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 and householders paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

over 5,000

Number of voters:

4,781 in 1826


30,125 (1821); 39,904 (1831)


 William Evans2063
 Thomas Denman1811

Main Article

Leicester, the county town, was a centre of cotton and worsted stocking manufacture: in 1831 it contained about 7,000 knitting frames giving employment to some 1,200 persons, but the trade was in general decline in this period, which was marked by severe spells of distress among the framework knitters.1 The large and scattered electorate, which contained a significant venal element, put the borough beyond aristocratic control; but the Tory corporation (a mayor, two bailiffs, 24 aldermen and 48 common councilmen) was one of the most partisan and corrupt in the kingdom and a leading electoral player. The municipal corporations commissioners (from whom the corporation tried to withhold financial information) reported that ‘no corporation has interfered more extensively or openly in elections’. There was a strong working class radical tradition, and the party division between the corporation and its ‘independent’ opponents, who were predominantly Dissenters, was clearly marked: ‘there is no medium at Leicester’ between ‘High Tories’ and ‘Radicals’, wrote one observer in 1825.2 After six contests between 1790 and 1812, the former compromise between the corporation and the independents had been restored in 1818, when the local banker John Mansfield was returned unopposed with the young Whig barrister Thomas Pares, a member of another Leicester banking family.3

The general election of 1820 witnessed an attempt to destroy the compromise, promoted by John Price, editor of the Leicester Journal, who denounced the ‘imbecile conduct’ of the corporation in acquiescing in the election of Pares.4 To restore the Tory hegemony Price approached a number of potential candidates; but Pares, confident in his wealth and, like Mansfield, having received pledges of support from the framework knitters, disregarded the ‘several idle rumours respecting an opposition in the borough’. ‘[Samuel] Smith*, [Richard] Arkwright*, [and] Alderman [John] Atkins* are talked of’, Pares told his uncle:

That the first of these has no design of coming I have private confidential intelligence ... I have no apprehension from the former [who] would know too much of Leicester to use his head against a post, and the latter, the most unpopular man in the three kingdoms, would by coming infallibly ruin the cause of the high party altogether.5

According to one observer sympathetic to the anti-corporation party, the Journal’s chief object was to keep Pares in a ‘state of alarm by way of a hoax’, but well before the election, as Elizabeth Pares reported to her uncle, the editor’s electioneering had become the subject of popular lampoonery:

Mr. Price’s cock is arrived but it is only in effigy! and therefore not to be feared. It was carried by one of Tom’s party cut out in pasteboard and tied to a pole ... [which] I made to dance in tune to his band, by means of a string, to the great amusement of the spectators ... This morning the people were sweeping the gutters with candle and lanthorns, to search for Mr. Price’s friend! Such are the humours of the elections!6

Anxious for the ‘peace and harmony’ of the borough, though no doubt fearing a contest, Mansfield resented the Journal’s interference and stood by the compromise. But the corporation, goaded by the Journal’s criticism and intervention, were more disposed to break their apparent compact with Pares. The breach came as a consequence of the Journal’s approach to Sir William Manners† of Buckminster Park who, though unwilling to stand himself, tried to create mischief by giving credence to the rumours of the appearance of a wealthy third man from London. Mansfield demanded that the corporation should give him their undivided support, and promptly resigned when it was refused. According to inside information the corporation were prepared

to nominate Mr. Mansfield only, and to give him most heartily and zealously their unanimous support, and also agreed not to seek for a third candidate; but they declined pledging themselves, collectively and individually, to give him single votes, thereby, in effect, supporting Mr. Pares, and directly discountenancing any third candidate who might happen to offer, although his political principles might be more congenial to their own, than those which Mr. Pares has uniformly manifested since his return to Parliament.7

On the whole the anti-corporation party were equally keen to maintain the status quo, and warned against the ‘pernicious effects of a violent contest’. The Whig Leicester Chronicle spoke of the Journal’s apparent personal animosity towards Mansfield, while Pares was gratified in canvassing to find that ‘my most lukewarm friends, have given me a divided vote, and from others I have received a promise of plumpers’.8 In the event, however, neither the corporation nor the Journal could persuade alternative candidates to stand, and Mansfield withdrew his resignation within two days. His pragmatism served him well, presumably because he realized then, as he subsequently commented in a ‘very sensible exposé’ of Leicester politics for the benefit of Edmund Peel* and William Peel* in 1825, that any attempt to break the compromise would prove expensive and divisive.9 These considerations deterred outsiders from becoming prospective candidates, and such local men as Sir Frederick Fowke of Lowesby and John Stockdale Hardy, junior proctor of the archdeaconry court, who were already compromised by ties of friendship with Mansfield, perceived the rashness of standing against influential townsmen.10 Despite continued rumours to the contrary there was no opposition to the return of the sitting Members, and the compromise was quietly, though temporarily restored. Price consoled himself in having laid the foundation for the future dissolution of the compromise: he had provoked Mansfield’s temporary resignation and destroyed whatever tacit understanding had existed between Pares and the corporation.11

