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 the freemen

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 3,800 in 18311

Number of voters:

3,725 in 1830


20,787 (1821); 26,260 (1831)


13 Mar. 1820HON. LAWRENCE DUNDAS1647
 John Francis Cradock, Lord Howden [I]1201
28 June 1820ROBERT CHALONER vice Dundas, called to the Upper House 
 Hon. Edward Petre1792

Main Article

York, a cathedral city situated in a ‘rich and extensive valley’ on the River Ouse, at the junction of the three Yorkshire Ridings, was the capital of the North Riding and a county in its own right; the boundary extended beyond the city liberty to encompass an area some 30 miles in circumference, mainly to the south and west, which was known as the Ainsty. The city exuded an ‘air of great respectability’ and the streets were ‘embellished with many elegant public as well as private buildings’. Its economy was characterized by ‘small-scale handicraft enterprises’, rather than factory production, and its prosperity rested chiefly on its role as a retail and distribution centre for local farmers, the ecclesiastical establishment and the ‘many genteel and opulent families’ who resided in the vicinity. Nevertheless, York’s status was diminishing in relation to the industrial towns of the West Riding, and it was observed in 1831 that it was ‘no longer a northern metropolis’.2

Local power was exercised by the corporation, an elaborately structured, self-electing body, which included a mayor, two sheriffs (the returning officers for parliamentary elections), 12 aldermen and 72 common councilmen, who were chosen from among the freemen. A report to the home secretary in 1824 concluded that the offices of mayor and alderman at York were undertaken by ‘persons of much higher rank in society and consequently of better and more liberal education’ than was the case at Coventry. The franchise was vested in the freemen, who obtained their privilege through birth, apprenticeship (within the liberty only) or purchase (for £1 9s.); 1,946 were admitted between 1820 and 1831, 863 by right of birth, 711 through apprenticeship and 372 by purchase. It was stated in 1831 that it was impossible to establish the precise number of freemen at any one time, but that the previous year approximately 2,400 of them were resident and 1,300 non-resident. An analysis of the pollbook for 1820 shows that of those who voted, 51 per cent were craftsmen, 21 per cent were retailers, nine per cent gentlemen or professionals, nine per cent labourers, five per cent agricultural workers and four per cent merchants or manufacturers. The majority of the out-voters resided elsewhere in Yorkshire, but there was a significant contingent from London. One constant feature of York elections was their shameless venality: a witness in a court case in 1833 claimed that it was ‘a matter of notoriety’ that ‘any gentleman who came, in whatever interest, must make up his mind to find it very expensive’. Apart from the usual costs of conveying and treating electors, a regular market price of one guinea for a split vote, and two for a plumper, had been established since 1807; these were usually paid in the form of a ‘Christmas box’. A select committee report in 1835 stated that prior to 1831 it was ‘customary’ for each candidate to retain ‘a considerable number’ of the poorer freemen ‘in the capacity of runners or messengers’, at a daily rate of 5s., which could amount to ‘as much as £2 15s. per man ... paid ... immediately after the election, without prejudice to his subsequent claim for the guineas’.3 Notwithstanding the rampant bribery, politics in York were clearly defined in party terms, with the Whig (Orange) and Tory (Blue) divide being reinforced by the rivalries between church and Dissent. National issues played a prominent part in city election campaigns, which usually complemented the wider interest of those for the county. The corporation, an almost exclusively Whig body, maintained strict control over local patronage and was able to control the return of one Member. As a Tory newspaper noted, the corporation was ‘devoted to the views of a powerful aristocratic Whig family’, that of the 2nd Earl Fitzwilliam of Wentworth House, whose nephew Lawrence Dundas had sat for the city with one interruption since 1802. However, the Tories were sufficiently wealthy and influential to contend for a share of the representation, and Sir Mark Sykes of Sledmere had been a Member since 1807. At the general election of 1818 a number of freemen brought forward and funded a second Whig candidate, Colonel William Cooke of Wheatley. Cooke was narrowly pushed into third place behind Dundas and Sykes, but Alderman Robert Chaloner of Guisborough Hall informed his kinsman Fitzwilliam that ‘there is such a strong anti-ministerialist spirit in this place that I am positive it only requires good management to secure the return of two Whigs whenever a fair opportunity shall occur’. Those behind Cooke’s candidacy were emboldened to establish the York Whig Club, 18 Sept. 1818, which quickly occupied a prominent place in the city’s political life. Its advocacy of parliamentary reform distinguished it from the mild Whiggism of the Fitzwilliam-corporation interest. In response, the Tories established a King and Constitution Club to supplement the existing Pitt Club. More importantly, the Yorkshire Gazette was founded in May 1819 and soon became the leading Tory organ in the county. Three other weekly newspapers were published in the city: the Chronicle, another Tory mouthpiece, the Whiggish Courant and the more radical Herald, which was edited by William Hargrove, a leading light of the Whig Club.4

Early in 1820 uncertainty prevailed as to the intentions of all the candidates from the previous general election: Cooke had indicated his unwillingness to come forward again, for ‘pecuniary reasons’, though the Whig Club continued to nurture his interest; Sykes’s poor health (he was abroad convalescing) and recent financial problems arising from the defrauding of his family’s bank encouraged the belief that he would stand down, and Dundas’s position was in doubt owing to the failing health of his father Lord Dundas, whom he stood to succeed in the peerage.5 Following the announcement of the dissolution Chaloner, the chairman of the Whig committee, advised Fitzwilliam that Dundas’s candidature was ‘indispensable’ and said he had pressed him for an address. He was confident that the election would pass off peacefully, reasoning that

under the circumstances of Sir Mark’s absence and the narrow escape of a defeat that the Tories had at the last election, it is certainly not their interest to disturb the present representation. The Whigs had probably better be quiet, and the Ultras are scarcely in force sufficient to bring forward a man of their own. If however the Tories should be fools enough to try the experiment of bringing in two, I think it ought to force the Whigs to start a fourth candidate, and under such circumstances (but such alone) I think the Whigs would succeed in bringing in two.6

