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 freemen and inhabitants paying scot and lot

Estimated number qualified to vote:

886 in 18311

Number of voters:

786 in 1826


5,841 (1821); 6,591 (1831)2


18 Feb. 1823WILLIAM STEPHEN POYNTZ vice Huskisson, appointed to office292
 Sir Godfrey Webster, bt.194
 Sir Godfrey Webster, bt.360
 Charles Sinclair Cullen219
 Sir Godfrey Webster, bt.301

Main Article

Chichester, a cathedral city, port and market town, situated in the south-west of the county near to the English Channel coast, was said in 1831 to be ‘active and prosperous’. Its economy depended almost entirely on the surrounding agricultural district: ‘great quantities of grain’ were shipped out from Dell Quay, one-and-a-half miles away, to London and elsewhere, and the cattle market was ‘very important’. Little manufacturing remained, but the presence of a sizeable genteel population ensured that there was a ‘considerable’ domestic trade.3 The city boundary encompassed the whole of the parishes of St. Peter the Less, St. Martin, St. Andrew and All Saints, and parts of St. Peter the Great and St. Pancras. Local power was exercised by the corporation, a purely self-electing body which consisted of a mayor, the returning officer for parliamentary elections, and an indefinite number of aldermen (the former mayors) and freemen, some of whom were ‘persons of rank and eminence, unconnected with the town’. The membership was determined principally by the ‘wish to maintain the interest of a particular family’, that of Charles Lennox, 5th duke of Richmond, of Goodwood House, the high steward. However, while the parliamentary franchise was partly vested in the freemen, there were only 56 of these in 1831, and the great majority of the electors, over 800, were resident ratepayers over whom other forms of influence had to be exercised. Since 1790 the Tory ducal, or ‘Orange’, party had returned one Member and the ‘Blue’, or independent party, the other, but by 1812 the Blues were so disorganized that the Tory official William Huskisson, of nearby Eartham, had been able to fill their seat.4 In 1820 an attempt was reportedly made to get up an opposition to Huskisson, but in the event he was returned unopposed with the duke’s brother Lord John George Lennox. Nevertheless, Huskisson was ‘dreadfully attacked’ during the election proceedings and a neighbouring peer maintained that Chichester had ‘radicals who would vote for [Arthur] Thistlewood’.5

The inhabitants of St. Pancras petitioned the Commons for the restoration of Queen Caroline’s name to the liturgy, 24 Jan. 1821.6 Clerical petitions against Catholic relief were presented to Parliament in 1821, 1823 and 1825.7 The delicacy of Huskisson’s position at Chichester was illustrated by his reluctance to risk a by-election when promotion to Lord Liverpool’s cabinet was mooted for him in April 1821. He wrote to his friend George Canning* that ‘for the India board I would and could with safety risk an election ... but for no other situation ... am I disposed to stir, unless it be to move away altogether’.8 Indeed, on being appointed president of the board of trade early in 1823 he accepted an invitation to stand for Liverpool, after much fretting over the abandonment of the interest he had nurtured at Chichester. His agent Edward Leeves reported that his constituents felt saddened but not slighted by his decision, observing that ‘Tories, Whigs and radicals join ... in doing justice to Mr. H’s conduct ... I hear they say ... there is not a family in the town who he has not assisted directly or indirectly’. Leeves, along with Richmond’s agent James Bennett Freeland, believed that another ministerialist might be brought in without difficulty, as ‘many of the people are alive to the policy of having a Member whose connection with the government gives the power of serving them’. Huskisson was less sanguine and feared that General John Gustavus Crosbie, the son-in-law of his predecessor George White Thomas†, would replace him as the heir to a rejuvenated independent party and go into ‘regular and steady opposition’ to the ministry. Crosbie eventually declined, citing poor health, but in the absence of a ministerial candidate the field was clear for another Whig, William Stephen Poyntz of Cowdray Park, to make an early canvass. Issuing a careful address calling for ‘moderate reform’ and retrenchment, Poyntz secured ‘promises of support from a great part of those who are considered in the Goodwood interest and whose politics naturally would have inclined them to a Tory’. However, his hope of an unopposed return was thwarted by the arrival of the former county Member Sir Godfrey Webster†, which caused an immediate ‘sensation’ in the city and a split in the ranks of the independents. According to Leeves, Webster commenced canvassing ‘attended by young Wooldridge and all the rag tag of the town’, and seemed ‘only to solicit the votes of the lower order ... pass[ing] the houses of the gentlemen without an attempt’. Webster claimed that his unqualified advocacy of reform had won him 109 pledges within four hours, and after three days his agent R. Buckland calculated that

