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

Estimated number qualified to vote:

between 170 and 200

Number of voters:

112 in 1831


Population: 830 (1821); 921 (1831)


31 July 1830JOHN WEYLAND 
29 Apr. 1831JOHN WEYLAND102
 Horace Twiss21

Main Article

Hindon, which in 1820 was described by William Hazlitt as ‘a dreary spot’, was a chapelry of the parish of East Knoyle, in the hundred of Downton. An inconsiderable market town, it had lost most of its cloth industry by that time, but its inns still benefited from the considerable through traffic.1 Although, with a high proportion of the male population entitled to vote and containing typical burgage tenements, it has sometimes been mistaken for a scot and lot or burgage borough, the franchise was, as the Commons ruled in 1728, in the ‘inhabitants of houses within the said borough, being housekeepers and parishioners, not receiving alms’.2 As there were 176 houses in the borough in 1821, and 184 in 1831, the number of electors must have been about the 170 claimed in the answers given to the home office circulars, though contemporary publications sometimes placed it as high as 240.3 A later visitor wrote that

naturally it was an exceedingly corrupt little borough, where free beer for all was the order of the day for a period of four to six weeks before an election, and where every householder with a vote looked to receive 20 guineas from the candidate of his choice. It is still remembered that when a householder in those days was very hard up, owing, perhaps, to his too frequent visits to the 13 public houses, he would go to some substantial tradesman in the place and pledge his 20 guineas, due at the next election.4

The electors are known to have been paid at least 10 guineas at the general elections of 1790 and 1812, and the practice undoubtedly continued into this period.5

From the late eighteenth century, the patronage of the borough was amicably divided between the two principal proprietors.6 Since 1807, when he succeeded his brother, the older of these interests had been in the hands of the 3rd Baron Calthorpe of Ampton, Suffolk, and Elvetham, Hampshire, who also controlled a seat at Bramber. He, an active Whig and a leading Evangelical reformer, owed his wealth to the development of his Edgbaston estate near Birmingham, compared with which his Hindon property brought in a negligible return.7 As lord of the manor he appointed the bailiff, who acted as returning officer, and it was his agent, James Charles Still, an East Knoyle conveyancer, who managed the elections. According to the poll lists among Calthorpe’s election papers, there were 164 possible voters in 1818 and 174 in 1820.8 On both those occasions he brought in his brother Frederick Gough Calthorpe, an independent but pro-Catholic Member. In 1820 he paid half the joint expenses of £1,099, an agency fee of £300, £100 ‘secret service money’ and further costs, making a total of £1,041.9

The other patron was William Beckford, a man of brilliant but unusual tastes, whose career had been cut short by the exposure of his homosexuality. Ostracized from society, he lived amongst the splendours of his extraordinary art collection in the Gothic folly of nearby Fonthill Abbey. He had been Member for Wells, 1784-90, and had occupied a seat at Hindon, 1790-4, and again from 1806. He was increasingly beset by financial problems, which were largely due to the decline of his West Indian estates and his own profligacy: for example, in 1818 he complained about his £3,000 expenses at Hindon. He was therefore forced to make a deal with his agents, Plummer, Barham and Plummer, upon whom he had gradually become financially dependent.10 The senior partner, John Plummer, wrote to his London attorneys, 1 Mar. 1820, that

I beg leave through you to offer my most respectful acknowledgements to Mr. Beckford for his obliging recollection of a wish formerly expressed by me of being in Parliament and in consequence having offered me in the event of his deciding not to occupy his own seat at Hindon, the preference of being returned for that borough. If it shall be Mr. Beckford’s determination to retire for the present from Parliament, I shall be most happy to be allowed to represent his interests at the ensuing election, defraying all the expenses attending the same and engaging whenever called upon by him to vacate the seat on receiving such proportionate return of those expenses as may be deemed proper by any mutual friends. I feel it right also to state that as by conferring this obligation on me Mr. Beckford might by possibility leave himself liable to personal applications from which he has been hitherto protected [by parliamentary privilege] I shall always deem it incumbent on me to prevent any inconvenience arising to him as far as my ability permits ... and further I engage to pay to Mr. Beckford an additional sum of one thousand pounds per annum exceeding the four thousand pounds now paid to commence from the first of February last out of the income of his Jamaica estates.11

Plummer was returned unopposed, and paid half the costs, which, he later recalled, were ‘independent of the gratuity of £10 cash to the voters, who as I understand paid little or no rent’.12 He proved to be as wayward in his voting behaviour in the House as his colleague.

