A History of the County of Essex: Volume 9, the Borough of Colchester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1994.
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TOWN GOVERNMENT AND POLITICS
THE town was governed by an assembly under charters of 1693, 1763, and 1818. (fn. 1) The charter of 1693 became inoperative in 1741 after litigation removed members of the assembly from office. A new assembly was appointed by the charter of 1763; when that was similarly threatened in 1816, another charter was granted. The charter of 1693 nominated 12 aldermen, 18 assistants, and 18 common councilmen, who together formed the assembly. One of the aldermen was nominated mayor by the charter for the year 1693-4; thereafter the mayor was elected annually by the aldermen from two of their number, who had been nominated by the freemen. Aldermen, assistants, and common councilmen held office for life (fn. 2) unless they resigned or were removed for non-residence, non-attendance, or misdemeanour, (fn. 3) as in 1719 when all but two common councilmen surrendered their places or were removed for being non-resident or unsworn. (fn. 4) To fill a vacancy the assembly chose a common councilman from two men nominated by the freemen, the freemen chose an assistant from among the common councilmen, and the assembly chose an alderman from two assistants nominated by the freemen. The charter of 1693 also nominated a recorder, who acted as legal adviser and often appointed a deputy, and a high steward, whose office was largely honorary. On death or resignation their successors were to be chosen by the assembly and the freemen. There were usually two or more candidates for every vacancy. Fines for refusal to accept office were set in 1719 at £5 for an alderman, £3 for an assistant, and 30s. for a common councilman. (fn. 5) For declining the mayoralty Thomas Wilshire was fined £40 in 1782, and Sir Robert Smyth £105 in 1784. Wilshire's fine was later mitigated to £29 8s., the sum which the corporation owed him. (fn. 6) A headman chosen annually for each of the four wards by the freemen appointed five others to join with him to form a body of 24 for the borough to elect 2 coroners, 4 keykeepers, and a chamberlain from among the assembly. The mayor, his predecessor, his deputy, the recorder and his deputy, and two aldermen chosen annually by the 24 served as justices of the peace. (fn. 7) The mayor and aldermen served, with other men who were not members of the assembly, on two statutory bodies, the workhouse corporation and the navigation and improvement commission. (fn. 8) They also chose the 16 sons of freemen to be taught in the grammar school, and with the freemen elected the master. (fn. 9) The corporation was trustee of Sir Thomas White's loan charity. (fn. 10)
Men were admitted to the freedom of the borough by right of patrimony or apprenticeship, and occasionally by purchase. (fn. 11) In 1812 freedom by service was restricted to apprentices of resident freemen. (fn. 12) Members of parliament and a few other eminent men were granted honorary freedom. (fn. 13) In the mid 18th century there were, in an estimated population of 8,500, (fn. 14) more than 1,120 resident freemen (fn. 15) and about a quarter of those might have official roles, including service as jurymen, in the borough. (fn. 16) Freemen who were resident, self-employed, ratepaying heads of families, other than butchers, bakers, brewers, and alehousekeepers, were eligible for and could be involved in election of all ranks of the assembly. Men convicted of felony, adultery, fornication, drunkenness, or blasphemy were specifically excluded from voting. (fn. 17) Resident freemen were jealous of rights which gave them not only the franchise and a role in town government, but pasture rights on half year lands, the right to send their sons to the grammar school and elect the master, and trading advantages over non-freemen, known as 'foreigners'. (fn. 18) They expected the assembly to defend those rights and were vociferous in demanding them. (fn. 19)
While the mayor and aldermen were the most powerful men in town government, all members of the assembly served on committees and filled borough offices. Promotion was not by seniority and some common councilmen never became assistants. Between 1715 and 1742, of 170 members of the assembly 38 rose to be aldermen and 15 of those became mayor. Between 1763 and 1835, of 206 members of the assembly 72 became aldermen and 39 mayor. Occasionally places were left vacant to allow promotion from freeman to alderman in one day of men, usually chosen for financial or political reasons, who were elected mayor soon afterwards and sometimes held the office for several terms. The method was used for Arthur Winsley (1719), John Blatch (1727), Samuel Ennew and Thomas Bayles (1764), William Argent, William Swinborne, Edmund Lilley, and Edward Capstack (1785), William Bunnell and William Phillips (1793-4), William Sparling and William Smith (1799), and James Boggis (1802). Argent, Lilley, Capstack, and Bunnell had been made honorary freemen shortly before their election to the assembly. (fn. 20)