there cannot be brought to poll more than between 600 and 700. Sir Godfrey has nearly 300 promises which may be relied on. Many are expected to rat from the other party who made their promises under an idea there would be no person opposed to Mr. Poyntz ... The friends of Mr. P. express great alarm and the general opinion here is that Sir G. will succeed.

Even Leeves acknowledged that ‘these radicals almost deserve any good they obtain by their activity’, and some Tories were reportedly induced to promise their votes to Poyntz.9 Poyntz was nominated by Francis Diggens and alderman Luke Cobby, and Webster by the Rev. John Fullager, who stated that Poyntz had declined an invitation to stand in 1820, and the maltster Stephen Wooldridge. Poyntz, who denied that he was a ‘disguised Tory’, declared his support for Catholic emancipation and opposition to universal suffrage and annual parliaments. Webster said he would ‘not object’ to universal suffrage if this was ‘deemed advisable’, but he thought it would merely strengthen aristocratic control of the electoral system. At the end of the first day both candidates had polled 34 votes, but Poyntz led by 133 to 124 at the end of the second and pulled comfortably ahead thereafter. A ‘great deal of time’ was spent on the second day in ‘mutual accusations of bribery and corruption’. When the dean of Chichester cast his vote on the third, Webster’s agent queried the voting rights of residents of the cathedral close, which technically lay outside the city’s jurisdiction, but the assessor ruled that the right ‘existed’ and ‘had been invariably exercised’. On the fifth, Webster responded by attempting to poll some 70 inhabitants of the suburb of St. Pancras, who had never previously claimed the franchise, but they were rejected. The poll ‘died a natural death’ on the seventh day, and Poyntz was declared elected and chaired; Webster promised to stand again at the next election. All ten of the freemen who polled did so for Poyntz.10 Webster remained in Chichester for some months after the election to cultivate his interest and a radical club, the Pink and Purple, was founded. However, a story spread that he had seduced a 19-year-old girl in the city, which may have been fabricated but was entirely in keeping with his dissolute reputation. His financial affairs were even shakier than his morals, and there were occasions when promised subscriptions were not paid and when the need to avoid his creditors meant that his supporters had difficulty in locating him.11

