A History of the County of Leicester: Volume 4, the City of Leicester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1958.
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PARLIAMENTARY HISTORY 1660–1835
1660–89, p. 110. 1689–1765, p. 119. 1765–1818, p. 128. 1818–35, p. 140.
On the 12th of May 1660 King Charles II was duly proclaimed in Leicester, at the High Cross, the Barrell Cross, and the Gainsborough. (fn. 1) Civic dignitaries who had taken up office under the regicides appeared to welcome the Stuart restoration. Yet the mayor does not seem to have been altogether easy. For many years the town had been represented in Parliament by Hazlerigg, a republican and a regicide. (fn. 2) The corporation had received the approaches of General Monck equivocally. (fn. 3) Hence no doubt the note of anxiety in the mayor's report to John Grey, member for the town in 1660, of the zeal at Leicester for King Charles's return. (fn. 4) Like many others, the corporation of Leicester hastened to efface any bad impressions by a present to the king of £300 in gold, in a rich purse of silk brocade, carried to London by three of the aldermen and the two chamberlains, attended by three sergeants at mace. (fn. 5)
Five times in the following 29 years the corporation of Leicester was remodelled. Three times a new charter was drawn up. There were obvious reasons why in uncertain times the government should attend to municipal corporations in this way. The corporations had often the greatest influence in the election of the parliamentary burgesses for the towns, who constituted the majority of the Commons. On the other hand, these burgesses were overwhelmingly recruited from the country gentlemen, who had in times past been so largely responsible for the multiplication of these seats. (fn. 6) The parliamentary representation of Leicester was to all intents and purposes part of that of the county. Until 1832, its members were almost invariably Leicestershire gentlemen, with houses at Rothley, Rotherby, Wanlip, Stoughton, Scraptoft, Brooksby, Enderby, Narborough.
The interest of Crown, Church, and gentry in the borough representation was increased by the Civil War and Interregnum. Since 1642 the several forms of puritanism had grown stronger. They were most influential in the towns, not least in Leicester. Puritan meetings might well be a cover for republican conspiracy. Very soon therefore the government set about the regulating of the corporations. The Corporation Act of 1661 imposed upon all mayors, aldermen, common councillors, recorders, and other corporation officers the obligation to take the oaths of allegiance and supremacy, to repudiate by a formal declaration the rightfulness of resistance to the monarch by force of arms, and to receive the Communion at the hands of a minister and according to the rites (not yet settled) of the Church of England. Even more important was the machinery devised to enforce the Act. Commissioners were appointed for each county under the Great Seal, and given power until March 1663 'by order and warrant to displace or remove' any members or officers they should think fit, even though they might have taken or be willing to take the oaths and fulfil the other requirements stated in the Act. (fn. 7) In fact, for fifteen months the rights and powers of the corporations were virtually suspended. On the other hand, the Crown could go only so far as the gentry, who were strong in the Commons, would let it. Suggestions were rejected in the House that the Crown should have a practical veto on nominations of mayors, clerks, and recorders; that the towns should be forced to a surrender and renewal of their charters; and that the county justices should be made ex officio magistrates within the corporate towns. (fn. 8) Moreover, the men who were appointed as commissioners came naturally enough from the local gentry. Leicester was investigated by John Bale, Thomas Merry, George Faunt, William Whalley, and Richard Orton. (fn. 9) Faunt and Orton were deputy-lieutenants, and Faunt was one of the knights of the shire elected in 1661 (fn. 10) and counted as one of the court party in that Parliament. (fn. 11)
By October 1662 the Leicester corporation had been purged of 40 members, 15 being aldermen, and 25 common councilmen. (fn. 12) No trace seems to have survived of the detailed grounds of rejection and choice. Local feuds and personal dislikes no doubt had their place, as well as the greater issues of Church and State, and the purpose of the commissioners to purge out the old leaven of commonwealth principles. A little later the commissioners forbade the corporation to 'intermeddle' in the choice of a new recorder: they had 'received informations of several things done by Mr. James Winstanley, which may render him incapable of continuing recorder'. (fn. 13) The interests of the Crown were watched in Leicester by Henry, Lord Loughborough, no doubt acting in the stead of his nephew the Earl of Huntingdon, who was in 1662 only twelve years old. In October 1662 the new corporation reported to Lord Loughborough that 'though the late alterations amongst us might have seemed to raise some discontented thoughts, yet we truly declare . . . this corporation was never so unanimous or better satisfied than now it is in all the late elections'. (fn. 14)
In January 1665 the Leicester corporation received new letters patent. At no time between the Restoration and the Revolution was the threat of an attack on chartered privileges far away. At the outset, even before the purge of 1662, Lord Loughborough had threatened that if the corporation did not restore to both the profits and place of town clerk Edward Palmer (who had been dismissed in 1646 for actions done at Loughborough's behest), (fn. 15) he would 'make the king acquainted with it, and with them that were the putters of him out, and that when he came to renew your charter move the king to stop your desires'. (fn. 16) In 1663 the first steps were taken for the review of the town's privileges, in line with the general policy of the government,. (fn. 17) when the corporation was told that proceedings by way of quo warranto were intended against them, but by friendly offices had been postponed. (fn. 18) Acting under advice, they considered what improvements they might ask for: a confirmation of the trade privileges; a new horse market; and above all a strengthening of their jurisdiction in the liberties, suburbs, and fields by the exclusion of the county officers 'by a special clause of non intromittant'. (fn. 19) Perhaps prudently at the time, this last suggestion was not pressed, although it touched upon an issue which a hundred years later was to be of the greatest importance, and was not finally to be settled until the reform of 1835–6.
The letters patent of 20 January 1665 were remarkable chiefly for two things. The first, which was noted by Nichols, was the great emphasis on the oaths of allegiance and supremacy. (fn. 20) The other was the provision that the appointment to certain offices, of a legal and judicial sort, of 'recorder, steward, solicitor or common clerk', was to depend on royal approval and licence, (fn. 21) an instalment of that programme of detailed control by the Crown which the Commons had refused in the debate on the Corporation Act. Accordingly, a month or so later, the king formally approved the appointment as town clerk of John Hackle in succession to Edward Palmer. (fn. 22)
The strong insistence on the qualifying oaths and sacramental test had the disadvantage that the pretence of conscientious refusal could be made the excuse for refusing office. In 1665 Edward Billers, William Warburton, and William Orton were actually summoned from Leicester to the Privy Council, and detained in custody, because they refused to take the usual oaths and to pay the consequent fines. (fn. 23) In times of special disturbance, the government was attentive to the enforcement of the oaths and test, and in 1680, when it made inquiry at Leicester, was told, with a reference back to these events of 1665, that subscription was being exacted rigorously. (fn. 24)
The letters patent of 1665 made no reference to the parliamentary representation of the borough. Its history at this time remains in important respects obscure. From the time of Henry VII until the Restoration burgesses had been elected in the Common Hall, the commonalty as a whole being excluded. In February 1661 the mayor, in the course of a discussion with Lord Loughborough about the election soon to be held, hoped that this would continue. He requested that Lord Loughborough would recommend someone well known in the town, for the recommendation of a stranger might provoke the commonalty to interference in the election, which would thus be more difficult to carry through successfully. (fn. 25) Whatever the true inwardness of this plea, the party of the narrow vote, and presumably also Lord Loughborough and the government, were in the outcome to suffer some disappointment. A double return was made involving three gentlemen, none of them strangers to the town. John Grey was already known as a member, and had family connexions with the Earl of Rutland. (fn. 26) Sir William Hartopp was a well-established county landowner, living at Rotherby. (fn. 27) The third, Sir John Pretyman, was lord of the manor and patron of the living of Loddington. (fn. 28) Hartopp's name was in both returns, so that the issue lay between Grey and Pretyman.
For whatever reason, the House of Commons determined in favour of Pretyman, (fn. 29) and against the corporation who claimed that the franchise (on which Grey had been elected) was restricted to themselves, excluding the commonalty of the borough. Their testimony on Grey's behalf availed them nothing. (fn. 30) Perhaps it was a sign of their displeasure that Pretyman seems never to have been made a freeman. He seems to have been very much a Church-and-King country gentleman, zealous against a Puritan minister at Kibworth, 'that indemnity-pleading Captain Yaxley'. (fn. 31) Pretyman and Hartopp seem alike to have been regarded as sound by the government. Pretyman for a time held the office of Receiver of First Fruits and Tenths, but was found in December 1663 to be indebted to the Crown in respect of the moneys of that office, £19,864 9s. 9d. After long processes his estate at Loddington was impounded in 1671 on account of the £16,000 or more still owing. (fn. 32) By 1676 he was regarded as having no known connexions with the court, and Hartopp only by way of the Duchy of Lancaster. (fn. 33)
In other ways Pretyman was not an ideal member. In 1670 he was suspended for abuse of privilege by using it to get out of the King's Bench prison a certain Robert Haimes, whom he untruthfully made out to be his own menial servant. (fn. 34) He returned to his duties only when the House was satisfied that he really could not produce the person of Haimes. (fn. 35) On this affair Hartopp made a remark which reflects how much the borough seats were part of the county scheme of things: 'I am confident he will not be expelled the House: and I am glad of it, for a new election would not only have divided the corporation but all the gentlemen in our county would have given a prejudice to each other.' (fn. 36) Five years later Pretyman himself had to be delivered out of the same prison. (fn. 37) He died in 1676, (fn. 38) though news of his death seems to have been rather slow in reaching the corporation.
The election of his successor led to some coolness between the corporation and the Earl of Huntingdon. The corporation, perhaps embarrassed by not knowing whether Pretyman was alive or dead, received coldly the earl's provision of a new candidate, a Mr. Finch. Finch was presumably of the family of the Earl of Nottingham, the Lord Chancellor, for the Earl of Huntingdon clearly thought that he was showing great favour to the corporation. The corporation's unfriendly response not only brought upon themselves the threat of a quo warranto, but also very nearly incurred a determination of their franchise in the Commons. Robert Harding, the recorder, commented that if the corporation would only be unanimous in the hall, 'the rest when they know it will obey you'. (fn. 39) In the end, Finch neither forced himself nor was forced on the corporation, and John Grey returned again to the Commons as a member for Leicester. (fn. 40)
After the general election of 1678, Leicester was represented in the Habeas Corpus Parliament by John Grey and Sir Henry Beaumont. Grey in this election had the support of the Rutland interest, which was mobilized for him by his nephew Lord Roos, who was himself returned for the county but unseated on a petition in favour of Sir John Hartopp. (fn. 41) Beaumont had the reputation of a thorough royalist. He held lands at Stoughton and Thurnby. (fn. 42) Throughout the three parliaments of 1678, 1679, and 1681, and in all the heat of the exclusion controversy, Grey and Beaumont continued as members for Leicester. (fn. 43) The corporation declared firmly for the court and was busy against conventicles. (fn. 44) They hastened to subscribe the Abhorrence, with which the mayor and aldermen journeyed up to London and which two of them took to the Earl of Rutland. (fn. 45) In the eyes of the dominant party in the Commons they were thus to be counted enemies of liberty, and 'Tories'. None the less, when the first exclusion bill was read a second time in the Commons, Grey voted with the two county members for it. The 'loyal' Beaumont was absent. (fn. 46)
The whiggish majorities in the Commons made inevitable another attack by the Crown on the municipal corporations. By a remodelling of charters everywhere, the court strove to prevent there ever again being built up such an opposition as Shaftesbury had organized for exclusion. The Leicester corporation was as a whole well-affected, but even there, in the corporation as well as in the town at large, there were ill-disposed men. In 1684, pressure to surrender its charters was put upon the corporation by the Earl of Huntingdon, who had only just become Lord Lieutenant. This was done partly by direct correspondence with the mayor, but for the most part through a clerical intermediary and confidant, the earl's chaplain, Dr. John Geary. Geary was at that time Rector of Swepstone, had recently been made Archdeacon of Stowe in Lincoln diocese, and was a little later, in virtue partly of the earl's good offices, to become Archdeacon of Buckingham. Through him the earl conveyed promises, threats, exhortations, and advice; from him the earl got detailed advice about people and conditions in Leicester. (fn. 47)
The Leicester corporation was more than once warned of the dangers of delay, and that it was about the last to make a surrender, which might give a very bad impression at court. On the other hand, the earl thought that 'if Leicester doe surrender, if they desire any enlargement of privileges I belive they may be obtained'. He had moreover his own concerns, the appointment alternis vicibus of steward and bailiff as well as 'a designe which . . . I once had . . . for myselfe', to which Dr. Geary was one of very few people to be privy, presumably that of making himself recorder, with power to name a deputy. He was glad to conclude that in these affairs 'my Lord Ferrers has no more hand in it than my Lord of Rutland'. (fn. 48) Indeed, delays might bring danger to his own plans, as well as threaten harm to the interests of the corporation.
Geary, armed with greater knowledge of the earl's plans than he could rightly convey to the men of Leicester, visited the town, and met there with some dislike of the surrender, overcome only in part by a process of 'sweeting', which included a gallon of sack to the mayor's wife, which with similar gifts from other persons made her and some others quite merry. 'My staying two or three days amongst them proselited them all.' In the end the surrender was voted in the Common Hall, 45 votes to 4. (fn. 49) Four men were reported by name as voting against the surrender, Bentley, Brooksby, Harris, and one of the Bents, presumably John. Others, thought Geary, wished them well in their opposition, but dared not declare themselves, among them 'Buxston, Wallin, Dudley'. (fn. 50) Even when the surrender had been voted, its execution was delayed, until a new mayor was not merely elected on the St. Matthew's Day following, but also sworn in on the next Michaelmas Day (until when 'he is but a tantum non'), and qualified by Communion the Sunday after. (fn. 51) This was particularly irritating to the earl, who wished to get the surrender back to the king when he came back from Newmarket on 25 September, anxious perhaps to forestall any move from Ferrers or Rutland. Neither the persuasions of Dr. Geary, nor even the alarming appearance of a quo warranto 'directed to Mr. Carter', could hurry up the corporation, although a Mr. Newton, a 'great servant of theirs' (almost certainly John Newton, a local vicar of apparently contentious disposition), was sent on a special embassy to Swepstone to seek help and influence. (fn. 52) The earl was able to assure the king that the surrender was a truly voluntary act, and 'not the effect of the quo warranto', and so to secure a stay of proceedings upon the writ. (fn. 53)
When at last the new mayor was 'completed'—Thomas Ludlam, 'a wonderfull loyall person and picked out on purpose for the designe' (fn. 54) —the order for surrender was put into execution, but by a wrongful procedure. Not unnaturally fearful lest they should make any mistakes, the mayor and corporation, on the advice of Brown their solicitor, decided to bring up to London a blank form ready prepared, together with the seal of the corporation, with which the mayor might in London seal 'such instruments as may be acceptable to His Majesty'. (fn. 55) The form was good, probably one which had been sent by the earl himself, but surrender had to be made, as the AttorneyGeneral himself advised, by a document sealed actually in the Common Hall. (fn. 56) The mayor and his colleagues therefore hastened back to Leicester, having enjoyed magnificent hospitality at the earl's house in Gerard Street. On 29 October the seal of the corporation was in due form at last affixed to the surrender, which Mr. Chamberlain Abney brought back to London. Surrender could at last be made to the king on the corporation's behalf, by either the earl or the recorder. (fn. 57) Early in November the recorder wrote to tell the mayor that he had presented the surrender and the petition for a new charter, and that the earl was 'now upon the inquiry after men and principles'. (fn. 58)
He had from the outset been concerned about 'men and principles', as had the corporation themselves. So soon as surrender was pressed upon them, by the Earl of Huntingdon and Dr. Geary, and as well by the Earl of Rutland and others, (fn. 59) the mayor and 'several members of both companies' had met to consider what things they might ask for, to be added to the privileges they already had. They suggested an additional fair, to be held on the Saturday before Twelfth Day; that they might have the reversion of the perquisites of the court leet and the immunities thereunto belonging; and, most important, that the election of burgesses of Parliament for the borough might be settled 'in both companies as formerly'. (fn. 60) The earl's ideas were in some ways more drastic: the recordership for himself, a reduction of the companies in size to 12 aldermen and 24 common councilmen (simply 'by continuing all such at present as are good men and for the future to let them lessen to that number'), (fn. 61) and (this being mentioned only after he had entertained the mayor and his colleagues in Gerard Street) perhaps 'associate justices. . . gentlemen in the towne and within five miles of it that will be fit to be inserted'. (fn. 62) Otherwise it was expected that all that had been surrendered would be granted again, 'the king only reserving to himselfe a power of approbation in the governing part'. (fn. 63)
The earl had not been altogether favourably impressed by the deputation which had waited upon him in London. Of one or two he knew something. On all he sought Geary's advice. 'For Noble hee is now in London and though he may goe to Broadgate sometimes I doe verily beleeve he will not vote amiss tho he will bee dead probably before another Parliament.' Joseph Cradock had married a Hastings, (fn. 64) so that to leave him out would reflect upon the earl, but he was not regarded by Geary as in any way improved by this alliance, being still 'rich and peevish'. Geary mentioned also Edmund Johnson, 'a very rich dyer . . . looked upon to be presbyterianly inclined'. On most of these matters Geary had found the men of the town to be divided, especially in their opinions about persons, and as to the way of removing them, 'many being desirous that they should be incorporated by all the names of the old members and then after a little by the king's command to be removed and this was the way at Coventry'. On several other problems Geary gave the most direct advice. For one thing the men of the town, however divided on some points, were perfectly united in hatred of the idea of associate justices, with 'a perfect averseness and great dislike among them all against any country gentlemen to be joyned with them, and they all seriously declare they had much rather their corporation were totally destroyed than such a thing done'. He strongly urged the earl if he became recorder to keep Nathan Wright as his deputy, for Wright was a loyal person, of great weight in the town. In spite of the solicitations of Henry Halford for the post of steward, (fn. 65) William Major should be kept in that office on account of his considerable estate in the town, and his many relations. (fn. 66) There was, as he pointed out, the less need to be exact about persons at this stage, since the charter would provide that any who should at any time displease the king could by royal order be removed.