Membership of the corporation and office-holding reveal the influence of family, religious, trade, and political relationships within the town. The gentry families of Creffield, Rebow, Wegg, Martin, and Round lived in or near Colchester and their involvement in borough institutions discouraged incursion by outside landed interests. (fn. 21) In the early 19th century the conduct of a faction within the corporation deterred some gentlemen from involvement in its affairs. (fn. 22) In the 18th century nonconformists were represented in the corporation roughly in proportion, about one fifth, to their presence in the population. (fn. 23) Their numbers on the corporation probably declined with the fortunes of the Whig party, and in 1834 it was said that, although nonconformists numbered a third of the population, there was none on the assembly. (fn. 24) Manufacturers and tradesmen formed the majority of the governing group, but the corporation usually included a number of professional men. (fn. 25) Among them were attorneys such as Edmund Raynham, Charles Gray, Samuel Ennew, William Mayhew, father and son, William Mason, (fn. 26) and Francis Smythies, father and son, whose influence as town clerks was strengthened by their role as legal advisers and agents of the gentry and tradesmen. The Smythies were seen as managers of the ruling group within the corporation in the late 18th and early 19th century, and their ubiquitous legal practice gave rise to popular suspicion of self-interest. (fn. 27) Frequent parliamentary elections stimulated political activity within the borough; 11 of the 33 elections held in the period 1714-1832 gave rise to allegations of partiality against the mayor or other borough official as returning officer. (fn. 28) The corporation's constitution was exploited throughout the period for political ends, and the complexity of its finances attracted allegations of extravagance and corruption. (fn. 29)
Assemblies were usually held at least four times a year, attended by 25-30 of the 48 members. Ad hoc committees were appointed mainly on financial matters such as debts, loans, and leases, but occasionally on such matters as encroachments and bridge maintenance. (fn. 30) A committee of aldermen audited the chamberlain's accounts. (fn. 31) In the 1780s that committee comprised eight men drawn from the assembly at large, and in 1818 all members of that body were entitled to attend meetings of a committee investigating accounts. (fn. 32)
The workhouse corporation, comprising the mayor and aldermen and 48 elected guardians, 12 from each of the four wards, operated a unified system of poor relief with a borough workhouse. The corporation also seems to have taken over the parish almshouses. Rates were levied and paid to a treasurer. He distributed money to two payers who paid outdoor relief on production of vouchers issued by twelve assistants who heard applications for poor relief every three weeks at the borough workhouse. In 1724 there were 40-50 children at the workhouse carding and spinning wool for baymaking; they were allowed 'the best of meat' three times a week, and 'the best butter and cheese' on other days. A large section of the workhouse was an infirmary for the old and infirm; they were attended by a nurse but were on fixed allowances and expected to do the same work as the children or other work of their choice. (fn. 33)
The corporation was assiduous in celebrating royal occasions and sending loyal addresses. The mayor, attended by members of the assembly in their gowns, processed to church at Easter, Whitsun, Michaelmas, and Christmas, on occasions of supplication or thanksgiving, and for charity sermons. (fn. 34) There were four sessions dinners each year and four for the grand jury. Although in 1715 the grand jury, having presented the chamberlain for not providing dinner, were warned not to repeat the complaint, the dinners were accounted for regularly. (fn. 35) Following the grant of new charters in 1763 and 1818 members of the assembly were ordered to provide themselves with gowns to be worn on public days. From 1818 failure to wear a gown incurred a fine of 5s., and aldermen were fined 5s., assistants 3s., and councilmen 2s. 6d. for not attending on the mayor when summoned. (fn. 36) The town mace, remade in 1730, (fn. 37) was a source of civic pride. (fn. 38) The borough's records were, in theory, kept securely in a locked chest, and a muniment room in the moot hall had been provided by 1748. (fn. 39) They were in fact sometimes dispersed among the borough's officers or their executors, and the corporation occasionally had difficulty in retrieving them. (fn. 40) Thomas Glascock, dismissed as town clerk in 1715, retained books and papers in defiance of the corporation until he was threatened with imprisonment in 1724. (fn. 41) Admission books, containing the freemen lists, were found in 1755 to have been mutilated. (fn. 42) The borough's ceremonial year began at Michaelmas with a dinner given by the new mayor, followed in October by the proclamation of St. Dennis's fair. (fn. 43) In 1814 a public breakfast at the Three Cups on the opening day of the fair was attended by c. 100 of the local gentry. It was followed by dinner at the White Hart, a performance at the theatre, and, the next day, a ball and supper at the White Hart. (fn. 44) The borough's jurisdiction in the river Colne was proclaimed at the closing and opening of the fishery in April and September. (fn. 45) The celebrations at the opening seem to have become more elaborate after the grant of the new charter in 1818, when the corporation and neighbouring gentry dined at the Blue Posts inn, Mersea, and were entertained by a band and a sailing match. (fn. 46)
