Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen (resident and non-resident)
Estimated number qualified to vote:
1,500 in 18311
Number of voters:
986 in 18302
4,096 (1821); 4,785 (1831)3
|7 Mar. 1820||THOMAS WHITMORE|
|WILLIAM WOLRYCHE WHITMORE|
|15 June 1826||THOMAS WHITMORE||699|
|WILLIAM WOLRYCHE WHITMORE||461|
|5 Aug. 1830||THOMAS WHITMORE||721|
|WILLIAM WOLRYCHE WHITMORE||669|
|3 May 1831||WILLIAM WOLRYCHE WHITMORE|
Bridgnorth, whose principal trades were in carpets, cloth, iron, malt and stockings, was a castellated market town bisected by the River Severn eight miles south of Wenlock. It was administratively distinct from the hundred of Stottesden and county of Shropshire within which it was situated.4 The Whitmore family of Apley Park, who controlled at least one seat almost without interruption from 1660 until 1868, had long thwarted the ambitions of the next largest property owners, Acton of Aldenham, Pigot of Pateshull and Tracy of Morville, but their dominance was severely challenged in this period. In part, this was a reaction to the decision by the anti-Catholic squire of Apley Thomas Whitmore, the borough recorder and Member since 1806, to facilitate the return as his colleague in 1820 of his kinsman William Wolryche Whitmore of Dudmaston, a pro-reform, pro-Catholic advocate of free trade, who campaigned to revise the corn laws and end the trading monopolies of the East India Company and the Bank. The Whitmores’ opponents also drew on tensions and vestiges of party divisions within the corporate body, which resented the regular usurpation of its powers by bailiff’s committees and the increasing importance of out-voters in parliamentary elections.5
Despite its many charters, Bridgnorth’s constitution and ‘liberties’ remained ill defined, and government by by-law prevailed. The two bailiffs, who were also the returning officers, were chosen annually by a ballot of the 24 aldermen (ex-bridgemasters who had served two years as chamberlain) and had to be resident aldermen who had not served as bailiffs during the previous three years. The ‘empanelled jury’ were ‘locked up’ until their choice was announced and delays indicated dissension. Most elections in this period were decided in about three hours, but that of Andrew Harding and Thomas Oakes in 1825 took 56.6 Pressure to extend the franchise at borough elections from the aldermen and common council of 48 to all resident freemen increased as their power to determine the outcome of parliamentary elections was gradually eroded. Approximately half the out-voters were manufacturers and their ‘Bridgnorth-born’ employees from the neighbouring Shropshire iron and coal fields and the unfranchised West Midland towns of Birmingham, Kidderminster, Stourbridge, Stourport and Wolverhampton, who were anxious to see their own interests represented.7 Admissions were by birth, apprenticeship, or election in common hall and cost 6s. 3d., £1 and £5 (resident) or £10 (non-resident) respectively. Of 1,310 admissions between 1800 and 1831, 909 (69 per cent) qualified by birth and 86 (seven per cent) by servitude, 159 (12 per cent) were ‘elected as foreigners’ and 156 (12 per cent) were ‘elected as inhabitants’. The £2,739 19s. 3d. so yielded was ‘applied from time to time under the direction of the bailiff and burgesses in common hall’, mainly in cash handouts to named recipients elected from a short list.8 Burgesses proposed and accepted at one common hall were usually admitted at the next, numbers peaking immediately before and during elections, when, with the co-operation of the town clerk, an office held successively by Joseph, John Jacob and Hubert Smith, partisan aldermen kept the borough court adjourned for daily presentments and admissions from eight a.m.until polling commenced at eleven.9 The objective was to admit and poll out-voters on the same day. Instructions issued by the Whitmores’ agents, the attorneys and bankers John Pritchard and sons, who also acted for the Foresters in Wenlock, stipulated that they were to be kept together in distinct residential groups for enrolment, polling and entertainment. ‘Steady in-voters’ were to be kept back ‘to feed the poll when required and out-voters brought up as fast as possible’.10
At the general election of 1820 Sir Thomas John Tyrwhitt Jones of Stanley Hall’s announcement that he was retiring after sitting for a single Parliament took Thomas Whitmore by surprise; and he had to act swiftly to quash Tyrwhitt Jones’s attempt to transfer his interest to another vice-president of Wolverhampton Pitt Club, Ralph Benson* of Lutwyche, who was expected to stand down at Stafford and reputedly had £20,000 to spend. He commenced his personal canvass, 18 Feb., ‘encouraged by the invitation of a numerous and respectable body of inhabitant burgesses and others’.11 A notice cautioned voters against pledging support for a new candidate, ‘as they may rely upon a gentlemen of great respectability coming forward’, and Wolryche Whitmore announced, 26 Feb., that he was standing ‘on principles of perfect independence’ and