Leicester wool merchants, manufacturers and traders petitioned the Commons for repeal of the duty on wool imports, 9 May 1820.12 On 29 Nov.1820 a dinner was held to celebrate the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline. It was chaired by Pares’s brother-in-law, the Unitarian banker Thomas Paget*, the leading critic of corporation profligacy; and the principal guest speaker was the radical hero Sir Francis Burdett*, who owned property in Leicestershire.13 Some inhabitants petitioned the Commons for restoration of Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 5 Feb. 1821.14 Inhabitants of St. Martin’s parish, Protestant Dissenters of Salem Chapel and inhabitants of the borough petitioned the Lords against Catholic relief in April 1821; and petitions against the Catholic peers relief bill reached the Lords from St. Margaret’s, St. Nicholas’s and the corporation in 1822.15 Leicester Unitarians petitioned the Commons for amendment of the Marriage Act, 6 May 1822, and authorities of the prebendary court of St. Margaret’s petitioned the Lords to the same effect, 17 Feb. 1823.16 Leicester merchants, manufacturers, bankers and tradesmen petitioned both Houses for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Act, 3 Mar., and tradesmen petitioned the Commons for protection against hawkers and pedlars, 24 Mar. 1823.17 Inhabitants of Leicester petitioned the Commons, 8 May 1823, 16 Mar. 1824, 19 Apr. 1826, and the Lords, 15 Mar. 1824, 11 May 1826, for the abolition of slavery.18 They also petitioned the Commons for inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May 1824.19 Local inn holders and victuallers petitioned the Commons for repeal of the duty on publicans’ licenses, 8 Mar., and merchants, wool-dealers and worsted manufacturers did so against repeal of the ban on wool exports, 11 Mar. 1824.20 Journeymen woolcombers and cordwainers petitioned the Commons for repeal of the Combination Acts, 25 Mar., 6 Apr. 1824, and framework knitters of the town petitioned against their reinstatement, 6 May 1825.21 Leicester bankers, merchants and tradesmen petitioned the Commons for relaxation of the corn laws, 22 Apr., 1825, and were joined by framework knitters in petitioning both Houses for their repeal in February 1826.22 In May 1825 the Lords received a petition for the Equitable Loan Company bill from manufacturers, merchants and inhabitants, and one from trades and professions against it.23

Excluded from office, the town’s articulate and wealthy Dissenters had taken some part in the attempt to persuade Charles March Phillipps* to contest the county in 1820, but thereafter borough politics was the main sphere of their opposition to the corporation. The first clash arose in the winter of 1821-2 over the planned Leicester improvement bill, when the anti-corporation party, headed by Paget, demanded that its implementation should be financed out of the corporation’s own funds. A second line of attack arose out of long-standing grievances over the levy and use of the borough rate, with particular reference to the building of the borough gaol. Paget was instrumental in pressing for inquiry into expenditure through the auspices of St. Martin’s vestry in 1824. The corporators’ alarm at these challenges to their autonomy was undoubtedly heightened by the fact that their antagonists were mostly members of one or other of the town’s foremost congregations of Dissenters, headed by Charles Berry for the Unitarians and Robert Hall for the Baptists. When in 1822 the reissue of Hall’s Apology for the Freedom of the Press and for General Liberty was taken up in a leading article by the Black Dwarf as ‘a vindication of radical reform’, the corporation had already taken steps to safeguard its supremacy.24 In December 1822 they unanimously agreed to enlarge the electorate by the creation of honorary freemen. Disregarding the criticism which this gerrymandering would provoke, the corporation appointed a committee which scoured the county for men of the required political stamp; and over the years the freedom was granted to no less than 1,685 persons, of whom 743 were sworn in. Mansfield, who presumably set his face against this strategy, was out of sympathy with the corporation and became the object of its jealousy. When in August 1825 the corporation set up a secret committee to manage their parliamentary election interest the diehard Tories increasingly took their lead from Thomas Burbidge, the town clerk, who made himself indispensable in subsequent political dealings.25 At the same time the corporation settled on the Catholic question as the most likely rallying cry to divide their Dissenting opponents. In March 1825, Hardy renewed his correspondence with the anti-Catholic leader and home secretary Peel, stressing the importance of securing the presentation of a borough anti-Catholic petition before the recess.26 Numerous anti-Catholic petitions from the Anglican parishes, the corporation and some Protestant Dissenters were sent to both Houses in March, April and May 1825.27

With rumours current of an early dissolution in the autumn of 1825, Burbidge approached Richard Arkwright, now well established as a Leicestershire squire at Normanton Turville, but Arkwright, after consultation with his father, declined to contest the borough. At the same time Burbidge was in communication with the wealthy Peels, anxious to turn to account their wish to seat one of Robert’s younger brothers. According to William Peel there was little doubt that the corporation was spoiling for a fight in order to regain the second seat but, as he cautioned Robert, his instincts and information were ‘all for a single seat and no contest’. Burbidge tried to draw the Arkwrights and Peels into coalition but, conscious of the town clerk’s duplicity, William Peel consulted Mansfield for an accurate appraisal of Leicester politics. Mansfield, who had presumably privately indicated his own wish to retire, spoke of the growing polarization of borough politics and predicted, as William told Robert Peel, that

one Peel unconnected with any other candidate would (in his opinion) be certain of success and ensure a permanent seat at the expense of from £2,000 to 2,4 or 2,500 at each election. (His first election cost 2,800; his second with a threat of opposition cost 2,400.) If a Peel were to join any other candidate it would create a contest more severe than it is possible to conceive; the expense would be immense, but still one Peel would succeed and the other candidate would be beaten. ‘So satisfied am I’, says Mansfield, ‘of the impolicy of bringing forward two candidates that though no one can wish better to the Peels than I do, I would (for the good of the cause and the peace of the town) vote against your second candidate’.

