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 freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 120, rising to about 180


1,931 (1821); 2,325 (1831)


23 June 1828CALCRAFT re-elected after appointment to office

Main Article

The small and nondescript town of Wareham, which had a ‘particularly neat appearance’, sent clay to the Potteries, but its port was too shallow for it to compete with its larger neighbour Poole. The inhabitants consisted of ‘persons of middling circumstances, and a few retired officers and independent persons, retail tradesmen and those deriving a subsistence from the small craft’.1 The leading townsman was Thomas Bartlett, an active attorney and town clerk, who became the recorder in 1824. His predecessor was Nathaniel Bond of East Holme, who had briefly been Member for Corfe Castle, the nearby Tory rotten borough. The corporation comprised the mayor (who acted as returning officer), six capital burgesses and 12 assistant burgesses; the charter made provision for the election of freemen, but only a handful were chosen in this period.2 As the franchise was sometimes mistakenly thought to be in the corporation only, the number of electors was occasionally put as low as 20. In fact, the largest element in the electorate was the scot and lot voters, and by the early 1830s, in the returns to the home office circulars, the borough officials were claiming that the probable number of electors was comfortably over 300.3 In addition, there were perhaps 20 or 30 freeholders, their inclusion making the franchise at Wareham ‘a singular mixture of the common and the statute law, and the borough and the county right of election’.4 By the decision of the Commons on 19 Jan. 1747, the franchise was resolved to be in

the mayor and magistrates of the said borough, and in such of the inhabitants of the said borough as pay scot and lot, and in the freeholders of lands and tenements there, who have been, bona fide, to their own use, in the actual occupation, or in the receipt of the rents and profits, of such lands or tenements, for the space of one whole year next before the election, except the same came to such freeholders by descent, devise, marriage, marriage settlement or promotion to some benefice in the church.5

Thomas Oldfield estimated the number of electors at about 120 in 1816, and this was said to have increased to about 180 on the eve of the Reform Act.6 The borough consisted of the in-parishes of Holy Trinity, St. Martin and Lady St. Mary, the only church where services were still held, but residence was not a necessary qualification.7

The last contest had occurred in 1754 and since 1768 control of the borough had been entirely in the hands of the John Calcrafts, father and son, of nearby Rempstone.8 The latter, an active Whig, who controlled the interest by conveying deeds of properties for electoral purposes, owned at least 120 houses in the borough, according to a map drawn up in 1826.9 He had sat for Wareham in two earlier spells and, having abandoned his hopes of retaining his seat at Rochester, returned himself again at the general election of 1818, when, as was his usual practice, he sold the other seat, perhaps for as much as £5,000.10 At the general election of 1820, when the sitting Member Thomas Denman won a contest at Nottingham, Calcraft came in with his elder son John Hales Calcraft, a silent supporter of opposition. In October 1823, the elder Calcraft, who busied himself with local affairs, received a deputation of Isle of Purbeck friends to thank him for his efforts to abolish the salt tax.11 He presented petitions from the Protestant Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts, 5 Apr. 1824, 17 Apr. 1826, and Catholic claims, 22 Apr. 1825. Anti-slavery petitions were brought up in the Commons by him, 10 Apr., and in the Lords by Lord Lansdowne, 5 May 1826.12

