Available from Cambridge University Press
Right of Election:
in the resident freemen1
Estimated number qualified to vote:
485 to over 5002
Number of voters:
282-5 in 18203
17,265 (1821); 17,435 (1831)
|9 Mar. 1820||FRANCIS FORESTER||215|
|WILLIAM LACON CHILDE||182|
|Paul Beilby Lawley (afterwards Thompson)||102|
|10 June 1826||HON. JOHN GEORGE WELD WELD FORESTER|
|PAUL BEILBY THOMPSON|
|17 June 1828||HON. GEORGE CECIL WELD WELD FORESTER vice Weld Forester, called to the Upper House|
|20 Feb. 1830||WELD FORESTER re-elected after appointment to office|
|30 July 1830||PAUL BEILBY THOMPSON|
|HON. GEORGE CECIL WELD WELD FORESTER|
|29 Apr. 1831||PAUL BEILBY THOMPSON|
|HON. GEORGE CECIL WELD WELD FORESTER|
Wenlock, a collection of scattered settlements seven miles north-west of Bridgnorth and ten miles south-east of Shrewsbury, was an ancient liberty, manor and parliamentary borough formerly dominated by St. Milburga’s priory. It extended over 71 square miles and comprised 17 parishes: Badger, Barrow, Beckbury, Benthall, Broseley, Deuxhill, Ditton Prior, Hughley, Linley, Madeley, Monkhopton, Shipton, Stoke Saint Milliborough, Wenlock Little, Wenlock Much, Willey, and Eaton (with extra-parochial Posenhall). Central to it was the market and election town of Much Wenlock, a two-street brick built village with an ancient church and guildhall and a population of 1,450 in 1831. In that year 2,424 of the borough’s 17,435 inhabitants resided in the parish of Wenlock, 10,122 in Madeley and the market town of Broseley (with its clay pipe factory) in the Shropshire iron and coalfield, and the remaining 4,901 in Coalport and the agricultural districts.4 Its size and confusion, as industrialization progressed, over which streets or townships were within the county and which in the Wenlock constituency made canvassing an arduous and protracted process.5
The Forester family of Willey controlled at least one seat at Wenlock from the reign of Henry VIII until 1885. Since the last contest in 1722, the representation had been confined to members of the family and to such relations as the Bridgemans, earls of Bradford, of nearby Weston Park, who since 1768 had held the second seat and shared the constituency costs of about £650 per election (£400 a year).6 The Foresters relied on by-laws to control a corporate system in which the bailiff, or mayor, was elected annually by a jury of up to 13 men, whose partisan membership had become exclusive to former bailiffs (known as bailiffs’ peers), and so-called six-men elected to the corporation for life. The franchise was restricted to the corporation and burgesses. Of the 448 burgesses admitted between 1800 and 1831, 376 qualified by birth; but the right awarded by by-law to each bailiff to nominate four burgesses, two on taking and two on leaving office, was consciously deployed to ensure a partisan electorate. In practice and for the same reason, mass admissions by election by the burgesses at large in common hall had been prevented, and admissions by birth predominated in election years. The residence qualification required by charter was habitually ignored.7 Sir Watkin Williams Wynn* of Wynnstay, Denbighshire, whose family had purchased the manorial lordship of Wenlock in 1714 with a view to sharing in the representation, retained the right as lord of the manor to a place on the corporation, and held about 185 burgages, including ten public houses, at Much Wenlock. Although prevented by the by-laws from building up a strong party in the corporation he posed a potential threat to Forester control of the second seat, particularly if, as almost occurred in 1794, his interest was allied to those of the other major landowners. They included the 1794 challenger Sir Robert Lawley† of Canwell Priory, Staffordshire and Bourton Cottage, whose family had held land and property in the borough since 1647, Sir Richard Acton, the Catholic squire of Aldenham, and Francis Blithe Harries of Benthall.8
At the general election of 1820, the head of the Forester family, Cecil Weld Forester, a government supporter who had represented Wenlock since 1790 and inherited Willey in 1811, decided to retire in anticipation of a peerage and to bring in as locum until his heir came of age his brother Francis Forester, an army officer whose father-in-law, the wealthy Whig 2nd earl of Darlington, owned a small estate at Harley within the liberties of Wenlock. The scheme would probably have encountered no opposition had not Weld Forester’s colleague since 1794, the ailing 1st earl of Bradford’s brother John Simpson, announced on 16 Feb. that he was also standing down.9 The unexpected failure of overtures to Bradford’s heir Lord Newport, who was pledged to stand for Wigan, discomfited Simpson, for Bradford also refused to sanction the candidature of his younger sons.10 Left without a second candidate, Weld Forester, with Bradford’s approval and at short notice, settled on William Lacon Childe, the anti-Catholic heir to Kinlet, then resident at his father-in-law William Cludde’s estate of Wrockwardine, which gave him influence in the industrial town of Wellington.11 Newport’s wife observed:
