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 corporation

Number qualified to vote:



1,851 (1821); 2,107 (1831)


28 Feb. 1825JAMES BRADSHAW vice Wrottesley, deceased

Main Article

Brackley, a small market town in an agricultural district, had little to recommend it to contemporary observers, one of whom commented that ‘its buildings have no pretension to uniformity or architectural taste’. Formerly ‘a great mart for wool’, by 1831 its ‘only manufacture’ was ‘that of lace’.1 The return of its Members was under the patronage of the 2nd marquess of Stafford, whose family had maintained an influence there for 200 years. He had inherited the right of nomination from his uncle, the canal-building 3rd duke of Bridgwater, in 1803, but was content to let the sitting Member, Robert Haldane Bradshaw (Bridgwater’s factotum and a trustee of his will), take responsibility for the borough. Bradshaw, who had been returned by his employer in 1802 to attend to the canal’s interest, continued to represent the borough throughout this period. His colleague from 1810 was the barrister Henry Wrottesley, after whose death in 1825 Bradshaw returned his own son James Bradshaw, deputy superintendent of the Bridgwater canals. All three were Tories.

There was no hint of opposition. The corporation, comprising a mayor, who was also the returning officer, seven other aldermen and 23 common burgesses, was controlled by Bradshaw. Of the aldermen, only two were resident, one an innkeeper, the other the local vicar, whose living was under Bradshaw’s nomination. Three others were members of Bridgwater’s family. Of the common burgesses, 12 were local tenants of Stafford and the others were employees of the Bridgwater Navigation Company.2 The municipal corporations commissioners reported in 1834 that the election of Members ‘by the patron of the borough seems to have been, for more than a century at least, the only object of the existence of the corporation’.3 Other than at the annual meeting to confirm Bradshaw’s nominee as mayor, the corporation only gathered for a general election. In 1830, £67 was spent providing music and refreshments and £102 on transporting from Lancashire those burgesses who were Bridgwater employees.4

During the 1820s there was much discussion of the desirability of enclosing the common land around the town, but it was not until the four major landholders petitioned for it, 16 Feb. 1829, that anything was done.5 The largest landowner was Magdalen College, Oxford, with over 800 acres, followed by Thomas Arnold with 165. Elizabeth Loveday and the Bridgwater trust had about 130 each, while the remainder was in much smaller holdings. The bill, sponsored by William Cartwright, Tory Member for Northamptonshire, received royal assent, 14 May 1829, and enclosed 2,284 acres, the largest beneficiary being the Bridgwater estate, whose holding rose to 1,029 acres, making it the largest single landowner.6 Petitions from the town for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 18 Mar. 1824, 14 Apr. 1831, and the Lords, 16 Nov. 1830.7

Brackley was condemned by the Grey ministry’s reform bill to lose both its Members. James Bradshaw made a feeble attempt to have it reprieved, 20 July 1831, when he said that according to the 1831 census the borough’s population now exceeded 2,000, and that therefore under the government’s criteria should be entitled to retain one Member. He denied that it was a nomination borough and pointed out that it had never been charged with corruption. Number 55 in the list of small boroughs scheduled for abolition, the borough was disfranchised by the Reform Act and subsumed into the new Northamptonshire South constituency. Thereafter Robert Bradshaw abandoned any interest in membership of Parliament and in 1833 considered selling the Bridgwater estates at Brackley to pay for repairs to the trust’s docks at Liverpool. He disposed of his own private estate there in 1834.8 The corporations commissioners noted that the prosperity of Brackley was increasing, but doubted whether it was yet sufficiently prosperous to support a borough council, which it eventually acquired in 1886.9

Authors: Martin Casey / Philip Salmon


  • 1. Pigot’s Northants. Commercial Dir. (1831), 156.
  • 2. PP (1835), xxiii. 160; J. Clarke, Yesterday’s Brackley, 139.
  • 3. PP (1835), xxiii. 160.
  • 4. Clarke, 140.
  • 5. CJ, lxxxiv. 31.
  • 6. Ibid. 297; Clarke, 162, 163.
  • 7. CJ, lxxix. 177; lxxxvi. 486; LJ, lxiii. 69.
  • 8. F.C. Mather, After the Canal Duke, 83, 85.
  • 9. PP (1835), xxiii. 160.