solely to ensure that creditable representation which the borough has ever possessed and is so amply entitled to. The cause, gentlemen, is YOURS, and I do trust that I shall meet with a firm and vigorous support from all who have the honour and respectability of the borough at heart.12
On the 28th, and apparently after the doors had been barred to keep out Benson’s supporters, a resolution endorsing the Whitmores was carried unanimously by the bailiffs, Francis Moore and Thomas Corser, in common hall.13 Forced out by ‘an unlooked for coalition’ and smarting from the slur cast on his respectability, Benson, who was to be successfully prosecuted in July 1826 by the proprietor of the Swan Inn for non-payment of a £25 bill, retired, 1 Mar., and briefly ‘tried his luck’ at Stafford. Even so, a group of burgesses, led by the attorney Thomas Gitton, strove to keep his interest alive, and were expected to ‘bring forward a party of burgesses and take possession of the hall ... and demand a poll’ on his behalf.14 Edmund Lechmere Charlton† of Ludford started on the anti-corporation interest but desisted and the Whitmores were returned unopposed. Thomas was nominated by his kinsman, the London banker and 1795-1806 Member John Whitmore, and the Rev. Thomas Dethick, and Wolryche by Captain Philip Acton of Morville Hall, representing his own and the Tracy interest, and the hop merchant Humphrey Oakes.15 Sixty-one new burgesses were created. An angry exchange in the local press between Benson and Wolryche Whitmore ensued and both later financed dinners in Bridgnorth and the Staffordshire Black Country to curry support.16 Thomas Whitmore later claimed that he now declined a coronation peerage for family reasons, but the deployment of a Bridgnorth seat may also have been an issue.17
Bridgnorth and its hinterland petitioned the Commons for government action to combat agricultural distress, 30 May 1820, and ‘the deficiency of the manufacture and iron foundry’ was again noted by the 1821 census enumerators.18 The Whitmores, Tyrwhitt Jones, Sir Ferdinand Richard Edward Acton of Aldenham and Captain Acton were all in attendance and party activity was minimal when Thomas Boulton and Benjamin Watts were installed as bailiffs at Michaelmas 1820; but, after the case against Queen Caroline was abandoned in November, ‘a handsome subscription was raised, and the rejoicings were kept up for several days’.19 Wolryche Whitmore backed the parliamentary, but not the local campaigns on the queen’s behalf and Thomas Whitmore opposed both. The clergy of the town and neighbourhood petitioned the Commons against Catholic relief, 15 Mar. 1821, and both Houses in 1825.20 The Commons received Bridgnorth petitions against West Indian slavery in 1823 and 1826, the Bristol town dues bill, 12 Apr., the beer bill, 18 May, and the indictment in Demerara of the Methodist missionary John Smith, 1 June 1824, and for the hides and skins bill, 12 May, and repeal of the house and window taxes, 12 May 1824; but none was adopted that Parliament by regularly convened borough meetings in common hall.21 Their minuted proceedings reveal partisan divisions over the election as town clerk of John Jacob Smith, who defeated his fellow attorneys Henry Vickers and Gitton by 87:19:16, 14 Apr. 1821, and the subsequent restriction of the borough franchise by by-law to resident burgesses paying scot and lot.22 By 1822 a campaign for local improvements, which originally included a new bridge to Telford’s design, and involved the corporation in extensive litigation to regain possession of its properties, was under way. A theatre opened in 1823, but proposals for gas lighting made little headway in 1824, and despite being endorsed by a bailiffs’ committee, a project to replace the prison (carried in principle, 1 Nov. 1822) was rejected by the corporation by 25-20 in February and 56-16 in May 1825.23 That month the Whig barrister Robert Aglionby Slaney*, whose father had a strong interest in Shifnal, informed the deputy recorder, Thomas Leeke of Lilleshall, that he would be replaced by Wolryche Whitmore’s brother-in-law, the future Calcutta judge Edward Ryan, which was effected at Michaelmas, after a by-law was carried denying the deputy recorder freeman status.24 Growing resentment of Whitmore ‘family management’ and the quest for a ‘Protestant candidate’ to oppose Wolryche Whitmore obliged the Whitmores to canvass early at the general election of 1826, when they cited their parliamentary conduct, near residence