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 inhabitants having burgage tenure1

Estimated number qualified to vote:



3,790 (1821); 4,356 (1831)3


10 Mar. 1820JOHN BECKETT
21 July 1821WILLIAM WILSON CARUS WILSON vice Beckett, vacated his seat
10 June 1826RANDOLPH STEWART, Visct. Garlies
16 Feb. 1827LAURENCE PEEL vice Carus Wilson, vacated his seat
2 Aug. 1830RANDOLPH STEWART, Visct. Garlies

Main Article

Cockermouth, the birthplace of the poet William Wordsworth and Cumberland’s election town, lay in the parish of Brigham at the confluence of the Rivers Cocker and Derwent, eight miles east of Workington and 25 south-west of Carlisle, with which it shared the quarter sessions. Dominated by its ruined castle, its boundaries were co-extensive with those of the ancient barony of Allerdale. The main employment was in weaving shops or factories and tanneries, and Quakers and Independents had been influential locally since the early eighteenth century.4 Government of the borough, nominally vested in a mayor, nine aldermen, 14 bretheren and 14 capital burgesses (burghers), was in practice conducted by a select vestry of ‘men of all shades of politics, Nonconformists as well as churchmen’, established in 1819 under Sturges Bourne’s Act.5 The court leet of the lord of the manor, the 3rd earl of Egremont, admitted 164 burgage holders, 1800-1831, numbers peaking at 65 in 1818 and 25 in 1831, when ‘liberating’ the borough became part of the wider war of attrition waged by the Westmorland, Carlisle and Cumberland Whigs, the Blues, against the Yellow Lowthers. Sir James Lowther† had bought over half the 278 burgages for £58,000 in 1756, and the representation had been controlled since 1802 by his descendant, the Tory 1st earl of Lonsdale.6 A contest at the general election of 1818, when only two of the 67 who polled could be persuaded to vote against Lonsdale’s nominees (his nephew John Henry Lowther, whose father sat for Cumberland, and his son-in-law, the judge advocate Sir John Beckett) had demonstrated the futility of a poll unsupported by costly petitioning and litigation.7

At the general election of 1820 Lonsdale had no suitable replacement for his brother John Lowther in Cumberland, and the latter’s staunch defence of his son led to the abandonment of Lonsdale’s plan to replace him at Cockermouth with a Tory paying guest, Edward Foley*.8 The sitting Members were returned unopposed and Beckett, who attended ‘that execrable farce the Cockermouth election’, dined at the Globe with the bailiff and returning officer, the Rev. Edward Fawcett, rector of Cockermouth, the proposers, the Rev. Henry Lowther, rector of Dissington, Robert Blakeney, collector of customs at Whithaven, the Rev. Richard Armistead, vicar of Cockerham, Lancashire, and 70 others, while Lonsdale’s Whitehaven colliers kept order outside.9 The Dissenters (Independents) petitioned the Commons for Catholic relief, 15 May 1820, and Fawcett as vestry chairman failed to prevent the town being illuminated when the proceedings against Queen Caroline were abandoned in November and a petition was got up in her favour.10 No opposition was raised to the replacement of Beckett in July 1821 by the Evangelical chairman of the Westmorland bench William Wilson Carus Wilson, by which Lonsdale acknowledged his debt to the Wilsons of Dallam Tower, who had played a vital part in securing the election of both his eldest sons for Westmorland in 1818 and 1820. Carus Wilson was proposed by Sir Joseph Senhouse of Nether Hall and promised to support the empire, the church and local interests. The dinner also served to celebrate the coronation of George IV, and was presided over by the bailiff, James Clarke Satterthwaite. He led the toasts to the Lowthers, including among them, as a candidate in waiting, the 3rd duke of Portland’s brother Lord William Frederick Cavendish Bentinck*, who had recently married Lonsdale’s daughter Mary.11 Petitioning against West Indian slavery in 1823, 1824 and 1826, and enlargement of the parish church under the 1825 Act were organized by the vestry.12 The Commons also received petitions for the county courts bill and improvements in debt collection from the tradesmen and inhabitants, 12 Mar., and from tanners, skinners, curriers and shoemakers opposed to the hides and skins bill, 11 May 1824.13 Despite objections, the Cockermouth-Workington road bill received royal assent, 12 May 1823, and the Cockermouth-Carlisle and Cockermouth-Penrith road bills in March 1824. Improvements to the road to Maryport and Wigan, Lancashire, were legislated for, 20 May 1825.14

