Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
‘in the mayor, portmen, capital burgesses and freemen’1
Estimated number qualified to vote:
1,119 (1821); 1,302 (1831)
|9 Mar. 1820||HORACE BEAUCHAMP SEYMOUR|
|23 May 1820||EDMOND ALEXANDER MACNAGHTEN vice Seymour, chose to sit for Lisburn|
|28 Apr. 1821||ROBERT STEWART, mq. of Londonderry [I] vice Douglas, vacated his seat|
|1 Oct. 1822||CHARLES ROSS vice Londonderry, deceased|
|10 June 1826||HORACE BEAUCHAMP SEYMOUR|
|SIR HENRY FREDERICK COOKE|
|26 Dec. 1826||QUINTIN DICK vice Seymour, chose to sit for Bodmin|
|3 Aug. 1830||SPENCER HORSEY KILDERBEE|
|SIR HENRY FREDERICK COOKE|
|30 Apr. 1831||SPENCER HORSEY KILDERBEE|
|SIR HENRY FREDERICK COOKE|
The ‘small town, port and ancient borough’ of Orford was an ecclesiastical chapelry of the parish of Sudbourne, situated on the River Alde, where, since 1810, its patron, Francis Ingram Seymour Conway†, 2nd marquess of Hertford, had successfully introduced oyster dredging to arrest a decline in population.3 Nominally a ‘borough by prescription’, in 1768 it had become the pocket borough of the Seymour Conway family, the owners since 1754 of the Sudbourne estate, including most of the land and property in Orford and the manor lordships of Orford, Gedgrave and Raydons. Henceforward its freedom was exclusively honorary and associated with membership of the corporation of a mayor (the returning officer), recorder, eight portmen and 12 capital burgesses, who, according to the municipal corporation commissioner’s 1835 report, ‘acted successfully as a political club or union formed to legalize the nomination of two Members of the House of Commons by a Member of the House of Lords’.4 Contested elections were unknown and the representation was reserved for the Seymour Conways and their ‘friends’, generally anti-Catholic treasury and Court candidates with access to wealth or patronage.5
At the general election of 1820 Hertford returned the sitting Member John Douglas, a brother-in-law of George IV’s private secretary Sir Benjamin Bloomfield†, with his nephew Horace Beauchamp Seymour, whose re-election for Lisburn he also facilitated. The Orford vacancy thus created was reserved for the 1812-20 Member Edmond Alexander MacNaghten, whose hopes of coming in for county Antrim had been thwarted by the candidature of Horace’s brother Hugh Seymour*.6 In April 1821, Douglas made way as requested for Hertford’s nephew, the foreign secretary and leader of the Commons Lord Londonderry, so ensuring his prompt return to the House after succeeding his father in the Irish peerage.7 Francis Charles Seymour Conway* succeeded his father as 3rd marquess of Hertford in June 1822, two months before Londonderry’s suicide created a vacancy at Orford. Anxious to expand his political influence, he had recently paid 50,000 guineas for the Rotherham iron manufacturer Samuel Walker’s† interest at nearby Aldeburgh, where he planned to make wholesale changes in the corporation at Michaelmas, with a view to administering both boroughs in tandem from Sudbourne with his steward John Wilson Croker* as their returning officer.8 Anxious ‘lest somebody should insist on a writ forthwith’, before the changes were effected, Hertford wrote to the home secretary Peel from Verdun, 22 Aug., setting out his terms for continued support of ministers, namely ‘a garter, something for Horace, nobody over my head and just enough of patronage to keep my wheels, which I hope will be very numerous, sufficiently oiled’.9 As agreed with government, on 1 Oct., the newly reinforced corporation elected one of their reliable supporters Charles Ross, who had been defeated at St. Albans; Hertford received his garter, 22 Nov. 1822.10
The premier Lord Liverpool thought Hertford’s terms at the general election of 1826 unduly harsh, involving as they did a down payment of £9,000 (possibly for two seats) and a written promise to vacate in the event of voting contrary to the patron’s wishes. Hertford accordingly reserved the representation of Orford for his nominees who were facing difficult contests elsewhere: the duke of York’s adjutant Sir Henry Frederick Cooke, defeated on his interest at Camelford in 1822 and 1826, and Horace Beauchamp Seymour, who had made way, as directed, for Henry Meynell at Lisburn and stood at Bodmin, where the corporation was proving difficult to manage.11 Seymour’s success created a vacancy at Orford for ‘his friend’ Quintin Dick, a wealthy Irish Protestant committed to creating an independent interest in Maldon, who paid an additional £4,000 to sit unconditionally and opposed Catholic emancipation to the last when Hertford ordered his Members to vote for it in 1829.12 Cooke’s painful acquiescence then and services as a gossip and intermediary helped him to keep his seat. In 1830 the well-connected Suffolk Tory Spencer Horsey Kilderbee, first returned for Aldeburgh in 1829, became his colleague, and thereafter the representation was unchanged.13 Orford and Aldeburgh, dismissed by the Whig Member for Suffolk Sir Henry Bunbury as ‘two miserable decayed fishing towns’ (22 July 1831), were scheduled for disfranchisement under the Grey ministry’s reform bills. Attempts to reprieve them as a single Member contributory boroughs constituency or to transfer the franchise to nearby Woodbridge (which had a population of 4,769 in 1831) failed, 22 July 1831, 23 Jan., 20 Feb. 1832.14 Orford had 246 houses, paid £135 in assessed taxes and was placed 32nd in the list of boroughs to be disfranchised under the revised reform bill of December 1831. Its enactment deprived the corporation of its political purpose in 1832, but the proprietary influence of the Seymour Conways over the borough continued.15
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 17, 46, 47
- 2. Ibid. 17.
- 3. W. White, Suff. Dir. (1844), 165, 166; PP (1835), xxvi. 434.
- 4. PP (1835), xxvi. 433, 435.
- 5. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 374.
- 6. Suff. RO (Ipswich), Aldeburgh borough recs. EE5/8/35, 36; Belfast News Letter, 25 Feb.; Dublin Weekly Reg. 4, 11 Mar.; Ipswich Jnl. 11 Mar. 1820; Add. 60286, f. 201.
- 7. The Times, 20 Apr. 1821; Arbuthnot Jnl. i. 136-8, 149-53; Aldeburgh borough recs. EE5/8/37.
- 8. Eg. 3263, f. 142; Derbys. RO, Gresley of Drakelow mss D77/37/9; Add. 60286, f. 261; Aldeburgh borough recs. EE5/8/56.
- 9. Add. 38301, ff. 208, 209; 40350, ff. 28, 30.
- 10. Add. 40351, f. 160.
- 11. Add. 60286, f. 253; 60287, 194-210; The Times, 2 July 1822, 6, 20, 22, 27, 30 June 1826.
- 12. Add. 60287, f. 253; 60288, ff. 37, 110, 107, 116, 128-51; Wellington mss WP1/955/17.
- 13. Add. 60288, ff. 110, 133, 156; Wellington mss WP1/977/18; 1034/28.
- 14. Add. 60288, ff. 372, 383, 417, 440; The Times, 23 July 1831.
- 15. PP (1835), xxvi. 434; Add. 60289, ff. 27, 54, 70.