When at length the Arkwrights confirmed their disinclination to become involved, Burbidge tried to persuade the Peels to nominate a second candidate, but it was already clear to them that any attempt to seat two Tories would be futile. Mansfield reassured them that the duke of Rutland’s interest ‘would go with you warmly’ and that the influential country gentry (including Clement Winstanley of Braunston Hall, Robert Otway Cave of Stanford and Charles Lorraine Smith of Enderby Hall) could all be relied on for support. As for the corporation, he would ‘tell them all they are d__d fools if they don’t take a Peel and compromise with the other party’.28 In early March 1826 Robert Peel wrote to his father:

It appears to me that great difficulty may arise if the corporation reserve to themselves the power of assisting with their votes and influence a third candidate, should there be a third in opposition to Pares. This third candidate may be a gentleman of the county, with some local interest of his own. He may therefore have a better chance independent of corporation influence than one of your sons, and if he is to be on an equal footing as to that influence, the contest will be between us and Pares. It appears to me that the safest course is to reserve a full power of withdrawing at any time from a threatened contest for the borough, to say to the corporation I will offer one of my sons to replace ... Mansfield. If you reserve to yourselves the power of supporting a third candidate ... I will not pledge myself to perseverance in an expensive contest ... Unless this be said, and directly understood, I fear that somehow or other a third candidate will arise. I think this a better course than any stipulation as to amount of expense, for I believe there would be vast trouble in enforcing the observance of such a stipulation, and that practically it would not be observed.29

The certainty of a contest when Parliament was dissolved three months later prompted the Peels to look elsewhere. Mansfield and Pares stood down, but the corporation were still at a loss for prospective candidates. Otway Cave and the Derby banker William Evans, who also had a share in his family’s cotton and paper mills, were first in the field. Otway Cave, a friend of Burdett (whose son-in-law he later became) at first made no political pronouncements beyond stating his ‘attachment to the Protestant religion’, but he was supposed to favour Catholic relief and ‘the liberal line of policy’ recently pursued by the government. Evans, who was put up by the Babingtons of Rothley Temple, with whom he shared a certain Evangelical zeal, declared his support for corn law revision, Catholic relief and the abolition of slavery. Charles Godfrey Mundy of Burton Hall, a leading county magistrate, declined repeated invitations to stand.30 In order to counteract Otway Cave’s local advantage and avoid confusion over the popular candidacy, Evans asked Pares to support his canvass, for otherwise ‘I fear an impression would go forth that I should receive no cordial support from the party which brought you in for Leicester’.31 Otway Cave was supported by the radical George de Lacy Evans*, Colonel Edward Cheney of Gaddesby Hall and other prominent Leicestershire landowners; but Evans, who was backed by Paget and an influential knot of Leicester Unitarians, seemed likely to carry the popular vote.32 Wisely, as it now emerged, Otway Cave had resisted the temptation to publish a satirical attack on the county gentry since, despite his association with Burdett, he remained an acceptable candidate to Earl Howe of Gopsall Hall and Mundy of Burton Hall. The burning question was Catholic relief, but Howe (a firm opponent), in conjunction with Mundy, early expressed their willingness to support Cave provided that he agreed to remain ‘neutral with respect to the Catholics’. Under these circumstances, advised De Lacy Evans, equivocation over relief was a small price to pay for such promises of support. This stratagem, he argued, would

smooth your way to the county, and at all events secure your seat for the town. Hereafter when you are more independent in point of fortune you may be disposed to change your mind and it will be time enough then to do it. I know it is more than probable you will be returned whether this arrangement be made or not, but this will tend to render it much more certain and to relieve you from some part of the heavy expense ... Your present financial situation does not fairly require of you to take such very high ground, and this is an intermediate course ... which I ... strongly recommend ... I doubt whether it will be necessary for you to tell your committee more than that you are to be strongly supported by these persons, and that finding the opinion of your constituents so strongly opposed to the Catholics you would certainly not give a vote in opposition to their wishes.33

Rumours surrounding the corporation’s desperate search for a candidate were ‘no less numerous than ridiculous’. The creation of honorary freemen as a prelude to the general election (thereby avoiding statutory restrictions on freeman voting rights) was not matched by success in the secret committee’s search for acceptable Tory men. Arkwright and Edmund Peel could not be won over, while a deputation to London returned empty handed. It was a fortnight before the corporation set up Sir Charles Abney Hastings of Willesley Hall as an anti-Catholic Tory on ‘the true Blue interest’. In view of the urgency of the situation and in order to clinch this deal, since Abney Hastings was not known to have nursed political ambitions or to be ‘in any way prepared with funds for a contest’, Burbidge agreed to indemnify him against heavy election expenses. In the aftermath of the election, when the terms of this agreement became an issue of dispute, the town clerk assured Sir Charles that it had been arranged

that you should pay the expenses of the contest if it did not exceed £10,000. That if it exceeded that sum and did not amount to £15,000 the corporation should pay the excess beyond the £10,000, you advancing in the first instance the sum which might be so required and that the corporation should repay to you that amount, but if the expense should go to an extent beyond £15,000 then that you should pay £15,000 and the corporation should take upon themselves all beyond; so that in any event you was to be indemnified against all expenditure exceeding £15,000.34

The late adoption and aggressive promotion of Abney Hastings impaired Otway Cave’s reliance on the independent ‘Blue interest’ and put his return in jeopardy. With the intensification of partisan feelings following the appearance of an avowed anti-Catholic, Otway Cave’s professed neutrality on the question seemed increasingly a liability. Abney Hastings looked to be safe and Evans seemed likely to take the second votes. The balance of politics in Leicester, according to the evidence of Evans’s election agents to the 1835 Commons select committee on electoral bribery, was heavily dependent on treating and purchased votes:

Those who have the best purse are sure to be returned; politics are comparatively immaterial ... I consider out of 2,812 [votes] there are at least 600 marketable; and the balance of political feeling in Leicester is so even, I do not think without purchase either party would get a majority of 100 of the unbought votes. I have analysed the poll book several times; I consider we have at least 600 that are to be purchased. In addition to that 600, there are 400 or 500 that, though they make a boast of voting for their party, yet expect to be paid on the same terms as those 600 who made their bargain. ‘You will give me the same as the others’.35

In view of the inevitability of an expensive contest and the uncertainty of Otway Cave’s financial resources, the great advantage of a coalition with the corporation was soon apparent to his advisers. Once assured that ‘at least £20,000’ was at Abney Hastings’s command, Otway Cave’s committee sought to effect such an alliance. The corporation were sympathetic, but the stumbling block of the Catholic question remained. The corporation agreed to a coalition on the conditions that Abney Hastings’s return was to be secured by Otway Cave’s retirement if circumstances dictated such a step and that Otway Cave should publicly pledge himself to vote against relief. At a meeting on 7 June 1826 between three corporators (Burbidge, William Dewes and John Liptrott Greaves), Cheney, de Lacy Evans and Joseph Philips representing Otway Cave, and Isaac Lovell, Henry Wood and James Rawson junior from Abney Hastings’s committee, it was agreed that Abney Hastings’s return was to be guaranteed and that his and Otway Cave’s expenses were to be equally shared, subject to contingencies arising out of the latter’s being obliged to withdraw. The arrangement was ‘made without the knowledge of the respective candidates’ and was ‘not to be communicated to them’; but the following day Otway Cave issued a notice that he would ‘vote for the repeal of the corn laws’ and would ‘not vote for Catholic emancipation’.36

Party feeling was exacerbated by the current distress among the town’s hosiery workers and the arrival of Abney Hastings to canvass sparked an affray in which a child was killed.37 Rumours of Otway Cave’s defection, ‘to the extreme surprise of all independent freemen’, intensified heated feelings. An attempt to discredit Evans in the eyes of the hosiery workers by pointing out his failure to oppose legislation prejudicial to their interest in 1824 was countered by branding Abney Hastings a supporter of slavery. Thomas Babington Macaulay*, one of Evans’s legal advisers, poured out ‘unwearied amusing invective of the other party’. Reporting progress just before the election, he told his father:

Sir Charles or his friends for him solemnly deny the charge of slave holding. We are going on as well as possible, but rather impatient for the poll. The mob are with us so completely that we fear they should give us too energetic a support, and break the heads of our opponents. Their windows are already broken.38

The Abney Hastings party charged Evans with duplicitously adopting the cause of abolition and denounced him for allegedly resisting factory reform and for ‘immuring young children in cotton mills’. The Catholic question remained the corporation’s foremost staple of attack and no opportunity was lost to incite popular prejudice. Evans published a cool rebuff in favour of toleration and, with Paget, attacked the corporation for attempting to hoodwink the electorate with ‘puerile badges and unmeaning watchwords’. With the election still more than a week away Macaulay told his mother:

Public feeling is very excitable; and it is scarcely to be expected that it will evaporate in words. If Evans should fail, and Sir Charles venture to be chaired, I would not answer for his life ... we confidently expect to be at the head of the poll.39

The full extent of the corporation’s determination to carry the election was evident from the outset. On the pretext of avoiding intimidation and safeguarding public order, the town clerk surreptitiously determined the construction of the hustings to favour the municipal party. The returning officer deferred to the corporation’s wishes. The blatant injustice of conducting the poll on the tally system by allotting an adjoining pen or avenue for Abney Hastings and Otway Cave, with one slightly apart for Evans, caused much indignation. This whole arrangement, recorded The Times, had the unmistakable effect of

polling two votes for the corporation candidates to the single plumper for Mr. Evans, in effect securing, as the freemen are too numerous to be polled out in 15 days, a certain majority of two to one for the corporation candidates.40

At the nomination, 12 June, Abney Hastings was proposed by Alderman Gregory and seconded by the Rev. Edward Vaughan, vicar of St. Martin’s. Abney Hastings declared his hostility to the corn laws, slavery and concessions to Catholics. Evans, who was nominated by Thomas Babington and seconded by the radical hosier John Coltman, followed suit on the corn laws and slavery, but declared his belief in the need for Catholic emancipation. Otway Cave was proposed by Thomas Wood and seconded by J. B. Robinson. He commended the ‘liberal line of policy’ adopted by Canning, Robinson and Huskisson and said that on the Catholic question he had deferred to ‘the almost unanimous opinion of the electors’ he had canvassed. On the first day of polling Evans’s counsel objected to the polling arrangements and to counteract this and facilitate the retrieval of split votes persuaded the Whig lawyer Thomas Denman*, who was passing through the town on the way from his election at Nottingham, to stand. Burbidge countered with a facetious nomination of the radical orators William Cobbett† and Henry Hunt*. The returning officer refused to recognize Denman’s candidature and listen to the protests of a prominent member of Evans’s committee, whom the chief constable gratuitously knocked unconscious. This provoked a riot. In its aftermath, even the recorder admitted that the police had ‘converted themselves into partisans, rather than preservers of the peace’. Recriminations about wrongful arrest and the partiality of the magistrates gave rise to bitter resentment, but only in the face of public uproar was it ultimately arranged to make some provision for Denman’s voters.41 Faced with the certain evidence that his opponents had coalesced, Evans was reportedly all for retirement, ‘convinced he could not succeed’; but he was urged on by Matthew Babington, to whose ‘vanity and obstinacy, much of the length of the contest is to be ascribed’.42 On the second day ‘the partiality of the returning officer, the unfairness of the overseers, and the violence of the constables’ provoked a serious riot. A large crowd stormed the hustings and, assisted by Evans’s special constables, began to smash the pens and attack the municipal officers. The Riot Act was read, but the mob laid siege to the exchange, where the mayor and company had taken refuge. The arrival of the yeomanry ended the siege and averted bloodshed. Even so, the passions of the crowd remained high, but the appearance of the Life Guards dispersed them. The police arrested 128 rioters, although only nine of the most prominent were tried and bound over to keep the peace on pleading guilty.43 The rest of the election, apart from scenes of drunkenness, passed off without further violence; but only after the storming of the exchange was a polling booth provided for the scot and lot voters, while the subsequent addition of a second hustings to segregate the out-voters led to further confusion and chicanery. Coercion was the corporation’s chief tactic: municipal patronage and charities were habitually distributed with an eye to political advantage and, according to one observer, a great many voted ‘from fear and from promises to their children’. Parish officers scrutinized the popular party voters in order to disentitle dependants on poor relief, ‘but if voters, similarly circumstanced on the other side, were seen coming up, they absented themselves, and were nowhere to be found’. The logistics of the corporation’s electioneering were also well managed: coaches in the interest of Abney Hastings and Otway Cave left London daily, while ‘trails of loyal tenantry headed by hired agents, bailiffs and middlemen’ trooped into Leicester to vote at the corporation’s call. Some 1,950 freemen were admitted during the mayoralty of 1825-6, only 15 of whom were honorary. Anti-clericalism was rife as a consequence of the clergy’s prominence among the honorary freemen, and every attempt was made to discredit these ‘hundred chaplains of the Holy Alliance’.44

