Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1790-1820, ed. R. Thorne, 1986
Available from Boydell and Brewer

Background Information

Right of Election:

in the freemen

Number of voters:

about 250


(1801): 4,829


 [Capt.] Bingfield11
19 July 1815 JOHN PAINE TUDWAY vice Tudway, deceased 

Main Article

The corporation effectively controlled Wells, most of the freemen being outvoters.1 The leading interest lay in the Tudway family, which occupied one seat continuously from 1761 to 1830: Clement Tudway, the recorder, for 54 years, and his nephew from 1815 to 1830. The other seat was competed for by the local gentry, but for most of this period was occupied by Charles Taylor, son of a former Member. By July 1795 he was ‘unanimously approved’ as future Member, but his tenure was sometimes challenged. In February 1798 he was co-respondent in a crim. con. action and was reported in March not to have ‘a friend left in Wells, though it is the general opinion that he was not fairly treated in the crim. con. business; all the married aldermen start at the sound of his name’. In 1800 there was ‘no alteration in the manner of his reception’ and he was reported to have imprudently made ‘a considerable advance in the great tithes’ in the parish of which he was lay impropriator. On the other hand, there was no obvious challenger to him: Tudway’s nephew Francis Drake of Wells was mentioned, but he was informed that ‘the constant observation has been "two of a family" and "that you would not like it yourselves"’. In April 1801 Capt. Henry Digby, RN, of Bath, a kinsman of the 2nd Earl Digby (whose father had represented Wells 40 years before) was thought to be a potential candidate: ‘he talked as if it had been frequently offered to his family and wondered they had abandoned their interest’.2

On 11 June 1802 the voters were asked not to support Taylor, as ‘a gentleman of fortune, liberality, respectability and of unexceptionable private character’ was expected. On 14 June two addresses appeared, one to the effect that ‘a gentleman of high connexions and ample fortune is daily expected’ and the other to announce the arrival of Mr Burland. John Berkeley Burland* of Stogursey, who had recently contested Bath, now came forward: he was put out, however, by an address from Taylor, 18 June, denying that Burland was supported by Tudway, who intended to canvass ‘hand in hand’ with Taylor next day, and adding that had Burland been respectably sponsored Taylor would have given in:

but when you consider by whom he was invited here, and that he was supported in the corporation by a man the similarity of whose scurrility and conduct identify him ... you will not I trust be thus dictated to. By this man and some others, I have been slandered, belied, and deceived.

(The reference was to Edward Spencer, a Bath surgeon, who was subsequently fined £100 for libelling Taylor as an adulterer and gambler.) Next day Burland announced his withdrawal, explaining that he had heard that Taylor was unacceptable and that the majority of the corporation supported him in conjunction with Tudway: ‘but a strange and inexplicable change of circumstances appears now to have placed me in opposition, not only to the corporation, but to Mr Tudway also’. Burland went off to contest Totnes.

A new challenge to Taylor was now proposed in the name of Francis Drake, whose friends announced, 21 June, that while Tudway had certainly joined Taylor against Burland, he was under no obligation to him and would surely rather support his own nephew; the latter might be reluctant to stand, but might be forcibly nominated. Drake declined, and refused to reconsider his decision, 28 June, being unwilling ‘to leave to Mr Taylor the slightest room to imagine that there existed any collusion between Mr Tudway and myself’. Nevertheless Drake’s committee continued to canvass for him and he allegedly consented on 1 July, despite the damper of a joint address by Taylor and Tudway on 30 June. On 5 July Drake publicly refused to offer, as his uncle had just issued a handbill confirming his alliance with Taylor.3 He was replaced by a stopgap candidate, who fared badly at the poll.

In 1806 Sir Robert Barclay* declined a local suggestion that he should join with Taylor as a friend of the Grenville administration—he doubted whether he would succeed—after Lord Grenville had requested him to make way for Francis Drake. Tudway was evidently offended at the overture to Barclay and wrote to Taylor telling him ‘to take care of himself and trust to his own exertions for the time to come ... to pay a closer attention to the freemen’. Drake intended to make use of this estrangement: he had, however, to deny that his candidature served ‘a party purpose’ and to answer an address of Taylor’s, from London (24 Oct.), alleging that Drake had nothing to recommend him but being Tudway’s nephew. On 27 Oct. Taylor, in a further address, quoted another part of Tudway’s letter:

I have no intention to bring any one forward in opposition to you, though I can’t prevent others; and in that resolution I mean to abide, till I can learn whom the majority seems most inclined to prefer.

Taylor added that he had canvassed both for Tudway and himself, in the belief that Tudway had been misled as to his intentions and would not desert him; and of 84 voters in Wells, had gained 59 promises for himself, 43 for Tudway and 9 for Drake, with 11 neutral and 5 absent. This made his superiority clear and Drake withdrew at the eleventh hour.4

In 1807 Barclay, who had promised to come forward again, decided to postpone his candidature when faced with a public alliance of Tudway and Taylor,5 and he never found an opening at Wells. When Tudway died in 1815 he was succeeded by his nephew of the same name. Drake had approached Thomas Buckler Lethbridge*, who was interested in a seat but preferred the county representation; and he seems to have had no thoughts of obtaining the seat himself. There was talk of an opposition, but Drake was informed by a friend:

Mr [Peter] Sherston’s most indecent conduct will not I should imagine recommend his friend’s interest to the gentlemen of Wells, nor do I believe Mr Hudlestone is disposed to make up for deficiences of this nature by lavishing his money amongst the lower classes. I wish no more formidable candidate may arise.6

This was probably John Hudleston*. There was in fact no opposition until 1826.

Author: R. G. Thorne


  • 1. Oldfield, Boroughs, ii. 50; Rep. Hist. iv. 424.
  • 2. Oracle, 17 July 1795; True Briton, 13 June 1796; Som. RO, Drake mss NE/15/3, Foster to Drake, 17 Mar. 1798, 13 Nov. 1800, 20 Apr. 1801.
  • 3. Ibid. NE/19, addresses, 1802; The Times, 24 Nov. 1803, 10 Feb. 1804.
  • 4. Fortescue mss, Barclay to Grenville, 30 Oct.; Morning Post, 30 Oct. 1806; Prince of Wales Corresp. vi. 2313; Drake mss NE/19, addresses, 1806.
  • 5. Bristol Jnl. 16 May 1807.
  • 6. Drake mss NE/12, Lethbridge to Drake, 29 June, 24 July; NE/15/3, Gould to same [8 July 1815].