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 paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

17 in 18311


148 (1821); 170 (1831)


8 Mar. 1825HON. ARTHUR GOUGH CALTHORPE vice Wilberforce, vacated his seat
9 June 1826JOHN IRVING
31 July 1830JOHN IRVING
30 Apr. 1831JOHN IRVING

Main Article

Bramber, a ‘mean village’ situated about eight miles north-west of Brighton, consisted of two intersections of a street, the northern part of which adjoined the borough of Steyning. The boundary was wholly contained within but not entirely coextensive with the parish, covering some 20 acres of built-upon land and 825 acres of open land. It was reported in 1831 that there were 35 cottages, of which 29 were occupied; 12 of the total were actually situated ‘in the town and parish of Steyning’. Although Steyning’s patron, the 12th duke of Norfolk, was also lord of the manor of Bramber, and nominated at his court leet the constable who served as the returning officer for parliamentary elections, he possessed no political influence there. This rested in the owners of the burgage properties, the 5th duke of Rutland and the 3rd Baron Calthorpe, who each returned a Member in accordance with a compromise reached between the interests in 1774; there had been no contested election since 1768. While their hold over Bramber’s tiny notional electorate of ratepaying burgage tenants was unshakeable, they nevertheless took the trouble of entertaining 300 people at an election dinner in 1826.2 Rutland had returned the Tory merchant John Irving, a personal friend, since 1806, and he continued to sit throughout this period. Calthorpe, whose family interest in the borough dated from the time of the Hanoverian succession, had returned his Evangelical Tory friend William Wilberforce since 1812. In 1820 Wilberforce expressed the hope that ‘I need not go down to Bramber to be re-elected’, observing to Calthorpe that ‘I should feel strangely embarrassed in addressing my thanks personally to my constituents, though I have only feelings of affectionate gratitude in thanking you’.3 After Wilberforce’s retirement in 1825 Calthorpe successively returned two of his brothers. In 1831 his opposition (he was later a ‘Waverer’) to the Grey ministry’s reform bill, which proposed the total disfranchisement of Bramber, apparently caused him to unseat his brother Frederick, who had supported the bill, in favour of William Stratford Dugdale, an implacable opponent. Dugdale presumably owed his return to a West Midlands connection: his father, Dugdale Stratford Dugdale, was the recently ousted Member for Warwickshire and spokesman for Birmingham, where Calthorpe had substantial property.4 The criteria adopted in the revised reform bill of December 1831 confirmed Bramber’s fate, as it contained 35 houses and paid a meagre £14 in assessed taxes, placing it among the ten smallest English boroughs.5 No Member attempted to argue against its disfranchisement when this came before the Commons, 20 Feb. 1832, and the borough was absorbed into the Western division of Sussex.

Author: Howard Spencer


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 34.
  • 2. J. Allen, Hist. Surr. and Suss. (1829), ii. 534; PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 34; xxxvii. 285; Brighton Gazette, 15 June 1826.
  • 3. Hants RO, Calthorpe mss 26M62/F/C 71, 72.
  • 4. Brighton Gazette, 5 May 1831; D. Cannadine, Lords and Landlords, pt. 2.
  • 5. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 205.