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 burgage holders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 70 in 18311


532 (1821); 513 (1831)2


19 Feb. 1822LORD FRANCIS LEVESON GOWER vice Titchfield, vacated his seat
7 May 1827HON. WILLIAM LAMB vice Russell, vacated his seat
23 July 1828WILLIAM EWART vice Lamb, vacated his seat
10 Jan. 1831TENNYSON re-elected after appointment to office
18 Feb. 1831SIR WILLIAM HORNE vice Mills, vacated his seat
18 July 1831THOMAS HYDE VILLIERS vice Ponsonby, vacated his seat
 HENRY JOHN TEMPLE, Visct. Palmerston [I] vice Tennyson, chose to sit for Stamford

Main Article

Bletchingley, a former market town overlooking the South Downs, 11 miles from Croydon, in the east of the county, owed ‘almost its entire consequence’ by this period to the fact that it returned Members to Parliament. The borough covered only a small area (about 50 acres) of the parish. It was reported in 1831 that there had been no contested election in living memory and that no records survived, but it was thought there were ‘about 70’ burgage properties, conferring the right to vote. Almost all of these were owned by the lord of the manor, Matthew Russell* of Brancepeth, county Durham, whose father had purchased the borough interest for £60,000 in 1815. According to Oldfield, Bletchingley was unique in that it possessed no returning officer, a Commons’ judgment of 1623 having determined that the bailiff had no role in elections, and Russell therefore ‘deputed whomever he pleases to return his nominees’.3 His borough affairs were managed by his brother-in-law Charles Tennyson*, an arrangement which continued after Russell’s death in 1822, when Bletchingley passed to his son William. An admirer of George Canning*, Tennyson generally returned paying guests of similar views, though his attitude to Lord Liverpool’s ministry was ambivalent. The borough provided a safe haven for some leading politicians in this period.

The dissolution in 1820 found Tennyson and Matthew Russell without settled candidates. Tennyson wrote for instructions, 31 Jan., in default of which he proposed to return his father and Russell himself as stopgaps, a device employed at the previous general election. Russell, who was averse to this idea, wished to ascertain the intentions of the sitting Member, Sir William Curtis*, who had declared for London, but presumed that ‘he cannot ... wish me to keep a retreat for him in case of defeat, at a great expense of more election dinners, etc.’ In the event the other sitting Member, Lord Titchfield, the heir of the 4th duke of Portland and the nephew of Canning, retained the seat which William Huskisson* had secured for him the previous year, and Canning arranged for the other to be filled by Edward Edwardes, the heir of Lord Kensington†, who had recently come of age.4 In June 1820 Titchfield suggested to Tennyson that they should ‘remodel’ their arrangement so as to ‘make the payments equal’, in which case ‘my father would no longer consider himself entitled to the nomination, excepting only in the event of my death’. Evidently nothing came of this, but when Titchfield transferred to King’s Lynn early in 1822 Canning was ‘lucky enough to procure from the duke ... the reversion of Bletchingley for Lady Stafford’, to return one of her sons; Lord Francis Leveson Gower was chosen.5 In September 1822, after the death of the leader of the Commons, Lord Londonderry, Tennyson informed Canning that he and his nephew William Russell (who had succeeded his father in May) would only continue to support the ministry if Canning occupied a ‘very prominent station’ in it. The following April Tennyson expressed his and his nephew’s dissatisfaction with the government’s foreign policy, although they did not blame Canning for this, and stated their determination to steer a ‘middle course’ between government and opposition.6 At the general election of 1826 Russell and Tennyson returned themselves.7

In May 1827, shortly after the formation of Canning’s ministry, Russell, who was going abroad, made his seat available to the premier to provide for the Irish lawyer John Henry North*. As this was not required, the opening was offered to William Lamb, Canning’s Irish secretary, with the proviso that he should vacate directly on Russell’s return. Tennyson informed Lamb of the details of the by-election, which was to be conducted by Russell’s attorney John Gregson*, assuring him that ‘it will not be necessary for you to go to Bletchingley’.8 In September Tennyson observed that since Canning’s death his and Russell’s ‘position ... with regard to [Lord Goderich’s] government was somewhat changed’, and this may also have been influenced by his failure to obtain a position on the admiralty council for himself. Nevertheless, when Russell signalled in December 1827 that he would return to England for the start of the next parliamentary session and required his seat back, it was arranged that he should stand for county Durham instead while Lamb was left undisturbed.9 Tennyson noted that the formation of the duke of Wellington’s ministry early in 1828 meant that ‘we are somewhat delicately situated’ in relation to Lamb, and in July, after the secession of the Huskissonites, Lamb was obliged to vacate because Russell had ‘declared himself against’ the government. William Ewart, the son of a Liverpool merchant, filled the seat on Huskisson’s recommendation.10 Both Members supported the government’s Catholic emancipation bill in 1829, though the borough itself was silent on the matter. At the general election of 1830, according to an account in a radical newspaper, 13 people attended the proceedings, including the cryer of the court, but neither candidate. Tennyson was nominated by one Drummond, a Croydon attorney, and another lawyer named Collitt, while Robert Mills, Russell’s steward, was sponsored by the Rev. Kendrick, rector of Bletchingley, and Gregson; they were duly declared elected. Whereas at previous elections many non-electors had been present and were ‘handsomely entertained’, on this occasion ‘they would not have known ... there had been an election but for the melodious sounds of tin kettles, bells, horns, etc., which commenced when the election party left in the evening’.11