After a contest of ten days Abney Hastings and Otway Cave were returned with comfortable majorities over Evans, with Denman in fourth place.45 Analysis of the pollbook shows a clear but small majority of town votes for the corporation candidates: Hastings 1,211, Cave 1,105, Evans 1,098 and Denman 953. Among the county and out-county voters Abney Hastings and Otway Cave had a considerable advantage (Hastings 1,562, Cave 1,573, Evans 965 and Denman 858), but in view of the corporation’s efforts to pack the election, abetted by the landed interest, Evans and Denman polled respectably. Of the almost 800 enrolled, only 444 actually voted, 427 of them for both corporation candidates. There was more than a grain of truth in the recriminations of the anti-corporation party over the freemen issue, but even without this expensive assistance the corporation would have carried the day, since the honorary freemen who polled amounted to only about a third of the number of out-county voters.46 Costs were high: Otway Cave was said to have admitted to spending £30,000, while Mansfield put the total expended at £60,000, of which Evans had spent £18,000.47 No petition against the return materialized, but one from a number of electors complaining of the corporation’s partisan and ‘unconstitutional’ conduct reached the Commons on 1 Mar. 1827. It was taken up by Daniel Sykes, but his proposal for inquiry, 15 Mar. was defeated by 92-68. Robert Peel, who had been well briefed by Hastings, dismissed it as factious and ridiculed the hypocrisy of those petitioners who had ‘scampered off to Nottingham’ to exercise their right as honorary freemen in a different cause. Abney Hastings and Otway Cave spoke against the motion, and received the thanks of the corporation for doing so.48 Another attempt to highlight the corporation’s electoral malpractices failed in king’s bench later in the same year.49

Leicester manufacturers petitioned the Commons for relaxation of the corn laws, 1 Mar., and a combination of local Catholics and Protestants did so for adjustment of the national debt, the abolition of sinecures and tithes and parliamentary reform, 6 June 1827.50 Protestant Dissenters petitioned for repeal of the Test Acts in 1827 and 1828, but the vicar and churchwardens of St. Martin’s petitioned the Commons against it, 6 Mar. 1828.51 There was parish petitioning against Catholic relief in 1827 and 1828, but Leicester Catholics petitioned the Commons in its favour, 9 May 1828. When the Wellington ministry conceded emancipation in 1829, the corporation, some Protestant Dissenters and meetings of the inhabitants petitioned against it, while favourable petitions were sent up by local Unitarians, a group of inhabitants and the society of artisans and mechanics.52 Inhabitants of Leicester petitioned the Lords, 24 June, and the Commons, 7 July 1828, for the abolition of slavery.53 Leicester maltsters petitioned the Commons for repeal of the 1827 Malt Act, 28 Feb. 1828, and local physicians and surgeons petitioned the Lords for the removal of impediments to the study of anatomy, 11 May 1829.54 Manufacturers, tradesmen, mechanics and artisans petitioned the Commons for relief from distress, 16 Mar., and interested parties did so against the proposed opening of the retail beer trade, 30 Mar. 1830.55 Some inhabitants petitioned both houses in May 1830 against the East India Company’s trade monopoly, and bankers, merchants and others did so for mitigation of the punishment for forgery and revision of the criminal code in general.56

The accumulated debt from heavy election expenses drove Burbidge to press Abney Hastings somewhat peremptorily for more than he had originally agreed to pay. Confident in his interpretation of their electoral agreement, the town clerk made light of all objections, and in the autumn of 1826 plagued Hastings’s solicitor, threatening exposure in the press. The exasperated attorney complained:

I have been tormented daily and am now so teased that I will run away to avoid the importunity of the people unless we can get the money or give some satisfactory answer to the claimants.

