Durham Co.


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:

about 3,500


8 July 1790ROWLAND BURDON2073
 Sir John Eden, Bt.1696
26 July 1802(SIR) RALPH MILBANKE, Bt. 
10 Nov. 1806(SIR) RALPH MILBANKE, Bt. 
25 May 1807(SIR) RALPH MILBANKE, Bt.574
 Cuthbert Ellison396
 HENRY VANE, Visct. Barnard 
20 Sept. 1813 JOHN GEORGE LAMBTON vice Vane Tempest, deceased 
1 Aug. 1815 HON. WILLIAM JOHN FREDERICK POWLETT (formerly VANE) vice Barnard, accepted a commission in the army 

Main Article

The strongest territorial interests in Durham belonged to the Vanes of Raby, earls of Darlington, and to the church, headed by the bishop of Durham and the diocesan officials. The leading gentry families, though often divided by personal rivalries, tended to be Whig in politics. The Wearside and Tyneside shipping and commercial interest were important, but with many of the old landed families having a stake in the coal trade, protection of which was obligatory on all Durham Members, the frontier between land and trade was blurred.1

By 1784 neither of the sitting Members, Sir Thomas Clavering of Axwell, originally returned an opponent of the Vanes, and Sir John Eden of Windlestone, a Northite, was very popular. Poor health had made Clavering a virtual non-attender, while Eden, who remained in opposition to Pitt after the defection in 1785 of his brother William Eden*, later Lord Auckland, seems to have been widely disliked for personal reasons. The leading contender for the next vacancy was Ralph Milbanke, a Foxite Whig, son of Sir Ralph Milbanke of Halnaby, which lay just across the border with Yorkshire near Darlington. During his father’s lifetime he drew his income from the former Hedworth property at Chester-le-Street and Seaham, which contained coal mines and had come into the family through his mother. Although he was frustrated in 1780 and 1784 by Clavering’s tenacity, he built up powerful support among the leading Whig gentry, notably Sir Henry Liddell of Ravensworth, Gen. John Lambton of Lambton and his fellow Member for the city John Tempest of Wynyard, and George Baker of Elemore. There was a flurry early in 1786 when, with Clavering’s resignation again bruited, Gen. Lambton thought of putting up his eldest son, who had just come of age. Baker and Clavering himself seem to have been party to the scheme, but when Liddell made it clear that he and others would strenuously resist any attempt to smuggle in young Lambton, Clavering decided to stay put. Although Milbanke’s formidable and ambitious wife Judith picked a quarrel with Eden over his alleged endorsement of Lambton’s candidature, friendly relations between the families were later resumed. In 1787 Gen. Lambton stood down for his son in the city.2

In April 1789, when it was known for certain that Clavering would retire at the next election, another challenger appeared in Rowland Burdon, a wealthy Newcastle banker, very popular in Durham, where he owned the Castle Eden estate near Hartlepool. His politics, like those of his father-in-law Charles Brandling, Member for Newcastle, were strongly Pittite, and although he boasted of extensive ‘independent’ support, he applied for and received government backing. Milbanke’s bid for the support of the and Earl of Darlington, an adherent of administration but a sworn personal enemy of Eden, was inconclusive. He nevertheless thought ‘the rage for Pittism is the only thing I have to fear’. Eden determined to stand his ground and hoped, somewhat forlornly, that Darlington would declare for him and Milbanke, and ‘the ministerialist find himself necessitated to decline’. Milbanke was urged to join with Eden but, while he acknowledged that he was ‘much stronger than one would have imagined’, he was mindful of Darlington’s hostility to the baronet and thought it wiser to ‘have it understood sotto voce that we are not inimical’.3 Burdon, who enjoyed the support of the 8th Earl of Strathmore, owner of the former Bowes estates at Streatlam, the shipping interest and many of the clergy, was worried by the prospect of a Whig junction and sought to counter it by bringing together Darlington and the new bishop of Durham, Thomas Thurlow, brother of the lord chancellor, behind him. He told Brandling, 17 May 1789, that the bishop was inclined

to be friendly to me, but from the novelty of his situation I hardly think he feels his own power, or knows exactly how to use it ... his interest will be weakened by delay, because his power over those who hold of him by lease for lives is rather chimerical, and depends more upon the habit of looking up to the See, than any real advantage which his tenants may derive ... I think he would not be unwilling to come to an understanding with Lord Darlington, if his lordship would think proper to open himself on the subject. I have told them ... that their union was looked up to by the county as the great means of commanding its peace, and I am convinced that my two opponents would be much awed by the declaration on their parts, that they would not admit of two Members being returned to opposition.