The new charter was issued on 10 December 1684. The privileges of the corporation as a whole remained much as before. (fn. 67) It is interesting to observe how the susceptibilities of the townsmen as reported by Geary were taken into account. As the earl had told him a few days in advance, 'I shall bee recorder, the removes will not be above 12 or 13 without associate justices'. (fn. 68) Thomas Ludlam was named as mayor, and Nathan Wright as deputy-recorder, Henry Halford as steward of the Court of Record, and William Major as bailiff of the liberty. (fn. 69) Of the four who had voted against the surrender, and the others who had been named as suspect in Geary's report, not one remained in the body as reconstituted, not even John Bent, who had tried to excuse himself to Geary as having been 'drawne in'. (fn. 70)
On the other hand, for all the regard which was had to the sentiments which Geary had reported to the earl, there were significant alterations. The companies were reduced in size, though not so far as the earl had at first thought, by the reduction of the 48 to 36, the aldermen remaining at 24. The chamberlains were abolished, and their duties taken over by two bailiffs. The power of electing burgesses to Parliament was not confined to the companies as they had wished, but extended to inhabitants paying scot and lot. Finally, as was only to be expected, the Crown was given, in the most explicit terms, powers of removal of all officers and members of the hall at pleasure. (fn. 71)
It seems clear that the provisions of the new charter represented some sort of balancing between what the earl wanted, and the feelings in the town. No doubt also, account was taken of the wishes of the other gentry of the county, from Rutland and Ferrers downwards. This may indeed account in part for the continuation of the wider franchise, in spite of the greater ease with which the government could have manipulated the narrower one. Possibly here, the interest of the gentlemen of the county was influential. The narrow franchise would certainly have eliminated much of that power which in one way or another, such as by the ownership of tenements in the borough, they were able to exert in the return of members to the Commons. Moreover, although the ruling motive in these events was a political one, to prepare for a future Parliament which should be amenable to the court, other considerations may also have entered in. The reduction of the company of 48 to 36 was probably defensible on grounds of efficiency. Indeed, the corporation of Shrewsbury actually asked for their companies to be reduced to the numbers originally thought of by the Earl of Huntingdon for Leicester, of 12 and 24. (fn. 72)
The charter of 1684 upheld the statutory defences of the Church of England. 'The recorder will direct Hackle how to prepare things for swearinge all the companies. . . . They must all afterwards receave the Sacrament and take the oaths at the next sessions.' (fn. 73) At last stability might seem to be secured. (fn. 74) In fact, the currents of disapproval of the régime were to grow stronger, as it seemed to increase in arbitrariness. (fn. 75)
This new charter had not been long in force when Charles II died on 6 February 1685. (fn. 76) His successor, in speeches the text of which was carefully recorded in the minute books of the Leicester corporation, promised to uphold the rights of the Church of England. (fn. 77) The Earl of Huntingdon was prompt to send to Leicester a form of loyal address to the new king, and at the same time to put them in mind of the approaching elections for the first Parliament of the new reign. 'I suppose Sir Henry Beaumont will offer himself for one, and whether you may not find a fitt man and inhabitant of your town and a member of your corporation to be the other I leave you to consider, possibly you may do yourselves much right in it.' (fn. 78) Indeed the earl wrote more often than not in a fashion somewhat admonitory. When he reported the king's gracious reception of the loyal address and good opinion of Nathan Wright, the deputy-recorder, he referred also to the arrest of a seditious person in the town, and remarked that 'it would be very unsafe for you if he should run away'. (fn. 79)
In the Parliament of 1685 Leicester was represented by Sir Henry Beaumont and Thomas Babington of Rothley. (fn. 80) In no small degree as a result of the manipulations of the previous three or four years the House of Commons met in a spirit of great loyalty to the Crown, which was only dissipated by James II's favour towards Roman Catholics and Dissenters. He set about using the same methods that Charles II had used, but in the opposite direction, to abase the Church interest by a new regulation of the municipalities. (fn. 81)
This work seems to have begun for Leicester in February 1688, when by order taken in the Privy Council eleven aldermen, sixteen of the common councilmen, the bailiff, the town clerk, and the town solicitor were put out, and new men brought in. These new men included all those whom Geary had named as against the surrender of 1684, the rich dyer Edmund Johnson, Bentley, Brooksby, Bent, Wallin, Dudley, Harris, and Buxton. Significantly they were dispensed from taking the oaths for the defence of the Church of England which had been expressly enjoined in the charter of 1684. (fn. 82) On 22 and 27 April there were new removals and appointments, until in all 33 persons who had been named in the charter of 1684 were turned out. (fn. 83) So purged, the corporation welcomed the birth of the Prince of Wales, and arranged on 27 June a day of feasting at the house of Joseph Cradock the mayor, who was apparently now less 'peevish'. Bells were rung and bonfires blazed in the town. (fn. 84)
This reorganization was all very well on paper, but in Leicester, as in many other places, 'several of the new aldermen of the dissenting party . . . refused to act'. Sir Henry Beaumont as a good Tory deplored the putting out of 'loyal and complying persons'. 'As to some in the list', he complained, 'as Palmer, Pare, and Deakins, they are my especial friends and tenants, entirely to be governed for His Majesty's service. Since never any person so vile as he that hath Huckles his place, his name being Creswell, an old rebel, of which he glories to this day'. (fn. 85) Creswell was soon found unsatisfactory, and dismissed in July 1688. (fn. 86)
A truncated corporation, a purged body, made a new surrender of the town's privileges. A new charter was issued on 15 September 1688, at the same time as a number of others. (fn. 87) The Earl of Huntingdon, one of King James's right-hand men, was busy again. Many of the changes made in 1684 were continued in the charter of 1688. The companies were kept at 24 and 36, the two bailiffs still did the work formerly given to chamberlains, and the Earl of Huntingdon remained as recorder, with power to appoint his deputy who was not this time named in the charter. The new charter strongly asserted, as the former had done, the Crown's rights of removal.
In other respects, by no means unimportant, the charter of 1688 went contrary to that of 1684. The mayor, aldermen, councilmen, and all other officers named, and their successors after them, were 'by virtue of the prerogative dispensed, pardoned, remitted, and exonerated' from taking the oath of supremacy, or any other of the oaths and tests which had been imposed for the defence of the Church of England. The new charter, moreover, completed the purge begun the previous February. Only four aldermen and four councilmen of 1684 remained in the corporation as reconstituted by this new charter. The charter-mayor, John Carr, had never before held civic office. (fn. 88) It is noticeable also that seven of the promoti of February were missing from the body as then reconstituted. These men, two aldermen and five councilmen, may well have included those of the dissenting party mentioned by Beaumont as having refused earlier to act. The whole Quaker executive of the town appeared as nominated in this charter. (fn. 89) Another sign of the difficulty of recruiting people to co-operate in the new policy was that the objectionable Creswell, who had been appointed first in February and then dismissed as unsatisfactory in July, returned to office, nominated in the charter of September to the place of town clerk.
The charter of 1688 made another radical change. As the old companies had so often asked, it restricted the parliamentary franchise to the mayor, aldermen, and common councilmen. In Henry Beaumont's words, 'elections that way will be the more secure, and more certain measures taken'. (fn. 90) Even before the charter was completed the Presbyterian John Oneby, bailiff of the liberty since February 1688 and one of the returning officers, wrote from Barwell to the Earl of Huntingdon about the expected election: 'I hope we shall be in a condition to elect Sir W. Villiers and Sir H. Beaumont, persons of undoubted loyalty and fidelity.' (fn. 91) As late as mid-September the Earl of Sunderland as Secretary of State conveyed to the Earl of Huntingdon the king's approval of these nominations. (fn. 92)
James II's charter has been almost completely unnoticed by Leicester historians. (fn. 93) It does not seem ever to have been officially received at Leicester, or to have had the slightest effect, though it may perhaps have reached John Carr or other of the king's friends in the town, and been no more heard of. On the St. Matthew's Day which followed less than a week after the charter, it was not John Carr who was chosen mayor, but William Bentley, who was indeed named in the charter, but only as an alderman. On 17 October 1688 James II, by orders, the text of which was most carefully entered in the corporation's minute book, revoked all the amendments and reconstitutions which his brother and he had made in municipal liberties since 1679. (fn. 94) There seems indeed to have been nothing else that he could do, if in some important places a breakdown of town government was to be avoided. (fn. 95) At Leicester this meant a restoration to their places of those men who survived from the corporation as it had been immediately before the charter of 1684. Accordingly Thomas Ludlam, who had been both the last mayor chosen under the previous dispensation, and continued as the first under the 1684 charter, again presided in the Common Hall, over companies nominally of 24 aldermen and 48 common councilmen. On 20 October there were with him 18 other aldermen and 40 of the common council. At this meeting William Bentley was for a second time that year chosen mayor. This time he took not only 'the usual oaths of the corporation', but also 'the oath of allegiance and supremacy, the oath mentioned in the Act for Regulating Corporations, and subscribed the Declaration for the Renouncing of the Covenant'. Aldermen Ludlam, Hood, Ward, and Cradock, who had served as mayors in the previous four years, were named as justices of the peace, notwithstanding that the last three had served under a charter now revoked. Similarly the hall decided that 'those persons as have been mayors shall have the precedency according to their places of seniorities of mayoralty'. The old chamberlains of 1684 returned for this one meeting, where they handed over to the two men who had been named as bailiffs at the last St. Matthew's Day under the 1684 charter, and were now again to be called chamberlains. To make all regular, one of them, Joseph Roberts, junior in the 36, had immediately before to be appointed by the aldermen to the company of 48 now restored. He, too, had to take the oaths of which James II had tried to rid himself. (fn. 96)
On 29 December 1688 the Prince of Orange addressed his letters throughout the kingdom for the calling of the Convention Parliament. To Leicester, (fn. 97) as to the other boroughs, the letter was addresed to 'the chief magistrate or such others . . . who have right to make returns of members to serve in Parliament according to the ancient usage of the said burrough, before the seizure or surrender of charters made in the time of King Charles II'. Accordingly William Bentley as mayor and Thomas Palmer as bailiff of the liberty returned the names of Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, and Lawrence Carter of the Newarke. (fn. 98)
The conditions of parliamentary conflict were in important respects changed by the Revolution. The influence of the Earl of Huntingdon was eclipsed. (fn. 99) Sir Henry Beaumont had died in January 1688. (fn. 100) The Earl of Rutland, a great landowner, if not the greatest in the county, became lord lieutenant. (fn. 101) Thomas Grey, second Earl of Stamford, a thorough Whig who had been under a cloud in the previous reign and for most of it had lived quietly at Bradgate, now came into his own. (fn. 102) In 1697 he became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, as well as Lord Lieutenant of Leicestershire. (fn. 103) To these two earls now, and no longer to the Earl of Huntingdon, the corporation had to look for protection and favour. (fn. 104)
The corporation of Leicester has been generally regarded as at this time disaffected to the Revolution. The truth seems to be that the Common Hall was not so much disaffected as diverse. At Michaelmas 1689 all the different groupings of the previous five years were represented in it. There was first a group of 30 men, including 12 among the aldermen, who had, at some time or another, been ejected by James II, presumably as unfavourable to his plans to favour Roman Catholics. A second group, rather more numerous, were persons who had been named in the charter of 1684, all of whom may on that account be taken to be stout Church-and-King men, hostile to papists and dissenters alike. These were 18 of the aldermen and 22 of the common councilmen. There was, thirdly, a slightly larger group, 24 of the aldermen, and 28 of the common councilmen, who had been of the Common Hall immediately before the charter of 1684. These included twelve men, who had been removed in 1684, among them those notorious characters, Bentley, Brooksby, Harris, and John Bent. The first two mayors of the Revolution time were dissidents of 1684, William Bentley and John Bent. Bentley had also been named for office under James II in both February and September 1688; Bent, perhaps because he was more strictly 'protestant', only in February.
Some such mixture of elements was clearly not to be avoided in a small community, where recruitment for office was never easy, and made more difficult in disturbed times. It shows the folly of the proposals which were made in the legislature to purge the municipalities of all who had any part in surrendering charters. A municipal body of mixed complexion, under the rule of whiggish mayors, may well have seemed very suitable to the lord lieutenant and to the governments of 1688–90. Probably, however, the whiggery of Bentley, Harris, Brooksby, and Bent, in 1684–8, when for the most part a royalist toryism reigned in Whitehall, had come as much from a spirit of local independence as from theological or political doctrines. No doubt in this it resembled the intransigent toryism and fierce Churchmanship of their Hanoverian successors, who were to face a central government of an opposite character, one which was accounted Whig and latitudinarian.