The End of the Old Charter
In the 1720s most aldermen were Whigs, led by Sir Isaac Rebow (d. 1726) M.P., high steward and recorder of the borough. He was succeeded by his grandson Isaac Lemyng Rebow (d. 1735), (fn. 47) whose relations by marriage, Matthew Martin, Robert Price, and Richard Bacon, became mayor and high steward, recorder, and town clerk respectively. (fn. 48) In the late 1720s, following a trade recession and during popular opposition to the Excise Bill, (fn. 49) five Tories quickly became aldermen. Four of them, John Blatch, James Boys, Thomas Carew, and Joseph Duffield, held the mayoralty between them from 1728 until 1741. (fn. 50) In 1728, during Blatch's first year as mayor, the freedom was sold to 56 'foreigners', most of whom later voted for Tory parliamentary candidates. (fn. 51)
In 1739, when Carew's death endangered the Tory majority on the aldermanic bench, an assembly attended by four Tory and one Whig aldermen chose Isaac Boggis, a Tory baymaker, to replace him. The conviction of George Gray, a Whig alderman, for sodomy enabled the mayor and aldermen to remove him from office in 1740, and when Gray was pardoned on the grounds that his accusers were politically motivated, (fn. 52) they defied a mandamus to reinstate him, electing a Tory instead. (fn. 53) Gray's supporters among the freemen countered with quo warranto proceedings against Blatch, Boggis, Boys, and Duffield, who they alleged had not been elected aldermen strictly according to the charter. In March 1741, during those proceedings, an assembly was called under a writ of mandamus to elect a mayor instead of Blatch. By that time two aldermen had died, four were subject to litigation, and one stayed away. The remaining five aldermen, all Whigs, refused to accept nominations of two Tories and chose the Whig Jeremiah Daniell as mayor. The Tory freemen filed affidavits of quo warranto against Daniell and the remaining aldermen and prevented the confirmation of Daniell in office by disrupting the mayoral election on charter day. The court found that none of the aldermen had been properly elected. (fn. 54) Consequently the charter fell into abeyance and with it the borough courts, the workhouse corporation, and the navigation commission. (fn. 55) The fishery was endangered by the lapse of the Admiralty court. (fn. 56)
The former mayor and aldermen, with the surviving assistants and common councilmen, asked parliament to reinstate the deposed men so that elections of new aldermen could be held. Parliament, by Act of 1742, restored only the workhouse corporation, appointing the former mayor and eight of the deposed aldermen to serve on it. No provision was made for the appointment or election of successors and the workhouse corporation had failed by 1745, when poor-law administration had reverted to the parish vestries. (fn. 57) The county quarter sessions took over the work of the borough court, including approval of the poor-rate. (fn. 58) An Act of 1750 vested the collection of channel dues in new navigation commissioners and the justices for the eastern division, confirmed the responsibility of parish surveyors to report paving offences to the justices, and protected the fishery, which had fallen into disorder. (fn. 59)
The Campaign for a New Charter (fn. 60)
The Tory M.P.s, Charles Gray and Samuel Savill, apparently did nothing to persuade the House of Commons to restore the borough's rights, but the cause found its champion in William Mayhew (d. 1764), an attorney who had acted against the Whig aldermen in 1741. (fn. 61) At the parliamentary election of 1747 Mayhew supported Richard Savage Nassau, the Whig candidate, in the expectation that he would help to recover the charter. Nassau was elected but took offence when the freemen petitioned him without notice in 1749, and refused to act in the matter. The desire for restitution of the borough's rights was not shared by all the inhabitants, but the freemen complained that they were deprived of the local courts and their half year lands, borough estates were being ruined and rents lost, markets were spoiled by forestallers, the fishery encroached upon, pavements in disrepair and streets obstructed. (fn. 62) In 1750 Mayhew formed a charter club at the King's Head, and in 1752 urged freemen's sons, who could not take their freedom while the charter was in abeyance, to attend there to show support for a parliamentary candidate favourable to the cause. In 1753, with an election approaching, some of the freemen demanded their pasture rights on the half year lands, although few of them kept cattle and management of the lands was probably already corrupt. (fn. 63) Their claims seem to have been silenced by the opinion of the