Bishop's Castle


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

Estimated number qualified to vote:


Number of voters:

183 in 18201


1,616 (1821); 1,729 (1831)2


10 Mar. 1820WILLIAM HOLMES87
  Double return. HOLMES and ROGERS declared elected, 16 June 1820 
31 July 1830EDWARD ROGERS 
30 Apr. 1831EDWARD ROGERS 

Main Article

The small irregularly built town of Bishop’s Castle was situated in the Clun hills in the hundred of Purslow, 20 miles south-west of Shrewsbury and 17 north-west of Ludlow. It comprised four townships, Broughton, Colebatch, Lea and Oakley, and Woodbatch.3 The proprietorial interest exerted by the Clives as owners since 1763 of the Walcot estate had latterly been severely challenged by an alliance of ‘independent’ burgesses and wealthy candidates. Between 1818 and 1827, it cost Edward Clive†, 1st earl of Powis, who also returned the Members for Ludlow and Montgomery, £24,129 to re-establish his control.4 Powis, who had customarily reserved one seat for a treasury nominee, rarely held over half the properties, and although the greatest single threat to his interest had come of late from John Charlton Kinchant of Park Hall, Whittington, the influence of the families of More of Lynley, Oakley of Oakley, Cornewall of Delbury, Charlton of Ludford and Clive of Styche, who all had property in the neighbourhood, had also to be kept in check by preferment, a share in the representation or corporate office. The council (corporation) of 15 common burgesses or aldermen, in whom government of the borough was vested, was dominated by Powis’s relations, retainers and ‘friends’ from the above group; and the almost habitual exclusion from the corporation of freemen qualified by birth, residence and settlement to vote at parliamentary elections was increasingly resented.5 Powis’s interest had prevailed in a bitter contest at the general election of 1818. However, at the July 1819 by-election occasioned by the death of the ministerialist John Robinson, Douglas Kinnaird, the radical banker and associate of Byron and Joseph Hume*, who had been unsuccessful in 1818, defeated Lady Powis’s kinsman Viscount Valentia*. His petition against Kinnaird’s return had yet to be considered by the time of the dissolution in February 1820.6

Kinnaird, who retained the Kinchant voters, stood again as expected at the ensuing general election and his colleague in 1818, Sir William Eliott of Stobbs, also started. Eliott, who in 1831 cited his costly Bishop’s Castle campaigns in his unsuccessful application to the Grey ministry for a peerage, made way shortly before the poll for another self-proclaimed champion of the borough’s independence, the Warwickshire squire Robert Knight* of Barrells.7 Powis’s kinsman, 74-year-old William Clive of Styche, who had represented the borough without interruption since 1779, retired, and the Walcot agent Robert Wilding, who monitored tenancies, rent arrears and voter allegiance, warned Powis’s heir and man of business Lord Clive, Member for Ludlow, that prompt action was necessary to avoid defeat.8 The government nominee and whip William Holmes similarly warned the treasury of the Clives’ ‘most unaccountable neglect and apathy’, 21 Feb., adding that ‘if the Clives will exert their influence boldly and manfully both seats may yet be had, but I must confess to you that at present I have scarcely a hope of being MP for Bishop’s Castle’.9 Valentia desisted, and Powis resolved to resign his common burgessship in favour of the Rev. John Rogers of The Home and to support the candidature of Charles Rogers of Stanage Park’s barrister son Edward, thus ensuring that the interest of the Rogers family, corporators at Ludlow and Bishop’s Castle, was not deployed against him in either borough.10 John Rogers was elected an alderman at a tumultuous borough meeting, 4 Mar., and quo warranto proceedings subsequently brought against him failed.11 Writing to Mrs. Stewart MacKenzie on the 6th, Holmes noted:

My election commences tomorrow. I am opposed by Mr. Douglas Kinnaird, and although our number is above 200 voters we are so close that neither of us can even make a guess of what the issue will be.12

