Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Estimated number qualified to vote:

11,000 to 12,0001



Main Article

There had been five contests in Kent between 1790 and 1818, and, although no further elections were pushed to a poll before the passage of the Reform Act, it nevertheless experienced a high degree of political agitation over national issues, partly because of its proximity to the capital.2 Predominantly agricultural in character, the county felt the full weight of the economic depressions of the early and late 1820s, and had a higher level of per capita expenditure on poor relief than its neighbours.3 The conservative farmers of the hinterland were active in the promotion of petitions complaining of distress, whose most common prayers were for the retention of the existing corn laws and the lowering of taxes and tithes. The commercialised coastal and metropolitan areas were equally anxious to safeguard their own interests, and numerous petitions were forthcoming for reductions in the duties on hops, beer, malt, seaborne coal, victuallers’ licenses and other taxable commodities. At the same time, Kent was a prosperous maritime county with a population of nearly 500,000 and, as well as many local improvement bills, the internal transport network was also expanded, notably by the opening of the Thames and Medway canal in 1824 and the Canterbury and Whitstable railway in 1830.4 Although as late as 1821 the Extraordinary Red Book listed as patron of the county the ‘duke of Dorset, partially’, Knole, which had anyway passed out of the hands of the 5th duke, no longer held any influence. In fact, according to the Whig writer Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges† of Lee Priory, the aristocracy of east Kent ‘were all of the character and temperament of the squirearchy’, and they consequently had no predominant political interest.5 Albeit that it was an uncontested election, the success of the Tory Sir Edward Knatchbull of Mersham Hatch in 1819, after the death of his father, indicated that his sponsors came mainly from the local gentry. He received letters of support from the 1st Marquess Camden of Bayham Abbey, Sussex, and The Wilderness, the lord lieutenant, who had served in high office under Pitt; the 6th Viscount Torrington of Yokes Court, an admiral and a Whig; the 4th Earl Stanhope of Chevening Place, a staunch Tory; the 2nd Baron Amherst of Montreal Park, who was appointed governor of Bengal in 1822; and the 1st Baron Eardley of Belvedere. However, these were outnumbered by similar pledges from members of the gentry: Stephen Rumbold Lushington* of Norton Court, Member for Canterbury and secretary to the treasury; Sir William Jervis Twysden of Roydon Hall; Thomas Fairfax Best of Chilston Park; James Beckford Wildman* of Chilham Castle; Edward Knight of Godmersham Park; William Osmund Hammond of St. Albans Court; Nicholas Roundell Toke of Godinton; the Rev. Sir John Filmer, vicar of Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire, who belonged to the Filmer family of East Sutton; Cholmeley Dering†, one of the Derings of Surrenden Dering; Thomas Papillon of Acrise Place; Sir Brook William Bridges of Goodnestone Park; Percival Hart Dyke of the Dyke family of Lullingstone Castle; Sir Henry Tucker Montresor of Denne Hill; and Charles Francis Farnaby of Wickham Court.6 Although only a sample of the leading county families, such support typified the nature of the representative system of Kent.

The more active local peers were ranged on the Whig side of the county’s political divide. The sons of both the 4th earl of Darnley of Cobham Hall (Lord Clifton), and the 5th Earl Cowper of Panshanger, Hertfordshire, and Ratling Court, Kent (Lord Fordwich), sat for Canterbury in this period, as did the brother of the 2nd Baron Sondes of Lees Court (Richard Watson). Other significant Whig peers were the 9th earl of Thanet of Hothfield Place; the 14th Baron Teynham of Linsted Lodge; and the 5th earl of Jersey of Middleton Park, Oxfordshire, at least until 1830 when he took office briefly under the duke of Wellington, who had his son, Lord Villiers, returned for Rochester at the general election that year. In uneasy alliance with the Whigs was an amorphous group of Dissenters, independents and radicals, who increasingly made their presence felt in county affairs and added their voice to the growing demands for parliamentary reform. The spirit of opposition aroused in Queenborough and some of the Cinque Ports against their corrupt corporations was mirrored in the county generally by a developing sense of the desirability of independence. Amongst the Tories, George William Finch Hatton, who succeeded his father as 9th earl of Winchilsea of Eastwell Park in August 1826, became an aggressive and influential leader of anti-Catholic opinion, in which he was joined by the clergy of the dioceses of Canterbury and Rochester, and by the Rev. Francis North, who was prebend of Winchester before he became the 6th earl of Guilford of Waldershare Park in 1827. Apart from the support of the 2nd earl of Romney of The Mote, the Tory interest was strengthened by a number of former ministers, notably Nicholas Vansittart* of Foots Cray Place, who was created Baron Bexley in 1823. Government wielded a good deal of influence through official patronage, especially in the naval establishments at Chatham, Deptford, Sheerness and Woolwich. Its interest in the Kentish littoral was strengthened by the fact that both Lord Liverpool and Wellington held the office of lord warden of the Cinque Ports during their terms as prime minister.7