attorney general, given that year, that the king held the common rights as donor, not the remaining freemen. (fn. 64) Philip Morant warned Lord Hardwicke that the dispute would greatly distress the candidates in the forthcoming election, (fn. 65) and neither the Tory Charles Gray nor the Whig John Olmius accepted the support of Mayhew's charter club, and the third candidate, the Whig Isaac Martin Rebow, was supported by a rival club meeting at the King's Arms. That club drafted an amended charter, which Mayhew dubbed 'charter cookery'. Olmius and, upon petition, Rebow were elected. Mayhew threatened to charge Olmius with breach of faith, on the basis of a £500 wager made between them before the election, and to petition for a charter independently if the M.P.s would not act in the matter. When Olmius and Rebow eventually petitioned for a charter in 1757 they apparently sponsored the charter promoted by the King's Arms club. In 1758 a rival petition was submitted, presumably by Mayhew and the King's Head club. The Privy Council's decision was delayed by the death of George II, but before the election of 1761 Mayhew extracted from the candidates, Charles Gray and Isaac Martin Rebow, a joint commitment to the renewal of the charter. The undertaking, given at a meeting of the charter club at the King's Head, signalled the defeat of 'charter cookery'. The charter received by the borough in 1763, with public rejoicing, was in effect a confirmation of that of 1663. (fn. 66)
Revival and Discord, 1763-1818
The new corporation was at first preoccupied with reviewing its estate and reorganizing the management of its finances. (fn. 67) The charter mayor, Thomas Clamtree, was a Whig who served that office six times between 1763 and 1779. (fn. 68) The compromise between the Tory and Whig M.P.s, Gray and Rebow, tended to moderate overt political activity in borough affairs, (fn. 69) but personal and political rivalry were evident before Gray resigned in 1780, particularly in disagreements involving the town clerk, Francis Smythies, over the non-payment of salaries and the responsibility for billeting soldiers. Smythies, an able and ambitious attorney of choleric temperament who sometimes acted violently in execution of his office, was dominant in borough affairs until his death in 1798. (fn. 70) In 1779 he led the Church and Tory party in the contested election of a master of the grammar school to succeed Palmer Smythies, his father. Political and religious divisions were manifest in the ensuing pamphlet war. (fn. 71) The Tories, having persuaded the freemen that their rights were threatened by nonconformists and Whigs, won the contest and Smythies led a victory parade round the town, harassing his defeated opponents on the way. (fn. 72) A Tory faction gathered around Smythies. In 1787 the dying recorder, William Mayhew, nominated James Grimwood his deputy; Smythies stood as a rival candidate and the Tory mayor declared his election. Grimwood challenged the decision with ultimate success, but Smythies acted as recorder until ousted in 1790. (fn. 73) Thereafter Smythies served as town clerk, supported by a Tory majority in the corporation, until his death in 1798. (fn. 74)
Political activity intensified in the early 19th century, (fn. 75) and in the period 1812-35 rancorous internal disputes were prolonged by repeated lawsuits, Colchester ranking fourth among boroughs in the frequency of its appearances in King's Bench. At the mayoral election in 1812 the candidates for the freemen's nomination William Smith, William Sparling, and John Bridge, gained 133, 123, and 22 votes respectively. Francis Smythies the younger, who had succeeded his father as town clerk and alderman, reduced Sparling's majority over Bridge by rejecting votes of brewers among his supporters and, promoted by Bridge, disqualified him for not taking communion in the Church of England. The aldermen, among them two brewers, chose Bridge for mayor. He was ousted, following quo warranto proceedings in King's Bench, because he took office before Michaelmas day, and Smith was elected in his stead. (fn. 76) Bridge challenged, by quo warranto proceedings, the rights to office of four aldermen, one assistant, and three councilmen who were elected when the assembly lacked a quorum. Those men disclaimed, but most were reinstated by proper election. When Sparling was elected mayor in 1813, Bridge and his friends resumed their attack on him. His effigy was hanged from the gallows, and Samuel Bridge, the former mayor's brother, published anonymously The Guild, a high Tory satire on the self-interest of tradesmen who were members of the assembly. Prosecution of the printer inflamed the dispute, and The Guild became notorious. At the election of Sparling's successor as mayor in 1814, Bridge, Smythies, and a faction among the freemen objected to the nomination of John King, who had been ousted but re-elected through the ranks of the assembly. King and his successors, Edward Clay and William Argent were continually harried by Bridge's party, and in October 1816, when further litigation threatened to remove its members from office, the corporation decided to apply for a new charter.
