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

Estimated number qualified to vote:

1,000 in 18311

Number of voters:

730 in 18262


3,950 (1821); 4,667 (1831)


 John Rawlings259
13 June 1826JOHN WILKS II619
 Charles Ogilvy203
9 Apr. 1828JOHN NORMAN MACLEOD vice Wilks, vacated his seat368
 John Abel Smith320
30 Apr. 1831SIR JOHN BENN WALSH, bt.544
 William Windham239

Main Article

The open and venal burgh of Sudbury, where the freemen had been polled at every opportunity since 1747, was situated on the Suffolk bank of the River Stour, which separated it from its suburb of Ballingdon in Essex. Famous for centuries for its woollens and bunting, it benefited in the early nineteenth century from the high labour costs in Spitalfields, whose silk manufacturers took advantage of its pool of skilled labour and good communications with London and the east coast to establish velvet, silk and satin factories in the town. As the Stour was navigable by barge, there were also substantial trades in coal, corn and malt.3 Power was vested locally in the parish vestries of All Saints, St. Peter and St. Gregory, and a corporation comprising a mayor (the returning officer), recorder, bailiff, town clerk, six other aldermen and a common council of 24.4 Until 1833, when quo warranto proceedings instigated by ‘that pettifogging rascal Gooday the tax gatherer ... to blow up the whole corporation’ confirmed the right of all freemen to vote, the mayor was elected annually by the corporation at Michaelmas ‘with the assent of 24 freeholders’.5 Freedom of the borough was obtained by birth (only the Sudbury-born sons of existing freemen were so qualified), by serving a seven-year apprenticeship to a freeman in the borough, or by purchase.6 In December 1831 Edmund Stedman, town clerk since 1823, estimated that 620 of Sudbury’s 1,000 freemen were resident, as were 60 per cent of those polled in 1826, 1828 and 1831.7 Freemen had to reside in Sudbury to acquire trading and shackage rights but no residence qualification applied to the parliamentary franchise. The electorate had a high degree of political awareness, reinforced by religious traditions and at clubs and dinners in London and Sudbury.8 Elections, however, tended to be determined by largesse and pre-poll freeman admissions financed by the rival candidates, which peaked during or in anticipation of contests in 1818 (126), 1820 (30), 1826 (130), 1828 (48), 1830 (44) and 1831 (24).9 Between elections, 95 per cent of admissions were of tradesmen, who, if not otherwise qualified, were charged 30 guineas or fined three shillings a week as ‘foreigners’. The corporation earned £233 annually from the scheme, which was sanctioned under an 1813 by-law and declared illegal in 1833.10 For partisan purposes and at elections the freemen were managed as three distinct groups: residents, London freemen and other out-voters. Most out-voters lived in Braintree, Chelmsford and Colchester and were canvassed en route between London and Sudbury. There were also small but significant groups in Bury St. Edmunds and Ipswich.11

In the 1820s the predominantly Tory corporation habitually returned one Member and carried most influence at elections, but the size and venality of the electorate precluded tight political control and a tripartite system of the ‘corporation’, the ‘Dissenters’, and the ‘low party’ operated. Vestiges remained of the treasury’s influence in the mid-eighteenth century and the more recent interests created by William Windham†, the nabob Sir John Coxe Hippisley†, the borough’s recorder until his death in 1825, and Sir Philip de Crespigny†; but Sudbury defied long-term management by a patron and more votes were swayed by the silk manufacturer Alexander Duff, the physician Sir Lachlan Maclean, the tax surveyor and inspector of corn returns John Chrisp Gooday and the Goody and Barker families who marshalled the ‘low party’.12 Testifying before the municipal corporations commissioners in March 1834, Gooday, a liberal and self-styled defender of freemen’s rights, stated that the low party depended upon small traders, artisans and labourers for support, and maintained that the corporation was a ‘mere political instrument’ dominated by Stedman: ‘no person whom he disapproved stood any chance of being elected a Member’.13

The sitting Members since 1818, John Broadhurst of Foston Hall, Derbyshire, and the financier and London alderman William Heygate, each sent £100 for the poor when George IV was proclaimed in February 1820.14 Both had pursued an independent line in Parliament, and while this was enough to secure Heygate, who spent £8,000 in the borough between 1818 and 1826, continued support as the corporation’s candidate, Broadhurst stood down at the dissolution. According to the London brewer Charles Barclay*, who declined their invitation, this left the ‘purple and orange’ with ‘no Member ready’.15 The ensuing contest, which was poorly reported, but smacks of collusion, was for the second seat and between the wealthy Swedenborgian Charles Augustus Tulk, who entered politics as a means of addressing social issues, among them the use of child labour in factories and criminal law reform, and one John Rawlings, probably a London barrister, who desisted after a two-day poll, during which only 21 freemen, all resident, were admitted.16 On 26 May 1820 the corporation adopted a loyal address to George IV.17

