Available from Cambridge University Press
A single Member constituency
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Estimated number qualified to vote:
13, rising to about 421
3,725 (1821); 3,908 (1831)
|10 Mar. 1820||WILSON AYLESBURY ROBERTS|
|12 June 1826||WILSON AYLESBURY ROBERTS|
|2 Aug. 1820||WILSON AYLESBURY ROBERTS|
|2 May 1831||WILSON AYLESBURY ROBERTS|
Bewdley, a market town situated on the Severn with a large carpet manufactory, carried on a ‘considerable trade’ in salt, glass, ironware and ‘Manchester goods’, but ‘changes in the internal navigation of the country’ increasingly deprived it of its former commercial importance.2 The representation had not been contested since 1768, when 45 freemen had polled. Since then the self-elected corporation of one bailiff and 12 capital burgesses, who had ‘always been selected from persons of particular political opinions’, had limited the admission of freemen ‘almost wholly’ to non-residents, in order ‘more effectually to secure’ to themselves the nomination of Members, who were expected to pay ‘considerable sums of money’. The municipal corporations commissioners noted how this ‘election money’ had been ‘expended in public works and the improvement of the town’, including the erection of a new bridge and the construction of ‘a handsome and commodious’ town hall, and concluded that the town had been governed in a ‘satisfactory’ manner. The payments continued until 1818 when Wilson Aylesbury Roberts senior, a local attorney and influential member of the corporation, had his son and namesake returned without opposition. Between 1820 and 1832 the corporation made only ten new freemen, whose admission fee was one guinea.3
Roberts sat undisturbed throughout this period on the interest of his father, to which he had succeeded in 1819, and that of the 2nd Baron Lyttelton, high steward of Bewdley and its Member in the 1790 Parliament, who acted as his patron.4 A petition against slavery was presented to the Commons, 19 May 1826.5 Petitions against the Test Acts from Bewdley’s Presbyterian and Baptist meeting houses were presented to the Commons, 20 Feb., and to the Lords, 20 Mar. 1828.6 Petitions against Catholic emancipation, for which the previously hostile Roberts paired, reached the Lords, 17 Feb., and the Commons, 19 Feb. 1829.7 Petitions against slavery were presented to the Commons, 12, 18 Nov., and the Lords, 16 Nov., 6 Dec. 1830.8
The Grey ministry’s reform bill, which Roberts opposed when present, initially placed Bewdley in schedule B with those boroughs which it was proposed to reduce to one Member. Lord John Russell acknowledged that this was an error and confirmed that the borough would continue as a single Member constituency, 14 Mar. 1831. The boundary commissioners concluded that ‘a considerable addition’ to the town was required, and by the Boundary Act it was enlarged from 3.2 to 11.2 square miles to encompass the parishes of Ribbesford, Wribbenhall and Lower Mitton, which included Stourport, with a population of 2,952.9 Littleton, Member for Staffordshire and one of the supervisors of the commission, noted with approval that the enlarged borough would ‘swallow Stourport’, which was ‘much under the influence of the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Company’.10 With a population of 7,939 and a registered electorate of 337, the new constituency was no longer subject to the hegemony of the corporation, and more power passed to a local landowner, Sir Thomas Edward Winnington of Stanford Court, Whig Member for Worcestershire 1820-30, who was returned unopposed from 1832 until 1837, when he retired in favour of his son, the Liberal Member, 1837-47, 1852-68.11
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 500; Key to Both Houses (1832), 300.
- 2. Pigot's Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 568; PP (1831-2), xl. 137.
- 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 500; (1835), xxv. 364-7.
- 4. Berrow's Worcester Jnl. 16 Mar. 1820; Extraordinary Red Bk. (1821), 43; Worcester Herald, 10, 17 June 1826, 17 July, 7 Aug. 1830, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831.
- 5. CJ, lxxxi. 372; Worcester Herald, 27 May 1826.
- 6. CJ, lxxxiii. 100; LJ, lx. 125.
- 7. LJ, lxi. 47; CJ, lxxxiv. 59.
- 8. CJ, lxxxvi. 61, 108; LJ, lxiii. 100, 153.
- 9. PP (1831-2), xl. 138: N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 433.
- 10. Hatherton diary, 31 Oct., 8 Nov. 1831.
- 11. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 309; (1835), xxiii. 54.