Durham City


Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 1,000


(1801): 7,530


21 June 1790JOHN TEMPEST 
17 Oct. 1794 SIR HENRY VANE, Bt., vice Tempest, deceased 
8 Jan. 1798 RALPH JOHN LAMBTON vice Lambton, deceased 
17 Mar. 1800 MICHAEL ANGELO TAYLOR vice Vane Tempest, vacated his seat464
 Matthew Russell360
 George Baker7
 Michael Angelo Taylor498
  Wharton’s election declared void, 20 Feb. 1804 
 Francis Tweddell285
 Charles Spearman13
10 Dec. 1813 GEORGE ALLAN vice Lambton, vacated his seat440
 George Baker360
 George Allan27

Main Article

Durham had been represented by members of the Lambton family of Lambton and of the Tempest family of Wynyard, both owners of extensive and lucrative coal mines, since 1734 and 1742 respectively, the only brief hiatus in this record being the episode in 1761-2 when the corporation, backed by the church, had created over 200 honorary freemen to secure the return of Ralph Gowland over John Lambton at a by-election. The result had been reversed on petition and the ‘Durham Act’ subsequently passed to prevent honorary freemen from voting until they had held the freedom for 12 months. Thus, Oldfield wrote in 1792, Durham had ‘preserved its independence’, except that an established attachment to the respectable families of Lambton and Tempest could ‘be included under the name of influence’.1 The church, headed by the bishop of Durham, was potentially important, but played no decisive role in this period until 1807. Fewer than half the electors lived in the city and the cost of bringing the non-residents to the poll made contested elections extremely expensive.

In 1790 there was no opposition to the sitting Members, John Tempest, an independent, and William Henry Lambton, a zealous Foxite Whig. On Tempest’s death in 1794 he was quietly replaced by his nephew and successor in the Wynyard estates, Sir Henry Vane, who later took the additional name of Tempest. There was no disturbance in 1796 and when the consumptive Lambton died in Italy the following year, leaving a five-year-old son and heir, his seat was filled by his brother Ralph, also a Foxite, who was head partner in a Newcastle bank.

In 1799 Vane Tempest, who had a sordid reputation as a philanderer and wastrel and paid scant attention to his parliamentary duties, married the Countess of Antrim and early the following year announced his retirement, ‘the necessity of attending to my private concerns requiring my presence in Ireland’. The popular belief was that he was aiming for an Irish peerage on the strength of his wife’s estates there. In his place he recommended his Whig brother-in-law Michael Angelo Taylor, who vacated Aldeburgh to stand and promised that if elected he would take up residence near Durham. Taylor, who also had the support of Lambton, other leading county Whigs and the corporation, was challenged by Matthew Russell* of Hardwicke House, son of William Russell of Brancepeth, an immensely wealthy merchant and Sunderland banker. Russell stood as an independent, though his sympathies were with government, claiming to have come forward in response to an invitation from a party anxious to liberate the city from its ‘bondage’ to the Lambton and Tempest interests and attacking Taylor both on political grounds and as an unwelcome stranger. Though two ahead of Taylor after five days of polling by tallies, he gave up, aware that his rival had an overwhelming majority among the unpolled voters. Before the poll closed the following day George Baker of Elemore, a Whig and friend of Vane Tempest and the Lambtons, was put up as a third man in case there was a petition alleging bribery. The expenses as recorded in Vane Tempest’s accounts were £17,191, over £10,000 of this being for Durham innkeepers’ bills. The resident freemen were almost equally divided for Taylor and Russell, voting 187-185, while those living in the county favoured Taylor by 143 to 116, thereby dividing their votes in proportions almost identical to those of the electorate as a whole, but Taylor outpolled Russell by 67 to 15 among the freemen in London, where Vane Tempest and his wife had been active, and by 68 to 43 among the other out-county voters.2 Seven aldermen voted for Taylor and only one, George Finch, for Russell.

Russell, who alleged that the ground had been prepared for Taylor long before Vane Tempest had announced his retirement, immediately announced that he would stand again at the next opportunity. He boasted to his father-in-law, 29 Mar. 1800:

Durham ... is my stronghold where the men behaved nobly to me, only six having broke their words, notwithstanding every threat and promise was made use of by my opponent’s friends, who were numerous and inflammatorily enraged at any attempt being made to break the bondage of men who have been enchained to two families for years and handed down like an heirloom. This old interest I shook terribly last time and I have every hope of breaking the next ... our expenses was great, I am told £12,000 each at least ... [but] my father has advanced the money very cheerfully and assures me should the election take place next week I may have a greater sum for calling for. The other parties have no ready on which account my warm friends think there will be no opposition.