Robert Pemberton Milnes†, the chairman of Sykes’s committee, announced the latter’s candidature after being assured by his family that he would accept a quiet election, but not a contested one. However, the Whig Club had other ideas and, having failed to persuade Cooke to stand, turned its attention to Chaloner and Mardmaduke Wyvill of Constable Burton, son of the celebrated reformer, the Rev. Christopher Wyvill. The Club was unable to secure a return on its own, but either of these potential candidates would have been personally acceptable to Fitzwilliam. Chaloner declined, ostensibly on the grounds that he would be seen as a Fitzwilliam nominee and be accused of closing the borough, but Wyvill agreed on condition that he was put to no expense; the Whig Club backed him, but Fitzwilliam’s pocket funded him. The choice of Wyvill seems to have been a calculated move to pre-empt any chance of his brother-in-law, Milnes, offering as a second Tory. As the Tories cast around for another candidate, Chaloner reported to Fitzwilliam that ‘a multitude of people have been applied to ... but I think in vain’. He presumably did not rate Wyvill’s chances against Sykes very highly, for he still anticipated a quiet election costing no more than £5,000. Canvassing was being conducted on Sykes’s behalf when it was announced, 28 Feb., that he had withdrawn, as the prospect of a contest was too much for him. This drove the Tories to a new ‘zeal and determination’, and Chaloner admitted to Fitzwilliam that ‘the hopes I have entertained of the ... election passing over without a struggle have certainly vanished’; in the absence of anyone else, Martin Stapylton of Myton Hall would ‘positively be proposed and ... is willing’. Chaloner recommended that Dundas and Wyvill should canvass jointly, which was duly done. Its success prompted him to declare that ‘no Tory could, in this place, bring such a force out as Sir Mark’, and he therefore had the greatest confidence of success. On 4 Mar., two days before the election, the Tories introduced their new candidate, Lord Howden of Grimston Park, formerly General Sir John Cradock. He told the home secretary Lord Sidmouth that, to his ‘utter surprise’, a deputation of freemen had visited him at 11 o’clock on Saturday night, to ‘represent the fatal blow that had just been struck against their independence and old Blue cause’ by the Whig coalition and Sykes’s retirement. There had been no opportunity for ‘deliberation or consultation’, but he had consented and ‘the canvass took place the following morning’. It was reported that the city was ‘all a bustle’ as the election approached, though the general opinion remained that Dundas and Wyvill would succeed. Lord Milton, Fitzwilliam’s son, who was in the city to oversee his father’s interest as well as attending to his own election for the county, caused a stir by publicly labelling Howden an ‘interloper’. The Gazette retorted that ‘the lavish scale of expenditure adopted’ was ‘maintained by no other purse than that of Lord Milton’, and his outburst was ‘a pretty plain admission that York is now to become a preserved manor of Wentworth House’. Nevertheless, it accepted that Howden’s was a ‘hopeless attempt’.7 Dundas, who was nominated by the mayor, George Peacock, and the father of the city, Alderman Thomas Wilson, promised to act as he always had done against ‘unnecessary infringements of the liberties of the people’, but significantly added that the constitution was ‘so vigorous and excellent that there was no necessity for any new measures to amend it’. Wyvill, who was sponsored by Cooke and Chaloner, repudiated the insinuation that he was a mere nominee of the Fitzwilliam-corporation interest by emphasizing that ‘a large body of the independent freemen’ had shown their determination to ‘have a free and independent man’. He gave a ‘solemn pledge’ that ‘if any body of the freemen would say he had not done his duty ... that instant he would resign’. He attacked the Liverpool ministry’s infringements of the constitutional rights ‘which the [Whig] party had gained’, but, taking care not to offend his paymaster, he declared his support for a restorative rather than a radical measure of parliamentary reform. Howden, who was introduced by one of the few Tory corporators, Robert Cattle, and by John Roper, denounced the ‘improper coalition’ ranged against him and defended the government’s repressive legislation in the light of the recent Cato Street conspiracy. The show of hands was called in favour of Dundas and Wyvill, but the Blues demanded a poll. By the end of the day Dundas and Wyvill were already comfortably ahead, with 438 and 429 votes respectively to Howden’s 242, and the positions remained unchanged thereafter. At the end of the second day’s polling the candidates attempted to address the freemen, but ‘each party attempted to out-stentor its opponents’ and a few blows were exchanged. Howden realized that he could not rely on all those freemen who had promised him support, but the Blues insisted on keeping the poll open as long as possible, apparently in the hope that the death of Lord Dundas might put an end to the contest. Even in that event, though, as Howden despairingly remarked to Sidmouth on the third day, ‘all this may be to come over again, if any man is found bold enough to oppose the strength and resources of the Fitzwilliam family, and the hostility and oppression of a vile corporation lost in their rancour and a sense of their own dignity and justice’. The poll dragged to its conclusion on the fifth day, when Dundas and Wyvill were declared elected; rumours that the Blues would petition against the return came to nothing.8 Howden, who at the end of the proceedings had bitterly castigated the out-voters as ‘intruders and renegades’, privately reflected that had Sykes made clear his intentions six months before and ‘earlier measures been adopted’, the ‘result would have been very different’. However, he ruled himself out of any future attempt, as he had ‘already gone beyond every prudential consideration’ and did not see ‘what could be done against Lord Fitzwilliam’s purse’. His account book shows that the election cost him £7,905 13s. 6d. Chaloner reported to Fitzwilliam that he was ‘horrified at the expense’ of the combined Whig campaign, which amounted to ‘above £15,000’, but felt it was justified as the alternative would have been ‘a division in the Whig interest most dangerous, if not fatal even to the return of one Member’. He nevertheless urged that Wyvill should be ‘placed on an independent interest of his own as much as is possible, even during his father’s lifetime, after which he will be fully competent to undertake the whole of his own expenses’. He concluded that Fitzwilliam’s interest was ‘unassailably strong, and if prudentially managed may venture two Whigs for a long time to come’.9

