Lichfield: Parliamentary representation

A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1990.

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'Lichfield: Parliamentary representation', in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield, ed. M W Greenslade( London, 1990), British History Online [accessed 12 July 2024].

'Lichfield: Parliamentary representation', in A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Edited by M W Greenslade( London, 1990), British History Online, accessed July 12, 2024,

"Lichfield: Parliamentary representation". A History of the County of Stafford: Volume 14, Lichfield. Ed. M W Greenslade(London, 1990), , British History Online. Web. 12 July 2024.


LICHFIELD was represented by two members in the parliament of 1305, in most parliaments between 1311 and 1327, and in that of 1353. (fn. 1) It then ceased to be represented until some time during the 1547–52 parliament when two members were again sent. (fn. 2) It was made a onemember constituency by the Instrument of Government in 1653 but regained its second member in 1659. (fn. 3) It became a one-member constituency again in 1867. (fn. 4) In 1885 the city was merged into the Lichfield parliamentary division, which covered much of south-east Staffordshire. (fn. 5) The constituency was reduced to Lichfield and Tamworth in 1951. Lichfield became part of the new Mid-Staffordshire constituency in 1983. (fn. 6)

The electorate numbered between 17 and 30 in the mid 16th century and over 300 in 1685. (fn. 7) In 1701 the House of Commons resolved that the electorate consisted of the corporation, burgage holders, 40s. freeholders, and freemen who paid scot and lot (i.e. those who were enrolled as members of one of the city's trade companies and who were resident). (fn. 8) In 1761 there were 520 voters, of whom 21 were members of the corporation, 216 burgage holders, 122 freeholders, and 161 freemen. Almost all the freeholders and over half the burgage holders lived outside the city; many had evidently been provided with their voting qualification by the Whig alliance of Earl Gower and the Anson family. (fn. 9) In 1799 the electorate numbered 556 and the non-residents remained numerous; of the burgage holders 46 were resident and 164 non-resident, of the freeholders 121 and 91 respectively, of the freemen 77 and 1, and of the annuitants (voters who held rents charged on burgage property) 1 and 35. The other electors were the members of the corporation (then numbering 16), 2 cathedral vicars choral, a cathedral canon, and the vicar of St. Mary's. (fn. 10) The electorate was increased to 861 by the 1832 Reform Act and to 1,320 by the 1867 Reform Act. In 1885 the electorate of the Lichfield parliamentary division was 8,842. (fn. 11)

Little is known of the members returned in the 14th century. William of Lichfield, who attended the 1313 parliament, is probably identifiable as William the taverner, the representative in 1320 and town bailiff in 1308–9, (fn. 12) and Stephen le Blount, in the 1326–7 parliament, was probably the Stephen Blund who was the bishop's steward in the early 1320s. (fn. 13) The two members elected to the 1547–52 parliament were both dependants of Sir William Paget (later Lord Paget) of Beaudesert in Longdon, who controlled the representation until his death in 1563; the only burgess known to have been elected during that period, in 1553 and 1554, was Mark Wyrley, one of the bailiffs named in the city's 1548 charter of incorporation. (fn. 14) Most other members in the 16th and earlier 17th century owed their promotion to connexions at court or with local peers; several were lawyers, such as members of the Weston and Dyott families. (fn. 15)

The two members in the Short Parliament of 1640 were Richard Dyott of Freeford, a royalist, and Sir Walter Devereux, the natural son of the earl of Essex (d. 1601) and a parliamentarian. Devereux was chosen for the Long Parliament later in 1640, with the puritan town clerk, Michael Noble, as his colleague. Devereux died in 1641 and was succeeded by a royalist, Sir Richard Cave, who was chosen apparently at the wish of Prince Rupert. Cave was removed by resolution of the House of Commons in 1642 and replaced by Michael Biddulph of Elmhurst, a supporter of parliament. (fn. 16) From 1654 to 1660 Lichfield was represented by a Presbyterian mercer, Thomas Minors. He was joined in the parliament elected in 1659 by Daniel Watson of Burton upon Trent. In 1660 Watson was elected with Michael Biddulph's son, also Michael, but was unseated later the same year on petition and replaced by Minors. (fn. 17)

