A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Parliamentary elections played a large part in the economic and social life of Beverley throughout the period. The right to return two members of parliament evidently passed from the corporation to the whole body of freemen in the late 17th century. (fn. 1) The town had one of the largest electorates in the country, an unusually high proportion of its adult male residents having the right to vote. In 1727, when 809 freemen voted, 688 of them were apparently Beverley residents, that is over 20 per cent of the population. (fn. 2) As the century progressed the number of voters increased, but the proportion that were Beverley residents decreased, as did their percentage of the town's population; at the 1802 election residents accounted for 767 of the 1,296 voters, or some 14 per cent of the inhabitants. (fn. 3) At the election of 1832, the first after the Reform Act which disfranchised the nonresident voters and gave the vote to £10 householders, of whom there were 138, the 971 voters represented 13 per cent of the population. (fn. 4) That was still a high figure compared with the national average of under 5 per cent. (fn. 5)
The political domination of the town by the Warton and Hotham families which had been evident in the 17th century continued throughout the first third of the 18th, but their influence declined with the retirement of Sir Michael Warton in 1722 and his death three years later and the death of Sir Charles Hotham, Bt., in 1723. No members of the Hotham family represented the town after 1738 and although Warton's heirs, the Newtons, Pelhams, and Pennymans, usually provided at least one member from their own ranks up to 1796 their return was not without opposition. The 'Bar interest', so called from the house at North bar where the Wartons had lived, was based on the ownership of a large estate in the town which the Pelhams retained until the beginning of the 19th century. It still required considerable expenditure at election time, however, for the interest to be sure of success. (fn. 6)
The treating of voters was evidently a well established custom by 1722, when Michael Newton spent £131 on the freemen at 26 inns in the town. Other expenses included payments for votes and for the freedoms of voters. (fn. 7) In 1784 the expenses of Sir Christopher Sykes, Bt., amounted to £2,829, of which £753 went on innkeepers' services, £703 on general expenses, £672 on cash payments, £513 on ribbons, £83 on voters' freedoms, £53 on his own freedom, and the same sum to his agents. (fn. 8) By the 19th century c. £3,000 seems to have been the usual cost of standing in a Beverley election. In 1830, for example, Henry Burton spent almost £3,300, of which £940 was paid to Beverley innkeepers, £323 for ribbons, and £287 for musicians. Another major item was the payment of £650 to outvoters, who became an increasingly numerous part of the electorate. (fn. 9) John Stewart's election in 1826 had been secured partly with the support of at least 212 outvoters, at a cost of £610. (fn. 10) In 1832 Charles Langdale's expenses were also c. £3,000. (fn. 11) In view of the great cost of fighting a Beverley election, it is hardly surprising that John Wharton spent the last 15 years of his life in straightened circumstances after long service as the town's representative. (fn. 12)
Expenditure by M.P.s did not end with their election, for treating was expected by the freemen at the mayor-choosing and at Christmas and the corporation made frequent calls on members to subscribe to the poor or to public works such as the market cross. (fn. 13) In the years 1785-90 Sir Christopher Sykes, Bt., spent over £650, including £50 towards flagging the streets in 1786 and over £20 a year on coal for poor freemen. Sykes had, moreover, on his election been required by the corporation to undertake to pay each year £10 to the master of the grammar school, £25 for the races, and 5 guineas to the Charity school, besides providing a buck and a doe for the mayor's table. A month later he had been reminded that it was also customary for the member to provide the mayor with the St. James's Chronicle. (fn. 14)
