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 freemen1

Estimated number qualified to vote:



200 (1821); 232 (1831)


 GEORGE CHARLES PRATT, earl of Brecknock
2 Feb. 1832WILLIAM LOWTHER, Visct. Lowther vice Brecknock, vacated his seat

Main Article

Coastal erosion had reduced Dunwich to a small village coextensive with the parish of All Saints (1,340 acres). After the last contest in 1764, it had been agreed by the Barne and Vanneck families, as joint patrons and co-owners of many borough properties, to limit the electorate to 32:16 freemen appointed by themselves (eight each) and a further 16 appointed by the burgesses, among whom John Robinson of Cliff House, a former captain in the East Indian navy, was prominent. In practice the number of freemen was smaller and roughly half were absentees, although they were all, according to Michael Barne’s memorandum of 1813, ‘rentfree occupiers’ in Dunwich.3 The corporation, which could include up to ten aldermen and 12 common councillors, had become ‘a small political club’ for the patrons’ friends. Corporate offices, most of whose functions were already obsolete, were the preserve of a small group of families. In this period the Barnes and Robinsons appointed a bailiff each and the Collett and Dix families, the agents of Joshua Vanneck, 2nd Lord Huntingfield†, controlled and held lesser posts. Nothing came of an attempted opposition in 1810, and the 1835 municipal corporations commissioners reported that information about ‘the influence of property ... which had regulated the past parliamentary elections of the borough’ had been withheld from them, although evidence on all other matters was forthcoming. They concluded that ‘the means ... by which this transfer of municipal power was obtained and secured ... is open to conjecture’.4 A ‘grand feast’ for the populace, ostensibly given by the aldermen, but in fact paid for by the Members or their patrons, was held after both borough and parliamentary elections.5 By a private agreement of 12 Feb. 1819 between Huntingfield and the five Barne brothers (Barne, Michael, Miles, Snowdon and Thomas) and Michael’s son Frederick, Huntingfield had relinquished his seat and ceded effective control of the representation to the Barnes for 21 years, for £600 per annum. As it was stipulated that Huntingfield was to continue to attend all corporation meetings to promote their joint interests, he appeared to be in control of the nomination of Members who were in fact Barne ‘guests’.6

In 1820 Barne control of Dunwich, which Oldfield stated lay with Snowdon Barne†, a commissioner of customs, was consolidated by the election of his sister Mary’s son Henry Barne Sawbridge as bailiff and the return of his sister Anne’s son-in-law George Henry Cherry with Michael Barne. Both were sympathetic to the Liverpool ministry and opposed to Catholic relief.7 However, the cost of paying Huntingfield, underwriting corporation bills and waiving rents created difficulties for the Barnes, and by 1824 it was clear that ‘nothing short of Miles Barne taking the whole burthen of Mr. Barne Barne’s debts [£194,000] on his own property can extricate the three brothers [Barne, Michael and Snowdon] and their sister [Elizabeth] from ruin’.8 The brothers negotiated a trust agreement in March 1824 to rectify the situation, but Miles’s and Snowdon’s deaths in 1825 brought complications and delayed access to funds, for most of the family wealth had belonged to Miles.9 In 1826 the Barnes apparently chose not to return a second Member, creating a vacancy which Huntingfield’s first wife’s brother Andrew Arcedeckne was brought in to fill.10 The surviving Barne brothers, Thomas and Michael, took no steps to unseat him at the general election of 1830, despite his support for parliamentary reform and Catholic emancipation, which they opposed; and Michael Barne now made way for his son.11 Arcedeckne’s votes against the Wellington administration on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, and for the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Dunwich was to be disfranchised, 22 Mar., 19 Apr. 1831, proved too much for the corporation. They complained to the Barnes, who at the general election in May replaced him with the 2nd earl of Camden’s son Lord Brecknock, a known anti-reformer, who reputedly paid them £1,000 p.a.12