Struggling to maintain control of his interest, Beckford failed to persuade his son-in-law, the 10th duke of Hamilton, to put up the tens of thousands of pounds needed to rescue his financial position and to gain the reversionary right to one half of the borough, which was, however, considered to be ‘worth much less than the £12,500 at which it was estimated by Mr. Still’.13 Plummer would, no doubt, have effectively gained the interest, had not Beckford, facing otherwise insurmountable losses, put Fonthill up for auction on 8 Oct. 1822. In fact he sold the house and its contents privately on 7 Oct., for £330,000, to the Scottish nabob John Farquhar, who was apparently not a relation of James Farquhar*.14 Beckford, whose possessions were sold by Farquhar at Fonthill in late 1823, retired to Lansdown Tower, Bath, where he died, still a wealthy man, in 1844.15 ‘Filthyman’ Farquhar, who outdid even his predecessor in eccentricity, lived in self-imposed exile at Fonthill, and, refusing to listen to warnings about the physical condition of the tower, was in residence (in another part of the building) when it spectacularly collapsed in December 1825.16 After a group of inhabitants had requested Gough Calthorpe to attend the Commons on the case of the death of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 24 May, he voted for inquiry into this, 11 June, and it may have been he who presented a Hindon anti-slavery petition, 21 June 1824. Other Hindon petitions were presented in defence of Robert Gourlay, 9 May 1825, and against the importation of foreign silks, 23 Feb. 1826, both probably by the county Member, John Benett of neighbouring Pythouse.17

In an undated letter, Gough Calthorpe advised his brother that Farquhar, who had begun to cultivate an electoral interest, for instance by the establishment of a woollen factory

had said that he would give a large sum for your interest at Hindon, but as he could not obtain it by purchase he was determined to do so by some means or other, and in doing it would spare no expense. If he lives at Fonthill and is determined to open his purse-strings, he will have a great advantage over you.18

At the time of the expected dissolution in the autumn of 1825 it was supposed that Calthorpe and Farquhar would each return one Member and, although no nominees had been chosen, one newspaper reported that Farquhar would stand himself. A list of 186 householders compiled at this time gave Calthorpe 92 tenants and Farquhar 60, while 27 were listed as chapel feofees, and seven as independent freeholders.19 That summer the Whig 11th duke of Somerset, whose kinsman Henry Seymour, soon to become Member for Taunton, lived in East Knoyle, had expressed a desire to purchase the interest from Calthorpe, who may well have entertained the idea of selling out. At the same time the Whig 2nd Earl Grosvenor, who, like Calthorpe, owed part of his enormous wealth to urban development (in his case of Belgravia, Middlesex), and was looking to further increase his electoral interest beyond Cheshire, had attempted to buy control of the old Beckford interest.20 In early 1826 Farquhar agreed to sell his property in the town and the electoral interest to Grosvenor, who was expected to intervene to improve its economic condition. Grosvenor also paid £45,000 for land in the neighbouring parish of Berwick St. Leonard, while Benett had already bought the remains of the abbey for £130,000, and some of the grounds, to add to his own estate, and Henry King of Chilmark purchased another large area of land. Following Farquhar’s death, 6 July 1826, his remaining fortune, which included personal wealth sworn under £700,000, was divided between his seven nephews and nieces, one of whom, George Mortimer, moved to a house on another part of the estate.21

