Gloucester, 1660-1720: City government and politics

Pages 112-117

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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City Government and Politics

The Restoration had a dramatic effect on the political landscape at Gloucester. The government and royalist landowners moved decisively to bring to an end the city's fiercely defended autonomy, its extensive jurisdiction over the inshire, and the puritan ascendancy on the corporation. The Crown was motivated not just by a desire for revenge against a community which had so thwarted royalist designs in 1643, but by fears that Gloucester might serve as a focus for future risings by old, incorrigible supporters of the parliamentary cause. In October 1660 there were reports that Edmund Ludlow was at Gloucester and that an uprising was being planned. (fn. 1) The city figured in further rumours of radical sedition and agitation in November 1661 and in January 1664. (fn. 2) Francis Topp wrote from Gloucestershire in May 1662 that 'every day there is preaching and rumour', which he hoped would be over soon after 'the dismantling of our neighbour the city of Gloucester and others in the west that withstood the late king'. (fn. 3)

Most of Gloucester's town walls were demolished in 1662 under the supervision of Lord Herbert, the lord lieutenant. (fn. 4) In 1661 a bill was introduced into parliament providing for the return of the inshire to the county. (fn. 5) The corporation spent over £160 defending its powers, and twice petitioned the king, but the measure was enacted in May 1662. (fn. 6) The same year the whole governing body of the city came under attack. Since 1660 a number of former parliamentarians like Alderman Thomas Pury and Edward Nourse had left Gloucester, mainly for the greater safety of the capital. (fn. 7) In July 1662 Lord Herbert and a contingent of county landowners, commissioners under the Corporations Act of 1661, visited the city and proceeded to eject 22 members of the corporation; nine more were dismissed in October 1662 and four more the following March. (fn. 8) The purge of three quarters of the ruling body appeared all the more drastic because during the 1640s and 1650s few members of the corporation had been deprived. Moreover 1662 and 1663 saw only the first wave of removals; there was further replacement of personnel in 1672, 1683, and under James II.

The Restoration saw a marked increase in the influence and involvement of county landowners in city politics, matching their mounting importance in the urban economy and society. The new power of the gentry in Gloucester's government continued after the purges under the Corporations Act. A new charter granted in 1664 merely confirmed earlier royal grants to the city, apart from ratifying the loss of the inshire and giving the king power to control the appointment of the recorder and town clerk. (fn. 9) However, another charter which replaced it in 1672 appointed a clutch of county landowners to the ruling élite, including Sir Duncombe Colchester of Westbury-on-Severn, William Cooke of Highnam, Henry Norwood of Tuffley, and William Selwyn of Matson. (fn. 10) Gentry became mayors in the years 1672–5, 1688, and 1690. (fn. 11) In 1686 leading members of the corporation went out to Badminton to hear a royal message from the duke of Beaufort. (fn. 12) Again, whereas parliamentary elections before and during the English Revolution had almost invariably returned Gloucester men as the city's M.P.s, a high proportion of those chosen between 1660 and 1715 were gentry from the shire. (fn. 13) During election contests after the Revolution of 1688 the city was riven by party feuding between Whigs and Tories, led by county landowners.

