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 freeholders

Estimated number qualified to vote:

rising from nearly 4,000 to about 5,000

Number of voters:

4,051 in 1826


40,415 (1821); 50,216 (1831)


6 Mar. 1820JOSEPH BIRCH1891
 Thomas Assheton Smith II1858
 Lancelot Rolleston1858
20 June 1826JOSEPH BIRCH2234
 John Smith Wright1894
 George Hopkinson1
30 July 1830THOMAS DENMAN1206
 Thomas Bailey226
29 Nov. 1830DENMAN re-elected after appointment to office 
29 Apr. 1831(SIR) THOMAS DENMAN 

Main Article

Nottingham, the county town, was a notable centre of the expanding hosiery industry, especially in silk, cotton, bobbin-net and lace manufacturing, and benefited from several municipal improvements in the early nineteenth century.1 However, its growing population of framework knitters (stockingers), a large proportion of the electorate, and other craftsmen were subjected to bouts of cyclical unemployment and commercial distress, which periodically spilt over into strikes.2 Economic factors partly accounted for the town’s long-standing reputation for turbulence, with riots, bribery, intimidation and other excesses being the usual accompaniments of the almost invariably contested elections, but there was also a deeply embedded radical tradition among the inhabitants, who occasionally displayed glimmers of a genuine working class consciousness.3 Nevertheless, it was the bourgeois mercantile oligarchy, almost entirely Dissenting in religion and Whig in politics, which ruled the town through its domination of the corporation. This was composed of a mayor, six other aldermen and 24 common councilmen, 18 of whom (the seniors) were chosen from among the aldermen, while the remaining six (the juniors) were elected from the over 3,000 burgesses (or freemen), many of them non-residents. The mayor and aldermen had to be members of the ‘clothing’, a livery composed of former chamberlains and sheriffs (the two annually appointed sheriffs served as returning officers), so the corporation was ‘practically speaking a close and self-constituted body’, which proved inept in its financial management and incapable of dealing with the social demands of an industrializing community.4

However, as an electoral patron it was highly effective, and with the aid of some compliant, though usually non-resident and not always consistently Whig candidates, it had gained control of both parliamentary seats by 1812. It did this primarily through manipulating the admission of honorary freemen, including, after the surprisingly narrow majority in 1818, in response to Tory attempts to boost the size of the freeholder element in the county borough franchise.5 Although the election of freemen by birth, apprenticeship or purchase averaged under 15 a year in the 1810s, as many as 383 honorary burgesses were admitted in 1818 and just under 500 in 1820, following another very close election result that year. By contrast, the number of freeholders was increased by nearly 150 to just over 500 in 1820 and only expanded slightly thereafter, leaving them very much in the minority of the electorate.6 Local magnates, such as the 6th Baron Middleton of Wollaton Hall, had little remaining influence in the borough, though the Tory 4th duke of Newcastle of Clumber Castle, with whom the corporation had a difficult relationship, had grandiose plans to ‘infuse a new spirit into the people of Nottingham and give them a taste for the fine arts’ by a programme of rebuilding in the park that surrounded the Castle, his unused mansion house there.7 There were rival newspapers (the liberal Nottingham Review and the Tory Nottingham Journal) and, at times, opposing political clubs, so that, as one observer wrote, the curiously unpopular corporation was ‘placed between two fires - that of the Tories, who call for passive obedience and non-resistance, and that of the radicals, who demand annual parliaments, open corporations and universal suffrage’. Yet, its brand of Whiggism generally prevailed; for instance, in September 1819 it gave a firm and moderate lead, despite Newcastle’s disquiet and the fury of the radicals, at meetings called to condemn the Peterloo massacre.8

The Tories’ renewed confidence at the general election of 1820 was impaired by their difficulty in procuring candidates. After a succession of names had been mentioned, ‘like pictures in a raree-show or the dancing figures of a magic lantern’, the former defeated candidate Thomas Assheton Smith II*, a supporter of Lord Liverpool’s administration, and Lancelot Rolleston of Watnall Hall, a young magistrate and future Conservative county Member, were hastily pressed into undertaking a widespread and effective canvass. Of the sitting Members, Joseph Birch, a Liverpool merchant, stood again, but Lord Rancliffe* of Bunny Hall, the erratic holder of an Irish title, dismayed the Whigs by declining a contest which, he wrote, ‘must entail expense on me, and not be of benefit to you, and which is contrary to those independent principles I have at all times advocated’. Charles March Phillipps* of Garendon Park, Leicestershire, who had just declined to continue to represent his own county, was unwilling to oblige, so the corporation turned again to the London barrister Thomas Denman*, who had been thought of by the recorder, the 3rd Baron Holland, in 1818, and had since represented Wareham. Denman had shortly to relinquish the office of deputy recorder, but was placated by the promise of a subscription.9 The Whigs’ Commons leader George Tierney feared the loss of ‘one of our men’ in what Sir James Mackintosh* described as ‘an unusually hot contest’.10 On the hustings, 6 Mar., Birch advocated economies and reform, while Denman, proposed by Rancliffe, assumed the mantle of Fox and branded the corporation’s opponents ‘a junto of country squires’; neither Assheton Smith, who claimed to be independent, nor Rolleston, who declared for the government, was favourably received. During the first week the majority changed sides every evening, but thereafter Birch and Denman took the lead and finished on the 12th day, 18 Mar. 1820, 33 votes ahead of Assheton Smith and Rolleston, after 3,757 electors had been polled.11