The published poll book shows that 2,722 freemen cast their votes, of whom 830 (30 per cent) were non-residents. Of those who polled, 61 per cent gave a vote to Dundas, 56 to Wyvill and 44 to Howden. The overwhelming majority of the voters, 95 per cent, saw the contest in clear party terms, either splitting for the two Whigs or plumping for the Tory. Howden secured 1,063 plumpers (89 per cent of his total), Dundas had eight and Wyvill three. Dundas and Wyvill received 1,512 split votes (92 and 99 per cent of their respective totals), whereas Dundas and Howden shared 127 votes (eight and 11) and Wyvill and Howden just 12. For all Howden’s strictures against the out-voters, in fact he fared only slightly worse with them than with the electors in general. The notable exception was the 174 London freemen, from whom he obtained only seven votes, six of them plumpers, while 165 split for Dundas and Wyvill.10

Dundas’s succession to the peerage in June 1820 necessitated a by-election, for which Fitzwilliam brought forward Chaloner as his candidate. After canvassing had begun the Herald reported that ‘a few of the Tories have held two or three meetings and resolved again to try the strength of the party’, but their efforts were fruitless and Chaloner, who had ‘previously received a promise of support from the Whig Club, in addition to his own influence’, seemed ‘pretty certain’ to be spared a contest. On the hustings he showed himself to be a thoroughgoing Whig, who favoured Catholic relief and a ‘practical reform’ of Parliament. His unopposed return cost Fitzwilliam another £2,800.11 Writing to Lord Grey in January 1821 on the subject of reform, Fitzwilliam observed:

If it be meant that every borough where corruption prevails is to be swept out of the list of places sending representatives ... [then] I should have to cry for the good city of York, whose corrupt elections, in the course of 1819 and 1820, have extracted from my purse £25,000.12

In response to a requisition organized at a meeting of the Whig Club, 14 June, the mayor summoned a public meeting attended by nearly 3,000 people, 26 June 1820, when an address in support of Queen Caroline was agreed; it was subsequently presented by Wyvill, Cooke and Daniel Sykes, Member for Hull. However, the Whig Club’s attempt to have a county meeting convened on the same subject failed, largely because of Fitzwilliam’s opposition.13 The news of the withdrawal of the bill of pains and penalties against the queen reached York on 11 Nov. 1820 and was greeted with ‘loud and continuous cheers’ and bell ringing. Next day an estimated 10,000 people filled the streets for a celebratory parade and the spectacle of effigy burning, and later that week both Members made triumphal appearances in the city. A petition in favour of restoring the queen’s name to the liturgy was signed by some 1,700 inhabitants and presented to the Commons by Wyvill, 26 Jan. 1821; a similar one from the corporation followed five days later. At the time of George IV’s coronation in July, the loyal address sent from York contained only 300 signatures, while in York itself, most of the citizens spurned the celebrations and even refused to accept free drinks ‘on the day the queen was so greatly insulted’. Her death the following month prompted ‘a very general’ state of mourning.14 On 31 Jan. Wyvill presented 33 parish petitions to the Commons calling for the disfranchisement of corrupt boroughs, the enfranchisement of large towns, a £10 householder franchise and triennial parliaments.15 In December 1821 he chaired an illustriously attended annual dinner of the Whig Club, which he declared had been ‘the means of rousing public spirit’ and securing ‘the independence of their city’, and which offered a model for other towns to emulate. However, the dinner in 1822 appears to have been ‘shunned’ by many of the Whig aristocracy. The Club forwarded a petition to the Commons, 21 Apr. 1823, in which it condemned excessive government expenditure and taxation, the ‘many outrages committed on the constitution’ and the proceedings against ‘our late injured and beloved queen’, and demanded a ‘radical’ measure of reform, including an ‘extended suffrage’, the ballot, the enfranchisement of large towns and shorter parliaments, in order to ‘remove the aristocratic influence of the crown, which at present reigns’ in the Commons, and thereby ‘make it what it ought to be, a real representative assembly’.16 In 1824 a York municipal improvement bill was introduced to provide for paving, lighting, the regulation of fares and tolls, and watching. Naturally, the corporation sought to engross the new powers for itself, but a united committee was formed, consisting mainly of the city’s Tories headed by Cattle, to press for the creation of a separate authority. Both sides petitioned the Commons and Chaloner tried to mediate. The resulting legislation, which established an improvement commission to be elected by the £10 householders, represented a significant defeat for the corporation, which was unable to influence the first elections to the new body in July 1825 and no longer had a monopoly of civic power.17 The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for inquiry into the prosecution of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara, 26 May 1824, and the abolition of slavery, 1 Mar. 1826.18