Claiming that the corporation’s financial sacrifice had exceeded all their calculations, Burbidge cajoled Hastings into agreeing to a settlement (as well as conceding an additional sum for personal expenses), reminding him that the cost ‘to you will be many many thousands less than it has to Mr. Otway Cave and Mr. Evans’. Yet his belief that Otway Cave’s share would be ‘honourably answered’ proved to be erroneous.57 A protracted dispute over Otway Cave’s election expenses gave him an opportunity to renounce his allegiance to the corporation and display his true colours as a supporter of Catholic relief and an implacable opponent of corporate corruption. He refused to be saddled with disproportionately larger costs than Abney Hastings. In the spring of 1827, less than a month after he had defended the corporation in the House, their relations began to sour. In accordance with their arrangement, the corporation asked him to pay £4,000 as his share of the additional election expenses (£27,000), but, aware of Burbidge’s dispute with Abney Hastings, he reacted with suspicion. Once apprised that the corporation had concealed from his advisers their secret pre-election agreement to indemnify Abney Hastings from heavy expenses, he refused to meet any additional demands. According to his auditor, he had already expended something in excess of £11,500, in addition to paying £2,450 to the corporation and £750 to Burbidge to cover the cost of freedoms.58 The disparity between the corporation’s aggregate election expenditure (£40,000) and Evans’s (£18,000) was indicative to Otway Cave of jobbery and gross mismanagement, especially as many of the corporation’s supporters had put them to no expense. Incensed by what he described as the corporation’s ‘persevering attempt at extortion’, he publicly condemned Burbidge as ‘the notorious borough-jobber, and practitioner in every species of pecuniary misapplication, with whom this matter originates’:

To be robbed, I am aware, is an ordinary occurrence, but to be subjected to that infliction through the medium of an organized and protracted process of calumniation, precludes the propriety of any further forbearance.

He published his recriminations in the Leicester Chronicle, and the case was covered by some London newspapers. All attempt at arbitration failed, and the corporation were forced to mortgage property in order to meet their debts. Their discomfiture in the face of Otway Cave’s perseverance was meat and drink to the anti-corporation party and taken as final proof of municipal gerrymandering.59 Otway Cave’s rehabilitation in the eyes of the popular party was quickly, though not completely, accomplished. Emerging as a persistent parliamentary opponent of municipal corruption, he exposed the malpractice of the corporation and drew attention to inhabitants’ complaints about the borough rate, the new gaol and abuse of Sir Thomas White’s charity for electoral purposes. His attempt to legislate to prevent corporations from using municipal funds for political purposes was frustrated by the Lords, 17 July 1828.60 Yet he remained suspect in the eyes of Evans’s principal associates, as their Animadversions on the Late Contested Election made clear. By July 1828, however, election broadsheets were already circulating in Otway Cave’s favour. In November the friends of civil and religious liberty paid tribute to his conduct in the House and requested him to unite with Evans to ‘emancipate the town from the destructive and oppressive influence of the corporation’. He and Evans addressed the meeting, though neither made specific electoral promises.61 At a public meeting hastily convened for the purpose, 4 Feb. 1829, Otway Cave renounced his pledge not to vote for Catholic relief and said he was prepared to resign his seat if called on to do so. His change of heart met with unanimous approval and thus the breach with the corporation was complete. With Catholic emancipation accomplished, he chaired a Leicester reform dinner in August 1829 and spoke in company with Paget and other local reformers.62

In 1830, following the election of De Lacy Evans as the independent Member for Rye, Otway Cave took a close interest in the politics of the ‘oppressed’ Cinque Ports and abandoned his uncertain interest at Leicester for Hastings. Despite his claim on the anti-corporation party for his parliamentary conduct, he could not overcome the enmity of the Evangelicals or their obligations to William Evans, who stood forward again in 1830. In particular, Matthew Babington deplored the thought of Otway Cave’s candidature as divisive and prejudicial to the independence of the borough. Aware of this and of the divisions within the anti-corporation camp, Otway Cave declared that he had no desire to contest the borough, thereby risking ‘the revival of those jealousies’ which might even jeopardize the restoration of the compromise. ‘Nothing short of the most complete unanimity could induce me to offer myself again’, he wrote prior to the dissolution, pledging his support for Evans or Paget or both. Misinterpreting this candour as a veiled appeal for support, the framework knitters (then in dispute over wages) made an effort to promote his return as the champion of the working classes. Paget, having set his sights on the county, was never a threat, but the stockingers, already divided, could never hope to match the electoral weight of Evans’s influential friends, led by Pares and Babington. The corporation, now ‘in debts and difficulties inextricable’, directed their energies into thwarting Paget and took some comfort in the nominal restoration of the compromise, as Abney Hastings and Evans were returned unopposed for the borough.63

