The borough of Tewkesbury: Parliamentary representation

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 8. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1968.

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'The borough of Tewkesbury: Parliamentary representation', in A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 8, (London, 1968) pp. 153-154. British History Online [accessed 1 March 2024]


Tewkesbury became a parliamentary borough by its charter of 1610, (fn. 1) and returned two members of parliament from then until 1868. In 1868 the borough's representation was reduced to one member, and in 1885 the borough was merged for parliamentary purposes in the Tewkesbury division of the county. (fn. 2) The extent of the franchise was not clear in the 17th century: (fn. 3) in 1640 there was a double return to what became the Long Parliament, and the whole election was declared void. The next year the bailiffs made one return and the inhabitants another, Sir Robert Cook being named in both, and in 1643 the House of Commons upheld the return made by the inhabitants. (fn. 4) No member for Tewkesbury was summoned in 1653, and only one in 1654 and 1656. (fn. 5) James II's charter of 1686 gave the right of electing to the borough corporation, (fn. 6) but in 1695, and presumably in 1689 and 1692, there was a wider franchise. (fn. 7) In 1792, with the bailiffs as returning officers, it was said that the right of election was in the magistrates and the inhabitants paying scot and lot, and that the parliamentary voters numbered c. 5,000. (fn. 8) In 1796, however, the House of Commons ruled that the right of election was not in the householders generally, as was claimed by the unsuccessful petitioners of whom one was Sir Philip Francis, reputed author of the letters of 'Junius', but in the freemen at large and the freeholders of an entire dwelling within the borough. (fn. 9) In 1831 there were thought to be c. 550 parliamentary voters; the Reform Act reduced the number to 386 in 1832. (fn. 10) There were 407 voters in 1847. (fn. 11)

With few exceptions the M.P.s for the borough were connected with families owning large estates not very distant from Tewkesbury. (fn. 12) In the first parliament in which Tewkesbury was represented Sir Dudley Digges's colleague was Edward Ferrers of Fiddington, brother of William Ferrers (fn. 13) after whom was called the grammar school at Tewkesbury to which Digges had also been a benefactor. (fn. 14) Digges's later colleagues included Baptist Hicks, afterwards Viscount Campden, who had an estate in Tewkesbury and was succeeded as M.P. for the borough by his nephew, Sir William Hicks, in 1628 and by his daughter's stepson, Anthony Ashley Cooper, afterwards Earl of Shaftesbury, and the daughter's third husband, Sir Edward Alford, who together represented the borough in the Short Parliament. The daughter's grandson, Henry Capell, afterwards Lord Capell of Tewkesbury, to whom Lord Campden's estate in Tewkesbury passed, sat for the borough from 1660. (fn. 15) His colleague was Richard Dowdeswell, the first of nine members of the Dowdeswell family of Pull Court to sit for the borough between 1660 and 1865, (fn. 16) including William Dowdeswell (1721–75), Chancellor of the Exchequer, and two of his sons. (fn. 17) Borough M.P.s in the 18th century included Nicholas Lechmere (1675–1727), attorney general and afterwards Lord Lechmere, (fn. 18) John Martin, the first of eight members of his family to represent the borough between 1741 and 1885, (fn. 19) and Thomas, Viscount Gage, who in 1753, as sitting member, tried to prevent an arrangement whereby election was offered to candidates who would subscribe generously towards the cost of road-making and was defeated in 1754 by Nicolson Calvert and John Martin (son of the M.P. of 1741) who gave £1,500 and £2,000 respectively towards the roads. (fn. 20) It appears to be true, as stated in 1792, that the borough was not under the immediate influence of any individual. 'Its independence is evinced by the honour it derives from so exemplary a representative as Mr. James Martin, whose integrity has manifested that rigid virtue which so deservedly ennobled the Grecian and Roman character.' (fn. 21)

From 1690 until 1790 all the M.P.s elected for Tewkesbury were described as Whigs. Thereafter the representation was usually divided between the two main parties. (fn. 22) In 1835 party feeling became strong in the town and entered even into the election of churchwardens. (fn. 23) In 1847, after an abortive attempt to avoid the disturbances of a contested election, (fn. 24) two Liberals were elected after the one Conservative candidate had withdrawn on the day before the election; a Chartist candidate who had started to campaign withdrew before nomination. (fn. 25)


  • 1. Bennett, Tewkes. 382–3.
  • 2. W. R. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 232, 258–9.
  • 3. Willcox, Glos. 1590–1640, 30n.
  • 4. Williams, Parl. Hist. 237.
  • 5. Ibid. 238.
  • 6. Bennett, Tewkes. 385.
  • 7. Williams, Parl. Hist. 244–5.
  • 8. Oldfield, Hist. of the Boroughs, ii. 57.
  • 9. Williams, Parl. Hist. 252; D.N.B.; Hist. of Parl.: Commons, 1754–90, ii. 467.
  • 10. Tewkes. Yearly Reg. i. 94.
  • 11. Ibid. ii. 304.
  • 12. Cf. Willcox, Glos. 1590–1640, 30–31, 33.
  • 13. Williams, Parl. Hist. 232–3.
  • 14. V.C.H. Glos. ii. 435.
  • 15. Williams, Parl. Hist. 233–5, 242; see above, p. 136.
  • 16. Williams, Parl. Hist. 232, 242.
  • 17. D.N.B.
  • 18. Ibid.
  • 19. Williams, Parl. Hist. 232, 248; see above, pp. 132, 137.
  • 20. Williams, Parl. Hist. 249–50.
  • 21. Oldfield, Hist. of the Boroughs, ii. 53.
  • 22. Williams, Parl. Hist. 243–51.
  • 23. Tewkes. Yearly Reg. i. 227.
  • 24. Ibid. ii. 196–8.
  • 25. Ibid. 306–7.