Simpson ... seems to have got rid of a great load from the thing being settled, and at having got completely out of the scrape. If he would have come in this once more it would have been a very desirable thing as then you might have come in for Wenlock at the next dissolution in case of your failure at Wigan; to keep it open for you till your election for that place is over would be impossible; for you to have stood for both places (which Mr. F. proposed) would have been an extravagant plan in point of expense. The election dinners at Wenlock cost each Member £400 and this in addition to Wigan would have been heavy: for the same reason your father forbore proposing one of your brothers.12
Weld Forester’s retirement, ostensibly on account of ill health, and Francis Forester’s candidature were advertised in the Shrewsbury Chronicle of 25 Feb., and Simpson was initially peeved to find the notice of his resignation, from ‘circumstances of a personal nature’, left out of the London papers and postdated to the 26th to coincide with the announcement of Childe’s candidature. Childe and Forester stood jointly on the Weld Forester interest, and their supporters were summoned to meet at the Raven Inn on the 28th to escort them to Much Wenlock and to canvass Broseley and Madeley the following day.13
Williams Wynn, who had last considered intervening at Wenlock in 1806, raised no objection to Francis Forester’s return, but when asked to support Childe, he deemed ‘the face of the whole subject’ so altered ‘that I must at least in the first moment pause’ and ‘due to my increasing family not ... let my parliamentary influence slip thus unheeded by’.14 He contacted his cousin by marriage Paul Beilby Lawley, Sir Robert’s brother and resident at Bourton on the outskirts of Much Wenlock since 1818, ‘whose situation, backed by his brother’s interest and my own is certainly such as to give him fair pretensions to the representation ... should he be desirous of it’.15 From London, 1 Mar., Lawley advised Weld Forester of his candidature, and letters drafted the same day informed Forester’s confidential agent John Pritchard, an attorney and partner with Valentine Vickers in the Bridgnorth and Broseley bank, that Acton, Thomas Kynnersley Leighton of Bosshall and others connected with Williams Wynn and his brother-in-law Lord Clive* were unlikely to support Childe. Williams Wynn’s brother Charles, Member for Montgomeryshire, and Acton’s nephew Captain Philip Acton went to Much Wenlock with Lawley on the 2nd, and he made the Bull’s Head his headquarters. ‘Being engaged for Lawley’, the town clerk Richard Collins, the agent for the Acton Hall and Wynnstay estates, returned Childe’s retainer, but kept Weld Forester’s.16 Philip Acton and Collins informed Weld Forester at the outset that they were perturbed by the ‘violent’ nature of Lawley’s politics, particularly the sympathy he expressed for the victims of Peterloo, and his support for the enfranchisement of large towns and Catholic relief. Only on the latter did his views accord with those of the Grenvillite Williams Wynns.17
On the 7th, with banners proclaiming ‘Forester the tried friend to the burgesses’ and ‘Childe and the constitution’, their cavalcade left Willey for Much Wenlock, arriving shortly before Lawley, the self-styled champion of ‘independence’ and ‘freedom of election’, whose latest notices complained at the ‘strong coalition’ against him and pledged him to ‘stand the poll so long as I have a single voter left’. The Rev. Michael Pye Stephens, rector of Willey, was sworn in as bailiff and John Williams* as assessor. Cludde carried a resolution thanking the retiring Members for supporting the coercive measures introduced after Peterloo before Forester was nominated by Thomas Harries of Cruckton and seconded by his ‘childhood friend’ John Cressett Pelham*. Childe was proposed by Weld Forester and Blithe Harries, and Lawley by Sir Watkin Williams Wynn and Thomas Mytton of Cleobury. According to the Shrewsbury Chronicle, Childe eulogised his adversary Williams Wynn, who in turn complained of the Bridgemans’ failure to notify him in time of Simpson’s intentions and of the coalition against him. Forester expressed sympathy for the agriculturists, but left his brother, the recorder of Wenlock, the Rev. Townshend Forester, to respond to Mytton’s criticism of the government’s taxation policy.18 Forester and Childe, represented jointly as counsel by the future Calcutta judge Edward Ryan, brother-in-law of William Wolryche Whitmore*, won the show of hands, and William Roden of Muckley Cross demanded a poll for Lawley, who had engaged Uvedale Corbett as counsel. At the end of the first day Forester had 71 votes, Childe 51 and Lawley 41. Lawley trailed badly on the second, when the poll stood at Forester 144, Childe 118, Lawley 72, and retired at Forester 215, Childe 182, Lawley 102 on the third. The Members were chaired and dined with their supporters at the Raven, and dinners were also held at the Greyhound and the Punchbowl.19 Notwithstanding some defections, and the differences among the Darby family of Coalbrookdale,20 letters, pollbooks and documents relating to the election demonstrate the ability of the Weld Foresters to attract the gentry and largest employers to their committee and to deploy chains of command previously established by Bradford and Childe and Cludde for the Wrekin militia and the yeomanry cavalry, to organize voters:
