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 burgage holders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

103 in 18311


4,575 (1821); 5,105 (1831)2


17 Mar. 1826HENRY EDWARD FOX vice Aubrey, deceased
14 Feb. 1827NICHOLAS WILLIAM RIDLEY COLBORNE vice Fox, vacated his seat
4 May 1829HENRY CHARLES HOWARD, earl of Surrey vice Hurst, vacated his seat
30 July 1830HENRY CHARLES HOWARD, earl of Surrey
29 Apr. 1831HENRY CHARLES HOWARD, earl of Surrey

Main Article

Horsham, a market town in the west of the county several miles from the border with Surrey, consisted ‘principally of one long street, running east and west’. Its retail trade had declined when the army barracks were removed after the French wars and the town was described in 1831 as being ‘small and inconsiderable’, with ‘irregularly and poorly built’ houses.3 The boundary commissioners reported in 1831 that the borough limits ‘seem not to rest on very certain authority’, but they were confined to ‘the centre’ of the ‘extensive’ parish. The franchise was in the holders of burgage properties, but political control was entirely in the hands of Bernard Edward Howard, 12th duke of Norfolk, whose father had purchased the rival interest of the 2nd marquess of Hertford in 1811. Two bailiffs, appointed at the duke’s court leet, served as the returning officers for parliamentary elections. There was a hint of potential opposition in a letter from a local solicitor to the independent burgage holder Sir Henry Fletcher in June 1819, which suggested that the legitimacy of the burgage franchise might be challenged, but nothing came of this. Norfolk, a Catholic and a Whig, nominated relatives and like-minded clients. In 1820 the influential local attorney Robert Hurst was again returned, with the veteran Sir John Aubrey, who had previously sat for Norfolk’s borough of Steyning; Hurst’s election expenses amounted to £90.4

The occupiers of neighbouring land sent petitions to the Commons for relief from agricultural distress, 30 May 1820, 7 Mar. 1821.5 Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants were presented to the Commons in 1823, 1824 and 1826, along with one condemning the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 1 June 1824.6 They also petitioned for repeal of the coal duties, 16 Feb. 1824.7 Norfolk offered the vacancy occasioned by Aubrey’s death in March 1826 to Henry Edward Fox, the son of Lord Holland. Fox was absent in Italy, and though his presence at the by-election was considered desirable, it was ‘by no means indispensable’, assuming that he would ‘of course show himself to his constituents at the ensuing general election’. Norfolk was nevertheless anxious that Fox’s brother, Charles Richard Fox*, should ‘act as his representative, because the absence of both might be injurious’; Charles apparently obliged and Fox was returned unopposed.8 Ill health conveniently prevented Fox from returning to England at the dissolution in May 1826 and Holland, fearing ‘the little duke’ might ‘imagine ... you are insensible to the parliamentary honours he has procured for you’, suggested that ‘it would be well received if you were to offer to prevail on Charles to go down for you’. The duke of Bedford expressed concern that Fox’s continued absence ‘may prove a serious injury’ to Norfolk’s position. In the event, despite a Brighton newspaper’s optimistic assertion that Norfolk’s ‘influence might be broken up’ at Horsham ‘as it has been at Arundel’, Fox was again quietly returned.9

By October 1826 Holland, who was disappointed at his son’s lack of political ambition, felt obliged to inform Norfolk that for private reasons Fox must remain abroad for a ‘yet more considerable period of time’. In view of the likelihood of a vote being taken during the next parliamentary session on the ‘great and important question’ of Catholic relief, and of ‘the great value which a single vote may have in its decision’, Fox was therefore prepared to resign his seat whenever the duke required it. Norfolk was willing to wait and see, and in December Holland urged his son to leave Italy and move closer to England before the opening of Parliament, so that he might be on hand either to ‘comply with the form for vacating your seat in time to bring your successor in to vote for the Catholics’, or else to ‘come over yourself to vote on that question, even if you leave England ... next day’. This much was ‘due to the duke’, who ‘I know ... apprehends (I hope without reason) that there is some danger of an opposition at Horsham’. In fact, Fox had already written to Norfolk to relinquish his seat. Holland, observing that Norfolk had been ‘obliging and reasonable’ about the whole affair, still wanted his son to be ready to vote on the Catholic question, in case it proved ‘inconvenient to the duke’s interest’ to hold an early by election at Horsham.10 However, early in the new session Hurst, who was ‘anxious that the seat ... should be filled as soon as possible’, moved the election writ and Nicholas Ridley Colborne, a Norfolk landowner, was duly returned.11 The Protestant Dissenters sent up a petition to the Commons for repeal of the Test Acts, 11 June 1827.12 Petitions were forwarded to the Commons from the freeholders and inhabitant householders against Catholic relief, and from local Catholics in favour of it, 29, 30 Apr. 1828. In March 1829 the gentry, clergymen and inhabitants petitioned the Commons against emancipation, while the Baptists urged both Houses to support it.13 The Members naturally supported the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill. Immediately after its passage Hurst retired to make room for Norfolk’s son, Lord Surrey; on this occasion ‘the usual custom of giving away beer in the streets ... was not departed from’ and a dinner was given to some 80 persons.14 At the general election of 1830 the proceedings were interrupted by a freeholder named Holmes, who objected to the mode of election as being ‘in direct violation of the constitution’, only to be told by Hurst that since he was not a burgage holder he was not entitled to participate. Surrey and Ridley Colborne were declared elected and returned thanks, both claiming to be ‘perfectly independent’. Afterwards, the Members ‘threw away some silver’ from the windows of the King’s Head and beer was distributed ‘to quench thirst’, giving rise to appalling scenes of drunkenness.15