Lonsdale’s heir Lord Lowther* was ‘in no apprehension about Cockermouth’ when a dissolution was contemplated in September 1825 and, scorning a threatened opposition, he recommended making its seats available to the treasury to help to finance contests at Carlisle and in Westmorland.15 Lonsdale, however, preferred to exchange one seat with Lord Garlies, whose father the Whig 8th earl of Galloway, the leading patron of Wigton Burghs, he had previously obliged, and he returned him in absentia in 1826 with Carus Wilson. He was the chairman of Lord Lowther’s election committee and he used his speech to rally support the Lowthers in Westmorland.16 It was decided afterwards that Carus Wilson, whose votes of conscience and growing opposition to corn law reform annoyed the Lowthers, should be replaced. Lord Lowther, perturbed at the prospect broached by Lonsdale, of returning the pro-Catholic Cavendish Bentinck, who was left without a seat following his defeat at Queenborough, suggested ‘paying a compliment’ to the home secretary Peel ‘at a cheap rate’ by returning his brother Laurence, ‘a steady fellow and good attender’, to sit at pleasure.17 Lonsdale negotiated yearly terms with the home secretary in January 1827 and Lord Lowther arranged for Laurence Peel to be returned on 16 Feb., in time to vote against Catholic relief, 6 Mar. 1827.18

Petitions to both Houses favourable to repeal of the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828, and Catholic relief in 1827, 1828 and 1829 were organized by the Dissenters and Roman Catholics, but as Lonsdale opposed both, they attracted anti-Lowther support.19 Laurence Peel was briefly considered for an office requiring re-election in July 1828, but Lord Lowther cautioned Lonsdale against obliging him and thus becoming ‘incapable of any resistance should that arise’.20 The Wellington ministry’s decision to concede Catholic emancipation in 1829 and silent prevarication over Lord Lowther’s anti-Catholic vote and subsequent resignation as chief commissioner of woods and forests was matched by Lonsdale’s over Laurence Peel’s pro-Catholic vote and offer to retire; Lowther was quietly reinstated and Peel sat undisturbed.21 Amid increasing distress the handloom weavers, operatives and mechanics, marshalled by the radical wool merchant Andrew Green of Bridekirk, petitioned in 1828 and 1829 for free trade and abolition of the corn laws. The vestry failed to agree to a scheme for a new workhouse, 1828-9.22 Cockermouth and Workington and their townships petitioned jointly against the employment of children as chimney sweeps, 8 Apr. 1830 (and for the abolition of capital punishment for non-violent crimes, 20 Aug. 1831).23 Cockermouth retained its assize town status in 1830 despite opposition from Whitehaven.24 Amid reports in July 1830 of a challenge by an unnamed wealthy Londoner, presumed to be James Morrison* or Alderman William Thompson*, a campaign to widen the franchise gathered momentum; and Lonsdale, concerned that no record could be traced of Parliament’s determinations in 1685 and 1701, when undue practices had been complained of, took legal advice.25 At the general election the arrangement with Garlies was tardily confirmed and the radical Lord Radnor’s son Philip Pleydell Bouverie substituted for Peel under an agreement reached on 9 July with Henry Brougham*, which left Westmorland uncontested and saw Brougham’s brother James, whom the Lowthers refused to consider for Cockermouth, returned for Radnor’s borough of Downton.26 Charged with executing the unpopular scheme, Lord Lowther predicted trouble. He noted that the attorney Nathaniel Nicholson was

very captious and obstinate. It will not be prudent to allow Lord Egremont to appoint the bailiff and John Barrow is the senior resident burgher. It would be worse to entrust any authority in his hands ... It will be a choice of difficulties and we must choose the least when we hear Lord Egremont’s instructions and Harrison’s opinion.27

The writ was delayed pending negotiations with Nicholson and the wealthy brewer John Hodgson, 25, 26 July. Lord Lowther and John Henry Lowther deputized for the candidates at the election and, encountering an assembly of riotous weavers, they dispensed with the chairing. The Yellows dined and mustered in force at the county election in the town the following week, when, as expected, the Blues exposed and denounced the pact, notwithstanding the return for Cockermouth of two reformers opposed to administration.28