A full-scale canvass began in June, by which time the bishop had declared for Burdon. In August Darlington indicated that he would support Burdon first and Milbanke second, ‘provided no junction should take place with Sir John Eden’. Burdon still feared that ‘notwithstanding their express declaration’, the ‘party which supports them will produce a virtual junction’, but the Milbankes, now confident of success, expected Eden to give up, as Judith commented, 11 Aug. 1789:

Some of the gentlemen are very averse to Burdon and wish if possible to support Sir John to prevent his coming in, but I hardly think they will accomplish it, nor do I believe Sir John can or will stand the expense of a contest, not at least without a certainty of success ... But their wish to oust Burdon obliges them to support Milbanke equally, so that we have the interest of each side, the Vanes wishing to oust Sir John.4

At the general election Eden, to the vexation of his brother, contested the issue, but early in the nine-day poll one observer, noting that the Vanes were ‘violent against him’, forecast that he would lose, largely ‘for want of employing agents to assist him in his canvass’.5 Burdon, one third of whose votes were plumpers, accounting for one in five of the 3,407 who voted, comfortably topped the poll and Milbanke finished x o3 ahead of Eden. There was a natural coalition between the two Whigs, but it was neither explicit nor effective, for although 764 voters split for them, only eight fewer did so for Burdon and Milbanke and there were 641 Burdon-Eden votes. Eden had 291 plumpers to Milbanke’s 279, but the extra 115 votes which Milbanke shared with Burdon proved decisive. Although Eden narrowly outpolled Milbanke in three of the four wards, his advantages of 25 in Chester, 12 in Stockton and four in Darlington were more than offset by Milbanke’s majority in Easington, which included Sunderland, Seaham and Castle Eden. Here Eden got only 15 plumpers to Milbanke’s 74 and shared only 105 with Burdon as against 190 cast for Burdon and Milbanke. Of the 701 Easington voters, 157 cast plumpers for Burdon, who also secured 128 single votes from the 509 electors of Stockton in the south east, though 29 per cent of them split for the two Whigs, compared with 22 per cent of the electorate as a whole. In Darlington ward, which contained the Vane property and Lord Strathmore’s estates, 30: of 1,268 voters split for Burdon and Milbanke and only 227 for Burdon and Eden, but Eden’s own property lay here and he had 183 plumpers to Milbanke’s 105. Expenses were heavy and, while Burdon could well afford them, Milbanke’s estimated costs of £15,000 were a severe drain on his resources.6

Bishop Thurlow died in 1791 and was replaced by Shute Barrington (d.1826), a steadfast opponent of Catholic relief. On Darlington’s death in 1792 he was succeeded as 3rd Earl by his only son William Harry Vane*, who later became alienated from Pitt and attached himself to the Carlton House group. There was no disturbance at the general election of 1796. On 7 Sept. 1801 Burdon announced that domestic considerations had persuaded him not to stand again. Sir Henry Vane Tempest of Long Newton, who had succeeded his uncle John Tempest in the Wynyard property and the Durham city seat in 1794, but had resigned it in 1800 for his Whig brother-in-law Michael Angelo Taylor, offered in Burdon’s place and Milbanke declared that he would stand again. Lord Hobart wondered if Lord Eldon, the lord chancellor, a Newcastle man who had bought an estate in south Durham in 1792, might be considering starting his son John Scott, currently Member for Boroughbridge, but Eldon, writing to his brother, vetoed the idea, partly because he was ‘a new man in the county’, but mainly because of the likely expense.7

Vane Tempest, who was thought to have vacated the city because his marriage to the Countess of Antrim had given him hopes of obtaining an Irish peerage, had an unsavoury reputation and there was resentment of his attempt to secure the county seat while his brother-in-law continued to sit for Durham. Burdon, who had been a staunch defender of the coal trade and done much to advance the county’s commercial prosperity, was very popular and there was an attempt by leaders of the coal and shipping interests, through public meetings at South Shields and Sunderland, to persuade him to change his mind about retiring. The church interest too wished him to continue, and Judith Milbanke claimed that Bishop Barrington ‘has a personal enmity to Sir Henry and I know is endeavouring to persuade Burdon to come forward again’, but on 2 Nov. 1801 Burdon announced his unchanged determination to step down.8 At the dissolution in 1802 Milbanke and Vane Tempest came forward, but there was a renewed move to get Burdon to stand, led by Eden, William Russell of Brancepeth, a Sunderland banker and coal owner, the Brandlings and Ralph Ord of Sedgefield. A call for a county nomination meeting was backed by a co-ordinated campaign of meetings in the major towns of Durham and among the London freeholders. Burdon made no public response, but the steering committee decided to nominate him with or without his consent, to open a subscription and to back Milbanke in conjunction with him. Vane Tempest initially stood his ground, but gave up two days before the nomination meeting, 21 July, when Burdon accepted the invitation to stand. He and Milbanke were returned unopposed a week later, though it was reported that Vane Tempest had resisted strong pressure from his friends to stand after all.9

