Available from Boydell and Brewer
Right of Election:
Number of voters:
|21 June 1790||THOMAS PETER LEGH|
|30 May 1796||THOMAS PETER LEGH|
|15 Sept. 1797||THOMAS LANGFORD BROOKE vice Legh, deceased||39|
|PATTEN vice Brooke, on petition, 13 Dec. 1797|
|6 July 1802||THOMAS BROOKE|
|3 Nov. 1806||THOMAS BROOKE|
|8 May 1807||PETER HERON|
|JOHN IRELAND BLACKBURNE|
|8 Oct. 1812||PETER HERON|
|JOHN IRELAND BLACKBURNE|
|16 Apr. 1814||THOMAS LEGH vice Heron, vacated his seat|
|18 June 1818||THOMAS LEGH|
Newton was controlled by the Leghs of Lyme, who were lords of the manor and also owned most of the land in the borough. The head of the family until his death in 1792 was Peter Legh, and the Members returned in 1790 and 1796 were his nephew and heir, Thomas Peter Legh, and Thomas Brooke of Ashton Hayes, who was second cousin to Thomas Peter. The latter died in 1797, having bequeathed the family property to his eldest illegitimate son Thomas Legh, then about four years old. There was a contest for the vacant seat between Peter Patten, eldest son of Thomas Patten of Bank Hall and first cousin of Thomas Brooke, and Thomas Langford Brooke of Mere, whose father Peter had married as his first wife Thomas Peter Legh’s cousin Anne. Seven years later Patten, who was also distantly related to the Leghs, told Canning that he had stood for Newton ‘on the grounds of alliance’ with the deceased Member’s family and that ‘my claims were warmly supported by his executors in opposition to their own family interest’, which might have disposed them to support Brooke.1 The latter secured a majority of two, but Patten and two electors petitioned, alleging that illegal votes tendered for Brooke had been admitted, that good votes for Patten had been rejected and that Brooke had resorted to extensive bribery and corruption. The election committee decided that the merits of the case rested partially on the right of election. Counsel for the sitting Member submitted that it was ‘in persons having an estate of freehold, or for a term, or residue of a term of 99 years or upwards, determinable on one or more life or lives, in any messuages, lands, or tenements, within the borough’. Counsel for Patten asserted that the franchise was
exclusively vested in the freemen or burgesses ... that is to say, in any person seised of an estate of freehold, in any house, building, or lands, within the borough, of the value of forty shillings a year and upwards; and, in case of joint-tenants, or tenants in common, no more than one person has a right to vote for one and the same house or tenement.
The committee ruled that neither submission was correct, but determined the right of election to be as that submitted on behalf of Patten, with the addition of the word ‘corporeal’ (that is real, tangible property as opposed to legal rights connected with property) before ‘estate of freehold’. Brooke, who had clearly been trying to widen the franchise, immediately gave up, informing the electors that the ‘very unexpected determination’ on the right of election made it impossible for him to produce a majority of legal votes before the committee. He hoped at a future election again to ‘stand forth in defence of that independence and freedom of election you have so nobly endeavoured to assert’, but never did so.2
Newton was therefore remarkable for the fact that, having returned Members since 1558, there was no formal determination of its right of election until within 25 years of its disfranchisement in 1832.3 The effect was to confirm the power of the Leghs, and on 25 Aug. 1806 Charles Williams Wynn told his uncle:
I find upon inquiry that the borough of Newton is so entirely in the hands of the trustees of the late Mr Legh’s property during the minority of his son that it is scarcely possible that any contest should take place.
He added that Thomas Brooke had considered retiring at the next election in favour of his nephew Sir Richard Brooke of Norton Priory, who had just come of age.4 Nothing came of this and it was Patten who stood down. He was replaced by Peter Heron of Moor Hall, who was first cousin once removed of Thomas Langford Brooke and whose uncle, as one of the trustees of the Legh property, had supported Patten in the 1797 contest. In 1807 Thomas Brooke made way for his sister’s nephew John Ireland Blackburne, son of one of the county Members, who was also distantly related to the Leghs. When Thomas Legh came of age in 1814 Heron vacated for him, and in 1818 Legh brought in his brother-in-law, Thomas Claughton, in place of Blackburne.