Tennyson and Mills were keeping the seats warm, and the former told Lord Durham early in September 1830 that he and Russell only intended to ‘leave [the] locum tenantes in until after the meeting [of Parliament]’. Durham urged the importance of filling the seats with ‘efficient persons’, but he suspected that Tennyson ‘wants to see how "the cat jumps"’ and that ‘he inclines towards the Huskisson connection’. Russell was ‘of no use talking to’, as ‘he just leaves it to Tennyson.12 At the end of the year Russell agreed to put Mills’s seat at the disposal of Lord Grey’s ministry, in which Tennyson took office soon afterwards. Grey, who allocated the seat to the solicitor-general, Sir William Horne, complained that it was offered ‘at a Jew’s price’, the terms being ‘£1,500 for the first year and £1,000 afterwards’.13 The government’s reform bill of March 1831 proposed to disfranchise Bletchingley. At the subsequent dissolution Russell offered Grey the nomination to both seats, but this was made conditional on Tennyson’s succeeding at Stamford; meantime Tennyson was returned for Bletchingley with John Ponsonby, the son of the 1st Baron Ponsonby.14 That summer lord chancellor Brougham reportedly coveted one of the seats for a brother, but at Grey’s insistence they were used to accommodate the foreign secretary, Lord Palmerston, and the secretary to the board of control, Thomas Hyde Villiers, both of whom had been defeated at the general election. The financial terms were clearly still an embarrassment to the government: Palmerston contributed £800 towards the cost of his seat in October 1831, only to be asked for a similar payment the following March. After forcing the patronage secretary Edward Ellice* to admit a connection between the additional charge and Tennyson’s recent surrender of his ordnance place, Palmerston refused to pay more than £500.15

When the question of the disfranchisement of burgage boroughs came before the Commons, 20 July 1831, no attempt was made to argue specifically for Bletchingley’s reprieve. As supporters of reform, neither patron, manager nor Members offered any resistance. The new criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed the borough’s fate, as it contained 96 houses and paid £120 in assessed taxes, placing it 14th in the list of the smallest English boroughs. Bletchingley’s extinction was confirmed without a murmur, 20 Feb. 1832, and it was absorbed into the Eastern division of Surrey.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 91-93.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1832-4), 948; Oldfield, Key (1820), 25, 26; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 91-93, 108, 501.
  • 4. Durham CRO, Brancepeth mss D/Br/F/294; Lincs. AO, Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H108/28, 32, 34; Creevey Pprs. ii. 72.
  • 5. Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2 Td’E H/1/17; TNA 30/29/8/6/724.
  • 6. Harewood mss, Tennyson to Canning, 11 Sept. 1822; Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H1/93.
  • 7. Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss Td’E H98/29-31.
  • 8. Ibid. Td’E H1/85, 105.
  • 9. Ibid. Td’E H1/108, 9; Add. 38753, ff. 3, 4; Lansdowne mss, Lamb to Lansdowne, 24 Dec. 1827.
  • 10. Tennyson D’Eyncourt mss 2 Td’E H85/9; Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 5 July; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne Gladstone mss 277, Huskisson to J. Gladstone, 18 July 1828.
  • 11. Brighton Guardian, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 12. Brougham mss, Durham to Brougham, 7 Sept. 1830.
  • 13. NLS, Ellice mss, Ellice to Russell, 25 Dec., reply, 27 Dec. 1830; PRO NI, Anglesey mss D619/28A-B/36.
  • 14. Grey mss, Russell to Grey, 22 Apr., reply, 23 Apr. 1831.
  • 15. Brougham mss, Ellice to Brougham, 17 May; Grey mss, Grey to Smith Stanley, 27 May 1831; K. Bourne, Palmerston, 509, 10, 534, 535.