In response to Russell’s threat, Vane Tempest got Taylor to approach Ralph Lambton, one of the trustees of his late brother’s estates, with a proposal for a junction to safeguard their division of the representation:

The essential points are whether the trustees will be answerable for half the expense, which may in the whole amount to £16,000 at least, and whether they will adopt such measures with the different agents concerned in the management of the Lambton property as by giving employment to a number of freemen, and by throwing a large portion of the necessary business and expenditure among the tradesmen of the city ... may add considerably to the present weight, and finally whether the trustees will join in any expense that may be necessary to keep up the interest on such a plan as the respective friends of the two families should approve of.

Whether any such formal pact was made is not clear, but in April it was reported that Russell, who was cultivating the London freemen, would be faced by the ‘allied forces’ of Lambton and Taylor and that his father was making difficulties over the expense of involvement at Durham. Russell withdrew his pretensions in October 1800.3

A year later Vane Tempest offered for the county at the next general election and opposition to his pretensions merged with general hostility to the prospect of his coming in there while his brother-in-law continued to sit for the city on his interest. Meetings of Durham and London freemen in October declared support for Russell, or anyone else who would come forward ‘in order to do away the coalition of the present representatives’, but it was not until January 1802 that a candidate emerged in the shape of the Pittite Richard Wharton, a failed barrister, whose election addresses were issued from Old Park, the family property near Bishop Auckland, where he seems to have lived as the tenant of his elder brother. Wharton, whose grandfather had contested the city unsuccessfully in 1747, stood as ‘the delegate of the independent interest’ and concentrated his attack on Taylor as a stranger imposed on Durham by Vane Tempest. Lambton had been seriously ill for a year, but on his recovery announced that he would definitely stand again. On the eve of the election it was reported that the city was ‘in a state of fermentation beyond everything witnessed since the famous Gowland’s election’. A charge of atheism had been levelled against Wharton, but he repudiated it on the hustings, when he admitted that Alderman John Potts was his only supporter among the corporation and that the leading county gentlemen were against him. Lambton and Taylor united and Wharton solicited plumpers. After a six-day poll of 981 electors, only 32 votes separated the three candidates, with Wharton beating Taylor into third place by 19. Wharton had 407 plumpers (41 per cent of the electorate), while the two Whigs shared 454 (46 per cent). He received a total of 231 votes from the 392 Durham residents, as against 192 for Lambton and 177 for Taylor, and was ahead among the London freemen, with 65 votes, 57 of them singles, to Taylor’s 51 and Lambton’s 47. Lambton and Taylor comfortably outpolled Wharton among the 310 county residents, who voted 196, 181 and 140, and had a narrow lead among the out-county voters, who divided 95, 89 and 81. Wharton and Taylor shared 38 votes, most of them from the city and county, but Wharton’s success was ensured by the 72 votes which he shared with Lambton. Of these decisive votes, 34 came from resident freemen and 27 from electors resident in the county. Taylor accepted defeat with a good grace, while Wharton boasted of having achieved a victory for independence against ‘that phalanx of power which had for so long a time been cemented by the powerful families of the Lambtons and Tempests’.4

On 7 Dec. 1802 a petition in the names of several electors was lodged against Wharton’s return accusing him of illegal treating and bribery. The main point of attack was on Wharton’s having paid the travelling and living expenses of the non-resident freemen, and to repel it he instituted actions under the Bribery Act against his opponents, who replied in kind. The petition was not heard during the first session of the 1802 Parliament and was renewed on 23 Nov. 1803. In February 1804 the select committee construed Wharton’s payments to the London voters as bribery and declared his election void. He subsequently agreed with Vane Tempest to drop their remaining legal actions, each paying his own costs.5

The first candidates touted for the vacancy were Wharton’s brother and Vane Tempest, but in the event Wharton put up Francis Tweddell, second son of Francis Tweddell of Threepwood, Northumberland. His opponents met and issued an invitation to Robert Shafto of Whitworth, a Foxite, whose ancestors had represented the city in the days before the Lambton-Tempest hegemony. Shafto initially declined, but accepted a second approach. Ralph Skinner Gowland, son of the notorious Gowland of 1761, had offered in the interim, but he gave way to Shafto, who easily beat Tweddell in a three-day poll of 686 voters. On the last day Charles Spearman of Thornley was nominated, presumably as insurance against a petition. Only six London voters polled, all of them for Shafto, who outpolled Tweddell by 177 votes to 73 among the county residents and by 53 to 39 among the out-county voters, but trailed his opponent by 152 to 173 among the resident freemen, where the independent party had clearly increased its strength since 1800.6

