A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 6. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1962.
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Two burgesses represented Wilton at the Parliament of 1295 and from thence onwards, almost without a break, the borough was regularly represented by two members until 1832. (fn. 1) In 1832 the number of representatives was reduced to one, but Wilton was not finally disfranchised until 1918. (fn. 2)
Little is known about the occupations of the parliamentary burgesses of Wilton, at least before the 15th century, but the available evidence suggests that the trading element was strongly represented; John Picot, for example, who represented Wilton in the Parliaments of 1304–5, 1309 and 1314–15, was a goldsmith, (fn. 3) Walter Colkyng, one of the parliamentary burgesses in 1302, was a merchant, (fn. 4) and William le Fox, representing Wilton in 1357–58 was a dyer. (fn. 5) Many of the 14th-century representatives can be identified as holders of burgages within the borough and as elected borough officers; Hugh Coterel, representing Wilton 1299–1300 and 1304–5, was a burgager, (fn. 6) and between 1306 and 1328 the borough was often represented by William Coterel; John le Mons, representative in 1302, and William of Warminster, 1306–7, were also burgagers; Richard Belejambe, who sat for Wilton in 1309 and 1314–15, was one of the mayors of Wilton, as was Robert Sireman in 1337, and Robert Gilbert in 1346. The 14th-century evidence as a whole suggests that at that period the parliamentary burgesses were all men whose interests were centred in the borough and its suburbs; nearly all of them can be identified as of Wilton, and many were also prominent in town affairs. (fn. 7)
In the course of the 15th century Wilton, like the other Wiltshire boroughs, came more and more frequently to be represented by men who were not in the strict sense burgesses, (fn. 8) and were not even resident in the borough. Indeed, it was only the most outstanding of the Wilton burgesses who represented their borough in the 15th century; John Whithorne, member between 1414 and 1423, (fn. 9) was receiver of the Duke of Bedford, and was an escheator and coroner, and his son Richard Whithorne of Wilton, member in 1435 and 1439–40 was styled a gentleman; John atte Fenne of Wilton, member in 1426, 1442, and 1455–6 was a prominent borough official, and stood as mainpernor for the Wilton burgesses in 1449; John Browne, almost certainly a lawyer, (fn. 10) was also a member of the council of twelve in 1455; John Mundy, sometime mayor, was a merchant of some importance, (fn. 11) and Robert Fenne (probably the son of John Fenne), who represented Wilton many times between 1450 and 1492, was a lawyer and many times mayor.
As the century progressed, more and more frequently merchants, lawyers, and lesser gentry of Salisbury and the surrounding countryside sought election as members for Wilton. (fn. 12) John Willy (member 1439–40) was a draper of Salisbury. (fn. 13) William Kayser (1449–50) came from East Harnham. John Cole and Robert Newman (both 1459) were of Salisbury. Others came from further afield as did William Baker (1478), gentleman of Devizes and Wells (Som.), Thomas Hall (between 1484 and 1486), gentleman and mill-owner of Trowbridge, and Christopher Dillington (1489–90), of Tollard Royal. George Howder, or Houton (1447), of Marston Meysey, William Stephens (1467–8), of Winterbourne Stoke and London, and Michael Skylling (1489–90), of Salisbury and Lainston (Hants), were all lawyers. John Uffenham (1442, 1445–6, 1447, 1449–50, 1451–2), gentleman and lawyer of Heytesbury, (fn. 14) purchased land in Wilton, and was mayor in 1441–2, and his son was elected burgess in 1466–7.
Other influences remote from local politics also made themselves felt; the Lancastrian John Mompesson, of Bathampton, represented Wilton in 1453–4 and 1470–1, and the other member in 1453–4 was Richard Pratt, a yeoman of the Crown; in 1455–6, and again in 1460–1 and 1463–5, Wilton was represented by Giles Dacre, servant of Lord Stourton, and John Whittokesmead, who sat for many different constituencies and was member for Wilton in 1463–5, 1467–8, and 1470–1, was an exescheator, serjeant-at-arms and also bailiff of the Bishop of Salisbury; (fn. 15) Henry Uvedale (1491–2), came from nearby Barford St. Martin and was also said to be of Corfe (Dors.); he was an official of the royal household and one time Customer of Poole. The influence of the abbey was surprisingly small although it is possible to identify John Pole, member in 1461–2, 1472–5, and 1478, as a servant of the nuns. The general character of representation in Wilton, as elsewhere, had thus undergone a change in the course of the 15th century, and the succeeding centuries were to witness an ever-increasing pressure of special interests unrelated to the borough in determining the parliamentary representation of Wilton.
Wilton was still occasionally represented by merchants in the 16th century; in 1553, for example, it was represented by Nicholas Chowne, merchant, and by Henry Crede, (fn. 16) merchant and clothier of Bulbridge; Crede continued to represent Wilton until 1558. But generally there was surprisingly little direct connexion with the leading clothiers of the period. But from the mid-16th century onwards and increasingly in the succeeding centuries, the dominant factor in the parliamentary representation of Wilton was the Pembroke interest. (fn. 17) This was not without material advantage to Wilton; in 1661 William Gauntlett wrote to John Nicholas urging him not to decline Wilton until he was sure of Salisbury, and promising to entertain the poor handsomely at the election; (fn. 18) but at the same time threats were also used, for it was stated that, if John Nicholas were chosen for Salisbury, Wilton would have to put in someone chosen by the high sheriff, who had threatened otherwise to remove the county court to Devizes; (fn. 19) and Peter Bathurst's threat in 1710 to deprive Wilton flannel workers of their supply of blue clay has already been mentioned. (fn. 20) Generally, however, Wilton secured only material benefit from the political influences and the corporation actually set on record the benevolent deeds and gifts of Sir John Birkenhead, a Master of the Court of Requests, and member for Wilton at the beginning of the reign of Charles II; they instanced how in 1666 at the personal cost of at least £62 Sir John had secured for the borough the grant of two fairs, and how he had obtained the return of the county court from Devizes to Wilton, as well as making gifts to the poor, and feasting the mayor and corporation. (fn. 21)
As a small borough dominated by a single influence, Wilton was suspect to the advocates of Parliamentary Reform and the report of the parliamentary surveyors in 1832 revealed some of the anomalies in need of correction. (fn. 22) In the past thirty years there had been no contested election, and the greatest number of electors had not exceeded twenty, seven of them resident in the borough, one in the parish, and twelve within three miles of the borough. Even after Wilton became a single member constituency in 1832, constituted as it was, it still could not meet the requirements of the £10 householder franchise. The number of houses in the borough had increased from 299 in 1821 to 316 in 1831, but the total number of houses in the parish had remained constant at 405. The borough and town together contained, however, only 100 houses of the value of £10 a year, and it was considered necessary to make up a constituency of near 300 houses of the required value by additions from neighbouring parishes. The scheme for the remodelled parliamentary borough brought the number of houses worth £10 a year up to 299, and included beyond the borough and parish of Wilton all or part of the parishes of Burcombe, Barford St. Martin, South Newton, Wishford, Woodford, Great Durnford, Stratford-sub-Castle, Britford, West Harnham, Homington, Coombe Bissett, Stratford Tony, Bishopstone, Compton Chamberlayne, Netherhampton, and Fisherton Anger. No more could be obtained without trespassing on the adjacent frontiers of Salisbury or taking in the parish of Laverstock.