Available from Cambridge University Press
Estimated number qualified to vote:
about 3,500, rising to 4,9001
Number of voters:
3,137 in 1831
|13 Mar. 1820||Hon. Henry Beauchamp LYGON|
|Sir Thomas Edward Winnington, bt.|
|15 June 1826||Hon. Henry Beauchamp LYGON|
|Sir Thomas Edward Winnington, bt.|
|5 Aug. 1830||Hon. Henry Beauchamp LYGON|
|Hon. Thomas Henry FOLEY|
|6 May 1831||Hon. Thomas Henry FOLEY||2034|
|Hon. Frederick SPENCER||1765|
|Hon. Henry Beauchamp Lygon||1335|
Worcestershire was ‘extremely irregular’ in shape, ‘having upon every side small portions detached and insulated by the adjoining counties’.2 Its agriculture, which suffered periodically from distress, provided a living for 14,954 (33 per cent) of the county’s 45,512 resident families, but 19,030 (42 per cent) depended on the trade, handicraft and manufacturing concerns of its larger unfranchised towns.3 These included the carpet mills at Kidderminster, from where petitions were sent to the Commons against the taxes on wool imports, 15 May 1820, 2 May 1828, and the East India Company’s monopoly, 11 May 1829, 17 Mar. 1830; the silk mills of Blockley, from where petitions for assistance were presented, 30 May 1822, 12 June 1828, 26 Mar. 1832, and the ornamental glass works and nail manufactories of Stourbridge and Dudley, the latter of which was ‘entirely surrounded by Staffordshire’.4 Although considerable influence was possessed by the Ward, Lyttelton and Coventry families, the representation had for many years been shared between the Lygons, headed since 1816 by William, 2nd Earl Beauchamp, and the Foleys, led since 1793 by Thomas, 3rd Baron Foley. Their nominees had sat without opposition since the by-election of 1775, except for an unsuccessful challenge at the 1806 by-election by William Lyttelton, who subsequently became Foley’s paying guest. As a prospective independent local candidate observed in 1831, evidently voicing a general view:
For many years our beautiful and important county has been only nominally represented. The Foley interest has returned one Member to Parliament and the Lygon interest the other. The votes of our Members in the House of Commons have, in fact, neutralized each other. One has, uniformly, voted with the Tory, and the other with the Whig party. And, in this way, you might just as well for any good purpose, have been not represented at all.5
At the 1820 general election Lyttelton, who ‘had intended to retire’ in 1818, stepped down, privately blaming the ‘annual expenses of the seat’ which were proving ‘too heavy ... for a man with a small income and an increasing family’. The leading Whig Lord Althorp* could not ‘think the expense need be so great as he reckons it’ and lamented ‘the loss of a thoroughly honest county Member without necessity’; but as Lyttelton explained to Lord Lansdowne, although the expenses ‘might perhaps have been reduced with the consent of the county ... it did not become me to ask the county to allow me to reduce them’. John William Ward* of Himley Hall, Staffordshire, Member for Worcestershire, 1803-6, having turned down the vacancy, Lyttelton felt ‘great apprehensions’ about his successor and feared that he ‘may not be the right sort’; Lord Foley had apparently ‘applied in vain to his cousin, Edward Foley (the Bean)’, whose refusal was deemed ‘no great loss’. Foley’s brother John Foley* was considered ‘much fitter in all respects’, but owing to his being ‘unluckily abroad’, Sir Thomas Winnington of Stanford Court, another of Lord Foley’s cousins, was adopted instead. A committee was established in Worcester to ‘promote his election’, 23 Feb., and with Foley he attended a county meeting held to congratulate the new king a few days later. Lord Beauchamp’s younger brother Henry Lygon, who had sat since 1816, offered again, despite having recently been ‘very unwell’, and he and Winnington were returned unopposed.6
Following the acquittal of Queen Caroline the lord lieutenant, the 7th earl of Coventry, got up a loyal address to the king, which was condemned by The Times as ‘an insidious attempt’ to ‘sacrifice those principles of justice and humanity which have lately been called into action on [her] behalf’.7 Winnington presented a Kidderminster petition in her support, 31 Jan. 1821.8 In the House, where the Liverpool ministry was generally supported by Lygon and opposed by Winnington, they took opposite sides on this issue, Catholic relief and parliamentary reform. A petition complaining of agricultural distress was presented by Lygon, 27 Feb. 1821.9 Both Members attended a county meeting to call for agricultural relief, which Coventry had tried to prevent, and at which a resolution in favour of reform was also adopted, 8 Feb. 1822. Lygon brought up the petition, 4 Mar.10 Winnington presented one from Kidderminster for criminal law reform, 29 Apr., and another from the county against the hop duties, 12 June 1822.11 Lygon presented petitions against the Insolvent Debtors Act from Stourbridge, 18 Mar. 1823, and against the duty on excise licenses from Kidderminster, 5 Apr., Dudley, 5 May, and Stourbridge, 26 May 1824.12 He brought up Kidderminster petitions for repeal of the corn laws, 25 Apr. 1825, 21 Feb. 1826.13 Petitions against slavery were presented from Shipston-upon-Stour by Lygon, 7 Apr., and from Stourbridge by Winnington, 18 Apr. 1826.14
