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 householders paying scot and lot

Number of voters:

250 rising to 350


(1801): 2,786


27 May 1796ROBERT PEEL I 
6 July 1802(SIR) ROBERT PEEL I, Bt. 
3 Nov. 1806(SIR) ROBERT PEEL I, Bt. 
8 May 1807(SIR) ROBERT PEEL I, Bt. 
19 June 1818(SIR) ROBERT PEEL I, Bt.252
 Lord Charles Vere Ferrers Townshend156

Main Article

Tamworth was regarded as a close borough. Since 1765 a compromise to return a Member each had been in operation between the Manor interest and the Castle interest; the former (and more powerful) was in the hands of Thomas Thynne, 3rd Viscount Weymouth (created in 1789 Marquess of Bath) and the latter maintained by George Townshend, 1st Marquess Townshend. Unchallenged since 1774, this arrangement was modified in 1790 when Robert Peel I* purchased his Tamworth property (about 120 tenements) from Lord Bath for £15,500. At the same time Bath sold Drayton Manor for £123,000, and by 1796 that too passed into Peel’s possession, at a discount. Peel reinforced the Manor interest by establishing his cotton mills in the Tamworth district.1 He returned himself without question and might, so he subsequently hinted, have displaced Townshend as well, but out of ‘kindness’ did not do so.2 This enabled Townshend to display the same quality to his improvident Whig nominee Courtenay in the Parliament of 1790, although he no longer shared his political views.3 This generosity could not be continued: in 1794 a subscription was launched to oust Courtenay, as well as Sheridan at Stafford, on political grounds.4 The replacement of Courtenay by a ministerial Member in 1796 averted the threat of a contest, and in 1802 Townshend nominated his son-in-law Loftus. The joint expenses of the uncontested elections of 1806 and 1807 were just over £400 each time. The 1st Marquess Townshend died in 1807 and the 2nd in 1811, disinheriting his heir. In 1812 the family nominated the 2nd Marquess’s younger son, who had recently married Loftus’s daughter.

To meet the encumbrances on the 2nd Marquess Townshend’s estate, his Tamworth property was offered for sale by private treaty in 1814 by the trustees. Peel was outbid by John Robins, the Covent Garden auctioneer and a creditor of the late marquess, who purchased it for £94,700.5 Robins was unable to take over the parliamentary interest and proceeded to sell the property in lots. Thomas Willington, the Townshend agent at Tamworth, was recruited by Peel in 1816, in which year Lord Charles was apparently prepared to dispose of his seat for the duration of the Parliament and afterwards claimed that Peel had shown an interest in it. In 1818 Peel canvassed for himself and his younger son William, on the assumption that the Townshend interest was eclipsed. Lord Charles was advised by his uncle Lord John Townshend not to offer, but did so (1 June). Recriminations followed. Townshend was obliged to admit (12 June) that his uncle disapproved of his candidature, the latter having personally conveyed to Peel on 9 June his good wishes and those of the dowager 1st Marchioness (who had brought the interest into the family). In this he went too far, for the marchioness rallied to her stepgrandson. Lord Charles boasted of his independence and founded a Plumpers Club to ‘resist the base coalition of oligarch wealth’. The younger Peel sent for his brother Robert, whose presence was ‘absolutely necessary’ to save the day. At the poll 322 votes were cast. Peel was unable to induce 62 electors who gave him a vote to vote for his son as well. There were riotous scenes. Lord Charles petitioned, alleging that some of the Peels’ supporters had not paid the church rate as well as the poor rate, but this got him nowhere. The Treasury considered that they had gained a seat. More provoking to the Peels were the calumnies of William Floyer, a local magistrate and Townshend partisan, addressed to the electors in the Lichfield Mercury (20 Oct. 1818), which did not go unchallenged, but which contributed to Sir Robert Peel’s decision in 1820 to cut his expenses and revert to a compromise with the Townshends.6

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. D. G. Stuart, ‘The Parl. Hist. of the borough of Tamworth 1661-1837’ (London ext. MA thesis, 1958), 117; cf. N. Gash, Mr Secretary Peel, 16-17. The thesis has been made use of throughout.
  • 2. Parker, Peel, i. 269.
  • 3. Townshend mss, Townshend to Courtenay, 25 Mar. 1790.
  • 4. Sheridan Letters ed. Price, ii. 36.
  • 5. C. F. Palmer, Tamworth, 387.
  • 6. G. Peel, Private Letters of Sir R. Peel, 17-18; H. Wood, Borough by Prescription (1958), 69; CJ, lxxiv. 40, 217; The Late Elections (1818), 343-7; Add. 40184, f. 212; 40278, ff. 73, 102, 169, 170; 40279, ff. 16, 41, 62; The Times, 3 July 1821.