Smith immediately demanded a scrutiny, but the assessor protested that he had already ‘made the whole poll a scrutiny’, while the Review riposted that the Tories had resorted to ‘every species of influence’ in an effort to carry the contest. A contemporary analysis of the poll showed that resident voters accounted for 70 per cent of Birch and Denman’s total (freemen 60 per cent, freeholders ten per cent), non-resident voters for 25 per cent (freemen 21 per cent, freeholders four per cent), while the remaining five per cent came from London. Assheton Smith and Rolleston, for whom the freeholders voted 2:1 in their favour, commanded a slightly higher total of resident freeholder voters (14 per cent), but their share of the resident burgess vote (45 per cent) was considerably lower than that of their opponents. Conversely, their share of the non-resident vote was as high as 41 per cent (21 per cent freemen, 15 per cent freeholders and another five per cent from London). The fear that a number of electors would divide their votes and facilitate a compromise never materialized: only a handful of plumpers or cross-votes were recorded throughout the whole contest, with each pair of candidates finishing on identical totals and sharing almost all their votes as splits.12 At the chairing, which drew an estimated 30,000 people, 20 Mar. 1820, Denman welcomed the anti-corporation party’s bid to increase the number of freeholds, arguing that this advantage ‘would not always be arrayed against the independence of the town’, and insisting that the Whigs ‘had gained more by the young burgesses than they had lost by the new freeholders’.13 Nonetheless, the expense - above the expected joint costs of £3,000 - was considerable and, with his financial affairs having ‘received a very severe shock’, he was grateful to such patrons as Lord Fitzwilliam for coming to his assistance.14 One radical publication observed that year that Nottingham ‘would be perfectly independent if the elections were not so enormously expensive’, and it was later reported that, at this or a similar contest, the price paid for votes, openly chalked up outside the committee rooms, varied between 2s. 6d. and 7s. 6d.15

Several attempts were made to bolster the Tories’ call for an election petition, in which the Journal took a leading part, but Assheton Smith and Rolleston abandoned the cause, 14 Apr. 1820, and apprised Denman of their decision to withdraw. A subsequent meeting of disaffected Tories resolved to proceed and, on the last day appointed by the House for receiving such petitions, 11 May, theirs, alleging an irregularity over the promulgation of the election, was delivered. It was taken into consideration, 20 June, and, according to one account, ‘was laughed at by most of the moderate Tories, and treated with all possible contempt by the friends of the sitting Members’. The committee had no hesitation in declaring it frivolous and vexatious, 22 June. ‘The Tory cause in Nottingham has now sunk to the lowest pitch of degradation’, commented the Review, and celebrations and dinners to mark Birch and Denman’s ‘final victory’ and the ‘glorious majority of 33’ were arranged.16 The grand dinner was postponed until 4 Aug., when Holland, who had been previously urged to take the opportunity of his visit to ‘convert a great many radicals to Whiggism’, was joined by Sir Robert Heron* and March Phillipps, as well as the Members.17 Lord Liverpool later privately observed of such boroughs as Nottingham, Southwark or Westminster, that they were ‘more corrupt than any other places when seriously contested’, and that their Members, ‘from the peculiarity of their character or their station, are the least likely to be steadily attached to the good order of society’.18 In fact Birch, who presented numerous petitions, was a conscientious representative of his constituents’ commercial interests, while Denman, who brought up one for repeal of the corn laws, 26 May 1820, had a more troubled relationship with the electors.19