In the light of these different groupings in the Common Hall of 1689–90, it seems no longer possible to accept the judgement of those writers who, from the 18th century onward, have regarded the Leicester corporation as thoroughly disaffected to the Revolution. There were, of course, signs and rumours of Jacobitism in the town. In 1690 John Newton, Vicar of St. Martin's, was accused by barber-surgeon Pollard of traitorously wishing God-speed to a rumoured French invasion, but the magistrates rebuked, apparently, not the parson but his accuser. (fn. 105) Drunkards in the town drank the Pretender's health, and swore terrific Jacobite oaths. (fn. 106) The corporation itself had its troubles with members elect who refused the qualifying oaths designed to protect the Revolution and Protestant succession, (fn. 107) though these refusals may have sprung not from seditious principles, but merely anxiety to avoid public service. On the whole, the corporation conscientiously administered these oaths. They swore to the Association of 1696. (fn. 108) In the general uneasiness, however, it is not surprising that troops were quartered in the town, and even with the help of the Earl of Stamford were not easily to be got rid of. (fn. 109)
The Revolution brought no great change in the character of the burgesses of Parliament. They continued to be gentlemen from the county, often with family connexions in the town. At the first election after the Revolution, Babington was defeated. He was reported, rightly or wrongly, to be amongst those who had voted against recognizing William and Mary as king and queen. (fn. 110) The new member was Sir Edward Abney, of Willesley Hall, elder brother to that Sir Thomas Abney who was Lord Mayor of London. (fn. 111) Abney was re-elected in 1695. (fn. 112) Lawrence Carter, his colleague, remained from the Convention Parliament to represent the town throughout the entire reign of William III, with the exception of the Parliament of 1695, when he was replaced by Archdale Palmer of Wanlip. (fn. 113) Lawrence Carter, recorder from 1697 to 1729, (fn. 114) though reported to hold high Church-and-King principles, (fn. 115) was in 1702 to have the support of the Rutland interest, and to hold office under the Hanoverians. (fn. 116) After Abney, Carter had as a colleague in the Parliament of 1696 and in the first of 1701, Sir William Villiers of Brooksby, (fn. 117) and in the second Parliament of 1701, the last of the reign, James Winstanley of Braunstone. (fn. 118)
It seems to have been during the reign of Anne that the Leicester corporation acquired that Tory label which (not altogether without exception) it kept until the reforms of 1836. Throughout Anne's reign, Leicester was represented in the Commons by James Winstanley of Braunstone, and Sir George Beaumont of Stoughton Grange. (fn. 119) Beaumont was grandson to that Sir Henry who had sat for the town during the exclusion controversy and under James II. Winstanley remained as member until he died in 1718; and Beaumont until he died, still a bachelor, in 1737.
Beaumont was an extreme Tory, who became a member of Bolingbroke's October Club. (fn. 120) He seems to have refused to stand for election in 1698, (fn. 121) and worked against the Rutland interest in 1701. (fn. 122) He flourished more happily under Anne. He 'tacked' in 1704, and in 1710 supported Sacheverell. (fn. 123) During the Tory ascendancy of the last years of the queen he was appointed a commissioner of the Privy Seal in 1712, and in 1714 of the Admiralty. (fn. 124) In the controversies about the French peace at the end of the reign he incurred some unpopularity in Leicester, which was used against him in an election: his voting for 'the bill relating to commerce' was interpreted as 'voting for transporting wool unwrought from France'. (fn. 125)
Winstanley his colleague had a Puritan ancestry, and perhaps partly for that reason was regarded by Throsby and subsequent writers as being the Whig to Beaumont's Tory. Actually, if the contemporary accounts of parliamentary divisions are not here misleading, he voted more than once with Beaumont in a decidedly Tory fashion, about occasional conformity, and even about Sacheverell. He was disliked by the dissenters, and was by one contemporary regarded with Beaumont as an October man. (fn. 126) To judge by his hostile vote against the French commercial treaty, he is probably to be thought of as a Tory, but not an extreme one. (fn. 127) The long continuance in the Commons of Beaumont and Winstanley, particularly of Beaumont, probably helped the dominance within the corporation of those who were strongest in their devotion to the Church of England and the Throne.
An important issue was settled by the determination which the House of Commons made of the disputed return of 1705. In the previous election, of 1702, Lawrence Carter, notwithstanding support from Belvoir castle, had been defeated. (fn. 128) Again in 1705 he was an unsuccessful candidate, but petitioned to have the return of Beaumont and Winstanley set aside. Both sides made the usual accusations of bribery, threats, and violence. The persons principally complained of, by Carter's witnesses, for indirect practices, were Thomas Ayres the mayor, Thomas Palmer the bailiff, 'Mr. John Orton, Mr. John Farmer, and others'. The Committee of Privileges reported in favour of Carter's petition. The House as a whole accepted every one of the committee's resolutions, except the vital one, which would have unseated Winstanley and brought in Carter. Beaumont and Winstanley were thus confirmed as members, but Winstanley only by the narrow margin of 190 to 150.
Three decisions were made in this determination which were of importance for the future politics of the borough. Everybody agreed that the franchise was in the freemen of the borough not receiving alms, and the inhabitants paying scot and lot. The Commons decided also that such freemen as had been made free at the charge of any of the candidates might not vote at the election; that persons living in the borough by certificate, not having gained a settlement by renting £10 a year or serving in an annual office, did not qualify for the vote simply by paying scot and lot; and finally that any person having a right to vote for two members, who had given a single vote, had not any right to come back and give a second vote afterwards. It was an important point that the freemen and the scot-and-lot-paying inhabitants were now determined as the voters, because whatever the control the corporation had over the number of freemen, it had no control over the increase of the scot and lot men, which magnified more or less as population grew. On the other hand, the simple restriction placed on the use of freemen created specially for election purposes could be easily evaded by corporation and candidates, especially as the freeman franchise was in no way limited to freemen who were resident in the borough. (fn. 129)
The Hanoverian succession, more distinctly a Whig party affair than the Revolution, threw the Leicester corporation more decidedly on the side of opposition. One sign of the changed times, according to an obituary notice (used by Nichols), was that Sir George Beaumont, after the queen's death, 'suffered the same fate as the rest of her faithful servants. Nay, so far was the reign of party carried as even to turn him (together with a great number of other gentlemen of the best families in the county) out of the commission of the peace, though so great and general was the discontent on that account, he was with some others restored.' He had nevertheless, as Nichols closely paraphrased the obituary, 'the satisfaction to find that, however small his interest with men of power might be, yet among the people he represented it increased every day, and every contest, particularly the last, showed him much superior to every competitor. He died 9 April 1737, having represented the town of Leicester constantly in every Parliament from the death of King William.' (fn. 130) Throughout his life he persistently opposed the characteristically Whig measures—the Septennial Act, the Peerage Bill, the tobacco excise. (fn. 131) His epitaph, reputed to be composed by Swift, had a Tory reference to Queen Anne's 'entirely English reign'. He was praised as 'a zealous advocate for the rights of the Church'. (fn. 132)
In spite of the affronts almost certain to be offered to Sir George Beaumont, the corporation behaved with correctness at George I's accession. (fn. 133) They made elaborate arrangements for 'the greater solemnity of the day' of his coronation. These included processions to church and back, an ordinary at the 'White Hart', an evening party at the Gainsborough, and bonfires. (fn. 134) The failure of the 'Fifteen elicited loyal expressions. (fn. 135) None the less, there was no doubt present in the town, as Thompson maintained, 'a leaven of Jacobitism', (fn. 136) open manifestations of which were inhibited by the quartering again of troops in Leicester, whose presence was almost certainly a sign of suspicions in Whitehall. Such Tory Churchmen as Samuel Carte, Vicar of St. Martin's, in whose family there continued a tradition of devotion, sometimes imprudent, to the Stuarts, disliked intensely the presence of the soldiers. (fn. 137)
It seems to have been after the Hanoverian succession rather than before that charges of Jacobitism were most consistently made against the corporation. At election times they were part of the invective whereby the Whig interest sought to discredit its opponents. The election of Thomas Noble as a colleague for Beaumont in the House when Winstanley died in 1718 seems to have passed off quietly. (fn. 138) Noble, though 'unanimously elected' at Leicester, was not altogether of Beaumont's way of thinking. He seems to have abstained from voting with Beaumont against the repeal of the Occasional Conformity and Schism Acts, which had been passed as High Tory measures just before the queen died, but joined him in opposition to the Peerage Bill. (fn. 139) At the election of 1722 Lawrence Carter was returned as member, with Beaumont. (fn. 140)
The year of Carter's election was the year also of a Jacobite demonstration, apparently not connected with the election, which brought upon the Common Hall the notice of the government. According to 'repeated advices from several persons of credit', so the government were informed, 'about two o'clock in the morning, seven or eight persons assembled at the Market Cross, . . . did there proclaim the Pretender by the name of King James the Third'. Since no account had been sent in by the magistrates themselves, the judges of assize were called upon to investigate. (fn. 141) The town clerk in the following September was summoned to attend the Secretary of State in London with copies of examinations of witnesses. (fn. 142) In this affair the county officers intervened, encouraged by persons in the town who were anxious to vilify the corporation as traitorous and Jacobite. The Duke of Rutland and the other members of the county commission of the peace in March 1723 alleged against the inhabitants of Leicester a whole train of Jacobite activity, 'by inlisting and swearing men into the Pretender's service, by proclaiming him king in several streets . . . by drinking his health, and by many other horrid crimes of the like nature, of which no notice was taken by the mayor or aldermen, who are acting justices of the said burrough, until Your Majesty's justices for the county complained to the Lord Carteret of so shamefull a neglect'. Indeed, even when the judges had directed certain county justices to sit with the borough magistrates to examine witnesses, the borough magistrates had been obstructive. 'One of the said borough justices', it was alleged, 'drank the Pretender's health upon his knees.' The duke and the other county justices suggested therefore that some of their number should be empowered to act within the borough limits 'as His Majesty shall think fit', (fn. 143) thus reviving in a very different context the Jacobite Earl of Huntingdon's idea of 'associate justices'. This suggestion was repeated in the next summer to the Duke of Newcastle. (fn. 144) Both times it was rejected, after reference to the attorney-general. The corporation was well protected by its charters. A loyal address, sent off in August 1722, (fn. 145) possibly helped to convince the government that any such drastic measures were unnecessary.
In 1727 Lawrence Carter, who had been solicitor-general to George II as Prince of Wales, was appointed a baron of the exchequer, and so gave up his seat in the Commons. (fn. 146) The new member was Thomas Boothby Skrymsher, a country gentleman with estates in Leicestershire at Tooley Park and Foston, but described in the return as of Norberry Manor (Staffs.). (fn. 147) He was perhaps more of a Whig than Carter, and held a place as Register-General of all Trading Ships belonging to Great Britain, under the Commissioners of the Customs. (fn. 148) Skrymsher sat for Leicester only a short time, for in the year of his election George I died. At the general election following he was defeated by (as he alleged) the indirect and corrupt practices of the mayor and bailiff. George Wright was returned with Beaumont in his stead. Wright, variously described as of Gotehurst (Bucks.), and of Brooksby (Leics.), (fn. 149) was a grandson of old Lord Keeper Nathan Wright, once recorder. As might therefore be expected, he had the reputation of being a thorough Tory. (fn. 150) With Beaumont, he won the praise of the Common Hall by voting against Walpole's excise. (fn. 151) Notwithstanding this, he had family connexions with government servants of the Hanoverian regime. (fn. 152) He continued as member for Leicester until his death in 1765. (fn. 153)
One of the most striking features of the representation of Leicester in the 18th-century House of Commons is the long continuance of the same members. Once established, they stay there until they die. Consequently, changes tended to produce all the more disturbance, seeing that a long-standing member, especially when well thought of in the Common Hall, increased his interest as the years passed. Thus when Sir George Beaumont, who had sat for Leicester for 35 years in seven different parliaments, died in 1737, the rival party could hope to exploit this break in a connexion of so long standing. They might hope, with the help of influences from the county, to secure the return of a Whig, provided that a candidate of sufficient local influence could be found. Their candidate was Rogers Ruding of Westcotes Hall. The corporation candidate was James Wigley, of Scraptoft Hall. A fortnight or so after the return of Wigley, (fn. 154) on 9 May 1737, a petition on behalf of Ruding reached the House of Commons, from a great company of freemen resident in the borough and inhabitants paying scot and lot, complaining that 'William Brushfield mayor and Leonard Piddocke bailiff . . . behaved themselves very partially in favour of the said Mr. Wigley'. Ruding, they claimed, had been duly elected by a majority of the legal votes, and ought to have been returned. The petition came to nothing, (fn. 155) and Wigley remained to sit for Leicester until he died in 1765, only a little earlier than his colleague George Wright.
It was in connexion with this disputed return that the next great Jacobite scare of the century convulsed the town, and again brought in the potentates of the county. Very early on 1 February 1738, 'treasonable papers' were found posted up in various places, suggesting plans for the celebration of the 10 June next. A play was suggested, 'with a most vile and treasonable title to it'. (fn. 156) The local opposition party, the 'Friends of Government' as they styled themselves, sent copies of these papers as fast as they could to London by a special messenger. In London these papers were received by John Jackson, confrater of Wyggeston's Hospital, a latitudinarian and strong Whig, who had an old quarrel with the corporation for the part they had taken against him some years before in his quarrels with Samuel Carte, (fn. 157) a High Church partisanship which he himself regarded as more political than theological in origin, as springing from 'the long resentment of some Jacobites' against him. (fn. 158) Jackson was urged to lay these papers before the Secretary of State without delay. Thus the Duke of Newcastle was already informed, from the Whigs' point of view, before any account reached him from the mayor. (fn. 159) The whole affair was touched with melodrama. Men were reported to have gone about the town in dead of night with faces blackened. On 1 February 1738, the day the papers were posted, Robert Norton, the solicitor who had acted for the opposition in Ruding's petition, suddenly collapsed and died while being examined by the magistrates. (fn. 160)
The fame of these events was bruited through the land. The friends of the corporation published at Stamford as their account a lively pamphlet of remarks, called Faction Unmasked. The 'Friends of Government' replied with A Full and True Account, being an Answer to the Remarks of a Lying Faction. Along with much that is not dignified, edifying, or useful, there are several points of interest to be noted in these papers, and particularly in the arguments of the opposition. For one thing, Ruding's party complained of the corporation's use of non-resident freemen. 'They had a mind to try the legality of the outvoters (which had not been determined by the House of Commons), whose voting they think a late innovation on the rights of the borough, and, by setting them aside, to confine the election for the borough to the burgesses and other inhabitants of it, who pay scot and lot, agreeably to the direction of the last charter of the corporation.' This was, as time was increasingly to show, indeed a point of some importance. They added the equally interesting observation, that 'the great manufacture of the borough' abounded with 'Friends of the Government, who are the most considerable and wealthy part of it', so that on the resident votes alone the corporation candidates would be rejected. (fn. 161) The political reference to the growing manufacture is prophetic.
The corporation took the view that there was certainly a plot, but a Whig plot not a Jacobite one, whose purpose was by branding them as Jacobite to discredit them with the government, and so to prejudice Wigley's holding his seat. The opposition on the other hand connected these events with what had happened in 1722. They asked that the county magistrates should be authorized to sit with those of the borough 'from time to time . . . to examine any evidence in relation to the discovery of the authors and abettors of the said treasonable papers'. They urged this because the Whig affidavits made to magistrates of the county had been 'directly contrary to the other affidavits' made before those of the borough. (fn. 162) As in 1722 the Secretary of State made inquiries of the mayor, who replied, probably wisely and with a sense of proportion, that he now had 'all the light into the fact that we can possibly come at'. (fn. 163)
The whole affair was really rather absurd, and yet, for the historian, not so trivial as it was silly. The truth was very likely revealed in the pages of the Gentleman's Magazine. (fn. 164) The papers were nothing more than a practical joke, in dubious taste, perpetrated perhaps by the correspondent to the magazine himself, William Bickerstaffe, a local divine, who thought more highly of his wit than it deserved. Whatever the origin of the papers, they were used by the corporation's enemies in the town, in alliance with men of the same party in the county, in their battle against the corporation's ascendancy in the parliamentary politics of the borough.
