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 inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

about 250 rising to about 350

Number of voters:

219 in 1820


3,742 (1821); 4,242 (1831)


11 Mar. 1820JAMES SCOTT174
 Sir Horace David Cholwell St. Paul, bt.101
 ST. PAUL vice Spurrier on petition, 20 June 1820 

Main Article

The market town of Bridport continued to prosper mainly because of its harbour, which lay about a mile to the south, particularly after the passage, sponsored by the Members, of the Bridport Harbour Act of 1823. To the traditional production of rope and fishing-nets were by this period being added the new manufactures of sailcloth and shoe thread, and the port’s commerce consisted of extensive coastal and Newfoundland trades.1 The leading families of manufacturers, merchants and professionals were mostly Dissenters, and by 1820 usually espoused Whig politics. Typical of these was the woolstapler and merchant Thomas Collins Colfox, a Unitarian, who favoured reductions in taxation and expenditure, recognition of the independent South American states, repeal of the Test Acts and parliamentary reform.2 The corporation, which consisted of a maximum of 15 capital burgesses, including the two annually elected bailiffs (and joint returning officers), was dominated by half a dozen such families, to the extent that in 1835 the town clerk Edwin Nicholetts acknowledged objections that the corporators

are too much connected by ties of relationship, and that they have been too exclusive in electing persons holding their own views on religion and politics, all the members with the exception of one ... being Dissenters from the Church of England and professing what are called Whig or Liberal principles.3

As at least ten of the corporators had to live in the borough, three were removed for non-residence, 1 Apr. 1822, when another resigned, and two more retired in September 1832 for the same reason.4 All, however, claimed the right to vote in parliamentary elections, which in 1762 had actually been confirmed as being confined to the (resident) ‘inhabitant householders paying scot and lot’. In response to home office circulars in 1831, the borough officials claimed there were 348 electors, including the five non-resident corporators.5

The borough, which was coextensive with the parish of Bridport, was open and venal, and had long been unmanageable. The successful candidates at the contest in 1812 were both friends of the prince regent, and one of them, Count St. Paul, a Northumberland baronet, was re-elected unopposed in 1818 as a supporter of the Liverpool administration and the established church. His interest was principally pecuniary and his election expenses for 1818, which amounted to about £2,500, itemized the payment of £10 each to 157 voters and three plumpers. These costs, which rose to £20 to £30 in contests, were considered as a customary ‘birth-right’ and were apparently paid by all the candidates.6 St. Paul’s colleague from 1817 was Henry Charles Sturt* of Crichel, son of the former Member Charles Sturt, whose family was said to have a partial interest. In fact he depended on the Whig corporation, but his performance in the House had been so unimpressive that he had withdrawn at the dissolution in 1820. St. Paul faced a severe contest against two other candidates, who may have owed their introduction to Sturt. These were James Scott, a retired Fulham brickmaker, of Rotherfield Park, Hampshire, and Christopher Spurrier, a Newfoundland merchant, of Upton House, near Poole. The entry of the latter, who raised nearly £30,000 to finance his campaign, was announced in an address on 8 Feb. 1820. The four-day poll began exactly a month later, and ended with the return of the two popular Whigs.7

As the diarist Maria Carter noted, 11 Mar. 1820, Scott and Spurrier were ‘carried between two and three this afternoon, a great number of people. Sir Horace bore his loss extremely well and hoped his next canvass would be more successful. Almost every vote was queried. A very contested election’.8 Of the 260 electors listed in the pollbook, the votes of 41 were rejected, about half of whom had tendered for Scott and Spurrier. Scott (who received seven plumpers) and Spurrier (three) shared 108 splits, which represented 62 per cent of Scott’s vote and 88 per cent of Spurrier’s. St. Paul, who received 30 plumpers and had 59 splits with Scott and 12 with Spurrier, was evidently the target of the corporation, whose members mostly split for his opponents.9 St. Paul’s petition against Spurrier, which was lodged, 3 May, alleged that the assessor had wrongly allowed many of Spurrier’s votes. Eligibility was evidently thought to be the main issue, as Spurrier’s attorney Charles Murly prepared a long brief detailing evidence against St. Paul’s supporters on the grounds of their sharing subdivided tenements and having been resident for less than the required six months.10 Lester Lester, Member for Poole, reported to his brother, 3 June, that the ‘Bridport committee proceeds very slowly’, but was likely ‘to give a very fair decision on the merits of the question’. He added that

if I understand the question or grounds of petition, it seems to be that St. Paul wishes to [?split] the corporation - as a body who [?dispose] their votes as corporate men, but not as individuals, by which he means to do away the interest which they carry as a corporation, which at present is considerable.11

