Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the burgage holders
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
68 in 1695; 33 in 1702; 75 in 1710
|24 Feb. 1690||THOMAS HOWARD||241|
|SIR ROBERT CLAYTON||33|
|George Evelyn I||9|
|7 Nov. 1695||THOMAS HOWARD||61|
|George Evelyn I||40|
|22 July 1698||HON. HUGH HARE|
|SIR ROBERT CLAYTON|
|4 Jan. 1701||SIR EDWARD GRESHAM, Bt.||32|
|Sir Robert Clayton||8|
|24 Nov. 1701||SIR EDWARD GRESHAM, Bt.|
|18 July 1702||JOHN WARD|
|1 Dec. 1702||SIR ROBERT CLAYTON vice Evelyn, deceased||26|
|10 May 1705||JOHN WARD|
|GEORGE EVELYN II|
|3 May 1708||THOMAS ONSLOW|
|GEORGE EVELYN II|
|3 Oct. 1710||GEORGE EVELYN II||53|
|25 Aug. 1713||GEORGE EVELYN II||56|
|Sir Charles Gresham, Bt.||16|
Although dismissed by Browne Willis* as ‘one street . . . lying on a descent of ordinary houses’, Bletchingley could rely on its two parliamentary seats to attract the attention of local landowners, county magnates and City merchants. However, its frequent election contests belied the fact that both seats remained comfortably in Whig hands, and until 1710 electoral rivalry was principally of a territorial, rather than of a party, nature. For most of this period the elections were dominated by Sir Robert Clayton, a fabulously wealthy London businessman who had bought the manor of Bletchingley in 1677. His main rivals were the Evelyns of Nutfield, whose ownership of the adjacent manor of Godstone had permitted them to influence Bletchingley elections for over half a century. Such was the intensity of the rivalry between these two interests that many burgages were subdivided to secure additional votes, a practice which both increased the size of the electorate and encouraged a brisk trade in local properties.
At the election of 1690 Clayton revealed political priorities which were to dictate the course of Bletchingley politics until his death in July 1707. His principal concern evidently lay with the successful defence of his prestigious London seat, but ‘fearing he should lose the City’, he actually obtained an adjournment of the London election so that he could attend the Bletchingley election on 24 Feb. The debacle which the Whigs subsequently suffered at the London poll proved Clayton’s decision wise, but he did not find the Bletchingley contest a walkover. Clayton may have topped the poll, but his running-mate Thomas Howard, even though an influential figure in his own right as a teller of the Exchequer, did not manage to gain a single vote from his opponents. Moreover, Howard was nearly dislodged as the constituency’s sitting Member by Jeffrey Amherst†, a bencher whose interest at Bletchingley had only been acquired as recently as November 1689. Amherst managed to win over several of Clayton’s adherents, but received surprisingly little support from the fourth candidate George Evelyn I*, the current lord of the manor of Godstone. A three-time winner at Bletchingley during the Exclusion crisis, Evelyn had evidently fallen out with his former Whig ally Clayton and had yet to establish an effective independent interest in the borough.2
The next election, however, suggested that the Evelyns had embarked upon a successful campaign to undermine Clayton’s local predominance, for the poll proved a bitterly contested affair. Sir Robert himself had not been content to rest on his electoral laurels, enlisting the considerable support of Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.*, the proprietor of nearby Gatton, by promoting Thompson’s son Maurice* as Howard’s running-mate. Having previously secured election at the City contest, Clayton found further cause for satisfaction when Howard emerged as the clear winner at Bletchingley, capturing all but six of the 68 votes cast. The sharp increase in the number of electors inevitably gave rise to suspicions of corruption, and an acrimonious row duly followed after the returning officer, the bailiff, decided to disqualify 24 of Evelyn’s votes to return Thompson as the second Member. Nicholas Carew of Beddington, a local Whig landowner, had little cause to contest the return after finishing a sorry fourth, but Evelyn petitioned to complain of the ‘manifest injury’ he had suffered at the election. However, the report which the elections committee eventually submitted to the House not only spotlighted the high-handedness of Clayton’s methods but also questioned the legality of Evelyn’s election tactics. Evelyn’s counsel initially launched a direct attack on Clayton himself, accusing the lord of the manor of having used his personal influence over the bailiff to deny the vote to over half of Evelyn’s supporters. Moreover, a witness claimed that Clayton had assured the parish official that ‘he [Clayton] would stand by him . . . and if Mr Evelyn’s petition came into the House, Sir John Thompson’s interest and his [own] would bring him off’. Even though one of Thompson’s witnesses admitted that several of Evelyn’s disqualified supporters had voted in previous Bletchingley