Plympton Erle


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 50


(1801): 604


19 June 1790HENRY LAWES LUTTRELL, Earl of Carhampton [I] 
14 Feb. 1794 WILLIAM MANNING vice Carhampton, vacated his seat 
17 June 1799 RICHARD HANKEY vice Mitchell, vacated his seat 
6 July 1801 SYLVESTER DOUGLAS, Baron Glenbervie [I], vice Adams, vacated his seat 
 George Palmer8
3 Dec. 1803 GOLDING re-elected after appointment to office23
 Thomas North Graves, Baron Graves [I]1
1 Nov. 1806ROBERT STEWART, Visct. Castlereagh 
7 Feb. 1807 HON. WILLIAM ASSHETON HARBORD vice Lushington, deceased 
3 Apr. 1807 CASTLEREAGH re-elected after appointment to office 
9 May 1807ROBERT STEWART, Visct. Castlereagh 
3 Mar. 1810 HENRY DRUMMOND II vice Harbord, called to the Upper House 
7 Mar. 1812 CASTLEREAGH re-elected after appointment to office 
26 Dec. 1812 WILLIAM DOUGLAS vice Duckett, vacated his seat 
12 July 1816 ALEXANDER BOSWELL vice Douglas, vacated his seat 

Main Article

Plympton remained under the joint control of the 1st (d.1795) and 2nd Earls of Mount Edgcumbe, successively recorders of the borough, and the Treby family, its largest property owners, whose head from 1783 to 1832 was Paul Treby Treby (formerly Ourry) of Goodamoor. Between them they dominated the corporation, which enjoyed the power of creating freemen, most of whom were non-resident gentry. Both patrons sold their seats. The 2nd Earl did so, according to what Canning heard in 1801, ‘without reference to government’, though his paying guests were invariably supporters of the government of the day; but Treby, who ‘set out in life with Mr Pitt, for whom I have so great respect and attachment’, as he wrote in 1806, disposed of his seat to followers of Pitt and his political successors. Hence his return in 1806 of Castlereagh, an opponent of the ‘Talents’, which prompted Mount Edgcumbe, who had earlier pledged his support to the ministry, to assure Lord Grenville that he had had no part in the transaction and that Treby ‘had long been determined to bring in some leading member of that party’.1 Glenbervie, returned by Mount Edgcumbe in 1801, was surprised to receive a bill for £400, instead of the £30 which he had expected; and in 1806 Metcalfe, who owed his seat to Treby, complained that his colleague Golding had paid only £2,000, ‘when I paid four for the same place’.2 Of the other Members returned in this period Carhampton, Manning, Adams, Lushington, Harbord, Drummond and Macdonald were returned by the Mount Edgcumbes; Mitchell, Hankey, Duckett, Douglas and Boswell by Treby.

There was an unexpected challenge to the patrons’ control in 1802 when Capt. George Palmer, son of a former mayor, revived the question, in abeyance for a century, of an alleged hereditary right to admission to the freedom and franchise, by trying to poll seven men who claimed the vote as the sons of deceased freemen. The returning officer rejected their votes and Palmer’s threatened petition never materialized, but the disturbance was inconvenient in that it decided Mount Edgcumbe to lay aside his original plan to replace Golding, whom he had also returned for Fowey, with Addington’s friend Alexander Allan*. At the sessions of November 1802 the corporation successfully resisted an attempt by several persons to establish their hereditary right to the freedom.3 Mount Edgcumbe was evidently correct in his allegation that the opposition of Thomas North Graves (Lord Graves*), who had property nearby, to Golding’s re-election in December 1803 was instigated by Canning’s friend Lord Boringdon, whose house at Saltram lay about two miles away. Henry Lee of Trehill, who was consulted by Boringdon ‘in consequence of some commotion in the state of Plympton’, reported that the question of hereditary right, ‘which one day or other may unsettle this borough’, was again to be stirred in the person of Palmer; but Mount Edgcumbe wrote that ‘Palmer was no longer more than a blind to conceal their purposes’. Hereditary votes were tendered for Graves, but rejected. Shortly afterwards Treby asked George Rose to keep him posted on the subject of Metcalfe’s precarious health, as ‘our situation at Plympton is by no means as tranquil as it used to be’ and vigilance was required to ensure the safe return of a Pittite in the event of his death. Graves threatened to petition but did not do so, and after the failure of another attempt to secure recognition of the hereditary claim to the freedom in 1804, the issue was apparently not put to a practical test again until 1830.4 On 20 Dec. 1809 Canning wondered if it had occurred to Boringdon that Curwen’s Act outlawing the sale of seats ‘might possibly lay Plympton open to you’; and on 18 Sept. 1812 Brougham told Earl Grey that he had received a legal statement holding out ‘the possibilities of getting two for Plympton, by trying a point in a committee, with little expense’.5 Neither speculation appears to have had any practical outcome.

Authors: P. A. Symonds / David R. Fisher


  • 1. PRO 30/8/184, ff. 95, 97; 30/29/8/2, f. 169; Fortescue mss, Mount Edgcumbe to Grenville, 6 Nov. 1806.
  • 2. Glenbervie Diaries, i. 240; Add. 42774, f. 201.
  • 3. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 320-5; J. Brooking Rowe, Plympton, 196-7; The Times, 10 July; Sidmouth mss, Addington to Pole Carew, 7, 29 Aug. 1802.
  • 4. Pole Carew mss CC/L/36, Mount Edgcumbe to Pole Carew, 10 Dec. 1803; Devon RO, Ley mss FC7/4; PRO 30/8/184, f. 97; Rowe, 197.
  • 5. Add. 48219, f. 227; Brougham mss.