At the 1661 election the Lord Treasurer, Thomas Wriothesley, earl of Southampton and recorder of Lichfield from 1664, promoted his kinsman, Sir Henry Vernon, Bt., of Hodnet (Salop.). (fn. 18) The members chosen, however, were Colonel John Lane of Bentley, a royalist, and Michael Biddulph's brother Sir Theophilus Biddulph, then of Greenwich (Kent). (fn. 19) Lane died in 1667 and was succeeded by Richard Dyott, who had the support of the Presbyterians in the city; it was on that account that Bishop Hacket described Dyott as 'true to the king but not to the Church' and tried to prevent his election. (fn. 20) In 1675 the corporation agreed to a request from Thomas Thynne, later Viscount Weymouth, to work for the election of his cousin Daniel Finch, a prominent Tory and son of the Lord Chancellor. (fn. 21) At a byelection in 1678 following Richard Dyott's death, however, Sir Henry Lyttelton, Bt., a court candidate, was elected. The corporation invited Lyttleton to stand again at the general election in February 1679, when he was elected with Sir Theophilus Biddulph's son Michael (later Sir Michael). Finch, however, was returned at an election in August 1679, having been advised by Thynne to canvass in person because of the strong prejudice against the court. To ensure his election Thynne had 'fixed the sheriff'. (fn. 22) Finch's colleague Sir Michael Biddulph refused to stand at the 1685 election and the corporation promoted the candidature of Elias Ashmole. He withdrew under royal pressure to make way for Richard Leveson, a court supporter favoured by Lord Dartmouth. (fn. 23) It was alleged at the time that Dartmouth, who had married a Lichfield heiress, aimed at controlling the city. (fn. 24)

The Dartmouth interest collapsed at the Revolution, and in 1689 Sir Michael Biddulph stood again and was returned with Robert Burdett, a Tory. (fn. 25) Burdett was returned in 1690 with a fellow Tory, Richard Dyott of Freeford; in 1695 his colleague was Sir Michael Biddulph. The victors in 1698 were Dyott and Biddulph, who stood together in January 1701 when Biddulph was defeated by William Walmesley, a Whig. In November 1701 Dyott and Biddulph were returned unopposed, as they were again in 1702. Dyott and a fellow Tory, Sir Henry Gough, were returned in 1705, and a Tory, John Cotes, and Sir Michael Biddulph in 1708. (fn. 26) The corporation showed its Tory sympathies when it greeted Henry Sacheverell in 1710, and at an election later that year the Tories Dyott and Cotes defeated Biddulph and Walmesley. (fn. 27) At the election for the first Hanoverian parliament in 1715 Dyott and Cotes were defeated by a Whig, Walter Chetwynd of Grendon (Warws.), and a moderate Tory, Samuel Hill of Shenstone. At a byelection in 1718 Chetwynd was displaced by a Tory, William Sneyd of Bishton in Colwich; it was then alleged that Whig supporters were 'barbarously beaten and abused and their lives endangered by a very great mob with papers in their hats resembling white roses', the Pretender's emblem. After a petition Sneyd was unseated in favour of Chetwynd. (fn. 28) Whigs continued to be elected until 1734, when two Tories, Sir Rowland Hill and George Vernon, were returned unopposed. Vernon was nominated by John, Baron Gower, of Trentham, who then dominated the political scene in Staffordshire, and he was again returned in 1741 together with a fellow Tory, Sir Lister Holte, Bt. (fn. 29)

In 1744 Gower deserted the Tories and allied himself in government with the Whigs. His new allies in Staffordshire were Admiral Lord Anson and Thomas Anson of Shugborough, and together they determined to take control of Lichfield from the corporation and the neighbouring gentry. (fn. 30) In preparation for the election of 1747 they purchased at least 13 burgages and gave bribes, spending an estimated £20,000 to secure the election of Gower's son Richard Leveson-Gower and of Thomas Anson, and causing Lady Anson, Thomas's sister-in-law, to characterize Lichfield as 'the borough of Guzzledown'. Party politics even spread to the racecourse at Whittington where rival Whig and Tory meetings were held between 1748 and 1753. (fn. 31) Richard Leveson-Gower died in 1753, and at a byelection in November that year the Gower candidate Henry Vernon was defeated by a local Tory, Sir Thomas Gresley, Bt., of Drakelow (Derb.). The corporation was active on Gresley's behalf and allegedly interfered with the poll. Over 100 men, most of them 'foreigners', were admitted to the butchers' company the night before the election and claimed the right to vote as freemen; (fn. 32) other freemen were improperly allowed to vote; and additional burgage voters had been created by the drawing up of a new rental. Moreover, as access to corporation records was refused, it was difficult for the Gower candidate to challenge intending voters. Gresley had also made a show of strength by entering the city at the head of a band of 200 gentlemen and 500 freemen wearing blue and white ribbons. Gresley died in December 1753, and his election was in any event disallowed by the House of Commons in January 1754. At the general election later that year the Gower-Anson candidates, Thomas Anson and Granville Leveson-Gower, triumphed, principally because of their grip on the burgage and freehold vote.