Early in 1825 Wyvill received a series of anonymous letters informing him that at the next general election he would be ‘opposed by a gentleman of his own party, professing to be a more decided reformer’, who was ‘likely to be supported by many of his former friends’. Influenced by this, he announced in May his intention of retiring at the dissolution. His friends, dismayed by this decision, organized an address urging him to reconsider, which received ‘above 200’ signatures and was presented to him in August, along with a separate address from the Whig Club, which praised his ‘firm and consistent support of civil and religious freedom’ and promised its full support. The prospect of Wyvill’s withdrawal had emboldened the Tories, flushed with their success over municipal reform, to anticipate a ‘complete resuscitation’, but in the event the gestures of support from his friends persuaded him to fight on. He was attacked by the Tory press as a political nonentity, the ‘slave of a faction’ and ‘the tool of a noble lord’. Despite his popularity with the freemen, many on the corporation disapproved of Wyvill and were anxious to restore the connection with the Dundas family. Corporation concern seems to have centred more on considerations of prestige and Wyvill’s lack of spending power in York, than on any real political differences. It was reported late in August 1825 that Milton, a corporator, and Chaloner had met with Ralph Ward, instigator of the address to Wyvill and a member of the Whig Club, to try to resolve the situation, but evidently without result.19 That winter the financial crisis transformed the political situation, as the failure of Chaloner’s bank put an end to his ambitions of continuing to represent the city. In March 1826 a corporation-sponsored requisition was circulated and signed by between 400 and 500 people, calling on Thomas Dundas, Lord Dundas’s eldest son, to come forward at the general election. Dundas joined Wyvill at a London meeting of the York Whig Club, 17 Apr., where they spoke the language of mutual support, and hopes were entertained that by thus uniting the Whigs could secure both seats. Meanwhile, the Blues had been active, holding a meeting in early March to ‘concert measures for returning two Members friendly to the constitution and decidedly opposed to any further concessions to the Catholics’. Cattle, the chairman, told the gathering that John Henry Lowther* and Lord Hotham* had been approached, but both had declined requisitions bearing over 1,000 signatures. Early in April it was announced that James Wilson of Sneaton Castle, near Whitby, had intimated his willingness to come forward if invited, on the same principles as ‘those of ... Sir Mark Sykes’; meetings of York voters took place in London, Leeds, Hull and several other towns to rally support. On 12 Apr. Wilson received and accepted a requisition containing 1,345 signatures, and declared that it would be his ‘uniform endeavour to preserve inviolate our excellent Protestant constitution’. George Strickland* of Boynton remarked that Wilson ‘is said to have money and I suppose wants to spend it’, which would ‘put Wyvill and Tom Dundas to expense’, though ‘I should think this new person could not succeed if they can face a contest’. Wilson was greeted by ‘several thousand persons’ when he subsequently visited York.20 On 1 June Wyvill received a ‘rapturous reception’ on entering the city to commence his election canvass. He branded Wilson ‘a slave dealer’ and said he was ‘at a loss as to how he ever became associated with York’. He also expressed the hope that Dundas would be his colleague and denied reports spread by the Blues that he would decline to engage in a contest. Dundas arrived the next day and voiced similar opinions. Conscious of the benefits of a coalition, Wyvill and Dundas’s committees tried to reach an understanding, but they were unable to agree terms. Believing their man to be secure on the interest of the resident freemen, Wvyill’s committee demanded that Dundas foot the whole bill for the out-voters, while sharing other costs. Wyvill later insisted that these terms were necessary to compensate him for losing the promised votes split with the Blue party, ‘in consequence of my being independent of the corporation’. There was reputedly an additional stipulation that if either man was at the bottom of the poll after two days he would retire, but still share the costs. Dundas stated that he ‘could not possibly accede’ to the terms demanded, and he withdrew from the contest, 5 June. Three days later some of his friends summoned a meeting, attended by the mayor, William Cooper, and several other corporators, to consider nominating him on principles of independence and electoral purity. The Tories were prepared to bring forward Howden again if Dundas stood, but it was confirmed on 9 June that he would not. The Herald lamented the ‘lukewarmness or apparent jealousy’ manifested between the corporation and the Whig Club. Lord Dundas later observed to Fitzwilliam that

I was very sorry for Tom’s retreat but under the circumstances, I don’t think he could have done otherwise. If he had persevered he would probably have succeeded, but at the cost, I fear, of splitting the Whigs into two parties.21

The Tory press condemned Wyvill for neglecting his duties in favour of the Turf and for saddling the city with a £20,000 bill for improving and enlarging the gaol, which he could have prevented with a word ‘in the proper quarter’. On the hustings Wyvill, who was introduced by George Cayley†, president of the Whig Club, and Alderman Dunsley, affirmed his support for Catholic relief, blamed ‘excessive tax’ as the main cause of distress and condemned the corn laws for keeping up the price of bread. He attempted to address the question of slavery, which was ‘evidently touching a sore point’ with Wilson, but the ‘hisses’ of the latter’s friends made it difficult for Wyvill to be heard. Wilson was sponsored by George Brown and Cattle, who defended him from Wyvill’s attack, declaring that he ‘did not know of any one thing [Wyvill] had ever done ... to promote the interests or prosperity of the citizens’, and claiming that ‘he never visited the city, but at the races, and the only time he ever saw him was on the steps of the York Tavern, arranging his betting book’. Wyvill and Wilson were then declared elected. Not only had the Tories secured a seat for their man, but they had witnessed the retreat of the corporation candidate in the face of Wyvill’s undoubted popularity with the resident freemen. Wilson had spent freely: at least £4,000, according to an election squib. Wyvill’s return cost him £1,919 19s. 2d., excluding fees for freedoms and his agent’s expenses, while Dundas’s brief intervention had cost Fitzwilliam nearly £300.22 Shortly after the election, in a sign of the continuing tensions amongst the Whigs, Hargrove accused Wyvill of an unspecified libel and used the columns of the Herald to denounce his ‘hired agents’, the ‘electioneering junto’, whose ‘ignorance and violence have plunged him into his present difficulties’, and who had engaged in a plot to ‘sacrifice Mr. Dundas and even the great cause itself’. The case came to court at the following lent assizes, but the proceedings were immediately adjourned while Cayley, Cooke and Samuel Nichol, former president of the Whig Club, urged Hargrove to drop the matter as it was causing great damage to the Whig party in the city; Hargrove backed down and accepted nominal damages of one shilling.23

