Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1690-1715, ed. D. Hayton, E. Cruickshanks, S. Handley, 2002
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation and freemen

Number of Qualified Electors:

315 in 17131

Number of voters:



13 Mar. 1690Sir George Hutchins
 Arthur Champneys
26 Oct. 1695Nicholas Hooper
 Arthur Champneys
27 July 1698Nicholas Hooper
 Arthur Champneys
11 Jan. 1701Nicholas Hooper
 Arthur Champneys
1 Dec. 1701Nicholas Hooper
 Arthur Champneys
25 July 1702Nicholas Hooper
 Arthur Champneys
17 May 1705Nicholas Hooper
 Samuel Rolle
12 May 1708Richard Acland
 Nicholas Hooper
13 Oct. 1710Nicholas Hooper
 Richard Acland
 Sir Alexander Cairnes, Bt.
5 Sept. 1713Sir Arthur Chichester, Bt.
 Sir Nicholas Hooper

Main Article

Barnstaple’s economic decline was well advanced by the late 17th century, much of its trade in wool having been lost to nearby Bideford. Control over the town’s parliamentary seats during this period was shared between the corporation and the proprietors of the adjacent manor of Raleigh. The Chichester family had been the chief gentry family in the Barnstaple area for many generations, the manor having been in their possession for much of the century. On standing down at the 1690 election, however, Sir Arthur Chichester, 3rd Bt., signified his intention of not putting up at any future election (an intention he eventually relinquished) by promptly selling Raleigh to Arthur Champneys, a Devonian and London merchant. Champneys was consequently able to secure his return at the election. The corporation nominee on this occasion was a man of local origin, the distinguished Whig law officer Sir George Hutchins, whose father had been Barnstaple’s parish clerk. When Hutchins retired in 1695 the corporation acquiesced in the election of a Tory, Nicholas Hooper, also of local parentage and who had already begun to make a successful career in the law. He had served as the town’s deputy recorder during the mid-1680s and as the owner of one of the finest houses in the town maintained his local importance in some dignity. Champneys, a Whig who later turned Tory, and Hooper were returned uneventfully at the next four elections. At some point, probably just before 1701, Champneys sold Raleigh to Hooper, thus enabling Hooper to extend the scope of his interest in the borough, though for his part Champneys retained his seat until retiring at the 1705 election.2

When Champneys stood down in 1705 there were efforts by the collector of customs at Bideford to put up Hugh Fortescue* but Samuel Rolle II, a Whig, was returned with Hooper. Rolle’s election, presumably as the corporation’s nominee, appears to have had less to do with his own or his family’s local prominence than with the fact he was married to the daughter of a wealthy Barnstaple merchant, John Lovering, who had died in 1686. When Rolle resigned at the 1708 election he was succeeded by Richard Acland of Fremington, the husband of another of Lovering’s daughters. Party politics seems to have mattered little, if at all, in the disposal of Barnstaple’s borough seats despite the potential size of the electorate and the corporation’s power to create an indeterminate number of freemen; certainly, no open infighting appeared until 1710. However, in the general election of that year a fierce struggle broke out between the ‘Churchmen’, who campaigned for the sitting Members Hooper and Acland, and the Dissenters, who put up Sir Alexander Cairnes, 1st Bt., a Dublin banker, Irish MP and Presbyterian. Cairnes had first of all written to the corporation desiring their interest, but was told in a reply signed by all bar three of them that ‘they would make all the interest they could against him’. It was reported by Samuel Thomson, the post-master of Barnstaple, that a number of the Church party had been ‘frightened by the Dissenters to join with him’, and that local gentlemen had arranged to visit defectors ‘in a body’ in order to win back their support. On 21 Sept., with the election three weeks away,

there was such an appearance of gentry and clergy as was never seen here before. The mayor and corporation yesterday made above four score freemen to strengthen the Church party, so that now the Church is too strong for the conventiclers. Just before they began to make freemen, there was a sort of riot in the Guildhall occasioned by an Anabaptist, an apothecary of the town, who cried out ‘we are bought and sold, one and all’ and then immediately set up an hurrah and was seconded by above an hundred of the mob of Sir Alex’s party. This was repeated three times, which so alarmed the court that the gentlemen expected an assault, but their insolence was soon curbed. The recorder Serjeant Hooper [Nicholas], with the mayor etc. ordered the constables to bring the criminal before him, who after his examination and saucy defence of himself was committed to gaol. The court offered to pardon him if he would ask forgiveness, but he refused it, neither would he accept of bail, though several offered to be his security . . . This is called persecution by the Dissenters of Barnstaple.

The number of freemen created was in fact 72, though as many as 36 were non-residents, including 15 gentlemen and clergymen drawn from the surrounding area. It soon emerged that the Guildhall riot had been deliberately fomented by the Dissenters who, knowing that the dissolution was expected at any moment, hoped thereby to delay the creation of new freemen and invalidate their votes in the coming election. As was noted, however, ‘they were disappointed in this as well as other measures they have taken’. The Church party continued to play out their campaign amid a round of lavish corporation dinners to which all the neighbouring gentry and their ladies were invited. It is doubtful whether in fact Cairnes actually insisted on a poll. The Barnstaple post-master noted on 8 Oct. that

’tis believed Sir Alex. Cairnes will hardly stand, being assured that since so many are made free in order to vote against him, he’ll lose the day. The Dissenting party have done all they can to set up another, but all the gentlemen to whom they have made an offer have refused it with scorn.

Accordingly, Hooper and Acland were returned once more. On Acland’s retirement in 1713, the former member, Sir Arthur Chichester, who had abandoned the borough in 1690, was easily prevailed upon to accept the vacant seat.3

Authors: Eveline Cruickshanks / Andrew A. Hanham


  • 1. J. B. Gribble, Mems. of Barnstaple, 244.
  • 2. Ibid. 19–20, 101, 129; Trans. Devon Assoc. lxxiii. 181–2.
  • 3. Cal. Treas. Pprs. 1702–7, p. 322; Trans. Devon Assoc. xxxviii. 182; BL, Evelyn mss, Samuel Thompson to John Evelyn II*, 12, 22, 24 Sept., 8 Oct. 1710; Barnstaple Recs. ed. Wainwright, i. 78.