Finding himself without a patron, Plummer, who continued to operate as a West India merchant, left the House at the dissolution in 1826. Calthorpe, having complied with a legal technicality regarding his lease of the lordship of the manor from the bishop of Winchester,22 arranged for his other surviving brother, Arthur Gough Calthorpe, Member for Bramber, to exchange seats with the equally inactive Frederick, and Arthur was duly returned unopposed. Meanwhile, Grosvenor nominated another Whig, George Matthew Fortescue, the second son of the 1st Earl Fortescue. According to a list of voters dated 1826, Calthorpe had 92 tenants, Grosvenor 63 and the chapel 27, and there were seven independents; but following the annotations and changes to the 1825 list, at the actual time of the election these figures were respectively 85, 61, 24 and 11, and the rest of the 184 possible voters were made up of three paupers and two dead, with one property unoccupied.23 The proprietors divided the costs of £1,038, and Calthorpe was asked to pay an additional £477. Grosvenor was presumably also charged such a supplementary figure, because, as Frederick Gough Calthorpe reported to his brother, 11 July, he

seemed hardly recovered from surprise and somewhat of dismay at receiving his account from Still. He thinks it very great, and was quite, as he says, unprepared for it, and as for the after payment he had had no idea of it till a short time ago, and is not quite sure whether he will pay it. The item of £100 for secret service money in Still’s account, he does not understand, and wants to know if such a charge has been made upon you, and whether you mean to pay it.

Grosvenor was determined to prevent these expenses recurring, and asked Calthorpe for his co-operation in a letter, 6 Sept. 1826, in which he stated that ‘for myself I consider the present outlay terminated’.24

William Hopkins, a local clergyman, wrote to Calthorpe late the following year in praise of the proposal to abolish the annual ‘gift’. He also advised Still’s removal because of his close involvement with the ‘system’, and his replacement by the attorney Charles Millett of Southridge House (which in fact is what happened after Still’s death in 1828). He commented that the

immediate effect of the termination of the present system must be an increase to the poor rates. Those who paid them out of the ‘gift’ will cease to pay at all, when the gift is withdrawn, and many of them probably will become chargeable to the parish, for your lordship is perhaps aware that the parish officer in many cases received the rates only at the return of the general election, deducting what was due and transferring the remainder to the voting paupers. I would suggest that this increase of parochial expenditure upon diminished resources should be met for five or six years by a bonus on the part of the patrons, lessening the sum each year by a graduated scale of reduction till the place shall have accommodated itself to the change of circumstances. In the meanwhile the desirableness of Hindon as a place of residence to the poor man being taken away in the loss of his marketable suffrage, and habits of industry and enterprise being forced upon him by the pressure of circumstances, unrelieved by hope, there would be little remaining attachment to the place by those who lived in the golden age here, and no predilection for it by the children.

He made other recommendations for the economic and moral well-being of the town, including the closure of two inns, and stressed the importance of dissolving the chapel tenures

for under the trustees, it may become a rallying point for the disaffected, for those who cling to the old system, to the factious and the dissolute. By their influence a third interest might be set up, and by uniting to them the unmanageable and discontents of the other interests might vex and disturb the borough by their opposition, although they might not be able to return a Member. All the evils of a contested election might be inflicted and entailed on the town. Seven-and-twenty houses and, therefore, as many votes acting together under a strong impulse and for a specific object might, in conjunction with the scattered malcontents, throw the town into disorder and superinduce deplorable evils.25

The plans must have been put into effect because in 1828 the press reported that the

premium of 20 guineas per annum heretofore paid for votes is no longer to be allowed, and the houses now occupied by very poor persons, just above the pay board, are to be improved, and let to respectable tenants, who are allowed to vote freely, according to the dictates of conscience and judgement.

