Downton (UK Parliament constituency)

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Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of membersTwo

Downton was a parliamentary borough in Wiltshire, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1295 until 1832, when it was abolished by the Great Reform Act.


The borough consisted of part of the parish of Downton, a small town six miles south of Salisbury. By the 19th century, only about half of the town was within the boundaries of the borough, and the more prosperous section was excluded: at the 1831 census the borough had 166 houses and a tax assessment of £70, whereas the whole town consisted of 314 houses, and was assessed at £273.

Downton was a burgage borough, meaning that the right to vote rested solely with the freeholders of 100 specified properties or "burgage tenements"; it was not necessary to be resident on the tenement, or even in the borough, to exercise this right. Indeed, some of the tenements could not realistically be occupied, and one was in the middle of a watercourse. At the time of the Great Reform Act, The Earl of Radnor (who supported the Reform) told the House of Lords that he owned 99 of the 100 tenements — which, of course, gave him absolute power in choosing both the borough's MPs. Earlier, in the 18th century, the Duncombe family had been the owners.

Corruption was rife at 18th century elections in Downton, and the House of Commons at one point proposed to "throw it into the hundred", that is to extend the boundaries to include the whole of the Hundred of Downton and to abolish the restrictive franchise — one of the earliest examples of such a proposal being debated; however, the proposal was not adopted.

Although there was supposedly a property qualification to become an MP (borough MPs were required to have an annual income of at least £300 derived from the ownership of land), this was routinely ignored or evaded, and Downton offers a rare example of an English election being re-run because the victor lacked the qualification. On 11 June 1826 the poet Southey was elected MP for Downton, but he did not take his seat when Parliament assembled in July, and in November wrote to the Speaker: ''"Having while I was on the continent been, without my knowledge, elected a burgess to serve in the present Parliament for the borough of Downton, it has become my duty to take the earliest opportunity of requesting you to inform the honourable House that I am not qualified to take a seat therein, inasmuch as I am not possessed of such an estate as is required by the Act passed in the ninth year of Queen Anne." A by-election had to be held to replace him.

By 1831 the parish of Downton had a population of around 450, too small to retain representation after the Reform Act, and yet in the original Reform Bill it was proposed that Downton should lose only one of its two members, its boundaries being extended to include Fordingbridge, over the county border in Hampshire. However, the Earl of Radnor pushed for its complete disfranchisement as it would be too difficult to make even an extended borough free of the influence of himself and his family. (He also made it a condition of becoming MP for Downton that its members should vote for its abolition.) As this abolition of a Whig-owned borough was useful to the Whig government in demonstrating their even-handedness, they backed an amendment to move Downton into Schedule A, the list of boroughs that were to lose both seats; but the government majority in the Commons fell to 30 in the vote on the amendment, the narrowest of all the votes on the details of the eventual Act.

The Reform Act being passed, Downton ceased to be represented from the 1832 general election, those of its residents who were qualified voting instead in the county constituency of Southern Wiltshire.

Members of Parliament[edit]

MPs 1295–1640[edit]