Party politics apparently played little part in Beverley elections until late in the 18th century. The political sympathies of the members seemed to matter little to the electors, who were willing to vote Whig or Tory depending on the size of the purse. The increased politicization of the town owed much to the election in 1790 of John Wharton, an active Whig with radical views. Wharton, who was to dominate the political life of Beverley for some 40 years, came from a minor county family of Skelton Castle (Yorks. N.R.) and had changed his name from that of Hall on succeeding to the considerable fortune and estates of an aunt. He was a prominent but moderate member of the Constitutional Society in the 1790s, besides being a member of the Friends of the People and of the Friends of the Liberty of the Press. In parliament he was a staunch supporter of the abolition of slavery and favoured relief for Roman Catholics and constitutional and parliamentary reform. (fn. 15) His resounding success in the 1790 election gained him a considerable popular following in Beverley and his overt political position led to the development of clear Whig and Tory factions in the town. (fn. 16)
The financial benefits that a contested election brought to the town and the voters led to every effort being made to secure enough candidates for a contest. The general election of 1701 was contested, and only 5 of the 24 general elections and none of the 4 byelections after 1722 went uncontested. (fn. 17) In 1701 the sitting members, the brothers Sir Michael and Sir Ralph Warton, both Tories, were opposed by Sir Charles Hotham, Bt., and his father-in-law, William Gee, for the Whigs. Gee topped the poll and Sir Michael Warton secured the second seat. At the general election in 1702 Hotham and Gee were returned unopposed, as were Hotham and his relative John Moyser in 1705. Sir Michael Warton, who had supported Moyser, was once again returned, with Hotham, in 1708 and both represented the town without further contest until 1722, when Warton passed his interest to his nephew Michael Newton of Haydor (Lines.). (fn. 18)
Warton's retirement provided the opportunity for Ellerker Bradshaw of Risby, in Rowley, to attempt to break the Warton-Hotham control of the Beverley seats. He stood at the general election of 1722 but was defeated by Newton and Hotham, and after Hotham's death in 1723 he lost the byelection to Hotham's son, also Sir Charles Hotham, Bt. Bradshaw was undeterred and at the general election of 1727 he was at last elected, along with Charles Pelham of Brocklesby (Lines.), who had replaced his cousin Michael Newton in the Warton interest. Sir Charles Hotham, who was defeated despite his active cultivation of the corporation and careful canvassing, petitioned against Bradshaw alleging gross corruption. Bradshaw was unseated in 1729, his agents at Beverley were imprisoned, and the 'scandalous practices' revealed led directly to the passing of the 1729 Bribery Act. (fn. 19)
At the next general election in 1734 Hotham surprisingly joined forces with Bradshaw as a fellow Whig and convincingly defeated the Tory candidate, Pelham. There was no indication that the result reflected the political views of the electorate and in 1738, at the byelection caused by Hotham's death, Pelham was narrowly returned in a contest with Sir Robert Hildyard, Bt. Far more votes were cast for Pelham at the following general election in 1741, when he and a fellow Tory, William Strickland of Beverley, defeated Bradshaw. (fn. 20)
The death of Bradshaw in 1742 was no doubt partly responsible for there being no contest at the general election in 1747, when Pelham was returned with Sir William Codrington, Bt., a West Indian plantation owner and a relative of the Bethells of Rise. At the general election of 1754 the Beverley voters were more fortunate, for a third candidate, John Tufnell, a wealthy Essex landowner with some east Yorkshire property, appeared with an open purse. Codrington stood again but Pelham retired in favour of his relative Michael Newton, nephew and heir of Michael Newton, the member in 1722. Despite the belief that the return of both members was firmly vested in Pelham and 'the adjacent country gentlemen', Newton was decisively defeated, demonstrating the fragility of the Bar interest in the face of lavish treating. (fn. 21)
