Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
‘in the Inhabitants of the ancient vote houses of 20s. per annum value and upwards, residing in the said borough 40 days before the day of election and paying scot and lot; and also in the owners of such ancient vote houses paying scot and lot who shall be resident in such houses at the time of election’.1
Estimated number qualified to vote:
739 (1821); 819 (1831)3
|7 Mar. 1820||LORD WILLIAM FREDERICK CAVENDISH BENTINCK|
|SIR GEORGE COCKBURN|
|16 Feb. 1824||LORD HENRY FREDERICK THYNNE vice Cavendish Bentinck, vacated his seat|
|9 June 1826||SIR GEORGE COCKBURN|
|LORD WILLIAM THYNNE|
|12 June 1828||LORD HENRY FREDERICK THYNNE vice Cockburn, vacated his seat|
|30 July 1830||LORD HENRY FREDERICK THYNNE|
|LORD WILLIAM THYNNE|
|30 Apr. 1831||LORD HENRY FREDERICK THYNNE|
|LORD EDWARD THYNNE|
The bailiffs and returning officers informed Parliament in December 1831 that the parish and unincorporated market town of Weobley, 11 miles west of Hereford
comprises two townships, viz: the township of the borough and the township of the foreign. The borough, which alone returns Members to the Parliament, comprises 93 houses of ancient burgage tenure, the owners and occupiers whereof have the right of voting, but the owners and occupiers of the remaining houses within the same have not the right.4
The 1st and 2nd marquesses of Bath, as lords of the manor, had purchased all the ancient vote houses, so securing complete control over the electorate and reserving the representation for family members and their ministerialist connections.5 In 1818, the 2nd marquess (1765-1837), whose family received an estimated £6,195 a year in government patronage, had brought in his eldest son Viscount Weymouth, with his nephew Lord Frederick Cavendish Bentinck, despite his concern about Weymouth’s friends and mounting debts. Bath’s brother Lord John Thynne* and solicitor Henry Broughton had failed to deter Weymouth from ‘conduct ... disgraceful to himself and his family’, and a brief reconciliation, effected on 11 Feb. 1820, served only to postpone (until 11 May) Weymouth’s ‘disgraceful marriage’ to a toll keeper’s daughter, Harriet Robbins, pending the repayment of his ‘overwhelming debt’.6 On 21 Feb., shortly before the dissolution, Bath offered Weymouth’s seat to the premier Lord Liverpool, and suggested Richard Wellesley* and the Bath alderman Sir George Gunning† as suitable candidates.7 After rejecting ministers’ first nominee, Bath approved ‘with great pleasure’ their second choice, Admiral Sir George Cockburn, a junior admiralty lord, whose return for Portsmouth was in jeopardy, and the constables of Weobley duly returned him in absentia with Cavendish Bentinck, who attended for the occasion.8
Cockburn’s petition against his defeat at Portsmouth failed,9 and the representation of Weobley remained unchanged until February 1824, when Cavendish Bentinck, by arrangement with the duke of Wellington, vacated to come in for Queenborough. In his place, Bath returned his second son, Lord Henry Thynne, a naval captain, whose service record and recent promotions had been used to embarrass Cockburn in the Commons, 19 June 1823, and who remained unemployed following unsuccessful postings to South America and the East Indies.10 Thynne, an occasional supporter of administration, who unlike his father was an early supporter of Catholic relief, was appointed to command the Ranger, bound for South America, 15 Mar. 1825, and was overseas when Bath had his fourth son Lord William, a 22-year-old army captain, returned with Cockburn at the general election of 1826. On 30 May 1826, shortly before the dissolution, the Lords received a rare petition from the inhabitants of Weobley, for the abolition of slavery.11
Sir William Congreve’s* flight from his creditors prompted the Goderich ministry to consider bringing Cockburn in for Plymouth in September 1827, but the duke of Gloucester thought ‘a double danger might be consequent on such a course, the return of an anti-Catholic, and a possible enemy to the government for Lord Bath’s borough’.12 The Wellington ministry confirmed the Plymouth decision and ordered Henry Thynne back from Rio de Janeiro, 13 Mar. 1828. Bath, whose other sons were ineligible, was embroiled in a chancery suit recently brought by Weymouth, who sought greater control over estate finance under his parents’ 1794 marriage settlement, a matter which affected provisions for Bath’s younger sons and was only partly resolved through judgments and arrangements entered into, 29 Mar. 1828, 30 Aug. 1829, 8 Mar. 1832. Cockburn resigned, 2 June 1828, the writ was moved on the 5th, and Thynne was elected on the 12th, the day after he docked at Portsmouth.13 Until disfranchised by the 1832 Reform Act, Weobley was reserved for Bath’s sons, ‘placed’, according to the reformer Edward Lechmere Charlton†, ‘like little cupids in the walk, to contribute to the ornament of the garden, without adding to its use’.14
Described by The Times as ‘a miserable village borough most properly placed in schedule A’, Weobley had 122 houses, paid £85 9s. 1d. in assessed taxes and was placed 27th in the list of boroughs to be disfranchised by the revised reform bill of December 1831. Nothing came of a suggestion that Leominster and Weobley should give a Member each to Herefordshire’s other ancient boroughs, Ledbury and Ross-on-Wye; and no opposition was raised in Parliament to Weobley’s disfranchisement.15 By Bath’s will, proved 31 July 1837, its 93 vote houses passed for life to his brother Lord John Thynne.16
Author: Margaret Escott
- 1. CJ, xxii. 770; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 21.
- 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 596.
- 3. Totals for the parish of Weobley. Separate returns for its borough and foreign townships are not available before 1831, when the borough had 506 inhabitants (PP (1831), xviii. 118).
- 4. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxvi. 142.
- 5. Ibid. xxvi. 596; (1835), xxiii. 555; Oldfield, iv. 21.
- 6. A Peep at the Commons (1820); TNA C13/2630, Weymouth v. Bath.
- 7. Add. 38458, f. 285.
- 8. Add. 38283, ff. 127, 292; 38458, f. 316; Nottingham Univ. Lib. Portland mss PwH 75; Wellington mss WP1/630/12; Hants Telegraph, 21, 28 Feb., 13 Mar. 1820.
- 9. CJ, lxxv. 275; R. Morriss, Cockburn and the British Navy in Transition, 149-50.
- 10. TNA E197/1, p. 301; CJ, lxxix. 10.
- 11. LJ, lvi. 124.
- 12. Lansdowne mss, Spring Rice to Lansdowne, 17 Sept. 1827.
- 13. TNA E197/1, p. 328; CJ, lxxxiii. 400; TNA ADM51/3402; Longleat mun. 3rd mq. 120, 10/02/1828; Exeter Weekly Times, 21 June 1828.
- 14. Hereford Jnl. 23 Mar. 1831; A.E.W. Salt, Borough and Honour of Weobley, 50.
- 15. The Times, 16 Aug. 1831; Hereford and Worcester RO (Hereford) BC 79/5; PP (1831-2), xxvii. 469; xxxvi. 144.
- 16. PROB 11/1881/521.