600 was spent on beer and £295 on dinners.4 The occupiers of land and tradesmen in the vicinity of Arundel petitioned the Commons for relief from agricultural distress, 30 May 1820, 12 Mar. 1821.5 Following Blake’s death in 1823 the Blues introduced another ministerialist, one Copland of London, probably John Copland, a navy contractor in the Strand. Independent Whigs brought forward the former Lewes Member, Thomas Kemp, whose recent purchase of the nearby seat of Dale Park meant that he enjoyed the same local connections that had benefited Blake. His relationship with the Castle is unclear: the parliamentary historian of Sussex states that he enjoyed the duke’s support, but this appears unlikely given his opposition to Catholic relief, Norfolk’s primary political concern. With ‘a great majority’ in Arundel apparently opposed to Tory principles, Copland retired after two days of canvassing, but Kemp’s hopes for an unopposed return were thwarted by Joseph Parkins, the ex-sheriff of London and Middlesex, who arrived on election day at the behest of local radicals. Parkins ‘kept open a harassing poll for three days ... without the least chance of being returned’, and on the hustings he ‘indulged in that freedom of language for which he is known to be a strenuous advocate’. He afterwards petitioned against Kemp’s return, alleging partiality by officials, treating, and undue influence by Norfolk, but he failed to enter into recognizances.6 The inhabitants presented a petition to the Commons condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 28 May 1824.7 When Bury announced that autumn that he would not stand again at the next general election, it was feared in metropolitan Whig circles that the duke had ‘lost us a seat’ by a ‘premature canvass’ on behalf of Edward Lombe, the son of a Norfolk landowner. This had created an opportunity for John Pelly Atkins, the son of Alderman John Atkins, a former Member, to intervene and ‘shake the stability of Kemp’s seat’. In the event, Kemp returned to his former constituents at Lewes in 1826 while Lombe offered ‘with a distinct promise to vote for Catholic emancipation’. On the hustings it was Alderman Atkins, a renegade Whig, who appeared and ‘begged to be allowed to stand ... in his [son’s] shoes’, explaining that while he could not support emancipation he ‘need not oppose it’. He and Lombe were returned unopposed, and the compromise was thus preserved.8

Local farmers forwarded a petition to the Commons for increased agricultural protection, 12 Feb. 1827.9 The Independents petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts, 19 Feb., as did the Catholics for relief, 7 May 1828;10 surprisingly, no petitions on this subject were forthcoming in 1829. Lombe supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill but Atkins, despite his earlier hint at neutrality, opposed it. By early 1830 the borough was in a political ferment over the duke’s sponsorship of the Shoreham bridge bill, which would cause the main cross-Sussex road to bypass Arundel. One radical newspaper regarded this as an attempt to punish the town for its lack of subservience by destroying its prosperity and degrading it to the status of a close borough like Steyning, so that ‘none may be able to exist who do not bask in the sunshine of [Castle] influence’. Atkins presented a petition from the corporation and inhabitants against the bill, 9 Mar.11 At the dissolution that summer Lombe retired and the Castle interest was represented by John Nicholas Fazakerley*; three weeks before the poll his return appeared ‘secure’. John Abel Smith*, son of the new resident at Dale Park, was invited to oppose Atkins by independent Whigs, and though he declined, having a seat elsewhere, he recommended Lord Dudley Stuart, brother of the marquess of Bute. This was widely seen as a surreptitious move by Norfolk, who was incensed at Atkins’s recent conduct, to recapture both seats. Stuart was therefore ‘received with open arms’ by the Castle party, and in spite of an address protesting that he was ‘without pledge or engagement to them, direct or implied’, not all were satisfied; one radical said he would prefer to support the politically ‘odious’ Atkins rather than have ‘two men crammed down our throats by a boroughmonger’. It was reported that Atkins had received 300 promises from the electors, in defiance of threats allegedly made to tradesmen by the duke’s steward, Robert Watkins, and that his return was ‘considered secure’. After some prevarication, Fazakerley withdrew, privately claiming that ‘circumstances took place with respect to a second candidate which, though they would not have endangered my seat, would have added both to the trouble and expense of the election’. This was a serious blow to Norfolk, and the Brighton Guardian crowed at the prospect of ‘a notorious boroughmonger’ being ‘beaten in one of his strongholds [by Atkins] and ... resign[ing] his pretensions to a stranger [Stuart] with whom he is totally unacquainted’. The seatless Tory, Joseph Phillimore* decided that Arundel was ‘too expensive and uncertain’, and Atkins and Stuart were left to walk over the course. Atkins was nominated by John Byass, a senior corporator, and Stuart by the former Castle candidate Atherley, a connection that he assured voters was purely personal.12 Several months afterwards, the Brighton Guardian claimed that 280 of Stuart’s supporters had received a £10 bonus, with ‘a like sum’ expected from Atkins, and in order to ‘to promote independence’ it named 93 of the wealthiest ‘political prostitutes’ of Arundel.13

