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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

92,1 rising to a ‘probable number’ of 150 in 1831.2

Number of voters:

138 in 1830


538 (1821); 663 (1831)3


30 July 1822EDWARD GEORGE GEOFFREY SMITH STANLEY vice Joseph Foster Barham, vacated his seat 
 Sir Rufane Shawe Donkin34
 Andrew Colville34
 John Foster Barham65
 William Foster Barham64

Main Article

          I’ll sing you a song of a comical town
          Though its boundary’s small yet great its renown.
          For eating and drinking and voting well fam’d
          And the place from its bridges has Stockbridge been named.4

So began an anonymous verse dated 1822 and addressed to the patron of this notoriously venal and corrupt borough, which had narrowly escaped punitive action by the Commons in 1694 and 1793. Oldfield’s assertion that electors continued to be paid 60 guineas for a vote up to 1820 is corroborated by later evidence.5 A ‘small and inconsiderable market town’ in the Test valley, 16 miles north of Southampton, Stockbridge had little to distinguish it except the races held there every June, though, borough intrigues aside, some evidence has emerged of political activity.6 A meeting was held to oppose alteration of the corn laws, 9 Feb., and the resulting petition reached both Houses, 24 Feb. 1826. A petition from local landowners against wool imports was presented to the Commons, 7 May 1828, and an inhabitants’ petition complaining of economic distress was presented by George Wilbraham, 17 Mar. 1830. A petition from a Dissenting congregation for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 28 Mar. 1831.7

By 1820 Joseph Foster Barham of Trecwn, Pembrokeshire, and Stockbridge House had become the main proprietor in the borough, having bought out his co-patron and colleague George de Hochepied (formerly Porter), who retired at that year’s dissolution. He had jibbed at the initial asking price of £18,000 and in the end paid a reported £10,000 for de Hochepied’s share.8 Prior to this, he had strengthened his position by purchasing property worth about £13,000 from Sir Charles Mill in 1815, and by financing the construction of a new town hall.9 A report circulated before the 1820 general election that the 3rd earl of Portsmouth, seated at nearby Hurstbourne Park, would ‘attempt to obtain one of the seats for the borough’ was probably without foundation. A subsequent list showed that his family owned only a handful of houses in the town and at the same election their far stronger interest in nearby Andover was allowed to lapse.10 Nothing disturbed the quiet return of Foster Barham and his eldest son John, though evidently there were rumblings of discontent at his failure to pay the electors, which he afterwards blamed on fears of disfranchisement, explaining that ‘unless the custom had been broken off (at least, once) the borough would have been lost’.11 His sudden discovery of scruple coincided with a sharp fall in the value of his West Indian estate, which, as he later admitted, was responsible for his decision to sell his Stockbridge property to the 2nd Earl Grosvenor in 1822.12 (As Foster Barham had lately acted with opposition, sale to a Whig peer was not the dereliction of political principle portrayed by one text on the unreformed system.)13 According to the valuation carried out by Grosvenor’s agent, 21 June 1822, the estate was worth £91,494, including £38,000 for the ‘political interest’.14 Charles Long*, the paymaster-general, heard that the sale price was £70,000, but still considered it a ‘good bargain’ for the vendor, and according to Grosvenor’s account the eventual sum paid between 1823 and 1825 was £81,509.15 The agreement was signed, 21 July 1822, and Foster Barham vacated his seat three days later in favour of Edward Smith Stanley, whose father Lord Stanley* had gratefully accepted Grosvenor’s ‘kind proposal’ to return him.16 The retiring Member introduced his successor, who addressed the electors ‘in a speech of some length and ... eloquence’ and was returned unopposed, commencing a political career that culminated in three spells as prime minister. A squib writer complained that the voters again went unpaid and lamented the passing of a ‘golden age’.17

Smith Stanley later thanked Foster Barham for ‘the kindness you showed me at the time of the Stockbridge election’.18 Such bonhomie was rarely in evidence thereafter, as the sale of the borough ran into difficulties. It had been due for completion by the end of 1822, but the parties were still in dispute over details, such as the furniture and fittings of Stockbridge House, in August 1823.19 Grosvenor may have felt secure enough in the borough with the property thus far conveyed, which gave him control of 54 votes out of 92, with 25 apparently listed as independent and the rest unclassified.20 But soon afterwards, according to an 1826 legal submission by his agents

from some motives which it is impossible to assign any other reason except a wish to obtain further pecuniary advantage, Mr. Barham ... commenced a system of direct opposition to the interests he had transferred ... and he has ever since been endeavouring by every means in his power to annoy his lordship and thwart his views.21

