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 inhabitant householders

Number of voters:

about 250 reduced to 90 by 1818


(1801): 867


22 June 1790JOHN HARCOURT120 
 Sir John Smith, Bt.76 
 Francis Baring75 
27 May 1796SIR ROBERT CLAYTON, Bt.  
 Sir John Eamer16 
 John Martindale16 
28 May 1799 LEWIS BAYLY vice Clayton, deceased  
5 July 1802WILLIAM HUNTER86621
 Sir William Manners, Bt.6557
 James Graham6456
  Election declared void, 29 Mar. 1803  
5 Apr. 1803CHARLES BROOKE81 
 John Manners75 
 William Webb73 
 James Ramsay Cuthbert18 
  Manners’s election declared void, 7 Mar. 1804  
16 Mar. 1804 JOHN MANNERS  
 John Ogle  
 Sir Edward O' Brien Pryce, Bt.  
31 Oct. 1806SIR WILLIAM MANNERS, Bt.  
17 June 1818SIR ISAAC COFFIN, Bt.64 
 Hon. John William Ward24 
 Lionel William John Manners24 

Main Article

Ilchester’s unsavoury reputation as a venal borough continued in this period: as a local innkeeper put it, ‘damn me if Ilchester is worth living in without there are hang-fairs and good elections’. After the death of the patron Thomas Lockyer in 1785, control of the borough was contested until 1806. Lockyer’s son-in-law Samuel Smith II*, although he was offering a seat to administration in October 1786 and selling one to Francis Baring* in 1789 for £1,500, did not succeed in maintaining his interest against John Harcourt, the ‘opulent banker’ who had twice challenged the Lockyers in the 1780s. It appears that Harcourt, upon the failure of his challenge in 1786, had offered to sell his property in the borough to Smith, who agreed to purchase for £6,500, on the understanding that Harcourt would give up his pretensions; but ‘Mr Smith received a hint that the estates were not vested in Harcourt, but in Troward [the well known attorney of Norfolk street, London] who was not a party to the agreement’. Smith therefore insisted upon Troward’s entering into an engagement to convey the estates to him. Troward complied and Smith paid up, but he discovered that he had to pay more than he had bargained for, and that ‘the whole object with Mr Troward in the business seems to have been to involve both Mr S[mith] and Mr Harcourt in lawsuits and by some indirect means to defeat the purchase Mr Smith had made’. Yet Troward encouraged Harcourt in the belief that they were allied to thwart Smith and would ‘make prey of him, by involving him in litigation in defence of that property which he had purchased from them for the express purpose of quiet and peaceable enjoyment’. The plot worked: late in 1789 Smith and eight of his kinsmen and friends resigned from the corporation, and although his candidates put up a fight at the general election, he was obliged to act cautiously, his every move being watched to produce a charge of bribery, while Troward appeared with, and as agent to, Harcourt and his friend the wealthy Samuel Long, who triumphed. Smith thus lost control of a borough where he had hoped to have the unanimous support of the corporation of 13 and three-quarters of the property.2

Richard Troward proceeded to buy out Harcourt, allegedly for £40,000. The Times reported the purchase on 23 Dec. 1793, though Troward and his brothers and friends had joined the corporation, together with Harcourt, early in 1791 and Oldfield described Troward as patron in 1792. At any rate, although Harcourt did not resign from the corporation until 1797, he was displaced at the election of 1796, when Troward disposed of the seats. There was a feeble opposition. A year before the election John Simmons of Ilchester wrote to William Windham*, offering to secure his and a friend’s return for Ilchester, or that of any two gentlemen recommended by Windham, with 120 sure votes to support them out of 173 eligible. It was possibly on this ‘Treasury’ interest that Sir John Eamer, a London alderman, and Martindale, another Londoner with money to spend, appeared on the scene in 1796, but they got only 16 votes.3 In 1799, on a vacancy, Troward returned Col. Bayly, a ward of his business partner Albany Wallis. Oldfield claimed that Troward had disposed of the borough to Wallis, who in his will bequeathed it to his ward. Wallis’s will reveals that he purchased half Troward’s property at Ilchester between February and May 1800. The Troward members of the corporation certainly resigned in that year: but Wallis died in Troward’s debt and Troward came to some arrangement with Bayly (now Wallis), the upshot of which was that Wallis, whether on his own or Troward’s or their joint account, sold the interest in April 1802 to Sir William Manners for £53,000.4