James Wigley, out of whose election the whole uproar arose, seems to have been most worthy and benevolent. He was a country gentleman of great estates, with lands in Leicestershire at Scraptoft, Burbage, Walcote, Hinckley, Stoke Golding, and Hallaton. His will reveals him as a kinsman also of the Leicester Topps, one of whom was mayor in 1746–7; as a friend of Sir Thomas Cave of Stanford Hall and Thomas Boothby of Marston; and as a benefactor to the poor of Humberstone, Bushby, Thurnby, Houghton, Walcote, and Burbage. (fn. 165) He was, said Throsby, 'a gentleman distinguished for his humanity, and possessing in an exalted degree the friendly virtues'. (fn. 166) Like George Wright he was in politics an 'independent', and of a 'Tory' reputation.
After the Jacobite rumours which had arisen at the time of Ruding's efforts to unseat Wigley, there were again in 1744 rumours of treasonable papers, and again correspondence with the Secretary of State, but much less stir. The corporation promptly sent off a loyal address, which was conspicuously lacking in what Thompson called 'Jacobite reservations'. It was strongly Protestant in tone. 'As Protestants and as Englishmen we cannot but have a grateful sense of the many blessings we enjoy under Your Majesty which we could not hope for under a popish prince introduced by a popish army.' (fn. 167) In the startling events of the 'Forty-five, with the Pretender as far south as Derby, the corporation seems to have done little more than send out messengers to 'wait for and send accounts of the motions of the rebells at the charge of the corporation'. (fn. 168) Writers hostile to the corporation's politics emphasized that the only steps to resist the Scots should they reach Leicester were taken by dissenters who drilled in the burial ground of the Great Meeting. Rumour had it that the corporation, or important members of the body, secretly prepared an address of welcome to the Pretender, which was burnt when the invasion failed. Throsby, with a greater sympathy, reported that the mayor, surrounded by those of his brethren who had resolution enough to stay at home, waited to see what would happen, 'all in continual fear'. Some 'who favoured the old cause . . . prayed fervently in secret for the success of the Prince's arms'. (fn. 169) After the battle of Culloden, the carnage of which distressed Throsby, the corporation made a profession of thanks for 'that great and signal deliverance'. (fn. 170)
There seems to have been no great political disturbance at Leicester after these events until the general election of 1754. In 1754 the local 'Friends of Government' made a determined effort to break the corporation's control of the parliamentary representation of the borough, by putting up a candidate in the opposition interest, encouraged in this enterprise by discontent in the body of the freemen at the plans of the Common Hall for inclosing the South Fields. Their candidate was Robert Mitford, a member of an old Northumberland family, and a major in one of the recently formed new regiments. (fn. 171) There followed 'a violent contest fraught with much mischief'. Before polling began, the corporation enrolled some 800 persons as freemen, (fn. 172) but not of course directly at the expense of any candidate. The members of the Common Hall voted, according to the published poll book, all of them for Wright and Wigley, except four whose names do not appear at all. (fn. 173) The Corporation was thus fairly solid in the Tory interest. Gardiner, writing as an ardent early-Victorian Liberal, and apparently seeing nothing but necessary connexion between the Liberalism of his day and the Hanoverian whiggery, reported on the authority of his father that a mob of 300 colliers was imported from Coleorton (where the Beaumonts had mines), 'armed with bludgeons in which iron spikes had been inserted to support the Tory cause', singing in the meanwhile Jacobite songs which called down damnation on the Hanoverian dynasty. They attacked the Whig committee room, so that the gentlemen there fled. 'My father was . . . astonished to see so heavy a man as Sir Arthur Hazlerigg get over the garden wall, which he did with great agility, and took refuge in the house of Mr. Pares.' (fn. 174) 'The persons who are returned', the House of Commons was told, 'were chosen under the influence, and are the representatives only, of a riotous, seditious, and treasonable mob of colliers, and other persons joined with them.' (fn. 175)
On the other hand, an opposition mob, led by a Winstanley, after due notice given in the local papers, pulled down the corporation's fences in the South Fields, as a protest against inclosure. (fn. 176) Riots of a more seriously damaging sort continued in the South Fields long after the election fever had died down. (fn. 177) At the election itself, the local inclosure was almost certainly the cause of much of the violence, if not even of the occurrence of a contest.
According to the complaints of the defeated party, Wright and Wigley were only returned (apart from the usual indirect practices) by this extraordinary violence, and by the use of the outvoters. They claimed that on the resident votes alone Mitford would have been returned. This contention seems hardly to be borne out by the poll-book, at least if the inhabitant voters of the town as a whole and not merely of the borough limits are taken into account, for they seem to have given a small majority to Wright and Wigley. (fn. 178) It is of some point to notice also that most of the outvoters were Leicestershire men, and that among them the corporation candidates had a bigger majority than among the voters from the town. Thus Wright and Wigley, though members of long standing, and fortified by the mayor and his brethren and their considerable electoral armoury, had amongst the town voters a majority that was only small, and therefore was precarious. Both sides indeed called in men from the county, but already in 1754 it is clearly becoming more important for the corporation party, than for the 'Friends of Government', to call in outside voters, from Leicestershire and even beyond, to redress the changing balance in the town.
An important result of the Revolution had been to put an end to constant interference from the Privy Council and other officers of the central government in the local affairs of corporations and counties. There are numerous signs in Leicester from about the middle of the 18th century that the town was outgrowing the local institutions it had inherited from earlier times. Its population was clearly increasing. The municipal freedom as a means of economic regulation was clearly becoming obsolete, as the failure of the corporation in Green's case in 1750 had shown. (fn. 179) Even the appearance of the town was changing quite rapidly. The High Cross was dismantled. (fn. 180) Those 'monuments of Gothic barbarism', (fn. 181) the town gates, were taken down. (fn. 182) In the South Fields, the corporation gave land for an infirmary in 1766, (fn. 183) but in 1812 refused it for a large school for the education of the poor. (fn. 184) Provision was made for a fine new pleasure walk. (fn. 185) In 1792 a committee deliberated on the laying out of a grand new square, to be called Brunswick Square, and the opening of a spacious carriage way by the 'Saracen's Head', a project which was held to be 'more pregnant with material advantages to the town than any which had ever been submitted to the consideration of the Common Hall'. (fn. 186) In these years, the Leicester Journal commented more than once on the improved dignity and appearance of the town, attributing much of this to the initiative of one or two forceful mayors. The final inclosure of the South Fields under the Act of 1804 opened the way for the planning of more new streets. (fn. 187)
Since the corporation was the owner of much property in the town (quite apart from its holdings in the county) these developments involved a good deal of consultation, which put a great quantity of work on the Common Hall and on its officers, both paid and unpaid. There was much buying, letting, and selling of corporation land, increased by the bequests of Gabriel Newton. (fn. 188) Thus in 1794 a new professional officer appeared among the corporation's servants, in a land steward. (fn. 189) In addition there was much work for the town solicitor, for most of the period Caleb Lowdham, (fn. 190) and the town clerk. In 1811 the corporation rents being much increased by the inclosure of the South Fields, which helped to create a handsome surplus of revenue over expenditure, the salaries of these officers were increased. 'The situation of the town clerk is one of great responsibility as well as of great labour and constant attention . . . on his talent and integrity', as the Common Hall agreed, 'much of the merits of their official conduct must depend.' (fn. 191) In 1813 a long tenure by members of the Heyrick family came to an end, and a remarkable character, most important in the later history of the unreformed corporation, Thomas Burbidge, was appointed town clerk. (fn. 192) At the same time there was a good deal of experimenting in forming new standing committees of the Common Hall, for Alderman Newton's foundation, on income and expenditure, and most important and at times very powerful, a South Fields Committee. (fn. 193)
The growth of the town aggravated problems of public amenity. For centuries inhabitants had been compelled to make some provision for lighting, watching, and cleansing the streets, for securing a water-supply, and for maintaining the poor, by the cumbersome judicial processes of indictment and presentment, before the justices in quarter sessions, who in the maintenance of order, cleanliness, and decency were the effective rulers of the borough. Even in the earlier part of the century, when this procedure was not as ineffective as it later became, there was inevitably tension between the justices and the parish officers. None the less, efforts to get the whole town organized as one administrative unit failed. In 1708 the corporation supported a petition for a local Act to get a union of the parishes of the town for a workhouse, but without any success. (fn. 194) A century or more later a project which had been first suggested in 1792 (fn. 195) was taken up by St. Martin's vestry in 1804 for a workhouse on the Shrewsbury plan. (fn. 196) The opposition of St. Margaret's vestry apparently helped to defeat this. (fn. 197) In the same way, a plan of 1749–50 for a body of improvement commissioners, with power to levy a rate for lighting, watching, and cleaning the streets, and maintaining the public pumps and wells, not merely in the borough itself but also in 'the parts adjoining', had no success, perhaps for the usual reason of parochial jealousies, perhaps also because of opposition from the county. (fn. 198)
If this attempt to bring the borough proper and 'the parts adjoining' under one rating authority had succeeded, the long contest with the county magistrates about jurisdiction in the liberties would have been avoided. About 1750 the borough magistrates had taken advantage of the Acts of 1739–40 (fn. 199) to levy a borough rate. This step had the important implication that the revenues of the corporation were to be used for corporation purposes, and not as general public money, except by the grace of the corporation. The borough rate was collected by the parish officers, so that special arrangements had to be made for those parishes which lay partly in the borough and partly in a liberty. The Bishop's Fee for instance had paid formerly to the county rate. Consequently, with the imposing of a borough rate, the 'parish of St. Margaret had paid its proportion for the whole parish to the borough treasurer, who has repaid to the overseers what they have paid to the county rate in respect of the Bishop's Fee, which is very trifling in comparison to its proportion to the borough rate'. (fn. 200) Usage in the Bishop's Fee was not in fact quite consistent. The borough magistrates had billeted soldiers on houses which had been licensed by the county, had supervised weights and measures there, and had at least for a time appointed a constable to appear for this district at the borough sessions, though he had not actually done anything there. (fn. 201)
In 1765 the borough magistrates laid claim to an exclusive jurisdiction in the Bishop's Fee and in all the other liberties. (fn. 202) Whatever the legal niceties, there was clearly foresight in this claim, for though there may not have been at this time more than a hundred houses in Humberstone Gate and in part of Gallowtree Gate, and some few in Coal Hill and Churchgate, it was already obvious that these places would be built up in an easily foreseeable future. Alarmed by these developments, the county magistrates took legal opinion of an eminent counsel, Charles Yorke. His opinion, dated 1766, was decisively in favour of the borough claim. 'Upon the whole (as at present advised) I think that the jurisdiction throughout all the lands of the parishes in question is in the borough justices exclusive of the county justices, and that the concurrent jurisdiction hitherto exercised (which must be disagreeable and inconvenient to the inhabitants and to the gentlemen comprising both jurisdictions) has been erroneously exercised by the county justices without due warrant of law.' (fn. 203) It was expressly to assert this claim that Mayor Fisher in 1766, and his successor Mayor Holmes in 1767, under the inspiration apparently of William Burleton who had been appointed recorder in 1766, (fn. 204) refused to have the town mace sloped in token of submission at the entrance to the Castle View, when they went in state to take oath to respect the rights of the Duchy of Lancaster. The borough claim was perhaps weakest in the Castle View. In 1768 the town clerk, John Heyrick, and Thomas Pares, steward of the duchy, agreed that the oath should be taken privately. (fn. 205)
Acting on Yorke's opinion, the county magistrates withdrew, and the borough magistrates behaved in the liberties as if they were in point of jurisdiction simply a part of the borough. The overseers of the parish of St. Margaret's refused to contribute to the county rate. In that parish in 1771 an attempt was made by the county to test the rightfulness of the borough claims. Francis Nedham, Constable of Gartree hundred, demanded £3 2s. 10d. towards the county rate, and after some months delay distrained upon Davis, an overseer of St. Margaret's parish. Davis, however, had not been an overseer at the time of the first demand from the constable, so that upon this technical irregularity the case broke down. (fn. 206) In 1775 another attempt was made, when the corporation proceeded against the inhabitants of the Newarke for putting posts and a chain across the road. The defendants carried this case by certiorari to King's Bench in 1779, but had again to stay proceedings on the ground of a technical irregularity, this being that only specified individuals could be presented for a nuisance, and not so indefinite a group as the inhabitants of the Newarke. The solicitor for the county, Thomas Pares, and Caleb Lowdham, solicitor for the borough, agreed that the action should be abandoned without prejudice. (fn. 207)
The next attack on this problem came in 1786. John Blankley, who was apprenticed to a master in the Bishop's Fee, disobeyed his master's just command, and was therefore arrested and committed on a warrant from two county justices, Clement Winstanley and Robert Burnaby. The case was argued on the text of the charters and previous usage, and carried to the King's Bench. Judgement was given against the borough magistrates in 1789, chiefly on the ground that there were no words in the charters which expressly excluded the county justices from the Bishop's Fee and other liberties. There was no such clause of non intromittant as had been thought of in Charles II's time. Moreover, not only were the texts ambiguous, but the usage of the past did not tell in the corporation's favour. Consequently jurisdiction in the liberties was held to be concurrent. (fn. 208) This decision still left uncomfortably doubtful the levying of the rates. In 1811 the corporation by invitation joined with St. Mary's parish to contest the levying of a county rate on property in the South Fields, corporation land lying outside the borough limits. In 1815, it was at last decided in King's Bench, in the case of Bates versus Winstanley and Another, against the corporation, that the liberties paid to the county. (fn. 209) Thus the general borough rate, which had been levied regularly since about 1750, and the gaol rate, which the borough magistrates began to levy apparently some ten years later (instead of, as formerly, maintaining the gaol out of funds at the disposal of the Common Hall), fell on the inhabitants of the borough jurisdiction only, still the largest but certainly a diminishing proportion of the inhabitants of the town.
The death of James Wigley in June 1765 was followed by that of George Wright in January 1766. This made an unusually complete break in the parliamentary representation of Leicester. Opportunity was thus given for renewed party conflict, particularly in view of the expected general election, due in 1768. Wigley seems to have been replaced, at the first of the by-elections, without any great agitation, by another Leicestershire gentleman, Anthony James Keck, of Stoughton Grange, (fn. 210) the old home of Sir George Beaumont. The second by-election was attended by storms.
Even before Wigley's death, intrigues were afoot to prepare for a change, at the general election or before. On 5 June 1765 Thomas Hall, Rector of Shackerstone, wrote to John Heyrick, the town clerk, a letter whose contents he asked to be kept secret, on behalf of 'a certain person (whose name you shall speedily know, if this letter meets with your approbation) of very large fortune, who is desirous of a seat in Parliament for your borough, at the ensuing election; or so soon as a proper opportunity may offer. He chiefly resides in London; but has a good estate in this county, and in his political principles, he exactly agrees with the gentlemen of your corporation.' The offer was made to the town clerk of a present for himself of £500 for his good offices, and 'a compliment of £1,500 at least to the corporation, to be employed, as they think proper; and to do every act of friendship, that shall make him worthy of their esteem'. This friendly approach met, however, only with the most angry refusals. A draft of Alderman Simpson's reply contained the strongest expressions. So far from keeping the offer secret, he wrote: 'I rather think it will be thought proper to publish it, that the world may know our hearts are free and not to be seduced by bribery, and that though there may be men with their pelf to barter for our integrity and independency our souls abhor the traiterous deed.' The town clerk regretted to Hall that 'your notions of honour so ill agree with mine'. (fn. 211) Not until after the election of 1766 did Hall reveal on whose account he had written.
