Wisbech: Corporation elections

Page 259

A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 4, City of Ely; Ely, N. and S. Witchford and Wisbech Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2002.

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The annual election of the capital burgesses was made an excuse for festivities. At first they were modest. In 1617, for example, an expenditure of only 3s. 3d., which included bread, beer, and a fire in the common hall, was incurred. (fn. 1) After the Restoration they became more elaborate. (fn. 2) In 1671 £2 13s. 6d. was spent on wine and 3s. 10d. on beer, as well as 37s. 6d. for eatables and 12s. 4d. for tobacco and pipes 'for one whole year. (fn. 3) It is therefore not surprising to learn that this feast had by 1679 proved 'of inconveniancye to the Townshipp by retardin the election . . . and sometimes produced quarrellings and undecent language in the neighbourhood'. For this reason, and because the election that year was to fall on a Sunday, the feast was ordered to be discontinued unless and until future capital burgesses decided otherwise. (fn. 4) In the event, it was revived the following year (1680) at a maximum cost of £8, and in 1757 the provision of wine was limited to 25 gallons. (fn. 5) The free distribution of food and drink to electors was finally abolished in 1767, (fn. 6) but the prevalence of 'treating' in connexion with the annual elections still provoked controversy in 1812. The following year a Mr. Marshall put an anti-treating resolution before the candidates for election as capital burgess. Fourteen of the twenty candidates signed, but five of the burgesses actually elected did not do so, and the controversy smouldered on for several more years. (fn. 7)


  • 1. Ibid. iv, 9a.
  • 2. It was perhaps this increasing expenditure that led six of the capital burgesses in 1668 to seek to amend the charter so as to convert the Corporation into a self-perpetuating body (see above, p: 257).
  • 3. Corp. Rec. iv, 176a.
  • 4. Ibid. 207b.
  • 5. Ibid. vi.
  • 6. Ibid.; Walker and Craddock, Hist. Wisb. 325.
  • 7. Diary of Rev. J. Jackson, 7-8 Nov. 1812, 2 Nov. 1813 and subsequent years (Wisb. Mus.).