The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for mitigation of the criminal law, 4 June 1822, and the abolition of slavery, 29 Mar. 1824, 16 Feb. 1826.12 Neighbouring owners and occupiers of land forwarded a petition against revision of the corn laws, 28 Apr. 1825.13 It appears that in December 1824 Webster proposed a coalition between the independent parties, because of fears that the Orange party would try to take both seats at the next general election; nothing came of this. With Lennox’s position considered to be secure, and no sign of another Tory candidate, it became increasingly likely that the Whigs and radicals would fight it out for the second seat, and for several months prior to the dissolution in the summer of 1826 their respective publicists traded insults. According to the radicals, the Whigs were a political cadre devoid of all principle and reduced to ‘cringing servility’ to the Richmond interest, which they had originally been formed to oppose. George Sayers, ‘the drill sergeant of the Blue party’, was a particular target of attack. The Whigs were also accused of manufacturing votes by parcelling out plots of land to strangers, of paying the poor rates of certain electors and exerting pressure on their own employees. It was countered that the latter amounted to a reasonable use of influence and the Whigs accused their opponents, ‘the dregs and refuse of society’ led by ‘half a dozen desperate men’, of more overt forms of intimidation. There was also scrutiny of Poyntz’s parliamentary record and Webster’s financial affairs. When the election campaign formally began, it was reported that women were ‘taking an extraordinary degree of interest’, and some used their power as consumers to coerce tradesmen into voting for Webster. His enemies responded with a poster expressing the hope that all ‘chaste and modest women will keep aloof from him’, and reminding them that he had abandoned his wife in Switzerland. The radicals accused their Whig and Tory opponents of collusion, which had allegedly also taken place three months earlier during the elections for poor law guardians. A local newspaper lamented that the friends of ‘peace and good order’ in the city were ‘completely sickened’ by the intensity of party conflict. Shortly before polling began, it emerged that a number of workmen had been discharged for defying their Whig employers’ wishes, and that the Society for the Promotion of Purity of Election had intervened to offer them assistance.14 Lennox was sponsored by W.T. Williams and alderman Humphrey, Poyntz by Diggens and Cobby, and Webster by Caleb Rickman and Fullager. Lennox stressed his support for Liverpool’s ministry and opposition to Catholic emancipation. Poyntz described himself as a friend of ‘moderate reform’ whereas Webster, who added a theatrical touch by dressing in a suit of brass armour, claimed to stand for ‘real and effectual’ reform. Although Poyntz and Webster both favoured Catholic emancipation, the latter still tried to tar Poyntz with the brush of crypto-Catholicism by adverting to his connection with the recusant family of Montagu. At the end of the first day Lennox had polled eight votes and Poyntz and Webster seven each. On the second day, when Webster’s agents repeated their challenges over the voting rights of residents of the cathedral close and of St. Pancras, without success, Lennox increased his total to 86, while Poyntz had 75 and Webster 67. At the end of the third Lennox still led with 171 votes, but Webster had overtaken Poyntz by 161 to 143. Lennox consolidated his position on the fourth, when he had 377 votes, while Poyntz and Webster were tied on 286. On the fifth day, Poyntz pulled clear of Webster and the poll was closed at four o’clock, ending ‘one of the most severe contests ever remembered’. The Members were chaired and Webster pledged to stand again. Of the 791 who polled, 73 per cent cast a vote for Lennox, 52 for Poyntz and 46 for Webster. Webster secured 209 plumpers (57 per cent of his total), as against 32 for Lennox and just ten for Poyntz. Lennox and Poyntz had 384 split votes (70 and 90 per cent of their respective totals), Lennox and Webster received 134 (24 and 37), but Poyntz and Webster shared only 17. All 27 of the freemen who polled gave a vote to Lennox, 22 of them splitting with Poyntz and two with Webster.15