and willingness to represent agricultural and manufacturing interests.25 The eventual third man was the ‘no Popery’ barrister Ebenezer Ludlow, an agent to the 6th duke of Beaufort and recorder of Bristol and Swansea, whose candidature was announced, 6 June. He had contested Cardiff Boroughs unsuccessfully in 1820 and recently canvassed Leominster.26 He arrived shortly before the borough court opened for nominations on the 9th, when his sponsors were the Rev. John Clare of Wolverhampton and the maltster and 1822-3 bailiff James Shipman, representing the Tracy interest. Dethick and Moore nominated Thomas Whitmore, who attended despite being ‘severely indisposed’. Addressing the freemen, he ‘disclaimed any interference as to what other candidate they should vote for’, promised ‘undeviating’ opposition to Catholic relief and attention to local interests. Wolryche Whitmore was proposed by the Rev. George Swinney and seconded by the grocer and 1821-2 bailiff Francis Pierpoint. He endeavoured, at great length, to project himself as a supporter of emancipation, but not the Catholic church; of parliamentary reform, but not annual parliaments, and of free trade, but with adequate protection for agriculture. He denounced Ludlow as a stranger and refused, when challenged, to modify his stance on emancipation. Ludlow, who spoke vehemently against it, came a close second to Thomas Whitmore on the show of hands. Polling commenced that afternoon and continued for five days before Ludlow conceded defeat on the 15th, after 849 freemen had polled, casting 1,514 votes. Three-hundred-and-seven burgesses, (44 per cent of those polled) were admitted during the election.27
According to the copy pollbook,28 82 per cent cast a vote for Thomas Whitmore, 54 for Wolryche Whitmore and 42 for Ludlow. Non-resident voters out-numbered resident voters by 568:279, approximately two to one. Four-hundred-and-twelve out-voters (73 per cent) and 253 residents (91 per cent) split their votes, while 146 out-voters (27 per cent) and 26 residents (nine per cent) plumped. Thomas Whitmore received 38 plumpers, Wolryche Whitmore 27 and Ludlow 117 (33 per cent). The Whitmores shared 429 votes (61 and 93 per cent of their respective totals); Thomas Whitmore and Ludlow 232 (33 and 66 per cent), and Wolryche Whitmore and Ludlow four. Thomas Whitmore’s unassailability is confirmed, as is Wolryche Whitmore’s dependence on the second votes of his cousin’s supporters. One-hundred-and-sixty-two residents (58 per cent) and 267 out-voters (47 per cent) split their votes between them. Ninety residents (32 per cent), including Ludlow’s proposers and at least 13 of Tracy’s 18 tenants, voted for Thomas Whitmore and Ludlow. Although the Whitmores had clear majorities from the residents (Thomas Whitmore 259: Wolryche Whitmore 164: Ludlow 109) and the out-voters (440:296:245), Wolryche Whitmore’s vulnerability to a challenge from a wealthy outsider with sufficient local support to facilitate large-scale burgess creation was evident on the fourth and fifth days, when the respective tallies were Thomas Whitmore 151 and 82, Wolryche Whitmore 90 and 61, Ludlow 97 and 75. The tallies for Wolverhampton (Thomas Whitmore 16: Wolryche Whitmore 11: Ludlow 12), Wenlock, including Broseley (53:34:21), Birmingham (21:15:19), Stourport (10:8:7), Stourbridge (9:11:2), Bewdley (9:2:9), Kidderminster (10:12:9) and Worcester (21:22:3), where the Whitmores’ agents, the attorneys Collins and Hinton of Wenlock, Fox and Southam of Cleobury, Robins of Stourbridge, Pritchard of Bridgnorth and Simpsons of Birmingham could draw on established dining networks. They also reflect local opposition to Wolryche Whitmore in Bewdley and support for Ludlow in Birmingham, Kidderminster, and Stourport, but he made little headway in Worcester, where Wolryche Whitmore’s brother-in-law, the banker Elias Isaac, was active on his behalf, or in Stourbridge, where the ironmasters favoured Wolryche Whitmore. Trends were in any case masked by the wide distribution of Ludlow’s plumpers and the strong overall support for Thomas Whitmore. All 11 clergymen voted for him, six giving second votes to Wolryche Whitmore and five to Ludlow. Among the large employers, the Bridgnorth soap manufacturer John Lloyd, the Shifnal maltster Samuel Thomason and the ironmaster William Botfield of Decker Hill plumped for Thomas Whitmore. The ironmasters Alexander Brodie of the Coalbrookdale works, George Hanbury, Robert Hazledine and William Whitehouse Hill of Bridgnorth, William Henry Lovatt of Wolverhampton, and John Onions of Caughley split for the Whitmores, as did the Bridgnorth carpet manufacturer Joseph Southwell, the Coalport coal merchant William Pugh and china manufacturer John Rose, and the Broseley brickmakers John and Thomas Rhoden.