Defying the authorities, the radical vicar of All Saints, the Rev. Thorpe William Fowke, procured a loyal address from the inhabitants to Queen Caroline, embellished with locally produced fringing and satin, and presented it attired in full canonical dress, 25 Oct. 1820.18 The corporation refused to convene a borough meeting in November, when proceedings against the queen were abandoned, but they failed to prevent illuminations, bellringing and processions, and 712 signed a privately adopted petition and addresses regretting her prosecution and calling for the restoration of her name to the liturgy. Heygate, whose stance on the issue was closely watched in the City and by the parliamentary opposition, presented the petition, 24 Jan., and Fowke the addresses, 30 Jan., 10, 26 Feb. 1821.19 Sudbury’s London freemen addressed her independently through her partisan, the London alderman Matthew Wood*, 22 Jan.20 On the 17th the corporation sent an address to the king deploring attempts by ‘factious and unprincipled men’ to diffuse ‘insubordination and discontent’ through the ‘dissemination of seditious, malignant and blasphemous libels’.21 Fowke, ‘in full canonicals’, headed a Sudbury delegation to join the queen’s funeral procession at Colchester in August 1821.22 Petitions against the Whig lawyer Henry Brougham’s abortive education bill were received by the Commons, 9 May 1821, from the Dissenters, who objected to restricting employment as parish schoolmasters to practising Church of England members, and the guardians of the poor, who complained that it placed an unsustainable additional burden on the poor rates.23 Anti-Catholicism, like Dissent, was deeply entrenched in Sudbury and the corporation, certain clergy and inhabitants variously petitioned both Houses against Catholic claims in 1821 and 1825.24 The importance of silk, and the threats perceived to the trade from the 1822 warehousing bill and the repeal of the Spitalfields Acts in 1823, were acknowledged by both Members (Heygate failed to kill the latter by adjournment, 11 June 1823). Petitions for protective tariffs were received by the Commons from the working silk weavers, 21 May 1823, and the Sudbury trade generally, 8 Mar. 1824.25 Others called for repeal of the coastwise coal duties, 22 Mar. 1823.26 The licensed victuallers and innkeepers petitioned against the alehouse licensing bill, 25 Mar., 24 May 1824.27 Anti-slavery petitions adopted by the corporation, clergy and inhabitants were presented to both Houses, 28 Apr. 1823, 16 Mar. 1824, 12, 28 Feb. 1826.28

Local opposition to the Sudbury improvement bill, which received royal assent, 20 May 1825, was stirred up by freemen jealous of their grazing and shackage rights, who also demolished property encroaching on them belonging to Gooday and William Stammers Button.29 Tulk was fêted when he and the barrister George Walker, Hippisley’s successor as recorder, hosted a corporation dinner for 70 at the Rose and Crown in October 1825. He declared his intention of standing at the next election, but the Dissenters were clearly displeased with his idiosyncratic cross-party stance and his refusal to commit himself on any issue, including Catholic relief.30 False reports of smallpox at Sudbury were circulated that month ‘as a joke’ to keep potential candidates away, but they failed to deter the London attorney John Wilks II, who was anxious to secure parliamentary privilege before the inevitable collapse of the joint-stock companies he had floated following the repeal of the Bubble Act. He arrived in style and commenced canvassing, 17 Oct.31 The scion of an influential Dissenting family (his grandfather Matthew Wilks was the minister of Whitfield’s Tabernacle in London’s Tottenham Court Road, and his father, John Wilks I*, was the secretary of the Protestant Society for the Protection of Religious Liberty), Wilks informed the London freemen at the Angel and Crown, Whitechapel, that he had started canvassing directly he heard that Heygate, who was in France visiting his ailing father, would stand down at the dissolution. He confirmed, when challenged, that he was prepared for a poll.32 Casting a ‘net calculated to catch all sorts of fish’, Wilks introduced new party colours (red and white), which gave work for the weavers, insisted that he was ‘not a Tory, a Whig or a radical’, declared his attachment to the established church ‘because he believed in its doctrines and approved of its discipline ... tolerance and liberality towards all sects of Christians’ and praised the Dissenters. He cautioned against conceding more than freedom of worship to the Catholics, so causing Daniel O’Connell* and the Catholic Association to denounce him publicly, 30 Nov. 1825, which in turn assisted his canvass.33 He launched and advertised the prospectus for the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex Railway Company that month, promised legislation for their Ipswich-London line, and ‘waited on’ the London, Braintree and Chelmsford freemen before Christmas, when, as Sudbury’s ‘plum-pudding Jack’, he provided dinners for the needy and schoolchildren and bent the rules on treating by establishing a monthly club.34 An open letter from a resident freeman, J.C., to his ‘brother in London’, however, warned against premature commitment:

For who knows, but a richer [man] may come ... I think we shall make a much better thing of it than at the last election, for our new candidate appears very free with his money; and if the raps do but net uprightly, I am sure £40 each at least will be offered for our votes.

The Suffolk Chronicle commented that Wilks would ‘be an adept at humbug, when he has acquired the art of concealing it’.35 A ‘true blue’ barrister on the northern circuit, Benjamin Rotch†, who shared Tulk’s Newfoundland mercantile connections, paid Sudbury a generous new year visit in 1826, appealed to the corporation Tories and established a committee at the Swan in the ‘dark blue and orange’ interest. However, he remained ‘unpopular with the mob’ for ‘not bleeding freely’.36 Even after Tulk announced his retirement, 16 Feb., Rotch was referred to as a stalking horse for Heygate, who had provided coal for the poor as usual and was kept informed of developments by the mayor Thomas Musgrave. Heygate delayed announcing his retirement until the dissolution in June.37 Before Wilks and Rotch resumed their personal canvass in April, Bethell Walrond, a young Devonshire squire with Antiguan connections was requisitioned, and newspapers announced that the Norfolk, Suffolk and Essex Railroad Company, a ‘joint-stock abomination’, had insufficient funds ‘at present’ to meet the costs of legislation to sanction the construction of the Ipswich line.38 Further reports of the perilous state of Wilks’s business interests appeared before the general election in June, when the lavishness of Walrond’s late canvass for the ‘light blues’ unnerved Rotch, who had restricted his spending to £2-3,000.39 ‘A few days before the election’, the treasury secretary Lushington promised John Macarthur (1767-1834), father of the future commissioner for New South Wales, the ‘government interest, if I would go down’ and spend ‘no more than £2-3,000’.40 He declined, but another newcomer, Charles Ogilvy of Sunbury, Surrey, clerk of the bills of London and the out-ports, arrived on 6 June, following his defeat at East Retford.41 According to the Suffolk Chronicle, he addressed the populace from the Bear, sported green, and ‘was of liberal principles’. Walrond also supported ‘free trade’, ‘cheaper bread’ and ‘liberty in all its branches’, and wisely declared that he was ‘no longer’ favourable to Catholic relief and had always opposed slavery, but some potential supporters remained unconvinced. Except for ‘No Popery’, the election was described as ‘not political’.42 Wilks’s muster at the nomination, 12 June, when he was proposed and seconded by William Jones of Woodhall and ‘[John] Murrells the vet’, ‘disappointed ... friends and foes’, and children from the National School waving red flags served to lengthen his procession. The rector of Conrad, the Rev. William Pochin, and the surgeon W.B. Smith introduced Ogilvy. Colonel Thomas Addison of Chilton Hall and the surgeon George Lewis, both Whigs, sponsored Walrond.43 Wilks’s lack of ready money delayed the transport hired for his London voters, but even so, he led throughout the two-day poll (12, 13 June).44 Rotch ‘disappeared’ shortly before the nomination and the Tory hierarchy transferred their allegiance to Ogilvy, who reputedly spent £16,000.45 However, the inexperienced Walrond, who bribed on a scale of £5-20 a man, also benefited by Rotch’s departure and easily prevailed in the struggle for second place, and Ogilvy, who promised to petition, claimed on the hustings that he had ‘bought off’ Rotch.46 According to John Bull:

Ogilvy was the rallying point of the church and king voters, after the retirement of Mr. Rotch, and had the latter gentleman acted fairly to his supporters, he would have communicated his intentions to them and have thus saved his party from the dilemma in which they were placed ... Rotch fled late on Sunday evening, so that although ... Ogilvy was at his post and immediately took the field, as the election commenced the next morning there was no time to concentrate the loyal forces.47

Of the 730 polled (420 from Sudbury, 155 from London and 155 out-voters), 143 plumped (56 for Wilks, 44 for Walrond and 43 for Ogilvy) and 587 (80 per cent) split their votes. Eighty-five per cent gave a vote for Wilks, 67 for Walrond and 28 for Ogilvy. Wilks shared 426 votes (322 from Sudbury and 104 others) with Walrond (69 and 87 per cent of their respective totals) and 137 (94 from Sudbury and 43 others) with Ogilvy (22 and 67 per cent of their respective totals). Splitting between Walrond and Ogilvy was rare and there was little variation in the voting behaviour of ‘old’ and ‘new’ freemen. Of the 120 admitted on 10 and 12 June 1826, 13 plumped (seven for Wilks, four for Ogilvy, two for Walrond) 70 voted for Wilks and Walrond, 29 for Wilks and Ogilvy, two for Ogilvy and Walrond and six did not poll. Significantly, all but two of Sudbury’s 118 freeman weavers and all 12 weaver ‘out-voters’ gave a vote for Wilks.48

As the poll closed, Walrond received a summons for unlawful gambling, and with prosecutions pending neither he nor Wilks fulfilled their ‘financial obligations’ to the freemen, who, in addition to travel expenses for out-voters, the purchase of sundry goods at outrageous prices and the usual ‘wining and dining’, expected four guineas for a single vote, or two guineas from each Member for split votes, to be paid ‘as soon as a Member is seated’. London freemen claimed three pounds for travel - 30s. each way.49 The ‘bubble had burst’ for Wilks when John Duce chaired a meeting of the London freemen at the Angel and Crown, 26 Sept. 1826, which carried a vote of censure criticizing the London committee and the silk manufacturer Isaac Duce, who, as he had first introduced Wilks, was responsible for obtaining ‘their dues’. Setting the latter aside, they resolved to petition the Commons claiming that they had backed Wilks as a respectable attorney ‘countenanced and supported in various joint stock companies by Members of both Houses ... by gentlemen in high office under the crown and by bankers and merchants of the City’, and requesting ‘rigorous inquiry’ into his qualifications to ‘take or hold a seat in the House’ and ‘into the various joint-stock companies devised by him, which appear to the meeting to have been of a more censurable description than those for which, in former times, several Members were expelled from their seats’.50 Responding, Wilks accused the ‘London electors’ of conspiracy, and he and Walrond issued letters denying any collusion with Rotch.51 Fearing that Ogilvy would be substituted for Wilks (‘and then where were the freemen to get their expenses from?’), the London freemen prevaricated, 9 Oct., but decided to proceed with their petition, 23 Oct., and allowed a further fortnight for collecting signatures.52 They declared that an explanatory letter of 31 Oct., attributed to Wilks, was ‘as false as God’s name is true’, 6 Nov. The petition was presented by Alderman Waithman, 5 Dec., but a technicality (Wilks and other interested parties had not been notified in advance) prevented its being printed.53 Ogilvy’s first petition, presented, 4 Dec. 1826, alleged irregularities by Musgrave and treating by Walrond, including purchasing Rotch’s interest, and risked voiding the entire election. On 8 Feb. 1827 it was abandoned in favour of Ogilvy’s second petition, also presented on 5 Dec., alleging bribery by Walrond and an undue return. A committee chaired by Lord Milton found its allegations unproven and confirmed the election of the sitting Members, 13 Mar. 1827.54