Manners soon found out what a hornet’s nest he had acquired: much light is thrown on his plight by the diary of Neast Grevile Prideaux, clerk to George Tuson, attorney, steward and town clerk of Ilchester, who acquired some of Troward’s property there and evidently acted as election agent first to Wallis and subsequently to Manners. Prideaux reported the sale of the borough by Wallis to Manners on 3 Apr. 1802, but the day before noted the distribution of money in Ilchester ‘by an unknown to the inhabitants’. This stranger gave away £30 a man, to about 119 electors, as well as continual gifts of cider ‘which they have hauled round the town, with Mr Hopping [a local attorney hostile to Tuson and the Manners interest] sometimes, and sometimes another sitting as a Bacchus upon a barrel. This procession always shouted violently at Mr Tuson, and all other leading men on the opposite side.’ The stranger was apparently Alexander Davison, ‘the opulent builder and [naval] contractor of St. James’s Square’; but Manners would appear to have come to terms with Davison and to have secured his word that he had ‘given up all thoughts of the borough’. Manners’s enemies thereupon circulated the rumour that this was a fabrication of his agent Tuson and ‘concluded with determining that if they did not elect [Davison] or his friends they would introduce others’. It was only a few months since Windham had been informed that two seats at Ilchester could be bought for 8,000 guineas (£1,500 down).5

Manners, who did not actually join the corporation until 1807, issued the following election address (which appeared in The Times and the Morning Chronicle) on 21 June 1802:

Permit me to hope that you will have the goodness to elect me and Mr James Graham, one of the most respectable and opulent gentlemen of the law, as your representatives. A report has been circulated (although no opponent has yet made his appearance) that I am to expect an opposition, but I cannot think that you will ever suffer yourselves to be misled by designing borough agents; nor can I conceive, after the vain attempt of Sir John Eamer and his colleague at the last general election, that any gentleman will be so illiberal as to create discord between a landlord and his tenants ... or so unwise as to hope for success in a borough where the right of election is vested in the inhabitant householders of the entire parish, and where the whole of that parish ... is, with a very small exception and that of no importance, my property—a property that, although it has often changed of late years (a circumstance which may in some degree have unsettled you), can now never again be alienated, it being purchased by me with entailed money, and strictly settled on my sons.

I will conclude with hoping that, as we are to be long acquainted, we may be always satisfied with each other, and assuring you that, if I am to have an opposition, I am prepared to meet the most expensive one ... should I have the honour of being your representative, of which I will not entertain a doubt ... I have the wish and power to make [Ilchester] the great thoroughfare between London and the west of England on account of its being much the nearer road.

Despite this extraordinary document, in which Manners also claimed to be a ‘strenuous supporter’ of Addington’s peacemaking administration, he and his friend Graham were defeated by two London merchants, ‘total strangers’ and introduced, reported Prideaux, ‘by what invitation I know not’, at the eleventh hour; like Davison, they were alleged to have bribed a majority with £30 a man, said by the local apothecary to be the usual price at Ilchester. According to Thomas Plummer, one of the victors, his partner was to have been John Hudleston*, who demurred under suspicion of having been bought off by Manners. Hunter was hastily substituted for him. Thomas William Plummer* who canvassed for his father, aided by Messrs. White, Parsons and Flexney, counted on 100 or more out of 165 votes, Manners being ‘universally disliked’. Plummer senior attributed his success to the support of a popular neighbouring gentleman, Mr Palmer, and to his counsel Runnington’s ‘exertions at the poll’. The ‘Blues’, Manners’s friends, were not despondent: Manners evicted those of his tenants who had deserted him and proceeded to cold shoulder Tuson, his erstwhile agent. As a result of his petition alleging bribery, treating and partiality by the returning officer, the House of Commons committee discovered the system of corruption involved, exonerated the Members from bribery and disallowed 32 bribed votes, without changing the result, but declared the election void on the grounds of treating, and resolved, 18 May 1803, after a division, that the three agents, Alexander Davison, Thomas Hopping the attorney and John White Parsons, should be punished. At Taunton assizes they were sentenced to a year’s imprisonment in the Marshalsea prison, April 1804, though the bribed electors were acquitted. Davison had already been snubbed, the King refusing to let him stand proxy for his friend Lord Nelson at his installation as KB in May 1803.6

At the fresh election in April 1803, Davison’s interest, described locally as ‘the old yellow interest’, had been taken up by Charles Brooke acting through his brother Henry and James Ramsay Cuthbert*, while William Webb, a West India merchant, whose agent had been ‘engaged here for two or three months and acquired great influence in the town’ and who was wrongly suspected by some to be ‘really of Sir William’s party’, stood on his own interest. Three other would-be candidates, Messrs Harcourt, Pinney and Palmer withdrew before the poll. ‘Never was there a harder contest for any election’, according to Prideaux. Brooke beat Manners into second place, thus excluding Manners’s brother John. Webb offered a strong challenge and Prideaux reported that the election was decided by ‘Mr Charles Philips, Mr Langdon and Mr Tuson’, who ‘turned the scale against Mr Webb in favour of Sir William Manners’. ‘These three gentlemen’, added Prideaux, ‘who at first espoused the cause of Mr Pinney of Lower Somerton and Mr Stevens of Camerton House, near Bath, on their declining, had determined to remain neuter, unless indeed their votes could turn the scale ... against the yellow party, whose system of bribery they at all events wished to oppose.’ Tuson was rewarded with a ‘handsome apology’ from Sir William Manners, who reinstated him as steward (December 1803).

