Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1820-1832, ed. D.R. Fisher, 2009
Available from Cambridge University Press

Background Information

Right of Election:

in burgage holders

Estimated number qualified to vote:



1,450 (1821); 1,673 (1831)2


12 Feb. 1829TOWNSHEND re-elected after appointment to office
30 July 1830(SIR) SAMUEL SCOTT, bt.
25 Feb. 1831HON. HORATIO GEORGE POWYS TOWNSHEND vice Townshend, called to the Upper House
29 Apr. 1831(SIR) SAMUEL SCOTT, bt.

Main Article

Whitchurch, ‘a small irregularly built town’ in ‘a low but pleasant situation’ under the chalk hills of north Hampshire, was located at a crossroads on the London to Salisbury road. For many years it served as the market town for the surrounding agricultural district, though by 1823 ‘scarcely anything’ was brought in on the appointed day.3 The silk mills on the River Test, the town’s only significant industry, were reported in 1830 to employ ‘very few hands’ and the manufacture of woollen fabrics to have ‘almost entirely disappeared’, but in terms of general trade, the same source observed that Whitchurch ‘may be considered flourishing’.4 The parliamentary patrons in 1820 were John Thomas Townshend, 2nd Viscount Sydney, of Frognal, near Foot’s Cray, Kent, and his cousin George Brodrick, 4th Viscount Midleton, of Peper Harrow, Surrey. Oldfield, whose calculation of the number of voters at 70 was rather higher than the later estimate of the bailiff, reckoned that only 13 of the burgage plots were not in the hands of these patrons by 1820.5 Nevertheless, shortly before the general election of that year, a local newspaper reported that the borough was ‘considered assailable and ... that the independent electors will make an attempt to obtain one of the seats’.6 In the event Sydney’s brother Horatio Townshend and the London merchant Samuel Scott, Midleton’s nominee, were returned unopposed. Immediately after the election, a ‘loyal and dutiful’ address of condolence and congratulation was drawn up by the mayor, burgesses and freeholders, ‘to be presented to His Majesty by the Members ... at the next levée’.7 Both Members supported the Liverpool ministry in the House.

No details have been discovered of any subsequent election proceedings until 1831, nor has any further intimation of a contest been found. Sydney’s son John Robert Townshend replaced his uncle at the 1826 general election and took a similar political line in the Commons. At the time of his return he was under age and out of the country on a diplomatic mission to Russia.8 As Whitchurch is a common place name, petitions are difficult to identify positively, but that presented by William Bingham Baring for repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, 11 June 1827, almost certainly emanated from the borough.9 It appears that no major incident occurred in the town in connection with the ‘Swing’ agricultural disturbances of 1830-1, though the neighbourhood was badly hit, and a petition was afterwards sent to the home office to protest at the harsh sentences meted out by the Hampshire special commission.10 After Townshend succeeded to his father’s peerage in January 1831, Horatio Townshend resumed his seat. At that year’s general election, he denounced the Grey ministry’s reform bill, by which Whitchurch stood to be completely disfranchised, as an ‘infernal’ nuisance. Similar sentiments were expressed by Scott, who according to a subsequent survey of anti-reform Members had recently purchased Midleton’s stake in the borough. His proposer, Richard Benyon De Beauvoir† of Inglefield Park, near Reading, admitted that the election would probably be the last held in the borough, but urged the assembled company to return men pledged to forestall this. The Members were returned unopposed. The election report noted that none of the proposers or seconders came from within 12 miles of the town, whose inhabitants may have been responsible for the petition in support of the reform bill presented by Henry Hunt, 22 Mar. 1831.11

In the reform bill returns, it was stated that no contest had occurred at Whitchurch within living memory. These bore the signature of David Williams, the mayor and returning officer, who was presumably related to Lloyd Williams, the man described by Sydney in 1814 as his ‘confidential agent’.12 When the borough’s inclusion in schedule A of the reintroduced reform bill was debated in the House, 26 July 1831, Townshend announced that the failure of other attempts had persuaded him to abandon as a waste of time his planned defence based on its burgage tenure franchise. Scott observed that he had been ‘many years ... intimately acquainted with this borough’ and praised the respectability of its constituency, but its disfranchisement was agreed to without a division. The new criteria adopted for the revised bill provided no reprieve for Whitchurch, which was found to contain 261 houses paying £315 assessed taxes. By the most generous estimate, there were 43 houses within the parish rated at over £10 per annum, and only 35 in the borough.13 Its extinction was agreed to without a murmur of dissent, 20 Feb. 1832.

Authors: Howard Spencer / Philip Salmon


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 597. This was the ‘probable’ figure.
  • 2. Ibid. 50-51. These figures are for the parish of Whitchurch. The borough population was estimated at 1,148 (1821) and 1,270 (1831). An earlier return by the mayor put the borough population in 1831 at 1,139, excluding 96 residents ‘on the waste of the borough’ (ibid. (1831), xvi. 267).
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 344; R. Mudie, Hants, 283.
  • 4. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 475.
  • 5. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iii. 532 and Key (1820), 17.
  • 6. Hants Telegraph, 14 Feb. 1820.
  • 7. Salisbury Jnl. 13 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. Add. 52017, Townshend to H.E. Fox, 6, 24 June 1826.
  • 9. CJ, lxxxii. 540; The Times, 12 June 1827.
  • 10. E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 88-91, 223.
  • 11. Portsmouth Herald, 8 May 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 419.
  • 12. PP (1830-1), x. 158; (1831-2), xxxvi. 597; Add. 38259, f. 189.
  • 13. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 28, 50-51.