Before the next election both Codrington and Tufnell decided to stand down, the latter in favour of his brother George. At the end of 1760 Tufnell and Newton successfully canvassed the town and in 1761 they were returned unopposed. (fn. 22) Another uncontested election took place in 1768, when Newton gave up the Bar interest to C. A. Pelham (formerly Charles Anderson) and Tufnell withdrew on the decision of Hugh Bethell of Rise to stand. (fn. 23) Bethell's death in 1772 caused a hasty byelection, in which Sir Griffith Boynton, Bt., of Burton Agnes easily defeated Tufnell, who had declared his candidature only an hour before the poll. (fn. 24) Tufnell regained the seat at the general election of 1774, however, when Sir James Pennyman, Bt., another of the Warton heirs, was also returned. Pennyman lived in the Hall, Lairgate, and as M.P. for Scarborough had earlier helped the corporation in its opposition to a Bill for bridging the river Hull at Stoneferry. For his 'assiduous attention' he had been granted the freedom of the borough in 1772 and later that year was elected mayor. The unsuccessful candidate in 1774 was Sir Charles Thompson (formerly Hotham), Bt., who was invited to stand by 'the gentlemen of the county and all the principal inhabitants of the town'. Thompson recorded that Pennyman was returned in the Bar interest and that the contest was really between himself, supported by 'the respectable people', and Tufnell, who had 'all the rabble'; the poll showed that Thompson did indeed get the votes of the aldermen and Tufnell most of those of the shoemakers and labourers. (fn. 25)
At the general election in 1780 Pennyman and Francis Anderson, the latter supported by his brother C. A. Pelham, were returned without a contest. Sir Charles Thompson was asked by the prime minister, Lord North, and others to stand but he refused. In 1784 a new opponent to the Bar interest was found in Sir Christopher Sykes, Bt., and after great expenditure he was returned just ahead of Pennyman, with Anderson in third place. The Pelhams' involvement continued, however, and in 1789, with Earl Fitzwilliam's encouragement, C. A. Pelham chose the Whig John Wharton as his candidate. (fn. 26) In 1790 Wharton had a resounding victory at the general election, receiving 908 votes from the 1,069 voters, including a high proportion of the working-class and London voters. Pennyman, who came second with 460 votes, received support from Wharton's friends, who preferred him to the wealthy landowner William Tatton Egerton, standing in the interest of his brother-in-law Sir Christopher Sykes. (fn. 27)
Pelham, who was created Baron Yarborough in 1794, withdrew his support from Wharton when their views diverged over the war with France, and at the 1796 election he backed instead the American-born Col. (later Gen.) N. C. Burton of Hull Bank House, in Cottingham, who was returned unopposed with a fellow Pittite, William Tatton, son of Egerton and nephew by marriage of Sir Christopher Sykes. In the byelection of 1799 caused by Tatton's death Wharton stood as an independent, opposed by J. B. S. Morritt of Rokeby Park (Yorks. N.R.), who enjoyed Lord Yarborough's support. (fn. 28) On Wharton's arrival four days before the election he was saluted by the mob, who removed the horses from his carriage and pulled him through the town. Each day, as he canvassed, he was accompanied by 'a great number of people with flambeaus, drums, and callers' who were 'a terror to every inhabitant . . . who was not of his side, I never see a mob so desperate as they was for him'. The uproar was at its greatest at the poll but Morritt was returned with a comfortable majority. (fn. 29) At the general election in 1802, which was in contrast very quiet, Wharton avenged his defeat, heading the poll once again, with Burton retaining the other seat. Morritt declared that he was beaten by a combination of bribery and mobbing which 'entirely defeated the interest the gentlemen and Lord Yarborough gave me, which entre nous is not worth having, as I found to my cost'. (fn. 30)
Morritt was not prepared to meet the expense of another Beverley election and in 1806 there was difficulty in finding a contestant for Wharton and Burton. The former had regained the support of Lord Yarborough which Burton lost for opposing the government in parliament. A third man was eventually found in Gen. Richard Vyse, commander of the Yorkshire military district, who had been based in Beverley since 1804. Wharton once again headed the poll, with Vyse in second place 'almost without knowing that he was a candidate'. Burton, angered by his defeat, blamed Wharton and fought a bloodless duel with him. (fn. 31) Another general election followed in 1807. Vyse stood down for his son Richard, who received 1,010 votes from 1,203 voters, beating Wharton into second place; the third man Philip Staple stood on an anti-Catholic platform and had little support. Staple's consequent petition for bribery was unsuccessful, although Vyse is known to have paid all but 78 of those who voted for him at the rate of £3 8s. for a plumper and £1 14s. for a split vote. (fn. 32)