The election cost the Whitmores at least £2,667 5s. 4d., with an additional £982 7s. 5d. for hospitality, and they later hosted local dinners for the out-voters.29 Ludlow’s supporters followed suit, and Dethick and the Rev. Mathew Pilkington headed the list of 167, mainly anti-Catholics, who signed a declaration of support and dined with Ludlow at the town hall, 29 July 1826.30 On the 31st, the bailiffs agreed to join the proposed Association of Municipal Corporate Bodies in England and Wales.31 Burgess creations, of which there were a further 70 that year, continued in Ludlow’s interest, and at Michaelmas the new bailiffs, the surgeon William Colley and Charles Clark, hosted a lavish dinner attended by the Members, Ryan, and their newly admitted supporters, who included the former Member for Wenlock, William Lacon Childe, Wolryche Whitmore’s brother-in-law, Charles Orlando Bridgeman, and the Stourbridge ironmasters William Orme, and William and James Foster. The latter had taken over the Bridgnorth works of Eardington and Hampton Loade, and leased mineral rights from the Whitmores, the Foresters of Willey Park, and Bridgeman’s brother, the 2nd earl of Bradford. Wolryche Whitmore deliberately promoted his latest pamphlet advocating corn law reform as a Letter to the Electors of Bridgnorth.32
Amid mounting local opposition to Wolryche Whitmore’s political opinions, to which the correspondence columns of the Wolverhampton Chronicle testify, on 17 Feb. 1827 a meeting at Bridgnorth town hall, chaired by John Hinckesman of Westwood, adopted a petition against corn law repeal, which received 200 signatures and was forwarded to Thomas Whitmore and the 2nd earl of Malmesbury for presentation.33 The licensed victuallers petitioned the Commons against the duties on malt liquor, 27 Feb., and the chapels for repeal of the Test Acts, 18 June 1827.34 Wolryche Whitmore was provided with a petition favourable to his doomed salmon fisheries bill, 12 Mar. 1828;35 and on 6 June the bailiffs (Pierpoint and the maltster Benjamin Boucher), burgesses and inhabitants in common hall petitioned against the proposed transfer of alehouse licensing powers from borough to county magistrates.36 The Lords received the clergy’s petition against Catholic relief, 9 June 1828. Thomas Whitmore was the inaugural president of the Shropshire Brunswick Club, and on 22 Nov. 1828 a sparsely attended common hall, chaired by the butcher Thomas Milner and dominated by the anti-Popery speeches of the clergymen Dethick and Edmund Davenport, sent petitions to both Houses against concessions. A report in The Times that the duke of Newcastle presented the petition to the Lords, 9 Feb. 1829, is not confirmed in the Journals.37 Ludlow remained active, and the Bristol merchants Henry Bush and Thomas Guppy were made freemen on his recommendation in November 1828.38 On 14 May 1829 Wolryche Whitmore failed to secure the appointment of a committee of inquiry into the East India trade, for which Birmingham, Kidderminster, West Bromwich and Wolverhampton petitioned, but he published his speech and endorsed the East India Association’s campaign for abolition of the Company’s charter at the Michaelmas dinner.39 The secretary of the Liverpool committee of the East India Association, Thomas Langdon, asked Bridgnorth to support their petitioning campaign, 22 Jan. 1830, but the bailiffs, the wheelwright James Milner and the druggist Joseph Bangham, refused to act without specific instructions from Wolryche Whitmore, and no meeting or petition is recorded.40 The Wellington ministry and the Whig leadership had little time for Wolryche Whitmore’s theories, and before the general election that summer Lionel Lampet, ‘the moneyed descendant of a yeoman family of Hook Norton’, Oxfordshire, and others with grievances against the corporation, encouraged local opposition to him as a pro-Catholic free trader and hinted at the advantages of representation by a second anti-Catholic and the spoils of a contest.41 Ludlow belatedly transferred his interest to Richard Arkwright*, the anti-Catholic grandson of the Derbyshire industrialist, and many, including the Ultra Lloyd Kenyon* of Pradoe and William Jeffreys, agent to Tyrwhitt Jones and the 1st marquess of Cleveland, confidently predicted that Wolryche Whitmore would be turned out, and Ryan feared for his political future.42 However, a meeting of Bridgnorth burgesses in Birmingham on the 9th, concerned that their interests should be represented during the severe trade depression, signed and circulated a requisition supporting him, and at Stourbridge on the 14th they secured the backing of the Shropshire and Black Country ironmasters who had recently requisitioned James Foster to stand for Wenlock on their interest.43 At Foster’s behest, ‘the manufacturing and commercial interests of the towns of Birmingham, Kidderminster, Wolverhampton, Stourbridge, and the iron trade of Staffordshire and Shropshire’ resolved that
the able, assiduous and unwearied efforts of William Wolryche Whitmore to open the trade to the East Indies and to China, to induce economy in the public expenditure, to lessen taxation, and to promote the welfare of the commercial and manufacturing interests of these kingdoms, and thereby to increase the general prosperity and happiness of the empire entitle him to the utmost exertions that this meeting can use on his behalf.
