Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the bailiffs, magistrates, 40s. freeholders (including annuitants), burgage holders and freemen paying scot and lot
Estimated number qualified to vote:
about 900 (including annuitants), rising to 1,2771
Number of voters:
765 in 1826
6,075 (1821); 6,261 (1831)
|8 Mar. 1820||SIR GEORGE ANSON|
|GEORGE GRANVILLE VENABLES VERNON|
|20 June 1826||SIR GEORGE ANSON||474|
|GEORGE GRANVILLE VENABLES VERNON||411|
|Sir Roger Gresley, bt.||356|
|3 Aug. 1830||SIR GEORGE ANSON||300|
|GEORGE GRANVILLE VENABLES VERNON||280|
|Sir Edward Dolman Scott, bt.||238|
|29 Apr. 1831||SIR GEORGE ANSON|
|SIR EDWARD DOLMAN SCOTT, bt.|
Lichfield, a cathedral city and county of itself, possessed ‘a large manufactory of carpets’, but was otherwise ‘not remarkable for its variety of manufactures’, although it carried on ‘an excellent local trade’ in agricultural produce.2 The representation, which had not been contested since 1799, was jointly controlled by the Trentham interest of George Granville Leveson Gower†, 2nd marquess of Stafford, and the Shugborough interest, headed since 1818 by Thomas William, 2nd Viscount Anson. Their ‘grants of annuities, or rent charges and estate for life’ and ‘splitting’ of large freehold properties to create ‘faggot’ votes had ‘rendered the rights of the burgesses almost useless’.3 As a result their nominees George Granville Venables Vernon and Sir George Anson, respectively nephew and uncle to their patrons and like them Tory and Whig, had sat unchallenged since 1806. According to a petition of 1820, ‘there had not been less than 500 votes created’ by the peers between 1799 and 1813, and although the scale of their activities declined thereafter, the total number of burgage holders and annuitants was estimated to have increased to 730 by 1828, including 99 new annuities created by Anson ‘since June 1825’.4 The corporation of 21 self-elected brethren (or magistrates) and two self-elected bailiffs (the senior of whom was selected by the bishop) had ‘at all times taken an active part in elections’, and sought to undermine the Anson-Leveson Gower coalition through the admission of freemen, who qualified, after payment of a ‘trifling amount’, either by birth or through servitude to one of the city’s seven incorporated companies.5
At the general election of 1820 the Anson-Leveson Gower coalition, known locally by their pink campaign colours, faced increased opposition from the independent Blue interest, centred around the corporation, who were rumoured to be stirring up a contest. An invitation to Theophilus Levett of Wichnor Park, whose family were well-established political opponents of the coalition, prompted a meeting in the city at which it was agreed to send a deputation to Shugborough ‘to ask for ... Lord Anson’s protection in the exercise of your political rights’. Anson, however, would not be drawn, and Levett eventually declined, promising his supporters an opportunity ‘to try your strength’ at the next election.6 After the unopposed return, which cost each candidate £1,476 13s. 1d., a second meeting was held, 8 Mar., when resolutions were passed condemning the ‘unconstitutional’ influence of the peers. ‘The old coalition’, enthused the Lichfield Mercury, ‘has received its death blow’ and ‘a spirit has been elicited which will never cease to increase until ... this ancient city awakes from the death-like deprivation of a political paralysis by which she has been spell-bound as it were for more than twenty years’.7 A Lichfield petition complaining of deficiencies in the currency was presented by Sir John Boughey, the county Member, 13 June 1820.8 On 16 June his colleague Edward Littleton brought up one from the corporation complaining that Stafford and Anson had created ‘not less than 600 rent charges on annuities’ for ‘tenants and friends having no interest in the city ... for the purpose of creating an undue influence and vesting the representation of the city in their own families’. The petitioners urged the House to ‘restore to the constitutional electors of Lichfield the full and free exercise of their elective franchise’, but Littleton ‘abstained from giving any opinion on it’ and declined to bring in ‘a bill to remedy their grievance’.9 In the House, the Liverpool ministry was generally supported by Vernon and opposed by Anson, but both were irregular attenders. Vernon, under family pressure, joined his Whig colleague and voted for Hamilton’s motion in support of Queen Caroline, 26 Jan., but later claimed that a petition from Lichfield in her support presented by Anson, 31 Jan. 1821, did not express ‘the unanimous sense of the inhabitants’ and that a protest against it ‘had been signed by about 300 persons’. Both supported Catholic relief, against which petitions reached the Commons, 27 Feb. 1821, 17 Apr. 1823, 19 Apr. 1825, and the Lords, 3 May 1825.10 That year Stafford, who following the debacle over the loss of his county