However, Denman’s espousal, as her solicitor-general, of the cause of Queen Caroline no doubt met with the approval of the Whig inhabitants, who excitedly celebrated her acquittal in November 1820.20 A meeting, which presumably, as the town clerk Henry Enfield had feared, was shunned by Tories and dominated by radicals, agreed a petition for the restoration of her name to the liturgy, and this, after Birch had brought up a similar one from the corporation, was lodged by Denman, 26 Jan. 1821.21 Although he acknowledged its objectionable language, Denman presented another Nottingham petition, which, citing Peterloo, called for inquiry into the state of the country and the impeachment of ministers, 20 Feb. He received support from advanced Whigs, but Lord Castlereagh, the foreign secretary, opposed the motion to print it, which was comfortably defeated (by 130-64). A town petition for parliamentary reform was brought up, 17 Apr. 1821.22 The corporation’s petition to the Lords in favour of the Catholic peers bill was entrusted to Holland, who presented it, 21 June 1822, as he did another pro-Catholic one, 9 May 1825, its Commons equivalent having been delivered by Denman on the 3rd; the inhabitants’ anti-Catholic petition was brought up in the Commons, 15 Apr., and in the Lords by Newcastle, 21 Apr. 1825.23 The anti-slavery petitions presented, 8 May 1823, 4 Mar. 1824, were typical of many in this period; one for inquiry into the trial of the Methodist minister John Smith in Demerara was received, 27 May.24 Following the failure of the local activist Gravener Henson to have workers’ rights recognized in law in 1823, the mechanics and inhabitants had their petitions for alteration of the combination laws brought up, 5 May 1824, 2 June 1825.25 Denman and Birch presented others for repeal of the corn laws, 15 Apr. 1825, 13 Feb. 1826.26

During the election alert in the autumn of 1825, Henry Brougham* expressed his anxiety about Denman’s security at Nottingham, although at one point he commented that ‘he has buckled to again and has great hopes of success’.27 However, Denman unexpectedly resigned, in favour of Rancliffe, at the dissolution in 1826, later recording that, ‘although Birch and myself were too well esteemed, and the Whig party there too well established, to fear any opposition from Tory candidates, yet my finances could not have been equal even to an undisputed election’.28 The Review could foresee no obstacle to his unopposed return, but he may have been concerned about what he termed ‘disunion creeping into the ranks’, and his parting address indicated that he was unwilling to compromise his belief in free trade to meet the needs of the local lace and hosiery producers, and was dissatisfied with the corporation’s ambiguous stance on Catholic relief. A report that Birch had also decided to give way was immediately discredited, while Rancliffe, apparently indemnified against expense, pledged himself to vote for the abolition of the corn laws, slavery and sinecures. No formal canvass was undertaken and the Journal’s anti-corporation electioneering was regarded as little more than a hoax to alarm the popular candidates. The emergence of the well-connected John Smith Wright of Rempstone Hall, a banker, on the morning of the nomination, therefore ‘came as a thunderclap’.29 As John Evelyn Denison’s* brother Edward observed:

Wright, though a poor creature, is I should think a very likely man to break the corporation party at Nottingham as he must have the Tory party, as being a Tory, and will probably much divide the Dissenters, as being a great Bible Society man and withal a very charitable, excellent man.30

At the nomination, 8 June 1826, Birch reiterated his support for parliamentary reform and retrenchment, and Rancliffe promised to defend the rights of the people, declaring that he would never enter ‘that sink of corruption, the House of Commons ... except he were returned by free men’. Wright, who was well received, avoided the ‘grand political questions’, but indicated that he too would favour alteration of the corn laws and echoed his opponents’ enthusiasm for the abolition of slavery. Having demanded a poll, he took an early lead, which was attributed by the corporation’s supporters to treating and, as the Review put it, ‘money was also literally offered, and many of the poor ... accepted the bribe’. In an unscrupulous ploy to keep the upper hand, on the third day the Tories circulated reports that the corporation intended to abandon Rancliffe in favour of Wright, but this failed after the mayor and his leading colleagues polled to confound the rumour. Rancliffe, who had already lost votes because of his perceived unsuitability and colourful private life, benefited from the subsequent mobilization of the Whigs’ election committee and the Review’s threat to publish the names of turncoats, which, to the Journal’s disgust, prevented Birch’s supporters from splitting in favour of Wright. Despite the fact that his daughter Theodosia had married Wright’s elder brother, Denman denounced the Tory candidate as nothing less than ‘a tool in the hands of a miserable and mortified faction’.31 With Birch safe, Rancliffe unsuccessfully requested further outside support and Holland, eager to be of service, flattered John Cam Hobhouse* that only his appearance could supply the ‘great want of spirit and oratory’ that was urgently required there:

I bear my testimony to this opinion, as I am asked to do, and shall rejoice if you can be of service to my friends, the corporation there, who are in every sense both private and public so entitled to the exertions of the friends of civil and religious freedom.