Immediately £690 was pledged to the committee, which Foster chaired, and of which another ironmaster, Francis Finch of West Bromwich, was secretary. Its members, each a ‘foreign burgess’ with Bridgnorth trading connections, were the glass manufacturer William Seagar Wheeley, the Kidderminster carpet manufacturers John Broome, Henry Brinton and Richard Watson, and the ironmasters William Foster and William Orme of Stourbridge, John Barker, George Jones, Pearson, and W.H. Sparrow of Wolverhampton, Michael Grazebrooke of Halesowen, John Henry Bate of Old Swinford, Richard Bird, William Chance, Daniel and John Frederick Ledsam, Richard Thomason, and John Turner of Birmingham, John Horton of Prior’s Lee Hall, Richard Darby of Coalbrookdale, Richard Mountford of Shifnal and Harry Hunt of West Bromwich. They placed notices in The Times, Globe and Birmingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Shrewsbury, Wolverhampton and Worcester papers, and called on the East India Associations of Liverpool, Bristol, Manchester, Leeds, Coventry, Sheffield and all other manufacturing and commercial towns for support.44 Squibs and letters to the press attacked the Whitmores, ‘Evangelical Thomas’ and ‘Catholically inclined W.W.’, as ‘the coalesced candidates and the ironmasters unmasked’. Both denied coalition, professed their freedom to act independently of Wolryche Whitmore’s commercial backers, and canvassed assiduously.45 Ludlow and the watermen George and Humphrey Brown had kept the borough court adjourned, and freeman admissions, of which there were 260 that year, commenced in earnest on 26 July and continued after the poll closed on 4 Aug. 1830.46
On 2 Aug. Thomas Whitmore’s sponsors, William Charlton of Apley Castle and Davenport, stressed his ‘worth’ and long service and left him to promise to attend to agricultural and commercial interests, to deny collusion and to concede, when pressed, that he was unlikely to vote on the East India question.47 Wolryche Whitmore was nominated by H.M. Campbell of the Hollies, who praised him as an opponent of monopolies and poured scorn on Arkwright as a stranger ‘gull’d and hoodwink’d by a party’ certain of defeat. His seconder, Foster, endorsed his commitment to retrenchment, lower taxes, free trade and ending monopolies, and pointed to the Whitmores’ political differences as proof that there was no family pact. Developing these points, Wolryche Whitmore referred to the Wolryche family, by whose extinction the Whitmores had acquired Dudmaston through marriage, and stressed that he was ‘of the same name but not the same family’ as Thomas Whitmore. He claimed that he had Sir Ferdinand Acton and Charles Hanbury Tracy’s* support, and named those he had invited to become burgesses since 1826 as ‘the two Mr. Ledsams of Birmingham’, Parker and Sparrow of Wolverhampton, and Brinton, George Talbot and Watson of Kidderminster. Nominating Arkwright, Clare could say little about him, conceded that Thomas Whitmore’s return was certain and stated that, notwithstanding their political differences, he admired Wolryche Whitmore as a diligent parliamentarian of great service to his country and had refused to back him ‘solely in the belief that he is brought into this borough and supported by the indirect influence of his relations’. He caused a further stir by denouncing Foster for binding the burgesses in chains of iron, when Arkwright, who promised ‘to try to the last’, offered chains of gold. His seconder John Dale of Donnington recommended Arkwright as a friend of Peel who had stood firm on emancipation, praised the Arkwright family for clothing the industrious poor and called on the freemen to liberate themselves from Whitmore domination. Arkwright denied rumours that he was sponsored by the East India Company to oust Whitmore and charged Foster with organizing opposition to him in Liverpool. Lampet and John Pritchard, who had business connections with both parties, accused each other of disloyalty as agents, and James Turner delivered a powerful speech castigating the commercial aristocracy and accusing Arkwright of failing his constituents at Rye and treating the Birmingham freemen. Arkwright refused to match Wolryche Whitmore’s pledge to introduce legislation to end the East India Company’s monopoly. The Whitmores, who shared expenses of almost £7,700, topped the poll