The Protestant Dissenters forwarded petitions for repeal of the Test Acts to both Houses, 13 June 1827, 18, 22 Feb., while the inhabitants petitioned the Commons, 25 Feb. 1828.16 Anglican clergymen and Protestant Dissenters presented anti-Catholic petitions to Parliament in 1827 and 1828. In March 1829 they and the inhabitants sent further petitions, but certain other inhabitants and Protestant Dissenters forwarded pro-Catholic ones.17 Lennox opposed the Wellington ministry’s emancipation bill, which Poyntz supported. They clashed in the Commons, 9 Mar., over the true state of opinion on the issue in Chichester, and Poyntz’s allegations that Richmond and Lennox had orchestrated the anti-Catholic petitioning and resorted to scaremongering tactics. The inhabitants presented anti-slavery petitions to both Houses, 25 May, 14 June 1830.18 Shortly before the dissolution that summer Lennox confirmed that he would offer again, notwithstanding his decision to revive his army career. The Richmond interest remained pre-eminent, with membership of its two clubs numbering some 300, and Lennox’s return was considered certain. Meantime it emerged that Webster was no longer in the running. Though he had reportedly almost recovered from a ‘fit of apoplexy’, Huskisson maintained that he ‘could not continue to appear within the walls of Chichester, the tradesmen there having been so severely injured by him, all his bills being unpaid’. His former agent Charles Sinclair Cullen, a commissioner of bankrupts who moved in the same metropolitan radical circles as Jeremy Bentham and John Cam Hobhouse*, assumed his mantle and announced his candidature within days of George IV’s death. Soon afterwards, rumours that Poyntz would not stand again were confirmed. Advanced age was given as the reason, yet he found a way back to the Commons inside a year. The cost of maintaining his interest was probably a consideration: a radical newspaper claimed that he had spent £15,000 during the period in which he had represented the city. Cullen confidently informed Hobhouse, 7 June, that he had ‘united the two parties of Whigs and radicals’, but his hopes of a clear run were dashed. Among several rumoured opponents, the chief to emerge was the Whig lawyer Dr. Stephen Lushington*. However, the Blues proved hostile to Lushington’s pretensions, apparently suspecting him of having links with the Orange party, although the radicals believed the real reason to be their desire for ‘a monied man’ as their candidate. They found him in the wealthy London banker John Smith, patron of and Member for Midhurst, who issued a surprise address on 10 June, after the name of his son John Abel Smith had been touted. He was openly recommended to the electors on account of his wealth and local residency at Dale Park, and the Blues were urged to unite behind him to preserve ‘the peaceful union that has now reigned among the upper classes for so many years’. Lushington persisted, but at a meeting held on his arrival he injured his cause by committing the faux pas of repeatedly referring to Chichester as a ‘borough’. The poor reception he encountered during his canvass, which he alone delayed until after the king’s funeral, persuaded him to withdraw, 2 July. The scene was thus set for a repeat of the 1826 contest between a Whig and a radical for the second seat. In contrast to Webster, Cullen stood on an unambiguous ‘purity of election’ platform, and the alleged venality of the Blues’ political machine became a major campaign theme. Poyntz was caricatured as ‘Pints’ and his successor, ‘Gold-Smith’, was said to covet both Chichester seats, a charge which he strenuously denied. The opportunism of the Blue leaders, Sayers and George Sowton, and their attempts to manipulate vestry elections also became targets for radical attack. Cullen stressed the need for a ‘most extensive’ measure of parliamentary reform, the abolition of slavery and an overhaul of the licensing laws, a subject on which he had lately published a pamphlet. Smith, though more reserved in propounding his views, had long been one of the more advanced Whig Members, and, unable to make much capital from his voting record, radical squib writers resorted to personal abuse of ‘the worn out darling of Midhurst’ (a reference to his age) and accused him of being a ‘boroughmonger’. Cullen also attempted to exploit Smith’s liberal theology and sympathy for Dissenters by emphasizing his own attachment to the established Church; his evident bidding for the second votes of Lennox’s supporters was similarly reflected in the anti-Catholic tone that he adopted. The Whigs hit back by pointing to misdemeanours allegedly committed by Cullen at previous elections on Webster’s behalf, and dismissing him as a jobbing placeman. One commentator deplored the ‘disgraceful state of drunkenness and licentiousness now prevalent in our city’. The ladies again reportedly put pressure on local tradesmen, many of whom resolved to support the Whig and Tory candidates, ‘from mere mercenary considerations’.19 Lennox was proposed by W.C. Newland and the banker William Ridge, Smith by Diggens and the banker Charles Dendy, and Cullen by F.H. Wright and James Biffen, a coal and timber merchant. Biffen and the attorney John Sherwood also nominated Webster, but withdrew the name immediately. Lennox displayed no hostility to the Wellington ministry but emphasized his progressive credentials, maintaining that he favoured a ‘very limited degree’ of parliamentary reform, reform of the game laws, abolition of the death penalty for forgery and the ‘gradual emancipation’ of colonial slaves. Smith protested at the ‘unjust ... and most cruel reflections’ that had been made on him during the campaign and expressed his support for the abolition of close boroughs and the enfranchisement of large towns. Cullen, who conspicuously praised Richmond for his non-interference in elections, employed decidedly puritanical language, warning that ‘destruction will suddenly come forth like thunder wrapt in a ball of flame and desolate the land, unless the people send men to represent them in Parliament of pure spirit and lofty resolution’. At the end of the first day Lennox and Smith were already comfortably ahead, with 95 and 67 votes respectively to Cullen’s 22. On the second day Lennox increased his total to 482, while Smith had 380 and Cullen 149. Polling ended on the third day and Lennox and Smith were declared elected and chaired; they gave dinners to their supporters at the Swan and Dolphin inns. Of the 768 who polled, 84 per cent cast a vote for Lennox, 70 for Smith and 29 for Cullen. Lennox secured 69 plumpers (11 per cent of his total), Cullen mustered 40 (18) and Smith 38 (seven). Lennox and Smith received 442 split votes (70 and 84 per cent of their respective totals), whereas Smith and Cullen had only 47 (nine and 22). Remarkably, 132 split their votes between Lennox and Cullen (21 and 60). One of these was Biffen, who had declared that he would ‘rather vote for an honest Tory than for some hypocritical Whigs’, and another was Cobby, a Tory, whose explanation was that ‘as his wife was a radical he was obliged to give one vote to Cullen’. More freemen took part in this election than in any other in this period: 24 plumped for Lennox, 21 split for Lennox and Smith and one for Lennox and Cullen.20