The expense of frequent elections severely affected Wharton and there were many rumours of his insolvency. He nevertheless successfully contested Beverley again in 1812, when the other candidates were Charles Forbes, a recently returned Bombay merchant, and the American-born William Beverley, an alderman and former mayor of Beverley, who stood solely to ensure a contest. Beverley, a Tory, came bottom of the poll, as he did again in 1818. The other candidates in 1818 were Wharton and Dymoke Wells, both Whigs, and R. C. Burton, a Tory, of Hotham Hall, in North Cave, the son of Gen. Burton. Wharton was elected with Burton, who was imprisoned in the Fleet for debt and had to be represented at the poll by his uncle. (fn. 33)
Unlike Wharton, Burton had little popular support and when he unwillingly stood again in 1820 he received only 71 votes, compared with 669 at the previous election. (fn. 34) His nomination was almost certainly made solely to promote a contest, for he had no money with which to fight, unlike his fellow Tory, the wealthy landowner G. L. Fox. Wharton, who was again in great financial difficulties, was the third candidate and in what was virtually a straight fight with Fox he received only 657 votes against an impressive 1,038 for Fox from 1,278 voters. That was Wharton's last successful election at Beverley: his defeat in 1826 and his enforced retirement from politics after representing the town for much of the period since 1790 demonstrated clearly that in Beverley political loyalty counted for little without substantial financial backing. The two successful candidates in 1826 were both wealthy Tory outsiders, John Stewart, who was related to the former member Charles Forbes, and C. H. Batley, who stood in G. L. Fox's interest.
Neither of the retiring members stood at the election in 1830, when parliamentary reform was becoming a key issue. Three new candidates were proposed: Henry Burton, a Tory, of Hotham Hall, the son-in-law and brother-in-law of former members, Capel Cure, a wealthy Tory landowner from Essex, and the retiring Whig member for Hull, Daniel Sykes of Raywell, in Cottingham. Sykes sought to attract the former supporters of his friend Wharton and resolved against any great expense on the election. Unlike his fellow candidates he refused to pay the £210 demanded by the corporation for the freedom of the borough, and possibly as a result only one alderman voted for him. He did not pay voting money but gave substantial expenses to the outvoters, whose support was crucial in securing him second place to Burton.
Sykes did not serve for long, retiring in bad health before the general election of 1831, when his place was taken by the Whig industrialist William Marshall of Leeds. The other candidates were Burton, an avowed supporter of the Reform Bill, and a Tory opponent to reform, the landowner Charles Winn of Nostell Priory (Yorks. W.R.). Marshall, who topped the poll, received the single votes of many non-resident freemen and Burton came second.
At the 1832 election Burton and Winn stood again, but Marshall retired and was replaced in the Liberal interest by a local landowner, Charles Langdale of Houghton Hall, in Sancton. Langdale, a Roman Catholic and thus a surprising candidate for such a protestant borough, nevertheless after great expense headed the poll, with Burton second. Winn blamed his defeat on a 'dishonourable coalition' between Langdale and Burton. Finance rather than politics once again determined the result of the election in 1835, Langdale retired rather than face the expense and corruption of an election and the Liberals eventually secured the candidature of Joseph Sykes of Kirk Ella, the nephew of the former member Daniel Sykes. Burton also stood, again advocating reform, and the Tories brought in J. W. Hogg, a wealthy East India Company director, who openly treated the electors and so topped the poll, with 62 per cent of his votes being plumpers. Sykes, who had spent over £600, came a disillusioned third. (fn. 35)