throughout, leaving Arkwright, who reputedly spent £10,000, a poor third.48 London committees for Thomas Whitmore and Arkwright met daily in Carey Street and at the Salopian Tavern, and there were strong surges of support for each candidate from well-to-do out-voters early on the second and third days. The unpolled ironmasters and manufacturers and the Whitmores’ servants and relations voted shortly before polling closed after 986 freemen had cast 1,519 votes: 73 per cent gave a vote for Thomas Whitmore, 68 for Wolryche Whitmore and 37 for Arkwright.49 The Wellington ministry interpreted Wolryche Whitmore’s success as a Whig gain.50 An incomplete list of the poll, with 629 names, indicates that non-residents outnumbered residents by 417-212, again approximately two to one, with 82 per cent casting a vote for Thomas Whitmore, 54 for Wolryche Whitmore and 42 for Arkwright, and that 199 residents (94 per cent) and 331 out-voters (79 per cent) split their votes.51 The iron founder Jonathan Brown of the Gospel Oak works, the Wolverhampton coalmaster Thomas Jesson and the Kidderminster carpet weavers, Isaac Brown Andrews, Edward Broadfield, John Jordan, Jonathan Price, John Stockdale and William Andrew Williams, plumped for Wolryche Whitmore, but most of the industrialists and manufacturers who rallied for him copied Foster and gave second votes to Thomas Whitmore.52
Wolryche Whitmore continued to promote the East India cause and used his speech at the 1830 Michaelmas dinner to quash reports that he would vacate to become the Association’s candidate at the Liverpool by-election caused by Huskisson’s death.53 Both Houses received anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants and residents of the town and vicinity, 9 Nov. 1830.54 A borough meeting, 17 Mar., petitioned ‘almost unanimously’ in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill and challenged Thomas Whitmore to present and support it, but only Wolryche Whitmore did so, 29 Mar. 1831.55 They voted respectively against and for the measure and both announced on 22 Apr. that they sought re-election at the general election precipitated by its defeat; but such was the outcry against Thomas Whitmore in Bridgnorth and the manufacturing towns, where committees were organized to transport eligible reformers to Bridgnorth free of charge, that he stood down, 25 Apr. 1831, rather than risk a costly defeat. Stung by accusations of venality, failure to represent his constituents and underpayment of window tax on his new mansion, he persisted in denouncing the bill.56 Lampet, who had been relied on to find a third man, had died. Acton of Aldenham, who expected to be put in nomination was abroad, and with Foster already canvassing, his agent Richard Collins announced that Acton would not fight ‘such formidable opponents as Mr. Foster and his connections’. Decked in laurel, he and Wolryche Whitmore came in unopposed, promising support for reform and the abolition of colonial slavery and to try to end the East India Company’s monopoly. The borough court was kept adjourned, but there were few admissions.57
Both Members voted for the reintroduced reform bill, and a 445-signature petition urging the Lords to carry it was adopted at a borough meeting, 30 Sept., and presented by lord chancellor Brougham, 4 Oct. 1831.58 The ironmasters’ lobby for deregulation of their trade failed, and business remained depressed when a branch of the Birmingham Political Union was established at the Raven Inn in November, when it was also apparent that Wolryche Whitmore was likely to stand for a new industrial constituency at the first post-reform election.59 In December 1831, with 1,071 houses and assessed tax payments of £680, Bridgnorth was ranked 98th in the government’s list of boroughs for possible disfranchisement and eighth on The Times’s list of 16 with populations of between 4,000-5,000, ‘in none of which will be found a sufficient constituency to return their two Members without a country reinforcement’.60 Foster put his business before his parliamentary interests when strikes plagued the iron and coalfields that month, but, like Whitmore, who remained preoccupied with commerce and the East India question, he voted for the third reading of the revised bill, 22 Mar. 1832. There was strong local antipathy to the prospect of a ministry headed by Wellington in May 1832 and great rejoicing when this was abandoned and the reform bill was carried.61