Members’ expenses fell dramatically in the early nineteenth century because subscriptions became more common and an informal understanding developed that each party would return one candidate. Thus Knatchbull’s father, who was alleged previously to have spent £40,000, paid nothing at the 1812 and 1818 general elections, though in the latter contest the Whig William Philip Honywood of Sibton spent about £3,500 to re-establish his family’s interest, in opposition to his Tory cousin, Sir John Courtenay Honywood of Evington.8 Meanwhile, an older convention, that the county should return one Member each from the eastern and western parts into which it was roughly divided, had largely fallen into desuetude. Both the Knatchbull and Honywood estates were in the east, and it was this district which dominated the political life of the county, even though elections took place on Penenden Heath, near Maidstone in west Kent, in front of the miserable and much reviled shack that purported to be the shire house.9 Instead, the residence issue centred mainly on Honywood’s decision to live at Marks Hall, Essex, for which he was attacked in the Tory Kentish Gazette, and at a meeting in Canterbury, 11 Mar. 1820, for depriving the freeholders of that ‘easy access and free communication which are essential between the constituent and the representative’.10 The general election of 1820 involved this question and the recent repressive legislation, which Honywood denounced in his address, 23 Feb., but which Knatchbull supported, 26 Feb. Honywood was then forced to issue a second address, 1 Mar., condemning the Cato Street conspiracy, which had just been discovered, and to establish a committee to counteract a threatened opposition.11 Nothing came of this, however, and the Whig Kent Herald later recollected that the Tories ‘literally hawked the seat about, but unfortunately for them, without consulting the great body of the freeholders, as the day of nomination proved’.12 Indeed, rumours of a mystery Pink or neutral candidate evaporated on the hustings, where purple and orange colours were displayed by the Tories and blue by the Whigs. Honywood, who was nominated by Thomas Law Hodges of Hemsted Place and Thomas Rider of Boughton Monchelsea Place, defended his non-residence, his votes against ministers and his pro-Catholic views. Knatchbull, who was proposed by William Deedes† of Sandling and William Alexander Morland of Court Lodge, spoke against attacks on the constitution, Catholic claims and agricultural distress. John Calcraft* praised Honywood’s independence, while George Gipps* of Howletts endorsed Knatchbull’s support for the laws against sedition. Finch Hatton decried Honywood’s suitability and regretted the lack of a better candidate on the Blue interest, but he was answered by Charles Larkin, a Rochester land surveyor, who ridiculed the efforts of the Canterbury Purples to raise an opposition. Honywood, whose increasing ill health came to limit his attention to local and parliamentary affairs, and Knatchbull, who proved to be an exemplary county Member, were duly returned. After a rancorous discussion it was decided to place Honywood, whose expenses amounted to just over £130, before Knatchbull in the return, since he had been nominated first.13 According to ‘Essex’ in the Whig Kentish Chronicle, 24 Oct. 1820, the ‘press of Kent, with one or two solitary exceptions, is the abject tool of power, and its parliamentary rank descended to the vileness of a Cornish borough’.

Anxious not to be tardy, Camden sponsored and presumably obtained an address, ‘worded in the most general manner’, to George IV on his accession in early 1820.14 However, Thanet wrote to Lady Holland, 16 Apr., that if Queen Caroline landed in Kent ‘she will be drawn in triumph to Town. I am convinced one mischievous fellow mentioning her name would blow us all up. You may guess how I tremble. The county is rather in an irritable state’. On 5 Dec. he informed her husband that

our friends are very insolent and up to anything. Liverpool in his way through Canterbury had a halter shaken at him. The Tories are down in the mouth, but like the parsons are as numerous as ever. Not one of them will come over to us, they hate us more than ever. The only difference I can see in this county is that our friends are elated and our enemies out of countenance; in other respects we are in statu quo. Our enemies will make no show against us, they never do, for when we are in spirits we always outnumber them.15

The queen did progress from Dover to London amid displays of popular support and, although an address to the king to remove his ministers was quashed, a requisition for a county meeting was circulated. George Tierney, the Whig Commons leader, thought it would be well signed, ‘because in that county there has at all times been abundant zeal’, but when the sheriff, Sir Thomas Dyke, refused to allow a meeting, he commented that the business had been ‘bungled sadly’. Nevertheless, Thanet, Jersey, Cowper and Sondes were among those who organized their own meeting in Maidstone, 18 Jan. 1821.16 Thanet and Honywood moved a laudatory address to Caroline, while Darnley also spoke in her favour. Although Larkin forbore to do so, Rider insisted on moving an amendment that the petition, for the restoration of her name to the liturgy, should include a demand for lower taxes, which was seconded by Robert Foote of Charlton Place. It was presented to the Commons by Honywood, 8 Feb., when he differed with Knatchbull by defending the validity of the meeting and insisting that only one half-pay officer, probably Major Charles Purvis of Darsham Hall, Suffolk (whom Thanet had to protect from the participants’ anger), had opposed it; Darnley brought it up in the Lords, 25 Feb. 1821.17

Several Kentish petitions complaining of distress were prepared in 1820 and 1821. On 8 Dec. 1821, the agriculturist and radical writer William Cobbett† observed that Kent was

in a deplorable way. The farmers are skilful and intelligent, generally speaking. But, there is infinite corruption in Kent, owing partly to the swarms of West Indians, nabobs, commissioners and others of nearly the same description, that have selected it for the place of their residence; but, owing still more to the immense sums of public money that have, during the last thirty years, been expended in it.18