At the county election, 10 May 1831, Huntingfield, ‘a reformer all his life’ and the proposer of the Whig candidate, Sir Henry Bunbury*, made much of his abandonment of the right of nomination to the rotten borough of Dunwich, while Arcedeckne tried to draw prestige from his status as Huntingfield’s nominee who had voted for reform and thereby lost his seat. Both sought to benefit from their ‘sacrifices’ by improving their standing in Suffolk with a view to representing the Eastern division after the reform bill had been passed.13 Some observers, however, realized that Huntingfield’s sacrifice was not as great as he proclaimed it to be. The 3rd marquess of Hertford, reviewing Suffolk constituencies in a letter to John Wilson Croker* and Sir Robert Peel*, 28 Sept. 1831, described Dunwich as ‘half Barne, half Huntingfield, which last sold out of Parl[iamen]t and now returns I believe for £. s. d.14 Dunwich did not campaign to retain its franchise, but the town clerk John Gooding, backed by the Barnes and the corporation, refused to pay the under-sheriff of Suffolk Benjamin Brame’s fee for processing the 1831 writ, indentures and return, claiming that under an unrevoked Act of 1696 (7&8 Gul. III, c. 25) ‘neither sheriff, not his under-sheriff shall take any fee, reward, or gratuity whatsoever for making out receipt, delivery, return or execution of any such writ or praecept’. After several acrimonious exchanges, a proportion was paid on counsel’s advice.15 ‘Having little claim under the present reform bill to be removed from the schedule in which is now placed’, the corporation was also reluctant to spend on providing accurate returns to Parliament in December 1831.16

Troops were ordered to within three miles of Dunwich at the 1832 by-election when Lord Lowther, a leading anti-reformer, was substituted for the ailing Brecknock. Lowther, however, as his counsel Francis Worsnip complained to Gooding, was unable to take his seat until the writ was attached to the return and the outstanding fees to Brame had been paid.17 Huntingfield’s presence on the hustings had revived interest in ‘the mystery that appears to be connected with the borough of Dunwich’, and the Ipswich Journal demanded an explanation.18 A ‘Dunwich Freeman’, who claimed to be ‘a Whig politician’, replied that Michael Barne was in control. This prompted ‘Observator’ to disclose that a private agreement had long existed between Huntingfield and Barne:

The goose had been ripped up and all the golden eggs transferred to the coffers of Heveningham. Over the late election at Dunwich, Lord Huntingfield had no more control than Mr. Henry Hunt*, or Piers Ploughman, or any of that virtuous set of patriots; and of course the sin of sending an honourable man to Parliament lies not at his door.19

Huntingfield later wrote to Arcedeckne of his ‘desertion by friends and party’, and left ‘the political actions of the county to take their fate’.20

The disfranchisement of Dunwich was carried unopposed. Between 1833 and 1835 properties in Barne-Huntingfield co-ownership were, at Huntingfield’s request, valued and sold to the Barnes, who continued to liaise with the Robinsons on corporation matters. From 1832 until the corporation was abolished in 1886 the Barne family remained Dunwich’s chief benefactors and contributed ‘with reluctance’ to corporation feasts, for their investment no longer permitted them ‘to pipe at Westminster’.21

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. But left unspecified in PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 34, 35.
  • 2. Ibid.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 370; W. White, Suff. Directory (1844), 365, 366; A.R. Childs, ‘Politics and Elections in Suff. Boroughs during late 18th and early 19th Cent.’ (Reading Univ. M.Phil. thesis, 1974), 41, 42.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 520; (1835), xxvi. 139-48; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Dunwich borough recs. EE6:1144/21.
  • 5. N.S. Gay, Glorious Dunwich, 46.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 370; Suff. RO (Ipswich), Barne mss HA53/359/124, 125.
  • 7. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 561, 562.
  • 8. Barne mss HA53/359/67 (i).
  • 9. Ibid. HA53/359/110 (vi), 635, 838, 852, 896, 897, 1170, 1171; Gent Mag. (1825), ii. 89, 280; PROB 11/1705/562.
  • 10. Gay, 61. See ARCEDECKNE.
  • 11. Suff. Chron. 12 Sept.; Bury and Norwich Post, 16 Sept. 1829; Barne mss HA53/113 (vi); Dunwich borough recs. EE6/1144/153.
  • 12. Lonsdale mss, Lowther to Lonsdale, 13 Dec. 1831; Dunwich borough recs. EE6/1144/43.
  • 13. Suff. Chron. 7, 14 May; CUL, Arcedeckne mss 1/5, J. Barthrop to Arcedeckne, 11 May; Ipswich Jnl. 14 May 1831.
  • 14. Add. 60288, f. 417.
  • 15. Dunwich borough recs. EE6/1144/185/44-54.
  • 16. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 34, 35.
  • 17. Ibid. EE6/1144/155/1-8.
  • 18. Ipswich Jnl. 18 Feb. 1832.
  • 19. Ibid. 25 Feb., 3 Mar. 1832.
  • 20. Arcedeckne mss 2/65, Huntingfield to Arcedeckne [June-July 1832].
  • 21. Barne mss HA53/359/108, 117 (ii); Gay, 30; PP (1835), xxvi. 147, 148.