Foster Barham later blamed his actions on Grosvenor’s decision to exclude a portion of the estate from the sale, in the full understanding, so he claimed, that he might do as he pleased with his residual interest.22 In February 1825 Grosvenor made him a belated offer for the outstanding property, which then appears to have amounted to no more than ten houses. Foster Barham chose instead to maximize his nuisance potential by means of purchases from other freeholders and by initiating a high-density building programme. When a sale of his holding was eventually contemplated after the Reform Act, it comprised ‘near fifty’ houses.23 He also attempted to gain sway over the poor law overseers, who controlled admissions to the rate book and hence the scot and lot franchise. In May 1824 he sought to oust the long serving incumbents, Thomas Evans and William Attwood (his former agent) on the dubious ground of incapacity. After a poll of the vestry had returned Evans by a majority of 35-17 over one McKay, Foster Barham’s candidate, he appealed in May to the quarter sessions, which upheld the election. At the sessions in January 1825 he again tried unsuccessfully to have them removed, and having secured a mandamus from king’s bench, he made another vain attempt in April.24 One of the justices who heard the final appeal was William Sloane Stanley of Paultons, Hampshire, subsequently Grosvenor’s nominee, who had promised his future patron to make the ‘utmost exertions in favour of Messrs. Attwood and Evans’, 30 Mar. 1825.25

Foster Barham enjoyed better fortune in his efforts to secure the bailiff, who performed the function of borough returning officer. Crucial to this was his purchase of the manor of Stockbridge from the crown in February 1824, which was apparently arranged through the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, Lord Bexley.26 By custom, the borough constable was annually elected at the manor court leet in April by a jury of the inhabitants called by his predecessor, who thereupon succeeded to the office of bailiff. In his own notes, Foster Barham derided this system as a self-perpetuating nonsense and usurpation of manorial rights.27 A hostile, but apparently accurate account states that as lord of the manor, he attempted simply to nominate the bailiff at the court leet in April 1824. This was disputed, and the inhabitants’ rights upheld by a judgment of king’s bench. Foster Barham responded by ensuring that the 1825 court leet jury was packed with his partisans, who duly selected his candidate for the bailiffship, one Cooper. Grosvenor’s agents once more resorted to the law, but although king’s bench ordered a fresh election in December, the jury then summoned was no less partial than its predecessor. Before the court leet held in April 1826, a letter signed by 59 of the 92 rated inhabitants was sent to Charles Bishop, the constable, demanding a fair selection of jurors. In the event, the single Grosvenor supporter summoned was ‘so deaf as to be incapable of hearing anything that is said to him’, but still managed to register a lone protest against Bishop’s elevation to the post of bailiff. Grosvenor’s agent John Jones warned that further court proceedings could be expected, but despite the backing legal opinion for such action, none transpired. Thomas Wilde*, the authority consulted, noted that many of the compliant jurors were ‘in a very low state of life’, a comment echoed by Foster Barham, who complained bitterly in private memoranda of the demands of his ‘workshy’ tenants.28

