Wootton Bassett (UK Parliament constituency)

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Wootton Bassett
Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
1447–1832
Number of members Two

Wootton Bassett was a parliamentary borough in Wiltshire, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1447 until 1832, when the rotten borough was abolished by the Great Reform Act.

History[edit]

The borough consisted of the town of Wootton Bassett, a market town in northern Wiltshire. Even when the borough was created by Henry VI it was a town of little consequence, with no significant industry or trade; by the 19th century it suffered from endemic unemployment, and the money to be gained by electoral corruption was probably one of its economic mainstays.

In 1831, the population of the borough was approximately 1,500, and contained 349 houses. The right to vote was exercised by all inhabitant householders paying scot and lot. At the last contested election, this amounted to 309 eligible voters, of whom 228 cast valid votes; in other words, only a comparatively small proportion of households were excluded from the franchise. The local landowners were generally recognised as "patrons" of the borough, and at most periods were able to exercise close control as they were the employers of the majority of the voters. However, they were occasionally vulnerable to the intervention of monied outsiders, since Wootton Bassett's voters had few scruples at selling their votes to the highest bidder.

At the end of the 17th century, the St John family of Lydiard Tregoze had the predominant influence in the borough, and could usually return their chosen candidates without difficulty, the main competing interest being that of the Hydes. After Henry St John, 1st Viscount Bolingbroke fled abroad in 1715 following the Jacobite Rebellion the St John influence was weakened, and a wealthy local landowner and clothier, Robert Neale of Corsham, was able to secure election in 1741. Neale then began to strengthen his interest, hoping to gain control of the second seat in alliance with the Hydes, and this led to a vigorous contest for control of the borough in the 1750s.

Corruption was playing its part in Wootton Bassett elections at least from the late 17th century. In 1690, a candidate who petitioned against the election of Henry St John was found to have bribed the voters himself, reportedly purchasing votes at one-and-a-half guineas a head, and his agent was taken into custody by order of the House of Commons. Again in 1700, bribery was reported to the Committee and the agent was committed to Newgate Prison.

At the election of 1754, Robert Neale attempted to win the support of the Mayor (who was ex officio returning officer) with a bribe of £500, and both sides spent lavishly. The St John candidates (John Probyn and Thomas Estcourt Cresswell) paid 30 guineas a head to voters, the total cost including treating at taverns coming to £6000, while Neale admitted spending £1800 and his co-candidate the Earl of Drumlanrig probably spent a similar amount. St John's candidates were successful, but Neale petitioned against the outcome and (as a supporter of the government) apparently expected a partisan decision to overturn the result in his favour. In the event, the Duke of Newcastle, then serving as the prime minister, refused to support the petition but Neale was compensated £1000 from secret government funds.

After another contested election in election of 1784, when George Tierney, backed by the Hydes, spent £2500 in an unsuccessful attempt to win a seat against the St John candidates, the two families reached an agreement to nominate one MP each at future elections. This lasted until the early years of the following century when a barrister, James Kibblewhite, began to acquire property in the town and secured both a majority on the Corporation and sufficient "influence" with the voters to have his candidates returned as MPs - the nature of the influence is indicated by reports that the price of a vote had risen to 45 guineas a man. When Benjamin Walsh, who was elected on this occasion, was shortly afterwards declared bankrupt it emerged on the investigation of his accounts that he had paid £4000 for his seat. Kibblewhite sold his interest in the borough to Joseph Pitt for £22,000, but Pitt was unable to retain control over the voters despite his domination of the corporation and the St Johns and Hydes once more resumed the patronage.

Perhaps surprisingly, the corruption at Wootton Bassett never led to a major scandal or to any attempts to disfranchise the borough - unlike nearby Cricklade, which was "thrown into the hundred" for its misdemeanours in the 1770s, or Hindon which nearly suffered the same fate. However, the town was far too small to justify separate representation after the Great Reform Act, and the constituency was abolished in 1832. The town was within the penally-expanded boundaries of Cricklade, which retained both its MPs, and was thereafter part of that borough constituency.