Accounts kept for the 1747–54 elections by the Whig agent, Thomas Cobb, showed that 72 votes had been acquired since 1747 at a cost of £7,894 9s. 4d. spent on buying property. The property was also regarded as a financial investment, in contrast with the large sums of money that had formerly been paid out to alehouse keepers. Expenditure on drink, however, was still necessary. In preparation for a byelection in 1755 it was decided to centralize the entertainment of voters at Cobb's house, the Friary, to which each alehouse keeper would be asked to send a hogshead of ale: 'we think a hogshead from every house will be as much as can be drank by all our friends that are voters from this time to the end of the election if the tap is kept open every day.' In 1761 fourteen publicans were still demanding the payment of bills, then totalling £389 16s.

Despite its control of the electorate the Gower-Anson interest was again challenged in 1761 when the election of a local Tory, John Levett of Wychnor in Tatenhill, son of a former town clerk, was proclaimed after a scrutiny. Levett was unseated after a petition by his Whig opponent Hugo Meynell, who replaced him as M.P. (fn. 33) Whigs were thereafter returned unopposed until 1799 and included from 1768 to 1795 Thomas Gilbert, poor-law reformer and land agent to the Gowers. (fn. 34)

The corporation remained firmly Tory, much to the annoyance of Anna Seward, a Whig, who complained that she lived among 'a set of violent Tories who believe that the Royal and the Great can do no wrong'. (fn. 35) The corporation put up its own candidate, Sir Nigel Gresley, Bt., at a byelection in 1799, but he was defeated by Sir John Wrottesley, Bt., who stood in the Gower interest and was able to draw on the votes of non-resident annuitants. (fn. 36) It may have been a consequence of the corporation's frustration that in 1801 it arranged for the admission of 386 freemen. The new freemen were known as 'guinea pigs' because each paid as his admission fee to a trade company a guinea provided by the corporation; the companies did not benefit financially because the guineas were returned to the corporation. (fn. 37) In the event the Whig candidates at the 1802 election, Thomas Anson and Sir John Wrottesley, were returned unopposed. There were no contests at later elections until 1826, when Sir Roger Gresley, Bt., stood unsuccessfully as a Tory. (fn. 38) In 1825 Thomas, Viscount Anson (later earl of Lichfield), had taken over the Gower interest in Lichfield and bought up all the vote-carrying property of George Granville Leveson-Gower, marquess of Stafford. Anson retained George Vernon, the sitting M.P., as the partner for Sir George Anson until 1831, when an independent Whig, Sir Edward Scott, Bt., took his place. (fn. 39) Whig, and later Liberal, M.P.s continued to be returned until 1865, when Richard Dyott of Freeford, a Conservative, was elected. In 1868, after Lichfield had become a one-member constituency, Dyott defeated the Liberal candidate, and Conservatives held the seat for as long as the city retained its own M.P. (fn. 40) Reform rendered the Anson property in Lichfield useless for electoral purposes, and the earl of Lichfield started selling off his burgages in 1882. More burgages were offered for sale by his son in 1894 and 1902. (fn. 41)

