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 freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 650


17,423 (1821); 23,627 (1831)



Main Article

Derby, ‘a medium town, between a manufacturing and a genteel one’, continued to prosper during this period, notably because of its iron, silk and porcelain production. As well as the Paving Act of 1825, improvements included such recent buildings as the gaol, although Colonel William Dyott in 1826 commented that it had ‘become a filthy, dirty place, particularly the new part’.1 Many of these developments were owing to such influential middle class Dissenting families as the Cromptons (bankers) and Strutts (cotton manufacturers), who were generally reformers in politics.2 They also dominated the almost exclusively Whig corporation, which comprised a mayor (the returning officer), nine aldermen, 14 brothers (or brethren), 14 capital burgesses and an indefinite number of free burgesses (or freemen), who qualified by birth, apprenticeship or grant. The closely interrelated Independent and Unitarian corporators had traditionally maintained their domination through the creation of non-resident honorary (or ‘faggot’) freemen, mostly drawn from the tenants of the 6th duke of Devonshire of Chatsworth, the high steward; it was later said that without them, the corporation ‘could not have kept the Tories quiet; they would have been restless’. Over 100 freemen were admitted in 1806 and in 1819, presumably in anticipation of potential contests, but in the decade starting in 1821 only about 16 were elected each year.3 Devonshire, who, with a hereditary lien over one seat, held the principal electoral interest, could generally count on the co-operation of his co-patron Edward Coke of Longford, the former long-serving Member, in returning two Whigs. The failed attempts to disturb the borough at by-elections in 1775 and 1796 only discouraged further electioneering and, although the electorate was reckoned to number about 650, the result, as one commentator complained, was that such a ‘very large and opulent town cannot maintain its independence’.4

In the run-up to the general election of 1820 Lord Morpeth† commented that his brother-in-law Devonshire ‘will, I am afraid, have his difficulties about Lord George and Henry Cavendish’, the sitting Cavendish Member.5 The former, Member for Derbyshire, wanted not the latter, with whom he was barely on speaking terms, but his other son, Charles Compton Cavendish*, to have the borough seat.6 The duke’s factotum James Abercromby* of Stubbing Court, who was vexed by mismanagement over the sending of burgesses to Derby and believed the town was ‘inflamed and a contest possible though not probable’, reported to Devonshire on 2 Mar. that, as he had long suspected, the True Blue Club of Tory townsmen and local gentry were preparing to oppose him and the corporation. He added that Devonshire was correct to remain loyal to his first cousin Henry:

It certainly is true you expressed a desire to bring in Charles for Derby, but then you thought, as now, that he [Lord George Cavendish] ought to provide a seat for one of his sons. With his enormous fortune it is but fair that he should do so. The change which has taken place is not in your desire to have Charles in for Derby, but a conviction that unless you provide for Henry he would be left out.7

In the end Henry Cavendish was returned unopposed with his equally inactive opposition Whig colleague, Edward Coke’s son Thomas William (the prospective heir to Thomas William Coke, Member for Norfolk).8

The supporters of Queen Caroline celebrated her acquittal in November 1820 and, following a gathering on 23 Jan., their petitions for her name to be restored to the liturgy were brought up in both Houses by Henry Cavendish and Devonshire, 31 Jan. 1821.9 Among the many forthcoming petitions were those presented for reform of the criminal law (by Lord George Cavendish), 17 May 1821, alteration of the Insolvent Debtors Act (by the other county Member Francis Mundy), 13 Mar. 1823, and repeal of the combination laws and the assessed taxes (by Mundy), 11 Mar., 7 May 1824.10 Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants were brought up, 28 Apr. 1823, 12 Mar. 1824, 22 Feb. 1826, as were others for the equalization of duties on East and West India sugars (by Henry Cavendish), 5 May 1823, and inquiry into the trial of the Methodist minister John Smith in Demerara (by Lord George Cavendish), 26 May 1824.11 Although anti-Catholic petitions from the Baptists and the Anglican clergy were presented to the Commons, 19 Apr., and the Lords, 25, 28 Apr., a favourable petition from the Protestant Dissenters was brought up in the former, 5 May, and the latter, 27 May 1825.12 Henry Cavendish lodged a petition from the silk trade operatives for the admission of foreign corn, 13 Mar. 1826.13