Revelations of electoral corruption and the prospect of a by-election had motivated the radical Middlesex reformer Colonel Leslie Grove Jones to advertise his intention of standing to ‘reform the borough’, 5 Dec. 1826. His notices called additionally for retrenchment, lower taxes, a metallic currency, free trade, repeal of the corn laws and the gradual abolition of slavery and all monopolies. He promised to refrain from advocating Catholic emancipation, although he supported it, ‘knowing that Sudbury did not’.55 In the winter of 1826-7 the borough was brokered in London to likely candidates, among them the ministerialist laird of Skye, John Norman Macleod, an anti-Catholic Tory previously defeated in Inverness-shire, who, at the suggestion of the attorney Robert Broughton, whose services he had previously engaged in vain in 1826, went on an exploratory visit.56 He remarked that he ‘had the good fortune to find three or four honest men here among a nest of devils’, and concluded that ‘the thing might have been managed by a coup de main but part of the machinery went wrong and prevented my seizing the place by surprise’.57 Wilks’s departure for the continent in March 1828 to escape his creditors gave Macleod, who was alerted to it by another rogue, his brother-in-law Rowland Stephenson*, his opportunity. He arranged to pay Wilks for a letter applying for the stewardship of the Chiltern Hundreds, so effectively gaining control of the writ, which was applied for on 1 Apr., after he had commenced his canvass.58 Not surprisingly, he was dogged by allegations of collusion with Wilks, and the London freemen at the White Hart, Bishopsgate, proved particularly difficult to manage. Heygate and Jones declined requisitions, but the late intervention of John Abel Smith*, the pro-reform, pro-Catholic son of the Whig banker John Smith*, who spent £3-4,000, heralded another ‘No Popery’ election, which this time was ‘decidedly political’.59 Abused as a Scot, supported by his fellow countrymen Maclean and the surgeon Robert Anderson, Macleod failed to win over the Tories until Smith’s promise to uphold freemen’s rights brought them into line. Smith, for whom the liberals and Dissenters organized by the Allens and Green the bricklayer rallied at George Archer’s Swan inn, was reluctant to declare on Catholic relief. Squibs ridiculed Smith as a ‘beardless boy whom his father may think fit to furnish with cash for an Easter holiday’, but who should be ‘sent back to that sink of sedition, his native Nottingham’.60 Macleod’s proposers Pochin and Anderson emphasized his connections with ministers through his brother-in-law Spencer Perceval*, and his opposition to free trade and Catholic relief. Appealing to the weavers, Smith’s sponsors Musgrave and Addison eulogized him as a ‘friend of commerce’ and opponent of slavery. The handbills paraded depicted a contest between a ‘cheap loaf’ and ‘corn bill men’, and the ‘poor man’s friend’ and ‘Scotch Sky’. The irony of the Presbyterian Macleod being supported by the corporation churchmen, and the churchman Smith by the Dissenters was also highlighted.61 Four-hundred-and-twenty-six freemen polled on the first day and 262 on the second when Macleod was declared the victor by 48 votes, 9 Apr.62 The Bury and Suffolk Herald claimed that the Tory majority would have been a hundred had not Smith’s supporters closed the poll prematurely. It defined the contest as

a complete struggle for superiority between the church and Dissenting interests ... Smith being supported by the latter, with the exception of ‘one highly respected individual’ [Musgrave], whom the Whigs have coaxed into their ranks by the most fulsome flattery ... It resembles the slobbering of the serpent that first licks the victim it wishes to devour.63

Thirty-five freemen (including 24 from Sudbury) were admitted on the hustings over three days. Directly the poll closed, the corporation, who with the inhabitants had petitioned both Houses against Catholic relief, 5, 6 Mar. 1827, engrossed and forwarded another, for which signatures were collected during the election, to the Members and Lord Eldon for presentation.64 Lord Nugent presented a counter-petition from the freemen favourable to relief to the Commons, 19 May 1828.65 Six-hundred-and-eighty-eight freemen were polled: 410 (60 per cent) from Sudbury, 145 (21 per cent) from London and 133 (19 per cent) out-voters. Macleod, who spent £5,000, secured the Sudbury vote by 223-187 and the London vote by 85-60. The out-voters favoured Smith by 73-60, and the resident freeman weavers by 49-39.66

Anti-slavery petitions from the magistrates, clergy and inhabitants were forwarded to the Tory Member for Suffolk, Sir Thomas Gooch, and Lord Calthorpe, and presented to the Commons, 30 May 1828, and the Lords, 14 July 1828.67 Alexander Duff entrusted his petition against the importation of East Indian silks to Macleod, who voted against the customs duties bill at his behest, 14 July 1828, presented the ‘distressed’ Sudbury and Glemsford weavers’ petitions for protection, 6 Apr., and supported inquiry into the silk trade, 13 Apr. 1829.68 The mayor, aldermen and capital burgesses and the ministers, churchwardens and inhabitants of All Saints, St. Peter and St. Gregory sent petitions against the concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829 to both Houses, while certain inhabitants of the town and vicinity petitioned the Commons in its favour, 27 Mar. Presenting the latter, Nugent explained on behalf of Addison that the hostile petition presented to the Commons on the 10th had been ‘carried to the poor house and the work house’; but this was refuted on 6 Apr. in a statement to the House by Macleod, who with Walrond opposed emancipation to the last. The Tory Bury and Suffolk Herald had mocked the pro-emancipation ‘counter-petition’ and warned that a handbill inviting signatures from those ‘interested in the welfare and tranquillity of the country’ was a ‘decoy’.69 Petitions from the bankers and inhabitants for mitigation of the criminal code and abolition of the death penalty for forgery offences were received by the Commons, 24 May, and the Lords, 15, 21 June 1830.70 Linking distress with reform, a petition from the London freemen, presented to the Lords, 9 June 1830, called for ‘such measures as will relieve the country from the grievances arising from the want of influence of the people in the choice of ... Members’.71