John Hales Calcraft, who was suffering from an unspecified mental illness, retired at the general election of 1826, when his father returned himself and the independent Charles Baring Wall of Norman Court, Hampshire, who had sat for Guildford since 1819.13 Petitions against the Test Acts from the Protestant Dissenters were presented to the Commons (by Calcraft), 31 May 1827, 13 Feb. 1828, and to the Lords (by Lords Holland and Essex), 8 June 1827, 25 Feb. 1828. The petition of the merchants, tradesmen and inhabitants for repeal of the Small Notes Act was brought up by Edward Portman, the county Member, in the Commons, 19 May, and by Lord Wharncliffe in the Lords, 1 July. Calcraft lodged the corporation’s petition against the alehouses licensing bill, 2 June.14 After joining the Wellington administration as paymaster of the forces, he was re-elected in June 1828, when he denied that he had changed his political principles.15 Pro-Catholic petitions were presented to the Commons (by Calcraft), 20 Feb., 12 Mar., and to the Lords (by Holland), 20 Feb., 27 Mar. 1829, from the Unitarians and Protestant Dissenters respectively.16 Both Members voted for Catholic emancipation in 1829, but at the general election of 1830 Wall, who had joined the Whigs, resumed the representation of Guildford, and Calcraft sold the seat to the nabob James Ewing, presumably a ministerialist.17 Wareham was listed under ‘government boroughs’ in Lord Kenyon’s diary that year, and the result was noted as one seat ‘gained’ for administration in Charles Ross’s* summary of the returns.18 Anti-slavery petitions from the inhabitants and females of Wareham were presented to the Commons and the Lords, 11 Nov. 1830.19 Later that month special constables were sworn in because of the threat of ‘Swing’ riots in the area.20

The borough was scheduled for abolition under the Grey ministry’s reform proposals, and on 4 Mar. 1831 Calcraft, who commented that its population fell only just short of the minimum requirement of 2,000, urged that it should only be deprived of one seat. He declared that the independent electors had ‘the power, if they had the inclination, to throw me out; and, if they have kept me in, it is not from any power I have over them or any influence more than that which is acquired by kind service, long acquaintance and neighbourhood’. In reply, Smith Stanley, the Irish secretary, claimed that Wareham was ‘a decayed borough, not strictly representing the voice of the people. I certainly have heard ... that it is the custom of the candidate to go there, take off his hat, make a civil bow and propose himself to the electors’. Calcraft, who for the second time altered his political allegiance by voting for the second reading of the reform bill on 22 Mar., again raised the case in the House, 23 Mar. Addresses in the Dorset newspaper contended that Calcraft’s dominance was the result of deference, and this was reiterated by the resident gentleman Thomas Phippard junior at a town meeting, 2 Apr., when he said that Calcraft

had always given a permanent interest in his houses at Wareham to the electors, by granting them long lives, determinable upon lives, and by renewing their leases whenever they desire it, so that it could not be said that he had an absolute control over his tenants, as if the houses were held by them as yearly tenants.

Phippard, who also read a letter from Calcraft explaining that he had long been in favour of parliamentary reform but would fight to save the constituency, was successful in securing his petition against the bill on the ground of its treatment of Wareham. The Rev. James Brown, presumably a Dissenting minister, was alone in attempting to propose an amendment wholly favourable to the bill.21 The petition, signed by 218 inhabitant householders, was presented to the House by Calcraft, 13 Apr. In a letter to the home secretary, 15 Apr. 1831, he explained that the omission of the 134 residents of the chapelry of Arne from the 1821 census meant that the population figure should have been 2,065, thus allowing the borough to retain one seat; a memorial from 228 inhabitants made the same point.22

As Holland reported to Lord Grey, 23 Apr. 1831, Calcraft had mentioned

as a proof of his eagerness in supporting us, that he intended to offer your government one seat at Wareham free of all expense but those of the election amounting to £400 or £500. He begged me to ask you for a candidate and I had not virtue or hypocrisy enough to suppress my hopes that Charles [Fox*] might be the person.23