The worsening problems and disappointment at the innocuous report of the Commons select committee on distress led to Whig calls for a county meeting at gatherings of landowners in Maidstone and Canterbury, 13, 29 Dec. 1821, and Stanhope was praised for his continuing leading role over this into the following year, when many more petitions were presented for relief and protection.19 A requisition, which garnered at least 450 signatures, was finally put in progress in May and many thousands attended the meeting, 11 June. Foote, Rider, Darnley, Larkin and Honywood all spoke in favour of a petition linking economies with parliamentary reform. Knatchbull acknowledged the distress, which he blamed on imports of foreign corn masquerading as Irish, but defended ministers’ efforts to alleviate it and opposed reform. Towards the end of the meeting, Cobbett introduced a surprise rider calling for lower interest rates on the national debt which, unopposed by the other speakers, was carried by a great majority.20 In presenting it to the House, 14 June, Honywood was criticized by Knatchbull for failing to object to the amendment, but several Whigs came to his support, including Calcraft and Clifton, who denied that it expressed the real opinion of the freeholders. Knatchbull brought up a counter-petition objecting to the rider, 4 July 1822.21 Economic matters continued to dominate Kentish politics, largely to the neglect of other issues, although reform, as well as distress, would have had an airing had not Stanhope’s call in January 1823 for another county meeting been refused.22 Knatchbull presented a petition against the hop duties, 21 Feb., and intervened with ministers to secure the postponement of their payment.23 Petitions against any alteration in the corn laws from the owners and occupiers of land were brought up in both Houses, 25 Apr. 1825, 12 May 1826.24 Agricultural associations continued to flourish: for instance, the one for East Kent and Canterbury met under the chairmanship of Thomas Neame of Chislet, 3 Sept. 1825, and James Ellis, a hop factor of Barming, often chaired the Maidstone Agricultural Association, which passed resolutions in favour of protection, 20 Apr. 1826.25 Kent was also strongly opposed to slavery, with numerous petitions for its abolition being presented, notably in 1824, 1826 and 1830-1. In April 1825 Knatchbull brought up several petitions against Catholic relief, a sign that the county was becoming more assertively ‘Protestant’ in outlook.26

Nothing came of a rumour that Knatchbull was to be raised to the peerage and replaced by Camden’s eldest son, Lord Brecknock*.27 Both Members offered again at the general election of 1826, when it was considered unlikely that either Brydges, who addressed the freeholders in favour of having two Members who would defend the agricultural interest, Hodges, or anyone else, would be foolish enough to attempt to oust them.28 Finch Hatton, who with Morland nominated Knatchbull, while Hodges and Rider again proposed Honywood, challenged the candidates to give their opinions on slavery, the corn laws and Catholic relief. Both condemned the first, although Knatchbull favoured preliminary amelioration of the condition of the slaves. Honywood cautiously advocated some relaxation of protection, provided it did not encourage unfair foreign competition in corn, but Knatchbull refused to countenance any alterations because they would injure the landed interest and national prosperity. Honywood urged the necessity of emancipation, even though this meant differing with some of his supporters, and John Pemberton Plumptre† of Fredville confirmed that many of them would, ‘if there had been an opposition, have come in large bodies against him’. Knatchbull’s view was that toleration would be possible, if only there were no dangerous political implications to be feared from admitting Catholic Members to the House. Larkin remarked on the general unanimity of the meeting and the only other intervention came from Brydges, who insisted on outlining his thoughts on the currency question, which he elaborated in a long series of letters to the Kentish Gazette during the rest of the year. Honywood’s agent calculated his expenses, for attending on him and placing his addresses in the papers, at only £12 12s. 11d.29 The agriculturists continued to meet, for instance at Canterbury, 15 Dec. 1826, when Gipps recommended that moderate petitions in favour of continued protection should be prepared in each parish or district, and a committee was duly appointed to supervise his plan. The east Kent petition, agreed on 30 Dec. 1826, was presented to the Lords by Camden and to the Commons by Knatchbull, 16, 26 Jan. 1827, and many others were forthcoming during the session.30 Following meetings in Canterbury and Maidstone, 12, 29 Apr., similar petitions were brought up by Knatchbull, 22 Apr., 16 May 1828, and repeated objections were also made to the malt duty.31

Some petitions were presented for repeal of the Test Acts: for example, from the Kent Protestant Dissenting ministers (by Lord Milton) and six Kentish towns, 8, 22 June 1827, and Sevenoaks, 20 May 1828.32 However, these were greatly outnumbered by the anti-Catholic petitions which were lodged by Knatchbull in the same period. In the autumn of 1828 Winchilsea (as Finch Hatton had now become) issued a circular letter and made extensive preparations for an anti-Catholic meeting in Maidstone, 16 Sept. Some of the leading figures attempted to moderate his zeal in private, but the overall response was favourable and most speakers supported his motion for the establishment of a Brunswick Club, though not necessarily with the violence of John Wells of Bickley, Member for Maidstone. The only direct opposition came from Teynham, who argued that it was ‘holding out the probability of a civil war’ and moved to adjourn. This was supported by Bexley, not because he was pro-Catholic, but because, like several others, he believed that any such organization smacked of unconstitutional association. Major Charles Wayth of Friningham seconded the adjournment, but, according to Bexley, he ‘was so ill received that he and Lord Teynham did not hold up their hands in support of their own motion’. The club was then formed, with Winchilsea, Guilford, the 2nd earl of Abergavenny of Eridge Castle, Sussex, the 12th Lord Le Despenser of Mereworth Castle, and the 1st Baron Harris of Belmont as presidents, and many of the leading gentry as vice-presidents.33 The county meeting which took place on Penenden Heath, 24 Oct. 1828, on the requisition of the club’s members, was one of the largest and stormiest ever to occur. The Brunswickers attended in force and were alleged to have mustered thousands of their tenants in order to dominate the proceedings, though it was also conjectured that many of them were moderates and would have welcomed avoiding the question by an early adjournment. Darnley and Clifton were members of an anti-Brunswick committee established in London and, with Lord Holland, they mustered the Whigs, from the locality and elsewhere, with mixed success, since some stayed away fearing the worst and others, like the indisposed Honywood, pleaded ill health.34 Gipps moved the anti-Catholic petition and was seconded by Plumptre, but Camden, who had placed himself on the sheriff’s wagon, spoke against it on the grounds that concessions would eventually have to be made. Darnley argued that the civil and spiritual allegiances of Catholics were entirely distinct, which Winchilsea and Knatchbull denied. Larkin and Teynham spoke for the Whigs, whose cause was embarrassed by speeches from the young barrister William Shee† of the British Catholic Association, and the radicals Richard Lalor Sheil*, Henry Hunt* and Cobbett, who attempted to move a petition against tithes. Amid the mounting uproar, Hodges urged an amendment in favour of emancipation, which was seconded by the 3rd earl of Radnor of Longford Castle, Wiltshire. Without waiting for a vote on the amendment, which may not technically have been put, the sheriff, Sir Thomas Maryon Wilson of Charlton House, declared in favour of the original petition. Although this decision was controversial, the Whigs generally conceded that Kentish opinion was anti-Catholic, if only narrowly so.35

