Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
in the freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot
Number of Qualified Electors:
Number of voters:
22 in 1696
|24 Feb. 1690||SIR JOHN THOMPSON, Bt.|
|28 Oct. 1695||SIR JOHN THOMPSON, Bt.|
|5 Nov. 1696||GEORGE EVELYN vice Thompson, called to the Upper House||11|
|21 July 1698||THOMAS TURGIS|
|HON. MAURICE THOMPSON|
|2 Jan. 1701||THOMAS TURGIS|
|HON. MAURICE THOMPSON|
|21 Nov. 1701||THOMAS TURGIS|
|HON. MAURICE THOMPSON|
|16 July 1702||HON. MAURICE THOMPSON|
|9 May 1705||GEORGE NEWLAND|
|1 May 1708||SIR GEORGE NEWLAND|
|2 Oct. 1710||WILLIAM NEWLAND|
|25 Aug. 1713||WILLIAM NEWLAND|
Already regarded as a rotten borough, Gatton was shamelessly manipulated by local proprietorial interests. Comprising little more than ten houses and a small church, it was condemned by Defoe as a ‘miserable’ place. Control of one of the seats lay with the lord of the manor, whose influence over the nomination of the parish constable, the returning officer, proved a decisive electoral advantage. The other seat was usually the preserve of the owner of the mansion of Upper Gatton, which lay to the north of the hamlet. Browne Willis*, who visited Gatton in ‘about’ 1704, has left this classic account of parish-pump politics:
Mr Pipps the parson . . . told me that when the writs for Members came down he read it [sic] in the church, and that on the day of the election about 10 or 12 inhabitants meet at the Pound and the constable takes their votes. Lord Haversham [Sir John Thompson, 1st Bt.] . . . joining with Mr Turgis [Thomas] nominate the Parliament men.
However, this cosy image belied the intense politicking which preceded several of the elections in this period. The attractiveness of the borough to City patrons, in particular, ensured much electoral friction.1
At the Revolution the borough was controlled by Thomas Turgis, an extremely rich London grocer who had represented Gatton ever since he bought the manor in 1654, and Sir John Thompson, an influential London lawyer who had acquired Upper Gatton via a fortuitous inheritance. Royal agents had admitted in 1688 that they could do little to influence the destiny of two seats, and the uncontested return of Turgis and Thompson in 1690 and 1695 endorsed their assessment. However, Thompson’s elevation to a peerage in May 1696 initiated a flurry of activity on the part of the two proprietors as the ensuing by-election developed into a trial of strength between them. Both were identified as Court Whigs at this time, but Thompson’s notoriety as a creature of faction may well have turned Turgis against him, particularly given the manner in which Thompson conducted his campaign.
Electioneering began almost as soon as Thompson’s peerage had been announced, for, as the elections committee later heard, the newly created Lord Haversham set out to improve his interest at Gatton by encouraging supporters to settle there. His critics later claimed that Haversham was responsible for the arrival of at least three newcomers to the borough, an accusation subsequently corroborated by Willis, who observed that Haversham had ‘erected three or four tenements . . . to claim votes’, and by John Aubrey’s account, which noted that the Upper Gatton estate was ‘divided into many small freehold cottages’. Such underhand tactics were employed in response to the strong challenge of George Evelyn I, the former Bletchingley MP favoured by Thomas Turgis. Even though a fellow Whig, Evelyn clearly had a score to settle with Haversham, having been defeated by Haversham’s son Hon. Maurice in an acrimonious contest at Bletchingley in 1695. Most worrying for Thompson, Evelyn could rely on the considerable support of Sir Richard Onslow, 3rd Bt.*, whose interest in the election was proven by a visit to Evelyn’s home on the eve of the election and by his attendance at the poll itself. In answer to such established local connexions, Haversham put forward John South, a former army captain who had been recently appointed as one of the commissioners of the Irish revenue. Haversham’s vested interest in the Irish forfeitures may have been a key influence behind this choice, for South’s attraction as a government official was the only obvious recommendation for his candidacy. On 13 Aug. South was given permission by the Treasury to visit England ‘about private affairs’, but, as his fellow commissioner John Evelyn observed, he returned ‘without any other business than to oppose my cousin Evelyn at Gatton’.2
The poll on 5 Nov. was a predictably stormy affair, and although it was later reported that the contest had ended with each candidate receiving 11 votes, Evelyn was returned by the constable, Anthony Aynscome. However, in a petition South claimed that he had gained victory ‘by a great majority’, alleging that several of Evelyn’s votes were ‘not qualified’ and that four of his own supporters had been wrongfully denied the vote. According to a petition of ‘the burghers and inhabitants’ of Gatton, Constable Aynscome, evidently under instructions from Turgis, had unfairly taken exception to nine of South’s supporters and had debarred five others from registering their votes. The elections committee eventually reported on the contest on 15 Dec., by which time both sides had had an opportunity to expose each other’s dubious tactics. Neither side disputed the actual franchise, but South began by attacking the qualifications of six of Evelyn’s supporters, even claiming that one of them was a resident in Turgis’ mansion. Evelyn hit back by querying the eligibility of at least six of South’s voters, including Maurice Thompson, who was reported to have taken up a one-year lease of Upper Gatton property at the time of his father’s elevation to a peerage. The constable then justified his exclusion of several of South’s supporters, mostly on account of their failure to pay scot and lot in the parish. Both the committee and the House seem to have accepted his account, for Evelyn’s return was upheld without a division.