Burdon’s bank failed in 1803, and although he retained his popularity and was pressed by his friends, including Bishop Barrington, to stand again in 1806, he had to retire. Darlington, a supporter of the ‘Talents’, informed Lord Grenville, 16 Oct., that the Prince of Wales, who was visiting Raby, had told him of the impending dissolution:

in this county, where there is, I fear, a very weighty interest inimical to the present government, I feel that I shall have considerable difficulty to fight against, but I have already made an earnest request ... to Sir J. Eden ... to come forward, who I have no doubt would be unanimously elected with Sir Ralph Milbanke, and in case of his refusal I much fear that it will be difficult to find a supporter of government.

Eden was also pressed to stand by Charles Grey, the Foreign secretary, but he declined. Cuthbert Ellison* of Hebburn was willing to offer, but he made way for Milbanke’s friend Sir Thomas Henry Liddell, owner of Ravensworth and its coal since 1791, a supporter of the ‘Talents’ who, like Eden, had refused to stand in place of Burdon in 1801. Opponents of the ministry alleged that the Prince was behind Liddell’s candidature and that he and Milbanke had been ‘expressly nominated after dinner at Raby’. Vane Tempest was in Ireland and a story was put about that he meant to stand for Antrim, but he hastened to Wynyard with the intention of starting for Durham.10 He soon gave up, pleading ill health as his excuse, but he complained that he had been poorly rewarded for making way for Burdon in 1802 and that Liddell had broken a promise not to oppose his pretensions in future, and implied that the representation had been fixed behind closed doors at Raby by a select group of leading landowners. Nothing came of a report that there would be a last minute attempt to resuscitate Burdon, but Liddell was attacked during the chairing.11

In 1807 Milbanke and Liddell offered again, but encountered a ‘No Popery’ cry which, coupled with the shipping interest’s hostility to the late ministry’s American intercourse bill, produced another movement to drum up support for Burdon, who duly came forward. Both Whigs published addresses asserting their loyalty to the protestant establishment, but Liddell, said by Eden to have delayed his canvass ‘under the notion that it was impossible Mr Burdon could be brought forward’, soon realized that he could not afford a contest. Burdon was criticized for standing while many of his creditors remained unpaid, and when Milbanke let it be known that the cost of a contest was beyond him, Liddell and Burdon and their leading supporters agreed to withdraw in favour of Ellison as a generally acceptable compromise candidate, though it was said that he was a ‘decided’ friend of the Portland ministry. When their arrangement was confirmed at the county meeting, 20 May, there was ‘general and ardent’ dissent and Vane Tempest ‘availed himself of the moment of disgust’ to decry it as a plot ‘calculated to rob the county of its elective franchise’ and to go to the poll against Ellison with electoral independence as his watchword. Milbanke and Ellison united and the ‘No Popery’ cry disappeared, but it was reported that many of Milbanke’s supporters, rather than vote for Ellison, deserted and plumped for Vane Tempest. Ellison gave up after three days.12

Failing health and financial problems increasingly beset Milbanke and in August 1811 Eden’s nephew predicted that although he was making every effort to retain his seat, he would have to give way to Vane Tempest and a new contender, Darlington’s eldest son Lord Barnard. Darlington, who remained loyal to the Whigs after the Regent abandoned them, duly put up Barnard in 1812. It was reported that Milbanke was under pressure from his wife to contest the seat, despite the almost certain prospect of defeat and financial ruin, but he eventually decided to retire.13

On Vane Tempest’s death in August 1813 William Henry Lambton’s eldest son, who had recently come of age, offered himself. His uncle Ralph, Member for the city, told Whitbread, 3 Aug., that his prospects were uncertain, ‘as I don’t think they will approve of his being in for the county and I for the city, and also on account of his politics’, which were those of an advanced Whig. Next day Charles Bigge told Grey that Lambton might well succeed ‘for want of an opponent’, for ‘the church will scarcely attempt to bring forward Burdon again’, and Matthew Russell, heir to the Brancepeth estate and currently sitting for Saltash, seemed ‘very indifferent’ to the vacancy and ‘probably will not spend money’. Brougham reported to Grey from Durham, 17 Aug.:

It is still thought by many that Russell will come forward. The government and Tories have been going about to everybody to offer but all have hitherto declined. Both Sir John Eden’s sons were asked and refused. What is odd enough, almost all those whom they have asked are Whigs or Whiggish. It is supposed that it will only be a seat for this Parliament if Lambton gets it.