St. Paul evidently succeeded, as the votes of the corporators who were not scot and lot electors were disallowed, and this was enough for him to unseat Spurrier, 20 June 1820, the loser withdrawing into obscurity and bankruptcy.12 St. Paul had to pay about £2,500 just for the cost of this petition and the corporation was also put to some expense, though this was met by subscription.13 Thereafter the two sides seem to have come to an understanding that they would each control one seat.14

There were illuminations in Bridport to mark Queen Caroline’s acquittal in November 1820, although the following month a loyal address to the king was agreed by the inhabitants.15 Petitions for revision of the criminal law were presented to the Commons, 4 May 1821 (by William Morton Pitt, the county Member) and 4 June 1822 (by Scott), and to the Lords, 3 June (by Lord Carnarvon). Scott brought up the Unitarians’ petition against the marriage bill, 10 May, as did Lord Holland in the Lords, 29 July 1822.16 Petitions against the duty on coastwise coal were presented by Scott, 19 Mar. 1823, 24 Feb. 1825, and by Edward Webb, Member for Gloucester, 5 Mar. 1824. Anti-slavery petitions were brought up in the Commons, 15 May 1823 (when another was presented for repeal of the Insolvent Debtors Acts), 2 Apr. 1824, 20 Apr. 1826, and in the Lords, 25 Mar. 1824, 7 Mar. 1826. Others were presented from the licensed victuallers against the beer duties (by Scott), 7 May, and the gentlemen, merchants and inhabitants for inquiry into the trial of the Methodist missionary John Smith in Demerara (by Edward Portman, the other county Member), 31 May 1824.17 Anti- and pro-Catholic petitions, each with over 1,000 signatures, were presented to the Lords on 5, 13 May 1825, by Lords Shaftesbury and Lansdowne.18 Scott, who had voted consistently with the Whig opposition, retired at the general election of 1826, when he recommended as his successor the scientist and Lambeth timber merchant Henry Warburton. John Whishaw wrote to Lady Holland, 4 June, that

there is a strong Whig and Dissenting interest at Bridport who have always had a Member of their own; and if Warburton, as is most probable, should be cordially adopted by this party, he will be elected at little expense and, most likely, without opposition. Lord Holland, we understand, is one of their most favourite public men, and a few lines from him to Warburton, approving of his principles and expressing hopes for his success, would be very acceptable and might be extremely useful to him.19

There was a rumour that St. Paul, who was abroad, would also vacate, but he was in fact returned unopposed with the radical Warburton, who was active on behalf of the borough’s affairs.20

Petitions from the Protestant Dissenters for repeal of the Test Acts were presented to the Commons, 6, 7 June 1827, 19, 25 Feb., and to the Lords, 21 Feb. (by Lord King), 18 Mar. 1828 (by Holland). Others were brought up from the maltsters against the malt duty, 25 Feb., and from the merchants, agriculturists, traders and inhabitants for repeal of the Small Notes Act (by Warburton), 9 June.21 On 6 Oct. 1828 the members of the corporation entered a declaration in their minutes that, following the repeal of the Test Acts, the officers would not attend church prior to being sworn in, and this was repeated in subsequent years.22 Pro-Catholic petitions from the Unitarians were presented to the Commons by Warburton, 3 Mar., and to the Lords by King, 9 Apr., while the inhabitants’ petition against emancipation was brought up in the Lords (probably by Lord Eldon), 9 Mar., and in the Commons by Sir John Brydges, Member for Coleraine (in the absence of St. Paul), 10 Mar. 1829. King presented the Bridport petition for mitigating the punishment for forgery, 26 Mar., which had been brought up in the Commons the day before by Warburton, who, in the absence of his colleague, presented two petitions from the bailiffs and brewers against the sale of beer bill, 11 May 1830.23 At the general election that summer, there was considerable excitement at the prospect of a challenge, but by late July it was reported that the

long-talked of third man for the borough has not yet made his appearance amongst us and, to the disappointment of many, he is not likely to do so, as the present respected Members are too well grounded to leave any room for another.