Members of Parliament[edit]

1447-1640[edit]

Parliament First member Second member
1510–1523 No names known [1]
1529 Richard Tracy[2] Walter Winston [1]
1536  ?
1539  ?
1542  ?
1545 Edmund Brydges Hugh Westwood [1]
1547 John Seymour Robert Huick [1]
1553 (Mar) Gabriel Pleydell William Garrard [1]
1553 (Oct) Henry Poole John Throckmorton [1]
1554 (Apr) John Tull Giles Payne [1]
1554 (Nov) Giles Payne William Hampshire [1]
1555 Edmund Plowden Richard Bruning [1]
1558 Richard Bruning Humphrey Moseley [1]
1559 Christopher Dysmars Humphrey Moseley[3]
1562/3 John Hippisley, sat for Wells
replaced Jan 1563 by
Matthew Poyntz
Gabriel Pleydell [3]
1571 Henry Knyvet John Winchcombe [3]
1572 Henry Knyvet Edmund Dunch [3]
1584 Thomas Vavasour John Hungerford[3]
1586 Thomas Vavasour John Hungerford[3]
1589 Sir Henry Knyvet John Hungerford[3]
1593 John Hungerford William Meredith [3]
1597 Henry Dacre John Lowe [3]
1601 John Wentworth John Rice [3]
1604–1611 Henry Martin Alexander Tutt
1614 Sir William Willoughby Edward Hungerford
1621 Richard Harrison John Wrenham
1624 Sir Roland Egerton John Bankes
1625 Robert Hyde Sir Walter Tichborne
1626 Sir John Francklyn Sir Thomas Lake
1628 Sir John Francklyn Anthony Rowse
1629–1640 No Parliaments summoned

1640-1832[edit]

Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 Thomas Windebanke Edward Hyde
November 1640 William Pleydell Royalist Edward Poole Parliamentarian
February 1644 Pleydell disabled from sitting - seat vacant
1645 Edward Massie [4]
December 1648 Massie and Poole excluded in Pride's Purge - both seats vacant
1653 Unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Henry St John Robert Stevens
May 1659 Not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 John Pleydell Lord Herbert of Raglan
June 1660 Sir Baynham Throckmorton
1661 Sir Walter St John
February 1679 Laurence Hyde
August 1679 Henry St John
1681 John Pleydell
1689 John Wildman
1695 Thomas Jacob Henry Pinnell
1698 Henry St John
January 1701 Henry St John
November 1701 Thomas Jacob
1702 Henry Pinnell
1705 John Morton Pleydell
1706 Francis Popham
1708 Robert Cecil
October 1710 Henry St John [5] Richard Goddard
December 1710 Edmund Pleydell
1713 Richard Cresswell
1715 Sir James Long William Northey
1722 Colonel Robert Murray William Chetwynd
1727 John St John John Crosse
1734 Sir Robert Long Captain Nicholas Robinson
1741 Robert Neale John Harvey-Thursby
1747 Martin Madan
1754 John Probyn Thomas Estcourt Cresswell
1761 Major the Hon. Henry St John [6]
1774 Robert Scott
1780 William Strahan
1784 Hon. George North Hon. Robert Seymour Conway
1790 John Thomas Stanley The Viscount Downe
1796 John Denison Edward Clarke
July 1802 General the Hon. Henry St John Robert Williams
December 1802 Peter William Baker Tory
1806 Robert Knight Whig
1807 Sir John Murray Tory John Cheesment [7] Tory
1808 Benjamin Walsh [8]
1811 Robert Knight Whig
March 1812 John Attersoll Whig
October 1812 James Kibblewhite Whig
March 1813 Richard Ellison
April 1813 Robert Rickards
1816 William Taylor Money
1820 Horace Twiss Tory Sir George Philips Bt Whig
1830 Viscount Mahon Tory Thomas Hyde Villiers Whig
1831 Viscount Porchester Tory
1832 Constituency abolished

Notes

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  2. ^ s: Tracy, Richard (DNB00)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 2011-10-29. 
  4. ^ Massie was disabled from sitting in January 1648 but the order was revoked in June 1648
  5. ^ St John was also elected for Berkshire, which he chose to represent, and did not sit again for Wootton Bassett
  6. ^ Lieutenant Colonel 1762, Colonel 1776, Major General 1779
  7. ^ Later adopted the surname Severn
  8. ^ Expelled from the House, 5 March 1812, after conviction for attempting to defraud the Solicitor-General, Sir Thomas Plumer

References[edit]

  • Robert Beatson, A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) [1]
  • D Brunton & D H Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
  • John Cannon, Parliamentary Reform 1640-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [2]
  • Lewis Namier & John Brooke, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790 (London: HMSO, 1964)
  • T. H. B. Oldfield, The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1816)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Henry Stooks Smith, The Parliaments of England from 1715 to 1847 (2nd edition, edited by FWS Craig - Chichester: Parliamentary Reference Publications, 1973)
  • Frederic A Youngs, jr, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol I (London: Royal Historical Society, 1979)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "W" (part 5)[self-published source][better source needed]