Parliament First member Second member
1295–1298 John Spede Richard de la Sale
1298–1300 Reginald Dt. Aula John Whitthorn
1300–1304 Roger de Portsmouth Wh. Leicester
1304–1306 Roger le Large John Ervye
1306 John de Downton
1306–1311 Randolph Lavering John Spede
1311–1312 Robert le Wryere William Osgod
1312–1313 John le Cove John Arny
1313–1314 Walter Nymethalf Roger de Portsmouth
1314–1318 Nicholas de Mareshal William de Whytham
1318–1319 William Rotarius Henry le Drapier
1319–1323 ? Norreys Walter le Whlere
1323–1326 John Curtoys
1323–1325 Nicholas Laveryng
1325–1326 Nicholas de Cove
1326–1328 Edward de Tarante Nicholas de Becklesnade
1328 Henricus le Meyre
1328–1329 Stephanus de Regate Edwardus Taraunt
1360–1361 Ricardus Whithorn Johannes Meyer
1362–1364 Johannes Dryewods Willielmus Benert
1364–1365 Willielmus Wartier Johannes Willeymn
1413 (May) Johannes Brut Thomas Knyf
1441–1442 Johannes Whitesmede Ralph Legh
1446–1447 Johannes Brekenok Johannes Bailey
1448–1449 Johannes Lawley Andreas Sparowe
1449–1450 Johannes Rokes Robertus Tilleney
1450–1452 Walterus Bergn Johannes Wynge
1452–1455 Ralph Legh Thomas Wells
1455–1459 Edwardus Asshewell Willielmus Brigg
1459 Johannes Wolfe Thomas Danvers
1467 Thomas Wells Ralph Legh
1472–1477 Thomas Danvers Richard Jaye
1529 Nicholas Hare William Whorwood
1547 William Morice William Green
1553 (Mar) William Thomas Robert Warner
1553 (Oct) John Norris John Bekynsale
1554 (Apr) James Bassit John Norris
1554 (Nov) John Bekynsale William Barnes
1555 Henry White Thomas White
1558 Thomas White Thomas Girdler
1559 John Story Thomas Girdler
1562 Tristram Matthew Henry Kingsmill
1571 George Penruddocke Sir Henry Cocke
1572 William Darrell Edward St Loe
1584 Thomas Wilkes Richard Cosin
1586 Thomas Gorges Thomas Wilkes
1588 Richard Cosin Lawrence Tompson
1593 John Goldwell Thomas Willoughby
1597 Robert Turner George Powell
1601 Thomas Penruddock Sir Edward Barker
1604 Carew Raleigh William Stockman
1614 Gilbert Raleigh John Ryves
1621 Carew Raleigh Thomas Hinton
1624 Sir Clipsby Crew Sir William Dodington
1625 Sir Clipsby Crew Edward Herbert
1626 Edward Herbert Sir William Tremhall
1628–1629 Sir Benjamin Rudyerd Edward Herbert
1629–1640 No Parliaments summoned

MPs 1640–1832[edit]

Year First member First party Second member Second party
Apr 1640 Sir Edward Griffin Royalist William Eyre
November 1640 Sir Edward Griffin Royalist Seat vacant pending resolution
of disputed election
February 1644 Griffin disabled from sitting - seat vacant
1645 Alexander Thistlethwaite
December 1648 Thistlethwaite excluded in Pride's Purge - seat vacant
1653 Downton was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Colonel Thomas Fitzjames William Coles
May 1659 One seat vacant Vacant pending resolution of disputed election
January 1660 Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper
April 1660 Thomas Fitzjames William Coles
May 1660 Giles Eyre John Elliott
1661 Gilbert Raleigh Walter Bockland
1670 Sir Joseph Ashe
1675 Henry Eyre
February 1679 Maurice Bocland
1685 Sir Charles Raleigh
1695 Charles Duncombe Tory
February 1698 Maurice Bocland
May 1698 John Eyre Whig
July 1698 Carew Raleigh
1701 Sir James Ashe, 2nd Bt Whig
1702 Sir Charles Duncombe Tory
1705 John Eyre Whig
1711 Thomas Duncombe Tory
1713 John Sawyer
January 1715 Charles Longueville Tory
December 1715 by-election[2] Giles Eyre
1722 John Verney
1734 Anthony Duncombe Joseph Windham-Ashe
1741 John Verney
1742 by-election[3] Joseph Windham-Ashe
November 1746 by-election[4] George Proctor
June 1747 George Lyttelton[5]
December 1747 by-election[5] Richard Temple
November 1749 by-election[6] Colonel Henry Vane
April 1751 by-election[7] Thomas Duncombe
May 1753 by-election[8] James Hayes
1754 James Cope
1756 by-election[9] Edward Poore
1757 by-election[10] Charles Pratt
1761 James Hayes
February 1762 by-election[11] Thomas Pym Hales[12]
1768 Thomas Duncombe Richard Croftes
1771 by-election James Hayes
1774[13] Thomas Dummer
1775[13] John Cooper Sir Philip Hales
September 1779 by-election Thomas Duncombe
December 1779 by-election Hon. Bartholomew Bouverie[14]
February 1780[14] Bobby Shafto
September 1780 Hon. Henry Seymour-Conway
1784[15] Hon. William Seymour-Conway
1790 Hon. Bartholomew Bouverie Sir William Scott
1796 Hon. Edward Bouverie
March 1801 by-election[16] Viscount Folkestone
1802 Hon. John Ward Tory
June 1803 by-election[17] The Lord de Blaquiere Tory
August 1803 by-election Viscount Marsham Tory
1806 Hon. Bartholomew Bouverie Whig Hon. Duncombe Pleydell-Bouverie Whig
1807 Sir Thomas Plumer Tory
1812 Charles Henry Bouverie Whig
1813 by-election[18] Sir Thomas Brooke-Pechell Edward Golding
1818[19] Viscount Folkestone Whig Sir William Scott Tory
Feb 1819 by-election[19] Hon. Bartholomew Bouverie Whig Sir Thomas Brooke-Pechell Tory
June 1826 Thomas Grimston Estcourt[20] Tory Robert Southey[21] Tory
December 1826 by-election Hon. Bartholomew Bouverie Whig Alexander Powell Tory
1830 James Brougham Whig Charles Shaw-Lefevre Whig
May 1831 Thomas Creevey Whig
July 1831 by-election[22] Hon. Philip Pleydell-Bouverie Whig
1832 Constituency abolished