Coveting a contest, Sudbury’s electors expressed their usual dissatisfaction with the sitting Members before the dissolution in 1830. Desperate for a seat, the Berkshire Tory Sir John Benn Walsh, whose recent pamphlet on Irish poverty had been well received, set aside his fears over the borough’s venality and his mistrust of the London solicitors William Stephens and William Montriou, who had informed him of the ‘vacancy’ and the probable outlay of £6,000. Leaving his wife, mother and servants to make the necessary background inquiries through Hippisley’s widow and Lord Stamford in London (where all connected with him cautioned against the attempt) and through Pochin locally, Walsh travelled to Sudbury, ‘a clean, retired, quiet town, in a cheerful country’ with a ‘horrid character for venality’, to meet Stedman, Gooday and the corporation party, 28-30 June 1830. It ‘was settled that 2s. 6d. a head should be distributed under the rose to the lower class of freemen’ to drink ‘his health and the king’s’.72 On the advice of Stedman and the linen draper Thomas Goldsmith, Walsh, who conveyed ‘sensitive’ information to his family in Italian, capitalized on being in Sudbury when the dissolution was announced and declared formally, 30 June. He canvassed Duff, ‘an eccentric creature, a man who has raised himself from nothing, vulgar and illiterate, purse proud and consequential, but shrewd, active and inquiring’, and other influential freemen resident locally and arranged to meet the London freemen in Whitechapel, 3 July: ‘a horrid scene of drunkenness, riot, etc., however, they all received me very well, and I was told that no candidate had been ever better treated’.73 The Members and Smith and Heygate, who had been contacted by Musgrave, as mayor, and Green the bricklayer, declined to stand, but by 8 July Walrond had returned to the fray and proposed a coalition with Walsh, who turned him down, involving ‘some underhand trickery’ and ‘a supposition of a third man’. Charles Tower of Weald Hall, Essex considered offering. Maclean was said to be cultivating an interest for the Buckinghamshire squire Sir Harry Verney†. Broadhurst, over whom Walsh’s mother, his near neighbour in Berkshire, had some influence, was expected in Sudbury on 16 July, but turned back after canvassing Chelmsford. Despite their meetings with the London freemen and contacts with Stephens, Colonel John Harris, the Liverpool merchant John Gladstone’s* son Thomas Gladstone* and the future Member for New Romney and Durham Arthur Hill Trevor* proved to be phantom third men.74 The wholesale haberdasher James Morrison* offered to put in a word with Duff on Walsh’s behalf and he canvassed the borough ‘with flags and music’, 19, 20 July, receiving 200 promises. Returning on the 26th, he noted that ‘Walrond has been making way by dint of bribes, etc. among the rabble and is now much stronger. No third man would at this late hour have any chance’.75 Thirty freemen were admitted on 28 July and ten on the 29th, when Stephens, who receive a £200 fee from Walsh for his services, arrived by coach and the ‘London voters poured in’.76 Walsh recalled that on the 30th

at exactly nine o’clock, we repaired to the hustings, where Walrond, as senior Member, was proposed by Col. Addison, seconded by Anderson. Walrond made a short bad speech, which was well received. I spoke next, and acquitted myself very successfully. I touched upon the abolition of slavery, and upon the great events which were taking place in France. My principal policy has been throughout to conciliate the two parties. General politics have little influence in Sudbury, yet as far as they went, the topics I selected were calculated to please the popular side. There was no opposition, and we were declared duly elected ... We were chaired through the town, a ceremony which lasted about three hours, and afterwards I gave a grand dinner to all my friends. We had toasts, speechifying, etc., and I did not get away until past ten.77

The Bury and Norwich Post reported that Walsh, whose chair was spared as a gift for his wife, projected himself as the ‘true successor to Sir John Coxe Hippisley’.78 Although unpolled, the pledged freemen expected their two guineas, at a cost to Walsh, who paid his dues through Stedman, of some £6,000.79 Walrond left his bills unpaid.80

Walrond’s failure to vote and Walsh’s minority vote on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, when the Wellington ministry was brought down, were criticized, and the quest for new candidates resumed.81 Walsh recalled how it marred his ‘election dinner’, 22 Dec. 1830:

Stedman did one thing that annoyed me extremely. He had got me to ask [Hart] Logan†, and had wished me to put in my letter something in a jocular strain about its breaking him in to the same sort of thing for himself. This I avoided and only sent him an ordinary civil note of invitation. Stedman wanted me to propose his health, with some compliment upon his fitness to represent them. This I did not do, but he did it himself, bringing Logan upon legs, who point blank declared his intention of offering himself at the next election. I cannot help thinking the whole a manoeuvre of Stedman to get me to pledge myself in a manner to Logan. Stedman wants that his party should have the credit of bringing in the two Members and he does not mind hazarding my return.82

The inhabitants and Dissenters again supported the anti-slavery campaign by petitioning both Houses early in 1831, but the corporation failed to do so.83 Sudbury was scheduled to lose one seat by the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which Walrond prevaricated over and Walsh opposed in pamphlets and in the House.84 Duff and the factory owner John Holman were reformers, and ‘divesting [themselves] ... of all selfish considerations’, ‘about 50 freemen’ and ‘most of the respectable inhabitants’ petitioned the Commons in the bill’s favour, 21 Mar. The ‘free burgesses and inhabitants of Sudbury and Ballingdon’ did so against its details, 15 Apr.85 The latter, presented by Walsh and largely endorsed by the reformer Daniel Whittle Harvey*, launched the corporation’s campaign to have Ballingdon, whose residents habitually failed to comply with their by-laws, included in the constituency, and incorporated census statistics provided by the corporation showing that in 1831 Sudbury had a population of 5,450 including and 4,604 excluding Ballingdon, and that they had 260 and 40 £10 houses respectively.86 The printer-tailor George William Fulcher, as the Sudbury mountebank, now described the borough’s struggle to defend its ‘rights’ in Reform and The Castle.87