Both Houses received petitions ‘for the eradication of the horrid system of slavery from the West Indies’ from the Dissenters and inhabitants, 11, 15 Nov. 1830, and the Wesleyan Methodists petitioned similarly, 21 Apr. 1831.29 The operatives and mechanics demanded universal suffrage, annual parliaments, the ballot and ‘real Members of Parliament’ in their petition to the Commons for reform and retrenchment, 5 Nov., and the inhabitants petitioned for reform and the ballot, 15 Nov. 1830.30 Fawcett refused to convene a widely publicized reform meeting for 15 Feb. 1831, but it proceeded under the chairmanship of the vicar of St. Helen’s, the Rev. John Benson. Pro-reform resolutions were moved by the attorneys Isaac Brown, Joshua Sim, John Steel and John Fisher, backed by the leading Cumberland Whigs Frecheville Lawson Ballatine Dykes and the Rev. Christopher Wybergh, who vainly objected to the incorporation of the radicals’ resolutions adding the ballot, civil list reductions and abolition of the property tax to the petition, which the first lord of the admiralty, Sir James Graham, presented on 26 Feb. A petition in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Cockermouth then stood to lose one Member, followed on 19 Mar.31 The Members divided for it, 22 Mar., and Pleydell Bouverie voted against Gascoyne’s wrecking amendment, 19 Apr. Both were turned out at the ensuing general election, when Fawcett, assisted by the colliery owner Joseph Harris of Greysouthern, the surgeon Samuel Fox of High House, John Steward of Hensingham and William Fell of Cartmel, presided over the return of John Henry Lowther with another anti-reformer, the former attorney-general and Whig turncoat Sir James Scarlett, for whom Lord Lowther deputized. Amid tumultuous scenes, the Lowthers, who now lost seats for Carlisle, Cumberland and Westmorland, portrayed themselves as moderate reformers opposed to the bill and refused to make any pledges.32

Backed by a 145-signature memorial recording the borough’s industry, assize town status, 235 £10 houses and enumerated population of 4,531 (an increase of 783 since 1821), the Members and the Lowthers’ partisans equated Cockermouth’s claims with those of Leominster and Morpeth, which had been reprieved, and on 28 July 1831 forced a division on its continued inclusion in schedule B, but lost by 233-151.33 The inhabitants petitioned the Lords in support of the bill, 30 Sept.34 Echoing pleas in the town’s memorial to Graham (28 Mar.) and a petition from the parish of Brigham (8 July) for the inclusion of additional townships in a reformed two Member borough of Cockermouth, the boundary commissioners recommended adding Brigham, Papcastle, Brideskirk, Eaglesfield and a detached part of Doverby to the constituency, giving it a population of 6,002 and an estimated 356 £10 voters. They also proposed Cockermouth as the polling town for Cumberland West, notwithstanding Workington’s objections. Cockermouth, which paid £540 in assessed taxes, was placed 92nd, six clear of the cut-off point for schedule B, in tabulations for the revised reform bill of December 1831, and so was reprieved. Returns submitted in January 1832 by Wood and Fawcett noted 1,002 houses in the current constituency, substituted an assessed tax valuation of £608 18s. 7d. for the £540 previously supposed, and stipulated that rack rent adjustment alone would increase the number of £10 houses in Cockermouth from 235 to over 300.35 With its second seat secure, Green declared his candidature, 2 Jan., petitioning against the unpopular general registry bill was encouraged, and a Conservative defeat confidently predicted.36 Improvements to the Workington road were legislated for that session, and 792 acres (approximately a quarter of the old borough) were designated for enclosure under the 1832 Cockermouth Enclosure Act.37 The reformers met and petitioned for withholding supplies (presented, 4 June) when the reform bill was in jeopardy in May, and a public dinner marked its enactment.38 By bringing in the townships, the Boundary Act increased the area of the constituency from 3.9 to 13.3 square miles, making Cockermouth geographically the eighth largest English borough.39

After a hard-fought contest at the general election of 1832 the new electorate of 305 £10 householders rejected Green by a margin of 29 votes and returned two other Liberals with local connections, Dykes and the barrister Henry Aglionby of Nunnery. Frederick Vane declined nomination for the Conservatives, and they did not field a candidate until 1840.40 Before it lost its second seat in 1868 Cockermouth was contested a further six times. The Liberal monopoly was interrupted in 1840 by the election of the Conservative Henry Wyndham, after whose second success in 1852 joint representation persisted until 1868. From 1868-85, when the borough was subsumed into Cumberland West, Conservatives contested each election, but the representation remained exclusively Liberal.

