Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the freemen
Estimated number qualified to vote:
about 2,000 in 1820, rising to almost 3,000 by 18311
Number of voters:
2,175 in 1826
16,910 (1821); 18,590 (1831)
|9 Mar. 1820||GEORGE WILLIAM COVENTRY, Visct. Deerhurst|
|THOMAS HENRY HASTINGS DAVIES|
|16 June 1826||GEORGE RICHARD ROBINSON||1542|
|THOMAS HENRY HASTINGS DAVIES||1278|
|30 July 1830||THOMAS HENRY HASTINGS DAVIES|
|GEORGE RICHARD ROBINSON|
|2 May 1831||THOMAS HENRY HASTINGS DAVIES|
|GEORGE RICHARD ROBINSON|
Worcester, a cathedral city and county of itself, had ‘the largest hop market in the kingdom’ and was also noted for the ‘superior quality’ of its porcelain and fine china. It was as the ‘principal seat of the glove trade’, however, that the city employed the ‘greater proportion’ of its ‘capital and labour’. Between 1825 and 1833 the quantity of gloves produced was ‘said to have decreased nearly a third’ and the number of master manufacturers to have fallen from 135 to 94, but the municipal corporations commissioners dismissed ‘statements as to the distress of the glove trade’, against which numerous petitions were got up in this period, as ‘highly exaggerated’.2 The self-elected corporation of 24 councillors (including the mayor and six aldermen) and 48 capital citizens was closely allied with the electoral interest of its recorder and patron the 7th earl of Coventry, but faced stiff opposition from the city’s independents and Dissenters, none of whom were admitted to its offices. Between 1820 and 1831 the corporation created 848 freemen (36, 272 and 34 in the election years of 1820, 1826 and 1830 respectively, and 226 at the rumoured dissolution in 1825); but their inability since 1748 to make admissions except by ‘birth or servitude’, for a fee of £1 11s. 6d., ‘put it in the power of an opulent partisan or candidate unduly to influence a number of votes by defraying this charge’. This, combined with the heavy expense of bringing up the non-resident freemen, who comprised approximately one third of the electorate, meant that there was no single commanding electoral influence.3
At the 1820 general election Colonel Thomas Henry Hastings Davies of Elmley Castle, Worcestershire, and Viscount Deerhurst, Coventry’s son, stood again, having survived petitions against their return at the previous election. Davies, who was supported by the independents and Dissenters, defended his attachment to the Whig opposition and denied ‘a report most industriously circulated’ that he had endeavoured to form a ‘secret coalition’ with his colleague. Deerhurst, the corporation candidate, apologized for being ‘absent from his duty for nearly a month’ and called ‘for every man to rally around the government’ against the ‘seditious and inflammatory harangues’ of ‘[William] Cobbett† [Henry] Hunt*, and others’. There was ‘a general expectation that a third candidate’, Edward Protheroe senior, former Member for Bristol, ‘would be nominated’, but on the morning of the election the ‘intention was abandoned’ and Davies and Deerhurst were returned unopposed. For fear of trouble the chairing ceremony was postponed until next day, when ‘the splendid vehicle, which bore the Members’, fell ‘prey to the merciless hands of the mob, who commenced the work of demolition earlier than usual’.4 In the House the Liverpool ministry continued to be supported by Deerhurst, when present, and opposed by Davies, and they took opposite sides on Catholic relief, against which a petition from the cathedral reached the Lords, 11 Apr. 1821.5 Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Lords, 31 May 1824, 19 Apr. 1826, and the Commons, 15 May 1823, 24 May 1824, 13 Mar. 1826.6 Petitions against foreign imports were presented from the silk throwsters, 13 Feb., and from the glove makers by Deerhurst, who with Davies led a Worcester delegation to lobby the chancellor of the exchequer on the glove trade, 24 Mar. 1826.7 The non-resident freemen in London petitioned the Lords for repeal of the corn laws, 11 May 1826.8
At the 1826 general election the sitting Members offered again. The declaration of George Richard Robinson of Dorset Cottage, Fulham, Middlesex, a prosperous London merchant engaged in the Newfoundland trade, who claimed to have secured the ‘powerful support’ of the non-resident freemen of London, Birmingham and elsewhere, prompted expectations of an ‘approaching "tug of war"’. Ten days before the poll, however, Deerhurst unexpectedly retired, citing his ‘appointment as vice-lieutenant of the county’ and, in a veiled reference to costs, ‘the situation’ in which he was ‘in other respects placed’, leaving ‘the high party of the freemen without a candidate’. He was immediately accused of ‘desertion’ by the ‘corporation interest’, who entreated the electors not to promise their votes, claiming that two ‘opulent men, the one a London banker, the other a gentleman of high respectability, the native of an adjoining county, only await the invitation’.9 This came to