Next day Kinnaird and Knight were nominated by the Kinchant agent Richard Griffiths and the plumber Thomas Bowen, and Holmes and Rogers were proposed and seconded by William Clive and John Wollaston the elder, one of the five aldermen then resident. On the hustings, Kinnaird argued that Members should be accountable to their constituents for their conduct, stressed his votes against the repressive legislation enacted after Peterloo and high government expenditure and criticized the Clives for their ‘sacrilegious’ conduct in the Ludlow corporation case (concerning the demolition of St. Lawrence’s chapel) and for sponsoring a placeman. Responding, Holmes expressed pride in his office and promised to support the government and the constitution with ‘every vote I give’. Rogers alluded to his ‘rights and privileges’ as a burgess of 20 years’ standing and claimed to be ‘independent’ and free to act according to his judgement in support of Lord Liverpool’s administration.13 Polling commenced with the aldermen, who voted 13 to one for Holmes and Rogers, and by the close of the first day they had 70 votes each to 57 for Kinnaird and Knight. They led by 80-68 after two days, and 84-77 after three, but on the fourth day, with polling virtually exhausted, Kinnaird and Knight nudged ahead to 87-86 before the closing votes of the bailiff, the surgeon John Wollaston the younger, for Holmes and Rogers left the candidates equal with 87. The assessor Louis [Lewis] Hayes Petit* prepared two indentures and all four candidates were chaired.14 Voting was strictly partisan throughout, and each of the 183 voters who tendered, 94 for Kinnaird and Knight and 89 for Holmes and Rogers, split their votes. Nine were rejected, four for non-residence, three as ‘not being settled’, one on both counts and one for being under age. The votes of a further 20, including ten aldermen, were accepted after objections on grounds of residence or settlement were overruled, and their cases featured in subsequent petitions.15

Three petitions were presented, 11 May 1820, and referred to a committee on the 30th. The outcome partly depended on a ruling on the right of election. Holmes and Rogers alleged that Wollaston had rejected their supporters’ legal votes and accepted illegal votes for Knight and Kinnaird, who they claimed would have been unseated for corruption had Valentia’s petition been investigated. Their counsel held that the franchise was vested in ‘the bailiff and capital burgesses, and also in such of the common burgesses inhabiting within the borough as have parochial settlements therein, and have been resident therein a year and a day before the day of election’. Kinnaird and Knight levelled a like charge against Wollaston, claimed undue interference by Powis as a peer and maintained that the franchise was in the ‘bailiff, and all the burgesses inhabiting within the ... borough’. The petition of Kinnaird’s supporters, the farmer Benjamin Beddoes and the shoemaker Thomas Norton, accused Powis’s agents of illegal treating and procuring votes for Holmes and Rogers by threats and bribery. They claimed that the right lay ‘in the bailiff, and all the burgesses inhabiting within the ... borough, that is to say, in such burgesses as are legally settled in the ... borough, and who have resided in the ... borough a year and a day previous to such election’. On 16 June the committee ruled that the right of election lay in ‘the resident and non-resident capital burgesses ... and the common burgesses who have been resident a year and a day before the day of election, and have a legal settlement in the ... borough’. The non-resident aldermen’s votes for Holmes and Rogers were confirmed and Kinnaird and Knight lost an additional vote for bribery, leaving Holmes and Rogers the victors by a single vote.16 They each paid Powis’s agent £2,000 and contributed to the hospitality costs, but even so, by July 1820 Powis’s cumulative election debts for Bishop’s Castle amounted to £13,000.17