Although Foster Barham announced that he had ‘no electioneering object to carry’ during the rumours of a dissolution in September 1825, he accused Grosvenor of harassing voters ‘suspected of the least independent feeling’ in April 1826, and warned that nothing would induce him to relinquish his interest in the borough.29 At the 1826 general election he duly sponsored the opposition to Grosvenor’s candidates, and he was unmoved when one of them, the peer’s cousin Thomas Grosvenor, urged him to desist with the observation that his conduct had become the ‘topic of the clubs and the whole town’, 1 June.30 Grosvenor’s other candidate, his Cheshire neighbour George Wilbraham, reported a successful canvass in an undated letter and assured his patron that the ‘Hampshire gentlemen’ solicited to stand in the opposite interest ‘could not have a shadow of a chance’.31 Foster Barham’s initial candidates, who were in fact outsiders, were Sir Rufane Shaw Donkin, a retired general (and Liberal Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed, 1832-7, and Sandwich, 1839-41), and Douglas Kinnaird, a London banker, who had sat as a Whig for Bishop’s Castle, 1819-20. The latter withdrew after a preliminary canvass and was replaced by Andrew Colville, a merchant of Leadenhall Street, London. A newspaper reported the lavish provision by both parties of ‘costly viands and choice liquors’ as the election approached.32 At the nomination the show of hands was for Grosvenor and Wilbraham and a poll was demanded by Donkin and Colville, who threatened a petition if they lost. This betrayed their recognition that outright victory was unlikely, though they were ahead by a single vote at the close on the second day. The picture altered on the third, when 30 polled for Grosvenor and Wilbraham, and seven for Donkin and Colville, who then retired. The Grosvenor candidates were duly returned after polling a further three votes the next day, with claims of more in reserve. They afterwards dined at the Grosvenor Arms, where ‘the utmost cordiality and good humour’ prevailed, and the celebrations continued at Stockbridge races the following day. No record of the polling survives, but it seems likely that the votes were divided along strict partisan lines. The length of the proceedings can be safely ascribed to the adjudication of disputed votes, as both sides employed scrutineers. Although the returning officer rejected 11 votes for Grosvenor and Wilbraham, as against two for their opponents, Foster Barham’s control over him did not prove decisive.33

After the election there was an attempt to reach a settlement, in which Admiral Sir Charles Hamilton of Iping, Sussex, acted as mediator. Grosvenor, though insistent that he had been ‘ill used’ over the Stockbridge purchase, was willing to make a required disavowal of remarks attributed to himself and his agent concerning his opponent. But he appeared to tire of the protracted exchange over the form of words this should take and broke off the negotiation in November 1826.34 This was the signal for the defeated candidates to lodge their threatened petition, 5 Dec., which alleged bribery, treating, and irregularities in the admission of votes. Foster Barham agreed to meet all costs, despite legal advice that it was unlikely to succeed, and after a deferral, the sitting Members were declared duly elected, 9 May 1827.35 Grosvenor retaliated with a criminal indictment of Foster Barham for bribery, which eventually came to court at Winchester, 5 Mar. 1830. Here he faced the testimony of two former agents, Attwood and Strangways, and two other voters, that he had promised several electors before the previous general election to revive the ‘old thing’, meaning a gratuity of 60 guineas, and had paid half this sum afterwards. The prosecution argued that he had only discontinued this tradition to make the borough saleable and had frankly acknowledged that a fresh conviction for bribery could prove fatal to its existence. Foster Barham was acquitted after the reliability of witnesses was called into question, but although the attorney-general, Sir James Scarlett*, who appeared on his behalf, dismissed their evidence as ‘conjecture’, he went so far as to admit that bribery had been prevalent in the borough ‘to a very great extent ... and he hoped that the franchise of Stockbridge would be taken away, as he had no doubt it would be’.36 With the similar cases of East Retford and Penryn still pending, however, no legislation was ever introduced. In the meantime Foster Barham prepared for another contest. Peter Lee, a Winchester attorney, was contracted in March 1829 to ‘attend at Stockbridge once a week for the purpose of learning such matters as may occur’ and to report to John Barham (as he was usually known), who had taken over supervision of most of his ailing father’s borough affairs.37 Another agent, William Wetton, informed Barham in January 1830 that their supporters were ‘well satisfied’ with their gifts of bread, beer and coals, and boasted on 27 Apr. that he had dealt with a challenge to the legality of his election as bailiff by the simple expedient of ignoring it. On 9 May 1830 he flattered his employer that their partisans ‘would be proud to see you as one of the candidates for this borough’.38

At the 1830 general election Barham duly came forward with his brother William. Grosvenor gave his interest once more to Wilbraham, and also to Sloane Stanley. Their supporters were ‘regaled with a dinner at each of [Grosvenor’s] houses’, and at the end of July it was reported that all the candidates were ‘canvassing at intervals, but the electors continue to be backward in promising their votes’.39 There was an acrimonious war of words, in which the Barhams’ protestation that they would ‘never ... desert a place with which they have been connected from their earliest infancy’ was derided by their opponents, who recalled how their father had ‘determined to quit the borough’ in 1822 and accused them of mounting a canvass ‘when the remains of our late beloved monarch were scarcely cold’.40 Wilbraham and Sloane Stanley, always ‘confident of ultimate success’, won a narrow victory after a three-day poll of 138 voters, by far the highest total in the borough’s history, and strongly suggestive that vote manufacturing had taken place on both sides. Apart from a plumper each for Wilbraham and John Barham, the polling appears to have been strictly divided between the two camps.41