The Last Years, 1818-35
The charter, granted in 1818 and substantially the same as that of 1763, reappointed most of the former aldermen, but not John Bridge and Francis Smythies. The appointments included 17 men whose detachment from earlier disputes might have overcome the rancour of the former corporation. Ten of them, however, declined office, among them George Round, who wrote that he despaired of ridding the new corporation of the divisions that had harmed the old one. When vacancies caused by the refusals were filled, Francis Smythies was nominated and opposed repeatedly as common councilman, assistant, and alderman. He failed to become an alderman but was reappointed town clerk in 1818 and served until the reform of 1835. (fn. 77) In the 1820s controversy within the corporation was mainly concerned with its constitution and the management of its finances, but radical opposition to the corporation was growing in the town and the freemen were formulating claims to the income of the borough estate. It had been customary since c. 1645 for the mayor to pay 8d. each to the resident freemen in lieu of dinner on charter day and the cost was usually debited to the fishery money. That practice may have given rise to the freemen's claim in 1813 to the profits of the fishery. (fn. 78) The new charter itself caused dispute by appointing seven 'foreigners'. Their right to the franchise was subsequently challenged by the freemen, who prevented the mayor from admitting them. The problem was resolved, after litigation, only by a ruling in 1824 that the king had, by appointing them, made the 'foreigners' free. (fn. 79) The freemen, whose right to the proceeds of the sale of common pasture rights was contested in the 1820s, were again at the centre of dispute in 1832 when they tried unsuccessfully to make the corporation sell the Severalls estate, and the half year lands, and distribute the proceeds among them. (fn. 80) The radical movement found a strong voice in the assembly with the conversion from Toryism of Edward Clay of the Hythe, who in 1830 canvassed the freemen to nominate him as mayor, suggesting that by proper management of the estate they might each receive 31s. a year. (fn. 81)
In 1834 the corporation declared its willingness to co-operate with Thomas Jefferson Hogg of the Royal Commission on Municipal Corporations, but when after six days of inquiry he called the corporation 'flagitious', the mayor withdrew, bringing the inquiry to an end. Much of the criticism of the corporation voiced at the inquiry related to financial matters and some of it implicitly questioned the probity of the town clerk, Francis Smythies. Hogg complained that the mayor and town clerk initially refused to take the oath, on the advice of the recorder, and could not produce an account book of the late chamberlain. Corporation witnesses found Hogg's manner offensive and suspected him of meeting their critics privately during the inquiry. (fn. 82) Hogg, who failed to submit reports on Colchester and some other towns to the royal commission, dissented from its mainly condemnatory conclusions on municipal corporations. (fn. 83) The corporation, however, represented only c. 480 resident freemen out of a total population of 16,167, (fn. 84) and was dominated by Tories and churchmen. The inhabitants petitioned parliament in favour of the reform Bill; the corporation, predictably, opposed it. To the borough council formed under the Act of 1835 only one member of the old corporation, William Smith, was elected, and Francis Smythies was not reappointed as town clerk. (fn. 85)
Finance (fn. 86)
Until 1742 the corporation's finances were administered by the chamberlain, whose accounts were audited by a committee. In the period 1715-41 the annual income of c. £500 from rents, licences, tolls, and fines, was usually enough to meet the cost of administration, ceremony, maintenance of bridges and buildings, and payment of the fee farm rent. The corporation was frequently engaged in litigation which could not be paid for from revenue, and to meet those costs it occasionally sold the freedom (fn. 87) and repeatedly mortgaged its estate and tolls, redeeming mortgages by further borrowing.
The corporation's most valuable assets were the fishery, the waterbailiffship with a town or custom house, quay, warehouses, yards, and 20 a. of land at the Hythe, and houses and 1,000 a. of land, including Kingswood heath, at Mile End. In the town it owned a number of scattered tenements, besides the bay, leather, and wool halls. The waterbailiffship, markets, and fairs were usually let on lease, relieving the chamberlain of the task of rent collection. The fishery was leased from 1700 to 1731 to entrepreneurs, who were obliged to defend the borough's rights in the courts, and from 1807 it was administered by a company of fishermen. (fn. 88)
With the decline of the Dutch bay trade, the corporation in 1716 abated by £20 the rent of the bay hall. The corporation suffered a further loss in 1728 when the Dutch governors dissolved themselves owing arrears of rent, and the annual income from the hall had fallen to £25 by 1732. (fn. 89) In 1730, when the lease of the butchers' hall and 66 stalls was worth £75 a year, the lessee's widow payed £50 to assign it. (fn. 90) Many small rents were uncollected and the corporation often owed the chamberlain money. In 1731 the corporation leased for £10 a year 16 small tenements with a total rent of £16 11s. (fn. 91) The Mile End estate, called the Severalls, was let in 1722 to Daniel Defoe on a 99-year lease for two fines of £500 and an annual payment of £120. (fn. 92)
In 1720 the corporation raised £1,200 by mortgaging for 1,000 years part of its estate and tolls, including the market, St. Dennis's fair, the waterbailiffship, the receivership of the woolmarket, the Hythe estate, the leather hall, and a hall with under rooms and shops at the west end of the corn market. The loan had grown to £2,700 on the security of more of the estate by 1740, when the corporation borrowed another £400. (fn. 93)