elections, counsel for the sitting Member argued that since there were only 55 legitimate burgages in the borough, there simply were not enough properties to enfranchise all Evelyn’s voters. Evelyn responded by using property records to prove the eligibility of his supporters, but his first real success came when the elections committee declined to hear new evidence from Thompson’s counsel which purported to invalidate Evelyn’s claims. In the wake of this ruling, the committee actually recommended that Evelyn should be declared elected, but the House ordered the committee to examine evidence ‘not already heard’. By the time a second report had been submitted, Thompson had taken the opportunity to question the eligibility of nine of Evelyn’s votes, in response to which Evelyn issued a further defence of two of his supporters. The matter was then decided by a division of the House in which Thompson triumphed by 30 votes. Although territorial rivalry had played a major part in sustaining such a bitter contest, the identity of the tellers in this division suggests that political tensions were also at work and that Thompson’s victory owed much to the mobilization of Court supporters.3
Evelyn soon gained revenge over Sir John Thompson by winning a by-election at Gatton in November 1696, but he did not appear to challenge Clayton’s interest at the next Bletchingley election. A poll of the July 1698 election survives, but simply records that 44 electors registered their block support for the successful candidates, Clayton and Hon. Hugh Hare. After the controversy of the preceding poll, Clayton may have decided to adopt a more accommodating approach towards his local rivals, and the presence of former Evelyn supporters in the poll list suggests that a degree of reconciliation had been achieved. Hare’s ownership of property in Dorking permitted him to wield some influence in south-east Surrey, but his attraction as a compromise Whig candidate could have been an even more significant factor in determining his success, for he had already established himself as both a vigorous supporter of the Court as well as a champion of moral reform. Although deciding not to stand for Parliament in the summer of 1698, Clayton subsequently found his future election prospects at Bletchingley much improved following the death of George Evelyn I in June 1699. By the time of the January poll of 1701 Evelyn’s young successor, John I, was as yet unprepared to launch any effective campaign against Clayton, and the ‘contest’ which took place only gave further proof of Clayton’s dominance. Although at the poll Clayton finished a disappointing third, the strength of his interest and the identity of the two successful candidates suggest that he had not wished to be put forward. John Ward II, a fellow London businessman and investor in the New East India Company, was evidently dependent on Clayton for his seat. Moreover, even though the family of Sir Edward Gresham, 2nd Bt. of Titsey, could claim a long history of political success at Bletchingley, it is inconceivable that Gresham could have relegated Clayton to such a poor third place. Gresham was no doubt promoted by the lord of the manor to appease any local resentment towards a complete stranger such as Ward, but it appears that even Clayton could not prevent several electors from stubbornly voting in his interest. Clayton’s nominees had little difficulty in securing their return at the second election of 1701, even though much unforeseen attention was focused on the constituency after reports circulated that the controversial writer and publicist John Toland might stand. Clayton had become one of Toland’s principal Whig patrons, and the rumour was later dismissed by one observer as an attempt to sabotage Clayton’s campaign to gain re-election for the City. Toland advertised his unwillingness to contest Bletchingley in the Post Man, and pointed out that Clayton had ‘given his interest in that borough to an eminent citizen’, i.e. John Ward. Toland’s disclaimer can probably be taken at face value, for in his work, The Art of Governing By Partys (1701), he had called for the disfranchisement of rotten boroughs, Bletchingley included. Despite this speculation, the election saw no opposition offered to the two outgoing Members, and the Toland controversy did not prevent Clayton from achieving a very comfortable victory at the subsequent City election.4