Walsh met the London freemen in Whitechapel, 23 Apr. 1831, and privately predicted that his opposition to reform, his good payment record and Sudbury’s designation as a schedule B borough would make him the corporation’s ‘front runner’ at the general election that month, when reform was said to be ‘at a very low ebb with the Sudbury freemen’.88 Logan and Walrond stayed away. Macleod, who canvassed from 23-26 Apr. as an anti-reformer, refused to meet the low party and left after Walsh denied him a coalition. The declaration on the 27th of the reformer Admiral William Windham alias Lukin of Felbrigg, the defeated candidate in 1812, who now described his politics as ‘those of the king’ and appealed to his family’s ‘old connection’ with the borough, further dashed the Tories’ hopes of returning both Members.89 He was assisted in London by his brother Robert Lukin of the war office and, according to the Essex Standard, had a ‘treasury purse of £2,000 in his pocket’.90 His presence as a ‘ministerial candidate’ deterred the recorder of Bury St. Edmunds Robert Monsey Rolfe from standing, but an ‘emergency’ application from Walsh and Goldsmith to the Tory committee in Charles Street brought down the former foreign secretary Lord Aberdeen’s private secretary, the archdeacon of York’s son Digby Cayley Wrangham, so ensuring a contest and relieving Walsh of the responsibility of letting in a reformer by driving away Macleod. It also prompted the swift departure of the stockbroker John Easthope* of Friern Barnet, summoned by some of the corporation as a second reformer, who arrived as the election commenced on the 29th.91 Addison and Lewis proposed Windham, Jones of Woodhall and his cousin Thomas Jones did the same for Walsh. Aptly, Wrangham was introduced by the perpetual curate of St. Gregory and St. Peter, the Rev. Henry Watts Wilkinson, and ‘one of the juniors of the corporation party’, John Sykes.92 Windham lost his early lead on the first day to Walsh, but he remained in second place (Walsh 278, Windham 197, Wrangham 176) when his retirement was brokered and celebrated that night.93 Later, it emerged that he was ‘reduced to the alternatives of making a great advance of money to the Goodys, etc., or of resigning’.94 Polling resumed until two p.m. on 30 Apr. 1831, when, with 656 freemen polled, the anti-reformers were declared the victors ‘by a large majority’.95 The Suffolk Chronicle attributed Windham’s defeat to his refusal to pay £3-4,000 to bring down sufficient London voters on the second day, but Walsh ascribed it to ‘unskilful knowledge in election tactics’ and ‘the resistance of the out-voters’.96 Sixty of the 90 already paid for by him voted for the anti-reformers after his committee refused to bribe at £10 a man.97 Beforehand, Walsh had written that ‘the low party and London freemen were so much opposed to the bill that any proper candidate opposed to it cultivating the leaders of [the] ... low party would have got the second votes of the corporation and the Dissenters would have been quite overpowered’, which occurred directly the reform candidate stopped spending. Excluding the drift towards Wrangham on the second day, voting did not follow a particular pattern: three weavers plumped for Walsh, two for Windham and one for Wrangham; 60 split their votes between Walsh and Wrangham, 28 between Walsh and Windham.98 Walsh, who made most payments through the family butler Owen and Stedman, spent £4,159 6s. 6d. on his election. Wrangham did not pay. Windham was estimated to have spent £3,000 to secure 176 votes on the first day.99

The Commons received a petition from the aldermen, capital and free burgesses pleading to be allowed to retain two Members and their existing voting rights ‘in posterity’, 27 July 1831.100 It was supported by the Members, who were both committed anti-reformers involved in the establishment of the Conservative Carlton Club in 1832. Wrangham, who had little personal wealth but excellent contacts, relied on party funds. Walsh, whose pamphlets impressed and speeches disappointed, drew on the proceeds of the East Indian fortunes bequeathed to him by his father and namesake great-uncle.101 Basing their case on the 1831 population totals, Ballingdon’s well-documented ecclesiastical and administrative ties with the parish of All Saints and its inclusion in local legislation (albeit, as ministers pointed out, not the 1825 Sudbury Improvement Act), the Members, assisted by other leading anti-reformers, incorporated evidence unearthed by Stedman and Walsh in their speeches against Sudbury’s inclusion in schedule B, 30 July, 2 Aug. Their arguments ‘caught ministers by surprise’, but the borough’s partial disfranchisement was carried by 157-108, 3 Aug.102 Wrangham intended reviving the issue by introducing an amendment at the bill’s report stage but it was abandoned when the Charles Street committee resolved to expedite the bill’s transition to the Lords. Walsh, who was privately ‘very glad’, commented:

We had made a strong impression and fought a good battle last time. We know that the ministers have been applying for fresh information and strengthening their case and we cannot tell that they might not have hatched something which would weaken our case, while it is quite certain that having taken their stand, nothing could now induce them to take it out of schedule B.103

The inhabitants petitioned the Lords requesting the bill’s speedy passage, 4 Oct., but at a celebration dinner on the 21st the corporation admitted the Members as freemen in recognition of their endeavours to save the ‘second seat’, which remained in contention.104 In December 1831, with 1,189 houses and assessed tax payments of £1,157, Sudbury was ranked 109th in the list of small boroughs and its second seat was reprieved in the revised bill.105 Editorials in The Times and the Suffolk Chronicle criticized the decision.106 The corporation Conservatives forwarded an anti-reform declaration to the marquess of Bristol, to be ‘attached’ to the Suffolk address that month, and provided Walsh with another to present to the king, 22 Feb., and the London freemen petitioned the Lords against the bill and their disfranchisement, 11 Apr. 1832.107 The church bells were rung ‘for the gratification of the anti-reformers’ on the resignation of the Grey ministry in May, and the corporation prepared a ‘dutiful loyal address to the king’, but the ‘town rejoiced’ when the duke of Wellington failed to form a ministry and Grey was reinstated.108 By June 1832 the Whig veteran Michael Angelo Taylor*, canvassing as a Liberal, was exploiting Walsh’s decision to give resident freemen only the customary two guineas in 1831, and, possibly as a deterrent, he made no secret of his intention to make it a petitioning issue after the first post-reform election, when the corporation’s ability to return two Members was doubtful and rivalry and tension between the Conservatives Walsh and Wrangham was already apparent.109

The boundary commissioners had recommended extending the borough’s limits to include Ballingdon and ‘only such extra-parochial places (if any) as lie within Sudbury or its outer limb’, but decided against including Long Melford in the reformed constituency, which in 1832 had a population of 5,503 and a registered electorate of 752, including 509 freemen.110 Taylor defeated Wrangham, the second Conservative, at the general election in December, and Walsh attributed his own position at the head of the poll to the ‘counter-interest’ which Stedman had negotiated for him with ‘men of the opposite party’ through Allen, Archer and Green, and to the failure of the second Liberal John Bagshaw, a late starter, to coalesce with Taylor.111 Treating, bribery and cross-party dealing remained endemic and led to the suspension of the writ in 1842, when there were 594 electors, and to Sudbury’s disfranchisement under the 1844 Act. Contemporaries considered Sudbury to be the inspiration behind Charles Dickens’s borough of Eatanswill in the Pickwick Papers, making its name synonymous with electoral bribery and corruption. 112