The owners and occupiers of land in the vicinity of the city and the Ainsty petitioned the Commons against any alteration of the corn laws, 16 Feb. 1827. Their cause gained an unexpected boost when Cayley defended the principle of protection in a speech at Malton; he resigned as president of the Whig Club that summer.24 York politics in the late 1820s was dominated by the Catholic question, which divided opinion along party lines. Wilson presented an anti-Catholic petition from the inhabitants, 5 Mar., and Wyvill responded with a favourable one signed by the mayor and 4,000 inhabitants, 7 May 1827.25 An Auxiliary Catholic Defence Society was founded in the city in 1828, with the Catholic Edward Petre* of Stapylton Park, a kinsman of the 12th duke of Norfolk, as its first president; an Auxiliary Protestant Cause Society was established to oppose it. The House received petitions against emancipation from the diocesan clergy, 9 Feb., and York citizens residing in Hull, 26 Feb., while the Catholic inhabitants pressed their own claims, 24 Feb., and were supported by the Baptists and Presbyterians, 27 Feb. 1829. On 4 Mar. Wilson presented a hostile petition containing the signatures of 5,000 ‘people of prosperity and respectability’, representing ‘the great majority of the Protestant community’. However, Wyvill challenged its credibility, alleging that it had been ‘hawked around every hamlet within ten miles of York’, and stated that he would shortly present a counter-petition bearing ‘the names of all the magistrates ... almost every banker ... and a large majority of the inhabitants’; in fact, the only subsequent petition was from the Protestant Dissenters, 9 Mar. 1829.26 Wilson opposed the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, which Wyvill supported.

Early in June 1830, as the king’s health deteriorated, it was reported that the Whigs intended to bring forward two candidates at the impending general election. The Tories had already written to Wilson, asking if he would stand again, but his reply was ambiguous; he was apparently unpopular with some local Tories for having supported Jewish emancipation. A Tory meeting in London, 17 June, was attended by Samuel Adlam Bayntun, a Guards officer, who had indicated his willingness to offer as a champion of the ‘Protestant Tory party’ while stationed at York three years before. Next day the Blue committee in York, meeting at the Black Swan with Thomas Price in the chair, approved Bayntun’s candidature, having received an address in which he expressed willingness to come forward either alone or in conjunction with another, and stated that while he was ‘at present unconnected with the county’ he had ‘no objection whatever to purchase an estate and come to reside part of the year in Yorkshire, should it be considered desirable’. The Blues got to work early, treating the freemen in London, Leeds and Hull. On 21 June it was announced at a meeting of the Whig Club that Wyvill would retire at the dissolution; no explanation was given, but his decision was probably influenced by a lack of funds. Dundas, Lord Normanby* and Sir Edward Vavasour of Hazelwood were all mentioned as possible candidates. The same week the Whig Club stated that it was looking for two men, but its influence was now on the wane.27 Following the king’s death Bayntun issued an address in which he pledged to uphold the ‘Protestant ascendancy’ and advocated tax reductions, measures to protect industry and the abolition of slavery; there was even talk in some Tory circles of the need for an unspecified measure of parliamentary reform. The Gazette maintained that there was ‘not the least doubt’ of Bayntun’s success and felt ‘quite certain that two Blue men might be returned with ease’. Continuing uncertainty about Wilson’s plans forced the Blues to approach Edmund Denison, later Member for the West Riding, but he declined ‘on account of the smallness of his fortune’. Dundas confirmed his candidature on 1 July and announced that he would begin his canvass after the completion of parliamentary business and the king’s funeral. Next day the mayor, Petre, also offered, in response to an invitation from a number of freemen. The Herald urged that ‘something like co-operation will be found requisite’, if both Whigs were to succeed. Perhaps alerted by warnings of the need for prompt action to counter the Tories, Dundas made a lightning visit to the city on the 6th and issued another address in which he advocated retrenchment, tax reductions, ‘an effectual reform of the Commons’ and the abolition of slavery. Two days earlier, Strickland had reported to Milton that ‘Bayntun, the stranger, is losing ground’. The Blue committee received a further communication from Wilson, who, the Gazette suspected, ‘wishes for some public manifestation of the feeling of the freemen towards him, in the shape of a requisition’. However, while there was ‘a strong party in the city’ who wished to see him returned with Bayntun, a requisition was now ‘impossible to procure’. It was understood that if Wilson did stand, he would receive ‘all the interest’ of the Ultra Tory county Member, Richard Fountayne Wilson. Bayntun conducted a rapid canvass and reportedly met with ‘scarcely ... a refusal’, his success being ‘unparalleled in the annals of contested elections’ at York; he also travelled to canvass the freemen residing in Beverley, Hull and Leeds. Although he avoided direct attacks on Petre’s Catholicism, other Blues were perfectly ready to provide them. The Whig press dismissed him as ‘a young adventurer’ who had spent money far beyond his means, and it was alleged that the East India Company was funding his campaign, an accusation he strenuously denied. Petre emphasized that regardless of his Catholicism, he was committed to upholding the rights of the established church. His close friend, the dean of York, came under attack for allegedly instructing workmen repairing the Minster after a recent arson attack to vote for him; following a visit from Bayntun, the dean agreed not to vote. Dundas began canvassing in earnest on 12 July but, notwithstanding his and Petre’s obvious concurrence of views, they denied any coalition. Lord Dundas informed Fitzwilliam a week later that he hoped their shared expenses could be kept down to £4,000 each. However, he warned that ‘if the other parties bring down the London voters and Tom does not bring his share, he will very probably be defeated, and legally too’. He feared that the Tories would employ bribery in order to win, which would provide grounds for a petition, but only at enormous expense. He concluded:

I trust ... Tom will not be placed in the situation of a petitioner, as I still imagine that the contest will be between the other two. A great many Blues will vote for him, if he remains unconnected with Petre, and I do not think it likely that many of our old friends will desert him, though some of the Whig Club told him on his canvass that Petre was their first object.

Wilson finally arrived on 19 July and set about a canvass, advising those who had promised Bayntun their votes ‘under the false impression’ that he would not be standing, that they might ‘honourably withdraw their support’ from the newcomer. Despite concerns that he might split the Tory vote and allow both Whigs in, Wilson soon discovered that he had acted far too late and withdrew from the contest. As the election approached, York was said to be in ‘a constant state of excitement’. Henry Brougham* appeared on the 28th, while canvassing for the county, and rallied the crowd to Dundas’s cause. According to The Times, Bayntun had

evinced great skill in his tactics: his voters are marched about the city with banners ... [whereas] the other candidates do not seem to place much reliance on outward show ... It cannot, however, but be observed that the parade has a great effect on the minds of the people and the large bodies of out-voters who were escorted from time to time over the bridge. [It] is certainly exhilarating and imposing.

Lord Morpeth*, another Whig candidate for the county, confessed to his mother that ‘I have no idea how the York election ... will conclude, they say all three have even chances’.28

Owing to the large increase in the number of freemen (448 were admitted in 1830) and the interest the contest had aroused, it was decided to move the hustings from the guildhall, the traditional venue, to Thursday Market. Sporadic violence had marked the campaign, and when many Blue supporters arrived at the nomination meeting wielding clubs, the proceedings were delayed until they were disarmed. Bayntun arrived ‘in full court dress, mounted on a spirited charger, bedecked with blue ribbands’, but his opponents eschewed this ‘old and popular ceremony of riding’. It was estimated that between 6,000 and 7,000 people had gathered in the market place, and ‘the windows of the surrounding houses were filled with spectators, most of whom were ladies’. Bayntun, who was sponsored by Cattle and John Agar, told the freemen that ‘you have it in your hands to send a Roman Catholic’ to Parliament, but asked, ‘what are we to be sent ... for, but to legislate for a Protestant king and a Protestant country?’ He also accused Petre and Dundas of acting in coalition. Dundas, who was nominated by Aldermen Hotham and Hearon, rejected this claim, explaining that he and Petre had only agreed to share the cost of out-voters, the same arrangement he had made with Bayntun. Referring the electors to his parliamentary record, he assured them that he would ‘steadily follow the course I have hitherto pursued’, and he specifically called for repeal of the taxes on houses, windows, soap and candles. Petre, who was nominated by Alderman Dunsley and by Cooke, reiterated his friendship for the established church, pointed to his consistent anti-slavery views and advocated the abolition of ‘unmerited sinecures’, to pay for reduced taxation, and ‘a more fair representation of the people in Parliament’. The show of hands was called for Bayntun and Dundas, but Petre demanded a poll. At the end of the day, Bayntun was in the lead with 466 votes, while Dundas and Petre were tied on 412. Strickland reported to Fitzwilliam that he expected the subsequent polling to ‘alter the state of things’, and that ‘at any rate Dundas if not first ... which he will be if his committee have not been indolent, will be second’. Throughout the contest the cry of ‘No Popery’ reportedly filled the streets, ‘until persecution was glutted and the intolerant were satiated’, and the Whig committees accused the Tories of resorting to ‘every dastardly trick’. The Blue mob allegedly attacked supporters of the other parties but, ironically, when Petre’s brother-in-law Henry Stafford Jerningham* entered the city, he was set upon by a rival mob because his horses sported blue ribbons, his Whig colours at Pontefract. After the second day’s polling, Bayntun was still ahead on 1,274, but Dundas had moved into second place with 1,114 to Petre’s 1,063. The positions remained unchanged at the close of the third day, the totals being 1,709, 1,615 and 1,513 respectively. The Times reported that

the candidates are using every effort to bring their voters to the poll. Mr. Bayntun has hitherto kept the lead, and musters enormous bodies of his men to parade up and down the town. His tactics are somewhat military ... The Orange (Dundas) and the Pink (Petre) fight gallantly, however, and made a good show in the field. The activity of their opponents has infused a somewhat similar spirit into them, and they now muster their voters in large bodies, preceded by bands and ensigns.