The advent of the new reign signalled the re-establishment of the Evelyn interest at Bletchingley, as Gresham was forced to stand aside in favour of John Evelyn I. Fortunately for Clayton, Evelyn succumbed to smallpox within weeks of entering the House, thus providing Sir Robert with a chance to make amends for his ‘horrid disappointment’ at the City election of August 1702. Despite Clayton’s status, the only Bletchingley by-election in this period did see a contest, serving him a reminder of his limited influence over the borough’s second seat. However, his opponent, Nicholas Carew, who since his disastrous performance at the Bletchingley election of 1695 had twice fought an unsuccessful campaign to secure election for the county, was again unable to present any serious threat to the Clayton interest. During the subsequent Parliament Clayton showed himself to be a dutiful constituency MP, petitioning the Upper House on 14 Dec. 1704 for a bill to separate the church of Bletchingley from that of nearby Horne. The two churches had been formerly amalgamated to provide an adequate maintenance for a single minister, but once they had convinced Parliament that they could now each support an incumbent, the bill quickly achieved the Royal Assent on 14 Mar. 1705. At the election of 1705 Clayton had to share the Bletchingley seats with the Evelyns, a significant success for the new lord of Godstone, George Evelyn II. Clayton’s death in July 1707 helped Evelyn consolidate his local position still further, for at the next general election he managed to secured an unopposed return for both himself and Thomas Onslow, a former MP for Gatton who had proved his loyalty to the Evelyns in the recent Parliament by sponsoring a bill to settle the Godstone estate. As a member of Surrey’s pre-eminent Whig family, Onslow had sufficient influence to conduct a simultaneous campaign for election at Cirencester and Haslemere as well, but his decision to sit for Bletchingley in preference to Haslemere suggests a concern to advance his family’s interest in the south-east of the county. Although Evelyn and Onslow were to retain their seats at the next two elections with relative ease, successive contests were occasioned by the advent of a Tory challenge to Whig supremacy at Bletchingley. In October 1710 the Tories were represented by candidates who could boast long-term links with the borough as well as first-hand experience of several Bletchingley elections. Thomas Drake, a Lothbury haberdasher, had voted with the Whigs as recently as 1705, but he backed Tory candidates in both the Surrey election of 1710 and the London election of 1713. His cousin Richard Jewell of Nutfield came from more solid Tory stock, although like Drake his local interest was securely founded upon the ownership of several burgages. The poll revealed that burgage-splitting had increased the size of the electorate to a total of 75 voters, but the margin of victory for the Whig interest was so great that it probably discouraged the defeated candidates from seeking to bring such evident corruption to the House’s attention. However, at the subsequent county poll the Bletchingley Tories actually outpolled their Whig rivals by 28 votes to 22, thereby providing Evelyn and Onslow with a sharp reminder of the need to cultivate their local support.5
In the months preceding the contest of 1713 the two MPs attempted to advance their joint interest by presenting an address at court on behalf of ‘the bailiff, burgesses, clergy, freeholders and inhabitants’ of Bletchingley. Its sentiments clearly echoed those of its presenters, rejoicing as it did at the end of ‘so long and necessary a war’ and calling upon the nation for the utmost vigilance to protect the Hanoverian succession. This did not discourage a local Tory challenge, which on this occasion was represented by two local gentlemen, Sir Charles Gresham, 3rd Bt. of Titsey, and William Hoskins of Oxted. Although the heir of the Whiggish Sir Edward, Gresham had switched allegiance to the Tories at the 1710 county election, as had Hoskins. Significantly, Hoskins was closely related to the Finches of Albury, the leaders of the revitalized Surrey Tories. However, the campaign conducted by the Tories in Bletchingley was even less effective than that mounted three years earlier. Over a third of the burgage holders who had voted in 1710 did not participate in this election, but this turnover had no effect on the eventual outcome. Indeed, the next significant change in the borough’s electoral history would only occur after 1715, when William Clayton†, Sir Robert’s nephew and heir, began to establish so complete an authority as a local landowner that he would eventually overwhelm the Evelyn interest.6
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. All poll figures from Surr. RO (Kingston), 60/9.
- 2. Bodl. Willis 26, f. 141; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 302; BL, Verney mss mic. 636/44, John Verney* (Visct. Fermanagh) to Sir Ralph Verney, 1st Bt.†, 24 Feb. 1690; Surr. RO (Kingston), 60/9/7.
- 3. Surr. RO (Kingston), 60/9/10.
- 4. Ibid. 60/9/23; J. Nutt, Modesty Mistaken , 6–7; Post Man, 18–20 Nov. 1701.
- 5. Strathmore mss at Glamis Castle, box 70, folder 2, bdle. 1, newsletter 15 Aug. 1702; Surr. RO (Kingston), 60/9/24, 25; HMC Lords, n.s. vi. 229–30; U. Lambert, Bletchingley, 537–8, 541–2; London Rec. Soc. xvii. 82; Surr. Poll 1710 (IHR).
- 6. London Gazette, 27–30 June, 4–7 July 1713; Le Neve’s Knights (Harl. Soc. viii), 215–16; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 18; Surr. RO (Kingston), 60/9/26.