seat in 1820 had gradually withdrawn from Staffordshire politics, agreed to sell his Trentham interest at Lichfield to Lord Anson for £120,000. Vernon, galvanised by rumours of an impending dissolution, responded by announcing that in future he would only seek re-election on the basis of ‘free and independent support’ and that he would not offer again ‘if there should appear, in the meantime, a general coincidence of feeling in favour of some other person’, 11 June 1825. On the basis of this declaration Levett, by now the city’s recorder, agreed to come forward at the invitation of the corporation. He commenced canvassing next month and secured pledges of support from Sir Roger Gresley of Drakelow Park, who had himself been rumoured as a candidate, and the marquess of Anglesey.11
At the dissolution in late May 1826, however, Vernon secured the support of Lord Anson and offered again, setting ‘all propriety of conduct at defiance’. According to William Dyott, chairman of the independent committee, ‘Lord Anson not having completed his purchase, and thereby not being able to avail himself of the political influence to be acquired by his purchase, considered it most advisable to join his interest again to that of Lord Stafford by the continuance of the coalition (of old) in supporting Mr. Vernon, Lord Stafford’s former nominee’. Levett, ‘under such a total reverse of any circumstance’ which had led him to stand, was declared to be ‘perfectly free to adopt whatever course he deems expedient’ by the independent committee, 4 May, but the announcement of his retirement, 2 June, ‘created considerable dissatisfaction among his supporters as to the late period at which it was made, and almost precluded the possibility of securing another candidate’. Deputations were immediately sent to Richard Heathcote of Longton Hall, Staffordshire, and Thomas Lister of Armitage, near Lichfield, who both declined, the latter ‘as he had given his promise to Mr. Vernon in London that he would not oppose him’. On 10 June Gresley, who had abandoned a ‘hopeless’ contest at Evesham, agreed to come forward after assurances of a return ‘free of expense.12 At the nomination Gresley, who was proposed by the Rev. Thomas Levett with ‘the whole support of that family’, pilloried Vernon’s ‘attempt to account for his conduct’ and was ‘not sparing of sarcastic comments on the various subterfuges practised by the honourable candidate to secure his seat’. A ‘most severe’ seven-day contest ensued, during which the wrath of the Blues ‘was so furious towards Vernon’ that ‘it was difficult to prevent acts of outrage’. On the third night Vernon’s headquarters at the George were ‘violently assailed’, prompting the high bailiff to send for military assistance from Birmingham. Throughout the poll, which ‘proceeded very slowly’ as ‘almost every voter’ was ‘strictly interrogated by the contending parties as to the particulars of his claim to vote’, Gresley and Vernon stood within a few votes of each other. Following the admission of large numbers of annuitants on the seventh day, however, Gresley retired, complaining of ‘the violation of all law, and the introduction of foreign mercenaries’. The ‘revulsion of feeling consequent upon Mr. Levett’s resignation’, conjectured Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, had also given Anson and Vernon the ‘support of many electors who had previously determined upon opposing them’. Gresley’s agent in Shifnal, one William Glover, believed that a ‘greater part of the votes’ would have ‘been secured’ if ‘an earlier application had been made’.13
Anson, who led throughout, secured the support of 62 per cent of the 765 who voted (407 as split votes shared with Vernon, 66 shared with Gresley and one as a plumper). Vernon received a vote from 54 per cent (three as shared votes with Gresley and one as a plumper), and Gresley from 47 (287 as plumpers). Of the 474 votes received by Anson, 254 (54 per cent) were cast by burgage owners and annuitants, 134 (28) by freeholders and the remaining 86 (18) by freemen and corporators. Of the 411 votes received by Vernon, 249 (60 per cent) were cast by burgage owners and annuitants, 99 (24) by freeholders and 63 (15) by freemen and corporators. Of the 356 votes received by Gresley, only 77 (22 per cent) were cast by burgage owners and annuitants, 143 (40) were from freeholders and 136 (38) from freemen and corporators.14 Anson and Vernon’s total costs of £4,854 3s. 1d. were over three times higher than in 1820, and ranged from £1,932 1s. 10d. for entertainment in 22 public houses to £6 spent on ‘repairing the chairs’. The Blues’ total expenditure was £4,951 9s. 10½d.15 ‘This devoted city is still under the arbitrary dominion of the houses of Shugborough and Trentham’, noted Gresley in his farewell address, ‘but that dominion has been shaken to its very base’ and ‘our defeat is the harbinger of future victory’. A dinner, attended by 174, was held for Gresley by the corporation, 13 July 1826.16