At the 1826 general election both Members offered again, stressing their past conduct. Rumours that ‘a gentleman in Lord Dudley’s [Ward’s] interest would come forward’, backed ‘by a long purse’ and ‘possessing the highest pretensions’, were ‘very current and generally believed’, and a ‘temporary platform’ was erected to serve as a hustings. In the event, however, no other candidate appeared and the sitting Members were again returned unopposed.15 Winnington continued to support Catholic relief and parliamentary reform, which Lygon opposed. Petitions against the Test Acts reached the Commons, 31 May, 8 June 1827, 15 Feb. 1828.16 Petitions were presented to the Lords from the Worcestershire Medical Society for legalizing dissection, 14 Mar. 1828, and against Catholic emancipation, 17 Feb. 1829.17 Petitions reached the Commons against the truck system, 9, 10, 15 Mar., and against the additional spirit and beer duties, 27, 28 Apr., 6 May 1830. Lygon brought up petitions against distress from the farmers of Lower Sapey, 12 Mar., and the grand jury, 16 Mar. Winnington presented one from the freeholders for currency and parliamentary reforms, 25 May 1830.18
At the 1830 general election Lygon stood again, but Winnington made way for his cousin’s heir Thomas Foley, who had recently come of age, it being privately noted that it had become ‘quite impossible for the baronet to stand a contest’ as he was ‘not too rich’. Declarations were received from the freeholders of Stourbridge, 12 July, and Kidderminster, 19 July, in support of Foley, who overcame concerns about his ‘youth and inexperience’ and obtained ‘a most cordial reception’. Rumours that Thomas Attwood† of Birmingham, founder of its political union, would offer came to nothing and Lygon and Foley were returned unopposed.19 Petitions against slavery reached the Commons, 5, 18 Nov., 21 Dec. 1830. Lygon presented one from Stourbridge against the truck system, 14 Dec. 1830, and another for legalizing dissection, 9 Feb. 1831.20 Foley supported and Lygon opposed the Grey ministry’s reform bill, in support of which a county meeting was held attended by Foley, Winnington and Lyttelton, 18 Mar., and petitions reached both Houses, 23 Mar. 1831.21 Lygon brought up similar petitions the following day, but objected to one from Lyttelton and the inhabitants of Stourbridge presented by Foley, 20 Apr. 1831, on the ground that it did ‘not express the opinion of the county’. That day he presented and endorsed a counter-petition from the Worcestershire magistrates.22
At the 1831 general election both Members stood for re-election, prompting ‘zealous exertions’ on the part of the reformers to ‘find a gentleman of talent’ to oppose Lygon, who denounced the bill as ‘violent in principle’ and ‘hazardous to our well balanced constitution’. A number of local men declared an interest, including John Richards, ‘a man of business’ from Stourbridge, who was ‘a well known friend to reform’ and a ‘staunch supporter of civil and religious liberty’. He was joined by Sir Thomas Phillipps of Broadway, who, believing that the electors must ‘first reform themselves’ if they wished ‘to reform the House of Commons’, offered to stand ‘solely on the condition that you elect me free of expense’. On hearing rumours that the Dowager Lady Beauchamp had subscribed £50,000 towards Lygon’s return, however, both withdrew, leaving the way clear for Frederick Spencer, younger brother of Althorp, chancellor of the exchequer, who came forward ‘for this Parliament only, under the unequivocal pledge’ of voting for the bill. He argued that his return would ‘assign to ... Foley a colleague who will double the force of his vote, instead of rendering it to nothing’, but denied reports that he was ‘a treasury candidate with the exchequer at my back’ and attacked his opponents for resorting ‘to that last effort of a sliding cause, the No Popery cry’, on account of the recent conversion of his younger brother George. Lygon, seeing that the cause of ‘Foley, Spencer and reform’ was taken up with ‘zeal and spirit’ and attracting ‘very liberal subscriptions’, insisted that he was ‘no enemy to parliamentary reform upon just and constitutional principles’ and accused his opponents of establishing a ‘dishonourable’ alliance, contrary to Foley’s ‘most public and solemn engagements’. (His supporters later asserted that ‘treasury money was expended in thousands to bring about the coalition’.) At the nomination Lygon’s principal agent challenged Spencer’s legal qualification, but on production of a deed from his father Lord Spencer granting him £600 a year on estates in Hertfordshire, the challenge was dismissed by the undersheriff. A ‘tremendous struggle’ lasting one week then ensued, during which Lygon’s headquarters were assaulted twice by an ‘infuriated mob’ and Spencer complained of ‘impediments being thrown in the way of his friends, by frivolous and untenable objections being made to their votes’.23