On the fourth day Bayntun’s lead over Dundas narrowed to just 11 votes, 1,869 to 1,858, but Petre still trailed on 1,741. The Times noted that ‘if the Pinks are defeated, they will die hard’, but ‘the Orange party is considered pretty secure, not coming into any violent collision with either party’. Petre retired from the contest at 3 o’clock on the fifth day and the victorious candidates were chaired that evening. Anti-Catholicism and a diligent canvass of the out-voters were believed to have been the foundations of Bayntun’s success. Joined by Petre at his celebration dinner, Dundas declared that ‘our opponent triumphed unjustly’, having used ‘every means’ to secure his ‘trifling majority’, and Petre complained that ‘a most contemptible cry had been set up against the Catholics by a class set of Methodists’, of whom Agar was a prominent example.29 Fitzwilliam’s accounts show that Dundas’s return cost £6,627, while a later legal dispute between Bayntun and Cattle reveals that Bayntun had spent £8,104.30

The published poll book shows that 3,725 freemen cast their votes, of whom 1,288 (35 per cent) were non-residents. Of those who polled, 52 per cent gave a vote to Bayntun, 51 to Dundas and 48 to Petre. As in 1820, the vast majority of the electors saw the contest in party terms, with 91 per cent of them either plumping for the Tory or splitting for the Whigs. Bayntun secured 1,706 plumpers (88 per cent of his total), Petre had 60 and Dundas 57. Dundas and Petre received 1,680 split votes (91 and 97 per cent of their respective totals), which contradicts the claim made by Petre’s friends that he had lost because the Dundas committee declined to instruct their supporters to split with him until their own man was safe. If any one group can be identified as ensuring Petre’s defeat, it was the 170 voters who split their votes between Dundas and Bayntun (nine per cent of their respective totals), which appears to vindicate Lord Dundas’s reasoning for his son not acting in coalition with Petre. If these voters had plumped for Bayntun, Petre would have been returned at Dundas’s expense. Significantly, 126 of this group (74 per cent) were residents. Bayntun and Petre shared only 52 split votes. The out-voters favoured no candidate in particular: 52 per cent gave a vote to Dundas and 51 to Bayntun and Petre. It was alleged that personation had been practised on a large scale, with as many as 200 being induced to poll who were not freemen; nothing conclusive can be proved, but 127 votes were rejected.31

Anti-slavery petitions were sent up to the Commons by the inhabitants, 7 Dec. 1830, and by 14 Protestant Dissenting chapels that winter.32 The inhabitants petitioned for repeal of the assessed taxes, 10 Feb. 1831.33 On 28 Feb. a petition from the freemen and inhabitants in favour of the ballot was presented by John Wood, Member for Preston, who claimed that ‘the most barefaced corruption has long prevailed at the elections for this city’ and that ‘the Members are no more the representatives of the inhabitants than ... the nabob of Arcot’. The Grey ministry’s reform bill proposed to leave York’s representation intact and enfranchise the £10 householders, but also to disfranchise non-resident freemen and limit the voting rights of resident freemen to their lifetime. Dundas presented a friendly petition from the corporation, 16 Mar. Another, emanating from a public meeting chaired by Lord Dundas on the 9th, was presented three weeks later by Bayntun, who maintained that the bill had ‘received the cordial support of the majority of my constituents’, who were ‘willing to sacrifice their own interests for the sake of carrying the measure unimpaired’. However, he acknowledged that some of the resident freemen objected to the proposed disfranchisement of future generations.34 Both Members voted for the bill. Bayntun’s stance split the leading Tories at York: whereas Cattle was supportive, Price, his chief financial backer, refused to have anything further to do with him. At the ensuing dissolution Dundas offered again, as did Bayntun, despite the fact that he had not paid his bills from the previous election. Dundas canvassed first and ‘spoke much in praise’ of his Tory colleague. Bayntun’s delayed arrival prompted Petre’s committee to reactivate itself and prepare a requisition inviting him to stand as a reformer, but the deputation encountered Bayntun on the road out of York and accompanied him into the city instead. Rumours circulated that one Beaumont, a nephew of Mrs. Beaumont of Bretton Hall, would offer on the Blue interest, but his friends apparently persuaded him that he had no chance of success. Charles Winn of Nostell Park briefly appeared as an anti-reformer but, ‘finding his case hopeless’, he ‘prudently retired’. On the hustings, Bayntun insisted that he remained a Tory but said he would ‘vote for such measures as he conceived to be ... beneficial to the country without any regard to who brought them forward’. Dundas declared that reform was ‘essential to the welfare and security of the state’ and expressed gratification that his opinions accorded with those of ‘a vast majority of his fellow citizens’. They were returned unopposed. At his celebration dinner, Bayntun commented on the split in his old committee, pointing out that his original requisition had asked for a reformer and that he had always advocated it. The Courant, alluding to the position of the Blues, crowed that

the election has struck a death blow to the faction who by means of a lavish expenditure of money have been enabled so long to oppose the current of popular opinion. They have been outmanoeuvred. They held out the lure of reform to deceive those they could not bribe ... How, alas they have been deceived ... [Bayntun] avowed himself a reformer and he has proved himself to be such ... [He] is not the nominee of the junta at the Black Swan, but the bona fide representative of the whole body of the citizens of York.35

The inhabitants petitioned the Lords for the speedy passage of the reintroduced reform bill, 4 Oct. 1831, and the Commons to withhold supplies until the issue was settled, 24 May 1832.36

The new constituency created by the Reform and Boundary Acts comprised the city liberty with the addition of small portions of the parishes of Clifton, Fulford and Heworth. There were 2,873 registered electors in 1832, of whom 2,342 were freemen and 531 were £10 householders.37 At the general election that year Bayntun, who had evidently retained his personal popularity in the city, stood again, but a hostile section of Conservatives brought forward Lowther, while Dundas and Petre offered as Liberals; Petre and Bayntun were returned. Following Bayntun’s death in 1833 Dundas defeated Lowther, but the latter was returned in 1835 and thereafter the representation was usually shared. As York became the railway capital of England, a new era of politics in the city was inaugurated in which the dominant figure was George Hudson†, ‘the railway king’.38

Author: Martin Casey


This study draws on A.J. Peacock, 'York in the Age of Reform' (York Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1973).