Winchilsea, Knatchbull and Gipps held a Brunswick dinner to celebrate their triumph, 31 Oct. 1828. Darnley, however, thought that the meeting had ‘gone off as well as could be expected’ and, writing to Holland, he pledged himself and Clifton to assist with their pro-Catholic petition:

I will do all I can to coax your friends the Dissenters, who are or ought to be with us, but we have a strong, compact, well-disciplined phalanx of high-flying Tories to contend with, including nine-tenths of the squires and parsons. In the towns we are strong, and I think we are making slow but decided progress everywhere.

He also chaired the anti-Brunswick dinner, ‘in great force’ Clifton opined, in Maidstone, 22 Dec. 1828.36 Knatchbull presented the anti-Catholic petition, which was supposed to have over 81,000 signatures, 12 Feb. 1829, when he differed with Robert Peel, the home secretary, over the necessity for emancipation, and with Clifton, who presented the counter-petition, over the extent of anti-Catholicism in Kent.37 Winchilsea and Darnley, who were also entrusted with the hostile address to the king, brought up the same petitions to the Lords the following day,38 when the size of the Brunswick majority was again disputed, and Darnley commented that until the club had been formed

though among the resident gentry and nobility of Kent there had always been a great variety of political sentiments, yet, in all the society of England, there was none, I believe, in which differences of opinion did so little interrupt the cordiality of private intercourse and friendship.

Many other anti-Catholic petitions were presented by Knatchbull, and following a meeting in Maidstone, 2 Mar., Gipps successfully circulated an address to the king opposing relief. Their opponents held a dinner to celebrate the passage of the emancipation bill, 1 June 1829.39

Writing to Sir Richard Vyvyan*, the Ultra leader, with whom he was closely connected, 2, 26 Aug. 1829, Knatchbull complained of the prevailing distress and reported that he had forwarded to Wellington the agriculturists’ memorial which had been agreed at a meeting of their Association in Canterbury, 8 Aug.40 Winchilsea sent out invitations for a dinner on 13 Nov. in Knatchbull’s honour, which elicited many replies in praise of his staunch defence of the Protestant cause, but also raised doubts about the wisdom of continuing to agitate a settled question.41 Knatchbull commented to Vyvyan, 15 Nov., that the ‘pressure increases - there is less money, and more dissatisfaction - the stagnation of the markets is continued and unexampled - our farmers literally have no means of selling their produce - wool, corn, and stock all in hand and unsold’. He then informed Lord Eldon, 30 Nov., that the dinner to Knatchbull had been ‘ill-judged, because it was an anti-Catholic one; had it been more connected with the agricultural depression, it would have answered better, because in no part of England are the farmers more distressed than in Kent’.42 The grand jury signed a memorial to Wellington for relief, 16 Dec. 1829, and several other meetings on distress took place.43 Knatchbull moved an amendment to the address, 4 Feb. 1830, complaining of the prevailing distress and citing the experience of his own county, and in the following weeks he presented numerous petitions for agricultural relief and reduction of the malt duties. Edward Hughes of Smeeth Hill House issued an address recommending a county meeting, 8 Feb., and although Knatchbull stated that he would not, ‘being a county Member’, sign the requisition, one was appointed for 12 Mar.44 At the well-attended gathering, Stanhope, now an Ultra, moved a petition for relief and was seconded by Teynham. Knatchbull objected to Larkin’s amendment to include a demand for reform, which was supported by Hodges and Honywood and unanimously agreed. Gipps opposed a successful amendment on economies, but eventually withdrew his own, which excluded any mention of tithes and called only for retrenchment and lower taxes.45 The petition was brought up in the Lords by Stanhope, 25 Mar., and in presenting it to the Commons, 29 Mar., Knatchbull spoke of the distressed petitioners as ‘that class of most respectable and influential country gentlemen who used to have £1,200 to £1,500’, while Honywood endorsed all its demands. Joseph Hume presented the petition of the owners and occupiers of land in the vicinity of Rochester for the abolition of tithes, 18 May, and argued that they were seen as a major cause of distress there.46 Although greatly alarmed by the distressed state of the county, in July 1830 Winchilsea bowed to Stanhope’s opinion that any county meeting to approve an address of condolence and congratulation to William IV should avoid broaching such a contentious political issue.47