Ewing, who had voted against reform, 22 Mar., 19 Apr., was therefore discarded at the general election, but his replacement was not Holland’s illegitimate son, who came in for Calne, but Grey’s son-in-law and private secretary Charles Wood.* Wood was duly returned unopposed with Calcraft’s younger son Granby Hales Calcraft, and it was hoped that the election of two reformers might encourage ministers to be lenient towards the borough.24 Lord Ellenborough later recorded that William Holmes*, the Tory whip, ‘had a story of Calcraft’s having sold one of his seats and quarrelled about the money for the other’.25 Calcraft himself was elected for Dorset after a contest, during which he rebutted the allegations of his opponent, Henry Bankes, patron of and former Member for Corfe Castle, that he had changed his mind on the reform bill in order to gain protection for his interest at Wareham.26 Of the 20 Wareham freeholders whose votes were accepted in the Dorset contest, six plumped for Calcraft; 11 split for him and Portman and one for him and Bankes; and one plumped for Bankes and the other split for him and Portman.27 Reform was certainly popular in Wareham, where Henry’s son George Bankes, lord chancellor Eldon’s grandson Lord Encombe and Lord Wynford’s son William Samuel Best, all hostile Members, were attacked as they passed through on 16 May 1831.28

On 12 July 1831 Wood indicated that he might raise the case of Wareham and two days later, on a hint that it might be reprieved, the anti-reform barrister Sugden surmised that ‘there appears to me to be something in the proposed changes with respect to that borough which requires explanation’. Granby Calcraft brought up the inhabitants’ petition that ‘they may return one Member’, 25 July, but the following day, when George Bankes argued that its population was high enough to merit its inclusion in schedule B, he accepted that it would have to be disfranchised. After opposition by Encombe and George Richard Robinson, a Poole merchant, Lord John Russell stated that Arne was separate from the town, which Calcraft commented was in a prosperous state, and the disfranchisement was agreed without a division.29 John Calcraft, who had been mentally incapacitated for several months, killed himself in September, when the inhabitants showed their respect by closing their shops. Of the 24 Wareham freeholders whose votes were not rejected in the subsequent county contest, 15 voted for William Ponsonby* and nine for his anti-reform opponent Lord Ashley*. Anger at Ponsonby’s defeat and the loss of the reform bill in the Lords led to an outbreak of attacks on anti-reformers’ properties. The mayor refused to call a town meeting, but one was held on 26 Oct. 1831, when Phippard and Brown secured a reform address to the king.30

Russell announced, 12 Dec. 1831, that Wareham, whose population had incidentally risen above 2,000 according to the 1831 census, would be transferred to schedule B in the revised reform bill. On 9 Mar. 1832, when he unsuccessfully moved for a separate representative for the Isle of Purbeck, George Bankes remarked that he had been vindicated in the ‘stand I made in the case of Wareham [on 26 July 1831], the more particularly as one of the Members for it [Wood] walked out of the House and the other said he had not a leg to stand upon’. The petition of the inhabitants against the plan of national education in Ireland was presented to the Lords, 22 Mar., by Lord Roden, and to the Commons, 16 Apr., by Calcraft, who also brought up one from the Protestant Dissenters complaining of their exclusion from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, 9 July.31 The boundary commissioners recommended the addition of the three out-parishes, the chapelry of Arne and parts of East Stoke and Morden parishes. Ranked 61st in the final list of condemned boroughs, under this proposal its population would have risen from 1,676 to 2,556; the number of houses from 364 (of which 143 were valued at over £10) to 552 (168); and the amount of assessed taxes from £522 to £551.32 However, Best suggested extending the boundaries to included the Isle of Purbeck, 22 June, and when Russell indicated that he might be sympathetic to adding Corfe Castle, George Bankes asked Best to withdraw his motion in order to allow Robinson to move one to this effect. Portman objected to allowing greater influence to the Bankes family, and others, like Wall, Sugden and Digby Wrangham, Member for Sudbury, opposed any alterations at all, while Calcraft, who arrived late at the debate, insisted on the independence of the borough and argued that, if Corfe was added, then the borough would have to be extended as far as Bere Regis in the other direction. The motion to add Corfe parish was defeated by 122-55 that day, but on a government motion in the Lords, 4 July, the borough was extended to include the additional parishes of Corfe Castle and Bere Regis. Overall, the area of the borough was increased from less than one to over 47 square miles, making it almost a separate district within the county.33 At the general election of 1832, when there were 387 registered electors, Wood came in for Halifax and Granby Hales Calcraft, who declined a requisition to stand as a reformer, retired from politics rather than oppose his brother, the new patron. John Hales Calcraft, who benefited from the support of about 80 Corfe Castle voters, was therefore returned after a contest as a Liberal, even though he opposed reform; he held the seat until 1841 and again from 1857 to 1859. The defeated candidate was the reformer John Samuel Wanley Sawbridge Erle Drax of Charborough Park, near Blandford, who was the Conservative Member, 1841-57, 1859-65 and 1868-80.34 The last Calcraft to represent the borough, which was abolished in 1885, was John Hales’s eldest son John Hales Montagu, who was its Liberal Member, 1865-8.