Both Members continued to support Catholic relief, against which petitions reached the Lords, 7 June, and the Commons, 21 June 1827. The city’s Catholics sent up a favourable petition to the Commons, 30 Apr. 1828.17 On 25 May 1829 another petition complaining of electoral abuses in Lichfield was presented to the Commons, alleging that ‘between the years 1799 and 1828’ some ‘730 annuities or rent-charges’ had been ‘granted by two peers of the realm to their friends, tenants and dependants, almost all of whom were strangers to the city’. It again went no further.18 Anson presented a petition from Lichfield landowners against the Walsall road bill, 15 Mar., and the bankers of Lichfield petitioned in favour of mitigating the punishment for forgery, 24 May 1830.19 In June 1830 Lord Anson, with the assistance of the Whig barrister John Campbell II*, challenged the corporation’s right to create voters and obtained writs of quo warranto against 28 freemen in king’s bench. In 1826 his Shugborough agents had put the total number of freemen at 276, over a third of whom were considered to be either absentees or disqualified by receipt of poor relief, but four years later they estimated that the number had risen to 365. Lord Anson, according to the Staffordshire Mercury, ‘was determined to prosecute these proceedings, saying that if the corporation allowed freemen to be made in the manner they had done, his lordship’s interest in the city of Lichfield would not be worth a shilling’. Although the test case went against the corporation, the court ‘was made sensible’ of Anson’s motives and the verdict ‘made absolute’ or final. According to the solicitor Charles Flint, it was of ‘no use’ to Anson and ‘a complete legal defeat of his object’.20
At the 1830 general election the sitting Members offered again, prompting ‘extended solicitations’ on ‘the part of the True Blue Club for a candidate to oppose the Anson interest’. Sir George Chetwynd of Brocton Hall, near Lichfield, Member for Stafford in the 1820 Parliament, declined, as did Lister and one John Mott; but after an initial refusal Sir Edward Dolman Scott of Barr Hall, Staffordshire declared, 28 July, ‘in opposition to Mr. Vernon’ and commenced ‘a very successful canvass’.21 A ‘warm contest’ ensued which, despite the entreaties of all three candidates, was again accompanied ‘by a good deal of violence’. Scott’s campaign put his opponents on the defensive. Anson, attempting to refute charges of non-attendance, claimed that ‘his name had been left out’ of many of the published division lists, while Vernon defended his position by declaring that ‘the annuitants were made by law’ and that ‘it was not he that made that law’. In public Scott, who initially topped the poll, anticipated ‘a satisfactory result’, claiming that ‘four to one’ were for his cause and that he had been promised ‘a plumper in every other house’. ‘Where I have been refused’, he declared, ‘it is through the solid influence of Lord Anson over the persons who live in his houses’, it allegedly being common practice for tenants who disobeyed to receive ‘notices to quit’. In private, however, his committee was less sanguine.22 As the Lichfield Mercury observed:
The peculiar state of the franchise and the great influence of the Anson property render the return of a Member in the popular interest almost impossible. The line of tactics is therefore to compel the relinquishment of one seat by the expense of repeated struggles.23
An analysis of ‘property entitled to vote’ undertaken by the Shugborough agents predicted that the Pink and Blue interests would be respectively supported by 65 and 35 per cent of the 233 burgage owners; 81 and 19 per cent of the 394 annuitants; 43 and 57 per cent of the 264 freeholders, and 38 and 62 per cent of the 365 freemen. All 21 brethren were expected to vote for the Blues, bringing the predicted result to 725 for Anson and Vernon and 552 for Scott, from an identified electorate of 1,277.24 In the event, however, Scott unexpectedly retired, to the consternation of many of his supporters, having agreed ‘to permit Vernon to be returned on consideration that no opposition whatever would in future be offered to the independent interest returning one Member’. Scott’s committee heralded the arrangement as ‘a permanent benefit and blessing to Lichfield’ which, as Dyott put it, ‘finished a contest that had been kept up more or less for seventy years’; but critics condemned it as having been achieved ‘not by the voice of the enlightened and independent electors, but by the cunning and artful strategies of the Pink party’, and even the committee conceded that ‘some sacrifice’ had ‘been made’. A lengthy dispute ensued over the merits of the compromise, prompting emergency meetings of the True Blue Club and numerous articles in the local press. The controversy intensified after the publication of a letter from Lord Anson to the Blue committee, 13 Sept., disclaiming any part in the arrangement and insisting that in making his promise ‘that whenever the period of another general election should arrive, he would not offer himself again as a candidate’, Vernon had been acting alone.25 In a private letter to Lord Durham, 2 Dec. 1830, Lord Anson revealed that while it was not his ‘intention to offer two candidates’ at the next election, he would seek to