Hobhouse was engaged elsewhere, but on 18 June 1826 he observed to Holland that the popular cause at Nottingham ‘seems in a prosperous way and not in want of any little help that I would be able to give them’.32 The previous day the contest had effectively terminated on the withdrawal of Wright, who refused to persist. Yet the entry of the Tory attorney George Hopkinson revived all the hubbub and paraphernalia of the contest, notably the usual partisan violence (together with controversy over maintaining order) and legal arguments about the admissibility of voters, which all delayed the declaration until the 20th. A threatened petition did not materialize and a dinner for the Members was held to celebrate the cause of independence.33

The perpetuation of the contest increased Birch and Rancliffe’s majorities to 340 and 264, after 4,051 electors had been polled. Their 2,127 splits accounted for respectively 95 and 99 per cent of their total votes, while Wright’s 1,785 plumps represented 94 per cent of his. Only 104 electors split their votes between Birch and Wright, as did three between Rancliffe and Wright, a much lower proportion of cross-party voting than in 1818. A clear but small majority of the town votes went to the corporation candidates: Birch and Rancliffe 52 per cent, Wright 45 per cent (and alternative combinations three per cent). Of the out-voters, who comprised more than a third of the electors polled, over half (54 per cent) voted for Birch and Rancliffe, compared with 42 per cent for Wright. The Whig candidates did especially well among the Dissenters, and generally polled the majority of those employed in the lace and hosiery trades. Three-quarters of farmers plumped for Wright, providing a clear indication of the rural bias of Nottingham Toryism; moreover, 536, or 69 per cent, of the 774 freeholders plumped for Wright, whereas only 238, or 31 per cent, split for Birch and Rancliffe.34 The Tories had little room for optimism given their failure to divide the Whig vote, and yet the contest had still been very tight. Of the 527 honorary burgesses, only ten voted for Wright, and Enfield later informed Holland that the victory had largely been due to them, ‘a body of reserve hard perhaps to justify the raising of, but most valuable in the heat of war’.35 The election had in fact passed off in comparative peace and in July 1826 Newcastle noted in his journal that trade was flat but that the people were ‘remarkably quiet and orderly’.36

Some insight into the corporation’s political composition and character is provided by the town clerk’s letter to Holland, 25 Feb. 1827, following the approval of an address of condolence to George IV on the death of his brother and heir, the anti-Catholic duke of York:

It was rather a difficult point to frame it in terms of sufficient respect ... Some of our worthy body corporate considered his removal cause for national rejoicing ... However ... we had a unanimous meeting. Upon the great and important subject of Catholic emancipation, I doubt very much whether we should be equally accordant, were we convened on that question. The horrors of popish fires, faggots, etc., etc., are by no means subsided. They still haunt the waking dreams of a great class of persons and, I verily believe, of many Dissenters.37

Anti-Catholic sentiment continued to be tapped in the form of hostile petitions presented to the Commons (probably by Frank Sotheron, the county Member), 6 Apr., and the Lords, 15 Mar. 1827, by Newcastle, who that summer forwarded to the king an address from the town condemning the appointment of the pro-Catholic George Canning as prime minister.38 That year and the next, several Dissenters’ petitions were forthcoming for repeal of the Test Acts; one in its favour, brought up on 26 Feb. 1828, was from the corporation, which subsequently thanked the Members for their successful exertions in its support.39 Anti-Catholic ones from the Dissenters of the Sion and Plumtree Street chapels were presented, 8 May 1828, 17 Mar. 1829, while Sotheron brought up the inhabitants’ hostile petition, boasting 2,000 signatures, 9 Feb. However, the favourable petitions of the corporation and the High Pavement chapel were presented by Birch, 18 Feb., and a counter-petition from the town was brought up, 9 Mar. 1829, by Rancliffe, who defended its validity against Sotheron and later that year chaired a celebratory dinner in Nottingham.40