Anti-slavery petitions were forwarded to Parliament from the Independents and the Wesleyan Methodists in November 1830.21 That month, during the ‘Swing’ riots, outbreaks of machine breaking occurred in villages near Chichester, and though the city itself was unaffected, some 1,000 agricultural labourers assembled there on a market day to meet the magistrates and principal farmers, who conceded their demand for increased wages.22 Concern about the general state of social unrest probably influenced the Ultra Tory Richmond’s decision to take office in Lord Grey’s ministry. The inhabitants petitioned the Commons for parliamentary reform, 3 Feb., and in favour of the government’s bill, 9 Mar. 1831, when they also called for repeal of the coastwise coal duty.23 Lennox and Smith supported the reform bill, which proposed to enfranchise the £10 householders while leaving Chichester’s representation intact. At the ensuing general election they both moved to county seats, Sussex and Buckinghamshire respectively, and were replaced as candidates for the city by a brother, Lord Arthur Lennox, and a son, John Abel Smith. Arthur Lennox remarked to a meeting of 200 Orange supporters that his undeniable youth would hopefully be compensated for by having seen a ‘great deal’ of the world, while the younger Smith, in a published address, confessed to a ‘full sense of the inferiority of my claims’ but pointed to his pro-reform votes in the previous Parliament and promised to be a ‘zealous and independent Member’. Richmond’s somersault on reform apparently provoked not a murmur from local Tories, and Lennox’s return was considered secure; an agent reported that he was ‘very popular’ and ‘I heartily hope he may walk over the course’. This was not permitted to happen by the radicals, though their fire was chiefly directed at Smith. Now known as the Independent Association, they met on 26 Apr., with Sherwood in the chair, to express their ‘indignation’ at the attempt to hand the city’s representation from father to son, and resolved to invite Webster to come forward (Cullen had died the previous November) and open a subscription to assist with his expenses; Webster accepted in absentia. The Blues were incredulous that Webster should stand in opposition to two reformers and portrayed him as a candidate of last resort for the radical party. In turn, the radicals made charges of direct and indirect bribery against the Blue party, though they were forced to admit that Webster, who arrived only two days before polling, would not be redeeming any of his subscription pledges until after the election. Some 90 electors signed an anti-slavery declaration calling for the candidates to make explicit statements of their views. A radical victory over the Blues seemed a possibility, as Richmond admitted in an undated letter to Grey:

I fear that young Mr. Smith is not very popular in Chichester, but I will do all I can for him without forming a coalition which would hurt us both. I have written by coach this morning and shall know tomorrow what chance he will have. Dr. Lushington I think would have had no trouble.

Lennox was nominated by Newland and Ridge, Smith by Diggens and Dendy, and Webster by Sherwood and one Powell. At the end of the first day Lennox had 351 votes, and Webster led Smith by 207 to 151. However, on the second day Smith overhauled Webster and was declared elected with Lennox.24 Of the 713 who polled, 93 per cent cast a vote for Lennox, 55 for Smith and 42 for Webster. Lennox secured 38 plumpers, Smith had 22 and Webster 12. Lennox and Smith received 352 split votes (53 and 90 per cent of their respective totals), Lennox and Webster shared 273 (41 and 90), but Smith and Webster had just 17. It is not possible to distinguish between the freemen and scot and lot voters. Despite the brevity of the contest, Smith’s election cost him £1,392.25