Alehouse licences raised £38 15s. in 1718, and fines imposed under a bylaw of 1715 on shopkeepers and alehousekeepers who were not freemen were worth c. £80 a year in the 1730s. (fn. 94) Following a petition by the freemen to the assembly in 1724 to enforce the bylaw on shopkeepers, two 'foreigners' were gaoled in 1725 for refusing to pay and another lost his case against the corporation c. 1730. The shopkeepers continued to resist: in 1735-6 only 20 of the 88 paid and arrears amounted to £103 8s. 6d. In 1739 the corporation lost its case against one of them at the county assizes. Encouraged by the outcome, the alehousekeepers decided to withhold their 10s. 'foreign' fines at the annual licensing. The justices forestalled the rebellion by requesting, instead of the 10s. fine, an equivalent contribution to maintain pavements and bridges. (fn. 95) In 1740, when the alehousekeepers alleged in King's Bench that only those who contributed were licensed, the justices were fined for misdemeanour and ordered to reimburse the alehousekeepers. (fn. 96) On their way back from London the justices, John Blatch, James Boys, and Joseph Duffield, were met by a crowd of supporters, said to be several hundred strong and presumably freemen, who welcomed their return to the town with fireworks and bell-ringing, (fn. 97) but the corporation had lost a source of revenue which it never recovered. The corporation's assets were undoubtedly jeopardized when the charter lapsed, as campaigners for its revival complained, but the fishery was protected from 1750 by the Colne Fishery Act, (fn. 98) and many of the borough's buildings, land, and tolls were let under leases granted by the former corporation or its mortgagees. Walter Bernard, alderman of the city of London, held the mortgage of land and buildings at Mile End and the Hythe. When the bankrupt lessee, Edward Morley, left the town house and quay in disrepair in 1745, Bernard granted a 14-year lease of the waterbailiffship, buildings, and quay to Jonathan Tabor. Bernard paid £50 for repairs and Tabor, paying £20 a year, was to maintain the waterbailiff's measures, collect dues and tolls (allowing freemen their customary concession), prosecute for non-payment, and defend Bernard's rights. The lease was to be void if the corporation was revived within the term. By a 21-year lease to Tabor in 1759 the rent was increased to £30, the mortgagee reserving the waterbailiffship. (fn. 99)
The new corporation, chartered in 1763, did not attempt to reinstate 'foreign' fines and its income was derived mainly from rents and fishery licences. It was unable to realize the full value of the Mile End estate, which was let under the 99-year lease of 1722 for £120 a year to Walter Bernard, who was also mortgagee of the estate. In 1767 the annual rent paid by the tenants to Bernard amounted to £510. (fn. 100) The Tabor family continued as tenants of the Hythe estate until 1789, (fn. 101) and in 1766 paid £40 10s. to the new corporation for 27 years' rent of a coalyard. The corporation seems to have made no systematic attempt to collect arrears, (fn. 102) but in 1764 it tried to reduce by £500 the debts inherited from its predecessor by putting up for sale all houses let for less than £5 a year. It also asked its mortgagees to repair bridges on its behalf, nevertheless in 1765 debts of £2,600 remained unpaid. (fn. 103) Litigation over the election of the recorder in 1789 left the corporation owing its solicitor, Thomas Lowten, fees of £457 and a loan of £2,000. The corporation, on the advice of the attorney general, refused to honour the bond for £2,000 because it bore only the seal of the mayor's office but in 1803 it agreed to pay interest at 5 per cent on the fees in return for a two-year delay in legal proceedings. The corporation raised £1,050 by selling land for barracks, but in 1806, with an annual income of £615, expenses of £625, and most of its estates mortgaged, its debts amounted to £7,249. (fn. 104) In 1807 the sale of common rights produced £492 but that was distributed among c. 515 resident freemen. (fn. 105) In the same year the corporation was obliged to borrow £1,807 to pay the cost of its defence against Lowten, his fees, and the accrued interest. In 1818, when its debts amounted to £11,844, the corporation raised £8,250 by selling land and buildings, many of them encumbered with mortgages. (fn. 106) To meet the cost of obtaining the charter of 1818 and the defence of aldermen, justices, and officers against litigation, the rest of the Mile End estate was mortgaged for £10,000. (fn. 107) In 1821, when the 99-year lease of that estate expired, the corporation took the letting of the farms and land into its own hands and by 1829 the annual income from the estate amounted to £893. (fn. 108)
The borough's complicated system of accounting, involving the chamberlain, the clerk, the mayor, and the treasurer, bred rumour and suspicion of extravagance and corruption, and the freemen believed they were being robbed of a share of the income from lucrative estates. (fn. 109) From 1763 the chamberlain was responsible for the collection of the smaller rents only, accounting for an average annual income of £132 and receiving commission of 1s. in the pound. William Mayhew (d. 1787) and Francis Smythies received the rent of the Mile End estate as successive agents of the mortgagee. The mayor received the income from the fishery, deducted his expenses, and paid the balance to the town clerk. (fn. 110) A treasurer appointed by quarter sessions collected the borough rate, introduced in 1812 to pay for law enforcement. (fn. 111) Edward Clay, mayor in 1815 and 1817, published his accounts in the press. A scheme for the reform of financial management proposed in 1820 by Francis Smythies, town clerk, was only partially adopted. (fn. 112) From 1821, when the lease of the Mile End estate expired, the chamberlain accounted for the rents of that estate, and from 1824 he also accounted for the fishery. (fn. 113) The corporation's failure to implement Smythies's proposal that it should distribute to the freemen not only copies of its accounts but also a share of the annual balance, probably inflamed discontent. (fn. 114) During the last decade of its life the corporation's average income from traditional sources, rents and the fishery, was £1,350. That income was supplemented by the borough rate to meet an average expenditure of c. £2,200, much of it spent on judicial functions. Lack of an adequate, modern gaol contributed to that expense by obliging the borough to send prisoners to Chelmsford. The corporation's critics claimed that the borough rate had by 1834 risen to four times the original sum, but in fact it remained at 6d. in the pound between 1812 and 1827, except for 1816, when there was no rate, and 1820, 1828, and 1829, when two 6d. rates were raised. From 1830 to 1833, when a 6d. rate raised £426, two annual rates were demanded, the first 6d. and the second 9d. or 1s. (fn. 115) The chamberlain's accounts for 1834 revealed that £600 from a sale authorized in 1819 had been almost entirely used to settle Smythies's account for five years' fees, offical entertainment, and the cost of opposing the reforming legislation. Although Smythies's claims were condemned by the corporation's successor, (fn. 116) comparison with earlier accounts shows that none of the charges was exceptional, and suggests that the new corporation could find nothing more serious with which to denigrate its predecessor.