The corporator William Jeffrey Lockett, Devonshire’s agent, informed Abercromby, 20 Mar. 1823, that ‘Cavendish’s military duty and ... Coke’s feelings in consequence of his uncle’s marriage were urged in excuse for their want of regular attendance during the last session, but apologies on those grounds will no longer be admitted’, adding that Coke, in particular, was putting his future return in jeopardy.14 Late the following year it was rumoured that Coke would face a challenge from Samuel Crompton, a local man who canvassed and soon announced his future withdrawal from East Retford, and Edward Strutt, the nephew of the leading corporator Joseph Strutt.15 Abercromby indicated to Lockett, who had suggested Strutt’s name, that Devonshire chose not to interfere over the second seat, but would find Strutt acceptable, especially if he proved to be a man of business. Privately he advised Devonshire that, although he should profess neutrality, Strutt would be preferable to Crompton as a long-term associate because, through his family, ‘his influence with the body of inhabitant voters is greater than that of any other person, and as long as he is with you it absolves you from the necessity of personal attention to them’. This understanding would also, he thought, preclude the possibility of the corporation foolishly seeking a junction with Devonshire in opposition to the wishes of the resident electors, a step which would certainly provoke a contest. Judging that the Strutts ‘will never do any thing that can be injurious to you’, he warned that the Cromptons, out of jealousy of the Strutts, ‘would be glad to make you quarrel with them’. He added that if the corporation were obstinate, Strutt would stand aside, but finding by September 1824 that Strutt was popular with the burgesses, Abercromby recommended Devonshire to ally himself with Strutt, whose dependence on the inhabitant freemen would make him a suitable colleague for Cavendish. On the other hand, Crompton could only be supported by resort to the ‘Peak votes’, which ‘did very well in former times when the people were less critical’, but which would now render Devonshire odious to the resident freemen, quite apart from the likelihood that any contest between him and Strutt would call into question the validity of the non-resident voters altogether.16 No doubt in view of Crompton’s superior experience and standing among the Whigs, as well as the Strutts’ evident aversion to being blamed for having caused a contest, Strutt did not offer at the general election of 1826, when Coke retired. Instead, in a carefully orchestrated demonstration of unity, Cavendish (proposed by Alderman Charles Lowe and Joseph Strutt) and Crompton (introduced by Lockett and Edward Strutt) were returned unopposed.17

Edward Strutt and his cousin William Evans* spoke at length in favour of repealing the corn laws at a borough meeting in November 1826, the ensuing petition being presented by Henry Cavendish, 20 Feb. 1827.18 Late that year a dissident attempt to address the duke of Wellington was quashed by the majority on the corporation.19 Petitions for repeal of the Test Acts were brought up, 15 May, 6 June 1827, 20 Feb. 1828.20 The True Blue Club, which met on 27 Feb., was behind the town’s anti-Catholic petition, which, with at least 4,700 signatures, was presented to the Commons (by Mundy) and to the Lords, 12 Mar. 1829. A counter-petition, which had been got up by the Strutts, was brought up, along with a favourable one from the corporation, in the Commons by Crompton, 12 Mar., when the authenticity of the conflicting petitions was discussed, and in the Lords by Devonshire, 13 Mar.21 A petition from the merchants, manufacturers, traders and inhabitants for economical and parliamentary reform was presented, 2 June.22 That month Abercromby commented to Devonshire that Cavendish, who had spent much time abroad because of illness in his family, ‘was very unpopular at Derby’, where the hope that he would be replaced by William Cavendish had been thwarted by the latter’s election for Cambridge University.23 Commercial petitions for revision of the criminal laws, against renewal of the East India Company’s charter and for mitigating the punishment for forgery were brought up by Mundy, 30 Mar., 5, 26 Apr. 1830.24

Crompton’s decision not to seek re-election at the general election that summer took everyone, not least the Strutts, by surprise.25 Edward Strutt immediately addressed the electors and, canvassing jointly with Cavendish, was considered safe, not least by the Whiggish Derby Mercury, which was owned and edited by Alderman John Drewry. Cavendish, proposed by Joseph Strutt, made staccato remarks, while Edward Strutt, introduced by another senior corporator, John Bell Crompton, laid out his liberal political principles. Their unopposed return was said by Devonshire to have ‘gone off well’.26 In addition to at least a dozen anti-slavery petitions that were brought up during the session, Derby reform petitions were presented either by Cavendish and Strutt, 16 Dec. 1830, 28 Feb., 19, 21 Mar. 1831.27 The penultimate one, which was in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill, was approved at a well-attended town meeting, 14 Mar. 1831, when the corporation reformers dominated the proceedings, and even the Tory mayor, the Rev. Charles Stead Hope, vicar of St. Alkmund’s and former president of the True Blue Club, supported the measure since it would abolish the honorary freemen.28 Strutt asked his sister to scotch a rumour that he intended to resign that spring, prior to the general election, when nothing came of a Tory bid to discount the significance of the ‘bastard burgesses from the Peak’, in order to foster opposition among the resident freemen, and no contest in the end materialized.29 Cavendish, who had voted for reform, failed to commit himself wholeheartedly to the bill, but Strutt did so, repeating his belief in the importance of Members being answerable to their constituents; they were returned unopposed.30 Radical publications put the size of the electorate at between 700 and 800, but later that year an official return numbered the freemen at 516 (360 residents and 156 non-residents).31

