Corfe Castle


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 inhabitant householders paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 50


1,465 (1821); 1,712 (1831)


18 Mar. 1823JOHN BOND vice George Bankes, vacated his seat
13 Feb. 1826GEORGE BANKES vice Henry Bankes, vacated his seat
13 June 1826JOHN BOND
8 Feb. 1828NATHANIEL WILLIAM PEACH vice Bond, vacated his seat
6 Mar. 1829PHILIP JOHN MILES vice Peach, vacated his seat
2 July 1829BANKES re-elected after vacating his seat
14 Apr. 1830BANKES re-elected after appointment to office

Main Article

The borough of Corfe Castle lay in the parish of the same name, in the centre of the Isle of Purbeck, and four miles from Wareham. Although Purbeck, with its stone quarries and clay pits, was reasonably prosperous, the town of Corfe Castle consisted only of ‘a few thatched cottages’ and was ‘poor and of forlorn appearance’. It was dominated by the ‘massive shattered ruins’ of the castle, which, as Sir Stephen Glynne* described them in 1825, ‘standing upon a high hill, form a most beautiful object in the surrounding country’.1 The castle’s violent and bloody history, notably the murder of Edward the Martyr in 980 and the siege during the Civil War, continued to exert a fascination, as did the architectural remains themselves.2 Since the mid-seventeenth century the castle and much of the property in the town had been owned by the Bankes family of Kingston Lacy, near Wimborne, who from the early eighteenth century amicably shared the representation with another local gentry family, the Bonds of Creech Grange.3 As lord of the manor, Henry Bankes, who had been Member for Corfe Castle since 1780, probably controlled the largely defunct corporation, which consisted of a mayor (who acted as returning officer) and eight barons. Given his landholdings he presumably exercised the principal interest, as a bundle of papers in the family archive indicates that his agent handled the conveyance of voting properties.4 In 1719 the franchise was agreed to be in those

seised in fee, in possession or reversion, of any messuage, tenement, or corporeal hereditament, within the borough; and in such persons as are tenants for life, or lives; and, for want of such freehold, in tenants for years, determinable on any life or lives; paying scot and lot.5

Thomas Oldfield calculated that there were 14 resident and 30 non-resident electors, and there were usually reckoned to be only about 50 in total, although in reality there may have been far fewer.6 The return to a home office circular in 1831 kept up the palpable fiction that the number of electors ‘remains nearly the same’ as at the last contested election, citing the 278 (really 279) who had polled at the by-election in 1718.7

Henry Bankes’s second son George had occupied the Bond family’s seat since 1816, and with his father (who, however, was independent on financial issues) he gave general support to Lord Liverpool’s administration. Like the lord chancellor Lord Eldon of nearby Encombe, with whom they were connected by marriage, the Bankeses were staunchly anti-Catholic. They were returned unopposed at the general elections of 1818 and 1820. In early 1823, when Henry was again thwarted in his ambitions for the county, it was George who, by arrangement between Henry Bankes and the former Member John Bond, made way for the like-minded John Bond junior, who had recently come of age. When Henry finally succeeded to a seat for Dorset in February 1826, he was replaced by George, who, as expected, was returned with Bond at the general election that year.8 Contemplating retirement from public affairs, for which he was not suited, Bond, who had succeeded his father in 1824, wrote to Henry Bankes, 12 Dec. 1827, that

I have by no means determined on this step but I think it due to the kindness I have personally received from you as well as the alliance that has subsisted between our families with regard to the borough to inform you of any plan that I form with regard to it.9

He did, indeed, quit the House at the start of the 1828 session, and brought in Nathaniel Peach of Ketteringham Hall, Norfolk, who also opposed Catholic relief and supported the newly formed Wellington administration.10 The list of voters present at the by-election, ‘one of the pleasantest farces ever acted’, was dominated by members of the Bankes and Bond families and of the corporation. The Times alleged that Bond

not thinking that his parliamentary efforts were likely to benefit the country, agreed with his co-proprietor, Mr. Bankes, to resign his connection with the borough altogether. Whether any or what sum was paid down upon the occasion, we have not heard.11

Nevertheless, it was nominally on Bond’s interest that the wealthy Bristol merchant Philip Miles, another anti-Catholic Tory, was returned on the vacancy caused by Peach’s transferring to Truro, the borough belonging to Henry Bankes’s son-in-law Lord Falmouth. George Bankes, who made a stand against the government’s policy of Catholic emancipation but eventually retained his secretaryship to the India board, was re-elected in 1829 after being beaten in the Cambridge University by-election, and again the following year after being made a lord of the treasury. He and Peach were returned unopposed at the general election of 1830.

Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Lords, 16 Dec., and the Commons, 18 Dec. 1830, probably by Lord Lansdowne and George Bankes, respectively.12 With a population of less than 2,000, the borough was scheduled for abolition under the Grey ministry’s reform proposals. The sitting Members, who voted against the reform bill, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831, were returned for the last time at the ensuing general election. Henry Bankes stood a contest for Dorset that year, when he was ridiculed as an ‘old owl’ in a versified account of an anti-reform meeting in Corfe Castle. On the hustings, 10 May, John Calcraft* of Rempstone, one of his opponents and patron of Wareham, stigmatized the borough as rotten and declared that

I am an elector of Corfe Castle, residing in the neighbourhood, and when I am in the country there is scarcely a day in which I am not in the borough, but I do not know of how many voters it consists nor how many voters reside in the borough.13

Of the eight Corfe Castle freeholders who polled for the county, seven plumped for Bankes and one for Calcraft; and at the Dorset by-election in late 1831, 18 voted for the anti-reformer Lord Ashley* and one for the Whig William Ponsonby*.14

Henry’s eldest son William Bankes, Member for Marlborough, made a token defence of Corfe Castle in the committee on the reintroduced reform bill, 20 July 1831. His brother George presented a petition from the Isle of Purbeck for it to be given one Member, 14 Feb.,15 and unsuccessfully moved an amendment to this effect, 9 Mar. 1832, when he argued that the agricultural interest would otherwise be underrepresented in Dorset and denied that his family would have a commanding interest in the proposed constituency. With a population (in the borough) of 960 in 1831, 156 houses (of which 43 were rated at more than £10) and paying assessed taxes of only £104, Corfe Castle was placed 19th on the final list of condemned boroughs and was disfranchised by the Reform Act.16 The boundary commissioners initially recommended the exclusion of Corfe Castle from the neighbouring borough of Wareham, but the possibility of adding it was strongly canvassed in the House, as by George Bankes, 22 June 1832, when an amendment to this effect was defeated by 122-55. By an alteration to the division of counties bill in the Lords, 4 July, the parish of Corfe Castle was added, with Bere Regis, to the single Member constituency of Wareham.17 The addition of about 80 Corfe Castle electors was blamed for the increased Tory character of Wareham, where Calcraft’s son John Hales Calcraft* was elected as an anti-reformer after a close contest at the general election of 1832.18 The corporation of Corfe Castle refused to co-operate with the municipal corporation commissioners, who described the town as ‘of mean appearance’ and presenting ‘no indication of present prosperity or of progressive improvement’; it was left unaltered by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835.19

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Oldfield, Key (1820), 34; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 281; PP (1830-1), x. 67; J. Hutchins, Dorset, i (1861), 469; Procs. Dorset Natural Hist. and Antiq. Field Club, xliv (1923), 93-94.
  • 2. See, e.g., G. Bankes, Story of Corfe Castle (1853); T. Bond, Hist. and Description of Corfe Castle (1883).
  • 3. HP Commons, 1715-54, i. 232-3; HP Commons, 1754-90, i. 265; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 132-3.
  • 4. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, ‘1826 Corfe Castle voters’; ?Castleman to Bankes, 27 June 1829.
  • 5. CJ, xix. 63.
  • 6. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 415; Peep at the Commons (1818), 6; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 146-7; Key to Both Houses (1832), 314.
  • 7. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 515.
  • 8. Western Flying Post, 12 June 1826.
  • 9. Bankes mss.
  • 10. Add. 40395, f. 44; Wellington mss WP1/913/31.
  • 11. Dorset Co. Chron. 14 Feb.; The Times, 18 Feb. 1828.
  • 12. LJ, lxiii. 177; CJ, lxxxvi. 188.
  • 13. The Times, 11 May; Dorset Co. Chron. 12 May 1831.
  • 14. Dorset Pollbook (1831), 57; (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 83.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvii. 106.
  • 16. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 40-41, 113.
  • 17. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxviii. 151-3; (1835), xxiv. 699; LJ, lxiv. 357.
  • 18. Sherborne Jnl. 20 Dec. 1832, 7 Feb. 1833.
  • 19. PP (1835), xxiv. 597-8; Hutchins, i (1861), 473.