nothing, however, and with only three days left before the poll, John Cradock wrote to the home secretary Peel on behalf of his ‘brother freemen’, requesting a recommendation for ‘bringing a gentleman forward’ on ‘the corporation interest’, as the present candidates were both ‘opposition men’.10 John Norman Macleod of Dunvegan Castle, Inverness, Member for Sudbury, was offered a seat at Worcester, Coventry or Hull by ‘the treasury people’, but rejected all three as ‘very undesirable, with more than a fair chance of defeat’, and there was no opposition until the day of nomination, when a local man, Richard Griffiths of Thornhill, ‘most unexpectedly’ accepted a ‘requisition signed by upwards of three hundred freemen’ and was proposed by the mayor, John Dent. A week of ‘spirited polling’ ensued, which in ‘ardour, spirit and determination’ was ‘unparalleled in the electioneering annals’ of the city.11
Robinson, who secured and maintained an early lead, received support from 71 per cent of the 2,175 who polled (725 as split votes shared with Griffiths, 685 shared with Davies, and 132 as plumpers). Davies obtained a vote from 58 per cent (332 as plumpers and 261 shared with Griffiths), and Griffiths, who in ‘consequence of recent attack of the gout’ had been unable to conduct a personal canvass, from 48 per cent (50 as plumpers). Sixty-seven per cent (1,456) of the voters were residents, while the 719 out-voters included 208 from London (ten per cent of the total polled) and 511 from other parts (24). According to the Worcester Herald, ‘voters were brought from all parts of the kingdom; and one freeman polled who lived at Odessa. The aged and infirm likewise could not resist the entreaties for their suffrages; the name of a veteran aged 107, from Micheldean, Gloucestershire, appearing in the books’. Robinson had a clear majority among all types of voter, but received a significantly higher degree of support (85 per cent) from the London freemen than Davies (57) and Griffiths (33). Davies (61 per cent) did marginally better than his overall performance among the resident voters, compared with Robinson (72) and Griffiths (48), while Griffiths polled a slightly higher proportion (51 per cent), than overall among the other out-voters, by contrast with Robinson, (63) and Davies (52). Although the corporation had enrolled ‘about 180’ freemen to support Griffiths, he was convinced that success would have been ‘certain’ if only he had ‘come forward earlier’, and promised to offer again on the first vacancy. At the declaration the platform bearing Davies and Robinson was ‘demolished to tatters’ by the ‘surrounding rabble’, and they were ‘only saved from personal injury by the exertions of their friends’.12
In the House Robinson, notwithstanding his ‘approval of the present government’ at an election dinner, took an independent line and often sided with Davies in opposition.13 Both supported repeal of the Test Acts, for which petitions from the Dissenters reached the Commons, 6 June 1827, 18, 19 Feb. 1828, and the Lords, 21 Feb. 1828.14 Petitions for Catholic relief, which both Members supported, were presented to the Commons, 18 Apr. 1828, 19 Feb., 4, 30 Mar. 1829, and the Lords, 5 Mar. 1829. Hostile ones reached the Commons, 19 Feb., and the Lords, 17 Feb., 17 Mar., 6 Apr. 1829.15 Robinson led the opposition to Davies’s bill to limit the duration of polls and provide multiple booths, against which he presented a Worcester petition, 24 Mar. 1828.16 Both Members campaigned on behalf of the Worcester glove trade against foreign competition, and Davies brought up petitions for increased protection, 23, 26 June 1828.17 A petition complaining of distress and calling for a revision of the currency and parliamentary reform, which both Members supported, reached the Lords, 1 Apr. 1830.18
At the 1830 general election both Members sought re-election as supporters of ‘rigid economy’. Davies denied being ‘the author of the Act which prohibits the use of ribands at elections’, while Robinson defended his unpopular opposition to Littleton’s truck bill. Griffiths was expected to be the third candidate, but on 3 July he declined, blaming a ‘very recent and alarming illness’ and ‘repeated attacks of gout’. Sir Roger Gresley* of Drakelow Park, Staffordshire, was rumoured, his mother having repeatedly urged him to offer knowing that her ‘native city likes a third man’, but he ultimately opted for Derby. The London freemen endorsed the conduct of Robinson at their monthly meeting, 5 July, when a similar meeting held in Worcester by the resident voters ‘to pave the way for the arrival of a third man’ was gatecrashed by Davis’s supporters and resolutions passed in his favour. A requisition signed by 300 to 400 freemen and sent to Colonel Sir Willoughby Cotton of Cheltenham came to nothing, and both Members, who had secured the approval of the Worcester Parliamentary Reform Association, were returned without opposition amidst the usual ‘senseless and equally perilous custom upon such occasions’.19 Charles Williams Wynn* later observed that ‘the only places where cheap returns have been got are those which on account of their notorious profligacy and corruption could not find a candidate to come forward. This I am told was strongly the case at Worcester, where for £500 any respectable man might on the day of election have come in’.20