The election of 1698 was almost as eventful as its predecessor, although there is no evidence to suggest that either Evelyn or South tried for a seat. The principal cause of conflict on this occasion was the ambition of Nicholas Carew of Beddington, whose father, Sir Nicholas†, had sat for the borough before the establishment of the Thompson interest at Upper Gatton. Carew may have acted as one of Turgis’ witnesses before the elections committee in 1696, and thus there are some grounds for believing Carew’s claim that Turgis had made ‘repeated promises’ to support his candidacy. Whether Turgis, aged 75, had declared any intention of retiring to make way for Carew, or had promised to help him challenge the Thompsons, is unclear. However, a week before the election it was reported that Carew ‘is like to be baffled at Gatton for . . . Haversham and Turgis join interest, which must cast off all his hopes’. Carew was so incensed by this treatment that he did not bother to attend the poll, ‘having so good reasons to believe Mr Turgis would forsake me’. The return of Turgis and Maurice Thompson signalled a reconciliation between the owners of Upper and Lower Gatton, and this accommodation was sufficiently strong to survive the two elections of 1701.3
The first election of Queen Anne’s reign saw a notable change in personnel when Turgis relinquished a seat he had held with some comfort for the previous 43 years. However, his replacement, the ambitious young Whig Thomas Onslow, was undoubtedly his nominee and the return suggests that Turgis had lost none of his local influence. Even though Turgis had recently moved towards the Tories, he was not only related to the Onslows but also indebted to them for past support, most significantly at the time of the 1696 election. No important change of any real political significance occurred until Turgis’ death in June 1704, when the manor passed to his distant relative, William Newland of London. As a minor, Newland could not take up the seat, and thus his father George, a leading City Tory, was returned at the subsequent election. One report suggested that an Onslow would put up, but was not expected to prevail against the proprietorial interests. The other seat had also changed hands in 1704, for Lord Haversham sold the estate of Upper Gatton to Paul Docminique, a City merchant of Huguenot extraction. Haversham’s decision to sell to a Tory was condemned by Lord Halifax (Charles Montagu*) as further proof of apostasy, but it also served to highlight Maurice Thompson’s lack of interest in the business of the House. For the rest of the period and well beyond it, the two seats remained securely in the control of the Docminique and Newland families. William Newland eventually took up his seat in 1710 as his father went on to gain the favour of the much greater electorate of the city of London. Gatton’s failure to produce any address in the Augustan period accurately reflected the venality of a constituency whose attraction to outsiders was completely dependent on its borough status. Its political history subsequent to 1715 was neatly summarized by Defoe when he observed, ‘the purchasers seem to buy the election with the property’.4
Author: Perry Gauci
- 1. Defoe, Tour ed. Cole, i. 156; Manning and Bray, Surr. ii. 227, 231; Bodl. Willis 15, f. 6.
- 2. Willis 15, f. 6; J. Aubrey, Surr. iv. 222; Surr. RO (Guildford), 97/11/6, Onslow acct. bk. 4–5 Nov. 1696; Cal. Treas. Bks. xi. 47, 238; BL, Evelyn mss 538.
- 3. Northants. RO, Isham mss IC 1584, John to Sir Justinian Isham, 4th Bt.*, 14 July 1698; IC 1593, Nicholas Carew to same, 9 Aug. 1698.
- 4. Manning and Bray, 237; Add. 70335, list of constituencies, 8 Feb. 1705; W. A. Speck, Tory and Whig, 104; Defoe, 156.