In November 1830 the ‘Swing’ riots spread to the district around Horsham, where fires were started, threatening letters sent and radical handbills complaining about the burden of taxation circulated. The labourers apparently received encouragement from some of the farmers, and at a ‘riotous meeting’ in the parish church the landowners were forced to agree to a reduction of tithes and a basic daily wage.16 Anti-slavery petitions were sent to the Commons by the Wesleyan Methodists, 10 Nov. 1830, and the Baptists, 29 Mar. 1831.17 The freeholders and inhabitants petitioned the Commons for parliamentary reform, 16 Nov. 1830.18 The Grey ministry’s bill of March 1831 proposed to open the borough by enfranchising £10 householders while allowing it to retain two Members, owing to the size of the parish population. Favourable petitions were presented to both Houses by the bailiffs and inhabitants, 19, 21 Mar., and to the Lords from inhabitants attending a public meeting, 15 Apr. 1831.19 Surrey and Ridley Colborne supported the measure. At the ensuing general election there was speculation in the local press that the inhabitants were about to ‘throw off their political shackles’. Neither of the Members made an appearance in the borough, with the result that after their re-election ‘no bells were rung and no dinner given ... to the great mortification and discontent of the patriotic electors’. Indeed, the musical bandsmen were ‘so indignant ... that they covered their instruments with crepe and went round the town playing the Dead March in Saul’.20 In the debate on the reintroduced reform bill, 19 July, John Wilson Croker complained of the iniquity of Horsham retaining both its Members and asserted that it had been ‘voluntarily taken out of the condemned schedules’, implying that Whig favouritism had been at work. Ridley Colborne dismissed this claim, pointing out that ‘a greater act of political suicide could not have been committed’ by Norfolk than in supporting the bill, which would ‘effectively exclude me, or any other persons he may wish to see in my position, from having any chance in that borough’. In the event, the new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831 consigned Horsham to schedule B, entitled to return one Member, as it contained 488 houses and paid £770 in assessed taxes, placing it 75th in the list of the smallest English boroughs. The boundary commissioners reported that there were only 158 £10 houses in the borough and urged that it was ‘imperative’ to extend its limits to the whole parish, which enlarged its area from 0.3 to 17.7 square miles.21 There were 257 registered electors in 1832, and at the general election of that year they demonstrated their independence, as the departing Ridley Colborne had predicted, by returning Robert Henry Hurst, the radical son of the former Member, in preference to the ducal nominee. Norfolk admitted that while the result was ‘expected’, it was still ‘a great mortification’.22 Hurst sat, with one interruption, until 1847, and thereafter the representation fluctuated until Horsham was disfranchised in 1885.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 534.
  • 2. Figures for the parish. The borough population was estimated at 1,921 in 1831 (Ibid. xl. 125).
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 513; PP (1831-2), xl. 123.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xl. 121-5; W. Albery, Parl. Hist. Horsham, 257; Horsham Mus. mss 31; Arundel Castle mss FC 16, Stedman to ?, 18 Aug. 1820.
  • 5. CJ, lxxv. 251; lxxvi. 146.
  • 6. Ibid. lxxviii. 292; lxxix. 234, 446; lxxxi. 41.
  • 7. Ibid. lxxix. 38.
  • 8. Add. 51833, Norfolk to Holland, 26 Feb. [c. 11 Mar.], Blount to same, 2, 6 Mar.; 52057, C.R. to H. E. Fox, 19 Mar. 1826.
  • 9. Add. 51668, Bedford to Lady Holland, 31 May; 51749, Holland to H.E. Fox [late May]; Brighton Gazette, 1 June 1826.
  • 10. Add. 51833, Holland to Norfolk, 3 Oct., reply, 8 Oct.; 51749, Holland to H.E. Fox, 3, 4 Oct., 17 Dec., reply, 25 Dec. 1826; 51750, Holland to same, 5 Jan. 1827 (two letters).
  • 11. Add. 51750, Holland to H.E. Fox, 20 Jan.; 51833, Blount to Holland, 4 Feb. 1827.
  • 12. CJ, lxxxii. 540.
  • 13. Ibid. lxxxiii. 282, 287; lxxxiv. 105, 148; LJ, lxi. 298.
  • 14. The Times, 8 May 1829.
  • 15. Brighton Guardian, 4 Aug.; Brighton Gazette, 8 Aug. 1830.
  • 16. E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 84-86, 185, 204.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 455.
  • 18. Ibid. 86.
  • 19. Ibid. 406; LJ, lxiii. 345, 439.
  • 20. Suss. Advertiser, 18 Apr.; Brighton Gazette, 5 May 1831.
  • 21. PP (1831-2), xl. 124; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 432.
  • 22. Add. 51837, Norfolk to Holland, 26 Oct., 23 Dec. 1832; D. Hurst, Horsham, 203.