Foley, who led from the second day, secured the support of 65 per cent of the 3,137 who polled (1,718 as split votes shared with Spencer, 271 shared with Lygon, and 45 as plumpers). Spencer received a vote from 56 per cent (39 as plumpers and eight shared with Lygon), and Lygon, who ‘quitted’ Worcester ‘for his seat’ on the sixth day, from 43 per cent (1,056 as plumpers).24 Lygon’s agents, who conceded defeat on his behalf the following day, had sought to dispute as many of their opponents’ qualifications as possible, but in the event were only able to object to 356 voters, which was insufficient to challenge the return. The assessor, presiding in an ‘able and impartial manner’, upheld one-third of these and left 26 undecided.25 Reform dinners to honour Foley and Spencer were held at Worcester, 16 May, and Birmingham, 24 May. It later emerged that they had received ‘a surplus of subscription’, particularly as many of their supporters had ‘polled and returned to their homes without any expenses’, and as a result ‘portions were returned to the subscribers’, although Sir Thomas Phillipps protested that he had ‘received none’. A numerously attended county meeting was held for Lygon, who was presented with a ‘piece of plate’, 21 May 1831.26
Both Members supported the reintroduced reform bill in the House, where Spencer was impugned by Wetherell, Tory Member for Boroughbridge, in a speech condemning the use of pledges by candidates, 6 July 1831. Spencer, however, denied that he had campaigned on the alleged slogan of ‘Spencer and no corn laws’ and was supported by Foley, who had ‘never heard of such a placard, either in opposition to the corn laws, or any other laws’, and insisted that they owed their return solely to the prevailing ‘feeling in favour of reform’. Foley presented petitions from the county’s brewing industry for the use of molasses, 5, 28 Sept.27 One against the reform bill, purporting to be from the county’s nobility, gentry, clergy and freeholders, and approving of the Lords’ conduct in rejecting it, was presented by Lord Eastnor, Member for Hereford, 16 Dec. 1831, but he was forced to concede that it had not been adopted at a public meeting. A petition from Kidderminster for the supplies to be withheld until the bill passed was presented by Foley, 25 May 1832.28
Worcestershire’s peculiar shape posed difficulties for the reform bill’s proposed division of counties. The boundary commissioners complained that ‘the hundreds of this county are so irregular, and so strangely intermixed, that in dividing the county into two continuous parts, it is impossible not to break into them’.29 Moreover as Littleton, Whig Member for Staffordshire, pointed out to Lord John Russell, the enfranchisement of Dudley and Kidderminster, along with the proposed enlargement of the existing boroughs of Bewdley, Evesham, Droitwich and Worcester, threatened to ‘swallow up the county’ and leave Stourbridge ‘the only town left untouched’.30 A petition from the freeholders of Worcestershire praying for exemption from division was presented by Foley, 27 Jan. 1832, but it had no effect.31 By the Boundary Act the divisions introduced for the epiphany quarter sessions in 1831 were adopted, giving a registered electorate of 5,161 and a population of 83,365 in the Eastern division, and 3,122 electors and a population of 53,834 in the Western (excluding the parliamentary boroughs).32 A meeting of freeholders to address the king on the county’s depressed condition was held and attended by Winnington, 1 Oct. 1832.33
At the 1832 general election Spencer redeemed his pledge and retired, leaving Foley and Lygon to come in for the Western division unopposed. The following year Foley, on succeeding to the peerage, was replaced by Winnington’s youngest brother Henry, who sat until 1841. Lygon sat until his succession to the peerage in 1853, when he was replaced by his eldest son. Two Liberals sat for the Eastern division, in the face of stiff Conservative opposition, until the general election of 1837, when the Conservatives secured both seats.34
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. Based on figures in Worcester Herald, 21 May 1831.