The first two candidates to appear were both local men, Robert Bakewell, the recorder, and Edward Palmer. Palmer withdrew on Bakewell's receiving a better show of hands. At the same time an express message from London announced a new candidate in John Darker, a rich London merchant. On the first day's poll, Bakewell had a small majority, but the next day he decided to retire, so that 'the London votes, consisting of 120', were stopped at Dunstable by express. (fn. 212) Darker was thus returned as the new member. (fn. 213) Soon after, Bakewell was dismissed from the recordership for insulting the mayor in open session, for addressing opprobrious epithets to Alderman Phipps and Alderman Beale, and for other misdemeanours. He severed all connexion with the corporation. (fn. 214)
No doubt many cross-currents went to make this disturbance. Both Bakewell and Darker had local links. Bakewell had a comfortable estate at Swepstone. (fn. 215) Darker was a native of Stoughton, who had made a fortune in the City and possessed himself of wide estates in Leicestershire and Northamptonshire. In Leicestershire he held among other places Melton Mowbray and Queniborough manors, and estates at Wigston Magna and Eye Kettleby. He seems mostly to have lived at Gayton (Northants.). In London he was a person of consequence, being Treasurer of St. Bartholomew's Hos- pital. (fn. 216) As might be expected from such a character, he seems to have acted with vigour in the politics of Leicester.
Both he and Bakewell appealed as candidates to the trading interests. Bakewell expressed his aim as to 'promote the trade independency and welfare of the inhabitants . . . and my brother freemen in general'. (fn. 217) It may well have been that he had links with the local opponents of the corporation, for in 1774 he spoke of himself as having stood in 1766 to strike a blow for electoral purity, taking advantage of the 'late Act of Parliament' which had 'restored the freedom of elections'. (fn. 218) This may have explained why the dominant party dubbed his supporters as 'Presbyterians'. (fn. 219) Darker on the other hand stood as a definite Church-and-King man. (fn. 220) He was to earn the reputation of being very much an independent. 'He was as free within the walls of the House of Commons as the passing air.' (fn. 221) But it does not seem all to have been churchmanship and liberty. Before the election, Alderman Thomas Phipps, with an eye to the traders of the town, had suggested that there should be a parliamentary candidate who could 'advance several thousands to be employed in manufacture and to extend our trade into foreign parts'. (fn. 222) A month later Darker, elected as the new member, offered a large sum of money for the use of manufacturers on loan without interest. (fn. 223) The election over, Thomas Hall took opportunity of private business which he wished to transact with the town clerk, to make some explanation of their earlier correspondence. His candidate, he said, was 'no other, entre nous, than your last identical member'. Nor was the money which had then been offered intended as any sort of bribe by the gentleman for whom he acted, but only as 'an instance or testimony of gratitude and friendship'. 'In the present case, he did not intend to contest the election: (though after, as he had offered himself, his honor called upon him to do it) so that bribery and corruption, which imply the perverting of justice, and proving or bringing over any one by base and sinister means if I am right in my etymology, could not be imputed here; for where no contest is, there is no need of bribery and corruption.' (fn. 224)
The return of John Darker (who seems most likely to have been the 'last identical member'), with a general election so soon to come, brought anything but electoral peace to the town, or harmony in the Common Hall. Even the town clerk was suspected of being prone to favour the Bakewellites, no doubt because Bakewell himself had marriage connexions with the Heyricks. (fn. 225) It proved necessary for the town clerk to clear himself from the 'imputation of having departed from principles he had always professed', in letters to J. P. Hungerford, (fn. 226) who acted as intermediary between him and Alderman Phipps. Heyrick explained that he had been made town clerk at a time when the corporation had been united, and that Bakewell had been 'an instrument (amongst others) of bringing about the resignation of the late town clerk'. Moreover, when Bakewell appeared first as a candidate, he had stood on the corporation interest, with the support of the aldermen and the Forty-eight. 'I have always avowed myself', wrote the town clerk, 'to be in the true old independent interest which so eminently characterises and I hope ever will the county and town of Leicester.' 'If Mr. Bakewell thinks proper to change sides (which by the by seems to be the case) I certainly shall oppose him, with as much warmth as I espoused him.'
Heyrick's explanations throw an interesting light on the busyness of Darker's party after his election. 'Since the election of Mr. Darker two parties have appeared amongst us, the Darkerians and the Bakewellites, and each has held frequent meetings at public houses in support of their interest. The former have received with open arms such persons as have withdrawn themselves from Mr. Bakewell and his interest, and stigmatised all those who still professed themselves his friends as Whigs and Presbyterians . . . I should observe that the Darkerians insist that each proselite to their interest should appear at the meetings as a test of the sincerity of his present profession.' (fn. 227)
There was indeed involved in all this the political allegiance of the office, as distinct from the person, of town clerk. Alderman Phipps sent back to Heyrick the message that 'as to the clubbs he thought them at present necessary for political reasons, but saw none, why any reflexion should be cast upon you for not appearing at them; though at the same time, he observed, that he thought it proper for you to be a little more open in your sentiments'. To promote a reconciliation he suggested the town clerk's dining with Lord Denbigh and other friends. 'My only motives', wrote Hungerford, 'for communicating our conversation to Mr. P—s were to reinstate you in the good graces of the corporation.' (fn. 228) The town clerk begged to be excused from waiting on Lord Denbigh, on the ground that 'strong efforts will be made by each party at the ensuing election of a mayor—which party will prevail I don't know. But I've got to work closely with whatever mayor it is.' Moreover, in his opinion, the present conflict in the body was merely for power and not of principles. 'My obligation is to the whole body of the aldermen for they unanimously elected me; I must repeat my firm persuasion that the contest between them and the rest of the body corporate is merely for power and that had lenient measures been pursued all contest had ceased. . . . Such is the present disposition of the town that I can't wish any friend of mine to propose himself at present to either part of the corporation as a successor to Mr. Keck.' (fn. 229)
The mayoralty itself became a prize in the contest of factions. Two candidates were put forward at the election of a new mayor on St. Matthew's Day 1766, John Fisher for the majority, Clement Stretton for the rest. As a part of this battle, a fortnight or so before this election, one of the aldermen of the minority party, James Sismey, and one of the common councilmen, John Pocklington, were dismissed by the Court of Aldermen from their places in the corporation, Sismey nominally for non-residence, and Pocklington for insolvency. When they turned up at the guildhall on St. Matthew's Day, their votes were contumeliously rejected. Alderman Chambers, the out-going mayor, told Sismey that he belonged to the wrong party, and 'would vote for a Presbyterian'. Alderman Phipps threatened to commit him for intrusion in an election where, having been dismissed, he had no right. The reasons given for the dismissals were clearly the merest pretexts, so that Sismey and Pocklington easily enough secured their reinstatement by mandamus. (fn. 230) In consequence of their depositions, John Fisher was called upon by the King's Bench to show by what warrant he claimed to be Mayor of Leicester. He returned to the court the explanation that he was chosen by 40 votes as against 29 for Clement Stretton, the votes proferred by Sismey and Pocklington not being counted. (fn. 231)
Thus the next general election, that of 1768, came at a time when in Leicester the prospects were particularly good for opposition. Bitter quarrels divided the Common Hall. The town's burgesses in the previous parliament were of no long standing. The manufacturers of the town had suffered from the American troubles following upon the Stamp Act of 1765, which none the less the corporation had upheld by resolutions in the Common Hall, and Anthony Keck by his vote in the Commons. (fn. 232) Old grievances were alive in the South Fields. There were the more recent contentions about jurisdiction in the liberties, in which such persons as Thomas Pares, the solicitor for the county side and Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, were 'Whigs' in politics. In the very year of the election, the corporation disputed with Lord Strange, chancellor of the duchy, the right to nominate poor persons to places in Trinity Hospital, a useful piece of patronage. (fn. 233)
The election of 1768 was hotly fought; very hotly at Leicester. The corporation candidates were Palmer and Darker. The opposition brought in the Hon. Booth Grey, second son of the Earl of Stamford, and his friend Col. Eyre Coote, who had served the East India Company as a soldier in Bengal. Grey and Coote addressed the freemen as defenders of their liberties. Coote drew attention to the enrolling of some 900 freemen in the nine months before polling-day. (fn. 234) These votes could not indeed be polled in this election, owing to the Durham Act, but the fees for enrolment would help the corporation to meet the heavy expenses to which the contest would put them. (fn. 235) The poll was spread over a fortnight, according to Throsby a fortnight of terrible violence, (fn. 236) but according to the Leicester Journal all passed off reasonably quietly. (fn. 237) The compiler of a poll book, which was dedicated to 'the worthy gentlemen of the minority of the corporation', referred to Grey's 'most affable and generous behaviour', which 'added such weight to the power of the magistracy, that there was not the least riot or disturbance'. (fn. 238)
Backed by the influence of the Duke of Rutland and the Earl of Stamford, and aided by local discontents about the South Fields and dislike of the Stamp Act, the two 'Whig' candidates were returned. (fn. 239) The corporation, though presumably supported by friends in the county such as apparently Lord Denbigh, suffered the first great political defeat of their history. It was now their turn to complain of bribery and the undue weight of out-voters. As usual, however, the successful candidates had a majority of the town votes, though not a large one. (fn. 240) The voting of the Common Hall was itself divided. Of the eleven aldermen who had voted in September 1766 the dismissal of Pocklington and Sismey, the nine who still remained in office voted for Darker and Palmer. (fn. 241) A large minority, seven aldermen including Sismey and Pocklington and 21 common councilmen, had gone, apparently in a body, to vote on the first day of the poll for the victorious 'Whig' candidates.
The leaders of the corporation, at their first Common Hall after the election, chose the most direct way of insuring against another such beating. They resolved to offer the freedom to gentlemen of 'known constitutional principles'. (fn. 242) Within little more than a year some 250 had been enrolled, mostly, as one would expect, gentlemen and parsons in Leicestershire. (fn. 243) A second spurt was made in the mayoralty of Joseph Chambers, 1769–70, when there were created 103 honorary freemen. (fn. 244) In the two years preceding the next election there was a mere dozen in all. (fn. 245) The main basis of the whole enrolment was the diligent exploitation of the county connexions of the body.
The corporation was thus strengthened for the election of 1774. A contest was threatened by Robert Bakewell, who stood against Grey and Darker. When they joined forces against him, they were both of them denounced by him as introduced into the borough by corruption. (fn. 246) The retirement of that 'ambitious disappointed man', however, averted a contest. (fn. 247) A more or less stable arrangement seemed to be now established, in an electoral compromise, whereby Grey and Darker were returned for the borough, not only in this election of 1774, (fn. 248) but again unopposed in 1780. (fn. 249) Grey, for all his reputation for whiggery at Leicester, was apparently well liked as a member. He 'exercised on every occasion an independency of spirit which did honour to his birth'. He was 'neither the slave of the minister nor the tool of opposition'. (fn. 250)
Quite possibly the peculiar confusion which the accession of George III brought into English politics, accentuated by the American problem, had some part in the dissensions at Leicester in 1766–8. (fn. 251) The Leicester corporation strongly declared itself as a firm supporter of the monarch. The Wilkite agitations roused them to a loyal address, expressing the 'utmost concern and abhorrence' to see 'the bewitching spirit of licentiousness under the sacred name of liberty disturbing the peace of your Majesty's government'. (fn. 252) They declared themselves in favour of strong measures against the Americans. 'We have not been inattentive to the late parliamentary deliberations, and . . . view with full approbation the conduct of our representatives.' (fn. 253) In 1776, rejoicing over the capture of New York, they could 'not reflect without astonishment and indignation upon the professed designs of those political enthusiasts abroad, seduced perhaps and encouraged by false patriots at home'. (fn. 254) When they received the letter from Christopher Wyvill's Yorkshire committee, they made clear their dislike of any tampering with the constitution. 'When we are braving the exertions of a world in arms . . . the most undivided attention of the whole legislative body is required to secure a safe and honourable peace, or if that cannot be effected, every nerve of every Briton should be uplifted to prostrate the numerous foes confederated against us.' They took the unusual step of explicitly instructing their members to oppose any attempted alteration in the representation of the people. (fn. 255) They highly approved the king's dismissal of Fox and North, and condemned Fox's India Bill as a 'precedent dangerous to every charter and grant within your Majesty's dominions . . . We thank your Majesty for a proper exertion of your authority on so alarming an occasion.' (fn. 256) Finally, in February 1784, they resolved to present the freedom to William Pitt, on account of 'his firm and manly support of this constitution in this time of imminent danger when daring and ambitious men would wrest from the best of kings his just right to the appointment of his own ministers'. (fn. 257) The way was thus prepared for a transformation, at least for the time, of the old compromise of 1774 and 1780 into a more positive alliance between the Rutland interest and the corporation. This was based on support of the younger Pitt.
The year 1784 saw two parliamentary elections at Leicester. The first was a byelection in February, brought about by the death of John Darker. (fn. 258) A local gentleman, Shuckburgh Ashby, of Quenby Hall, was returned unopposed. (fn. 259) He was already well known in Leicester, as the donor of the clock over the Exchange. (fn. 260) He was a devout person, in whom, to judge by the benefactions he made both during his life and in his will, faith was joined with an eminently benevolent disposition. (fn. 261) He held the seat but a short time, for Parliament was dissolved, and a general election held in April. The election reflected in its result the unwonted concord of the Rutland party and the corporation. John Robinson, in his electoral calculations, had reckoned upon the borough as returning two members in the government interest, (fn. 262) a thing which indeed could hardly have been expected to happen since the days of Queen Anne.
Even so, there was a fierce battle, mitigated only by the withdrawal of one candidate from each side. Surprising as it may seem, the two men to withdraw were the members from the previous Parliament, Shuckburgh Ashby and Booth Grey. The new members were Charles Loraine Smith, a county gentleman from Enderby, and John Macnamara, (fn. 263) who was represented as a 'constitutional Whig', and a supporter of Pitt, (fn. 264) being also a client of the Duke of Rutland. Both seem to have been popular with the corporation, who voted them their thanks for resisting the faction of Fox in 1788–9 on the regency question. (fn. 265) At the next election, in 1790, there were again the beginnings of a contest, and again a compromise withdrawal. The corporation candidates were Samuel Smith, a member of a considerably important banking and parliamentary family, who had East Indian connexions, and a nabob, Nathanael Brassey Hallhead. (fn. 266) They were supported in their nomination by Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple and other gentlemen of town and county. The 'Whig' nominees were Thomas Boothby Parkyns and Louis Montolieu, who were supported by Booth Grey, Ruding of Westcotes Hall, Clement Winstanley, John Pares, and others, a strong contingent of the gentlemen opposed to the corporation interest. (fn. 267) The parties being more or less evenly matched, and the violence of the mobs becoming excessive, Montolieu and Hallhead withdrew, Hallhead to find a seat at Lymington (Hants). (fn. 268) They felt it their duty 'to sacrifice all selfish considerations to the public tranquillity', and to retire 'in favour of colleagues whose more intimate connection with you gives them a prior claim to the support of their several friends'. (fn. 269) The party mobs, angered by these withdrawals, then joined forces, and in their madness, 'threatened to burn down and demolish the town'. (fn. 270) Troops were called in to restore order. The Common Hall gratefully voted their captain and lieutenant the freedom, and ordered that both officers and men be 'rewarded by Mr. Mayor in such manner as he shall think fit'. (fn. 271) Smith and Parkyns thus became the new members. (fn. 272) Smith was awarded the freedom some four years later, (fn. 273) but Parkyns apparently not at all.