There was heavy petitioning of the 1830 Parliament for the abolition of slavery.64 Beer retailers petitioned the Commons in complaint against the operation of the Sale of Beer Act, 19 Mar. 1831.65 During the winter of 1830-1 the drive for parliamentary reform in Leicester gained ground. A meeting on 26 Dec. 1830 passed resolutions in favour of a householder franchise, shorter parliaments and the ballot; but in view of Evans’s reservations over the last the petition was entrusted to Joseph Hume.66 Meanwhile the framework knitters’ struggle had become entangled with the reform question. The recently established Leicester branch of the National Association for the Protection of Labour was urged by Hume to direct their energies to the general agitation for reform. Burbidge, ever an alarmist, pressed for the garrisoning of troops but was refused. As an alternative among other measures of defence, special constables were sworn, but the half-pay colonel sent down to assist reported ‘not the slightest appearance of any vicious feeling’ among the town’s workforce. The corporation’s past and present conduct was subjected to renewed attack at a meeting in defence of Lord Grey’s ministry in March 1831, which demonstrated the apparent unanimity between the town’s middle and working class reformers, although the dissolution subsequently exposed resentment over the workers’ exclusion from the decision-making ‘junta of twenty-two’ hosiers and leading tradesmen.67 Inhabitants of Leicester petitioned the Commons, 17 Mar., and the Lords, 18 Apr., in support of the ministerial reform scheme. The hosier Edmund Mitchell petitioned the Commons in condemnation of the corporation’s conduct in 1826 and in favour of municipal reform, 19 Mar. Leicester freemen resident in Birmingham petitioned both Houses in favour of the reform bill, 25, 30 Mar.68 At the general election precipitated by the bill’s defeat, Otway Cave, who was still involved at Hastings, was the reformers’ natural choice and was again urged to stand; but after some prevarication, which led to rumours of an alliance with William Evans, he turned his attention to the county. Abney Hastings, who had opposed the bill but was reckoned to have quarrelled with the corporation, retired from Parliament. While Arkwright was tempted to stand in his room, he deferred to his father’s veto.69 Financially straitened and divided in consequence of the intransigence of the Ultra Tory faction, the corporation were clearly in disarray. A candidate-hunting party, led by Burbidge, reportedly returned from London with faces ‘as flat as a flounder’.70 Evans sought re-election as a supporter of the reform bills. Confident of success, his leading supporters determined to carry two reform candidates, but requisitions to Pares and Edward Dawson† of Whatton House (March Phillipps’s nephew) were unsuccessful.71 The arrival of Wynn Ellis, a very wealthy London silk merchant and staunch supporter of reform, gave ‘fresh vigour to the liberals’. He secured the backing of Otway Cave, and after consultation with Evans he settled terms with an election agent, who agreed to seat him for £5,000. The reformers seemed set to walk over, but a third candidate emerged at the eleventh hour in the person of the king’s serjeant William Taddy, who had responded to an invitation from the corporation and professed to be a moderate reformer. But such was the enthusiasm for Evans and Ellis that at the nomination Taddy was drowned out by a ‘wild and boisterous sea of sound, which rolled in wild confusion’. His proposer complained of the reformers’ pact to upset the compromise and demanded a poll. The reformers laid hasty plans to bring in the out-voters, but the uncertainty of the corporation’s financial commitment to Taddy prompted his retirement overnight. Evans and Ellis were consequently returned without opposition.72

Manufacturers, traders, artisans and other petitioned the Commons for repeal of the corn laws, 18 July 1831.73 Manufacturers, bankers, tradesmen and other inhabitants petitioned the Lords in support of the reform bill, 4 Oct., but the corporation’s hostile petition was received the same day.74 Unlike nearby Derby and Nottingham, Leicester experienced no serious disturbances following the Lords’ rejection of the bill; and the establishment of the Leicester and Leicestershire Political Union in early November 1831 under the leadership of prominent members of the anti-corporation party appeared to hold popular feelings in check.75 Petitions for and against the plan for non-Scriptural Irish education were sent to the Lords in March 1832; and the inhabitants of Leicester petitioned for the abolition of slavery, 2 July 1832.76 On 18 May 1832 the Commons received the petition of one Isaac Hughes as chairman of a meeting called to request that supplies be withheld until reform was secured.77 The Boundary Act included in the parliamentary borough the liberties of Leicester (the previously excluded parts of St. Mary and St. Margaret parishes and Newarke township) to produce a constituency with a population of 40,512. At the general election of 1832, when there was a severely reduced registered electorate of 1,769, Evans and Ellis were returned. The Conservatives won both seats in 1835, but Leicester, where venality continued to flourish, was predominantly Liberal territory from 1837 to 1918.