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 297-8; PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 151-2; (1835), xxiv. 699, 702; J. Hutchins, Dorset, i (1861), 77-78; Procs. Dorset Natural Hist. and Antiq. Field Club, xliv (1923), 91.
  • 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 594; (1835), xxiv. 699-701; Dorset RO, Wareham borough recs. DC/WAB II 4/4.
  • 3. PP (1830-1), x. 106; (1831-2), xxxvi. 58-59, 594; Spectator, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 4. H.A. Merewether and A.J. Stephens, Boroughs and Municipal Corporations, iii. 2036.
  • 5. CJ, xxv. 481.
  • 6. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 419; Key to Both Houses (1832), 412.
  • 7. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 151-2.
  • 8. Oldfield, Key (1820), 34; Peep at Commons (1820), 16; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 199-200; Hutchins, i. 82; HP Commons, 1754-90, i. 272; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 141.
  • 9. Dorset RO, Ryder mss D/RWR T97-500; E54.
  • 10. Plumer Ward Mems. ii. 64.
  • 11. The Times, 27 Oct. 1823; Ryder mss F16.
  • 12. CJ, lxxix. 254; lxxx. 331; lxxxi. 223, 250; LJ, lvii. 299; The Times, 6 Apr. 1824, 23 Apr. 1825, 11, 18 Apr., 6 May 1826.
  • 13. Dorset Co. Chron. 22 June 1826.
  • 14. CJ, lxxxii. 510; lxxxiii. 45, 360, 390; LJ, lix. 389; lx. 76, 595; The Times, 1, 9 June 1827, 14, 26 Feb., 2 July 1828.
  • 15. Dorset Co. Chron. 26 June 1828.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxiv. 72, 128; LJ, lxi. 61, 300.
  • 17. Dorset Co. Chron. 5 Aug. 1830; People’s Bk. 249.
  • 18. Add. 40401, f. 132.
  • 19. CJ, lxxxvi. 57; LJ, lxiii. 41.
  • 20. Salisbury Jnl. 29 Nov. 1830.
  • 21. Dorset Co. Chron. 17 Mar., 7, 14 Apr. 1831.
  • 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 482; PP (1830-1), x. 123; (1831), xvi. 68-70, 266.
  • 23. Grey mss.
  • 24. The Times, 5 May 1831.
  • 25. Three Diaries, 103.
  • 26. Dorset RO, Bankes mss D/BKL, Bankes jnl. 174 (6 May 1831); Dorset Co. Chron. 12 May 1831.
  • 27. Dorset Pollbook (1831), 61.
  • 28. The Times, 13 May; Dorset Co. Chron. 26 May, 9 June 1831.
  • 29. CJ, lxxxvi. 695, 697-8.
  • 30. Dorset Co. Chron. 22 Sept., 13 Oct., 3, 17 Nov. 1831; Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 88.
  • 31. LJ, lxiv. 112; CJ, lxxxvii. 277, 471.
  • 32. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 58-59; xxxvii. 276-7; xxxviii. 151-3.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvii. 427; LJ, lxiv. 357; PP (1835), xxiv. 699, 702; N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 71-72, 432.
  • 34. Dorset Co. Chron. 21 June, 20 Dec.; Sherborne Jnl. 28 June, 20 Dec. 1832, 7 Feb. 1833.