The petition of the united artisans for repeal of the corn laws was lodged by Joseph Hume, 22 May 1829, and one from the society of mechanics against the payment of wages in truck was presented by Birch, 17 Mar. 1830.41 The working population was reported to be calm around the turn of the year, though the economic depression created severe difficulties in certain sectors and undoubtedly contributed to the growing political activism.42 Following William Cobbett’s† lectures, a political union was established in March, its leading promoters being George Gill, a lace agent, Robert Goodacre, a schoolmaster, and Richard Sutton, who had succeeded his father as editor of the Review the previous year. Notably over the issue of parliamentary reform, its radicalism was an open protest against the Whig corporation’s half-heartedness.43 Petitions were presented against the sale of beer bill, 1 Apr., 4 May, the renewal of the East India Company’s charter, 10 May, and the death penalty for forgery, 10, 24 May 1830.44 Both the aging Birch, dismayed by the prospect of a heavy session to come, and Rancliffe, disillusioned with Parliament and electoral corruption, unexpectedly retired at the dissolution that summer. Denman, tipped off by Rancliffe, announced his candidacy and suggested possible colleagues, including Thomas Wakefield, senior councilman, and William Haldimand*, two of six alternatives considered by the corporation.45 However, Holland happily suggested the active Scottish Whig Sir Ronald Craufurd Ferguson*, who, so Denman soon informed him, ‘succeeds here completely’ and ‘is received as a brother in every good political house in Nottingham’. The Tories, angling ineffectually for a compromise, briefly fielded an attorney of local origin, Lewis Lowdham (formerly Allsopp†), whose ministerialist standing and reformist credentials were both suspect; ‘an unwilling instrument in the hands of the party’, he declined without even putting in an appearance.46

Instead the third man was Thomas Bailey of Basford, a wine merchant and future historian of the county, who denounced the Tories, the incompetent corporation and such radical demands as the ballot. An independent moderate Whig, he espoused parliamentary reform, strict economy and the abolition of slavery, and explained that he offered because he was appalled by the spectacle of the representation being ‘reduced to the chance of a scramble amongst adventurers’.47 A close and arduous contest was anticipated, especially as the Tories, resentful at the imposition of Ferguson, rallied to Bailey, whose unfortunate determination only to look to ‘honest and unbought votes’ probably sealed his fate. The show of hands was for Denman and Ferguson (introduced by Rancliffe), who was slightly anxious that their opponent, whom he considered ‘a little mad’, would keep the poll open in order to split the ‘independent party’. Yet, despite his popularity, Bailey, whose performance displayed ‘considerable talent and astuteness’, failed to break the Whig hegemony and, after three days, he retired with only 226 votes, so ending what the Journal lamented was the ‘dullest affair ever’.48 With the number of freemen having been increased by at least 900 in the previous decade, the electorate was now estimated to be 5,050, including 650-750 freeholders. However, only 1,413 electors were polled, almost all of whom cast straight party votes, with the framework knitters again dividing strongly for the corporation Whigs.49 Well satisfied with the result, Denman informed Holland, 3 Aug. 1830, that Ferguson

was not in the least affected by the run made at him by our silly opponent, who was employed as a tool by the low aristocracy, and has become a weapon in their hands for their own destruction. There were many formidable symptoms before the polling on Saturday [31 July], but when it began, the cause was gained - only against Bailey however, for the Blues [Tories] might still have been seriously troublesome. I hope no money is come, but if there is, we shall send it back in statu quo. The spontaneous arrival of multitudes of out-voters at their own expense, who after all were not wanted, was strikingly decisive of the public feeling. I believe there has not been so cheap an election at Nottingham for a hundred years.50

At the town meeting in celebration of the July revolution in France, 23 Aug. 1830, the corporation speakers forced the withdrawal of a resolution in favour of the ballot, a proposal which Denman privately rejected, but which Ferguson, owing to the practices he had witnessed, soon came to endorse publicly. Thereafter such gatherings were dominated by pro-ballot speakers, who, previously excluded from the mainstream of the town’s politics, now began to usurp the corporation’s political leadership.51 On 18 Oct. a meeting unanimously approved a petition urging sweeping reforms, including the ballot, and this, which received about 8,000 signatures, was presented to the Commons by Denman, 22 Nov., and to the Lords by Baron Suffield, 15 Dec. A radical reform dinner to celebrate the progress of the principles of reform was held under Rancliffe’s presidency, 9 Nov., while extensive agitation that winter produced petitions for the truck bill, which were brought up in the Commons by Littleton, 14 Dec., and in the Lords by Suffield, 15 Dec.52 Despite his refusal to advocate radical measures of reform, the Review called for Denman to be returned unopposed, following his appointment as attorney-general in Lord Grey’s ministry. This duly occurred at the by-election in late November, though the proceedings gave some indication of the growing split between corporators and radical townsmen over the ballot, with Wakefield being barracked on this issue.53 Denman’s unguarded criticism of Newcastle’s undue electoral influence in Nottinghamshire led to the duke making angry complaints to the prime minister, 2 Dec., and in the Lords, 3 Dec. 1830.54 Early the following year reform meetings were held in the manufacturing suburbs of Beeston and Radford, and there was a revival of the political union, which met to advance the cause of radical reform, 28 Feb. 1831, when Sutton criticized the corporation’s lack of initiative.55 The Review welcomed the reform bill and Benjamin Boothby, an iron founder and prominent member of the union, exclaimed that he ‘felt ... as if he had breathed another atmosphere, as if he had another destiny, so fully had the measure astounded him’. Addresses to William IV and petitions to Parliament in its favour were agreed by the corporation, 8 Mar., and the inhabitants, temporarily overcoming their differences, 9 Mar.; these petitions (the latter with over 9,000 signatures) were presented to the Commons by Denman, 9, 14 Mar. The anti-slavery petitions of the inhabitants and Quakers were brought up, 28 Mar.56 Shortly after the dissolution the following month, a large outdoor meeting, attended by Rancliffe, Ferguson and Bailey, took place in support of ministers. At the ensuing general election, the political clubs pledged their unreserved support to the sitting Members, who united as reformers and were not expected to face any opposition. Indeed, as Denman recorded, they were met outside Nottingham