- 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 309; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 568.
- 3. PP (1833), xxxvii. 832.
- 4. The Times, 16 May 1820, 31 May 1822; CJ, lxxxiii. 304, 305, 428; lxxxiv. 283; lxxxv. 188; lxxxvii. 222; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 571-8; Bentley’s Worcs. Dir. 52.
- 5. Worcs. RO BA 3762 b.899:31, Foley scrapbk. vol. 4, pp. 172-4, election address of John Richards, 16 Apr. 1831.
- 6. Hants RO, Tierney mss 48; Althorp Letters, 101; Lansdowne mss, Lyttelton to Lansdowne, 18 Feb.; Bodl. Ms. Phillipps-Robinson c. 408, ff. 262-3; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/16; Worcs. RO, Lechmere mss, Beauchamp to Sir A. Lechmere, 17 Feb.; Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 17, 24 Feb., 2 Mar. 1820.
- 7. The Times, 3 Jan. 1821.
- 8. CJ, lxxvi. 15.
- 9. Ibid. 113.
- 10. The Times, 4, 6, 11 Feb. 1822; CJ, lxxvii. 76.
- 11. CJ, lxxvii. 214, 337.
- 12. Ibid. lxxviii. 131; lxxix. 253, 324, 419.
- 13. Ibid. lxxx. 337; lxxxi. 86.
- 14. Ibid. lxxxi. 217, 253.
- 15. The Times, 5, 20 June; Worcester Herald, 10, 17 June 1826; Foley scrapbk. vol. 4, p. 172.
- 16. CJ, lxxxii. 510, 534; lxxxiii. 73.
- 17. LJ, lx. 111; lxi. 47.
- 18. CJ, lxxxv. 154, 159, 172, 178, 182, 228, 336, 342, 381.
- 19. Worcester Herald, 10, 17, 24, 31 July, 7 Aug, 1830.
- 20. CJ, lxxxvi. 38, 108, 172, 194, 227.
- 21. Foley scrapbk. vol. 4, pp. 172-8; CJ, lxxxvi. 423; LJ, lxiii. 363.
- 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 428, 509.
- 23. The Times, 19 Apr.; Worcester Herald, 23, 30 Apr., 7, 14, 21, 28 May, 4 June 1831; Foley scrapbk. vol. 4, pp. 172-8; Bodl. Ms. Phillipps-Robinson c. 611, ff. 20, 21; Worcs. RO 899/225, Letter to Electors of Worcs. (1834), 11; T. C. Turberville, Worcs. in 19th Cent. 22-24.
- 24. Worcs. Pollbook (1831).
- 25. Worcs. RO, Lord mss 705:192; Worcester Herald, 14 May 1831.
- 26. The Times, 28 May; Worcester Herald, 14, 21, 28 May 1831; Bodl. Ms. Phillipps-Robinson c. 444, f. 186.
- 27. CJ, lxxxvi. 817, 873.
- 28. Ibid. lxxxvii. 29, 341.
- 29. PP (1831-2), xl. 123.
- 30. Hatherton diary, 31 Oct., 8 Nov. 1831.
- 31. CJ, lxxxvii. 55.
- 32. PP (1831-2), xl. 123; (1833), xxxvii. 832.
- 33. Bodl. Ms. Phillipps-Robinson c. 444 f. 181.
- 34. W. Williams, Parl. Hist. Worcs. 64-71; The Times, 16 Nov. 1832; Letter to Electors of Worcs. 12.