One newspaper hinted that a man ‘of large fortune, high connections, Tory principles, great talents, powerful abilities and indefatigable zeal’ might offer himself at the general election of 1830. Possibly this was Brecknock or Stanhope’s son, Lord Mahon*. Also rumoured were ‘a Bligh’, either Clifton or John Duncan Bligh, a diplomat, and ‘a Dering’, probably Sir Edward Cholmeley Dering*.48 As it was, the Members would probably have been left undisturbed had it not been for disillusionment with Honywood. Hodges, who had clearly been sounded, replied to Hughes, 9 July, that none of Honywood’s friends knew of his intentions and that, although he would never oppose him, if

I should receive, in the event of Mr. Honywood’s resignation, such an expression of the wishes of the freeholders as may lead me to suppose it was their general desire that I should encounter that responsibility, I will endeavour to discharge that, as I have other public duties, diligently and conscientiously.49

Honywood did address the freeholders, 15 July, but after a putative meeting for Hodges in Maidstone broke up without passing any resolutions, 2 Aug., an anonymous address complained that

Kent, that high and intelligent county, is likely to be reduced to a situation worse than any rotten borough. A man avowedly objectionable to every thinking person is about to be forced upon us by the caprice of a small coterie of interested associates.50

Honywood prudently succumbed to the pressure and, in a face-saving address, 3 Aug., he withdrew on the pretext that he could not comply with their requirement to reside in the county. Hodges issued his own address the next day, and nothing seemed likely to interfere with his quiet return.51 The president of the India board, Lord Ellenborough, who witnessed the election procession entering Maidstone, 9 Aug., described

Sir E. Knatchbull in a cocked hat, attended by about thirty or forty gentlemen in black, all covered with dust, preceded by about six blue flags, and followed by some carriages with ugly women. Then came T. Law Hodges ... with many light blue flags and some low people - few gentlemen. The numbers, however, of the Hodges colours and people were greater than that of the Knatchbull squad. Not a cheer for either. The whole thing flat and ridiculous - worthy of Hogarth.52

In nominating Knatchbull, Deedes declared that ‘during his sitting in Parliament he has done the whole work of the county’, and Knatchbull himself spoke against slavery, urged greater economies and declined to commit himself on reform. Hodges was proposed by Rider, and both advocated further reductions and explained that Honywood had retired because of his ill health and non-residence. Clifton said that he had had no intention of standing, despite allegations that his supporters had conducted an initial canvass, as he had taken up residence in Meath as its governor. He complained that Honywood had not told him of his plans, though in a letter to him, Clifton subsequently explained that he had mentioned this ‘merely because the circumstances would seem to have inferred suspicion of me as a partisan and because, by being kept in the dark, I was prevented from testifying my anxiety to act as heretofore with our party’. The candidates were duly returned unopposed, at little expense, and a vote of thanks to Honywood for his past services was rather grudgingly agreed.53 The lack of any great issue dividing the two men was underlined by the fact that they both attended a dinner in Hawkhurst, 8 Sept. 1830, to celebrate their return.54

They were also active late that year in the suppression of the agricultural riots, which were epitomized in the Life and History of Swing, the Kent Rick-Burner (1830) as the actions of an honest tenant farmer, reduced to radicalism and criminality by an oppressive landlord and excessive taxation. The destruction of a threshing machine at Lower Hardres, 28 Aug., was one of the first of a series of disturbances throughout the south of England, and Kent, where the riots were of the longest duration, saw the fourth highest number of incidents, mainly arson, machine-breaking and wages demands.55 Although Cobbett lectured in Kent during October and radicalism undoubtedly played its part, the causes were more the sustained agricultural depression, the breakdown of voluntary agreements between farmers and employees over the use of threshing machines, and a pervading sense of fear that their use, and such factors as an influx of Irish labour, would create widespread winter unemployment.56 Some of the local authorities, including Knatchbull, who sentenced seven guilty men to only a few days’ imprisonment, 24 Oct., took a lenient approach, believing the troubles to be the result of intolerable short-term distress rather than deep-seated revolutionary disaffection. Others, however, including Camden and Darnley, were for more active intervention, and in early November Peel, who was furious at the supineness of the magistrates, agreed to embody the local militia and to take further steps to end the disturbances.57 Hodges raised the plight of Kentish farmers on the first day of the session, 2 Nov., advocated economies as the only means to restore prosperity and tranquillity, 11 Nov., and presented several petitions for relief, for instance from the landowners of Kent, 6 Dec. 1830.58 Camden reported to Peel, 10 Feb. 1831, that partly as the result of the formation of various troops of militia, ‘our county is improved extremely in every respect’.59 Demands for agricultural relief became increasingly linked to the question of parliamentary reform, and numerous reform meetings were held, such as that chaired by Rider at Sittingbourne, 25 Feb. 1831.60 Many reform petitions were brought up, mostly by Hodges, compared to only a few hostile ones. Hodges also presented Greenwich petitions for the town to return two Members, 10, 18 Mar.61 Knatchbull, who was unable to attend the county meeting, 24 Mar., because of illness, wrote a letter to the sheriff, opposing the Grey ministry’s reform bill, but in favour of moderate changes. Radnor and Edward Darell of Calehill moved a pro-reform address to the king, and Larkin ridiculed the objections raised by Mahon, whose father had lost patience with ‘the servility or supineness of those who ought to have taken the lead’, by pointing out his dependence on a seat at Wootton Bassett. Watson and Sir William Richard Cosway of Bilsington Park moved a petition to the Lords, Sir John Maxwell Tylden of Milstead and Rider moved a similar one to the Commons, and several others, including Hodges, spoke in their favour. There was little overt opposition, though some doubts were raised about the county franchise. The petitions were presented by Hodges, 25 Mar., and Winchilsea, 28 Mar.62 On 8 Apr. George Robert Gleig, perpetual curate of Ash, near Sandwich, reported to Wellington that the country gentlemen were afraid to get up a petition against reform, and, on 9 Apr., that he was personally opposed to it, but ‘I do not find, even among the most decided Tories, one man in 20 who will subscribe to the same sentiments’. Nevertheless, he persuaded many of the leading Tories to sign the Kentish declaration against the bill, 12 Apr. 1831.63