by a large cavalcade, and a little farther on by a triumphal car ... in which we rode into the town, attended by many on horseback and a countless multitude on foot - a band, cheers, and high good humour. The old Whig flags waved before us, and some even of the old Tory banners were united in the cause of reform.

They were duly re-elected without opposition or expense.57

Denman declined to lodge a Nottingham petition he had received complaining of the slow progress of the reform bill, 3 Sept. 1831. Others in its favour promoted by the corporation, 15 Sept., and the inhabitants, 22 Sept., were brought up in the Lords, 30 Sept., by Holland, who condemned as unrepresentative a much less numerously signed counter-petition presented by Newcastle, 4 Oct.58 The news of the defeat of the reform bill in the Lords reached Nottingham late on the 8th and serious disturbances began the following day. A town meeting, at which it was clear that the corporation had recovered its former dominance at the expense of radical speakers, nevertheless went ahead, 10 Oct., when Wakefield and Rancliffe secured reform addresses to the king and ministers, and urged the resumption of calm. Although local newspapers stressed the conjunction of the Goose Fair and preparations for a race meeting, as well as economic distress, as factors behind the riots, which continued for several days, the catalyst was undoubtedly political, with the properties attacked almost all belonging to known Tories, including several of those who had signed the recent anti-reform petition. Largely due to the inadequacies of the county authorities, the major targets were Nottingham Castle, which was burnt down, Colwick Hall, the residence of the Tory squire John Musters, and Beeston silk mill, the factory of the active Tory William Lowe, while an unsuccessful assault was also made on Wollaton Hall.59 Sir Charles Wetherell, one of Newcastle’s Members, alleged that the Castle had been fired because of his patron’s antipathy to reform, 12 Oct., and the following day he intemperately instigated a debate on the desirability of a special commission. Newcastle, who blamed the borough magistrates for refusing to act outside their jurisdiction and unfairly entertained dark thoughts towards the political union, was irate at his exclusion from the eventual commission (chaired by Lord George Cavendish Bentinck*) early the following year, as he was at only receiving £21,000 compensation from Broxtowe hundred.60 Sir Francis Burdett presented a town petition calling for leniency to be shown towards those convicted (of whom three were executed and four transported), 31 Jan. 1832, but the Members rebutted Henry Hunt’s allegations of the prisoners having been mistreated. Similar petitions calling for such allegations to be investigated were brought up by Hunt, 22 June, when Ferguson and others defended the magistrates, and 1 Aug. 1832, when Denman, who had not himself played any official part in the trials, insisted that the decision to appoint any new inquiry lay with ministers.61

Radical activity continued to make itself felt with the political union giving impetus to petitions in favour of preventing child employment in factories in February and of stopping supplies in order to force through the reform bill in May 1832, when a large meeting of inhabitants gathered to show its support for the government during the ministerial crisis that month.62 A grand celebration of reform, partly funded by the corporation, was held in early August, though Denman, who changed his mind about standing again for Nottingham (and was, in any case, soon made a judge), was given a hostile reception because of the unpopular recent legal proceedings there; Newcastle gloated that this was ‘a just retribution’ on the former ‘idol of the rapscallions’.63 With nearly 3,000 £10 houses, the borough was rightly expected to have an electorate of much the same size under the reformed franchise at about 5,000, with the estimated 1,000 to 1,500 non-residents being replaced by a similar number of qualified householders.64 Although the Liberals Ferguson and Viscount Duncannon*, a cabinet minister, defeated the Conservative James Edward Gordon* at the general election of 1832, the intensity of party politics remained unabated. The influence of the corporation, which was remodelled in the mid-1830s, gradually waned, so that although Hobhouse held one of the seats for over ten years, a Tory, John Walter, was returned in 1841, and a Chartist, Feargus O’Connor, was elected in 1847.65

Authors: Simon Harratt / Stephen Farrell


Partly based on R.A. Preston, ‘Structure of Government and Politics in Notts. 1824-35’ (Oxf. Univ. D.Phil. thesis, 1978), chs. 4-7, app. ii.

