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 bailiffs, burgesses and freemen1

Estimated number qualified to vote:



3,213 (1821); 5,213 (1831)


14 Aug. 1822HENRY PORCHER vice Cust, vacated his seat

Main Article

Clitheroe, a growing manufacturing centre, noted for its Dissenting past and the production of cotton and lime, was a 3,000-acre township and chapelry on the River Ribble in the parish of Whalley, in Lancashire’s Pendle district. A borough by prescription, its government was vested locally in two bailiffs (one resident and one non-resident) elected at the annual court leet, who had the power of one magistrate and acted as the returning officer.3 Responding to a parliamentary questionnaire concerning voting rights and the number of freemen in December 1831, the town clerk and agent for the Cust family, Dixon Robinson, put the number of electors at 36 and tried to explain:

There is no such thing as personal freemanship in Clitheroe. There are within the borough two classes of persons; the one called ‘burgesses’, whose rights depend not on admission, but on tenure for life, or in fee, of certain borough lands and houses there, and who also have votes in the election of Members ... Of the other class [‘freemen’], the privilege depends ... on their occupancy of certain borough houses, and [their] privileges (which do not extend to the election of Members) ... cease when they cease to be occupants of the burgage houses.4

Control of the representation effectively lay with the major landowners as purchasers of most of the 102 qualifying burgages. A series of severe contests, 1693-1780, had left the Listers of Gisborne Park, dominant locally since the fourteenth century, in control of one seat, which Thomas Lister†, 1st Baron Ribblesdale, had in 1802 sold, with 430 acres worth £1,400 a year, to Brownlow Cust†, 1st Baron Brownlow. The second seat, with land and burgages, had been held since 1754 by the Curzon family. Within the borough the properties of both families were ‘very much intermixed’.5 The sitting Members were Robert Curzon I, first returned in 1796 by his father Viscount Curzon, who gave him control of their burgages by a deed of appointment of 1 June 1805; and William Cust, whom his brother Earl Brownlow had accommodated in 1818, when he had little prospect of a second return for Lincolnshire. Both were re-elected in 1820.6 Brownlow retained his land and burgages throughout this period.7 Following Viscount Curzon’s death, 20 Mar. 1820, his titles and entailed estates, including the advowson and tithes of the entire parish of Whalley, passed to his grandson, who was created Earl Howe in 1821, and Robert Curzon I, the only surviving son of the viscount’s second marriage, was confirmed in possession of their Clitheroe burgages.8 The parish ‘resisted’ paying Howe tithes on corn, wool, and lamb, and by 1822 had formed a landowners’ committee to negotiate their purchase, township by township. Thus obliged to raise a substantial contribution towards purchasing the Clitheroe tithes, Brownlow apparently recouped the cost by requiring his brother to vacate in July 1822 and returning the East India Company agent Henry Porcher, whose father-in-law John Pearse* was party to the tithe negotiations.9 Twenty-six burgage holders signed the indenture of Porcher’s return, including Edward Bootle Wilbraham* of Lathom and Le Gendre Nicholas Starkie* of nearby Huntroyde.10 In 1826, when industrial unrest was rife throughout the district, Porcher was replaced by another of Brownlow’s brothers, Peregrine Francis Cust. 11 He sat until 1832.

Legislation to improve the roads to Colne and Skipton was enacted in 1821 and 1824.12 The journeymen petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Combination Acts, 15 Mar. 1824, and the inhabitants and Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts, 6 June 1827, 26 Feb. 1828. The parish of Whalley entrusted a petition against Catholic emancipation to Cust, 3 Mar., and the inhabitants of the townships forwarded favourable ones to Lord Nugent, which both Houses received, 27 Mar. 1829.13 According to a detailed account of the 1830 election, the candidates arrived outside the town the night before and were met by ‘the corporate officers, and most of the neighbouring gentry’ for breakfast the following morning, before driving into Clitheroe to be met by the sergeant-at-mace and a band, who conducted them to the Swan in solemn procession and thence to the town hall. After they were nominated and seconded, the names of all the eligible burgesses were called, those present voted for both candidates, and they were declared elected.14 The estimated cost of £320 was borne equally by Brownlow and Howe.15

