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:


Number of voters:

76 in 1831


5,165 (1821); 5,280 (1831)2


18 Feb. 1823SIR EDWARD HYDE EAST, bt. vice Leigh, vacated his seat 
 William Bingham Baring34

Main Article

Winchester, a ‘venerable and interesting’ cathedral city in the centre of Hampshire, stood ‘on the east declivity of a hill, gradually sloping to the River Itchen, navigable for barges’. Although it was the county town, it had been eclipsed by Southampton and Portsmouth in economic importance by the 1820s, when it was said to have ‘very little trade’. An attempt to establish a small silk manufacturing industry had apparently foundered by 1831.3 A local historian later concluded that ‘the twenty years subsequent to 1810 appear to have been a time of stagnation ... affording little worthy of record either as to the history or the antiquities of the city’, and discerned a conservative attitude towards municipal improvements, such as the provision of gas lighting.4 This view was echoed by the boundary commissioners in 1831, for while they concluded that the place was ‘gradually ... increasing in houses, population and wealth’, they noted that the ownership of much adjacent land by various ecclesiastical bodies provided a block to any extensive development.5 At the head of the city’s government was the ‘hall’ of six aldermen and a mayor, who was elected annually, usually from among the aldermen, and, it was widely believed, in accordance with the private arrangements of an elite caucus centred around the Members. Twenty-four common councilmen formed the second rank of the corporation, whose vacancies were supplied from among a theoretically unlimited number of freemen, which comprised 65 residents and 64 non-residents in December 1831. Admissions to the freedom, which conferred the parliamentary franchise, were essentially in the gift of the ‘hall’, and the municipal corporations commissioners had ‘no doubt ... of the choice having been directed to establish a political or family influence’. (Although it was a nominal requirement for all civic matters to be approved by a ‘common assembly’ of the corporate body and freemen, no nomination had gone to a division since 1798.)6 There had been 100 creations since 1800, including 44 after 1820.7 Many of the earlier admissions were connected to the St. John Mildmay family of Dogmersfield, Hampshire, which included Sir Henry St. John Carew St. John Mildmay, Member, 1807-18, and his younger brother Paulet St. John Mildmay, who had sat since 1818, both of whom apparently became freemen while still minors. After the withdrawal of Sir Henry from politics in 1818, the interest had been presided over by his widowed mother, Lady Jane St. John Mildmay, whose secondary residence was at Eastgate House in the city.8 Throughout this period and beyond she played the part of lady bountiful through frequent and well-publicized gifts of blankets, food and money to the Winchester poor.9 In 1818 she had struck a deal with the 2nd marquess of Buckingham, who owned an estate at nearby Avington Park, by which each family was to return one Member. Buckingham’s local interest derived from his wife, and it was her cousin James Henry Leigh who became their first nominee. Both Members were present at the meeting to offer congratulations and condolence to the new king, 21 Feb. 1820, which was presided over by the incumbent mayor, Buckingham’s son Lord Temple*, who also held the permanent office of high steward.10

At the 1820 general election the agreement held firm and the sitting Members were again returned unopposed. At the declaration Leigh contended that the Cato Street conspiracy had justified his support for the repressive legislation passed in the emergency session of 1819, while St. John Mildmay, who generally sided with the Whig opposition, inferred disagreement. Afterwards beer was distributed to the populace.11 In November 1820 an illumination took place to mark the abandonment of the bill of pains and penalties against Queen Caroline. Special constables were sworn in, but in the event were hardly required.12 A meeting on 19 Jan. 1821 produced petitions from two Winchester parishes protesting at the treatment of the queen, which reached the Commons a week later.13 Buckingham and Temple were both present for the conferral of the freedom of the city on the duke of Wellington, 5 Mar. A meeting of the corporation and freemen was held against Catholic relief, 31 Mar., but Buckingham advised the duke not to be ‘too proud’ of being entrusted with the ensuing petition, ‘as there were but 15 persons present’, 1 Apr.14 Leigh, who opposed Catholic claims despite his patron’s predilections, presented the corresponding Commons petition, 2 Apr. 1821.15