George Hartshorne and Mr. John Lister, assisted by Mr. Nock, solicitor of Wellington, were extremely active in canvassing the votes of the Bilstone burgesses, Mr. Thomas Roden, those of Benthall, Mr. Anstice those of Madeley Wood, Mr. Dickinson those of Dawley, Mr. Jarvis and Mr. Clayton those of Little Wenlock and its neighbourhood and Mr. Turner those of Wellington and the neighbourhood. Mr. Harries of Benthall and Mr. [Cressett] Pelham gave their continued attendance on the committee. Many other persons in the neighbourhood were likewise most highly useful, among whom may be named Mr. Rose of Coalport, Mr. Thomas Rose, Mr. Charles Rose, Mr. Worrall of the Inett, Mr. Wilkes of Linley, Mr. Fifield of Broseley, Mr. [Bernard] Colley and his sons of Posenhall, and Mr. Howell’s sons of the Marsh.21
One-hundred-and-seventy-six of the 185 burgesses admitted qualified by birth.22 With about 60 per cent of the estimated electorate polled, and many also engaged or held in reserve to vote in Stafford, Staffordshire and the threatened contest at Bridgnorth, conclusions must be tentative. However, analysis of the voting points to a decline in the influence of the market town of Much Wenlock in the constituency since the last canvass in 1794, and confirms Childe’s dependence on Weld Forester and the strength of the Forester-Childe coalition, to which Childe brought his own and Cludde’s connections, his skills as an orator and militia leader and a strong canvassing team from Wellington. Of the 285 who voted,23 only one plumped for Forester and three for Childe, while 179 split their votes between them. Sixty-seven plumped for Lawley and 35 split their votes between him and Forester. Voting by family affiliation predominated, and employer and landlord influence is evident in the coalition’s strength in Broseley (Forester and Childe 27, Forester and Lawley two), Little Wenlock (Forester and Childe 27, Forester one, Lawley one) and Wellington (Forester and Childe ten), and also in Lawley’s ability to carry Much Wenlock (Forester and Childe four, Forester and Lawley 11, Lawley 15). The three ironmasters listed as such, John Onions of Broseley, Alexander Brodie of Calcutts and William Parsons of Wellington, voted for Forester and Childe, as did the Coalport porcelain manufacturer John Rose. Others, including members of the Anstice and Reynolds families involved in the Shropshire iron industry, were described in the pollbook as ‘gentleman’, ‘esquire’ or ‘farmer’, or under ancillary trades.24
After the election, action was taken against several of Darlington’s tenants for supporting Lawley;25 and Childe, who suspected Collins of colluding to have the election declared void, was ‘a great deal annoyed’ to find it ‘generally reported in Shrewsbury that the return for Wenlock is invalid in consequence of Mr. Stephens having allowed the doors of the court to be closed before the expiration of an hour after the tender of the last vote’. The recorder and bailiff were drawn into the controversy before it abated.26 A meeting at the guildhall, 25 Mar., adopted the usual addresses of condolence and congratulation to George IV, and afterwards Lawley, who had rallied support at dinners in Dawley Green, 22 Mar., and Bilstone, 24 Mar. 1820, and claimed ‘many newly created burgesses’, dined 200 at the White Hart.27 Childe was also active, and Pritchard warned Weld Forester:
The manner in which the most respectable, powerful and opulent part of the burgesses and gentlemen of the neighbourhood and county came forward on your behalf must have been highly gratifying to you and your family and all your friends, and that feeling on their part may, I am confident, be preserved with very little attention but in my opinion NOT OTHERWISE, for it is now stated that as soon as you and your brother had obtained your wishes you immediately left the county ... Various are the opinions whether Mr. Lawley will again stand for Wenlock, but I think he never will if opposed by you.28
Meanwhile from Florence, Sir Robert Lawley vented his spleen to Lawley at not being consulted:
In regard to the prudence of the attempt I shall not hesitate to judge upon the very scanty information you supply me with, but you cannot be surprised at your defeat when you know that Mr. Collins, the chief agent for Sir W[atkin] and Sir R. Acton, has received an annuity for many years from Mr. Forester. I had hopes that you would have pursued the only sure means of gaining a permanent seat at Wenlock - and this is it. The borough ... has not I believe ever been regularly contested. The right of voting is quite unknown, and I have very good reason to believe that it is confined by the charter to resident burgesses. If so the borough is Sir W[atkin]’s and mine and Forester has no right in it whatsoever. Your best way, therefore, to have contested the seat would have been to have polled the greatest number of resident voters and have tried by petition this right. Thus contested the borough would have been a great object; but as it is it will ever be a great curse to the estate if you are to support a popular interest. As I imagine this Parliament will be a short one, and I am confident a most unpopular one, some future plan may be fixed upon to promote the object in regard to Wenlock and to procure your return. But I give you my word I will not support you unless you determine to pursue patriotic and independent principles in Parliament.29
On 9 Aug. Sir Robert suggested returning to England to assist his brother, adding:
I know more about Wenlock than you give me credit for knowing, and you may be assured that the information I gave you about that borough is correct, as well as what I told you about Mr. Collins. Mr. Forester, whom I have ever considered a cunning but not a clever man, sets not his objects by that propriety of his low and vulgar mind ... I know few men more easy to contend with [than Weld Forester], but his possession of that borough is secure unless you disturb the right of voting, and that security has been obtained chiefly through the assistance of Mr. Collins.30
The campaign against the Foresters, of which public dinners and litigation were an important feature, continued, financed largely through Lawley’s inheritance under the will of his uncle Robert Thompson of Escrick, whose name he took as directed, 27 Sept. 1820.31 On 10 Oct. 1820 an edition of the Wenlock charters dedicated to Williams Wynn was printed at Shrewsbury, with the express purpose of showing how Wenlock had been wrongly denominated a borough by prescription and made to include Broseley and Little Wenlock, when, under the charters of Edward IV and Charles I, the franchise only extended ‘to and throughout the whole of the parish of Holy Trinity’, defined in an appendix as the townships of ‘Atterley and Walton, Persthope, Wigwig and part of Harley, Wyke and Bradeley, Bourton and Callaughton’. A separate appendix traced the descent of the Lawleys from Thomas Lawley, cousin and heir of John, Lord Wenlock.32 Knowing that Weld Forester aspired to the Wenlock barony, Sir Robert Lawley had entered a protest against his assuming that title when he became a coronation peer. When, in June 1821, Weld Forester’s counter-claim and appeal to his achievement in bringing in two government supporters in 1820 looked likely to succeed, Lawley blocked it ‘by entering a caveat against him in the herald’s office’ to ensure delay, and so ensured that Weld Forester was created Baron Forester, 17 July 1821.33 In the meantime, heeding the defection to Thompson of the master of the hunt, Richard Dansey, and reports of celebrations and popular support for Queen Caroline at Madeley, Weld Forester and Childe had addressed the borough meeting of 12 Dec. 1820, which adopted a loyal address to the king, denouncing ‘the attempts now making by wicked and designing men to sow the seeds of discord and sedition among the uninformed and lower orders’.34 The workers at John Rose’s Coalport china factory and the parish of Madeley petitioned the Commons in protest at the queen’s prosecution and called for the restoration of her name to the liturgy, 6 Feb. 1821.35 Childe voted against the opposition censure motion that day. Encouraged by the ironmaster Barnard Dickinson, Broseley and Madeley, a circuit town and important centre of Methodism, petitioned for the abolition of slavery in 1823, 1824 and 1826.36 The butchers and publicans of Wenlock petitioned the Commons against the hides and skins bill, 3 May, and the excise license duty, 6 May 1824.37 Both Houses received petitions from the ‘bailiff, burgesses and commonalty of the town and liberties’ in 1825 against Catholic relief.38
Seventeen burgesses had been admitted for Forester and six for Thompson since the election, when Williams Wynn proposed the admission of 40 burgesses by majority vote in common hall at Michaelmas 1821. They were rejected then and again at the next common hall, 29 Jan. 1822. The Wynnstay agents, having extracted details of past burgess creations and corporation elections from the borough records, applied for writs of mandamus, served 34 notices of quo warranto and instigated proceedings in king’s bench against Lord Forester’s brother, the rector of Broseley, the Rev. Townshend Forester, as bailiff of Wenlock, and against Thomas Emery, Thomas Rose and William Warrall as honorary burgesses, so challenging the legality of the procedures adopted at bailiff’s elections, the manner in which honorary burgesses were elected, and the current extension of the franchise beyond the parish of Much Wenlock. The court ruled against the Foresters, 7 June 1822, and directed that the 34, all known supporters of Thompson and Williams Wynn, be admitted.39 Forester’s agents, having obtained details of the Monmouth case, consulted the deputy keeper of public records William Illingworth, the barrister John Campbell II* and the chief justice of the Chester circuit Charles Warren*, who recommended that a new by-law be passed to perpetuate current electoral practices. The Pritchards failed to find the proof their counsel sought that the out-parishes had been included in the franchise at the dissolution of Wenlock Priory.40 By 10 June 1822 Lord Forester had asked Lord Clive to raise the possibility of an out-of-court settlement with Williams Wynn, who he knew was short of money and about to leave for the continent. The Grenvillites had gone over to administration in January 1822, but Williams Wynn, whose brother Charles was now president of the India board, refused to abandon Thompson and bring in a government supporter as Forester suggested, and he insisted that his cousin Richard Neville*, Thompson’s brother-in-law, be party to his negotiations with Forester. Having rejected Blithe Harries’s offer of assistance, Forester was accompanied by Lord Liverpool’s half-brother Cecil Jenkinson* of Pitchford Hall.41 Under their ‘secret’ agreement of 17 June 1822, Forester and Williams Wynn were to return a Member each for Wenlock and to appoint a partisan bailiff alternately, ‘without infringing Williams Wynn’s right as lord of the manor to appoint one six-man’. The 34 would be admitted gradually