In 1806, Lambton and Shafto sought re-election and Wharton tried again. The latter, having heard that the Pittite Lord Lowther (later Earl of Lonsdale) had promised him his interest with freemen resident in Cumberland and Westmorland, wrote to him seeking financial aid against the sitting Members as supporters of the ‘Talents’. He explained that ‘having been elected by a very extraordinary strength of interest (which growing out of circumstances became personal)’ in 1802, at a cost of only £3,000, he had incurred an additional expense of ‘many thousand pounds’ as a result of the petition and the legal actions, and claimed that an expenditure of no more than £3,000 would not only ensure his own success, but enable another Pittite to be returned with him. Lowther complied, supplying both money and agents, but vetoed any attempt to turn out Lambton. Wharton agreed not to ‘molest’ him, but ‘on the contrary seek to convince him that his real interest is to preserve to me a permanent footing in the city exactly as it is mine to preserve the same to him’. Shafto, overawed by the prospect of an expensive contest, withdrew a week before the election with a peevish farewell address which gave ‘very serious offence’ to his few remaining partisans. Wharton remained wary of a possible attack from Vane Tempest, who was reported to have tried in vain to persuade Taylor to stand, and subsequently to have gone so far as to have sounded Wharton on the possibility of combining against Lambton, but in the event he came in unopposed. He reported to Lowther:

From what has been said among the trading interest and the leading gentlemen of this county, as well as from what has been said to me by Mr Lambton and his immediate friends, I am disposed to think there is a general resolution to resist all attempts which may hereafter be made against the Members now elected, with a joint force, Mr Lambton’s party being very glad to secure one seat by guaranteeing the other to me. This is exactly what your lordship foresaw, and what the measures recommended by your lordship were calculated to ensure.7

In 1807, Lambton and Wharton stood again. A third candidate appeared in Sir Frederick Morton Eden, nephew of William Eden*, Lord Auckland, and of Sir John Eden of Windlestone, Whig Member for the county until 1790. Eden’s address referred to the need to preserve ‘inviolate’ the ‘civil and religious establishments’, but one observer reported that the bishop of Durham, Shute Barrington, a steadfast opponent of Catholic relief, sought to make Wharton ‘the primary object of his own and the chapter’s influence’, while Eden was ‘placed only in a secondary consideration’. Wharton continued to portray himself as an independent, but he had voted against Brand’s motion condemning the Portland ministry’s pledge on Catholic relief and was recognized as one of their partisans. Eden, who was said to have tried unsuccessfully to persuade Wharton to ‘join with him to the exclusion’ of Lambton, withdrew from the hustings on the day of nomination. Wharton declared his intention of introducing a bill to deal with the inhibiting effects of the Commons’ decision of 1804 on the payment of travelling expenses, but never did so. A witness of the election reported that

Mr Lambton expressed his gratitude to Mr Wharton for not opposing, and he and his partisans, inveterate enemies to Wharton in the former contests, promised him one seat in all future elections so long as he should live and offer himself. The bitterest opponents shook hands in public and renounced all animosities, so that we hope that business is at rest for ever.8

Lonsdale was told in 1808 that Vane Tempest, elected for the county the previous year, had ‘become exceedingly popular’ in Durham, and in 1812 it was strongly rumoured that he planned to start one Mellish at the general election, but in the event Lambton and Wharton, now secretary to the Treasury, came in unopposed.9 When Vane Tempest died in August 1813 John George Lambton, son and heir of William Henry, who had just come of age, offered for the county in his place. He was returned, but as a condition of his success his uncle Ralph agreed to give up his seat for the city, to silence criticism of a family monopoly. Vane Tempest’s property went to his only daughter Frances Anne, a minor, who in 1819 became the second wife of Charles William Stewart, later 3rd Marquess of Londonderry, and the Tempest interest seems to have gone largely into abeyance until 1820. A chaotic meeting of Durham freemen, 26 Aug. 1813, ended in an invitation to Taylor, who made it known that he would like to represent the city again, either then or at the next general election, said he had resisted Vane Tempest’s pressure on him to stand in 1812 lest he prejudice his brother-in-law’s election for the county and promised to seek release from his constituents at Poole. A week later George Allan of Blackwell Grange offered himself as an avowed opponent of Catholic relief and parliamentary reform, appealing for support from the ‘independent’ interest which had broken the Lambton-Tempest monopoly by returning Wharton. Taylor announced that he was unable to stand this time but promised to do so at the next general election, and Allan was challenged by Gowland, who also declared his support for the established church and the war, but sought to portray himself as the true independent by circulating the notion that his father had asserted the city’s electoral independence in 1761. Allan had no difficulty in ridiculing this boast and also claimed that Vane Tempest’s widow had broken an earlier promise to support him. The day before the election Gowland took fright and retired, but Baker of Elemore, who stood as a ‘friend to religious liberty and parliamentary reform’, stepped forward to replace him. Allan’s friends alleged that Gowland had all along been a tool of the Lambtons, who had persuaded him to pretend to stand as a cover for their plot to put up their friend Baker, against whom anti-Catholic propaganda was used. The ‘spirit of party’ raged ‘with unremitting rancour’ during the contest, which ended when Baker surrendered, so votes in arrears, after nine days, disappointed in his much vaunted hopes of support from the London freemen. From them he got only one vote to Allan’s 59, while he polled 157 to his opponent’s 171 among the resident freemen and 55 to 89 among the out-county voters. He outpolled Allan by 146 to 123 among voters resident in the county. Among 49 resident or nearby freemen who did not vote were the mayor and nine aldermen.10

