Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the burgage holders
Estimated number qualified to vote:
41 in 18311
1,205 (1821); 1,348 (1831)2
|9 Mar. 1820||JOHN SMITH|
|13 June 1826||JOHN SMITH|
|31 July 1830||GEORGE SMITH|
|JOHN ABEL SMITH|
|30 Apr. 1831||GEORGE ROBERT SMITH|
|MARTIN TUCKER SMITH|
Midhurst, a small market town situated on the River Rother, 12 miles north of Chichester, in an ‘entirely agricultural’ district, consisted of ‘several streets, with many respectable buildings, spread over a considerable space’. Its market was by this period ‘only for corn’, and the other main economic activities were brewing and malting.3 The borough was largely coextensive with the parish, but excluded the liberty of St. John’s. The franchise was vested in the holders of burgage tenements, of which there were reportedly 148 in 1831, situated a short distance from the town. However, it appears that many of the properties stood on empty ground, marked by stones, and there were only 41 ‘qualified electors’; 16 persons had been admitted to burgage tenements at the court baron between 1820 and 1830, some of whom were non-residents. Since 1802 the borough had been controlled by the Whig brothers John and George Smith, the lords of the manor, who nominated members of their family banking dynasty. John Smith returned himself, then his sons John Abel and Martin Tucker in turn. The other seat was occupied by Abel Smith, a nephew of the proprietors, whose conversion to ministerial politics in 1830 presumably led to his replacement by George Smith, who gave way to his son the following year. Although there had been no challenge to the patrons’ position since a by-election in December 1802, a schedule drawn up for them in 1819 suggests that there may still have been a few independent electors.4
The gentry, clergy, yeomen and master tradesmen of Midhurst sent anti-Catholic petitions to Parliament in 1829.5 While Abel Smith opposed the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, John Smith would have supported it but for his absence owing to ill health. At the general election of 1830, when John Smith contested Chichester, he responded to taunts about his connection with Midhurst by observing that ‘I understand a boroughmonger to be a person who sells a borough. I have only used it for the purpose of introducing friends and relatives who were good Whigs. The election of those Members cost them nothing’.6 Early in 1831 even the Tory 3rd marquess of Hertford classed Midhurst among the ‘indefensible’ boroughs,7 and in March the Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed its total disfranchisement. John Smith, as a committed reformer, admitted that the nomination rights were ‘improperly placed’ in his hands, 4 Mar., and he supported the borough’s disfranchisement in the reintroduced bill, 22 July, while making a somewhat specious defence of the electors’ incorruptibility. However, the new criteria adopted in the revised bill of December 1831 gave Midhurst a partial reprieve, as it contained 254 houses and paid £690 in assessed taxes, placing it 63rd in the list of the smallest English boroughs. Its resulting transfer to schedule B displeased Tory critics of the bill, who scented favouritism. Wetherell and Croker alleged that Midhurst had been ‘reanimated for the benefit of its ... proprietor’, a ‘valuable ally’ of ministers, 21 Feb. 1832, but the leader of the Commons, Lord Althorp, pointed out that the £10 householder franchise and proposed new boundary would destroy the existing patronal influence, a view endorsed by John Smith, who also denied that he had paid his assessed taxes in the borough in order to inflate its importance. Croker’s attempt that day to substitute Midhurst for Amersham in schedule A was unsuccessful. Following inquiries, Lord John Russell stated that the information supplied by the commissioners was ‘perfectly correct’, 23 Feb., and Midhurst’s inclusion in schedule B was confirmed. George Robert Smith reiterated that his family’s influence would be ‘completely and irrevocably destroyed’ by the reform measure, for which he claimed to have discovered support among the existing Midhurst electors on his visit to ‘solicit’ their votes at the previous election.
The boundary commissioners recommended that Midhurst should be enlarged to cover the whole of the parish and to encompass a large rural area including the whole of six other parishes and parts of 11 more. As a result, the borough grew in size from 0.9 to 39.5 square miles. There were 252 registered electors in 1832. The Smiths made no attempt to contest the new borough, which became the preserve of local landowners.8
Author: Howard Spencer
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 553.
- 2. Ibid. 58, 59.
- 3. Ibid. xl. 75; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 518; (1832-4), 1042.
- 4. PP (1830-1), x. 86; (1831-2), xxxvi. 553; xl. 75-77; T. Allen, Hist. Surr. and Suss. ii. 511; W. Suss. RO Add. 22267, 22268.
- 5. CJ, lxxxiv. 94; LJ, lxi. 17.
- 6. Chichester Election Procs. (1830), 134.
- 7. Croker Pprs. ii. 99.
- 8. PP (1831-2), xl. 75-77; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 70, 432, 439.