find a person who would support the government and at the same time appear to be the choice of the people, by which means the city would be steady supporters of Grey’s administration instead of being divided as they are now. I have spent a great deal of money in the cause when any hope of the ascendancy of the Whigs seemed out of the question and I am ... not likely now to relax in my endeavour to maintain them.26
Vernon, however, unpredictably joined Anson in supporting the ministry’s reform bill and was subsequently dubbed ‘one of our converts’ by John Cam Hobhouse*.27 Petitions against slavery reached the Commons, 4, 11 Nov. 1830, 28 Mar. 1831, and the Lords, 16 Nov. 1830.28 The corporation and freemen petitioned the Commons in favour of reform, 10 Feb., and another petition complaining of the electoral abuses at Lichfield, repeating the previous allegations, was presented, 16 Feb. 1831.29 Local support for a reform petition was, however, disappointing, prompting the Lichfield Mercury to enquire, 11 Mar., how ‘can it be, that we who have strained every nerve for local freedom, take no interest in the battle when the general question is contested?’ After 400 signatures had been collected, 18 Mar., a meeting attended by Lords Stafford, Cleveland, Shrewsbury, Anson, Gower, Uxbridge*, Lyttelton, Waterpark* and Sandon*, ‘for the purpose of supporting Lord John Russell’s bill’, was held, 24 Mar., and a petition presented the following day.30 Local misgivings over the bill were expressed by Gresley, Member for Durham in the 1830 Parliament, who complained to the local press that the measure not only left ‘the present generation of annuitants in full possession of their rights of voting’ but also gave them ‘additional votes for Staffordshire’.31
At the 1831 general election Vernon, ‘mindful of the assurances’ he had given, ‘handsomely redeemed his pledge of not again offering himself after a dissolution of Parliament’ and duly retired in favour of Scott. Sir George Anson stood again, stressing his support for reform.32 On 25 Apr. 1831 374 voters were canvassed by the Blues, of whom 279 (75 per cent) ‘pledged singly to Scott’; 43 (11) ‘pledged to Scott and Anson’, 13 (4) were either for ‘Anson only’ or ‘doubtful’, while 39 were ‘out’. Of the 34 out-voters approached, all but six promised plumpers for Scott.33 Lord Anson, however, made no attempt to bring in a second nominee, leaving the candidates ‘quietly walking over the course’.34 At the declaration which, ‘though it was known there would be no contest’, was ‘crowded to excess’, Anson cited his conduct ‘upon every question of retrenchment and reform’ and declared that the bill ‘had his decided approbation’. Scott’s affirmation that ‘the reform bill now before the country should have his support’ quashed rumours in the local press that it merely had his ‘qualified support’, but left his stance over the preservation of freemen and annuitants’ rights uncertain. As the Lichfield Mercury remarked, ‘no question ... was ever asked him what his political opinions were’.35 The combined costs for the Pink party of the 1830 and 1831 elections were £5,929 19s.0d.36
Both Members gave general support to the reform bill’s details. A petition from the electors in favour of extending the residence requirements to all types of voter and proposing that ‘no more than one single voice shall be admitted for one and the same house or tenement’ was presented by Scott, 13 July 1831. One from the inhabitants in support of the bill reached the Lords, 30 Sept. 1831. On 24 Jan. 1832 Scott presented a petition from Lichfield praying that ‘the provision of the last reform bill, with respect to enforcing the residence of the voters, might be followed up’.37 By the Boundary Act the cathedral ‘close’, an area of separate parochial jurisdiction in the centre of the city, was added to the existing borough, giving the new constituency 1,360 houses (450 of which were rated at £10 or above), a population of 6,508 and, with the non-residents disfranchised, a registered electorate of only 861.38 Both Members were re-elected at the 1832 and 1835 general elections, when they encountered opposition from a third Liberal. After retiring in 1837 Scott attempted to stand again in 1841, but was forced to decline ‘before the weight of the Anson influence’. A member of that family was returned at every general election except that of 1857 until the borough lost its second seat in 1868.39
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. Based on Staffs. RO, Anson mss D615/P(P)/1/21.