Samuel Smith was in some ways a different type of burgess from the usual. Like Darker he was a City man. A younger son of Abel Smith, the banker of London and Nottingham, he was himself a partner in Smith, Payne & Smith. He lived in Nottinghamshire, but had Leicestershire connexions, for a grandfather had been high sheriff, and held Gaddesby Manor, part of Rothley Soke, whose lord was Thomas Babington. (fn. 274) Parkyns was re-elected in 1795 without difficulty, on his securing a commission as a lieutenant-colonel, being jointly proposed by Alderman Mansfield and Clement Winstanley. (fn. 275) Both members were re-elected, in the Pittite interest, in 1796, (fn. 276) after a contest in which the opposition candidates were Walter Ruding of Westcotes and Bertie Greathead of Guy's Cliffe (Warws.). (fn. 277) Smith continued to represent Leicester through six Parliaments, until the dissolution of 1818. (fn. 278) Parkyns (now Lord Rancliffe in the Irish peerage) died in 1800. He was replaced by Thomas Babington of Rothley Temple, a definite Tory, of evangelical persuasion, who was interested in putting down slavery and the slave trade. (fn. 279)
The election of 1800 is in several ways of particular interest in the political history of Leicester. It reflects the change which has been gradually coming over the political opposition there. With the growth of the town in population and industry, the local and manufacturing element in the opposition to corporation ascendancy increased in importance at the expense of the influence exercised by the Whig sympathizers among the gentlemen of the county. This meant that it became increasingly radical in temper, touched by rationalistic principles, sympathetic to the French Revolution, and influenced by the Benthamites and the left-wing dissenters. An early reaction in Leicester to the French Revolution had been the forming of a Constitutional Society restricted to the voters for the county and borough, 'in the interest of Mr. Pitt'. (fn. 280) Its stewards were Charles Loraine Smith and Thomas Babington. At its first feast, in 1790, the mayor and corporation attended, among a company of 900 persons. The first three toasts indicate its character: 'May the established religion never be annihilated under the mask of patriotism . . . The mayor and corporation of Leicester and a perpetual free independency in the borough . . . The members for the borough, and may it never want members with principles like the present.' The company expressed dislike of Fox's regency plans, and toasted 'navigation and prosperity to the county of Leicester'. By such means the supporters of Mr. Pitt sought to 'counteract the effects of the Revolution Club'. (fn. 281) The Revolution Club, while agreeing that Parkyns was an excellent man, at the same time drank to the 'total overthrow of all the despots from the petty constables to the imperial Catherine', as well as to the praise of the French Revolution, Tom Paine, and parliamentary reform. (fn. 282) In 1794 a highly radical Revolution Society was started by George Bown, (fn. 283) and in 1816 a Hampden Club. (fn. 284) There was also a small discussion group for a time called the Adelphi Club. The corporation entered fully into all the fears of the time lest modest proposals for reform should cloak sinister designs of revolution. In 1792, under the influence of government, they arranged the prosecution and imprisonment of Richard Phillips, a radical bookseller, the leader in the Adelphi Club, for selling Paine's Rights of Man, and of George Harley Vaughan, a local schoolmaster, for passing on seditious literature. (fn. 285)
Along with the increased influence of a radical minority in an unpopular opposition went the increased influence also of dissent, particularly of the more left-wing sort. Dr. Priestley, when he visited Leicester, stayed at the house of John Coltman, a wellto-do manufacturer who was an active radical. (fn. 286) The corporation indeed identified nonconformity with dangerous politics. In January 1790 dissenters' deputies from seven midland counties met at Leicester to resolve against the Test Acts, and to appoint delegates for a national meeting. They had the support of some 'gentlemen of the Established Religion', Sir Egerton Leigh, Bt., and Thomas Arnold, M.D., being specially noticed by their 'presence and concurrence'. (fn. 287) The gentlemen of the Common Hall, on the other hand, in their views narrow and timorous, and in their temper arrogant and assertive, resolved 'That the unprecedented combination of dissenters and their repeated attempts to obtain a repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts, call for the exertion of all such friends to the constitution as think it worth preserving, to use their utmost endeavours to prevent so dangerous an innovation'; and 'that the thanks of this corporation be given to all those members of the House of Commons who voted, on the two former occasions, in defence of our valuable constitution—that they be intreated to exert themselves again in the same noble manner, and that the members of this county and borough be requested to give them all possible assistance'. (fn. 288)
In the by-election of 1800 it was clear that the more radical forces were becoming organized and assertive. The opposition candidate was John Manners, brother of Sir William Manners, a considerable local landowner. In the disappointed expectation of a general election for 1800, a second candidate was found to stand with Manners, in Augustus Butler Danvers of Swithland Hall, but in the end nothing came of his candidature. Local opinion recognized in this contest a new character. The Leicester Journal declared that the struggle was no longer between 'high' and 'low' parties, but between loyalty to the constitution and Jacobinical principles. (fn. 289) Manners, proposed as he was by Robert Brewin, a tanner, declared in a public advertisement that the election was 'a contest between the rich and poor, the oppressors and the oppressed', so that the publisher of a poll book felt it necessary to counteract this dangerous doctrine, and to emphasize, 'for the information of posterity, that the year 1800 was a season of scarcity: and that during the winter, spring and summer preceding the election, the wants of the poor of Leicester had been relieved by the wealthy inhabitants with persevering and unexampled liberality'. (fn. 290) Examination of the poll book shows, moreover, that the dissenting interest at this time was far from united on the radical side. On the whole, only the most left-wing voted for Manners. Such substantial dissenters as 'Robert Brewin Esquire, of Northgate Street,' and John Coltman, woolcomber of Friar Lane, voted for Babington, as did also such opposition figures as John Pares and Thomas Pares the younger, all of these being persons who before many years had passed were to become the leaders in the radical opposition in the town. The poll for Manners included, on the other hand, Cockshaw, the doughty radical printer and engraver, and Joseph Whetstone, the enterprising worsted maker of Northgate Street. Manners, though at the bottom of the poll, had a good proportion of the votes, and on the town votes was in a minority of only 24. (fn. 291) The Times correspondent reported that 'at the close of the Leicester election Mr. Manners had nearly thrown Mr. Babington out by calling on him for his qualifications at a period when though well-qualified, he had scarcely time to produce it'. (fn. 292) At the next contest, in the general election of 1802, the radical candidate was a man 'well-known in the literary world, and who had just arrived from London', a certain Felix M'Carthy, who was proposed by Robert Brewin, the tanner. (fn. 293) M'Carthy, 'an impecunious Irish Foxite liberal', introduced to all appearance hastily, and lacking the useful assets of land and connexion, gained only a few votes, and on the fourth day retired. (fn. 294)
The election of 1807 revealed some uncertainties, at least in the corporation. Smith's relations with the body were not wholly smooth, in spite of his having given them a portrait of Pitt. For one thing he had voted in the House for a reforming motion of the Whig member Brand in April 1807. What was worse, he was suspected of inclining towards concessions for Roman Catholics, for which according to a report in the Leicester Journal he had been actually censured in the Common Hall. None the less when John Macnamara appeared in the town as a candidate, the corporation put aside any differences with Smith, and devoted themselves to keeping out Macnamara, so that there arose an unusual difference between the Tories of the Journal and those of the corporation party. To secure Smith's return, the numerous freemen who had been enrolled for just this sort of occasion were mobilized to vote. The corporation, according to the Journal, thus 'resorted to measures the most coercive and disgraceful, prostituting the freedom of the town, at the shrine of gross venality and corruption. . . . Where or of what value is the boon to that person who serves seven years to obtain that freedom or purchases at a high price, if to answer a temporary and unworthy end the constituted authorities thus sport with their high trust reposed in them?' They denied that any man so elected was the representative of the freemen of Leicester. Macnamara withdrew, so he explained, rather than disturb 'the great commercial concerns of the ensuing day', the day of the May fair. He claimed to be in a minority of but nineteen votes, but Smith and Babington were in fact returned more comfortably. (fn. 295)
The election of 1812 was marked by yet another interesting radical attempt. Until the day before polling day, there appeared no opposition to Smith and Babington, but then a group calling themselves 'Friends to peace, reform, and religious liberty' announced their intention to put up as a candidate Roscoe of Liverpool, who was in due course nominated at the hustings by 'Bailey, a cobbler or shoemaker in Church Gate', and Jonathan Atherstone, 'a dyer in the town'. 'Being interrogated as to their authority for so doing, a banker's clerk of the name of Pagett stated that he had corresponded with Mr. Roscoe on the subject.' (fn. 296) No doubt the friends to peace hoped to gain from the discontent in the town and around at the serious disturbance which had been wrought in the American trade by the Orders in Council. (fn. 297) They had the influential support of Ruding of Westcotes, (fn. 298) who was rumoured to finance the radical Leicester Chronicle. (fn. 299) Their members included the ministers of the two chief dissenting chapels, as well as other forceful local radicals. (fn. 300) Paget was destined to be a thorn in the side of the corporation, and to become the first Mayor of Leicester in the reformed corporation of 1836. In William Roscoe, these radicals had a most interesting candidate, a lawyer, essayist, and historian, and a former member for Liverpool, elected there in 1806 but unseated in 1807. (fn. 301) At Leicester his poll was small. None the less Paget and his friends might well feel that their 400 votes, which amounted to a third of those cast for the corporation candidate who was at the head of the poll, and nearly half those of the other, at a time when 'peace, reform, and religious liberty' were as cries at a very low value, gave hope for the future. (fn. 302)
Manners, M'Carthy, and Roscoe had all of them failed at the polls, and perhaps had never really been expected to succeed. The campaign of agitation continued, in spite of these defeats. The history of Leicester politics in the next twenty years is the history of the radicals' perseverance, advance, and ultimate triumph. Peace, when it came, was welcomed by the corporation with illuminations, a public dinner, and a ball. (fn. 303) During the years after the peace, difficult as they were, the Leicester radicals agitated persistently for parliamentary reform. They attacked the corn laws. (fn. 304) A usual method was to ask the mayor to call a public meeting of the citizens, which he felt obliged to refuse. A requisition of December 1816 was particularly interesting, as bringing out with great clarity the issues at stake. The requisitioners condemned 'the present enormous military establishment', 'sinecure places and unmerited pensions', indeed all extravagance in government. They demanded economy, and 'for the people, their inalienable right—a full, fair, free and equal representation in the Commons House of Parliament annually elected'. (fn. 305) To this requisition the mayor returned what was described in the minutes of the Common Hall as a 'judicious and spirited answer . . . which answer merits the highest approbation of the Hall, and has entitled the magistrates to the thanks of every friend to his country'. In their answer the magistrates referred to meetings elsewhere which had 'ended in riot, sedition, and bloodshed!'. They could not but express their regret that any of their fellow townsmen should 'lend the sanction of their names to the unfounded supposition that the government or the Parliament are insensible to the distresses of the people'. Annual parliaments they denounced as a delusion, calculated to mislead the people and subvert the constitution. (fn. 306) A meeting was in fact held, quite peaceably, but without the mayor and justices. (fn. 307)
There was again a complete change in the representation of Leicester at the general election of 1818. The new members were both local men. John Mansfield, a former mayor, was a partner in banking with Thomas Babington. Thomas Pares, also a banker, as well as a barrister, belonged to the firm of Pares & Heygate. Both, according to the Journal, were of sufficiently 'exalted station not to hanker after the loaves and fishes'. Of Mansfield's principles as a corporation Tory there could be no doubt. Pares stood as a 'Constitutional Whig', who was devoted to the principles of the revolution of 1688. He had very close family connexions with other hereditary leaders of the local opposition. His grandfather Thomas Pares had been Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster in 1765–6, and the husband of a daughter of Norton, the opposition lawyer who had expired so dramatically before the magistrates in February 1738. The new member had as a brother-in-law, and as a partner in Pares & Heygate, the banker's clerk of the name of Paget. (fn. 308) Ominously, he was seconded at the hustings by the radical hosier John Coltman.
This result the Journal put down to weakness and misjudgement in the corporation. According to its account, the body had decided that of the two previous members one must go, and that that one must be Smith, although he was their 'oldest member . . . who had expended thousands in supporting their cause, and had served them honourably for twenty-eight years'. (fn. 309) According to a London version, Smith only heard he was rejected after the resignation of Babington, and left the town in disgust. (fn. 310) Babington had withdrawn on pretext of ill health, and then threw himself into the county election, in which he lost ground by favouring concessions to papists. The return of Mansfield and Pares seems indeed to have been the result of weakness and indecision in the Common Hall. It was noticeable that there had been no special creation of freemen for this election. (fn. 311)
The return of Pares proved from the Tory point of view deplorable. He upheld extreme reforming measures, even Roman Catholic relief. (fn. 312) When radicals met in Leicester to denounce Peterloo it was thought remarkable that he was not there. (fn. 313) Generally, he was held to have 'descended from the pinnacle of independence' to become a radical demagogue. (fn. 314) 'Mr. Pares has been uniformly in opposition to every measure suggested by ministers for the welfare and protection of the country.' (fn. 315)
This situation, and George III's death calling for a new election in 1820, roused the Journal to take up the cause of the independent freemen against the corporation, which by its 'imbecile conduct' had reduced them to apparent bondage. Probably in the person of Price its editor, an approach was made to Sir William Manners, who had no one in his own family to put forward, but referred with apparent certainty to a London gentleman 'of large fortune and strictly independent constitutional principles' who would be willing to stand, and announcement was made of this in the press, whereupon Mansfield met the corporation and asked for their undivided support, notwithstanding this new 'independent Blue' candidate. When this was refused him, he resigned, so that a deputation from the Common Hall hurried off to London to find another candidate. As they came back having found none, Mansfield then withdrew his resignation. The Journal, furious that Sir William Manners had added to his 'previous political follies' by giving a pledge which was not upheld by the gentleman he had named as an independent candidate, agreed none the less that 'his escapade has had a good effect which he did not contemplate'. It had precipitated 'an explanation between Mr. Mansfield and the corporation', which, by ending in Mansfield's resignation, 'dissolved the compact between the body corporate and Mr. Pares, and opened the way for a new candidate with every prospect of success'. To find such a candidate proved too much for the Journal as it had done for the corporation. Nathanael Atcheson of London, who was first approached, was engaged for the borough of Petersfield (Hants). Edmund Yates of Tring Park, whom he suggested, once a business colleague of Peel, excused himself on grounds of health. Sir Frederick Fowke and J. Stockdale Hardy both declined to stand. Thus, for all that more than 5,000 freemen had voluntarily enrolled in 'the independent Blue interest', there was no 'independent Blue' candidate. Pares and Mansfield were consequently again returned. The Journal complained angrily that the borough was still virtually disfranchised, by having members who on vital issues voted in opposite ways. 'Given another month, the independent freemen would have emancipated themselves from the thraldom under which they have fallen.' (fn. 316) To discredit Pares, the Journal waged a disgraceful campaign against his uncle, an elder Thomas Pares, a bachelor of antiquarian interests, who had bought and removed as long ago as 1805 ancient wood and glass from the chapel of Wyggeston's Hospital. The Journal represented this perfectly honest transaction as sacrilege and theft. (fn. 317)
Embarrassed by a reforming representative in the Commons, whose return they had at the first abetted, the corporation were assailed at home by attacks from the radical opponent, and held up to public odium and ridicule. The free grammar school was in a low state, so that the Hall had to appoint a committee to inquire whether it provided any benefit to the freemen at all adequate to what it cost. (fn. 318) The mayor and corporation were drawn into an attack on the Master of Wyggeston's Hospital for taking to his own enjoyment the great increases in the returns from the hospital lands, which brought them no merit but only a snub from the duchy. (fn. 319) There were complaints that Sir Thomas White's money was loaned only to such freemen as voted with the corpora- tion. Tories as well as others disliked the increasing of these loans from £50 to £100. (fn. 320)
The attacks most damaging to the corporation were made in two other directions, in connexion with the lighting, watching, and cleansing of the town, and with the building of a new gaol paid for out of a rate levied specially for the purpose on the borough. For several years it had been usual for the recorder to compliment the inhabitants on the improvement in the streets, which had been made possible by the way in which canal transport had cheapened the flagstones for paving. None the less in 1788, when the recorder had made his compliments, there were 34 bills of indictment found true against householders for neglect of their pieces of pavement. (fn. 321) The old arrangements were clearly insufficient. In 1814 the aldermen of wards met, not for the first time, nor for the last, to consider special measures for winter watching. (fn. 322) Finally in October 1820 a step of decisive importance was taken. The corporation resolved that in open committee they should consider the propriety of applying for an Act of Parliament for lighting, watching, and cleansing the town. (fn. 323) As an earnest of good intentions, the magistrates were later empowered to order such 'gas lights for the Exchange and other public buildings as they shall think proper, and in other such situations (if any) as they may think ought to be lighted by the corporation'. (fn. 324) The committee, however, reported against any application for a bill. One reason was that the charges of such a scheme, supported as it would be by a rate, would fall largely on propertyless persons, whereas 'the watching and lighting of the town ought to be borne by the wealthier part of the inhabitants exclusively'. There was much debate in the Common Hall on this adverse report, but any firm decision was frustrated by the withdrawal of ten of the members, so that the Hall had to adjourn. (fn. 325) At the same time, as was entirely to be expected, news of the plan spread in the town, as well as of the divisions in the Common Hall, with the result that the mayor was asked to call a public meeting to discuss the whole problem. (fn. 326) Paget and Coltman and their friends, who promoted this requisition, were certain that something, but not what the Common Hall was proposing, should be done.