According to an anonymous diarist, Derby experienced a wave of fear about cholera and unrest in the summer of 1831. In September Sir Charles Henry Colvile of Duffield Hall, who condemned political corruption and the monopoly of the East India Company, accepted a requisition from the £10 householders to stand at the next opportunity.32 The same month Abercromby, who favoured giving Charles Cavendish an opportunity, informed Devonshire that the sitting Member risked losing him the support of the electors there, since ‘the man does not suit them and they do not like him. They say anybody but Henry’.33 Later that month Cavendish, who insisted that he had divided constantly for the reform bill, joined Strutt in giving his full support to ministers at the Derby reform meeting.34 The ensuing petition was brought up by Devonshire, on the same day as a hostile one from the inhabitants was presented by Lord Londonderry, in the Lords, 4 Oct.35 Intelligence of the bill’s rejection in the Upper House reached the town late on Saturday 8th, when pent-up anger overflowed into street riots, the targets including the house of William Bemrose, the editor of the anti-reform Derby Courier. Over the next two days several Tory properties were singled out for attack, notably Markeaton Hall, Mundy’s residence, and Chaddesden, the home of Henry Sacheverel Wilmot, who, even though he was a member of the True Blue Club, had declared for reform. In the absence of swift action by the corporation authorities, Colvile, Thomas Gisborne* of Horwich Hall and John Beaumont of Barrow Hall tried to restore order, but the 15th Hussars had to be called in on the 9th, when an attack was made on the gaol, and again the following day in order to quell the largely indiscriminate disturbances that arose after a requisition for a meeting to address the king in support of the bill had been rejected. Two of the rioters were killed and several wounded, which, according to an eye witness, ‘appeared to rather check their ardour’, and by 11 Oct. 1831 the town was again calm. Of the 11 prisoners tried at the Lent assizes the following year, only two were convicted, and then only for the lesser offence of theft.36

Sir George Crewe† of Calke Abbey remained anxious that Derby might erupt into violence if the reform bill was again thrown out by the Lords.37 Following the resignation of ministers, Edward Strutt’s cousin John informed him, 13 May 1832, that the people were

peaceable and orderly and sorrowful, as if under the pressure of some sudden and unexpected domestic calamity, but there is a spirit of such determination beneath, that I am confident that nothing less than the House of Commons taking the lead most decidedly, and refusing supplies to any administration which is not in perfect accordance with the feelings of the people, can save us from the most dreadful consequences ... We hear of nothing but refusing to pay taxes, and I am confident this will be put in practice as far as it can, if the Commons do not take the lead and refuse the supplies.

A petition to this effect quickly garnered 3,500 signatures, far more than had signed the previous reform petitions, and was presented to the Commons by Cavendish, 23 May.38 Celebrations on 7 Aug. marked the passage of the bill, under which Derby, with 1,684 of its 3,516 houses valued at or over £10 per year, at least doubled the size of its electorate.39 There were 1,384 registered electors, including 372 freemen, at the general election in December 1832, when the Conservative Colvile, who had launched a determined assault on the corporation and Devonshire interest, was defeated by the sitting Members. Apart from for its debts and poor accounting, the municipal corporation commissioners found the corporation’s administration of local government to be virtually beyond reproach by the mid-1830s. The new town council continued to be dominated by the Liberals, who also more or less monopolized the representation for most of the rest of the century.40