The borough held a quarter sessions court, two petty courts, and an Admiralty court. (fn. 117) Quarter sessions sat regularly in the 18th century, except for the period during which the charter was in abeyance. (fn. 118) It dealt with appeals against the poor-rate, paving offences, petty theft and vagrancy, trading standards, domestic and neighbours' quarrels which often ended in violence, abuse of the corporation's members and officers, and more serious public disturbances. The presence of soldiers in the town tended to increase the number of bastardy cases, and deserters were occasionally brought before the court. The inhabitants tended to be litigious, especially in the implementation of laws protective of trading interests, such as those against practising a trade without having served an apprenticeship, employing unlawful helps, and on one occasion the wearing of buttons made of drugget. (fn. 119) There were occasional campaigns against false weights, swearing, and shaving on Sundays. Many offenders were fined or entered into recognizances, but until c. 1823 petty larceny and vagrancy were punished by whipping on market day either at the pillory, in the cart, or at the cart's tail. Women were seldom whipped publicly after 1730, and men were sometimes offered the alternative of enlisting in the king's service. From c. 1766 thieves, both men and women, were sentenced to transportation for seven years, but in 1777 and 1780 men were committed to hard labour on dredgers in the Thames instead. (fn. 120) In the 19th century prisoners served sentences of hard labour in Springfield prison, Chelmsford, because the borough gaol was inadequate. (fn. 121)
The borough was policed by four serjeants-at-mace, chosen by the twenty-four from among the freemen, and two constables in each parish chosen by the justices. (fn. 122) In exceptional cases the dragoons were called in, and in 1789 Francis Smythies, acting recorder, himself quelled a riot. (fn. 123) The grand jury seems to have surveyed the town occasionally to present at quarter sessions offenders against paving regulations. (fn. 124)
The availability of the courts probably encouraged litigation. Between 1759 and 1763, when Colchester had no borough sessions, a total of 35 Colchester indictments were heard at Chelmsford, but in a similar period following the new charter, 1764-8, there were 140 indictments at Colchester's quarter sessions. (fn. 125) The weekly petty courts dealt with personal actions, mainly for debt and trespass, against freemen on Mondays and 'foreigners' on Thursdays. The Monday court, which also dealt with admitting and swearing freemen, swearing officers, and apprenticeship, was busy in the early Georgian period. The corporation petitioned parliament in 1729 against a Bill for the easy recovery of small debts, fearing that it might prejudice the borough courts. (fn. 126) In 1735 the recorder, Robert Price, and the mayor, John Blatch, revised the rules to improve speed and efficiency in both courts and reduce the suitors' expense. (fn. 127) With the new charter of 1763 the rules were revised, but the Monday court dwindled. After 1810 it had virtually no business, except swearing the freemen, and in 1812 the mayor and inhabitants petitioned parliament for a court for speedy recovery of small debts. (fn. 128) A similar decline in the activity of the Thursday court was suddenly reversed in 1805 and the increase in the number of cases was maintained throughout the life of the old corporation. (fn. 129)
National politics were dominated by foreign wars and protectionist policies in the 18th century and by the issue of parliamentary reform in the early 19th, but in Colchester's parliamentary elections local matters, notably the recovery of the borough charter in the mid 18th century and political manoeuvring in the borough assembly over the whole period, were often more influential. Colchester, a parliamentary borough with a wider franchise than many others, had a better popular representation than many other parts of the country. (fn. 130) The right to vote to return two members in parliamentary elections was with the freemen, whether resident or not, unless they received poor relief. The occasional sale of freedom to 'foreigners' for financial or political purposes led to contention at parliamentary elections throughout the 18th century. Voting in national and local elections, as in the rest of England, was subject to bribery, often in the form of entertaining and sometimes by the payment of admission fees for new freemen. The number of freemen in Colchester increased substantially in election years. Nevertheless, by contemporary standards, Colchester was apparently not notably corrupt. (fn. 131) Some candidates were associated with particular parties or policies but others stood primarily to further their own careers or business interests. Personality was sometimes a more significant factor than policy.