Wilding estimated that Kinnaird still controlled over 76 votes in September 1820, and a directive from Edward Rogers as Member and bailiff failed to stop the town being illuminated when the case against Queen Caroline was abandoned in November.18 In July 1821 James Lewis Knight as counsel cautioned against attempting to extend Powis’s influence by incorporating the wastes, as the borough boundaries could not be accurately ascertained and the aldermen would not relinquish their manorial rights.19 However, mainly through the exertions of Wilding and the attorney Robert Newell, Powis consolidated his influence, and by September 1823 property ownership was estimated at Powis 51, Lord Clive 21, Kinchat 29, others 243, and Powis was reckoned to control 96 of the 191 voters.20 Rogers took charge of the 1822 Bishop’s Castle roads bill which improved communications with Powis’s borough of Montgomery.21 The licensed victuallers’ petition to the Commons against the 1824 retail bill was presented by Holmes, 21 May 1824.22 The death of William Clive, 15 June 1825, and reports of an imminent dissolution encouraged Powis’s opponents, who, having appealed in vain to Kinnaird, issued notices in September 1825 criticizing the Members. Comparing their cause to that of the anti-Beaufort party in Monmouth, they appealed for ‘a country gentleman who is above being the cat’s paw of any lord’ to represent them.23 None was forthcoming. Rogers canvassed assiduously and Powis’s agents arranged a dinner for Holmes and 193 of his supporters at the White House, 17 Sept., while the mercer and future recorder Samuel Bright replaced William Clive as an alderman, 26 Sept., and was immediately elected bailiff.24 The Members issued joint addresses and returned to canvass shortly before the general election in June 1826, when they were returned unopposed at a cost of over £430, spent mainly on hospitality meted out according to strict guidelines at Powis and Kinchant’s inns and the Three Tuns, the house of William Beddoes.25

Having reasserted control, in 1827 Powis sought to transfer the cost of the constituency to the estate of Lord Clive, who provided a lavish dinner for the burgesses that Michaelmas.26 On 27 Feb. 1828 Bishop’s Castle petitioned for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, which farmers in Herefordshire and Shropshire bitterly opposed.27 Nothing came of speculation that Edmund Lechmere Charlton†, who had contested Ludlow unsuccessfully in 1826, was building up his interest. The only evidence of dissension before the general election of 1830 was an abortive canvass by Edward Griffiths of Welsh Street, who had heard ‘that Holmes don’t come’, and divisions over the sale of beer bill. The licensed victuallers and independent innkeepers petitioned the Commons against it, and the bailiff, justices, recorder and inhabitants did so for additional restrictions on on-consumption, including increased licensing powers for the corporation magistrates, 24 May. Rogers’s votes of 21 June, 1 July, accorded with the latter.28 Bright, who was directed to muster support for Powis’s kinsman by marriage, the bishop of Worcester’s heir Frederick Hamilton Cornewall of Delbury, as the replacement for Holmes, informed Newell, 22 July 1830:

All is as quiet as murder here, there is not any appearance of an election. The drinking part was put a stop to on Tuesday evening. I have waited upon those men that you gave me the names of and they all promised to vote for Mr. Cornewall and Mr. Rogers.29

They were elected without incident on the 31st, but discomfited by subsequent bills for musicians.30

As Lord Clive directed, both divided with the Wellington administration on the civil list when they were brought down, 15 Nov. 1830, and against the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed Bishop’s Castle’s disfranchisement.31 The Commons received a hostile petition signed by over 200 burgesses, 20 Apr. 1831, the day after its defeat.32 At the ensuing general election Powis replaced Cornewall with Knight, whom he considered better suited to present the borough’s case against disfranchisement. Unusually, the bailiff William Oakley and all 81 burgesses present signed the indenture, and 65 dined with the Members at the Castle Inn.33

Bishop’s Castle remained in schedule A in the reintroduced reform bill, which Powis’s Members opposed. Rogers presented and endorsed the burgesses’ hostile petition, 14 July, when Knight’s ‘absurd tirade’ in praise of the electorate of 192 and claim that the recent contests and double return proved that it was not a nomination borough embarrassed the Clives without assisting their cause.34 The population of the parish exceeded 2,000 in 1831, and opposing disfranchisement, 19 July, Knight, Rogers and the Shropshire Member Cressett Pelham stressed the breadth and ‘ancient rights’ of the electorate and pleaded that the borough be allowed to retain one seat. Lord John Russell countered with references to its history of bribery, and its disfranchisement was carried without a division.35 The bells were pealed and an ox roasted to mark the bill’s rejection by the Lords in October.36 In December 1831 Bishop’s Castle, with its 361 houses and annual assessed tax payments of £270, was 51st on the list of boroughs to be disfranchised and not therefore reprieved in the revised measure. A return drafted by the attorney John Griffiths that month confirmed that the borough and parish were ‘totally distinct’, and its disfranchisement was effected by the Reform Act in June 1832.37 In December 1833 the corporation protested that the municipal corporation commissioners’ inquiry was ‘illegal and unconstitutional’ and denounced the ‘most iniquitous’ Act which had deprived Bishop’s Castle of its franchise.38