In November 1822 the retirement of Leigh, who had never been intended as a long-term Member, was announced at a corporation dinner given by Chandos (as Temple had become on his father’s promotion to a dukedom as part of the Grenvillite junction with the Liverpool ministry). His replacement was Sir Edward Hyde East, a former Indian judge and freeman of the city for over 30 years, who had tactfully attended the mayor’s dinner that September.16 Leigh took the Chiltern Hundreds in January 1823 and East, after a pro-ministerial hustings speech, was returned unopposed, helped on his way by a eulogy of his ‘transcendent talents’ from Chandos.17 Although it was clearly Buckingham who directed the election arrangements, it had been reported beforehand by the Whig Sir James Mackintosh* that his unpopularity with the Winchester electors was such that they had ‘informed the duchess of Buckingham that they will elect a Member who is connected with her and has no connection with her husband’.18 As the father-in-law of Leigh’s daughter Caroline, East’s somewhat tenuous family link was indeed with the duchess. The duke, however, insisted to his acolyte William Fremantle* that the new Member had sworn exclusive allegiance to himself, 18 Feb. 1823, adding, ‘I mention this in order to settle any question about a divided interest in Winchester’.19 Although Fremantle apparently remained sceptical, East duly followed the duke’s line by supporting Catholic relief (which the duchess opposed) and afterwards trod a careful path amid their squabbles.20 Both Members attended mayoral dinners in 1823 and 1824, when Buckingham and Chandos were also present.21 Following inhabitants’ meetings, petitions reached the Commons against an increase in excise duties, 16 Feb. 1824, and the assessed taxes, 22 Mar. 1824, 14 Feb. 1825.22 East presented a petition from local silk throwers for better protection, 21 Feb. 1826.23 Petitions reached the Commons against an alteration of the corn laws, 24 Feb., and for the abolition of slavery, 19 May 1826.24

Reports of a hand injury sustained by St. John Mildmay while shooting on Buckingham’s Hampshire property in December 1824 are suggestive of the continuing cosiness of co-patronal relations.25 The pact was maintained at the 1826 general election, when the sitting Members were returned unopposed. On the hustings St. John Mildmay boasted of the length of his family’s association with the city, while East adverted to his willingness to oppose ministers when his constituents demanded and claimed to have done so on two occasions, one of which has been identified. Both gave unequivocal commitments in support of Catholic relief. The chairing was accompanied by a band and strong beer was distributed according to custom.26 Both Members attended the mayoral election in September 1827.27 A Dissenters’ petition for repeal of the Test Acts reached the Commons, 25 Feb. 1828.28 Both Members supported the Wellington ministry’s concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829, against which the inhabitants sent an address to the king in April.29

The 1830 general election was conducted in conditions of stupefying heat, which offered the sitting Members an added incentive to keep their speeches brief. Both indicated a general disposition to support the ministry, and after their unopposed return were carried around the city in chairs decorated with laurels, to the accompaniment of ‘flags and music, as of old’.30 Winchester was largely untouched by the ‘Swing’ agricultural disturbances of late 1830, though 400 special constables were sworn in as a precaution and the special commission convened to try the rioters commenced its business in the city, 18 Dec.31 Petitions for the abolition of slavery reached the Commons, 11 Dec. 1830, 15 Feb. 1831.32 A meeting on 17 Feb. 1831, attended by 100 people, produced a petition for a ‘complete and efficacious’ reform of Parliament, which deliberately avoided specifics in pursuit of a broad consensus. An amendment calling for a householder franchise was rejected after an impassioned plea from one Wheeler, and shouts of ‘ballot’ were similarly ignored, as were demands for the petition to be entrusted exclusively to St. John Mildmay. Yet it was he who introduced it to the House as the prayer of the ‘aldermen and inhabitants’ and applauded the willingness of the former to share their electoral privileges, 28 Feb.33 He brought up petitions for the Grey ministry’s reform bill from the parishes of St. Maurice, St. Mary Kalendar and St. Peter Colebrook, 21 Mar., and voted accordingly.34 East opposed reform and, sensing that the political tide was against him, on 22 Apr. 1831 announced his retirement, hoping for the continuance of the city’s ‘ancient and honourable franchises, which to the last I have defended in Parliament’.35