The town’s Protestant Dissenters and Wesleyan Methodists contributed to the 1830-1 petitioning campaign against colonial slavery.16 At Lancashire public meetings in January 1831, the Unitarian manufacturer Richard Potter† and his fellow reformers highlighted electoral abuse at Clitheroe, where, in return for their votes, ‘persons living in burgage houses, hold them and other property at rents below their value’.17 The Grey ministry’s reform bill, announced in March, proposed taking a seat from Clitheroe, but the inhabitants generally welcomed it. A reform meeting requisitioned by them and held at the town hall, 15 Mar., with Robert Trapper as chairman, petitioned both Houses in its favour, 18, 19 Mar., but the Members divided against it (22 Mar., 19 Apr.).18 The reformers mustered en masse in the principal street at the general election that month, wearing ‘broad hatbands with the word "Reform" ... and breast knots of blue in honour of our "sailor king", and as the colour of independence’. The Members, Curzon’s namesake son, who was newly of age, and Cust were escorted by special constables and left early, while the reformers dined in the inns. The Preston Chronicle reported that young Curzon had waited on eight in-burgesses and 30-40 out-burgesses the previous day, and two in-voters and 20 out-voters voted.19

Clitheroe’s schedule B designation in the reintroduced bill was contested in the Commons for the anti-reformers by John Croker and Sir Charles Wetherell, assisted by Cust, 28 July 1831; but the Irish secretary Smith Stanley scotched their suggestion that by the government’s own criteria Clitheroe, ‘which was to all intents and purposes, a parish’, contained a large enough population for enfranchisement in schedule C. The inhabitants petitioned the Lords urging the bill’s passage, 4 Oct. 1831.20 Clitheroe was later ranked 82nd in the revised list of boroughs (based on assessed tax payments of £406 and its 990 rated houses). Noting that Whalley ‘extends over an immense district of country on the east and south-east, to the extremity of Lancashire, and contains, by this census of 1831, a population of upwards of 83,000 inhabitants, two forests, Pendle and Rossendale, and forty-four townships’, the boundary commissioners recommended, as Brownlow’s agents had suggested, that the reformed borough should comprise ‘the chapelries of Clitheroe and Downham, and the townships of Whalley, Milton, Henthorn and Coalcoats, Wisnett and Pendleton ... 359 tenements conferring votes’.21 This, according to Robinson, writing in March 1832, afforded the best opportunity of countering the township of Clitheroe’s resident ‘radical’ majority with Tory votes from the outer townships, especially if the Lords carried an amendment restoring its second seat. They did not do so and in April Robinson conceded there was not ‘any chance of the ancient franchise being retained, and therefore we can place but little value upon the burgage rights’. He also expressed regret that potential local buyers were not Tories, and ‘with the exception of Mr. Aspinall and Mr. Garrett, it would be difficult to raise £10,000 of spare cash amongst them’. Both patrons planned to dispose of their holdings, but they found it inexpedient to do so until 1834, when Brownlow’s estate sold for not less than £27,580.22

The 1832 Reform Act greatly extended the borough, from 3.6 to 25.3 square miles, with a population of 8,885.23 This favoured the urban, industrial and Liberal elements and had the immediate effect of enhancing the power of the local industrialists led by the Manchester calico printer John Fort of Read Hall, who in June 1832 declared his candidature as a Liberal.24 His Conservative challenger John Irving*, a West India merchant and army contractor, also commenced canvassing that month. Irving’s support for the anatomy bill was anathema to the district’s Huntite radicals, who compared his entry to the town on 30 July, ‘the Clitheroe affray’, to the Peterloo massacre, because of the sabre injuries inflicted by the military force summoned by the magistrates to restore order. Details remain contentious, but Irving was certainly welcomed by a ‘showers of stones’ and left (briefly) ‘surrounded by cavalry, sword in hand’. It was alleged that the troops targeted the reformers and that the magistrates (both clergymen) who had summoned them were involved, possibly in collusion with Irving, in a reactionary plot.25 Hume raised the matter in the Commons, 3 Aug., where, following enquiries, Lord Althorp informed Members the next day that 30 of the rioters had been injured. On 10 Aug., after receiving a memorial adopted at a Clitheroe meeting on 4 Aug. chaired by William Hartley, with Trapper and Jeremiah Garnett of Roefield as main speakers, ministers were at pains to emphasize that the mob were not reformers, and they totally condemned the riot.26 That day Irving denied any responsibility for the affray and denounced his 10,000 assailants, and Cust defended the magistrates’ action in calling out the troops. Dissatisfied, on 15 Aug. 1832 Hunt called on the people to arm themselves against such ‘horrid aggression’. Minor charges against those involved were heard at the September petty sessions.27