Author: Simon Harratt


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 212-13; VCH Leics. iv. 176-8.
  • 2. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 275-6, 313, 331, 361; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 173-4; PP (1835), xxv. 1885-9, 1892-3, 1895, 1909; Add. 40381, f. 345.
  • 3. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 242-3.
  • 4. Leicester Jnl. 18, 25 Feb. 1820.
  • 5. Derby Local Stud. Lib. Pares mss, W. Jackson to Pares, 3 Feb., Pares to Thomas Pares sen. [4 Feb. 1820].
  • 6. Ibid. Elizabeth Pares to Pares sen., 1, 2 Mar., Roger Miles to Pares, 4 Mar. 1820.
  • 7. Leicester Jnl. 3, 10 Mar. 1820; VCH Leics. v. 141; Leics. RO Misc. 373, 574.
  • 8. Leicester Chron. 26 Feb., 4 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Leicester Jnl. 10 Mar. 1820; Add. 40381, f. 345.
  • 10. Leicester Jnl. 10 Mar.; Leicester Chron. 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 11. Leicester Jnl. 17 Mar. 1820.
  • 12. CJ, lxxv. 166.
  • 13. Leicester Chron.1 Dec.; The Times,8 Dec. 1820.
  • 14. CJ, lxxvi. 32.
  • 15. LJ, liv. 187, 346-7, 348; lv. 187216, 245.
  • 16. CJ, lxxvii. 236-7; LJ, lv. 519.
  • 17. CJ, lxxviii. 84, 163; LJ, lv. 549.
  • 18. CJ, lxxviii. 296; lxxix. 168; lxxxi. 321; LJ, lvi. 77; lviii. 321.
  • 19. CJ, lxxix. 417.
  • 20. Ibid. 130, 148.
  • 21. Ibid. 211, 257; lxxx. 383.
  • 22. Ibid. lxxx. 331; lxxxi. 86; LJ, lviii. 45.
  • 23. LJ, lvii. 781, 842.
  • 24. A. Temple Patterson, Radical Leicester, 141-5; VCH Leics. iv. 142-3; Leicester Borough Recs. vii, pp. xxxv-xxxvi; Black Dwarf, viii. 105-7, 325-6; Corresp. between Rev. Robert Hall ... and ... Christian Guardian, Jan. 1822.
  • 25. Leicester Borough Recs. v. 438, 441, 442, 464, 468-9, 534-99; VCH Leics. iv. 143-4.
  • 26. Add. 40347, f. 58; 40373, ff. 287, 289; 40375, f. 45.
  • 27. CJ, lxxx. 264, 308-9, 314, 320; LJ, lvii. 572, 631-2, 667, 808.
  • 28. Add. 40381, ff. 341, 344, 345, 445 ; 40384, ff. 65, 80, 81.
  • 29. Add. 40385, f. 333.
  • 30. Leicester Jnl. 5, 12 May; The Times, 9 May 1826. See also R. W. Greaves, ‘Catholic Relief and Leicester Election of 1826’, TRHS, xxii (1940), 202- 23 and Leicester Borough Recs. vii. 400-11.
  • 31. Pares mss, Evans to Pares, 15 May 1826.
  • 32. Leicester Jnl. 19 May; Pares mss, R. Heygate to Pares, 25 May 1826.
  • 33. Leics. RO, Braye mss 3536, 3547.
  • 34. Leicester Jnl. 26 May, 2, 9 June 1826; Braye mss 3477; HEHL, Hastings mss (microfilm in IHR) HA 1125.
  • 35. PP (1835), viii. 125, 128.
  • 36. Leicester Borough Recs. vii. 402-4; Leicster Jnl. 9 June 1826.
  • 37. Leicester Jnl. 9 June 1826.
  • 38. Leics. Historian, ii (1980-1), 24-27; J. Clive, Macaulay, 96-98; E.A. Knutsford, Zachary Macaulay, 436; Macaulay Letters, i. 211.
  • 39. Leicester Jnl. 9, 16 June 1826; Macaulay Letters, i. 212.
  • 40. The Times, 15-17, 19-22 June 1826.
  • 41. Leicester Jnl. 16 June 1826; VCH Leics. iv. 145.
  • 42. Braye mss 3455.
  • 43. The Times, 16-20 June ; Leicester Jnl. 23 June 1826; PP (1835), viii. 130.
  • 44. H. Hartopp, Reg. Leicester Freemen, pp. x, xii; PP (1835), viii. 130.
  • 45. Leicester Jnl. 30 June 1826.
  • 46. Leicester Pollbook (1826).
  • 47. Baring Jnls. i. 46; Gurney diary, 23 Sept. 1826. See also Extraordinary Black Bk. (1831), 558-9.
  • 48. CJ, lxxxii. 246, 322; Add. 40392, f. 273; 40612, ff. 73, 74; Grey mss, Howick to Grey, 16 Mar. 1827; VCH Leics. iv. 145.
  • 49. Leicester Chron. 14 July 1827.
  • 50. CJ, lxxxii. 245, 523.
  • 51. Ibid. 520, 527; lxxxiii. 105, 137, 181; LJ, lx. 74, 79, 138.
  • 52. LJ, lix. 209, 314, 415; lx. 126, 183, 427, 574; lxi. 22, 85, 183, 202, 298, 301, 333; CJ, lxxxiii. 242, 335; lxxxiv. 81, 94, 98, 115, 124.
  • 53. LJ, lx. 574; CJ, lxxxiii. 507.
  • 54. CJ, lxxxiii. 113; LJ, lxi. 445.
  • 55. CJ, lxxxv. 182, 242.
  • 56. Ibid. 402, 435; LJ, lxii. 398, 751.
  • 57. Hastings mss 1123-5, 1666, 1667, 2224, 2227-9, 4291, 13849.
  • 58. Braye mss 3456-65, 3485.
  • 59. Leicester Chron. 25 Aug., 1, 8 Sept. 1827; Leicester Election: the Corporation and Mr. Otway Cave (1828); Leicester Borough Recs. v. 481-3; VCH Leics. iv. 145-6.
  • 60. See Greaves, 218-20.
  • 61. Braye mss 3486, 3502.
  • 62. Leicester Chron. 31 Jan., 7 Feb., 8 Aug. 1829.
  • 63. Leicester Jnl. 2, 9, 30 July, 6 Aug.; Leicester Chron. 10, 24, 31 July, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 64. CJ, lxxxvi. 39, 55, 57, 107, 133, 212; LJ, lxiii. 32, 94, 110, 131, 133, 163.
  • 65. CJ, lxxxvi. 407.
  • 66. Leicester Chron. 1 Jan.; Leicester Herald, 9 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 310; LJ, lxiii. 265.
  • 67. Temple Patterson, 176-85; Leicester Chron. 12 Mar. 1831.
  • 68. CJ, lxxxvi. 395, 407, 435; LJ, lxiii. 401, 444.
  • 69. Leicester Chron. 2, 23 Apr.; Hastings Iris, 9 Apr.; Leicester Jnl. 29 Apr.; 1831; R.S. Fitton, The Arkwrights, 284.
  • 70. PP (1835), 124; Leicester Chron. 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 71. Nottingham Rev. 6 May 1831.
  • 72. Leicester Herald, 4, 11 May; Leicester Jnl. 6 May; Leicester Chron. 7, 28 May 1831.
  • 73. CJ, lxxxvi. 666.
  • 74. LJ, lxiii. 1051, 1057.
  • 75. Temple Patterson, 187-93.
  • 76. LJ, lxiv. 136, 160, 342.
  • 77. CJ, lxxxvii. 321.