St. Paul and Warburton were duly returned unopposed.24 Anti-slavery petitions were presented to the Lords, 16 Nov. 1830, 21 Apr. 1831, and to the Commons, 25 Nov., 15 Dec. 1830, 28 Mar. 1831.25

Warburton presented a petition from the inhabitants for parliamentary reform, 16 Nov. 1830, and another, which he endorsed, 11 Feb. 1831, when he brought up one against the duty on coastwise coal. Lord Ebrington, Member for Devon, lodged a petition that day from the Bridport attorney Edward Gill Flight, who alleged that the voters were paid £10 each and received a free dinner, but Warburton denied that treating was the usual practice. Ebrington moved for this petition to be printed, 17 Feb., when the O’Gorman Mahon forced a division which was lost by 55-38. With a population of between two and four thousand, Bridport was scheduled to lose one seat under the Grey ministry’s reform bill, and on 7 Mar. Warburton presented a petition in its favour, which was signed by 200 inhabitants, including all the members of the corporation.26 In April 1831 it was stated that about 160 electors had entered into a compact at the Antelope inn to exclude the sitting Members unless they paid the £10 fees outstanding from the previous election, but this was denied by the innkeeper, Robert Northover. However, an opposition was started at the general election, as a ‘moderate reformer’, one Carruthers (possibly David Carruthers, Conservative Member for Hull, 1835) canvassed against the reformer Warburton, and the recorder Charles Frederick Williams, a London barrister, briefly attempted to challenge the anti-reformer St. Paul. In the end, St. Paul and Warburton were again returned unopposed.27 A meeting of the inhabitants, 29 Apr. 1831, agreed to support the reformer John Calcraft* against Henry Bankes* in the Dorset election. Of the 77 Bridport freeholders who were allowed to vote in that contest, 46 split for Portman and Calcraft, 29 plumped for Bankes and two voted for Portman and Bankes.28

St. Paul brought up a ‘numerously signed’ petition for the retention of both Bridport seats, 27 July 1831, when he argued, with the support of the Tory barrister Sir Edward Sugden, that the town extended beyond the parish and that, by enlarging the borough, a population figure of over 4,000 could be obtained, even by using the 1821 statistics.29 Warburton rebutted these points, with support from Lord John Russell, and promised to vote against St. Paul’s amendment, but the motion to include Bridport in schedule B was eventually agreed without a division. The inhabitants’ petition against the reform bill was presented to the Lords by Shaftesbury, 4 Oct.30 There were musters that month in support of both candidates in the Dorset by-election, in which, of the 110 Bridport freeholders whose votes were not rejected or withdrawn, 56 voted for William Ponsonby* and 54 for his anti-reform opponent, Lord Ashley*.31 On 12 Dec. 1831 Russell announced in the House that Bridport, whose population had risen above 4,000 in the 1831 census, would be removed from schedule B. This did much to reduce local hostility to the bill, though Ashley’s success in the Dorset election committee was celebrated at a dinner in his honour, 29 Mar. 1832.32 Petitions were presented for equalization of the duties on hemp and flax, 24 Mar. (by Warburton), against the proposed plan of national education in Ireland, 10 May (and in the Lords, 29 Mar.), and for abolition of the monopoly of the East India Company, 6 Aug. (by Warburton).33 A meeting on 11 May 1832 agreed to send an address to the king in favour of ministers and the reform bill and to forward a petition for withholding supplies to Warburton, who brought it up in the Commons on the 25th. The Conservatives responded by drawing up an anti-reform address to the king, but the reformers kept up the impetus by establishing a political union, 25 May, and holding a festival to celebrate the enactment of the reform bill, 9 Aug. 1832.

St. Paul, of whom it had been said the previous year that the voters were averse to him, but could not ‘find so good a man to take his place’, abandoned his pretensions, and his defeat for Dudley ended his career.34 By the Boundary Act, the borough was extended into parts of neighbouring Allington, Bradpole and Walditch parishes, and was further enlarged by the inclusion of the port. It thus increased in size from 678 houses (of which 355 were rated at £10) to 972 (421), and its tax assessment rose from £762 to £989.35 There were over 400 registered electors at the general election of 1832, when the Conservative army officer Richard William Astell was defeated by Warburton, who had laid the foundation stone of the Working Men’s Institute in Bridport that year, and another Liberal, the London barrister John Romilly, a son of the late Sir Samuel Romilly†.36 The constituency remained a Liberal stronghold, but Warburton severed his connection with it in 1841, when it emerged that he was implicated in making financial payments to the electors, a practice which had not been entirely extirpated.37