without changing the borough constitution, ‘the burgesses in future to be proposed by the bailiff and elected by the common hall, and after this year to be elected in equal proportions’. Quo warranto and mandamus proceedings, scheduled for 29 June and 1 July 1822, were withdrawn.42 It was agreed that ‘Thompson should be W.’s Member for the next turn only’, he shook hands with Forester on the 18th, and the two sides met later that evening with their counsel (Campbell, Jervis, Temple and Taunton) to settle proceedings. Commenting, the younger John Pritchard praised the ‘considerable judgement’ shown by Jenkinson, ‘the chief instrument in bringing about a reconciliation’, and warned that Thompson might build up his own interest. Lady Williams Wynn observed that the settlement was ‘not calculated particularly to meet his [Thompson’s] fancies’ and feared lest ‘the cunning peer jibs’.43
Childe’s candidature for the vacancy for Shropshire in November 1822 had Bradford and Forester’s support and put a by-election for Wenlock briefly in prospect; but Forester reminded his Member, to whom Thompson offered his interest in return for future support at Wenlock, that ‘that must go with the Forester family’, and Childe went to the ‘nomination and no further’ without vacating his seat.44 The part, if any, played by Childe and ‘local farmers and ironmasters’ in resisting Williams Wynn’s choice of the attorney William Hilton as bailiff in 1823 remains unclear. The challenge was serious enough for the Wynnstay agents to give notice and publicize a motion to be proposed in common hall, 29 Sept., to rescind all by-laws and open corporation elections to the burgesses at large. However, the truce was restored and escalation of the dispute narrowly avoided at a crisis meeting on the 28th between Williams Wynn, Robert Henry Clive* and Lord Clive, Jenkinson and Forester.45 Williams Wynn informed his brother Henry, 1 Oct.:
I suppose that Charles will have told you that I have had some discussion with Lord Forester which bore a very unpleasant appearance. He endeavoured to fly off from the engagement into which he entered last year which I felt that I was bound to compel him to fulfil on his part as I had strictly done on mine. But I thought that as I had three children and he four times as many we had better avoid the ratio ultima. I put the correspondence into Clive’s hands on Saturday, who, with Bob, was kind enough to go to Willey on Sunday, no time being to be lost, as Monday was the day for the election of bailiff, etc., etc., upon which the dispute turned. I am happy to say that they brought his Lordship completely to reason and that every material point was conceded. A tenant and staunch friend of mine [Edward Havells] is bailiff. Hinton, Collins’s partner, is a six-man and three of my tenants were on the jury. This being previously settled, I dined and slept at Willey on Sunday as, letting alone the discomfort of breaking a friendship of so many years standing, I am sure that in the preservation of our interest in the borough it is most important that we should be closely united, or least appear so to be. Everything passed off at Willey as if nothing had occurred between us.46
The arrangement endured, but at the dissolution in 1826 Pritchard warned, ‘the sooner the election is over the better, as we may possibly have a third candidate’, and he also suggested that Bridgnorth and Wenlock dinners should coincide to cut costs.47 At his direction, Francis Forester and Childe issued retirement notices, and the candidature of Forester’s son and heir George and Thompson was announced. The latter, now of Escrick Park in the East Riding, was said to be ‘most dissatisfied both with Sir Watkin and his agents’, who ‘made a mess’ of his affairs, and he refused to hurry to Wenlock, where Weld Forester, with nothing to do, felt his time was being wasted. When he arrived, 8 June, Thompson was obliged to canvass in person at considerable cost.48 Thomas Harries proposed Weld Forester as a defender of ‘the constitution in church and state’ and ‘local and individual interests’ and Thomas Ferriday seconded. Williams Wynn proposed Thompson as previously, supported by Thomas Mytton of Shipton. Neither was opposed, but Blithe Harries, a witness to similar proceedings at Shrewsbury on the 9th, spoke strongly against Catholic emancipation, reminded Thompson and Williams Wynn, who favoured it, that the burgesses of Wenlock had petitioned against it, notwithstanding their personal regard for Acton, and pressed Thompson to demonstrate his loyalty to them by pledging to oppose it.49 He ignored the request, and his vote for Catholic relief cancelled Weld Forester’s against it, 6 Mar. 1827. The corporation of Wenlock sent petitions opposing concessions to both Houses in 1827 and 1828.50 Broseley and Madeley petitioned the Commons, 7, 8 June 1827, 28 Feb. 1828, for repeal of the Test Acts.51