Whigs, some having closer local connexions than others, occupied both seats until 1735. Sir Isaac Rebow, a wealthy Colchester clothier from a Dutch immigrant family and leader of the Whigs in the borough assembly, served until 1722 with Richard Ducane, a townsman who was a governor of the Bank of England. (fn. 132) Matthew Martin, M.P. 1722-7 and 1734-41, had a maritime and commercial background with the East India Co.; he bought Alresford Hall and other estates and became mayor of Colchester in 1726. Stamp Brooksbank and Samuel Tuffnell, M.P.s 1727-34, were London merchants, though Tuffnell also had a house in Great Waltham and had previously represented Maldon. (fn. 133) Isaac Lemyng Rebow, son of Sir Isaac, was returned with Matthew Martin unopposed in January 1735 but died in March. At the subsequent byelection the poll was the heaviest in the period. Jacob Houblon, from a prominent London merchant family, stood for the Tory opposition to Walpole's government and decisively defeated the Whig Brooksbank, apparently unpopular because of his previous bribery and corruption and his support for the Excise scheme. (fn. 134)
From 1741 until 1763 the borough charter was in abeyance and parliamentary elections were affected by disputes about it. (fn. 135) A period of party compromise followed in the 1760s and 1770s with the Tory Charles Gray and the Whig Isaac Martin Rebow, son of Isaac Lemyng, sharing election expenses and holding the two seats in three successive elections; both were respected men living in the town and taking an interest in local matters. (fn. 136)
The 1780s were an unsettled period with five parliamentary elections and a succession of candidates seeking political opportunity and spending large sums of money in pursuit of the seat. Sir Robert Smyth of Berechurch Hall, a radical Whig active in national politics, was elected in 1780 with Rebow, Gray having retired. At the byelection following Rebow's death in 1781, Christopher Potter, a largescale baker and army contractor, beat the rival candidate Admiral Sir Edmund Affleck, a relation by marriage of the Tory Creffield family, who was supported by Francis Smythies, the town clerk. Potter was unseated on petition because of a defective qualification and Affleck was returned. In the 1784 election Affleck, though often away on foreign service, and Potter were returned. Potter's election was disallowed on petition because of his bankruptcy and the returning officer's partiality, and the seat given to Smyth, who had come third. At the byelection on Affleck's death in 1788 the Tory George Jackson, supported by Smythies, and the Radical George Tierney each recorded the same number of votes. Tierney was appointed on petition, for he would have won if Smythies and the returning officer had not manipulated the voting in Jackson's favour by opening and closing the poll at will and by creating new freemen during the voting. (fn. 137)
In the 1790 general election Smyth did not stand. The French Revolution had made his Radicalism more extreme, and Smythies' attempts to orchestrate opposition to him were helped by Smyth's ill-judged litigation to defend his fishery rights against the Colne fishermen. Jackson and Robert Thornton, an Evangelical Pittite Tory, were returned. Tierney was beaten: his vote had held up well, but polling was heavier in a general election and events in France were causing voters some anxiety about Radicalism. The tension in Evangelicalism between its social and religious radicalism and its political conservatism enabled Thornton to gain votes from both sides. By 1793 Smyth was living in Paris with other exiled English republicans; imprisoned during the Terror he was released with the help of his close friend, Thomas Paine, and died in 1802 in Paris. (fn. 138)
From 1790 until 1818 Tories, backed by the corporation and local landowning interests, held both seats, except for 1806-7 when William Tufnell, a Whig, held one. Thornton remained M.P. until he resigned in 1817 on being appointed marshal of the Court of Admiralty. (fn. 139) In 1812 the Tories, Thornton and Hart Davis, were strongly challenged by the popular Radical Daniel Whittle Harvey. After four days of polling Harvey was increasing his majority over Thornton, but the intervention of Col. J. H. Strutt of Terling in increasing the Tory vote apparently secured Harvey's defeat. (fn. 140)
Harvey was elected in 1818, unseated in 1820 for a defective qualification, and served again as M.P. from 1826 until 1835. A lawyer and a gifted orator, he contributed often to parliamentary debates as a moderate Radical advocating limited reform of parliament and the established church, and religious toleration, which antagonized both Tories and Whigs locally. By 1831 most electors favoured some measure of Reform. During the time that Harvey was M.P., Tories occupied the other seat, except for the period 1831-2 when local Tory support was diminished by the Tory government's legislation for Catholic emancipation. After the 1832 Reform Act questions of free trade and the importance of agricultural interests in Colchester's economy were the key local factors in elections. (fn. 141) Harvey had received strong support from the London and country out-voters who were removed under the reformed franchise. Realizing that Tory interests were likely to dominate among the town voters, Harvey did not contest the Colchester seat in the 1835 election, when two Tories were returned. (fn. 142)