Authors: Simon Harratt / Stephen Farrell


  • 1. R. Phillips, Personal Tour (1828), ii. 110-12, 155-6; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1829), 125; PP (1835), xxv. 445-6, 450-1; S. Glover, Hist., Gazetteer and Dir. Derbys. (1836), 406; Unhappy Reactionary ed. R.A. Gaunt, 11, 14; Dyott’s Diary, i. 380.
  • 2. E. Fearn, ‘Derbys. Reform Societies’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. lxxxviii (1968), 48-49; R.S. Fitton and A.P. Wadsworth, The Strutts and the Arkwrights, 184-8.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 517; (1835), xxv. 443-4, 451-2.
  • 4. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 277-8; Peep at the Commons (1820), 6; HP Commons, 1754-90, i. 248-9; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 95; G.E. Hogarth, ‘Derbys. Parl. Elections of 1832’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. lxxxix (1969), 70-72.
  • 5. Castle Howard mss, Morpeth to wife, 2 Feb. [1820].
  • 6. Chatsworth mss 6DD 417, H. Cavendish to Devonshire, 17 Jan., 4 Feb. 1820.
  • 7. Ibid.
  • 8. Derby Mercury, 1, 8 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Ibid. 15 Nov. 1820, 24 Jan.; The Times, 1 Feb. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 15; LJ, liv. 23.
  • 10. CJ, lxxvi. 350; lxxviii. 115; lxxix. 148, 336; The Times, 18 May 1821, 14 Mar. 1823, 12 Mar., 8 May 1824.
  • 11. CJ, lxxviii. 260, 286; lxxix. 155, 417; lxxxi. 91; The Times, 6 May 1823, 27 May 1824.
  • 12. CJ, lxxx. 320, 380; LJ, lvii. 627, 658, 945.
  • 13. CJ, lxxxi. 160; The Times, 14 Mar. 1826.
  • 14. Chatsworth mss.
  • 15. The Times, 28 Aug.; Derby Mercury, 15 Sept.; Nottingham Rev. 26 Nov. 1824.
  • 16. Chatsworth mss 1017, 1020.
  • 17. Bentham Corresp. xii. 381; Derby Mercury, 7, 14 June 1826.
  • 18. Derby Mercury, 15 Nov. 1826; CJ, lxxxii. 198; The Times, 21 Feb. 1827.
  • 19. Add. 40394, f. 271.
  • 20. CJ, lxxxii. 461, 521; lxxxiii. 87.
  • 21. Derbys. RO, FitzHerbert mss D239 M/F 8712, 8713, 8720; Derby Mercury, 4, 11 Mar.; The Times, 13, 14 Mar. 1829; CJ, lxxxiv. 127, 128; LJ, lxi. 184, 192.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxiv. 361.
  • 23. Chatsworth mss 1769.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxv. 242, 261, 330.
  • 25. Derbys. RO, Gresley of Drakelow mss D77/38/5; Derby Local Stud. Lib. Strutt mss, E. to J. Strutt, 26 June 1830.
  • 26. Derby Mercury, 30 June, 28 July, 4 Aug.; Castle Howard mss, Devonshire to Lady Carlisle [c. 7 Aug.] 1830; J. Wigley, ‘Derby and Derbys. during Great Reform Bill Crisis’, Derbys. Arch. Jnl. ci (1981), 140.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxvi. 55, 74, 86, 126, 169, 183, 324, 334, 406, 416, 444.
  • 28. Derby Mercury, 9, 16 Mar. 1831; Wigley, 141.
  • 29. Strutt mss, E. to F. Strutt, 21 Mar.; Derby Local Stud. Lib. BA 324, ‘A Burgess by Birth and One of Yourselves’, 27 Apr.; The Times, 28 Apr. 1831.
  • 30. Derby Mercury, 27 Apr., 4 May 1831; Wigley, 141; Hogarth, 73-74.
  • 31. [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 210; Key to Both Houses (1832), 317; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 517.
  • 32. Wigley, 139, 141; Derby Mercury, 14, 21, 28 Sept.; Derby Local Stud. Lib. mss 10,007, ‘Procs. of Colvile’s Committee’, 27 Sept. 1831.
  • 33. Chatsworth mss 2368.
  • 34. Derby Mercury, 28 Sept. 1831.
  • 35. LJ, lxiii. 1044, 1055.
  • 36. Derby Local Stud. Lib. mss 9366, ‘A Derby Diary’, 8-10 Oct.; The Times, 11-15 Oct.; Derby Mercury, 12, 19 Oct. 1831, 21 Mar. 1832; Glover, 403-5; House of Letters ed. E. Betham, 211-20; Jnl. of Mary Frampton ed. H.G. Mundy, 386-94; Wigley, 143-7.
  • 37. Squire of Calke Abbey ed. C. Kitching, 83-84.
  • 38. Strutt mss; Derby Mercury, 16 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 332.
  • 39. VCH Derbys. ii. 156; PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 106.
  • 40. PP (1835), xxv. 450, 452; Derby Mercury, 12, 19 Dec. 1832; Hogarth, 83-84.