Petitions against slavery reached the Commons, 12 Nov. 1830, 17 Feb. 1831, and the Lords, 16 Nov., 20 Dec. 1830.21 Worcester petitions in support of the Grey ministry’s reform bill were presented to the Commons from the political union, 17 Mar., and by Davies from the city, 23 Mar., and reached the Lords, 14 Feb., 23 Mar. 1831.22 Both Members supported the bill, although Robinson denied that he was pledged to any of its details, and the resident freemen passed resolutions in support of their conduct, 25 Apr. At the 1831 general election they offered again, citing their support for reform and ‘every possible retrenchment in the public expenditure’. Robert Adam Dundas* was spoken of but opted for Edinburgh, leaving the way clear for Henry Fitzroy†, brother of the 3rd Baron Southampton, who came forward as an opponent of ‘any sweeping measures of reform, based upon injustice’. As ‘an advocate of moderate reform’, however, he was ‘refused a hearing’ and withdrew, finding ‘the influence of the purse with which he was provided would nought avail him’. Davies had also anticipated that there would be some ‘disinclination to reform’ among the freemen, especially as it ‘tended to deprive them of their rights’, but discovered that he was ‘mistaken’. With Robinson, who denounced ‘moderate reform’ as the ‘greatest bug-bear’, he was returned unopposed.23
The Members gave general support to the reform bill, but opposed some of its details, including the proposed division of counties, while Robinson supported attempts to preserve the rights of freemen and campaigned against the alterations to the boundaries of ancient boroughs. Favourable petitions from the political union reached the Lords, 4 Oct. 1831, and were presented by Robinson, 18 May, and Davies, 18 June 1832. One against reform from the mayor and corporation reached the Lords, 5 Oct. 1831.24 Robinson presented a petition against the sale of beer bill, 18 Oct. 1831.25 Both Members continued to campaign for increased protection for the glove trade, for which petitions were presented by Davies, 15 Dec. 1831, and Robinson, 19 June 1832.26
By the Boundary Act the cathedral precinct, an area of separate parochial jurisdiction in the centre of the city, was added to the borough, which was substantially enlarged from 320 to 1,253 acres to ‘include all the houses and buildings ... intimately connected with the town’ and its suburbs. This gave the reformed constituency 5,000 houses (2,100 of which were rated at £10 or above), a population of 27,500, and a registered electorate of 2,366, of whom 1,099 (46 per cent) qualified as resident freemen. (According to the municipal corporations commissioners, between 15 and 31 July 1832, ‘just in time to get their names on the registers for the present year, no less than 88 persons were admitted as freemen by birth or servitude ... with a view to elective purposes’.)27 Both Members were re-elected unopposed as Liberals at the 1832 general election. Davies was narrowly defeated by a Conservative in 1835, but came in unopposed in 1837, when Robinson retired.
Author: Philip Salmon
- 1. Estimates based on Worcester Herald, 17 June 1826; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1828-9), 882.
- 2. Lascelles’ Worcs. Dir. (1851), 2, 3, Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1822-3), 580; PP (1835), xxiii. 295.
- 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 600; (1835), xxiii. 289-91.
- 4. Berrow’s Worcester Jnl. 9, 16 Mar. 1820.
- 5. LJ, liv. 189.
- 6. Ibid. lvi. 292; lviii. 207; CJ, lxxviii. 312; lxxix. 404; lxxxi. 159.
- 7. CJ, lxxxi. 37; The Times, 25 Mar. 1826.
- 8. LJ, lviii. 328.
- 9. Worcester Herald, 27 May, 3 June 1826.
- 10. Add. 40387, f. 65.
- 11. Macleod of Macleod mss 1061/5; Worcester Herald, 10 June 1826.
- 12. Worcester Herald, 17, 24 June 1826.
- 13. Ibid. 24 June 1826.
- 14. CJ, lxxxii. 520; lxxxiii. 78, 83; LJ, lx. 55.
- 15. CJ, lxxxiii. 250; lxxxiv. 59, 103, 182; LJ, lxi. 47, 123, 209, 356.
- 16. CJ, lxxxiii. 194.
- 17. Ibid. 462, 478.
- 18. LJ, lxii. 186.
- 19. Worcester Herald, 3, 10, 17, 24, 31 July; Worcs. RO, Lechmere mss, Dowager Lady Gresley to Sir A. Lechmere, 3, 11 July 1830.
- 20. Christ Church, Oxf. Phillimore mss, Williams Wynn to Phillimore, 1 Sept. 1830.
- 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 61, 263; LJ, lxiii. 54, 72, 75, 94.
- 22. CJ, lxxxvi. 395, 423; LJ, lxiii. 220, 364.
- 23. Worcester Herald, 30 Apr., 7 May 1831; W. Williams, Parl. Hist. Worcs. 110.
- 24. LJ, lxiii. 1045, 1048, 1063; CJ, lxxxvii. 321, 410.
- 25. CJ, lxxxvi. 931.
- 26. Ibid. lxxxvii. 26, 419.
- 27. PP (1831-2), xl. 143-5; (1831-2), xxxvi. 327, 481; (1835), xxiii. 291.