Weld Forester paid scant attention to Wenlock or national politics before he was removed to the Lords by his father’s death, 23 May 1828. No opposition was raised to the return of his brother Cecil, who was newly of age, in his place.52 Wenlock was strongly represented in the Shropshire Brunswick Club and, assisted by Blithe Harries as bailiff, and the Rev. Edward Tellett of Broseley, Townshend Forester, recently passed over for preferment at Worcester, encouraged anti-Catholic petitioning at Wenlock and Ironbridge in December 1828. A resolution that the Wenlock petitions should be presented to the Commons by Weld Forester and to the Lords by his brother risked highlighting their political differences, for Weld Forester resolutely opposed the concession of Catholic emancipation in 1829, when his brother gave Wellington his proxy, and the Commons’ petition was accordingly presented by their uncle Lord Charles Manners, 10 Feb. 1829. Broseley and Madeley petitions were forwarded to the county Members.53 Thompson voted for emancipation. After it was passed, Weld Forester, who was appointed a groom of the bedchamber in February 1830 and was re-elected without incident, became a silent supporter of the ministry.54 Before the dissolution precipitated by George IV’s death, both Houses received petitions from Madeley for mitigation of the criminal law and abolition of the death penalty for forgery, 29 Mar.; the mining districts joined in the petitioning against the truck system, 29 Mar., 2, 3 May, and the ironmasters added their names to their trade’s petitions against the East India Company’s trading monopoly. The manufacturers of Broseley, Madeley and Dawley petitioned the Commons for lower tariffs on bricks, tiles and slates, 9 July.55 The ‘one term’ promise, and the flurry of opposition ‘from two ironmasters, who had subscribed, some say £500, others £300 apiece to get a candidate’, sent Thompson and Sir Watkin scurrying to Wenlock early in July 1830 to rally support at the races, but the ironmaster James Foster*, the candidate started by the Birmingham trade, desisted to assist Woolryche Whitmore in neighbouring Bridgnorth, leaving the sitting Members unopposed.56
Methodists throughout the district and male and female Baptist congregations of Broseley and Madeley petitioned for the abolition of colonial slavery early in the new Parliament, and again in March 1831.57 Neither Member divided on the civil list, 15 Nov. 1830, when the administration was brought down. Weld Forester resigned from the household, 23 Feb. 1831, to be free to oppose the Grey ministry’s reform bill, for which there was some support in Coalbrookdale and the iron fields, where rioting followed layoffs that winter, the yeomanry were called in and Madeley petitioned in vain for a resident magistrate.58 No opposition was raised to the return of the sitting Members, who voted for and against the reform bill, at the general election precipitated by its defeat.59 Foster, newly returned for Bridgnorth as a reformer, was expected to press his interest in Wenlock after purchasing Brodie’s Calcutt estate in July 1831. In September public dinners marked Sir Robert Lawley’s elevation to the peerage as Baron Wenlock and the award of a dukedom to Cleveland (as Darlington had become), and Broseley and Madeley petitioned the Lords urging the reform bill’s passage, ‘rather than a vengeful reform from without’, 3 Oct.60 The Foresters and Williams Wynns opposed the measure and Wenlock did not petition. When, at a Saturday sitting, the exclusion under the bill of the borough’s freeholders from both the county and the borough franchise had been commented on, the leader of the Commons Lord Althorp stated that there were similar anomalies in Lancashire and made light of the issue, 20 Aug. 1831.61 Possibly on account of its ample population, the boundary commissioners anticipated little work at Wenlock.62 Their report listed the 17 parishes in ‘the extensive district called the Wenlock franchise’, noted that Much Wenlock had contributed only £403 in assessed taxes in 1830 compared with £2,722 from its liberties, and pointed to the difference between the populous towns of Broseley, Ironbridge and Madeley and the agricultural parishes. However, they stated that there was ‘no evidence whatever to prove a less extensive franchise’ and recommended that the limits of the borough, which, according to the Spectator, ‘just escaped Schedule B’, ‘must remain unaltered’. The habitual election of burgesses ‘without reference to residence’ was confirmed, the 1820 was electorate estimated at 485, and ‘ it was observed that since that time the number of burgesses has been materially increased’. 63 According to the returning officer Tellett’s figures, there had been 448 admissions since 1819 (137 after 1820).64 Entertainments were provided for Lord Wenlock’s tenants when the reform bill was passed in June 1832; and ‘the people for reform took a circuit (about 1,400 in number) from Ironbridge through Broseley and to Severn Side, including the Sunday scholars of all classes, Chapel and Methodist and Baptist’.65
Thompson came in for Yorkshire’s East Riding at the general election of 1832, when, after a hard-fought contest and by the narrow margin of eight votes, the new electorate of 202 freemen and 489 £10 householders returned a second Tory, Charles Williams Wynn’s son-in-law James Milnes Gaskell, with Weld Forester, so thwarting the ironmasters, Quakers, Methodists and radicals who sponsored the Political Unionist and Bristol ironmaster Matthew Bridges, standing as a Liberal.66 A Liberal tried again in 1835, but through Gaskell, the Wynnstay-Forester coalition survived unchallenged until 1868. The constituency boundaries were left unchanged when the borough’s were redefined in 1835, and remained intact until 1885.67
Author: Margaret Escott
For the development of Wenlock see VCH Salop, x. 189-460 and B. Trinder, Industrial Revolution in Salop (1981), chs. 11-13.