  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 330-1; S. Lewis, Top. Dict. of England (1844), iii. 437-9.
  • 2. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 180, 188, 206, 212; Centenary Hist. Nottingham ed. J. Beckett, 204-8; M.I. Thomis, Politics and Society in Nottingham, 2-3, 6, 25-26, 40, 56-57, 108, 143, 166.
  • 3. Centenary Hist. Nottingham, 284-5; Thomis, 1-2, 7-12, 78, 161-5, 217-20.
  • 4. PP (1835), xxv. 587-9, 599-601; A. C. Wood, Notts. 298-300; Thomis, 4-5, 9-10, 114-30, 134-5.
  • 5. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 323-5; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 317-19; J. V. Beckett, ‘Parl. and Localities: Borough of Nottingham’, in Parl. and Locality ed. D. Dean and C. Jones, 64; Thomis, 143-6, 149-50, 154-8.
  • 6. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 562; (1835), xxv. 587, 599; Wood, 297; Thomis, 146-7, 167-8; Nottingham Local Stud. Lib. ‘Nottingham Burgesses Enrolled 1800-35’ (typescript).
  • 7. Thomis, 4, 147-9; Unhappy Reactionary ed. R. A. Gaunt (Thoroton Soc. rec. ser. xliii), pp. xviii, 175, 192; R. A. Gaunt, ‘Neighbours from Hell? Newcastle and People of Nottingham’, Thoroton Soc. civ (2000), 99-111.
  • 8. Beckett, 60; Thomis, 140-2, 159-60, 212-15; R. Phillips, Personal Tour (1828), i. 166-7.
  • 9. Nottingham Rev. 18, 25 Feb., 3 Mar. 1820; Nottingham Local Stud. Lib. (broadsheets) L34.4, 12, 22; Arnould, Denman, i. 129, 132.
  • 10. Grey mss, Tierney to Grey, 27 Feb. 1820; Add. 52444, f. 87.
  • 11. Nottingham Rev. 10, 17, 24, 31 Mar. 1820; Nottingham Pollbook (1820), pp. iii-xix.
  • 12. Nottingham Pollbook (1820), pp. xxv-xxvi; Thomis, 168.
  • 13. Nottingham Rev. 24, 31 Mar. 1820.
  • 14. Arnould, i. 130; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F49/72, 73.
  • 15. Peep at the Commons (1820), 12; PP (1835), xxv. 599.
  • 16. Nottingham Rev. 14, 21 Apr., 23, 30 June 1820; CJ, xxv. 185-6, 329-30, 342.
  • 17. Add. 51686, Lansdowne to Holland, 30 July; Nottingham Rev. 11 Aug. 1820.
  • 18. Add. 38458, f. 273.
  • 19. CJ, lxxv. 245; The Times, 27 May 1820; Thomis, 109.
  • 20. Thomis, 215-16.
  • 21. Add. 51831, Enfield to Holland, 24 Nov. 1820; CJ, lxxvi. 12.
  • 22. CJ, lxxvi. 92, 275.
  • 23. Nottingham Borough Recs. viii. 291-3, 321-2; LJ, lv. 258; lvii. 604, 771; CJ, lxxx. 309, 369; The Times, 22 June 1822, 22 Apr., 10 May 1825; Unhappy Reactionary, 42, 47.
  • 24. CJ, lxxviii. 296; lxxix. 120, 422.
  • 25. Ibid. lxxix. 324; lxxx. 478-9; Thomis, 65, 105-7.
  • 26. CJ, lxxx. 309; lxxxi. 37; The Times, 16 Apr. 1825, 14 Feb. 1826.
  • 27. Add. 51833, Macdonald to Holland, 19 Sept. [1825]; HMC Var. ii. 346.
  • 28. Arnould, i. 204.
  • 29. The Times, 27 May, 2, 7, 9 June; Nottingham Rev. 2, 9, 10 June 1826.
  • 30. Nottingham Univ. Lib. Ossington mss OsC 37.
  • 31. Nottingham Rev. 9, 16, 23 June; The Times, 15, 17, 22 June 1826.
  • 32. Add. 36462, ff. 271, 275; 51569.
  • 33. Glos. RO, Sotheron Estcourt mss D1571 F793, addresses; Nottingham Rev. 23, 30 June, 7 July 1826.
  • 34. Nottingham Pollbooks (1826); Thomis, 166.