- 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1828-9), 714.
- 3. The Times, 17 June 1820, 17 Feb. 1831.
- 4. CJ, lxxv. 318; Lichfield Joint RO D15/4/5/4.
- 5. PP (1835), xxv. 518-23.
- 6. Hatherton diary, 21 Mar.; Staffs. RO D661/17/6, election poster, 6 Mar. 1820.
- 7. Staffs. RO D615/P(P)1/11; D661/17/6; Lichfield Mercury, 10 Mar.; Staffs. Advertiser, 11 Mar. 1820.
- 8. Staffs. Advertiser, 17 June 1820; CJ, lxxv. 307.
- 9. CJ, lxxv. 318; Hatherton diary, 22 May, 16 June; Staffs. RO D661/17/6; The Times, 17 June 1820.
- 10. The Times, 1 Feb. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 15, 114; lxxviii. 218; lxxx. 320; LJ, lvii. 742.
- 11. E. Richards, ‘Influence of Trentham Interest’, Midlands Hist. iii (1975), 131-41; Bodl. GA Staffs. b. 6, election posters; Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 15 May, 12 June 1826; Lichfield Joint RO D15/4/5/2.
- 12. Dyott’s Diary, i. 375-6; Bodl. GA Staffs. b. 6; Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 15 May, 12 June; Staffs. Advertiser, 10 June; The Times, 15 June 1826; Staffs. RO D661/17/7.
- 13. Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 12, 19, 26 June; Staffs. Advertiser, 10, 17, 24 June; Dyott’s Diary, i. 377-9; The Times, 15 June 1826; Bodl. GA Staffs. b. 6; Lichfield Joint RO D15/4/5/2.
- 14. Lichfield Joint RO D15/4/5/3, 1826 ms pollbook; Staffs. RO D615/P(P)/1/7/1, 2.
- 15. Staffs. RO D615/P(P)/1/21; Lichfield Joint RO D15/4/5/2.
- 16. Aris’s Birmingham Gazette, 26 June 1826; Lichfield Joint RO D15/4/5/5.
- 17. LJ, lix. 385; CJ, lxxxii. 591; lxxxiii. 287.
- 18. CJ, lxxxiv. 335.
- 19. Ibid. lxxxv. 178, 463.
- 20. Staffs. RO D615/P/(P)1/21; Lichfield Mercury, 25 June; Staffs. Mercury, 26 June 1830.
- 21. Staffs. Advertiser, 17, 24, 31 July; Staffs. Mercury, 17, 24 July 1830.
- 22. Staffs. Advertiser, 31 July; Staffs. Mercury, 7 Aug.; Lichfield Mercury, 30 July, 8 Oct. 1830; Bodl. GA Staffs. b. 6 election cuttings; Dyott’s Diary, ii. 85.
- 23. Lichfield Mercury, 16 July 1830.
- 24. Staffs. RO D615/P(P)/1/21.
- 25. Dyott’s Diary, ii. 85-86; Bodl. GA Staffs b. 6; Lichfield Mercury, 6 Aug; Staffs. Advertiser, 7 Aug.; Staffs. Mercury, 7 Aug. 1830.
- 26. Staffs. RO D615/P(P)/1/16.
- 27. Broughton, Recollections, iv. 120.
- 28. CJ, lxxxvi. 35, 55, 445; LJ, lxiii. 79.
- 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 230; The Times, 17 Feb. 1831.
- 30. Lichfield Mercury, 11, 18, 25 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 435.
- 31. Lichfield Mercury, 15, 22 Apr. 1831.
- 32. Bodl. GA Staffs. b. 6; Dyott’s Diary, ii. 108.
- 33. Lichfield Joint RO D15/4/7/2, 5.
- 34. Lichfield Mercury, 29 Apr. 1831.
- 35. Ibid. 6 May 1831; Bodl. GA Staffs. b. 6.
- 36. Staffs. RO D615/P(P)1/11.
- 37. CJ, lxxxvi. 649; lxxxvii. 46, 47; LJ, lxiii. 1023.
- 38. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 470; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 326; xl. 11, 12.
- 39. J.C. Wedgwood, Staffs. Parl. Hist. iii. 107; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 215.