The growth of electoral conflict was only one aspect of the recurrent political instability and factionalism which was evident in post-Restoration Gloucester. The purges of 1662 and 1663 had drawn only some of the teeth of the old parliamentary party, which retained a considerable following. In the late 1660s there was a groundswell of hostility to the new political order, fuelled by the persecution of dissenters. (fn. 14) In 1668 Nicholas Haines, a hosier, denounced parliament saying, 'one half of them [were] feathermen and the other half of them were whoremasters and drunkards… and that the times would turn and honest men would rule again'. (fn. 15) By 1670 the old parliamentarians and dissenters were again asserting themselves on the corporation. That year, according to Sir William Morton, the recorder, the 'Presbyterian party' sought to prevent the election of the royalist Henry Fowler as mayor, choosing instead William Bubb, a man who had reportedly promised that once 'in power he will crush the royal interest' at Gloucester. (fn. 16) The king's order for the corporation to elect Fowler was opposed by five dissenting aldermen, 'ringleaders of the faction'. (fn. 17) Fowler's mayoralty was stormy. The dissenting aldermen blocked the filling of vacancies on the bench with men of loyalist sympathies, and plotted to get Bubb elected as the next mayor. (fn. 18) When Bubb was in fact chosen in 1671, the conservatives complained of improper proceedings and the king overturned the election and gave Fowler authority to continue in office. (fn. 19) In November 1671 the Privy Council decreed that the city had forfeited its privileges and ordered the surrender of the charter. (fn. 20) The new grant in April 1672 brought many changes. A majority of the members of the old corporation was removed and a cadre of royalist gentry appointed. County justices were given authority to act in the city and the Crown reserved the power to deprive civic rulers at will and to approve future officials. (fn. 21) With the city on the defensive the dean of Gloucester, Robert Vyner, exploited the opportunity to reclaim the jurisdiction over the close which the dean and chapter had yielded to the corporation in 1584; the bishop, dean, and two prebendaries also became J.P.s for the city. (fn. 22)

The charter of 1672 imposed a royalist hegemony in Gloucester politics which lasted until James II's reign. Apart from a minor political disturbance in 1679, (fn. 23) the city remained loyal to the king throughout the Exclusion Crisis. In 1681 the ruling body presented the king with an obsequiously loyal address and two years later when a Whig prebendary, Edward Fowler, later bishop of Gloucester, preached against the Popish Plot in the cathedral the magistrates protested and refused to attend his services. (fn. 24) The Tory ascendancy on the corporation was underlined in 1683 when three loyalists were elected at the insistence of the duke of Beaufort. (fn. 25) During the Exclusion Crisis the city's over-zealous persecution of local dissenters caused concern even to the government, (fn. 26) and between 1681 and 1685 there was a spate of prosecutions of dissenters at the assizes and quarter sessions. (fn. 27) In 1685 the Whig Sir John Guise was deprived of his rights as a freeman. (fn. 28)

Under James II, however, the Tory-dominated magistracy encountered growing problems. In 1686 the king dispensed John Hill, a Catholic, from the oaths under the Test Act on his election to the mayoralty. (fn. 29) The following year Anselm Fowler, apparently also a Catholic, was enfranchised and appointed to the aldermanic bench by royal directive. (fn. 30) The civic elections in the autumn of 1687 merely confirmed the king's nomination of Hill for a second term as mayor. (fn. 31) During James's visit to the city in August 1687 (fn. 32) he used a Catholic chapel that Hill had fitted up in the Tolsey, (fn. 33) and in November 1687 13 of the leading Tories on the corporation were purged, together with the recorder, by the king's order. (fn. 34) They were replaced with a motley group of dissenters and Catholics led by the unpopular new recorder Charles Trinder. (fn. 35) The remaining Tories appear to have seceded from council meetings. (fn. 36) In March 1688 the corporation, not surprisingly, gave its support for the repeal of the penal laws. (fn. 37) By the summer, however, there was growing unrest at the Jacobitism of the city's leaders. (fn. 38) In October 1688 Anselm Fowler was elected mayor, (fn. 39) but within a few weeks, after William of Orange's invasion, the political situation deteriorated. A panic broke out over the report of an Irish attack; (fn. 40) the Tolsey chapel and Catholic houses were assailed; (fn. 41) Fowler was forced to resign and was replaced by the Tory landowner William Cooke; (fn. 42) and the Williamite Whig, Lord Lovelace, then in prison in Gloucester, was released to command troops to quell the disorder. (fn. 43) Over the following months the Jacobite sympathizers lost their seats in the council on one pretext or another. (fn. 44) In 1690 Sir John Guise, who had been in exile with William III, was chosen mayor. (fn. 45)