  • 35. Wood, 298; Add. 51833, Enfield to Holland, 25 Feb. 1827.
  • 36. Unhappy Reactionary, 52.
  • 37. Add. 51833.
  • 38. CJ, lxxxii. 394; LJ, lix. 160; The Times, 7 Apr., 16 Mar. 1827; Unhappy Reactionary, 52-53.
  • 39. CJ, lxxxiii. 105; Nottingham Borough Recs. viii. 356, 360-1.
  • 40. CJ, lxxxiii. 332; lxxxiv. 14, 48, 114, 145; Wood, 303.
  • 41. CJ, lxxxiv. 330; lxxxv. 189.
  • 42. Add. 51835, Enfield to Holland, 7 Nov. 1829; Nottingham Univ. Lib. acc. 636, Denison diary, 18 Jan. 1830; Wood, 303-4.
  • 43. Thomis, 222-5; N.D. LoPatin, Political Unions, Popular Politics, and the Great Reform Act of 1832, pp. 41-43.
  • 44. CJ, lxxxv. 247-8, 365, 395, 463.
  • 45. Add. 51813, Rancliffe to Denman, 28 June, Denman to Holland [July] 1830; Nottingham Jnl. 10 July; Nottingham Rev. 23 July 1830; M. Brock, Great Reform Act, 101; Thomis, 163.
  • 46. Add. 51813, Denman to Holland [25 July, 3 Aug. 1830]; 51836, Ferguson to same, 22 Apr. [1831]; Nottingham Rev. 23, 30 July 1830.
  • 47. Unhappy Reactionary, 65, 67; LoPatin, 42; Thomis, 153; M. I. Thomis, Old Nottingham, 121-3.
  • 48. Add. 51835, Ferguson to Holland, 30 July; The Times, 2, 4 Aug. 1830; Thomis, Politics, 165.
  • 49. PP (1831), xvi. 193; (1831-2), xxxvi. 562; Wood, 297; O’Gorman, 315-16, 370-1.
  • 50. Add. 51813.
  • 51. Nottingham Rev. 27 Aug., 10, 24 Sept. 1830; Thomis, Politics, 69-70, 162, 221.
  • 52. Nottingham Rev. 22 Oct., 12, 19 Nov. 1830; CJ, lxxxvi. 128, 172; LJ, lxiii. 175; Thomis, Politics, 107, 221.
  • 53. Nottingham Rev. 26 Nov., 3 Dec. 1830.
  • 54. Arnould, i. 323-4; Unhappy Reactionary, 70.
  • 55. Nottingham Rev. 4, 11 Feb., 4 Mar. 1831.
  • 56. Ibid. 11, 18 Mar. 1831; Nottingham Borough Recs. viii. 393; CJ, lxxxvi. 353, 372, 445; Thomis, Politics, 221-2.
  • 57. Nottingham Rev. 15, 29 Apr., 6 May; The Times, 29 Apr.; Add. 51836, Ferguson to Holland, 22 Apr. [1831]; Arnould, i. 348.
  • 58. Nottingham Borough Recs. viii. 395; Nottingham Rev. 23 Sept. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1023, 1026, 1056; Wood, 304.
  • 59. Nottingham Rev. 14 Oct. 1831; Wood, 304-7; Thomis, Politics, 25-26, 140-2, 225-34; M.I. Thomis, R.A. Preston and J. Wigley, ‘Nottingham and Reform Bill Riots of 1831: New Perspectives’, Thoroton Soc. lxxvii (1973), 82-103; J. Beckett, ‘Nottingham Reform Bill Riots’, in Partisan Politics, Principle and Reform in Parl. and Constituencies ed. C. Jones, P. Salmon and R.W. Davis, 114-38.
  • 60. Unhappy Reactionary, 83-84, 86-90, 93-94; LoPatin, 89-90; Nottingham Rev. 6, 13, 20, 27 Jan. 1832.
  • 61. CJ, lxxxvii. 60, 424, 542.
  • 62. Thomis, Politics, 243-4; Nottingham Rev. 8, 11, 18, 25 May 1832.
  • 63. Nottingham Borough Recs. viii. 399; Arnould, i. 393-4, 401-2; Nottingham Rev. 10 Aug. 1832; Unhappy Reactionary, 94.
  • 64. PP (1831-2), xxxix. 183, 186; Key to Both Houses (1832), 371; Thomis, Politics, 235-6; Beckett, ‘Parl. and Localities’, 61.
  • 65. Thomis, Politics, 150-1, 241-2, 247-9; A.C. Wood, ‘Nottingham Electoral Hist. 1832-1861’, Thoroton Soc. lix (1955), 65-83.