Author: Margaret Escott


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 82, 83.
  • 2. Sudbury Pollbook (1826).
  • 3. W. White, Suff. Dir. (1844), 571.
  • 4. J.H. Philbin, Parl. Rep. 1832, p. 180.
  • 5. A.W. Berry, Early 19th Cent. Sudbury, 53; NLW, Ormathwaite mss FG1/6, pp. 116, 117, 201; The Times, 6 May 1833 (King v. Goldsmith).
  • 6. A.W. Berry, Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations Inquiry: Sudbury 1834 (based on the account in Suff. Chron. 18, 25 Mar. 1834). Sudbury was one of eight boroughs omitted from the 1835 report.
  • 7. PP (1831-2) xxxvi. 589; Sudbury Pollbooks (1826), (1828), (1831).
  • 8. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 163, 296, 383.
  • 9. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 590; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/12; A.W. Berry, Sudbury’s Freemen, 19-22.
  • 10. A.W. Berry, Years of Transition, 7, 8, 61-63 specifies 1833 and a 30 guinea purchase price; ‘Sudbury Borough’ (ms penes A.T. Copsey in 1991) states that ‘compulsory purchase’ ended ‘before the reform bill was enacted’ and de facto ‘from 1828’. It specifies a purchase price of £36 16s. for the freedom.
  • 11. Berry, Years of Transition, 4 and Early 19th Cent. Sudbury, 39; Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, p. 86; Oakes Diaries ed. J. Fiske (Suff. Recs. Soc. xxxiii), ii. 308, 309.
  • 12. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 374, 375.
  • 13. Berry, Early 19th Cent. Sudbury, 7.
  • 14. Ibid. 28.
  • 15. W.H. Bidwell, Annals of an East Anglian Bank, 171, 172.
  • 16. Suff. Chron. 28 Feb.; Bury and Norwich Post, 8, 15 Mar.; Morning Chron. 13 Mar. 1820.
  • 17. Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/12, ct. bk. 26 May 1820.
  • 18. The Times, 27 Oct. 1820.
  • 19. Bury and Norwich Post, 15 Nov.; Suff. Chron. 26 Nov. 1820; CJ, lxxvi. 5; The Times, 25, 31 Jan., 12, 27 Feb. 1831.
  • 20. The Times, 23 Jan. 1821.
  • 21. Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/16b.
  • 22. The Times, 17 Aug.; Colchester Gazette, 18 Aug. 1822.
  • 23. CJ, lxxvi. 321.
  • 24. O’Gorman, 363; W.H. Hodson, Meeting House and the Manse, 80-84; J.E. Bradley, Religion, Revolution, and English Radicalism, 76, 95-98; CJ, lxxvi. 196; lxxx. 315; LJ, liv. 167; lvii. 575, 576, 588.
  • 25. CJ, lxxviii. 327; lxxix. 130, 131.
  • 26. Ibid. lxxviii. 155.
  • 27. Ibid. lxxix. 211, 404.
  • 28. Ibid. lxxviii. 260; lxxix. 168; lxxxi. 86. LJ, lviii. 61; Ipswich Jnl. 3 Mar. 1826.
  • 29. Suff. Chron., 4 Sept. 1824; Berry, Years of Transition, 2, 3; CJ, lxxx. 180; LJ, lvii. 739, 854.
  • 30. Ipswich Jnl. 15 Oct.; Chelmsford Gazette, 21 Oct., 4 Nov.; Essex RO, Barrett Lennard mss D/DL/C60, Western to Barrett Lennard, 4 Nov. 1825; The Times, 6 June 1826.
  • 31. The Times, 13 Oct.; Colchester Gazette, 15, 22 Oct.; Suff. Chron. 15, 22 Oct. 1825.
  • 32. Suff. Chron. 29 Oct. 1825.
  • 33. Ibid.; The Times, 30 Nov. 1825; Ipswich Jnl. 7 Jan. 1826.
  • 34. Suff. Chron. 19 Nov., 31 Dec. 1825; Ipswich Jnl. 7 Jan. 1826.
  • 35. Suff. Chron. 29 Oct. 1825.
  • 36. Ipswich Jnl. 7 Jan., 6 June 1826.
  • 37. The Times, 17 Feb., 29 Mar., 6 June; Suff. Chron. 29 Apr. 1826.
  • 38. The Times, 17 Feb., 29 Mar.; Suff. Chron. 29 Apr.; Ipswich Jnl. 29 Apr. 1826.
  • 39. The Times, 18 Apr., 6 June; Bury and Norwich Post, 31 May 1826.
  • 40. Mitchell Lib. Sydney, NSW, Macarthur mss MLA 2911.
  • 41. The Times, 9, 14 June; Colchester Gazette, 10 June 1826.
  • 42. Suff. Chron. 10 June 1826; ‘Sudbury Borough’.
  • 43. Suff. Chron. 17 June; Bury Gazette, 21 June 1826.
  • 44. The Times, 19 June; Bury Gazette, 21 June 1826.
  • 45. ‘Sudbury Borough’. Probably on both contests.
  • 46. Sperling, 87; ‘Sudbury Borough’; Suff. Chron. 17 June; Ipswich Jnl. 17 June 1826.
  • 47. John Bull, 18 June 1826.
  • 48. Sudbury Pollbook (1826). The information provided on addresses does not facilitate separate analysis of the London and out-voter vote.
  • 49. The Times, 6, 19 June 1826, 30 Apr. 1827; ‘Sudbury Borough’.
  • 50. The Times, 20, 26, 27 Sept. 1826; CJ, lxxii. 91.
  • 51. Morning Herald, 3 Oct.; The Times, 4, 10 Oct. 1826.
  • 52. The Times, 10, 24 Oct. 1826.
  • 53. Ibid. 7 Nov., 6 Dec. 1826; CJ, lxxxii. 91, 92.
  • 54. CJ, lxxxii. 59, 92-93, 307, 309, 313.
  • 55. Suff. Chron. 9 Dec. 1826; BL tracts C. 5113.(5).
  • 56. Macleod mss 1061/6-8.