Even before the dissolution that spring it was known that Knatchbull was averse to measuring his strength with the reformers, who objected to his paired votes against the bill, especially if it entailed the expense of a contest.64 Brydges, not being a member of ‘local combinations, petty conclaves and family organizations’, offered to rise from his sickbed in Geneva and stand at the general election. There were also rumours that Cosway, Tylden, Rider, Bligh, Thomas Bentley, an extensive agriculturist near Rochester, or half a dozen men sent down by the Parliamentary Candidates Society, would join Hodges.65 Mahon, who had evidently contemplated standing, was put off, as he was the following year, by his relative unpopularity.66 Knatchbull addressed the freeholders, 23 Apr. 1831, and was supported by Gipps and others at several meetings in his favour, and by Lord Holmesdale*, Amherst’s eldest son, who was chairman of his committee. At a meeting in Sittingbourne, 26 Apr., Rider put himself forward and was adopted as a reform candidate in tandem with Hodges. They campaigned widely together and when Wayth, the chairman of their central committee, began a subscription to return them free of expense, Rider pledged himself to stand a contest, if necessary. Knatchbull was forced to give ground on reform in a second address, 27 Apr., and at a Canterbury meeting, 30 Apr., he complained that Hodges had failed to tell him of Rider’s candidacy. Objections were also raised to the idea of the two reformers being returned from west Kent, especially as Rider was hardly known in the east. Despite a subscription of nearly £4,000, Knatchbull finally withdrew, 4 May, after his committee had advised that he could not withstand the torrent of opinion in favour of the bill.67 The Whigs carried their election in triumph, 11 May, when Watson and George Lewis Newnham Collingwood of Hawkhurst nominated Hodges, and John Warde of Squerries Park and Tylden nominated Rider. Both candidates, while pointing out that the bill was not perfect, spoke in support of reform, and Hodges later had to deny in the House, 15 Sept., that he had given a pledge to vote for all its details. The only dissentient voice came from Knatchbull’s relation, Edward Knight junior, who was almost immediately silenced. Hodges and Rider were duly elected, at almost no expense, and they celebrated their victories at reform dinners in Rochester, Cranbrook and Maidstone, 8, 10, 14 June 1831.68

The Whig press had poured scorn on the idea that Knatchbull might think of standing again for Kent, but Gleig, in a letter to Wellington, 29 June 1831, raised this possibility, and also mentioned Plumptre, ‘a reformer and a Saint’, Deedes, ‘an excellent man’, and his own choice, Dering, who was not on good terms with Knatchbull. However, Wellington continued to believe that he should represent Kent, 30 June, and he disapproved of Gleig’s idea of establishing a constitutional club to oppose reform, 4 July. On 14 July Gleig reported that he had managed to talk Knatchbull into action, and that he would use a large yeomanry meeting at Eastwell

to organize a regular system of petitions. We will divided the county by parishes into so many districts and all at once we will send you such a load of petitions as you have not received for a very long time. In addition to this we will draw up a declaration to the effect that we are determined with our influence, our lives and our property to support the constitution in king, Lords and Commons; and the very day after you throw out the bill, we will collect all the signatures we can to give it publication.

However, Wellington disliked the plan and the meeting passed off without any mention of politics. Another idea, to raise objections to radical initiatives in Birmingham and London, was also abandoned.69 Acknowledgement of Knatchbull’s contribution in Parliament was nevertheless made at a dinner in his honour in Sittingbourne, 3 Aug., which was chaired by Mahon.70 During that day’s debate on Greenwich, which largely concerned questions of the representation of the metropolis and undue government influence through the dockyards at Deptford and Woolwich, Hodges briefly supported the town’s enfranchisement. Kentish Members played a larger role in the rancorous debate which occurred on combining the representation of Rochester with Chatham and Strood, 9 Aug., though Hodges again made only a minor intervention. He reluctantly voted for the division of counties, but Rider voted against it, 11 Aug., and both divided for Lord Chandos’s amendment to extend the county franchise by giving the vote to £50 tenants-at-will. Otherwise they divided solidly in favour of the bill’s details. They both signed the requisition for a county meeting on 30 Sept. to petition the Lords in its favour, and were two of the many speakers to support reform there. In the absence of Knatchbull, only Gipps and Mahon, whom Gleig was trying to stir into action against the reformers, raised any opposition. The meeting’s petition was presented by Lord Grey, the prime minister, 3 Oct.71 Several other such meetings took place in Kent, and Hodges brought up reform petitions, 18, 21 May, 1 June 1832.72 He and Rider assiduously attended a series of celebration dinners after the passage of the bill, speaking in its favour and advocating further measures of agricultural relief.73