The patrons also made provision for improving the conditions of the poor.26

A petition from parishes in the vicinity of Hindon complaining of agricultural distress was presented to the Commons by Benett, 16 Feb. 1830. Another, for repeal of the malt tax, was signed in the borough at about this time, but was not presented, unless it was the same as the one that Benett brought up, 12 Nov.27 Fortescue was again returned unopposed at the general election of 1830, this time with the poor law writer and Norfolk agriculturist, John Weyland, whom Calthorpe brought in to replace his sickly brother. Weyland was nominally a Tory, and it was for this reason that his success was noted as a ministerial gain in Charles Ross’s* summary of the returns, but he actually voted against the Wellington administration on the civil list, 15 Nov., as did Fortescue.28 Hindon witnessed one of the worst of the current outbreaks of violence in the attack on Benett at Pythouse, 25 Nov. 1830, and the Hindon troop of Wiltshire yeoman cavalry was instrumental in putting down the ‘Swing’ riots in the area.29

In the Lords, 15 Feb. 1831, Calthorpe spoke in favour of giving two seats to Birmingham, and afterwards Lord Ellenborough mischievously ‘asked him privately why he did not offer one for Bramber and one for Hindon’.30 John Lee Lee presented a reform petition from the gentry, yeomanry and others of Hindon, 28 Feb., and Weyland presented an anti-reform one from the independent voters and inhabitants, 22 Mar.31 Nevertheless, both he and Fortescue voted in favour of the Grey ministry’s reform bill (by which Hindon was to be totally abolished), 22 Mar., 19 Apr. At the general election which followed the government’s defeat, Fortescue retired and Edward John Stanley, the son of one of Grosvenor’s Cheshire connections, stood with Weyland. They were opposed by the Tory barrister Horace Twiss*, and Lord John Russell, writing to the duke of Bedford, 29 Apr., feared that a seat would be lost to him. But he was that day defeated in a poll, coming well behind in third place, despite undertaking a vigorous anti-reform canvass. As only 112 electors voted, Weyland and Stanley must have shared the majority of their votes as splits, and, given Hopkins’s concerns, it is likely that Twiss’s 21 voters were mainly chapel or independent freeholders.32 According to a story of local origin, the young Benjamin Disraeli† once visited Hindon and offered as a candidate, but as he only came of age in 1825, and was in fact abroad during the next three general elections, it is unlikely that there is any truth in it.33

Weyland presented another anti-reform petition from the independent voters and inhabitants, 13 July 1831, when he said that the rights of existing voters ought to be respected.34 He repeated this point at length during the debate on placing Hindon in schedule A, 22 July, when he made clear his hostility to such an extensive measure of reform. Sir Charles Wetherell, the former attorney-general, argued that the borough ought to be saved through enlargement, to which Lee countered that most of the inhabitants were in favour of the bill. Weyland then explained how, despite his reform votes, he had defeated Twiss because he had promised his constituents that he would never accede to their disfranchisement. The question was carried without a division. Unlike Stanley, a stout reformer, Weyland thereafter abstained on or voted against the bill. Calthorpe, a waverer, voted against it by proxy, 7 Oct. 1831, but for it, again by proxy, 13 Apr. 1832, while Grosvenor, who was created marquess of Westminster in September 1831, continued to give it his support. With 184 occupied houses, of which only 16 were valued at more than £10, and assessed taxes of £44, Hindon was placed 17th on the final list of condemned boroughs, and was duly abolished by the Reform Act. When the loss of their electoral influence became inevitable, the proprietors tried to relinquish their parochial duties, but the county sessions ruled in 1832 that Hindon had, ‘from time immemorial, maintained and supported their own poor; and that the patrons of the borough ... as well as their predecessors, had always contributed from £600 to £800 annually to the fund for the relief of the poor’, and that this practice should continue.35 In the 1850s the Calthorpe property in Hindon was purchased by the 2nd marquess of Westminster.36

