Double Member Borough

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1754-1790, ed. L. Namier, J. Brooke., 1964
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the corporation

Number of voters:



17 Apr. 1754Sir John Ligonier 
 Robert Henley 
8 Dec. 1756Henley re-elected after appointment to office 
9 July 1757William Pitt vice Henley appointed to office 
27 Mar. 1761John Ligonier, Visct. Ligonier 
 William Pitt 
28 Apr. 1763Sir John Sebright vice Ligonier, vacated his seat22
 Walter Long5
19 Nov. 1766John Smith vice Pitt, called to the Upper House15
 Walter Long14
17 Mar. 1768Sir John Sebright 
 John Smith 
10 Oct. 1774John Smith29
 Abel Moysey19
 Sir John Sebright10
24 Nov. 1775Sir John Sebright vice Smith, deceased 
29 Nov. 1777Moysey re-elected after appointment to office 
11 Sept. 1780Abel Moysey 
 John Jeffreys Pratt 
19 July 1782Pratt re-elected after appointment to office 
5 Jan. 1784Pratt re-elected after appointment to office 
6 Apr. 1784John Jeffreys Pratt27
 Abel Moysey17
 William Pitt14
7 Aug. 1789John Jeffreys Pratt, Visct. Bayham, re-elected after appointment to office 

Main Article

In 1761, when William Pitt was returned a second time for Bath, he paid tribute to ‘a city ranked among the most ancient and most considerable in the kingdom, and justly famed for its integrity, independence, and zeal for the public good’.1 The corporation consisted for the most part of country gentlemen and substantial tradesmen, proud of their independence and integrity; and the Members had either strong local connexions, or were national figures. There was no patron; Government had little influence; and bribery was unknown. It was a unique and, in many ways, a model borough.

In 1754 the sitting Members were returned without opposition. They were Robert Henley, recorder of Bath and attorney-general to the Prince of Wales, and Sir John Ligonier, lieutenant-general of the Ordnance. When in the summer of 1756 it was expected that Henley would shortly be made a judge, Thomas Potter began putting out feelers on behalf of his friend William Pitt. His contact in the corporation was Ralph Allen of Prior Park, who had made a considerable fortune through the farm of the by and cross letter department of the Post Office. Potter and Allen contrived, when Henley became lord keeper in 1757, to secure for Pitt a unanimous invitation from the corporation to represent them.

Bath could now boast of having two of the most eminent men in the country for its representatives; and the corporation were proud of their choice. In October 1760 Pitt and Ligonier were invited to accept nomination at the next general election. Pitt was unable to be present on election day, and was represented by Sir John Sebright, who wrote to him, 28 Mar. 1761:

Conscious of the dignity of their choice and the honour they derive from it, it has been with great difficulty that your electors are persuaded to accept of the customary treats. They think their present election cannot be too distinguishable from all others, by rejecting every appearance of interest.

Yet letters in Pitt’s papers testify that he and Ligonier, like less distinguished Members, had to procure favours for their constituents. The corporation of Bath had made a disinterested choice, but saw no reason why they should not profit from it.

On Pitt’s resignation in October 1761 the corporation sent him an address of thanks for his ‘great, unparalleled services’. When Ligonier went to the House of Lords in 1763, he suggested his nephew to succeed him at Bath, but the corporation refused to accept him; and Sebright, with Pitt’s approbation, offered himself. He was opposed by a local man, Walter Long of Wraxall, who polled only five votes.

In 1763 Pitt declined to present an address to the Crown from the corporation, in which the treaty of Paris was described as an ‘adequate and advantageous peace’. To Allen, who had suggested this phrase, he wrote, 2 June 1763:2 ‘I perceive I am but ill qualified to form pretensions to the future favour of gentlemen who are come to think so differently from me on matters of the highest importance to the national welfare’; and requested that his sentiments be conveyed to the corporation. Henceforth his influence at Bath declined, which was accelerated by Allen’s resignation from the corporation.

The two new Members returned for Bath during the next 15 years were both local men: John Smith, a country gentleman; and Abel Moysey, son of an eminent Bath physician. At the general election of 1780 Lord Camden, recorder of Bath since 1757, determined to propose his son as a candidate. He wrote to his daughter Frances Stewart (later Lady Londonderry), 23 Oct. 1779:3

How it will turn out finally I cannot pronounce with any degree of certainty ... I am already sure of thirteen, the rest are doubtful as yet, but neither of the other two can build upon so many ... This circumstance of three candidates makes the business very perplexed and disagreeable. But it is worth the trial, and it will cost nothing but a little trouble if it fails.

A week before the election Sebright withdrew because of ill health. Government failed to find another candidate, and Moysey and Pratt were returned without opposition.

Moysey supported the Coalition, while Pratt took office under Pitt. In February 1784 the corporation sent an address to the King deploring ‘the unconstitutional attempts of your Majesty’s late ministers to deprive a great commercial company of their chartered rights’, and resolved to present Pitt with the freedom of the city. Government tried to find a candidate to join with Pratt, and eventually decided that Pitt himself should stand. The news of Pitt’s election for Cambridge University had reached Bath by 6 Apr., election day, yet his supporters resolved that his candidature should stand ‘to give that public proof of their adherence to the principles they invited him on’. He polled 14 votes against 17 for Moysey; and there seems little doubt that had his campaign been pressed more vigorously, Moysey would have been defeated.

Author: J. A. Cannon


  • 1. Pitt to the corporation of Bath, 12 Apr. 1761, Chatham mss.
  • 2. Chatham Corresp. ii. 224-5.
  • 3. Camden mss.