The public meeting was used by them simply as a platform to discredit the corporation. Thomas Paget opened with an attack, in some ways unfair, on the whole scheme, and classed it with the borough rate and the efforts to establish jurisdiction in the liberties as yet another example of corporation avarice. A member of the corporation joined in the attack on the plan, pointing out that, when allowance was made for the lamps and watchmen already existing in the town, the scheme involved spending over £3,000, levied by a rate, on 40 or 50 additional lamps and a handful of watchmen. The plan was consequently defeated. The mayor signed the report 'only in compliance with the resolutions of the meeting'. (fn. 327) One interesting feature of the affair was that half the directors of the Leicester Gas Company, which had started in 1821, had signed the requisition, and all were identified with the opposition in the town. (fn. 328) Thus the scheme collapsed. Leicester remained one of the only four towns in England of those visited by the reforming inquiry of 1833 not to have improvement commissioners. (fn. 329) The opponents of the corporation justified their stand by arguing that corporation money should be used for public purposes, and embodied this doctrine in a resolution of the meeting. (fn. 330)
Another attempt to get an Act in 1831 came to nothing. (fn. 331) Consequently the parishes of St. Margaret's, St. Martin's, and St. Mary de Castro took advantage of a general lighting and watching Act of 1830 to make their own arrangements. (fn. 332)
In 1824 the opposition opened their next campaign, this time working largely through the vestries, whose relations with the magistrates were generally bad. (fn. 333) Throughout the agitation of 1824, and in the years after, the borough rate was the general issue. The particular occasion was the building of the borough gaol. Peel's act of 1823 mentioned among seventeen gaols to be repaired that of Leicester, and authorized the justices to levy a special rate for this end. (fn. 334) Thus the legislature itself sanctioned the principle that the public, and not the corporation out of its funds, should pay for the new gaol. In March 1824 a petition to the Commons, 'signed by upwards of sixteen hundred rated inhabitants', set forth 'the injustice of only one half of the town in extent being liable to the expense of maintaining and providing a gaol and house of correction sufficient for the classification required by Act of Parliament, for those parts of the town which are not contributory to the borough rate'. (fn. 335) Indeed, it was later urged that inhabitants 'removed from the old borough into the new in order to avoid the rate . . .; of seventytwo persons of whom the corporation is composed, thirty only are domiciled in the borough, the rest reside in the liberties'. (fn. 336)
At the same time as the petition to the Commons, a new attack was launched in St. Martin's vestry, Paget being again a ringleader. A meeting of inhabitants was called, who authorized the vestry clerk to make 'a respectful application to the town clerk for a copy of the expenditure of the borough rate, offering to pay for it, and if he objected to furnish an account, then to take a copy of the orders made at the last sessions'. (fn. 337) The town clerk refused this request. 'The magistrates would be ministering to their own degradation . . . if they submitted to it.' Faced with this refusal, St. Martin's vestry sought the co-operation of the other vestries. St. Nicholas's and All Saints' came in, but St. Mary's kept out. (fn. 338) A mandamus was actually obtained, (fn. 339) inspection made, and a report given to St. Martin's vestry. (fn. 340) There were some criticisms, but assurances of mutual consideration passed between the town clerk and the vestry. No doubt the approach of an election in which the rights of papists would be an issue made the vestry less amenable as an instrument of local politics for Paget and his friends.
The political equality of Roman Catholics was undoubtedly a prospect as displeasing to many dissenters as it was to the corporation, as well as an issue on which divisions in the Common Hall might be healed. Thus the Catholic Question is of more importance in the politics of Leicester than the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts had been, greatly though that was disliked. (fn. 341) In 1821 and 1822 petitions had been organized against Roman Catholic relief, to be presented by the Duke of Rutland, and by John Mansfield, who was the one soundly 'Protestant' burgess for the town. (fn. 342) In December 1822 more practical steps were taken. On the initiative of Alderman Slater and Alderman Ireland the Common Hall, nemine contradicente, resolved that it was 'highly expedient to increase the number of freemen of the borough of Leicester'. A large committee was therefore formed, of the mayor, the aldermen, the chamberlains, and the eight senior common councilmen, to prepare a list of 'gentlemen of such sound con stitutional principles as they may deem proper to be presented for the consideration of the Hall'. (fn. 343) This work went busily forward, so that by September 1824 it was getting difficult to think of fresh names. Rather than 'let an entire mayoralty pass without presenting a list', a smaller list was now put forward, and the whole Hall became a committee for the purpose. (fn. 344) In all about 2,000 persons were approached, of whom some 800 accepted the honour offered them. These 800 included gentlemen and clerics, mostly from Leicestershire, but the new enrolments went further afield than those of 1754 and after 1768 had done. Among them were lace-makers and other persons from Nottingham, (fn. 345) where there was a radical corporation, and where Paget and his Leicester friends became honorary freemen, (fn. 346) each corporation thus calling in the enemies of the other to serve in its electoral battles. Indeed, in Leicester polemics to hit at the Nottingham corporation was to hit at the Leicester radicals. Two letters were addressed by Burbidge the town clerk to the honorary freemen now enrolled. In December 1822 they were offered the freedom. The corporation, it was explained, would pay all charges, except a small sum which it was hoped would be regarded as a small sacrifice in so great a cause. The second letter, in May 1826, indicated which of the candidates to vote for. (fn. 347)
At last, in 1826, Parliament was dissolved. The rival papers, Journal, Chronicle, and Herald, rapidly worked themselves into a fine electoral fury. The Journal, considering that the corporation was weak and vacillating, warned the Tory electors that 'without a zealous and active co-operation on your parts, it is possible that this ancient and loyal borough may become a non-entity in the preservation of the sound principles of the constitution in church and state'. (fn. 348) Zealously but unadvisedly it promoted the candidature of C. G. Mundy, a Leicestershire J.P., unhappily suspected of favouring the corn laws. He refused to stand. (fn. 349) The Common Hall had indeed been more active than the tirades of the Journal allowed. In August 1825 a secret committee of the magistrates, exclusive of mayor and recorder, had been set up 'to take such steps and adopt such measures as they may think proper on behalf of the corporation'. (fn. 350) Their most important duty was to find a man to stand in the True Blue and Protestant interest, both Mansfield and Pares having unexpectedly resigned.
Gentlemen of a parliamentary stamp were less willing to serve the corporation than their opponents. An opposition candidate was first in the field, William Evans, a cotton manufacturer, member for Retford in the last parliament, and a reformer. (fn. 351) Next was Robert Otway Cave, of a good Leicestershire family, a Canningite, a Protestant, but suspected of favouring emancipation. (fn. 352) A fortnight passed before the corporation found a candidate to be a zealous advocate for Church, king, and constitution. This candidate was Sir Charles Abney Hastings, of Willesley Hall. His entry into the town, drawn in his carriage by the populace, was the occasion of a fracas. (fn. 353)
Even now the outlook was none too good, for only Hastings was firm against Roman Catholic claims. The successful canvas of Evans in the end persuaded Cave to accept the alliance of the corporation party. He undertook to vote for a repeal of the corn laws, and not to vote for any Roman Catholic relief. This arrangement pleased the corporation, for Evans had declared his intention if elected to expose in the House the municipal corruption of Leicester.
On 12 June the election began. Hastings was proposed by Alderman Gregory and seconded by E. T. Vaughan, Vicar of St. Martin's, who was a fervid enemy of emancipation. Hastings in his speech denounced the corn laws, negro slavery, and concessions to papists. Vaughan justified his taking part by the suppression of Convocation. Evans was proposed by Thomas Babington, and seconded by John Coltman. Evans told the meeting he was strongly attached to the established religion, but considered Roman Catholic relief necessary to the salvation of Ireland and the security of Britain. He, too, denounced slavery and the corn laws. Cave was proposed by Thomas Wood and J. B. Robinson. He paid tribute to the work of the ministers Huskisson, Robinson, Peel, and Canning. 'As an Englishman and a Protestant with landed estates in Ireland, I feel that I owe much to my Roman Catholic tenants, but whatever doubts and scruples I have entertained upon this subject, having ascertained in my canvas the almost unanimous opinion of the electors, I have deferred to that opinion.' He also expressed abhorrence of the slave traffic. The next day polling began. There was some objection to the methods adopted, that votes should be taken in pens, two adjoining for Hastings and Cave, a third for Evans, votes being taken in rotation from each, of which 'the palpable effect would be to poll two votes for the corporation candidates, to the single plumper for Mr. Evans'. To balance this, the Liberals persuaded Denman, who was returning through Leicester from the contest at Nottingham, to stand as a candidate, whereupon the town clerk in derision proposed 'Cobbett and Hunt . . . for the fun of the thing'. The mayor and bailiff agreed to modify the arrangements of pens, which they defended as designed to prevent confusion and riot. (fn. 354)
Every stratagem, and some violence, was employed during the ten days of polling spread over a fortnight. (fn. 355) At the end, Hastings and Cave were returned by large majorities. (fn. 356) The corporation held a dinner to celebrate this 'signal and glorious victory, most decisive and complete'. (fn. 357) The victory, however, brought in its train consequences which for the corporation were very disagreeable indeed. There were of course the usual charges and countercharges of corruption and violence. The opposition initiated a campaign of exposure. Proceedings were taken in King's Bench to get the payment of £1,340 to the high constable for his services during the election declared illegal, but the court upheld the magistrates. (fn. 358) In March 1827 a radical member, Sikes, moved for an inquiry into the proceedings of the corporation, especially in enrolling honorary freemen and using corporate funds for electioneering. Hastings and Cave defended the corporation, and Peel, who had been briefed by Hastings, objected to the time of the House being wasted by a meddlesome local faction. (fn. 359)
The expense of the election left the corporation in most serious difficulties. Another secret committee, consisting this time of the magistrates, was appointed and given wide powers. (fn. 360) These difficulties were the greater because Cave refused to pay, in addition to the £3,000 which he had already spent, £4,000 more. This the corporation expected him to do in accordance with the agreement which had been made, not immediately by the candidates but by committees of friends acting for them—namely, for Hastings, by Thomas Burbidge the town clerk, together with William Dewes, and James Liptrott Greaves; and for Cave, by Edward Chesney, De Lacey Evans, and Joseph Philips. (fn. 361) An arbitrator was appointed to settle the dispute. This was George Harrison, a former Secretary to the Treasury. (fn. 362) He was regarded by Cave as a mere creature of the corporation. The corporation had, as it turned out, been put to the expense of £27,000 in this election. (fn. 363) Evans's campaign had cost him £22,000. (fn. 364) Throughout all these transactions, at every stage, much was spent in legal bills, particularly in bills owed to the town clerk. In legal expenses, the town clerk received payments in connexion with the quarrel with Otway Cave during the years 1827–30 amounting to £947 19s. 2d., besides £301 7s. as expenses for two visits to London which had occupied in all 62 days. (fn. 365)
The corporation was thus forced to look into its finances, and to urge economy. (fn. 366) Above all, in September 1827, the investment committee was given large powers to borrow. (fn. 367) In March 1829 a loan on the mortgage of part of the corporation estates was arranged of £10,000 at 4 per cent. from the Rev. Henry Palmer, of Carlton Curlieu. (fn. 368) News of this transaction soon leaked out, and was useful ammunition to the radical opposition, who made the best of it.
Moreover, as it turned out, these outlays were wasted. Of the 2,000 persons who had been invited, only 800 had been enrolled, and of these only 444 voted for both corporation candidates. The corporation had anyhow clear majorities on the town votes, while Evans had received many out-votes. (fn. 369) Cave always admitted that at the time of the election the town as a whole was 'Protestant'. (fn. 370) The corporation's influence in the town, exercised through the parish officers, seems to have been at least as useful to it as the honorary freemen. Then, too, the quarrel with Cave turned him into an inveterate enemy. He became the most valuable mouthpiece of the local opposition in the Commons, bringing before the House complaints from Leicester about the borough rate, (fn. 371) the gaol, (fn. 372) and Sir Thomas White's charity. (fn. 373) It seemed to Peel that Cave 'had been put forward by a party in that place to bring before the House all their local contests'. (fn. 374) Another activity of Cave's which served also to keep the iniquities of the Leicester corporation before the public, was that he took up the project of a bill to restrain corporations from the political use of municipal funds. (fn. 375) Finally, Cave showed himself no friend to the constitution, as the corporation understood it. He voted in support of the repeal of the Test and Corporation Acts in 1828. (fn. 376) Even worse, he introduced into the House petitions from Leicester in favour of Roman Catholic emancipation, justifying himself by the assertion that opinion in the town had changed. (fn. 377) Above all he voted for that objectionable measure, the Roman Catholic relief bill, which he had been elected in the corporation's view expressly not to support, and which the Common Hall denounced as 'inconsistent with the spirit of the Constitution—dangerous to the civil and religious liberties of the people—and injurious to the stability of the Throne'. (fn. 378)
The next election, that of 1830, showed in yet another way how disastrous was the legacy of 1826. Even though parliamentary reform was an issue which aroused all the political and religious prejudices of the body, the most that could be expected was to restore the old compromise, with the return of Hastings and Evans, (fn. 379) a bitter contest being avoided by the withdrawal of Cave. In the next election, in 1831, the corporation could do even less. Without apparently any resistance from the body, two reformers were returned, in William Evans and Wynn Ellis, who both had the support of a Political Union. (fn. 380) Thomas Paget was at the same election returned as a member for the county. During the winter it became clear that the last hope of obstructing parliamentary reform was in the House of Lords. To that House therefore the corporation addressed two petitions, one in September, (fn. 381) the other in March, (fn. 382) solemn and urgent. In that of March, they doubted whether the Commons truly reflected the sense of the country, lacking as they did a due proportion of persons of sound principles, since 'Gentlemen of those principles were not found to do their duty to the country by standing forward as candidates'. They foresaw the destruction of the true liberties of the people, 'which never did, and never will long survive the wreck of the Throne and the Altar'.