Author: Stephen Farrell


  • 1. Western Flying Post, 17 Nov. 1823; Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1830), 278; PP (1835), xxiv. 487-8; Procs. Dorset Natural Hist. and Arch. Soc. lxxxii (1961), 146, 150-2; cviii (1986), 30.
  • 2. Dorset RO, Colfox mss D/COL C16, C25; Colfox Fam. Pprs. 2, 46, 54-55; B. Short, A Respectable Society, Bridport, 38-51, 52-57.
  • 3. PP (1835), xxiv. 480-2; Short, 60-61.
  • 4. PP (1835), xxiv. 480; Dorset RO, Bridport borough recs. DC/BTB H2, pp. 10, 41; J8.
  • 5. CJ, xxix. 205; PP (1830-1), x. 61; (1831), xvi. 168; (1831-2), xxxvi. 505; xxxviii. 133; Spectator, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 6. HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 131-2; Northumb. RO, St. Paul Butler mss ZBU C1/8/4; Oldfield, Key (1820), 50-51; The Times, 16 Aug. 1831; [W. Carpenter], People’s Bk. (1831), 341-2; Key to Both Houses (1832), 303.
  • 7. Colfox mss X4, address; Western Flying Post, 28 Feb., 27 Mar.; Salisbury Jnl. 13, 20 Mar.; Star, 14 Mar. 1820; Keele Univ. Lib. Sneyd mss SC17/17; D. Beamish, J. Hillier and H. F. V. Johnstone, Mansions and Merchants of Poole and Dorset, i. 19.
  • 8. Colfox mss F40; Colfox Fam. Pprs. 143-4.
  • 9. Bridport borough recs. EF10.
  • 10. CJ, lxxv. 137-8; Dorset RO, Brown mss D141 Z2.
  • 11. Dorset RO, Lester-Garland mss D/LEG F38.
  • 12. Western Flying Post, 1 July 1820.
  • 13. St. Paul Butler mss C1/8/1; PP (1835), xxiv. 485.
  • 14. Spectator, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 15. Western Flying Post, 4, 18 Dec. 1820.
  • 16. CJ, lxxvi. 304; lxxvii. 250, 316; LJ, lv. 216, 347; The Times, 5 May 1821, 11 May, 4, 5 June, 30 July 1822.
  • 17. CJ, lxxviii. 146, 312, 313; lxxix. 125, 250, 336, 436; lxxx. 122; lxxxi. 263; LJ, lvi. 110; lviii. 85; The Times, 20 Mar. 1823, 6 Mar., 8 May, 1 June 1824, 25 Feb. 1825.
  • 18. Dorset Co. Chron. 5, 19 May; The Times, 6, 14 May 1825; LJ, lvii. 750, 799.
  • 19. Add. 51659.
  • 20. Dorset Co. Chron. 8 June 1826.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxii. 520, 527; lxxxiii. 83, 101, 412; LJ, lx. 54, 118-19.
  • 22. Bridport borough recs. H2, pp. 33, 35-41; Short, 60.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxiv. 98, 120; lxxxv. 228, 402; LJ, lxi. 147, 375; lxii. 167.
  • 24. Dorset Co. Chron. 1, 15 July, 5 Aug.; Sherborne Jnl. 1, 22, 29 July, 5 Aug. 1830.
  • 25. CJ, lxxxvi. 132, 175, 445; LJ, lxiii. 59, 504.
  • 26. CJ, lxxxvi. 86, 237, 240, 347.
  • 27. Sherborne Jnl. 21, 28 Apr.; Dorset Co. Chron. 28 Apr., 5 May 1831; St. Paul Butler mss C1/8/2.
  • 28. Western Flying Post, 2 May 1831; Dorset Pollbook (1831), 7-9.
  • 29. Sherborne Jnl. 28 July 1831; CJ, lxxxvi. 704.
  • 30. LJ, lxiii. 1044.
  • 31. Dorset Co. Chron. 20 Oct.; Western Flying Post, 7 Nov. 1831; Dorset Pollbook (Sept.-Oct. 1831), 8-11.
  • 32. Dorset Co. Chron. 29 Mar., 5 Apr. 1832.
  • 33. CJ, lxxxvii. 220, 304, 556; LJ, lxiv. 133.
  • 34. CJ, lxxxvii. 341; Sherborne Jnl. 17, 31 May, 14 June, 5 July, 16 Aug.; Dorset Co. Chron. 17 May, 21 June, 16 Aug. 1832; Spectator, 1 Jan. 1831.
  • 35. PP (1831), xvi. 89; (1831-2), xxxvi. 78-79; xxxvii. 28-29; xxxviii. 133-6; (1835), xxiv. 479.
  • 36. Western Flying Post, 9 July; Dorset Co. Chron. 13 Dec. 1832.
  • 37. The Times, 14 Sept. 1841.