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Complete Works of Hazlitt ed. P.P. Howe, xviii. 368; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 801; VCH Wilts. iv. 178-9; xi. 98, 100, 102; N. Sheard, Short Hist. Hindon, 1, 18-24.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 801; VCH Wilts. v. 224; xi. 98; Sheard, 3; CJ, xxi. 131, 132.
  • 3. PP (1830-1), x. 77; (1831-2), xxxvi. 38, 39, 534; Black Bk. (1820), 428; Spectator, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 4. W.H. Hudson, A Shepherd’s Life, 213.
  • 5. J. Lambert, Modern Legislation as Chapter in our Hist. 6; Wilts. RO 824/2; Sheard, 9, 10.
  • 6. Full View of Commons (1821), 19; Devizes Gazette, 25 Aug. 1825; VCH Wilts. v. 225; xi. 101; HP Commons, 1754-1790, i. 415, 416; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 421.
  • 7. D. Cannadine, Lords and Landlords, 125, 136-8, and ‘Calthorpe Fam. and Birmingham’, HJ, xviii (1975), 730-9.
  • 8. Hants RO, Calthorpe mss 26M62 box 24.
  • 9. Ibid. F/C 220.
  • 10. B. Alexander, England’s Wealthiest Son, 185, 210, 211, 216, 286; Life at Fonthill ed. B. Alexander, 85, 125, 208, 298, 306, 326.
  • 11. Bodl. ms. Beckford. c. 30, f. 105b.
  • 12. Calthorpe mss F/C 220; Bodl. Clarendon dep. c. 362, bdle. 3, Plummer to Foster Barham, 4 Mar. 1826.
  • 13. Ms. Beckford. c. 39, ff. 1-36, 56, 65; Life at Fonthill, 327, 333, 334.
  • 14. Ms. Beckford. c. 30, ff. 106-24; The Times, 11, 16 Oct., 21 Nov. 1822; Life at Fonthill, 327-8; Alexander, 189-95, 286; W. Gregory, Beckford Fam. 31-33; G. Chapman, Beckford, 288; W. Johnston, Descendants of J. Young (1894), 170.
  • 15. Gent. Mag. (1844), ii. 209-13, 659.
  • 16. Gregory, 33, 34.
  • 17. Calthorpe mss F/C 835; CJ, lxxix. 526; lxxx. 391; lxxxi. 96; The Times, 10 May 1825, 24 Feb. 1826.
  • 18. The Times, 9 Oct. 1824; Calthorpe mss F/C 15.
  • 19. Ibid. F/C 911; box 24; Devizes Gazette, 22 Sept. 1825.
  • 20. Calthorpe mss F/C 904, 905; Clarendon dep. c. 362, bdle. 3, Plummer to Foster Barham, 21, 24 June 1825, 4 Mar. 1826.
  • 21. Devizes Gazette, 27 Feb., 6 Mar., 12 Oct.; The Times, 8, 11, 19 July, 1 Aug., 3, 7 Oct., 16 Dec. 1826; Gent. Mag. (1826), ii. 278-80, 647, 648; Sir R.C. Hoare, Wilts. Dunworth, 23-28; Gregory, 34; H.F. Chettle, ‘Successive Houses at Fonthill’, Wilts. Arch. Mag. xlix (1942), 512; R. Moody, Mr. Benett of Wiltshire, 155, 156.
  • 22. Calthorpe mss F/C 991.
  • 23. Ibid. box 24.
  • 24. Ibid. F/C 18, 974, 994.
  • 25. Ibid. F/C 1105.
  • 26. Devizes Gazette, 13 Nov. 1828.
  • 27. CJ, lxxxv. 46; lxxxvi. 62; Salisbury Jnl. 8 Feb. 1830.
  • 28. Add. 40401, f. 132.
  • 29. H. Graham, Annals of Yeomanry Cav. of Wilts. 77-81; Sheard, 24-27; E.J. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 97-98. See WILTSHIRE.
  • 30. Three Diaries, 52.
  • 31. CJ, lxxxvi. 324, 420.
  • 32. Add. 51663; Devizes Gazette, 5 May 1831; Norf. Chron. 14 July 1832; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 534.
  • 33. Sheard, 10.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxvi. 650.
  • 35. Devizes Gazette, 12 Apr. 1832.
  • 36. VCH Wilts. xi. 100.