The election of December 1832 was thus fought under quite new conditions. The Reform Act of 1832 had established a uniform franchise in the towns of the £10 householders. The existing resident freemen were allowed to keep their votes as long as they should live. The non-residents were disfranchised. The Boundaries Act specified the parliamentary borough as including 'the old borough . . . and the space over which the magistrates of the old borough . . . exercise jurisdiction concurrently with the magistrates of the county of Leicester, including the Castle View'. (fn. 383) These changes seem to have distinctly favoured the opposition cause. The constituency was by the elimination of the outvoters reduced to half. The Liberals, with rallying points in the chapels, had better technique in registration, one of the most important electoral innovations of this time. The Conservatives had been reminded of the importance of registration by the Journal. (fn. 384) The corporation being so discredited, the Conservatives tried to find a broader basis than merely corporation influence. In September 1832, 50 gentlemen in the Conservative interest dined at the White Lion. They were the nucleus of a new Conservative Society, the opposite number to the Liberals' Reform Society, which had grown out of the Political Union of 1831. (fn. 385) As part of these efforts no doubt, the town clerk contrived to earn £397 15s. 3d. in the year ending in September 1832 on his 'special bill for business respecting the registration and under the Reform Act.' (fn. 386) Nevertheless, in spite of the hopes of the Journal for the True Blue cause, and the expectation of such friends of the corporation as J. L. Greaves, who put great hopes in the forcefulness of 'Tom Burbidge to lend them his vigour and lead them on', (fn. 387) the first election under the new order returned for Leicester two reformers in Wynn Ellis and William Evans, by comfortable majorities over Boughton-Leigh the Conservative. (fn. 388) The defeated party held that the victory was won by bribes. The ultra-Tory Leicester Herald declared that it had taken reform to introduce 'unblushing venality into Leicester'. (fn. 389) The balance of influence was indeed shifting, from the corporation and some old families, to the master stockingers, men of wealth and considerable employers of labour.
The reformers' triumph in December 1832 meant that parliamentary reform would be followed by municipal reform. Indeed in this year the Leicester magistrates had already had their power severely curtailed by St. Margaret's select vestry act, which expressly prevented their interference in the finances of the parish. (fn. 390) On 14 September 1832 Whitcombe and Cockburn, two of the commissioners inquiring into municipal corporations in the midland circuit, arrived in Leicester. On their first day there, they dined at the house of Robert Brewin the manufacturer, with Paget, his brother-in-law, Berry the minister of the Great Meeting, the leading radical lawyer Stone, and others of the same party. (fn. 391) Here indeed was the last and the greatest of chances utterly to discredit the old corporation. The next day, by courtesy of the county magistrates at the castle, the inquiry began. It was a public show. The direction of the corporation's defence was in the hands of Thomas Burbidge, the town clerk, who dominated it. (fn. 392) None the less, the Leicester corporation did not, like five other bodies, refuse all information, for all that they clearly regarded it as a great concession to give any information at all to a body they held to be unconstitutional. Burbidge did not like giving information which he had obtained in a confidential capacity to a public meeting, but in the end answered questions about the history, constitution, income, and expenditure of the body, apparently satisfactorily. (fn. 393) According to the Chronicle, the most interesting facts to be elicited were the offer of the freedom to 2,000 persons before the election of 1826, and Palmer's mortgage after it. This transaction Burbidge defended as justified by the desire of the body to uphold right principles, and its right to do as it wished with its own lands, which were private property, 'and not that of the public at large'. (fn. 394) Then came a stream of hostile witnesses, persons chiefly who had harried the corporation in the previous ten years, such as Paget, and the manufacturers Brewin and Coltman. Among them was Cockshaw, a printer who had recently been prosecuted by the magistrates for an attack on their administration of justice and their use of municipal funds. (fn. 395) Burbidge objected to the evidence of these persons as 'improper', and was therefore allowed to call witnesses of his own. Attack was now aimed at the partiality of the magistrates, in whose defence a counter-declaration was signed by 800 householders expressing confidence in them. (fn. 396)
At the beginning of the second week the commissioners and the corporation openly quarrelled. Burbidge refused to hand over the hall books for the last twenty years and the chamberlains' accounts for the last ten, as well as other documents demanded of him. He was willing that they should be consulted privately at the commissioners' lodgings, but not amid scenes of noise and public clamour at the castle. In the end, the Common Hall authorized the town clerk to refuse delivery of the documents. (fn. 397) The corporation in their public defence of this refusal maintained that the inquiry was conducted not impartially but in a spirit of hostility. The commissioners in the view of the corporation had no authority to hold public meetings 'to subject its officers and members to public interrogations, so framed as to extract if possible grounds to assail their character and property and to induce a false belief that they have betrayed the trusts reposed in them', and in particular to stir up old troubles, 'such as the merits of an election for Parliament warmly contested seven years since'. 'From meetings so convened and conducted, persons of respectability and intelligence naturally shrink.' (fn. 398) Whitcombe at first threatened to treat the corporation's claim that these inquiries were unconstitutional as a libel on the House of Commons, but in the end yielded the corporation's right to act as they thought proper. After a few more witnesses, including Matthew Babington, had been heard on the election of 1826 and one or two other matters, the commissioners left the town. (fn. 399)
In the following March an account was sent to the commissioners of the sales of corporation property and the use of the purchase money, which was held to show that between £17,000 and £18,000 had been raised since 1810 by sales, and over £20,000 spent in 'purchases and beneficial improvements of the corporation property' and for public purposes as specified. Other particulars were given about local charities, the admission of freemen, and the charters. Here was 'the best practical answer to the insinuations so liberally made against the corporation that they had sold largely from the corporation estates, and had spent or embezzled the purchase moneys'. (fn. 400)
Once the commissioners had gone the corporation settled down to a more normal course, administering Alderman Newton's bequests, (fn. 401) making grants to the organists of St. George's and other churches, (fn. 402) and the lunatic asylum, (fn. 403) and carrying out improvements at the East Gates. (fn. 404) They twice addressed the Crown in defence of the Church of England. (fn. 405) The Church question indeed seems to have dominated the election of 1834. The proposals for the Irish bishoprics and a motion to admit dissenters to the universities (supported by Wynn Ellis) seemed to portend a general attack on the Establishment. (fn. 406) A leading article in the Journal in May 1834 had for its title 'The Church is in Danger'. It declared that 'the dissenters have thrown off the mask—they have declared their object to be the total separation of Church and State; in other words they want to have their share in the plunder of the temporalities of the Church, and make their lowbred ill-educated soi-disant clergy equal in point of rank and consequence to those of the Church of England'. (fn. 407) In addition, in these two years, the Conservative cause had been organizing itself. The Journal noted with pleasure in February 1833 that 'several Conservative clubs have been formed in Leicester among the working classes'. (fn. 408) The corporation itself, as might be expected, heartily approved in December 1834 of William IV's 'recent exercise of the royal prerogative in dismissing his late ministers'. (fn. 409)
At Leicester as elsewhere in the election of 1835 the Church cry was raised more effectively than at any time since the reign of Anne. The Conservative candidates, Goulburn (recorder of the town) and Thomas Gladstone, emphasized it at the hustings. (fn. 410) Gladstone said that the interests of the Moravians and Wesleyans were bound up with those of the Church of England. Both the Conservative candidates were returned, the reformers rejected. (fn. 411) The Journal was jubilant. 'In spite of the most profligate system of bribery on the part of the Radical party, the two Conservative candidates have been returned by a majority of 177.' The victory was in the Journal's opinion due largely to the exertions of the Conservative societies. (fn. 412) The opposition paper, the Chronicle, on the other hand, reported Wynn Ellis as emphasizing the great array of influence mobilized against the Liberal cause: the personal connexions of the Gladstones and Goulburns, the enormous power of a corrupt corporation, and the influence of the Church. The Chronicle noted also that the boys of the 'Green (or rather Blue) Coat School enjoy a holiday in celebration of the success of their patrons'. (fn. 413) Burbidge, too, had been active in the election, and claimed to have laid out £233 in journeys to London in December 1834, on 'particular business'. (fn. 414) It was noticeable also that immediately after this election, as after that of 1826, a finance committee had to be appointed 'with a view to the better management of the corporation funds'. (fn. 415) A petition to unseat Goulburn on the ground that he lacked the necessary property qualification was defeated on a technical error, according to the Liberals, by the trickery of Burbidge. (fn. 416)
In spite of some Tory gains, the Whigs and Liberals still had a majority in the Commons, so that Peel's short ministry soon ended. Even had it continued, some measure of municipal reform would have come. In March 1835 the Municipal Commissioners published their report, which stimulated the demand for reform. They denounced the financial mismanagement and political exclusiveness of the Leicester corporation. The corporation, they informed the world, had great wealth, yet did little to ease public burdens. (fn. 417) Nobody was ever admitted to civic office, unless he were of the corporation party, 'however wealthy, however intelligent, however respectable'. (fn. 418) Political exclusiveness, they held, had vitiated the distribution of corporation charities. They mentioned particularly that of the fathers of the 45 boys admitted to Alderman Newton's Greencoat School in 1832–3, all but two had voted for the corporation candidates. (fn. 419) Political faction, they claimed, had perverted justice. (fn. 420) Finally, they made great play with the election of 1826. 'No corporation ever interfered more extensively or openly in elections.' (fn. 421) In fact their report was, broadly speaking, an official version of the opinions of Brewin, Paget, Coltman, Berry, Stone, Cockshaw, and their friends. It repeated what the Common Hall had in 1833 denounced as 'the false and scandalous charges . . . made by a party of calumniators in this town'. (fn. 422)
Lord John Russell's bill provided for the radical reconstruction of 183 corporations, Leicester being one. As it passed the Commons, it provided for town councillors to be elected for three years, one-third retiring annually, by ratepayers of three years standing. Regard was had to the rights of freemen living. When the bill reached the Lords, the House was persuaded to hear evidence at the Bar on behalf of the corporations. Burbidge was up in London, working hard with other town clerks against the bill, and later claimed £900 as money spent in this work. (fn. 423) The Common Hall, under the influence of a character so indefatigable, took this opportunity to be heard. A petition was drawn up, which denounced the bill on various grounds. To begin, it had its origin in a report which was unjust. It was dangerously democratic, especially in the three-year ratepaying qualification for municipal voters. It involved interference with ancient property rights, such as those of the freemen, hitherto safeguarded by charter. So great interference with charter rights was indeed dangerous to the lords themselves, whose titles to their own properties were so very generally similar to those of the corporations to theirs. Moreover, there was here proposed not only an insidious attack on property, but also a serious diminution of the royal prerogative, by the abrogation of privileges royally granted. Finally there was an ecclesiastical argument which was especially relevant to Leicester. A considerable part of the estates held by the corporation came from the bequest of that stout Athanasian Alderman Newton for the education of boys in the principles of the Church of England. Newton had selected the corporation as his trustees because he trusted their lasting adherence to strict Church principles. It was thus a 'fraud of the gravest character' to take these estates and to give them to persons of 'principles totally opposite'. On all these grounds the reform now proposed was a monument of 'transcendental injustice'. (fn. 424)
The petition was received, and representatives were heard, from Leicester and other corporations. (fn. 425) The bill, modified by the addition of second chambers of aldermen, passed into law. The holding of periodical elections and the technique of registration were now introduced into municipal life. In October 1835 the Journal warned its readers that the battle for the control of the new corporation would be fought in the registration courts. (fn. 426) An attempt was made by the radicals to disfanchise the recipients of Sir Thomas White's money, but the revising barristers maintained that a loan of that sort was a different thing from poor relief. (fn. 427) By 18 December the registration was complete. (fn. 428) To the revising barristers fell also the duty of applying to Leicester the provisions in the Act for dividing large towns into wards. Burbidge suggested that the wards should continue as in times past and his suggestions were to some extent followed, four wards remaining as formerly, though the number was reduced from ten to seven. The area covered by the others was more equally divided than in the old days. (fn. 429) There was finally one ancient and important problem liquidated by the new Act. The municipal borough was made identical with the parliamentary borough, so that there was no more to be any problem about the scope of municipal authority such as had vexed the old corporation in what had been the liberties, now at last firmly brought into the municipal area. The Act left the question open of continuing commissions of the peace in those boroughs which had had them before the reform. This was provided for Leicester in the new régime, on application of the new council, in accordance with the Municipal Reform Act, by a charter of March 1836. (fn. 430)
The elections for the new town council took place on 26 December 1835. The Conservative organization, the Central Constitutional Municipal Committee, published a list of candidates, a mixed bag of 'moderate Whigs and temperate Conservatives'. (fn. 431) In this list of 42 men were only ten of the old corporation, and only one of the last eight mayors. (fn. 432) There were some, standing under these moderate auspices, who in times past had taken part in the attacks on the corporation. The Conservatives thus had hopes that by carefully dissociating themselves from the now discredited old corporation, there might be elected a moderate council, not dominated by the 'Socinian faction'. These hopes were thoroughly disappointed. The first municipal election was a sweeping victory for the Liberals. Only four of the 42 candidates of the Central Constitutional Municipal Committee were elected, and all of these in No. 4 Ward, East St. Margaret's. (fn. 433) This resounding defeat was explained by the old corporation as due to apathy in their ranks, and the framing of the reform in such a way as to make a Conservative victory almost impossible. (fn. 434) It was to be noticed also that two-thirds of the new council were dissenters. (fn. 435)
In the meantime the old corporation prepared for its end, by granting in October out of corporation funds annuities to various of its officers, to the high bailiff, the superintendents of markets, the mace-bearer and the four sergeants-at-mace, the town crier, the beadle, and two bellmen, amounting in all to nearly £500. (fn. 436) In December the Hall voted pieces of plate, to Alderman Firmadge of 50 guineas, to Alderman Rawson of 100 guineas, and to the town clerk of 300 guineas. The corporation pipe of wine was voted to the Infirmary. The salaries of various officers and servants were ordered to be paid them for the current year. (fn. 437) On the eve of Christmas, finding that the gifts voted at the previous Halls were being made 'a handle for doing injury to the general Con- servative cause', the town clerk, the mayor, the two aldermen, and the steward came forward to decline what they had formerly been awarded, and were thanked by the Hall for a loyalty to the general Conservative cause that was above any pecuniary consideration. (fn. 438) Three days later, on the feast day of St. John the Evangelist, the two companies made a last ceremonial parade, to the charity sermon for the widows of St. John's Hospital. (fn. 439)
On 29 December 1835, as the new Act directed, the newly elected corporation were sworn in. As Burbidge saw it, the old corporation 'which had existed from time immemorial was doomed to final dissolution'. A newly fabricated body was put into its place. Finally, on New Year's Day 1836, that pillar of the Great Meeting, that hammer of the old corporation, Thomas Paget, was elected and sworn in as mayor. 'Thereupon the head was placed upon the new body, and it then received its perfect corporate existence.' (fn. 440)