With the attendant boundary changes it transformed the constituency. Most of the out-voters, estimated at 1,157 in an electorate of 1,500 in December 1831, were disfranchised, leaving Wolryche Whitmore without independent support and reviving the Pigot and Tracy interests. The reduced electorate of 746 registered in 1832 comprised up to 339 new £10 voters from the old borough, 334 ‘in-voters’ who retained their voting rights and about 69 new £10 householders from Thomas Whitmore’s strongholds of Astley Abbots, Quatford, Oldbury and Tasley, which were brought into the borough at the boundary commissioners’ recommendation, increasing its area from 1.8 to 12.8 square miles and so raising the constituency’s agricultural profile.62 In December 1832 Thomas Whitmore, who continued to spend lavishly, denied Wolryche Whitmore his support, stood unsuccessfully for the new Shropshire South constituency for which Bridgnorth was a polling town, and brought in his heir Thomas Charlton Whitmore for Bridgnorth as a Conservative.63 The Liberal Wolryche Whitmore came in for newly enfranchised Wolverhampton,64 and the close contest anticipated for the second seat between the Conservative, General Sir George Pigot of Pateshull’s second son Robert (the Member, 1832-7, and 1838-53), and the Liberal, Thomas Charles Leigh*, was avoided by the latter’s late retirement.65 His brother Henry Hanbury Tracy was returned in 1837 but unseated on petition. The Whitmore family’s control ended only after they sold Apley Park in 1867 to Foster’s heir, the ironmaster William Orme Foster† (1814-1899), whose son William Henry Foster (1846-1924) took Henry Whitmore’s seat as a Liberal in 1870 and retained it until the constituency was abolished in 1885, despite switching to the Conservatives in 1880.66
Author: Margaret Escott
Draws on the Dudmaston mss, seen by permission of the National Trust at Dudmaston Hall.
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 503.
- 2. Ibid.
- 3. Ibid. (1835), xxv. 371 (excluding the liberties; including them, the population was 4,345 in 1821, and 4,875 in 1831.
- 4. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), i. 271.
- 5. VCH Salop, iii. 282; PP (1835), xxv. 375; F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 275, 344, 345; J.F.A. Mason, Bridgnorth, 30-33; Dudmaston mss DUD/8/1.
- 6. Mason, 19-21; Shrewsbury Chron. 27 Sept. 1822, 26 Sept., 3 Oct. 1823, 8 Oct. 1824, 30 Sept. 1825, 29 Sept. 1826, 24 Sept. 1828.
- 7. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 331-5.
- 8. Ibid. (1835), xxv. 371; Salop Archives, Bridgnorth Borough 4001/Admin/7/50, parl. returns.
- 9. Bridgnorth Borough 3/6, common hall bk. 1819-35; 7/50, parl. returns.
- 10. Bridgnorth Borough 7/26/18.
- 11. Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Feb. 1820; Wolverhampton Antiquary, ii (July, 1934), 10-23.
- 12. Wolverhampton Chron. 25 Feb., 1 Mar.; The Times, 29 Feb.; Shrewsbury Chron. 3 Mar. 1820.
- 13. Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 11, 12.
- 14. Salop Archives, Weld-Forester mss 1224, box 337, J. Robins to J. Pritchard, 5, 6 Mar.; Hatherton diary, 21 Mar. 1820; B. Trinder, Industrial Revolution in Salop (1981), 233; The Times, 21 July 1826.
- 15. The Times, 4 Mar.; Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 13-15; Wolverhampton Chron. 8 Mar. 1820.
- 16. Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, parl. returns; Wolverhampton Chron. 15 Mar.; Weld-Forester mss, box 337, Pritchard to C.W. Forester, 31 Mar. 1820.
- 17. Add. 40407, ff. 129, 131.
- 18. CJ, lxxv. 251; VCH Salop, ii. 230.
- 19. Wolverhampton Chron. 11 Oct., 22 Nov. 1820.
- 20. CJ, lxxvi. 169; lxxx. 315; LJ, lvii. 658; The Times, 16 Mar. 1821, 19 Apr. 1825.
- 21. CJ, lxxviii. 412; lxxix. 282, 353-354, 446; lxxxi. 101; The Times, 13 Apr., 13, 19 May, 2 June 1824; Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, petitions.
- 22. Bridgnorth Borough 8; common hall bk. pp. 41-45.
- 23. Bridgnorth Borough P/1/7; 7/56; common hall bk. 91, 101, 121, 124.
- 24. Birmingham Univ. Archives, Slaney mss 3, 12 May 1825; Bridgnorth common hall bk. p. 130.
- 25. John Bull, 28 May; The Times, 29 May; Wolverhampton Chron. 7 June 1826.
- 26. Salop Archives, Blakemore mss 604, box 8, Lord Forester’s letterbk. p. 121.