In November 1830 there were incidents of attacks on threshing machines and demands for increased wages by agricultural labourers in the vicinity of Arundel, which were part of a concerted movement in west Sussex.14 The corporation and inhabitants sent a petition to the Commons for repeal of the coastwise coal duty, 3 Feb. 1831.15 The Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed to enfranchise the £10 householders but to reduce Arundel’s representation to one Member; Stuart supported the measure and Atkins opposed it. At the subsequent dissolution Atkins’s anti-reform stance prompted renewed efforts to unseat him. Sir Richard Hunter, formerly physician at the household of the Irish viceroy, offered as a reformer with backing from the Castle interest. Keen to demonstrate his independence, Stuart refused to coalesce with him, and although he was considered to have ‘a great chance of success’ Hunter retired the day before the election. One source ascribed his precipitate withdrawal to his being a pensioner of the East India Company, which was sponsoring Atkins; both men certainly had links with this body. William Merywether Turner, an attorney, was nominated in Hunter’s place, but after speaking in favour of reform he declined a poll. As a means to vex Atkins, the name of the maverick former county Member, Sir Godfrey Webster†, was then put forward without his knowledge, but his seconder, Watkins, gave a plumper for Stuart and polling ceased after an hour, when Atkins and Stuart were declared elected. Atkins seems to have drawn much of his support from the poorer voters, the ‘small renters’, upon whose fears of disenfranchisement he astutely played; they were also said to be the most susceptible to beer and bribery. On the other hand, he won the support of some reformers through his attention to local issues and his independence from the duke.16

Atkins opposed Arundel’s partial disfranchisement when the Commons considered it as part of the reintroduced reform bill, 27 July 1831, but he did not force a division. Both he and Stuart asserted the borough’s freedom from nomination. The mayor, William Holmes, in an obvious swipe at Norfolk, forwarded a petition to the Commons, 19 Aug., calling for the ballot, to prevent ‘undue influence’ in small constituencies, and (with the proceedings on the Shoreham bridge bill in mind) for a rule to prevent Members with personal interests from serving on committees.17 The boundary commissioners’ proposal that the borough be enlarged to include nearby Littlehampton and the conjoining parish of Lyminster, in order to satisfy the criterion of 300 £10 houses, provoked considerable local opposition. In a letter to the commissioners, 24 Sept., Holmes maintained that the number of qualifying tenements had been underestimated because the parochial assessment was only ‘about one half what it should be’. Moreover, he pointed out that Norfolk was lord of the manor of Littlehampton and that its inclusion in the borough would therefore ‘make Arundel a nomination borough ... in direct opposition to the real spirit of the bill’. He did not think any addition to the borough was necessary, but stressed that ‘any parish west of Arundel’ would be preferable to Littlehampton.18 The new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Arundel’s place in schedule B, as it contained 527 houses and paid £878 in assessed taxes, placing it 78th in the list of the smallest English boroughs. The corporation’s petition to the Commons against enlargement, 14 Mar., suggested Petworth as an alternative, and that to the Lords, 10 Apr., expressed a preference for total disfranchisement rather than ‘being annexed to ... Littlehampton’. In presenting the inhabitants’ petition for Arundel to return a single Member alone, 4 June, Stuart argued that even if the normal criteria had not been satisfied, an exception should be made for ‘a place with a considerable trade, in a flourishing condition’, as had happened elsewhere. Four days later, he articulated the widespread local suspicion that ‘the whole arrangement has been made for the purpose of placing the borough under the dictation of the duke of Norfolk’, a charge that opposition speakers such as Sir Charles Wetherell were more forthright in making. While it is difficult to assess the validity of such accusations, Lord John Russell was embarrassed into agreeing to a postponement, and the matter was referred to a select committee. The subsequent recommendation, after another surveyor’s report, that no enlargement was necessary, 19 June 1832, even though the committee found ‘no reason to question the fairness’ of the original finding that there were less than 300 £10 houses, has the appearance of a face-saving manoeuvre to cover a retreat.19

Following the passage of the Reform Act, Arundel’s historian commented that if the amended franchise succeeded in ‘repressing or diminishing the corruption which has hitherto distinguished the elections for this borough, the honest portion of the community will ... have reason to rejoice at the change’.20 There were 380 registered electors in 1832. Stuart was returned unopposed as a Liberal at the general election that year and again in 1835, but Norfolk regained control in 1837 and thereafter his relatives were returned until the borough’s disfranchisement in 1868.

Author: Howard Spencer


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 494.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 494; PP (1835), xxiv. 15.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xl. 63-65; (1835), xxiv. 5-16; Brighton Guardian, 24 Mar. 1830; J.M. Robinson, Dukes of Norfolk, 195; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 131; W.D. Cooper, Parl. Hist. Suss. 8; Grey mss, Lambton to Grey, 4 Oct., Tierney to Grey, 7 Oct. 1819.
  • 4. The Times, 8 Feb. 1820; Brighton Guardian, 24 Mar. 1830; Cooper, 8; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 494; Arundel Castle mss MD1330/FC16.
  • 5. CJ, lxxv. 251; lxxvi. 158.
  • 6. The Times, 13 Feb.; Brighton Gazette, 20 Feb. 1823; Cooper, 8, 9; CJ, lxxviii. 103, 107.
  • 7. CJ, lxxix. 430.
  • 8. Add. 51832, Goodwin to Holland, 18 Oct. 1824; Cooper, 9.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxii. 148.
  • 10. Ibid. lxxxiii. 83, 324.
  • 11. Ibid. lxxxv. 151-2; Brighton Guardian, 24 Mar., 12 May 1830.
  • 12. Brighton Guardian, 23 June, 7, 14, 21, 28 July, 4 Aug.; Brighton Gazette, 8 July; Add. 51813, Phillimore to Holland, 14 July; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G2/18, Fazakerley to Milton, 24 July 1830; Cooper, 9.
  • 13. Brighton Guardian, 26 Jan., 2 Feb. 1831.
  • 14. E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 85, 86.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 209.
  • 16. Brighton Guardian, 13, 27 Apr., 4, 11, 18 May; Brighton Gazette, 28 Apr., 5 May 1831.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxvi. 768.
  • 18. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 1.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxvii. 189, 371; LJ, lxiv. 161; PP (1831-2), v. 1; xl. 63-65;
  • 20. M.A. Tierney, Hist. Arundel, 710.