In their victory address, Wilbraham and Sloane Stanley congratulated the electors on their fortitude in withstanding

the shameful solicitations of those who would have seduced you from your promises and made you as contemptible as themselves. The baseness of such conduct is too notorious to draw any comment from us; their actions have been before the public, in whose estimation they have been weighed and properly judged.

An enraged John Barham demanded that Grosvenor discipline the agent responsible for this, and extracted disclaimers from Wilbraham and, more grudgingly, Sloane Stanley, which were published.42 Meanwhile Wetton busied himself ‘trying in every shape to find out something that may be the means of throwing the election, but as the parties are so close and so much on their guard we are obliged to act with the greatest caution’, 23 Aug.43 His researches bore fruit and a petition was lodged against the return by four electors, citing ‘open and extensive’ bribery and the admission of bad votes, and alleging that Grosvenor tenants who voted against his wishes ‘were immediately after the election served with notices to quit their houses’, 16 Nov. A specific charge was that an overseer had arranged bogus employment to qualify paupers to vote for Grosvenor’s candidates, whilst at the same time denying admission to the rate book to bone fide Barham supporters, whose scope for redress was limited by the presence of Sloane Stanley on the bench. The election committee confirmed the Members in their seats, 9 Mar. 1831.44 The borough did not escape the unrest of the ‘Swing’ riots. Wetton reported the neighbourhood to be ‘in a state of revolt’, 23 Nov. 1830, when an assembly of labourers in the town extorted beer and money from a publican before being dispersed by a troop of soldiers.45 Wilbraham supported and Sloane Stanley opposed the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Stockbridge was scheduled to lose both its Members. On 26 Mar. 1831 an inhabitants’ meeting against the measure, mainly attended by labourers, was held at the behest of William Spencer, the bailiff, to draw up a hostile petition, which most of the electors later signed, ‘largely with their mark’. It was opposed by Grosvenor’s steward and appears to have gone no further.46

At the 1831 general election Grosvenor appears to have decided that the borough was no longer worth the trouble and on the morning of the election his voters were reportedly told by his steward that they ‘could do no better’ than to vote for John Barham and Stratford Canning, a diplomat and cousin of the former prime minister.47 Negotiations for the latter’s return were conducted through a ‘Mr. Vizard’, probably William Vizard of Lincoln’s Inn, and the seat supposedly cost the candidate £1,000. To Lord Holland’s enquiry about a possible vacancy, Foster Barham had replied that the matter had been thus settled, 26 Apr.48 That day, however, Wetton was concerned to report the arrival of two anti-reform candidates, Lord Bingham, Tory Member for County Mayo, 1826-30, and Lord Kirkwall, later 10th earl of Orkney. Perhaps on account of initial misapprehensions that they had Barham’s sanction, the interlopers were reportedly ‘well received’, but after a second visit they retreated. On the hustings, the unopposed candidates declared themselves to be reformers, though Canning deemed the ministerial measure to be ‘much too sweeping’ and both pledged to oppose the disfranchisement of the borough. It was reported that the town ‘presented a far different appearance from that of former elections. The faces of the voters were unusually long, for in all probability this was the last opportunity they would have of returning Members’.49 Despite their assurances, neither Member uttered a word in defence of Stockbridge when its inclusion in schedule A of the reintroduced bill was agreed without a division, 26 July 1831. The returns showed that between 1821 and 1831 the number of houses had risen from 128 to 188, and that they paid assessed taxes of £224. This rapid increase, which did not include 13 houses under construction, was doubtless the result of Foster Barham’s endeavours.50 But even under the new disfranchisement criteria adopted for the revised bill, the town was doomed to lose its status as a parliamentary borough, which was confirmed, 20 Feb. 1832.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon


  • 1. Grosvenor mss box 78/4, list of voters, 1823.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 589.
  • 3. Ibid. 48-49. These figures are for the borough only. The town’s population was 715 (1821) and 851 (1831).
  • 4. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 5.
  • 5. Oldfield, Key (1820), 57-58; The Times, 8 Mar. 1830.
  • 6. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 474-5; VCH Hants, iv. 483.
  • 7. Salisbury Jnl. 13 Feb. 1826; LJ, lviii. 54; CJ, lxxxi. 101; lxxxiii. 327; lxxxv. 189; lxxxvi. 443.
  • 8. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.380, Barham to Porter, 30 May [1819]; Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 7 Aug. [1822].
  • 9. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 1; R.M.T. Hill, ‘Stockbridge Elections’, Pprs. and Procs. of Hants Field Club, xxiii. (1968), 120-7.
  • 10. Hants Telegraph, 14 Feb. 1820; Grosvenor mss box 78/4, list of voters, 1823. See ANDOVER.
  • 11. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 5.
  • 12. See FOSTER BARHAM, Joseph.
  • 13. E. and A. Porritt, Unreformed House of Commons, i. 361.
  • 14. Grosvenor mss 9/11/39.
  • 15. Lonsdale mss, Long to Lonsdale, 7 Aug. [1822]; M. J. Hazellon-Swales, ‘Urban Aristocrats. The Grosvenors and the Development of Begravia and Pimlico in 19th Cent.’ (Univ. of London Ph.D. thesis, 1981), 132.
  • 16. Grosvenor mss 9/11/25, 39.
  • 17. Salisbury Jnl. 5 Aug. 1822; Bodl. Carendon dep. c.369, bdle. 5.
  • 18. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, Stanley to Foster Barham, 9 Apr. [n.d.].
  • 19. Ibid. c.371, Attwood to Foster Barham, 28 Aug. 1823; c. 388, bdle. 2, contract for sale and memo. of delays.
  • 20. Grosvenor mss box 78/4, list of voters 1823.
  • 21. Ibid. case notes on selection of manor court jury, 1826.
  • 22. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 5, address to electors, 19 Apr. 1826.
  • 23. Ibid. bdle. 2; Hill, 127; Grosvenor mss box 78/4, Grosvenor to Foster Barham, 11 Feb. 1825.
  • 24. Hants Chron. 3 May 1824, 18 Apr. 1825; Salisbury Jnl. 24 Jan. 1825.
  • 25. Grosvenor mss 9/13/26.
  • 26. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, bdle. 2, Bexley to Foster Barham, 18 Feb. 1824.
  • 27. Ibid. c.369, bdle. 2.
  • 28. Ibid.; Grosvenor mss box 78/4, case notes.
  • 29. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdles. 2, 5.
  • 30. Ibid. c.388, bdle. 2, c.430, bdle. 2.
  • 31. Grosvenor mss 9/13/53.
  • 32. Hants Chron. 22 May 1826.
  • 33. Ibid. 19 June; Salisbury Jnl. 19 June; Hants Telegraph, 19 June 1826.
  • 34. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.388, bdle. 1, Hamilton to Foster Barham, 23 Nov., and passim; c.430, Grosvenor to same, 15, 18, 19 July 1826.
  • 35. Ibid. c.370, bdle. 4; CJ, lxxxii. 88-90, 121, 444.
  • 36. The Times, 8 Mar. 1830.
  • 37. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.370, bdle. 6.
  • 38. Ibid. c.430, bdle. 4.
  • 39. Portsmouth Herald, 18 July, 1 Aug. 1830.
  • 40. Hants Chron. 2 Aug. 1830.
  • 41. Ibid. 9 Aug. 1830; PP (1830-1), x. 103.
  • 42. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.369, bdle. 6.
  • 43. Ibid. c.430, bdle. 4.
  • 44. CJ, lxxxvi. 91-92, 353.
  • 45. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.430, bdle. 4.
  • 46. Portsmouth Herald, 3 Apr. 1831.
  • 47. Ibid. 8 May 1831.
  • 48. S. Lane-Poole, Life of Stratford Canning, ii. 10; Add. 51836.
  • 49. Bodl. Clarendon dep. c.430, bdle. 4; Portsmouth Herald, 8 May 1831.
  • 50. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 48-49, 136, 176.