During the 1690s the city's governing body was fairly evenly divided between Whigs and Tories, with the former coming to dominate the aldermanic bench. There were fiercely fought contests in elections to civic office and also to parliament. In 1690 there was a complaint that one of the candidates for parliament, William Trye, a Tory, had mobilized the support of poorer freemen and secured his own return, although not enfranchised himself. (fn. 46) Conflict accelerated after the turn of the century. Five contests occurred in the seven parliamentary elections between 1701 and 1715. (fn. 47) Hundreds of freemen were created in 1702, 1708, and afterwards to swing the large freeman electorate (about 1,400 strong) behind one party or the other. (fn. 48) In 1703 the Whigs pushed through the election of Nicholas Lane as mayor despite the vociferous opposition of the Tories, and the Tories absented themselves from other civic elections. (fn. 49) With the Tory resurgence in national politics in the last part of Anne's reign, however, the Whig aldermanic caucus was under pressure. (fn. 50) In 1710 the city, unlike numerous other Gloucestershire towns, aligned itself against the rabid Tory Dr. Sacheverell, (fn. 51) but two years later Whig aldermen were being investigated by the authorities for their alleged obstruction over the impressment of troops. (fn. 52) In 1712 the Whig bishop, Edward Fowler, exclaimed 'that popery and slavery are coming in upon us, that we are undone'. (fn. 53) In 1715 the large Tory following in the freeman body returned two likeminded M.P.s. (fn. 54) Party conflict continued into the 1730s. (fn. 55)

The upsurge of political instability in the post-Restoration city was partly a reflection of growing national party conflict, especially after 1688. It was also linked with local factors: the growing intervention of county gentry in city politics, the continuing importance of dissent, and the survival of Civil War loyalties and antagonisms. At the same time, party conflict should not be exaggerated in its impact on city government. There was no breakdown of public order. Only briefly in 1672 and 1688 did political feuding spill over into social disorder or administrative instability.

One buttress of governmental stability was the continuing dominance of civic oligarchy. While major changes of personnel occurred in the years 1662–3, 1672, and 1687–9, only under James II is there any indication of a broadening of the composition of the ruling élite and then on a minor scale. (fn. 56) All the major civic officers were pre-elected by the aldermanic bench on nomination day, before the formal elections. (fn. 57) Under the charter of 1672 the electoral college for civic posts was reduced from 24 to 20, curbing the number of ordinary councillors and strengthening the power of the aldermen. (fn. 58) The Friday court of aldermen at the Tolsey was by then an established and important institution for dealing with much of the regular business of city administration. (fn. 59) The aldermen as magistrates presided over quarter sessions, which heard a great variety of cases concerning the poor, alehouses, trade, civic improvement, nonconformity, and public order. (fn. 60) The old hundred court was virtually defunct. (fn. 61) Deliberations of the common council were progressively given over to more routine business, such as the awarding of town leases and the choice of minor town officials. (fn. 62) In 1693 it was agreed that the mayor might only summon the council with the consent of the aldermen. (fn. 63)

Administrative coherence was also aided by certain improvements in civic administration. Finance remained a serious problem at the Restoration, since the chamber was heavily encumbered with large debts, some dating back to the Civil War and some incurred more recently, including those for the defence of the inshire. (fn. 64) The traditional system of four stewards, never a satisfactory one, disintegrated with repeated refusals of councillors to serve, disputes among officials, and allegations of fraudulent accounting. (fn. 65) The difficulties came to a climax in 1671 with the disputed mayoral election. (fn. 66) The new charter of 1672 inaugurated a major reform of civic finances: a single, salaried, quasi-permanent chamberlain was chosen to replace the four stewards; (fn. 67) debts due the chamberlain were called in; (fn. 68) income was improved; (fn. 69) in 1679 the city's lands in Ireland were finally sold for £1,300; (fn. 70) and charity funds may have been diverted to pay off outstanding loans. (fn. 71) By the 1690s the city's finances were increasingly in balance. (fn. 72)