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 74-75.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. 4,573 in the inhabitants’ 1831 memorial (Ibid. (1831), xvi. 11; (1831-2), xxxviii. 98).
  • 4. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales, i. 475-6.
  • 5. J. Bolton, Wordsworth’s Birthplace, 134-56.
  • 6. J.V. Beckett, ‘The Making of a Pocket Borough: Cockermouth’, JBS, xx (1980), 140-57; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 94; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 74-75.
  • 7. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 94.
  • 8. Lonsdale mss, Lord Lowther to Lonsdale, 8, 12 Feb., Beckett to Lord Lowther [Feb.]; Clwyd RO, Lowther mss DD/L/178, Lonsdale to J. Lowther and replies, 27 Jan.-24 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Whitehaven Gazette, 13, 20 Mar.; Cumb. Pacquet, 14 Mar. 1820.
  • 10. Bolton, 134-56; CJ, lxxxv. 209; lxxvi. 5.
  • 11. R.S. Ferguson, Cumb. and Westmld. MPs, 244, 453; Carlisle Patriot, 14, 28 July; Cumb. Pacquet, 23 July 1821.
  • 12. CJ, lxxviii. 331; lxxix. 185; lxxxi. 60, 96; Bolton, 147.
  • 13. CJ, lxxix. 281, 374.
  • 14. Ibid. lxxviii. 159; lxxix. 51, 83, 124, 262; lxxx. 74, 312, 355; LJ, lv. 677; lvii. 854.
  • 15. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 14, 24 Sept. 1825.
  • 16. Ibid. A. Stewart to Lonsdale, 23 May 1825, Garlies to Lowther, 11 June; Cumb. Pacquet, 13, 20 June 1826.
  • 17. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 18 Nov., 26 Dec. 1826.
  • 18. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale 7, 17 Jan.; TNA E197, p. 322; Carlisle Patriot, 17, 24 Feb. 1827.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxii. 231, 528; lxxxiii. 181, 287; lxxxiv. 114, 121; LJ, lix. 50; lx. 79, 515.
  • 20. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 5, 7 July 1828.
  • 21. Ibid. Lowther to Lonsdale, 9, 12 Mar., to J. Peel, 12 Mar. 1829.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxiii. 329; lxxxiv. 244; LJ, lix. 86; Bolton, 148-9.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxv. 283; lxxxvi. 635.
  • 24. Bolton, 148-9; PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 89.
  • 25. Lonsdale mss, Lord Lowther to Lonsdale, 18 July 1829; 7, 14 Aug. 1830; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 267-8; Beckett, 140-57.
  • 26. Lonsdale mss, bdles. for election of 1830, Lowther to Lonsdale, 18, 20 July; Wilts. RO, Radnor mss 490/1374, Radnor’s memo. 9 July, Pleydell Bouverie to Radnor, 10 July; Lowther mss 178, J.H. to J. Lowther, 22 July; 179, same to same, 20 July 1830.
  • 27. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 25 July 1830.
  • 28. Carlisle Jnl. 7, 14 Aug. 1830.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 53, 74; LJ, lxii. 39, 504.
  • 30. CJ, lxxxvi. 42, 74.
  • 31. Ibid. 310, 407; Carlisle Jnl. 19 Feb.; Westmld. Advertiser, 26 Feb. 1831.
  • 32. Lowther mss 167, J.H. to J. Lowther, 29 Apr.; Westmld. Advertiser, 2 Apr., 7 May 1831; Three Diaries, 7, 94-95.
  • 33. PP (1831), xvi. 11-13; (1831-2), xxxviii. 98; CJ, lxxxvi. 707.
  • 34. LJ, lxii. 1023.
  • 35. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 74-75, 203, 345; xxxviii. 89, 95-96; CJ, lxxxvii. 48; Sir James Graham mss (IHR microfilm XR 80), 29, Cumb. Election 1831.
  • 36. Carlisle Jnl. 7 Jan. 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 82.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxvii. 62; LJ, lxiv. 11, 143; R.S. Dilley, ‘Enclosure Awards of Cumb.: A Statistical List’, Trans. Cumb. and Westmld. Antiq. and Arch. Soc. (ser. 2), c (2000), 225-31.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxvii. 48, 140-1, 190, 371; Carlisle Jnl. 14 May, 16 June 1832.
  • 39. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 432.
  • 40. Carlisle Jnl. 23, 30 June; Lonsdale mss, Beckett to Lowther, 29 Aug.; The Times, 11, 18 Dec.; Whitehaven Herald, 18 Dec. 1832; Ferguson, 265.