Clitheroe had a registered electorate in December 1832 of 306. About 16, or almost half the old burgages were disfranchised, the others presumably attracting a £10 household qualification.28 Fort defeated Irving by 154-124 at the general election that month, so, according to the Morning Chronicle, ending Tory and aristocratic rule; he retained the seat until 1841.29 The representation, which was contested a further eight times before 1885, remained predominantly Liberal. Liberal Conservatives held the seat, 1842-7, and briefly in 1853, and Conservatives, 1868-80.30

Authors: Stephen Bairstow / Margaret Escott


  • 1. ‘The burgesses were such as had estates or freehold or inheritance in houses and lands within the borough. The freemen were the tenants of these houses, who were to vote if their landlords did not; but if the landlords voted for the houses, the tenants were not to vote for them’ (CJ, xi. 163).
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 514.
  • 3. E. Baines, Hist. Lancs. (1824), i. 608, 610, 612; Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), i. 470.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 514.
  • 5. H.R. French, ‘The Creation of a Pocket Borough in Clitheroe, Lancs., 1693-1780’, Northern Hist. xli (2004), 301-26.; HP Commons, 1690-1715, ii. 323-7; HP Commons, 1754-90, i. 316; Lancs. RO, Francis and Co. mss DDFR/5/46.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 223-4; iii. 356, 554; PROB 11/1627/194.
  • 7. PROB 11/1472/2; Francis and Co. mss 5/46.
  • 8. PROB 11/1627/194.
  • 9. TNA E179/1, p. 294; Francis and Co. mss 5/49.
  • 10. Lancs. RO MBC 111; Baines, i. 610.
  • 11. Hull Packet, 2 May; Leeds Mercury, 6 May, Liverpool Mercury, 19 May, 27 Oct.; Examiner, 5 Nov. 1826.
  • 12. Leeds Mercury, 16 Sept. 1820; LJ, liv. 361; lvi. 177.
  • 13. CJ, lxxix. 161; lxxxii. 520; lxxxiii. 105; lxxxiv. 177; LJ, lxi. 300-1; Morning Chron. 28 Mar. 1829.
  • 14. Blackburn Gazette, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 15. Francis and Co. mss 5/43.
  • 16. LJ, lxiii. 174, 503; CJ, lxxxvi. 278, 444.
  • 17. Manchester Times, 22 Jan. 1831.
  • 18. Preston Chron. 19 Mar. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 338-9; CJ, lxxxvi. 407.
  • 19. Manchester Times, 7 May; Preston Chron. 7 May 1831.
  • 20. LJ, lxiii. 1046.
  • 21. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 29; xxxix. 37; Francis and Co. mss 5/45.
  • 22. Francis and Co. mss 5/46-49.
  • 23. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 432; PP (1835), xxiii. 54.
  • 24. Liverpool Mercury, 29 June 1832.
  • 25. Preston Chron. 4 Aug.; Morning Chron. 4 Aug.; Blackburn Gazette, 1 Aug.; Blackburn Alfred, 6 Aug. 1832.
  • 26. The Times, 6, 13 Aug.; Morning Chron. 11 Aug. 1832.
  • 27. Poor Man’s Guardian, 11, 18 Aug.; Manchester Times, 25 Aug.; Morning Chron. 29 Sept. 1832.
  • 28. Francis and Co. mss 5/45.
  • 29. Morning Chron. 15 Dec. 1832.
  • 30. W.D. Pink and A. Beaven, Parl. Rep. Lancs. 269-80.