- 1. But treated as if it was ‘in the corporation and burgesses at large’ in Oldfield, Rep. Hist. (1816), iv. 398; PP (1831-2), xxxix. 345.
- 2. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 596; xxxix. 345.
- 3. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxvi. 596 states 282. Ibid. (1831-2), xxxix. 345 states 285, with 200 unpolled. According to the ms pollbook, 285 voted in 1820 (Salop RO, Weld-Forester mss 1224, box 337, Procs. at Wenlock election).
- 4. Parl. Gazetteer of England and Wales (1844), iv. 474, 475; Trinder, Industrial Revolution in Salop, 231, 232; VCH Salop, iii. 339, 340; x. 399-411.
- 5. VCH Salop, iii. 340.
- 6. F. O’Gorman, Voters, Patrons, and Parties, 150; VCH Salop, iii. 296.
- 7. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 576; (1835), xxv. 665-70.
- 8. VCH Salop, iii. 291-6; J.D. Nichol, ‘Wynnstay, Willey and Wenlock’, Trans. Salop Arch. Soc. lviii (1965-8), 220-34; J. Randall, Hist. Madeley, 235.
- 9. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Simpson to C.W. Forester, 16 Feb. 1820; HP Commons, 1790-1820, ii. 339-41.
- 10. Shrewsbury Chron. 18 Feb.; Weld-Forester mss box 337, C.W. Forester to Newport and replies, 16, 19 Feb., Simpson to C.W. Forester, 16 Feb., to J. Pritchard, 23, 25 Feb.; Staffs. RO, Weston Park mss D.1287/10/4a, Lady to Lord Newport [24, 25 Feb. 1820].
- 11. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Childe to Pritchard, 27 Feb.; Weston Park mss D.1287/10/4a, Lady to Lord Newport, 27 Feb. 1820.
- 12. Weston Park mss D.1287/10/4a, Lady to Lord Newport [Feb. 1820].
- 13. Shrewsbury Chron. 25 Feb.; Salopian Jnl. 1 Mar.; Weld-Forester mss box 337, Procs. at Wenlock election, Simpson to Pritchard, 1 Mar.; The Times, 7 Mar. 1820.
- 14. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Childe to Sir W. Williams Wynn, 25 Feb., C.W. Forester to same, 25, 26 Feb., reply 28 Feb. 1820.
- 15. Ibid. Williams Wynn to C.W. Forester, 28 Feb. 1820.
- 16. Ibid. C.S. Forster to Emery, 7 Mar. 1820; VCH Salop, iii. 296.
- 17. Weld-Forester mss box 337, P. Acton to C.W. Forester, 2 Mar., Forester to Pritchard, 3 Mar. 1820.
- 18. Ibid. Procs. at Wenlock election, passim.; Salopian Jnl. 8 Mar.; Shrewsbury Chron. 10 Mar. 1820.
- 19. Salop Archives, Corbett of Longnor mss 1066/122, diary of Katharine Plymley, 9 Mar.; Salopian Jnl. 15 Mar.; Shrewsbury Chron. 17 Mar. 1820.
- 20. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Dickinson to C.W. Forester, 6 Mar., Pritchard to Mrs. Darby, 6 Mar. 1820; B. Trinder, Darbys of Coalbrookdale (1991), 47-49.
- 21. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Procs. at Wenlock election, corresp. 3-11 Mar. 1820, passim.
- 22. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 596.
- 23. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Procs. at Wenlock election; the ms pollbook records the votes of 285 burgesses, three more than specified in PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 596.
- 24. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Wenlock pollbook. A table of occupations listed is given in Nichol, 233.
- 25. Weld-Forester mss box 337, ‘letters delivered by T. Forester to Pritchard, 3 July’, Scarth to C.W. Forester, 15 July 1820.
- 26. Ibid. Childe-Pritchard corresp. 12 Mar., T. Forester to Pritchard, 20 Mar., Harries to C.W. Forester, 18 May 1820.
- 27. Shrewsbury Chron. 24, 31 Mar.; Salopian Jnl. 29 Mar. 1820.
- 28. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Pritchard to C.W. Forester, 31 Mar. 1820.
- 29. Hull Univ. Lib. Forbes Adams mss DDFA/39/45/21.
- 30. Ibid. 39/45/25.
- 31. PROB 11/1634/453; Forbes Adams mss 39/46; Salopian Jnl. 18 Oct. 1820, 5 June 1822; Plymley diary 125, 2 Nov. 1820.
- 32. Weld-Forester mss box 338, Translation of the Charters of the Corporation of Wenlock.
- 33. Forbes Adams mss 39/45/23, 27; Add. 38369, f. 332; Weld-Forester mss 37/50-53; 332/159.