In 1817, Matthew Russell contemplated starting and financing his brother-in-law Sir George Drummond, a soldier, for Durham or Grimsby at the next general election, but to his surprise found Drummond not interested. He remained convinced that he ‘would have carried it with a very high hand if I had brought him forward’. Early in 1818 Taylor who, as one of the Regent’s personal followers, had had an uncomfortable time in the 1812 Parliament before resuming his allegiance to the Whigs, offered himself as promised. The local Whigs, including the 3rd Earl of Darlington, were willing to support him, and although it had been thought that John George Lambton might prefer another candidate as Taylor had ‘prejudices against the Lambton interest being kept up in the city’, he too gave him his backing, as he told his father-in-law Earl Grey:

his election ... I reckon as sure. He said he had no idea my interest (for the city) was ‘so immensely commanding’. I had thought—and I know—that if a proper man were to be found he could be returned with Taylor to the exclusion of Wharton and Allan.

Wharton stood again, as did Allan, but the latter withdrew two days before the election, only for ‘the hostlers, alehousekeepers and mobility’, as Lambton called them, to nominate him and keep the poll open for two days. Wharton, supported by Taylor, threatened to bring this purely vexatious conduct before the House, and after a deputation had waited on Allan the opposition was called off.11

Authors: Winifred Stokes / David R. Fisher


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs (1792), ii. 6.
  • 2. The Times, 28 Feb., 4, 5, 18, 20 Mar. 1800; Pprs. pub. during Durham Election (1800); Co. Dur. RO, Londonderry MSS D/LO/E/391, Vane Tempests’s acct. bk. pp. 41-43; Durham Pollbook (1800).
  • 3. Durham Election Pprs. 62-63; Lincs. AO, Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss 2 Td’E H3/1, 2; Whitbread mss W1/1911; The Times, 17 Apr., 14 Oct. 1800.
  • 4. Durham Election Addresses (1802), 24-1356; The times, 19 Jan., 23 June, 2, 20, 23, 28 July; Lonsdale mss, Rev. Zouch to Lowther, 8 Mar. 1802; Durham Pollbook (1802)
  • 5. CJ, lviii. 68; lix. 9, 65, 67-68, 94; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1806), ii. 176-86; The Times, 10 Aug. 103; Lonsdale mss, Wharton to Lowther, 20 Oct. 1806.
  • 6. The Times, 28 Feb., 2, 7, 9 Mar. 1804, Durham Pollbook (1804).
  • 7. Lonsdale mss, Wharton to Lowther, 20, 26, 27, 29 Oct., 1, 8 Nov., Ingram to same, 31 Oct.; Newcastle Chron. 25 Oct., 1 Nov.; Wilts. RO, Ailesbury mss, Rev. Brand to Ld. Bruce, 11 Nov. 1806.
  • 8. Sir C. Sharp, Knights and Burgesses for Durham (1831), 50; Newcastle Chron. 2, 16 May; Lonsdale mss, Zouch to Lonsdale, 11, 20 May; Ailesbury mss, Brand to Bruce, 21 May 1807.
  • 9. Lonsdale mss, Zouch to Lonsdale, 8 Oct. 1808, 14 Feb.; Grey mss, Monck to Grey, 28 Sept. 1812.
  • 10. Durham Election Addresses (1813); Whitbread mss W1/1039; Lonsdale mss, Zouch to Lonsdale, 16 Dec. 1813; Durham Pollbook (1813).
  • 11. Tennyson d’Eyncourt mss Td’E H76/44, 78/25; Grey mss, Monck to Grey, 18 Jan., Goodwin to Grey, 27 Jan., Rosslyn to Grey, 6 Mar., Lambton to Grey, 6 Apr., 19 June 1818; Brougham mss 10046, 16396; The Late Elections (1818), 113-14.