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 paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

69 in 18181


668 (1821)2

Borough disfranchised by Act of Parliament (1 & 2 Geo. IV, c. 47) 8 June 1821


9 Mar. 1820JOHN INNES

Main Article

Grampound, an insignificant village situated on the River Fal in the south of the county, 40 miles north-east of Penzance, was governed by a corporation, consisting of a mayor and eight aldermen, which, as the municipal corporations commissioners noted in 1833, ‘existed but for the purpose of enabling the freemen to derive a revenue from their votes’. The freemen, whose numbers were unlimited, were nominated by a jury of existing freemen empanelled by the corporation.3 Since 1796 the borough, after almost 40 years of tranquillity under Eliot patronage, had been out of control. Blatant bribery was exposed and proved beyond doubt by inquiry into the 1818 general election contest, which led to the criminal conviction of Sir Manasseh Masseh Lopes* and 23 electors in 1819.4 In December that year Lord John Russell, to his own surprise, received ministerial approval for the principle of a disfranchisement bill.5 When the death of George III necessitated a dissolution, Russell secured the passage through the Commons, 22 Feb. 1820, of a bill to prevent the issue of writs for Grampound and three other venal boroughs. However, the Upper House, taking its cue from Lord Liverpool, the prime minister, and lord chancellor Eldon, killed the bill.6 At the ensuing general election the sitting Members, John Innes and Alexander Robertson, wealthy London East India merchants, were returned, apparently without opposition.7

On 9 May 1820 Russell obtained leave to introduce a bill to disfranchise Grampound and transfer its seats to Leeds, a proposal which was too radical for the government.8 Before the second reading, 19 May, when Russell proclaimed, ‘Alas! the glory of Grampound was gone for ever’, the House received a petition against the measure from the mayor, aldermen and freemen, who protested that ‘only’ 24 out of 69 electors had been found guilty of corruption and that ten other Cornish boroughs had smaller electorates. Proceedings on the bill were interrupted and eventually superseded by the Queen Caroline affair.9 Russell reintroduced it, 1 Feb. 1821. On the 12th a proposal made by Gilbert, Member for Bodmin, to disqualify the convicted voters and throw the borough into two neighbouring hundreds was dismissed without a division. (The hundred in which Grampound lay already contained four other parliamentary boroughs.) An amendment moved by Beaumont, Member for Northumberland, to give the seats to Yorkshire was defeated by 126-66. However, Russell abandoned the bill in disgust to Stuart Wortley, Member for Yorkshire, after the latter carried, with ministerial backing, an amendment to raise the voting qualification for Leeds; the bill passed the Commons, 19 Mar.10 The Lords, who received a petition from Grampound’s electors, 9 Apr., called in written evidence and examined eight witnesses for confirmation of the corruption which had occurred in 1818.11 In committee, 21 May, Eldon’s bid to restrict the franchise to the unconvicted electors failed, but Liverpool’s amendment to transfer the seats to Yorkshire was carried by 60-26. Russell accepted this rather than risk losing the bill, which gained royal assent, 8 June 1821.12 It was to take effect at the next dissolution or on the occurrence of earlier vacancies. In the event, Innes and Robertson sat for the duration of the 1820 Parliament. The ‘principal inhabitants’ petitioned the Commons for the gradual abolition of slavery, 16 Mar. 1824.13 At the dissolution, 2 June 1826, Grampound became the first borough since Maidstone in 1553 to be disfranchised for delinquency.

The Protestant Dissenters sent up petitions to Parliament for repeal of the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828.14 They and the inhabitants forwarded anti-slavery petitions in November 1830, which were presented to the Commons by Wynne Pendarves and Vyvyan, the county Members, and to the Lords by the earl of Falmouth.15 The mayor in office when the Disfranchisement Act was passed, David Varcoe, disappeared, as did the borough accounts, and no new mayor was elected until Michaelmas 1833, in anticipation of the visit of the municipal corporations commissioners, who took a dim view of Grampound:

The borough ... is stated to have improved since it was disfranchised ... but ... we cannot conceive any advance can have been made in the improvement of the town, which presents no appearance of the slightest care having been bestowed upon it.16

Author: Terry Jenkins


  • 1. CJ, lxxv. 228-9.
  • 2. PP (1835), xxiii. 508.
  • 3. D. and S. Lysons, Magna Britannia (1814), iii. 71;Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 242-5; PP (1835), xxiii. 507-8.
  • 4. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 57-62; iv. 456-7; Oldfield, Key (1820), 71-77.
  • 5. CJ, lxxv. 65; Russell Early Corresp. i. 208; Heron, Notes, 110; Harewood mss, Canning to wife, 29 Jan. 1820.
  • 6. CJ, lxxv. 93, 96, 99; LJ, liii. 13, 21.
  • 7. West Briton, 11, 18, 25 Feb., 3, 10 Mar.; R. Cornw. Gazette, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. CJ, lxxv. 174; Hatherton diary, 19 May 1820; Add. 38370, f. 63; 38458, f. 273; Croker Pprs. i. 136.
  • 9. CJ, lxxv. 228-9, 276, 302, 349.
  • 10. Ibid. lxxvi. 19, 22, 35, 65, 68, 131, 137, 159, 164-5, 167-8, 180.
  • 11. LJ, liv. 113, 116, 119, 126, 153-6, 171, 175, 176, 182, 188, 325-38, 340-1; House of Lords Sessional Pprs. (1821), vii. 1-149.
  • 12. LJ, liv. 397, 407, 425, 427, 435, 456, 470, 526; CJ, lxxvi. 381, 398, 425.
  • 13. CJ, lxxix. 168.
  • 14. Ibid. lxxxii. 520; lxxxiii. 91; LJ, lx. 67.
  • 15. CJ, lxxxvi. 38, 61; LJ, lx. lxiii. 30, 31, 71.
  • 16. PP (1835), xxiii. 507-8.