- 34. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Pritchard to C.W. Forester, 26 Oct., loyal address, 12 Dec.; Salopian Jnl. 22, 29 Nov., 13 Dec.; Shrewsbury Chron. 24 Nov., 8, 15 Dec. 1820.
- 35. CJ, lxxvi. 39.
- 36. NLW mss 14984 A, diary of Thomas Clarkson, pp. 47-48; Trinder, Industrial Revolution in Salop, 269-71, 274; CJ, lxxviii. 292; lxxix, 143, 246, 268; lxxxi. 151; LJ, lvi; 84.
- 37. CJ, lxxix, 312, 331.
- 38. Ibid. lxxx. 315; LJ, lvii. 123.
- 39. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Wenlock 1822, bdles. 1-3; box 339 passim.; box 340, bdle. labelled ‘ex parte Rose’; PP (1835), xxv. 670.
- 40. Weld-Forester mss box 336, pprs. of 29 Jan., 12 Apr.; box 338, Illingworth’s judgement, memo. made at Wenlock, 10 June; box 340, case and opinion of Warren, 17 Dec. 1821, Campbell, 22 Apr. 1822.
- 41. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Sir W. Williams Wynn to C.W. Forester, 10 June 1822 and draft reply.
- 42. Ibid. private memo. made in London, 17 June 1822; PP (1835), xxv. 671.
- 43. Weld-Forester mss box 337, J. Pritchard jun. to sen. 18 June, J. Pritchard sen. to Lord Forester, 19 June; NLW ms 2794 D, Lady Williams Wynn to H. Williams Wynn, 18 June 1822.
- 44. Weston Park mss D.1287/10/4a, Forester-Childe corresp. [Nov. 1822]; Buckingham, Mems. Geo. IV, i. 395.
- 45. Weld-Forester mss box 337, Pritchard to J. Jones, 11 Sept., notice of 24 Sept., bdles. labelled corresp. re. Wenlock 1822, 1823; procs. at Wenlock, 29 Sept. 1823.
- 46. NLW ms 2794 D.
- 47. Salop Archives, Blakemore mss 604, box 8, Lord Forester’s letter bk. p. 117.
- 48. Ibid. pp. 113-22; Salopian Jnl. 17 May; The Times, 23 May 1826; Weld-Forester mss 37/161-5.
- 49. Salopian Jnl. 14 June; Shrewsbury Chron. 16 June 1826.
- 50. CJ, lxxxii. 483; lxxxiii. 287; LJ, lix. 370, lx. 169.
- 51. CJ, lxxxii. 527, 534; lxxxiii. 112.
- 52. Salopian Jnl. 28 May, 11, 18, 25 June 1828.
- 53. Ibid. 7 Jan., 4, 11 Feb. 1829; Wellington mss WP1/917/21; 920/81; Weld-Forester mss 332/180; CJ, lxxxiv. 20, 182; LJ, lxi. 22, 341; NLW, Aston Hall mss C.5723; Add. 40427, f. 125.
- 54. Salopian Jnl. 17, 24 Feb. 1830; Salop Archives 1634/21.
- 55. CJ, lxxxv. 236, 359, 638; LJ, lxii. 47, 53, 172, 598.
- 56. NLW ms 2797 D, Lady Williams Wynn to H. Williams Wynn, 13 July; Aston Hall mss C.599; Salopian Jnl. 14, 21, 28 July, 4 Aug.; Wolverhampton Chron. 21 July, 4 Aug. 1830.
- 57. CJ, lxxxvi. 52, 61, 423; LJ, lxiii. 78, 110, 415.
- 59. Salopian Jnl. 27 Apr.; Shrewsbury Chron. 29 Apr.; Wolverhampton Chron. 4 May 1831.
- 60. Salop Archives 1649, Alderman Jones’s diary, 10 July-16 Sept. 1831; LJ, lxiii. 1038.
- 61. The Times, 22 Aug. 1831.
- 62. Northumb. RO, Blackett-Ord mss 324/A/36, W.H. to W. Ord, 4 Oct. 1831.
- 63. PP (1831-2), xxxviii. 17; xxxix. 345; Shrewsbury Chron. 22 June, 2 Nov.; Spectator, 27 Oct. 1832.
- 64. PP (1831-2), xxxvi. 596.
- 65. Jones’s diary, 15 June; Shrewsbury Chron. 29 June 1832.
- 66. VCH Salop, iii. 310, 339-41; Jones’s diary, 2 Nov.-26 Dec.; Shrewsbury Chron. 2 Nov., 14 Dec.; Add. 44161, ff. 83-96; Salop Archives 245/128-30; NLW, Coedymaen mss 230, 234, 235; bdle. 29, C. Williams Wynn to Phillimore, 28 Nov. [Dec.]; NLW ms 2797 D, Fanny to H. Williams Wynn, 7 Nov., Sir W. Williams Wynn to same, 21 Nov. 1832.
- 67. VCH Salop, iii. 339-43; x. 188, 207, 208.