The town clerk, already important before the Civil War, became a pivotal figure in the administration. Two members of the Powell family, John and his brother Thomas, occupied the post for virtually all of the last quarter of the 17th century and provided invaluable continuity at a time of political flux. (fn. 73) In 1701 the town clerk's offices at the Cross were extended, presumably because of the growth of business. (fn. 74) With the decline of the traditional piepowder (sheriffs') and hundred courts, Gloucester obtained in 1689 a statutory court of conscience to hear small debt cases, particularly useful given the expansion of trade. (fn. 75) In addition, as noted above, a corporation of the poor was established in 1703. Both new institutions had their problems, however. (fn. 76) More vital for city government was the tightening up of administrative procedures, as, for instance, over alehouse licensing. (fn. 77) Another development was the growing power and effectiveness of parish vestries, select bodies whose members were quite frequently recruited from the city's ruling élite. (fn. 78)

During the post-Restoration period Gloucester's civic leaders became steadily more conscious of the need to promote urban improvement, not least to attract the patronage of the county gentry. In 1694 the council sought to supplement the supply of piped water from Robins Wood Hill by authorizing the erection of an engine below Westgate bridge to pump river water into the city. (fn. 79) A fire-engine house was built adjoining Trinity tower in 1702, (fn. 80) and the quay was enlarged in 1713. (fn. 81) By the early 18th century, following the London fashion, a variety of rather crude royal statues gazed down on the streets to impress the gentry. (fn. 82) It was a time of positive advances in urban government.