  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 603.
  • 2. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1828-9), 1131-2; PP (1831-2), xl. 171; VCH City of York, 258, 259, 266-7; A. Armstrong, Stability and Change in an English County Town ... York, 1801-51, p. 195.
  • 3. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 603; xl. 171-4; (1835), x. 283; xxv. 1739-43; Add. 40371, f. 4; York Pollbook (1820); York Ref. Lib. Y.347.9, Bayntun v. Cattle.
  • 4. Yorks. Gazette, 18 Mar. 1820; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/146; P. Brett, Rise and Fall of York Whig Club, passim.
  • 5. Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/165, 173.
  • 6. Ibid. F48/163.
  • 7. Leeds Mercury, 4 Mar.; York Herald, 4 Mar.; Yorks. Gazette, 4, 11 Mar.; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/164, 166, 167, 169; Devon RO, Sidmouth mss, Howden to Sidmouth, 5 Mar. 1820.
  • 8. The Times, 8, 9, 13, 14 Mar.; Yorks. Gazette, 11 Mar.; York Herald, 11 Mar.; Sidmouth mss, Howden to Sidmouth, 11 Mar. 1820.
  • 9. Sidmouth mss, Howden to Sidmouth, 13 Mar. 1820; York Ref. Lib. Y.324.42, Howden account book; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/152, 157, 172.
  • 10. York Pollbook (1820).
  • 11. York Herald, 24 June, 1 July 1820; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. F48/157.
  • 12. E.A. Smith, Whig Principles and Party Politics, 362.
  • 13. The Times, 20, 29 June; York Herald, 8 July 1820; Brett, 17.
  • 14. York Courant, 13 Nov.; The Times, 21 Nov. 1820, 15, 17 Aug.; York Chron. 18 Jan. 1821; CJ, lxxvi. 12, 15; C.B. Knight, Hist. York, 598-9.
  • 15. CJ, lxxvi. 15.
  • 16. The Times, 7 Dec. 1821, 7 Nov. 1822; Brett, 20-24; CJ, lxxviii. 231-2.
  • 17. Peacock, 112-19.
  • 18. CJ, lxxix. 417; lxxxi. 114.
  • 19. York Herald, 28 May, 20, 27 Aug.; Yorks. Gazette, 20 Aug., 3 Sept. 1825.
  • 20. Yorks. Gazette, 18 Mar., 8, 15 Apr.; York Herald, 22 Apr.; The Times, 5 June; Brougham mss, Strickland to James Brougham, n.d. [1826].
  • 21. York Herald, 3, 10 June; The Times, 8 June; Leeds Mercury, 17 June 1826; Fitzwilliam mss 125/4.
  • 22. York Herald, 10 June; Yorks. Gazette, 13 June; York Minster Lib. MS ADD 277/14; N. Yorks. RO, Wyvill mss ZFW/1699/335; Fitzwilliam mss, W. Hotham to Fitzwilliam, 29 Nov. 1826.
  • 23. York Herald, 10 June, 1 July 1826, 31 Mar., 15 Sept.; York Courant, 18 Sept. 1827; Wyvill mss ZFW/1699/340.
  • 24. CJ, lxxxii. 181; York Courant, 2 Oct. 1827.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxii. 273, 436.
  • 26. Ibid. lxxxiv. 14, 81, 85, 89, 103, 114.
  • 27. York Herald, 5, 26 June; York Courant, 22 June; Yorks. Gazette, 26 June, 3 July 1830.
  • 28. York Chron. 1 July; York Herald, 3, 10, 31 July; Yorks. Gazette, 10, 17 July; The Times, 31 July; York Courant, 3 Aug.; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G2/90; G3/23; Castle Howard mss, Morpeth to Lady Carlisle, 29 July 1830.
  • 29. York Herald, 31 July, 7 Aug.; The Times, 4, 7 Aug.; Yorks. Gazette, 7, 14 Aug.; Leeds Mercury, 7 Aug. 1830; Wentworth Woodhouse mun. G2/23b.
  • 30. Fitzwilliam mss, R. Davies to Milton, 24 Apr. 1831; York Ref. Lib. Y.347.9, Bayntun v. Cattle.
  • 31. York Pollbook (1830); York Herald, 18 Sept. 1830; Brett, 25.
  • 32. CJ, lxxxvi. 48, 52, 53, 56, 61, 126, 155, 444.
  • 33. Ibid. 229.
  • 34. Ibid. 324, 388, 465; The Times, 15 Mar. 1831.
  • 35. Yorks. Gazette, 30 Apr.; York Herald, 30 Apr.; The Times, 2 May; York Courant, 3 May 1831.
  • 36. CJ, lxxxvii. 337; LJ, lxiii. 1052-3.
  • 37. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 327; xl. 172; Peacock, 209.
  • 38. N. Gash, Politics in Age of Peel, 241-2; P. Salmon, Electoral Reform at Work, 111-12.