  • 57. Ibid. 1061/9.
  • 58. Ibid. 1062/7, 9, 10; CJ, lxxxiii. 227; The Times, 28 Mar. 1, 8 Apr. 1828.
  • 59. The Times, 27 Mar.; Suff. Chron. 5, 12 Apr.; Cent. Kent. Stud. Stanhope mss U1590 C355; ‘Sudbury Borough’.
  • 60. Ipswich Jnl. 12 Apr. 1828; Suff. RO (Bury St. Edmunds), election handbills P581/5-11; Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 84, 88.
  • 61. Bury and Suff. Herald, 16 Apr. 1828; election handbills P581/3, 8.
  • 62. The Times, 12 Apr. 1828.
  • 63. Bury and Suff. Herald, 16 Apr. 1828.
  • 64. Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/16b; LJ, lix. 127; lx. 454; CJ, lxxxii. 282; lxxxiii. 342, 362.
  • 65. The Times, 20 May 1828; CJ, lxxxiii. 362.
  • 66. Sudbury Pollbook (1828).
  • 67. CJ, lxxxiii. 383; LJ, lx. 623; The Times, 31 May, 15 July 1828.
  • 68. CJ, lxxxiii. 529; lxxxiv. 201;
  • 69. LJ, lxi. 15, 153; CJ, lxxxiv. 34, 177; Bury and Suff. Herald, 18, 25 Feb.; The Times, 28 Mar., 7 Apr. 1829.
  • 70. CJ, lxxxv. 463; LJ, lxii. 723, 751, 752.
  • 71. LJ, lxii. 694.
  • 72. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 68-71, 73-77; G35, ff. 88-102.
  • 73. Ibid. FG1/5, pp. 82-85; Bury and Norwich Post, 14 July 1830.
  • 74. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 86, 87, 89; G35, f. 121; G37, f. 8; St. Deiniol’s Lib. Glynne-Gladstone mss 197, T. to J. Gladstone, 6 July; The Times, 12, 13 July 1830.
  • 75. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 90, 91; Suff. Chron. 24 July; Bury and Suff. Herald, 28 July 1830.
  • 76. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 91, 243; Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/16b.
  • 77. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 91, 92.
  • 78. Bury and Suff. Herald, 4 Aug. 1830.
  • 79. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, p. 145.
  • 80. Bury and Norwich Post, 4 May 1831.
  • 81. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 134-6, 139.
  • 82. Ibid. pp. 146, 147.
  • 83. CJ, lxxxvi. 238, 454; LJ, lxiii. 371, 484.
  • 84. See WALSH.
  • 85. Suff. Chron. 19 Mar. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 415, 491.
  • 86. Bury and Norwich Post, 13 Apr.; Colchester Gazette, 16 Apr.; The Times, 16 Apr. 1831.
  • 87. A.W. Berry, Suff. Country Town: A Sudbury Miscellany, 122-8.
  • 88. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 176, 177; Bury and Suff. Herald, 27 Apr. 1831.
  • 89. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 177, 178; G39, f. 45; Colchester Gazette, 7 May 1831.
  • 90. The Times, 29 Apr.; Suff. Chron. 30 Apr.; Essex Standard, 6 May 1831.
  • 91. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 178, 179; G39, ff. 35, 46; Bury and Norwich Post, 4 May 1831; Colchester Gazette, 7 May 1831.
  • 92. Suff. Chron. 30 Apr. 1831.
  • 93. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 179, 180.
  • 94. Ibid. FG/1/6, p. 176.
  • 95. Bury and Norwich Post, 4 May 1831.
  • 96. Suff. Chron. 7 May 1831; Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 179, 180, 214.
  • 97. Colchester Gazette, 7 May 1831.
  • 98. Ormathwaite mss G39, f. 45; Sudbury Pollbook (1831); A.R. Childs, ‘Politics and Elections in Suff. Boroughs’ (Reading Univ. M. Phil. thesis, 1974), 188.
  • 99. Ormathwaite mss FG/2/3, pp. 136, 138, 148; ‘Sudbury Borough’; Bury and Norwich Post, 4 May 1831.
  • 100. CJ, lxxxvi. 673.
  • 101. See WALSH and WRANGHAM.
  • 102. Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 193-5; The Times, 3-5 Aug. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 720.
  • 103. Ormathwaite mss G39, f. 84.
  • 104. LJ, lxiii. 1051; Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/16b; Ormathwaite mss FG1/5, pp. 211-4, 225, 229; G39, f. 109.
  • 105. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 29.
  • 106. The Times, 15 Dec.; Suff. Chron. 17 Dec. 1831.
  • 107. Sudbury borough recs. EE 501/2/16b.; Ormathwaite mss FG1/6, p. 26; LJ, lxiv. 163; The Times, 12 Apr. 1832.
  • 108. Colchester Gazette, 26 May 1832.
  • 109. Ormathwaite mss FG1/6, pp. 81, 93, 104, 155; The Times, 18 June; East Suff. Press, 26 June 1832.
  • 110. PP (1831-2), xli. 58-60.
  • 111. The Times, 12, 13 Dec. 1832; Sudbury borough recs. EE501/5/13; Ormathwaite mss FG1/6, p. 186.
  • 112. PP (1842), vii. 847; (1843), iv. 445; (1844), iv. 597; R. Olney, Sudbury, 1841-4: The End of a Parliamentary Borough.