- 27. Wolverhampton Chron. 14 June; Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 148-84; NLW ms 1084 D, C.W.W. Wynn to Buckingham, 24 June 1826; VCH Salop, iii. 282, 283.
- 28. Bridgnorth Borough 7/24/4, ms pollbook (1826). Two entries are only partly legible.
- 29. Bridgnorth Borough 7/24/14; Weld-Forester mss, box 337, sum paid by Pritchard on account of Bridgnorth election; Wolverhampton Chron. 21, 28 June 1826.
- 30. Bridgnorth Borough 7/26/17.
- 31. Bridgnorth common hall bk. 198, 199.
- 32. Ibid. pp. 207-8; Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, parl. returns; The Times, 3, 9 Oct.; Salopian Jnl. 4 Oct. 1826.
- 33. Wolverhampton Chron. 14, 21, 28 Feb.; The Times, 28 Feb. 1827.
- 34. CJ, lxxxii. 229; 574; The Times, 19 June 1827.
- 35. CJ, lxxxiii. 159.
- 36. Bridgnorth common hall bk. p. 257; CJ, lxxxiii. 109; The Times, 13 Mar. 1828.
- 37. Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, petitions; Wolverhampton Chron. 3 Dec. 1828; Salopian Jnl. 4, 18 Feb.; The Times, 10 Feb. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 28.
- 38. Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 277-329.
- 39. Salopian Jnl. 20, 27 May; CJ, lxxxiv. 271, 283, 300, 330, 346; Wolverhampton Chron. 7 Oct. 1829.
- 40. Bridgnorth Borough 7/26/19.
- 41. The Times, 28 July 1830; VCH Salop, iii. Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 5, 195, 227-9, 293 and passim.
- 42. NLW, Aston Hall mss C.599; Salop Archives 840/159/443; Dudmaston mss 12/9, 10; Wolverhampton Chron. 7 July 1830.
- 43. London Univ. Lib. John Bradley and Co. mss 798/12/2; Wolverhampton Archives DX/84/29; Wolverhampton Chron. 14, 21 July 1830.
- 44. Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, handbills; The Times, 21 July 1830.
- 45. Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, election squibs; Wolverhampton Chron. 28 July 1830.
- 46. Bridgnorth common hall bk. pp. 329-40.
- 47. This is contradicted by The Times, 7 Aug. 1830, which reported that Thomas Whitmore topped the poll because he did promise to vote for the abolition of the East India Company’s charter.
- 48. Shrewsbury Chron. 6 Aug; The Times, 7 Aug.; Wolverhampton Chron. 11 Aug. 1830; Bridgnorth Borough 7/23/27; common hall bk. pp. 342-76; VCH Salop, iii. 283.
- 49. The Times, 3 Aug. 1830; Bridgnorth Borough 7/24/5, ms pollbook (1830), votes per day cast by 629-30 named voters only.
- 50. Add. 40401, f. 140.
- 51. Bridgnorth ms pollbook (1830).
- 52. Ibid.; Bridgnorth Borough 7/25/1, 2.
- 53. Wolverhampton Chron. 7 Oct. 1830.
- 54. CJ, lxxxvi. 48; LJ, lxiii. 32.
- 55. Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Mar.; Wolverhampton Chron. 23, 30 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 456.
- 56. Shrewsbury Chron. 22, 29 Apr.; Salopian Jnl. 27 Apr. Wolverhampton Chron. 27 Apr. 1831.
- 57. Shrewsbury Chron. 29 Apr., 6 May; Salopian Jnl. 11 May; Wolverhampton Chron. 11 May 1831; Bridgnorth Borough 7/23/28; common hall bk. pp. 401-4.
- 58. Shrewsbury Chron. 7 Oct. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1046.
- 59. Hatherton diary, 21 July; Dudmaston mss 8/3, 7-17; Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Nov. 1831; Trinder, 233-5.
- 60. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 188; The Times, 5 Dec. 1831.
- 61. Wolverhampton Chron. 23 May, 13, 20 June 1832.
- 62. Bridgnorth Borough 7/50, returns; PP (1831-2), xxix. 331; (1835), xxv. 371-5; Mason, 30-32; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 432.
- 63. VCH Salop, iii. 330-6.
- 64. Dudmaston mss 8/7-17.
- 65. Wolverhampton Chron. 13 June-26 Dec. 1832.
- 66. VCH Salop, iii. 330-6; Dict. of Business Biog. (W.O. Foster); R.H. Trainor, Black Country Elites, 69, 128, 203.