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. Salop Archives, Clive-Powis mss 552/22/49.
  • 2. The copy of the census enumerator’s return for 1831 in ibid. mss 552/22/89 gives totals of 1,805 for the borough and 2,075 for the parish.
  • 3. S. Bagshaw, Salop Dir. (1851), 696.
  • 4. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/102; F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 32, 279, 280, 343.
  • 5. H.T. Weyman, ‘Members for Bishop’s Castle’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), x (1898), 33-35; F. Lavender, ‘Bishop’s Castle Burgesses’, ibid. lviii (1949-50), 80; PP (1835), xxvi. 524-6.
  • 6. Add. 36457, f. 316; CJ, lxxv. 36, 37, 81, 82.
  • 7. Bristol Mercury, 21 Feb.; Shrewsbury Chron. 3 Mar.; The Times, 7 Mar. 1820; Brougham mss, Eliott to Brougham, 11 Sept. 1831.
  • 8. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/33-45, 50-56, 59.
  • 9. TNA T64/261.
  • 10. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/60-62 and uncat. See LUDLOW.
  • 11. Salop RO DA1/100/2, Bishop’s Castle corporation minutes, 1713-1861, p. 265; Clive-Powis mss 552/22/64; Lavender, 82.
  • 12. NAS GD46/4/122.
  • 13. Shrewsbury Chron. 10 Mar. 1820.
  • 14. Salopian Jnl. 8, 16 Mar.; Shrewsbury Chron. 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 15. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/49.
  • 16. CJ, lxxv. 181-3, 246-8, 316, 317, 321; The Times, 17, 31 May; Salopian Jnl. 17 May, 7, 21 June; Shrewsbury Chron. 19 May; Salop RO 6003/1, 6 June 1820.
  • 17. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/57-63, 67.
  • 18. Ibid. 552/22/74; Bishop’s Castle corporation minutes, p. 273; The Times, 20 Nov. 1820.
  • 19. Clive-Powis mss 552/17/596-8; 552/23/52.
  • 20. Ibid. 552/22/75-79.
  • 21. Shrewsbury Chron. 19 Oct. 1821; CJ, lxxvii. 42, 43, 103, 114, 135, 238, 239, 267.
  • 22. CJ, lxxix. 394.
  • 23. Salopian Jnl. 22 June 1825; Clive-Powis mss 552/22/104 and uncat.
  • 24. Hereford Independent, 25 Feb. 1826; Clive-Powis mss 552/22/80, 81; Bishop’s Castle corporation minutes, pp. 276-86.
  • 25. Shrewsbury Chron. 2, 16 June; Salopian Jnl. 7, 14 June 1826; Clive-Powis mss 552/22/82-86 and uncat. letter of Henry Clive, 16 Nov. 1833. Powis held the Castle Inn, Crown and Star, White House, Old Club and Six Bells, Kinchant the Bull and Red Lion.
  • 26. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/105-7; Shrewsbury Chron. 12 Oct. 1827.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxiii. 109.
  • 28. Hereford Independent, 1 Dec. 1827; Clive-Powis mss 552/22/90; Hereford Jnl. 14 July 1830; CJ, lxxxv. 463, 464.
  • 29. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/91.
  • 30. Ibid. 552/22/92-95; Salopian Jnl. 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 31. Powis mss, Planta to Lord Clive, 21 Oct. 1830. See EDWARD HERBERT, Visct. Clive.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxvi. 509.
  • 33. Clive-Powis mss 552/22/97 and uncat. Clark to Allen, 25 Apr.; Bishop’s Castle corporation minutes, pp. 289-93; Salopian Jnl. 4 May 1831.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxxvi. 654, 656; The Times, 15 July 1831.
  • 35. Salopian Jnl. 20 July; Shrewsbury Chron. 22 July 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 679.
  • 36. Shrewsbury Chron. 14 Oct. 1831.
  • 37. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 107; VCH Salop, iii. 307, 308.
  • 38. PP (1835), xxvi. 523.