During the ‘days of May’ in 1832, Richmond’s agent reported a strong feeling in the city in favour of Grey’s administration.26 The boundary commissioners recommended that the constituency be enlarged by including suburbs to the east, west and south, in parts of the parishes of St. Peter the Great, St. Pancras and St. Bartholemew, and to formally incorporate the cathedral close. In 1833 there were 974 registered electors, of whom 587 were £10 householders, 322 were scot and lot voters and 65 were freemen.27 The new electoral system had little effect on the pattern of Chichester politics, other than to reduce the frequency of contests after 1837. A member of the Lennox family continued to represent the city until its disfranchisement in 1885, and for all but four years of the period up to the Second Reform Act John Abel Smith held the other seat.28

Authors: Howard Spencer / Terry Jenkins


  • 1. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 513.
  • 2. Ibid. xl. 120.
  • 3. Pigot’s Commercial Dir. (1823-4), 505-8; PP (1831-2), xl. 118; (1835), xxiv. 68; R. Morgan, Chichester, 55-60.
  • 4. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 513; xl. 116-20; (1835), xxiv. 53-70; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 392, 393; W. Suss. RO, Goodwood mss 1434, ff. 544-6.
  • 5. The Times, 21 Feb.; Suss. Advertiser, 13 Mar.; Arundel Castle mss FC16, Holmes to Few, 10 Mar. 1820; E. Suss. RO, Ashburnham mss 3242.
  • 6. CJ, lxxvi. 5.
  • 7. Ibid. 157; lxxviii. 195; lxxx. 315; LJ, liv. 84, 85; lv. 628; lvii. 570, 571.
  • 8. Add. 38742, f. 204.
  • 9. Add. 38743, f. 294; 38744, ff. 66, 102, 104; 39948, ff. 69, 72; E. Suss. RO BAT 4678/4; Chichester Election Procs. 1823, pp. 7-9.
  • 10. Election Procs. 1823, passim; Brighton Gazette, 13, 20 Feb. 1823.
  • 11. E. Suss. RO BAT 4678/18, 20, 21; 4680.
  • 12. CJ, lxxvii. 316; lxxix. 222; lxxxi. 60.
  • 13. Ibid. lxxx. 351.
  • 14. Chichester Election Procs. 1826, passim; Chichester Election Placards [BL 1856. b.13.], ff. 15-72; W. Suss. RO mss 2641; The Times, 5 June; Brighton Gazette, 8 June 1826.
  • 15. Election Procs. 1826 (including pollbook); Brighton Gazette, 15 June 1826.
  • 16. CJ, lxxxii. 555; lxxxiii. 101; LJ, lx. 48, 68.
  • 17. CJ, lxxxii. 245, 290, 350; lxxxiii. 282, 383; lxxxiv. 20, 94, 103, 109, 114, 133; LJ, lix. 146, 171, 194; lx. 208; lxi. 37, 52, 84, 141.
  • 18. CJ, lxxxv. 472; LJ, lxii. 714.
  • 19. Add. 33466, f. 141; W. Suss. RO mss 2657-63; Petworth House mss, bdle. 80, Curteis to Egremont, 15 July; Chichester Election Placards, ff. 165-234; Chichester Election Procs. 1830, passim; Brighton Guardian, 12, 26 May, 9, 16, 23 June, 7, 21, 28 July; Brighton Gazette, 17 June; Brighton Herald, 26 June, 8 July 1830.
  • 20. Election Procs. 1830 (including pollbook); Brighton Herald, 7 Aug. 1830.
  • 21. CJ, lxxxvi. 35, 105; LJ, lxiii. 24.
  • 22. E. Hobsbawm and G. Rudé, Captain Swing (1985), 85, 86, 159.
  • 23. CJ, lxxxvi. 209, 355.
  • 24. Chichester Election Placards, ff. 217-46; Brighton Guardian, 20, 27 Apr., 4 May 1831; Goodwood mss 1489, f. 234; 1491, f. 142.
  • 25. Chichester Election Placards, ff. 235-44 (pollbook); W. Suss. RO Add. 22468.
  • 26. Goodwood mss 1458, f. 405.
  • 27. PP (1831-2), xl. 116-20; (1835), xxiv. 68.
  • 28. D.A. Smith, ‘The Richmond Interest and Party Politics, 1834-41’, Suss. Arch. Colls. cxvii. (1979), 201-19.