Liberals represented the Lichfield parliamentary division from 1885 to 1923, when Frank Hodges, general secretary of the miners' federation, won the seat for the Labour party. Hodges was defeated by a Conservative in 1924, and from 1929 the constituency was represented by a National Labour supporter, J. A. LovatFraser. After his death in 1938 the National Labour candidate was defeated by the official Labour candidate, C. C. Poole, who was reelected in 1945. (fn. 42) Another Labour candidate, Julian Snow, was elected in 1950 and represented the constituency until his retirement in 1970. A Conservative, J. A. d'AvigdorGoldsmid, was then elected, retaining the seat in February 1974 but losing it to a Labour candidate, B. J. Grocott, in the October election that year. It was regained for the Conservatives in 1979 by John Heddle, who at the elections of 1983 and 1987 held the Mid-Staffordshire constituency. (fn. 43)


  • 1. S.H.C. 1917–18, 18, 24, 26–7, 29–30, 39, 41, 50–1, 95.
  • 2. Ibid. 321.
  • 3. Ibid. 328 sqq.; 1920 and 1922, 3 sqq., 95, 105.
  • 4. Representation of the People Act, 1867, 30 & 31 Vic. c. 102.
  • 5. Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, 48 & 49 Vic. c. 23.
  • 6. Dod's Parl. Companion (1951; 1984).
  • 7. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1509–58, i. 187; 1660–90, 1. 383.
  • 8. Harwood, Lichfield, 366; 1st Rep. Com. Mun. Corp. H.C. 116, App. III, p. 1926 (1835), xxv.
  • 9. S.R.O., D. 661/19/4/2; below (this section).
  • 10. S.R.O., D. 661/19/4/3.
  • 11. Brit. Parl. Election Results, 1832–1885, ed. F. W. S. Craig, 185–6; 1885–1918, 388.
  • 12. S.H.C. 1917–18, 30, 39; Shaw, Staffs. i. 30; T.S.S.A.H.S. xviii. 62–3.
  • 13. S.H.C. 1917–18, 50; 1924, p. 354.
  • 14. Ibid. 1917–18, 321 sqq.; Hist. Parl., Commons, 1509–58, i. 187.
  • 15. S.H.C. 1917–18, 364 sqq.; 1920 and 1922, 3 sqq.
  • 16. Ibid. 1920 and 1922, 58, 70–1.
  • 17. Ibid. 99–101, 105, 107–8, 112.
  • 18. Cal. Treas. Bks. vii (3), 1561–2; Hist. Parl., Commons, 1660–90, iii. 638.
  • 19. S.H.C. 1920 and 1922, 118.
  • 20. Ibid.; Bodl. MS. Tanner 45, f. 214v.
  • 21. L.J.R.O., D. 77/5/1, f. 4.
  • 22. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1660–90, 1. 382–5.
  • 23. Ibid. 385–6; S.H.C. 1950–1, 215–27.
  • 24. Above, town govt. (govt. from 1548: unreformed corporation).
  • 25. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1660–90, 1. 386–7.
  • 26. S.H.C. 1920 and 1922, 173 sqq.
  • 27. Ibid. 205, 210; L.J.R.O., D. 77/5/1, f. 148.
  • 28. Hist. Parl., Commons, 1715–54, i. 319.
  • 29. S.H.C. 1920 and 1922, 225 sqq.
  • 30. This and next para. based on S.H.C. 1920 and 1922, 250 sqq.; S.H.C. 4th ser. vi. 115–35.
  • 31. Below, social and cultural activities (sport).
  • 32. L.J.R.O., D. 77/4/3, entry for 23 Nov. 1753.
  • 33. S.H.C. 4th ser. vi. 129–31.
  • 34. S.H.C. 1920 and 1922, 287 sqq.; 1933 (1), 2, 8, 12.
  • 35. Lichfield Libr., Anna Seward MSS. letter 13.
  • 36. S.H.C. 1933 (1), 15–17.
  • 37. White, Dir. Staffs. (1834), 76.
  • 38. S.H.C. 1933 (1), 18, 22, 26, 38, 44, 48, 56.
  • 39. Ibid. 69, 71; S.R.O., D. 661/11/2/3/1/11, 31 May 1825.
  • 40. Brit. Parl. Election Results, 1832–1885, 185–6; Lichfield Mercury, 20 Feb. 1891, p. 5.
  • 41. S.R.O., D. 4363/A/5/1, 3–4.
  • 42. Brit. Parl. Election Results, 1885–1918, 388; 1918–1949, 464.
  • 43. Ibid. 1950–1970, 490; Dod's Parl. Companion (1971 and later edns.).