Under the Reform Act, Queenborough was disfranchised, but Chatham was separated from Rochester and given one seat, where William Leader Maberly* was the successful Liberal candidate at the general election of 1832. Greenwich was also enfranchised, and the Liberals James Whitley Deans Dundas of Barton Court, Berkshire, and Edward George Barnard of Deptford, were elected. The boundaries of the county were unchanged but its informal geographical division was recognized by its being split into Eastern and Western districts, with polling places at Canterbury and Maidstone.74 The sitting Members were elected for Kent West after a contest with the Conservative Sir William Richard Powlett Geary of Oxenhoath, son of the former county Member. Nothing came of Watson’s plan to move from Canterbury to the representation of Kent East, and in another contest, Plumptre, who canvassed as a reformer, and Knatchbull, were elected ahead of Cosway.75 The representation of both constituencies continued to be roughly divided between the two parties, but from the middle of the nineteenth century the Conservatives established an ascendancy.76

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Key to Both Houses (1832), 342.
  • 2. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 298.
  • 3. D.A. Baugh, ‘Cost of Poor Relief in S.-E. England’, EcHR, xxviii (1975), 62.
  • 4. G.F. Bosworth, Kent, 5-7, 10-12; F.W. Jessup, Hist. Kent, 165; Maidstone Jnl. 19 Oct. 1824.
  • 5. Sir S.E. Brydges, Autobiog. (1834), i. 86.
  • 6. Cent. Kent. Stud. Knatchbull mss U951 C4/1-19.
  • 7. E.g. Add. 38300, ff. 38, 66.
  • 8. Farington Diary, xv. 5265; Cent. Kent. Stud. Knocker coll. U55 E54.
  • 9. Jessup, 170; Kentish Chron. 2 Mar. 1830.
  • 10. Kentish Gazette, 1, 15 Feb., 7, 10, 14 Mar. 1820; Add. 38283, f. 245; P. Jupp, British and Irish Elections, 1784-1831, pp. 35-36.
  • 11. Kentish Chron. 29 Feb., 3, 14 Mar. 1820; Knocker coll. E54.
  • 12. Kent Herald, 30 Dec. 1824.
  • 13. Kentish Chron. 21 Mar. 1820; Knocker coll. E54.
  • 14. Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C190/1.
  • 15. Add. 51571.
  • 16. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 13 Dec. 1820, 13 Jan.; Kentish Chron. 2, 5, 12 Jan. 1821; H.F. Abell, Hist. Kent, 295.
  • 17. Add. 51571, Thanet to Holland, 11, 19 Jan.; Kentish Chron. 19, 23 Jan. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 51; LJ, liv. 12.
  • 18. Cobbett’s Rural Rides ed. G.D.H. and M. Cole, i. 41.
  • 19. Stanhope mss C190/1, Knatchbull to Stanhope, 14 Dec., Tavistock to same, 30 Dec.; C191/1, Stanhope to Hawley, 19 Dec. 1820, to Frend, 9 Feb. 1822; C200/1; Kentish Chron. 21 Dec. 1821, 1 Jan. 1822.
  • 20. Kentish Chron. 14 June 1822; A. de Staël-Holstein, Letters on England (1825), 187-98.
  • 21. CJ, lxxvii. 346-7, 398; The Times, 5 July 1822.
  • 22. Stanhope mss C190/1, Thanet to Stanhope, 9 Jan. 1823; C200/2.
  • 23. CJ, lxxviii. 58; The Times, 22 Feb.; Kentish Chron. 25 Mar., 6 June 1823.
  • 24. CJ, lxxx. 337; lxxxi. 352; LJ, lvii. 624; lviii. 332.
  • 25. Kentish Gazette, 6, 16 Sept. 1825; Maidstone Jnl. 25 Apr. 1826.
  • 26. CJ, lxxx. 315, 320, 325; The Times, 19, 22 Apr. 1825.
  • 27. Kent Herald, 30 Dec. 1824.
  • 28. Kentish Chron. 6, 9, 20 June 1826.
  • 29. Ibid. 23, 27 June 1826; Knocker coll. E54.
  • 30. Kentish Gazette, 19 Dec. 1826; Kentish Chron. 5 Jan.; The Times, 27 Feb. 1827; CJ, lxxxii. 229; LJ, lix. 79.
  • 31. Kentish Chron. 15 Apr.; Kentish Gazette, 2 May 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 259, 355.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxii. 534, 594; lxxxiii. 366; The Times, 9 June 1827.
  • 33. Northants. RO, Finch Hatton mss FH 4508, 4513, 4515, 4555-653; Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Bexley to Sidmouth, 16 Sept.; Wellington mss WP1/955/6; Kentish Chron. 23 Sept. 1828; G.I.T. Machin, Catholic Question in English Politics, 135-6.
  • 34. Kentish Gazette, 10, 14 Oct.; Kentish Chron. 21 Oct.; The Times, 24 Oct.; Castle Howard mss, Holland to Carlisle, 2 Oct.; Add. 51572, Darnley to Holland, 6 Oct.; 51578, Carlisle to same, 15 Oct.; 51834, Baring to same, 10 Oct., Clifton to same, 15, 18, 20 Oct. 1828; Ellenborough Diary, i. 241, 245.