At the ensuing general election East duly made way for his son James Buller East, whose highly evasive election address prompted a requisition to the corporation, signed by 300 inhabitants, urging the return of two committed reformers, 28 Apr. 1831.36 Chandos Leigh was spoken of as a candidate of ‘liberal principles’, but as the son and heir of Buckingham’s former nominee, he was an unlikely standard bearer for an opposing interest and did not come forward. An approach to Thomas Baring, the son of Sir Thomas Baring* of nearby Stratton Park, also came to nothing, whereupon his cousin William Bingham Baring, late Member for Callington, took up the reformers’ cause.37 Because of the unprecedented interest taken by the inhabitants, the election was moved from the town hall to the castle, where at the nomination East was unambiguously described by his proposer as Buckingham’s ‘nominee’. After he had been coaxed into an admission that his approval of the reform bill extended no further than its enfranchisement provisions, the crowd was unwilling to listen to his defence of the ‘independence and integrity’ of the city’s corporation. Baring’s proposer illustrated his attachment to the cause by describing his ejection from a seat controlled by his father Alexander Baring*, an opponent of the bill. St. John Mildmay cited his vote for its second reading as evidence of his sincerity. A three-hour poll then ensued, during which St. John Mildmay controversially gave a single vote to East, aiding his narrow return in second place, an act all the more remarkable as his younger brother Humphrey was married to Baring’s sister. Initially he attempted to portray this as a gesture calculated to counter charges that he had coalesced with his fellow reformer, but at an angry meeting called to discuss his conduct, 4 May, he frankly confessed to the existence of the pact between his mother, Buckingham and the corporation, and admitted that the family influence had been exercised in East’s favour. His plea that this arrangement was to be a dead letter thereafter did not save him from public censure, a boisterous chairing and the immolation of his effigy.38 Such was the atmosphere of recrimination that special constables were put on alert during East’s celebratory dinner, 3 May.39 The turnout of 76 indicates a high level of splitting across the board, which matches the assumption that most of East’s votes were shared with St. John Mildmay, but according to a press report, East’s success also owed much to the support of the clergy and the out-voters.40 A petition for investigation of the case of Thomas and Caroline Deacle, local tenant farmers supposedly assaulted by William Baring and Francis Thornhill Baring* in the course of their duties as magistrates, was presented by De Lacy Evans, 22 Sept. 1831. Another, asserting their innocence, was placed before the House by St. John Mildmay five days later.41 A petition for withholding supplies until the reform bill was passed was entrusted to St. John Mildmay and belatedly presented by him, 14 June 1832.42 According to an informant of the duke of Wellington, a political union numbering some six or seven hundred had met in late October 1832 ‘under the frivolous pretence of an amateur concert’, and held an orderly march through the city.43 The incumbent mayor agreed that such societies existed ‘to a fearful extent’ in the district, but one month later, according to another correspondent, the nascent organization had been dissolved.44

Winchester’s population placed it comfortably beyond the disfranchisement schedules of the first reform bill, and its figures for £10 houses (449) and assessed taxes (£2,804 in 1830) left it in the same position under the revised criteria.45 By the Boundary Act, the constituency was extended to incorporate the outer urban area known as the East and West Sokes, which surrounded the old city, and included the entire parish of St. Cross in the south. The commissioners noted that this radial enlargement was concurrent with local wishes and neatly circumvented the difficulty of ascertaining the precise ancient boundary. The new limits, which were adopted for the municipal boundaries in 1835, covered approximately a square mile and contained a population of 9,292 and an estimated 632 £10 houses, although in the event the 1832 registered electorate was only 537.46 By May 1832 the canvass was already under way for the post-reform general election, which was eventually fought between the same candidates as in 1831.47 East suffered a widely predicted defeat, but was rewarded for his persistence in 1835, when he topped the poll as a Conservative.48 The representation was usually shared between a Conservative and a Liberal for the remainder of Winchester’s existence as a two Member constituency.