While John Manners’s petition against Brooke’s return failed, that of William Webb against Sir William Manners’s, alleging bribery and treating, resulted in the election of Manners being declared void, and Manners and Webb were disqualified from standing at the new election, both being found guilty of these offences.7 Sir William was obliged to put up his brother John, who met with fresh opposition allegedly from Sir Edward Pryce (formerly Parker Barnett O’Brien, army officer and banker of London) and certainly from Col. John Ogle: but the poll was closed abruptly when Manners had a majority of three. Ogle’s party were disgruntled at finding so many of their votes rejected and swore that the returning officer ‘would poll a dog if they only put a blue ribbon round his neck and tho’ they forgot this necessary ornament they actually presently after brought in a dog and threw it upon the table, striking their own counsel in its fall’. Ogle’s petition against the return was found ‘frivolous and vexatious’.8

In order to prevent a recurrence of such disturbances, Sir William Manners demolished a large number of houses, reducing the electorate to a manageable size, and built a large workhouse for the homeless families: according to Oldfield, there were 60 voters left. Manners who claimed there were 52 electors, all his tenants at will, in 1812, was able to dispose of the seats as he pleased: in 1806 he returned himself and his attorney Saxon; in 1807 two friends of the Prince of Wales, from whom he claimed the promise of a peerage. In 1812, after Sheridan had given up an opportunity to secure his own and/or his son’s return and the Whigs found their option was conditional on securing Manners a peerage, the seats went begging and Manners soon found two paying guests.9 In 1818 growing local discontent with Manners’s overbearing attitude came to a head and was espoused by the Whig boroughmonger Lord Darlington, who relieved the corporation of their debts and succeeded in getting two protégés returned against the Manners candidates. One of these, Ward, wrote after their defeat:

Everything was settled for Ilchester, for which I had sat in the last Parliament and which would be a close borough in any hands but those of the present proprietor, Sir William Manners. His brutal, or rather insane, intolerance provoked the people of the place past all endurance; so they sought out a protector, and found one in Lord Darlington, whose candidates they have returned. Thus, you see, I am a victim to the defeat, in one instance, of the seat-selling, borough-mongering system.

In revenge, Manners turned the inmates out of the workhouse in the middle of winter, which led to a petition against his conduct, debated in the House on 2 Apr. 1819 and supported by one of the new Members, Merest: but the House declined to interfere in relations between a landlord and his tenants and the vendetta continued, though the Manners petition against the return failed and Manners never recovered the seats.10 Although the Members returned in 1818 are described above as standing on Lord Darlington’s interest, Oldfield provided a slightly different story11 when he reported that the electors of Ilchester offered their support to him in 1816 and subsequently secured the services of Merest, ‘an independent character in Norfolk’, but that ‘the Earl of Darlington is jointly interested with Merest and returns one of the Members’. Oldfield credited Merest with the rehousing of the unfortunate tenants evicted by Manners, on the glebe land leased to him by the vicar: but he did not offer again in 1820 and Lord Darlington was then and subsequently in control of both seats.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Second vote: on scutiny
  • 2. W. Bridle, Narrative of the Improvements effected at Ilchester Gaol (1822); Add. 38458, f. 157; J. B. Martin, The ‘Grasshopper’, in Lombard Street, 240; PRO 30/8/234, ff. 86-92, ‘State of the Ilchester case’; Som. RO, Ilchester corpn. recs. D/B/il 5; J. Wilson, Biog. Index (1806), 440.
  • 3. Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 63; J. S. Cox, Ilchester Monographs, 109; Add. 37875, f. 40; The Times and Morning Chron. 24 June 1802; Oldfield, Hist. Parliaments (1797), 257.
  • 4. PCC 691 Adderley (Wallis’s will); Cox, 219; Oldfield, Rep. Hist. iv. 447; The Times, 12 Apr. 1802.
  • 5. Information from Dr R. Dunning (trans. in Som. RO DD/SAS FA 185); Add. 37880, f. 197.
  • 6. The Times, 12 June 1802; Don Alvarez Espriella [i.e. R. Southey], Letters from England (1807) ed. Symmons, 284; Bodl. Clarendon dep. C.362, T. Plummer to Foster Barham, 2, 7 July, T. W. Plummer to same, 2 July 1802; CJ, lviii. 29, 301, 425; Colchester, i. 419; R. H. Peckwell, Controverted Elections (1805), 302; NLS mss 11740, f. 58.
  • 7. Bristol Jnl. 9 Apr. 1803; CJ, lviii. 339, 345, 366; lix. 11, 138; Caribbeana, i. 367.
  • 8. The Times, 23 Mar. 1804; British Gazette (1812), 1538; CJ, lix. 159, 205, 221.
  • 9. Rep. Hist. iv. 447; Cox, 110, 267; Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2415; viii. 3165; Geo. IV Letters, i. 271; Sheridan Letters ed. Price, iii. 135, 230.
  • 10. Som. RO, D/B/il 6, ff. 63-4; The Late Elections (1818), 149; Ward, Letters to Bishop of Llandaff, 205; Parl. Deb. xxxix, 1353; CJ, lxxiv. 91, 370; Key to Both Houses (1832), 341.
  • 11. Key (1820), 41.