  • 35. Add. 51834, Cowper to Holland, 25 Oct., Thanet to same, 10 Nov.; The Times, 25, 30 Oct.; Kentish Chron. 28 Oct.; Kentish Gazette, 28, 31 Oct. 1828; Report of Speeches at Kent County Meeting (1828); New Monthly Mag. (1828), ii. 469-81; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 218-19.
  • 36. Add. 51572, Darnley to Holland, 24, 31 Oct., 13 Nov., 25 Dec.; 51834, Clifton to same, 23 Dec.; Kentish Chron. 4, 11 Nov., 9, 30 Dec.; The Times, 23 Dec. 1828.
  • 37. CJ, lxxxiv. 24, 25; Machin, 148.
  • 38. Greville Mems. i. 269; LJ, lxi. 37.
  • 39. Kentish Chron. 10, 17 Mar., 2 June 1829.
  • 40. Ibid. 11 Aug. 1829; Cornw. RO, Vyvyan mss.
  • 41. Finch Hatton mss FH 4519-37; Maidstone Jnl. 17 Nov. 1829.
  • 42. Vyvyan mss.
  • 43. Kentish Gazette, 8 Dec.; Kentish Chron. 22 Dec. 1829; Maidstone Gazette, 2 Feb. 1830.
  • 44. Kent Herald, 11 Feb. 1830; Knatchbull mss C127/42.
  • 45. Kentish Chron. 16 Mar.; Kent Herald, 16 Mar. 1830; Stanhope mss C200/3.
  • 46. LJ, lxii. 163; CJ, lxxxv. 236, 441.
  • 47. Stanhope mss C190/2, Winchilsea to Stanhope, 9, 19, 21 July; C191/1 reply, 24 July 1830.
  • 48. Kentish Chron. 6 July 1830.
  • 49. Cent. Kent. Stud. Twisden mss U49 C13/151.
  • 50. Kentish Chron. 13, 20 July, 3 Aug.; Maidstone Jnl. 10 Aug. 1830.
  • 51. Kentish Gazette, 6 Aug.; Add. 51572, Darnley to Holland, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 52. Ellenborough Diary, ii. 337.
  • 53. Kentish Chron. 10 Aug.; Maidstone Jnl. 10 Aug.; The Times, 11 Aug.; Kentish Gazette, 17 Aug. 1830; Cent. Kent. Stud. Honywood mss U221 O3.
  • 54. Maidstone Jnl. 14 Sept. 1830.
  • 55. E.J. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 71-87, 138, apps. 1-3.
  • 56. Ibid. 23, 59, 61-63, 66-68, 73, 142-3, 163-4, 182-4, 322; R. Wells, ‘Rural Rebels in Southern England in 1830s’, in Artisans, Peasants and Proletarians ed. C. Emsley and J. Walvin, 131-6.
  • 57. Hobsbawm and Rudé, 83, 215-17; J.L. and B. Hammond, Village Labourer, 245-7, 255-6; Arbuthnot Jnl. ii. 396; Add. 40401, ff. 230, 259; Knatchbull mss C14/3, 4, 11, 12; Cent. Kent. Stud. Camden mss U840 C250/10/3, 6-9; Kent Herald, 30 Sept.; The Times, 1, 2 Nov.; Rochester Gazette, 16, 23 Nov. 1830.
  • 58. CJ, lxxxv. 148.
  • 59. Add. 40402, f. 11; London Gazette, 21 Dec. 1830, 8 Mar. 1831.
  • 60. Wellington mss WP1/1149/21; Maidstone Jnl. 14 Jan., 8 Feb., 1 Mar.; Maidstone Gazette, 22 Mar. 1831.
  • 61. O’Gorman, 312; CJ, lxxxv. 359, 402.
  • 62. Stanhope mss C316/2, Stanhope to Mahon, 19 Mar.; C130/11, reply, 26 Mar.; Maidstone Jnl. 29 Mar.; Kentish Chron. 29 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxv. 435; LJ, lxiii. 385.
  • 63. Wellington mss; WP1/1181/21; Kentish Gazette, 29 Apr. 1831.
  • 64. Maidstone Jnl. 22 Mar., 5, 12 Apr. 1831; Knatchbull mss C3/13.
  • 65. Kentish Gazette, 12 Apr.; Kentish Chron. 19 Apr.; Maidstone Gazette, 19 Apr. 1831.
  • 66. Stanhope mss C130/11, Mahon to Stanhope, 26 Mar. 1831; Berks. RO, Pusey mss D/EBp C1/44; A. N. Newman, Stanhopes of Chevening, 254.
  • 67. Maidstone Jnl. 26 Apr., 3, 10 May; Kentish Gazette, 29 Apr., 3 May; The Times, 30 Apr., 6 May; Kentish Chron. 3 May 1831.
  • 68. The Times, 12, 28 May; Maidstone Jnl. 17, 24 May, 14, 21 June 1831.
  • 69. Wellington mss; WP1/1188/6; 1191/4, 11, 12, 18; Wellington Despatches, vii. 466-8; G.R. Gleig, Personal Reminiscences of Wellington, 76-92.
  • 70. Maidstone Jnl. 9 Aug. 1831.
  • 71. Wellington mss, Gleig to Wellington, 21 Sept.; Stanhope mss C381/1, Knatchbull to Stanhope, 30 Sept.; Kentish Gazette, 27 Sept.; Maidstone Jnl. 4 Oct. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1037.
  • 72. Maidstone Jnl. 1, 8 Nov. 1831, 2, 29 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 321, 326, 364.
  • 73. Kentish Gazette, 22 June; Maidstone Jnl. 17, 31 July, 14, 28 Aug., 18 Sept.; Kentish Chron. 31 July 1832.
  • 74. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 1, 19-26.
  • 75. Kentish Chron. 5, 12 June, 27 Nov., 18 Dec.; Maidstone Jnl. 18 Dec. 1832.
  • 76. B. Atkinson, ‘Conservative and Liberal: National Politics in Kent from late 1820s to 1914’, in Government and Politics in Kent ed. F. Lansberry, 139-64.