  1. ^ Sir Anthony Ashley Cooper was elected in 1640, but the election was disputed, and resolution of the dispute was delayed by the English Civil War. Cooper was not admitted to sit until January 1660.
  2. ^ The by-election in December 1715 was caused by the death of John Eyre
  3. ^ The by-election in 1742 was caused by the death of John Verney
  4. ^ The by-election in November 1746 was caused by the death of Joseph Windham-Ashe
  5. ^ a b At the 1747 general election, George Lyttelton was also elected for Okehampton, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Downton. A by-election was held in Downton in December 1747
  6. ^ The by-election in November 1749 was caused by the death of Richard Temple
  7. ^ The by-election in April 1751 was caused by the death of George Proctor
  8. ^ The by-election in May 1753 was caused by the resignation of Colonel Henry Vane to contest a by-election for County Durham
  9. ^ The by-election in December 1756 was caused by the death of James Cope
  10. ^ The by-election in July 1757 was caused by the resignation of James Hayes
  11. ^ The by-election in February 1762 was caused by the resignation of Charles Pratt, who had been appointed as Lord Chief Justice
  12. ^ Thomas Pym Hales succeeded as baronet in December 1762
  13. ^ a b At the 1774 general election, Duncombe and Dummer were initially declared the victors, but on petition it was decided that they had not been duly elected and their opponents, Cooper and Hales, were declared elected in their place
  14. ^ a b On petition it was decided that Bouverie had not been duly elected and his opponent, Shafto, was declared elected in his place
  15. ^ At the general election in April 1784, there was a double return. Seymour-Conway, Bouverie and Scott were declared not elected on 19 July 1784 with only Shafto being declared duly elected. A by-election for the vacant seat was held on 26 July 1784, when another double return was made: Seymour-Conway and Bouverie. Seymour-Conway was declared elected on 11 March 1785
  16. ^ The by-election in March 1801 was caused by the resignation of Sir William Scott to stand at a by-election for Oxford University
  17. ^ The by-election in June 1803 was caused by the resignation of Hon. Edward Bouverie
  18. ^ The by-election in April 1813 was caused by the resignation of Bouverie and the appointment of Plumer as Vice Chancellor
  19. ^ a b At the 1818 general election, both of the successful candidates in Downton were also returned for other sears, for which they chose to sit: Viscount Folkestone for Salisbury and Scott for Oxford University. A by-election was held for both seats in February 1819
  20. ^ At the general election in June 1826 Estcourt was also elected for Oxford University and chose to sit for the university
  21. ^ The poet laureate Robert Southey was proposed and elected without his knowledge, and declined to sit on the grounds that he did not meet the property qualification to be a borough MP
  22. ^ The July 1831 by-election was caused by the resignation of Brougham to contest a by-election for Winchelsea


  • Robert Beatson, A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) [1]
  • Michael Brock, The Great Reform Act (London: Hutchinson, 1973)
  • D Brunton & D H Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [2]
  • Lewis Namier, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (2nd edition, London: St Martin's Press, 1961)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 — England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Edward Porritt and Annie G Porritt, The Unreformed House of Commons (Cambridge University Press, 1903)
  • Woodford, A.R. Notes on the history of Downton, collected and arranged (Downton, nd)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "D" (part 3)