Three days later, George Eden told his father that Lambton ‘is far from popular and great exertions are made to find another candidate, but I believe that he will come in’.14 He did so, unopposed, but as a condition of his success his uncle retired from the city seat. In July 1815 Barnard vacated his seat and was quietly replaced by his younger brother William, who had taken the name of Powlett in 1813. There was no disturbance in 1818, though Lambton told Grey, now his father-in-law, 25 June, that while he had been ‘uncommonly well received’, Powlett ‘was hissed’.15 In 1819, Lambton promoted the county meeting to protest against the Peterloo massacre, thwarted an attempt by local ministerialists to endorse a declaration of loyalty at a Sunderland meeting, insisted in the House that alarmist stories of an armed rebellious working class in the county were untrue and took up parliamentary reform. He was attacked in public letters by Richard Wharton, Member for the city, and the Rev. Henry Phillpotts, a prebendary of Durham. His colleague Powlett supported the government’s repressive legislation. At the dissolution in 1820 the church and shipping interests and the leading ministerialist landowners, backed by government interference from London, made a determined but abortive attempt to turn Lambton out.

Authors: Winifred Stokes / David R. Fisher


  • 1. See E. Hughes, ‘North Country Life in 18th Cent.’, History (n.s.), xxv. 127.
  • 2. M. Elwin, Noels and Milbankes, 140, 156, 215-17, 223, 231, 234-5, 251, 279-82, and Byron’s Wife, 49-50.
  • 3. PRO 30/8/117, f. 7; Noels and Milbankes, 337-9; Egerton 2137, f. 37.
  • 4. PRO 30/8/118, ff. 9, 13, 15, 17, 19; Sidmouth mss, Hatsell to Addington, 17 Sept. [1789] Noels and Milbankes, 339-47, 352.
  • 5. Add. 45728, f. 119; Co. Dur, RO, Chaytor mss D/CL/C 1327, Chaytor to Robinson, 30 June 1790.
  • 6. Add. 34432, f. 102; Noels and Milbankes, 374.
  • 7. Copies of Addresses to Burdon (1802), 1-5; The Times, 19, 22, 23 Sept. 1801; Add. 34455, f. 429; Twiss, Eldon, i. 349-50.
  • 8. Addresses to Burdon, 5-14; Durham Election Addresses (1802), 4-19, 27-28, 33-36.
  • 9. Addresses to Burdon, 14ff.; Durham Election Addresses, 145ff.; The Times, 8, 9, 17, 20, 23, 27, 30 July 1802.
  • 10. Fortescue mss; Grey mss, Eden to Grey, 20 Oct., reply 24 Oct.; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. E209; HMC Lonsdale, 215; Lonsdale mss, Wharton to Lowther, 20 Oct., 1 Nov. 1806; Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2289.
  • 11. Newcastle Chron. 25 Oct., 1, 8, 15 Nov.; Morning Post, 8 Nov.; Lonsdale mss, Rev. Zouch to Lowther, 9 Nov.; Tyne Mercury, 11 Nov. 1806.
  • 12. Newcastle Chron. 2, 9, 16, 23, 30 May; Bury Post, 13 May; Grey mss, Liddell to Howick, 13 May, Eden to same, 17 May, Bigge to same, [20 May]; Sheffield City Lib. Spencer Stanhope mss 60556, Lonsdale mss, Zouch to Lonsdale, 20 May; Fortescue mss, Lauderdale to Grenville [25 May] 1807.
  • 13. Lansdowne mss, Eden to Lansdowne, 16 Aug. 1811; Two Duchesses ed. V. Foster, 353-4, 369; Byron’s Wife, 18, 148; Add. 34460, f. 336; Morning Chron. 28 Sept. 1812.
  • 14. Whitbread mss W1/1039; Grey mss; Brougham mss; Add. 34458, f. 533.
  • 15. Grey mss.