Authors: Philip Salmon / Howard Spencer


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 599, return dated 26 Dec. 1831. Another return of 18 Jan. 1831 gives ‘about 140’ (ibid. (1830-1), x. 110).
  • 2. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxvii. 217.
  • 3. T.W. Wilks, Hist. Hants, i. 9; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 345; (1830), 477; PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 215.
  • 4. J. Milner, Hist. Winchester (1863), ii. 268-9.
  • 5. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 215.
  • 6. Ibid. (1835), xxiv. 235-9, 243.
  • 7. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxvi. 599.
  • 8. H.A. St. John Mildmay, Mem. Mildmay Fam. 204-5, 206-7, 224-5, 228; Oldfield, Key (1820), 166-7; Hants RO W/38/1/1.
  • 9. Hants Chron. 24 Jan. 1820; Salisbury Jnl. 5 Feb. 1821, 22 Dec. 1823, 30 Jan. 1826, 26 Feb. 1827, 4 Feb. 1828, 2 Feb. 1829, 23 Jan. 1831.
  • 10. Hants Chron. 28 Feb. 1820.
  • 11. Ibid. 13 Mar. 1820.
  • 12. Salisbury Jnl. 20 Nov. 1820.
  • 13. Ibid. 29 Jan. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 13.
  • 14. Salisbury Jnl. 12 Mar., 9 Apr.; Wellington mss WP1/665/1; LJ, liv. 187.
  • 15. CJ, lxxvi. 224.
  • 16. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 194-5; Salisbury Jnl. 23 Sept, 11 Nov. 1822; Hants Chron. 17 Feb. 1823; Hants RO W/8/1/1.
  • 17. Hants Chron. 24 Feb.; Salisbury Jnl. 24 Feb. 1823.
  • 18. Bucks. RO, Fremantle mss D/FR/46/11/67; Add. 52455, f. 113.
  • 19. Fremantle mss.
  • 20. J.J. Sack, The Grenvillites, 31, 201.
  • 21. Salisbury Jnl. 22 Sept. 1823, 27 Sept. 1824.
  • 22. Ibid. 16 Feb., 22 Mar. 1824; CJ, lxxix. 70, 197; lxxx. 41.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxi. 85.
  • 24. Ibid. lxxxi. 101, 372.
  • 25. Salisbury Jnl. 20 Dec. 1824.
  • 26. Hants Chron. 19 June; Salisbury Jnl. 19 June 1826.
  • 27. Salisbury Jnl. 24 Sept. 1827.
  • 28. CJ, lxxxiii. 101.
  • 29. Salisbury Jnl. 13 Apr. 1829.
  • 30. Portsmouth Herald 1 Aug.; Hants Telegraph, 2 Aug. 1830.
  • 31. Salisbury Jnl. 29 Nov. 1830; E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 159, 180.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxvi. 167, 254.
  • 33. Salisbury Jnl. 21 Feb.; The Times, 23 Feb. 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 324.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxvi. 416.
  • 35. Hants Chron. 2 May 1831.
  • 36. Ibid.; Salisbury Jnl. 2 May 1831.
  • 37. Hants Telegraph, 2 May; The Times, 4 May 1831.
  • 38. The Times, 4, 6 May; Portsmouth Herald, 8 May, Hants Telegraph, 9 May; Salisbury Jnl. 9 May 1831.
  • 39. The Times, 5 May 1831.
  • 40. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 599; Hants Telegraph, 9 May 1831.
  • 41. CJ, lxxxvi. 861, 871.
  • 42. Hants Chron. 14 May 1832; CJ, lxxxvii. 399.
  • 43. Wellington mss WP4/4/3/44.
  • 44. Ibid. WP4/4/3/35, 40.
  • 45. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 217.
  • 46. Ibid. 215-16; Milner, 267; P.Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 261.
  • 47. Salisbury Jnl. 14 May 1832.
  • 48. The Times, 8 Nov. 1832, 10 Jan. 1835.