  • 1. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1660–1, 310.
  • 2. Ibid. 1661–2, 153; 1663–4, 434, 440, 446.
  • 3. Hist. MSS. Com. 29, Portland, ii, p. 144.
  • 4. G.B.R., F 4/6, p. 440.
  • 5. C.J. viii. 285, 287, 348, 351; L.J. xi. 373–4, 381, 473; G.B.R., B 3/3, p. 188.
  • 6. G.B.R., F 4/6, pp. 430 sqq.; B 3/3, p. 188.
  • 7. Ibid. B 3/3, pp. 224, 231.
  • 8. Ibid. C 8/1, ff. 7v.–8, 16 and v., 18v.–19.
  • 9. Ripley, 'Glouc. 1660–1740', 100.
  • 10. Rudder, Glos. App. p. v; cf. ibid. 521, 542; V.C.H. Glos. x. 19, 87; below, Outlying Hamlets, man.; Matson, man.
  • 11. Fosbrooke, Glouc. 209–10; cf. below, Aldermen of Glouc. 1483–1835.
  • 12. G.B.R., F 4/7, f. 396.
  • 13. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 199–207.
  • 14. G.B.R., G 3/SIb 2, pt. i, pp. 308, 328, 356.
  • 15. Ibid. p. 353.
  • 16. P.R.O., SP 29/278, no. 123.
  • 17. Ibid. SP 29/278, no. 204.
  • 18. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1671, 411–12, 429.
  • 19. Ibid. 489–90, 517, 525–6, 531; G.B.R., B 3/4, p. 305.
  • 20. P.R.O., SP 29/293, no. 113 (I–II); SP 29/294, no. 85.
  • 21. Rudder, Glos. App. pp. iv–xii.
  • 22. Ibid.; R. Beddard, 'Privileges of Christchurch, Canterbury', Archaeologia Cantiana, lxxxvii. 85–6, 93–5, 99–100.
  • 23. Hist. MSS. Com. 32, 13th Rep. VI, Fitzherbert, p. 20.
  • 24. Glos. Colln. NF 12.303; Cal. S.P. Dom. July-Sept. 1683, 326.
  • 25. G.B.R., B 3/3, p. 837.
  • 26. Cal. S.P. Dom. 1680–1, 45–6.
  • 27. P.R.O., ASSIZES 5/5; G.B.R., G 3/SIb 2, p. 196, et passim.
  • 28. G.B.R., B 3/3, p. 877.
  • 29. Ibid. p. 914.
  • 30. Ibid. 6, ff. 153–5; Ripley, 'Glouc. 1660–1740', 150.
  • 31. G.B.R., B 3/6, ff. 169–70.
  • 32. Ibid. F 4/7, pp. 426–7; cf. Rudder, Glos. 89 n., where, as in most old histories of the city, the date of the visit is given wrongly.
  • 33. G.B.R., F 4/7, pp. 426–7; B 3/6, f. 159v.; cf. Bodl. MS. Top. Glouc. c. 3, f. 40.
  • 34. G.B.R., B 3/6, f. 174v.
  • 35. Ibid. f. 175 and v.
  • 36. Ibid. ff. 183v., 187.
  • 37. Ibid. f. 190.
  • 38. Ibid. f. 198.
  • 39. Ibid. f. 205 and v.
  • 40. Ibid. F 4/7, p. 483.
  • 41. H. Misson, Memoirs and Observations in his Travels over Eng. (Lond. 1719), 247; below, Roman Catholicism.
  • 42. G.B.R., B 3/6, f. 219 and v.
  • 43. Hist. MSS. Com. 6, 7th Rep. I, Denbigh, p. 227; G.B.R., B 3/6, ff. 219v., 221v.
  • 44. G.B.R., B 3/6, ff. 238, 251, 273v.
  • 45. Ibid. ff. 275v.–276, 280.
  • 46. Glos. Colln. 6768 (26).
  • 47. W.A. Speck, Tory and Whig (1970), 128.
  • 48. G.B.R., B 3/8, p. 345, et passim; C 9/7.
  • 49. Ibid. B 3/8, pp. 110, 113, 116, 122–3.
  • 50. Ibid. pp. 305, 429–30.
  • 51. G. Holmes, Trial of Dr. Sacheverell (1973), 236.
  • 52. Hist. MSS. Com. 29, Portland, x, pp. 76–8.
  • 53. Diary of Ralph Thoresby F.R.S. ed. J. Hunter (1830), ii. 148.
  • 54. R. Sedgwick, House of Commons 1715–54 (1970), i. 246.
  • 55. Below, Glouc. 1720–1835, parl. representation.
  • 56. Clark, 'Civic Leaders', 322–5.
  • 57. G.B.R., F 4/7, passim.
  • 58. Rudder, Glos. App. p. vi.
  • 59. G.B.R., B 3/3, p. 766.
  • 60. Ibid. G 3/SIb 2; SO 7.
  • 61. Ibid. G 8/3–4.
  • 62. Ibid. B 3/8.
  • 63. Ibid. 7, f. 78A v.
  • 64. Ibid. F 4/6, pp. 336 sqq., 367, 374 sqq.
  • 65. Ibid. B 3/3, pp. 351, 354, 363, 376–7, 382; P.R.O., C 5/419/102.
  • 66. P.R.O., C 5/419/102.
  • 67. Rudder, Glos. App. pp. vi–vii; G.B.R., B 3/3, p. 506.
  • 68. G.B.R., B 3/3, pp. 503, 592.
  • 69. Ibid. pp. 554–5, et passim.
  • 70. Ibid. p. 730.
  • 71. P.R.O., C 5/631/6.
  • 72. G.B.R., F 4/7.
  • 73. Fosbrooke, Glouc. 211.
  • 74. G.B.R., B 3/8, p. 29.
  • 75. Hyett, Glouc. (1906), 192.
  • 76. Above, social structure; G.B.R., B 3/8, pp. 431–2.
  • 77. G.B.R., G 3/SO 7, ff. 149v., 205v., 225.
  • 78. G.D.R. vol. 221 (churchwardens of St. Michael versus Freeman and Marshall); Clark, 'Civic Leaders', 325.
  • 79. G.B.R., B 3/7, ff. 57v., 86v., 100; below, Public Services.
  • 80. Below, Public Services.
  • 81. Below, Quay and Docks.
  • 82. Below, Public Buildings.