Westbury: Parliamentary representation

A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1965.

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'Westbury: Parliamentary representation', in A History of the County of Wiltshire: Volume 8, Warminster, Westbury and Whorwellsdown Hundreds, (London, 1965) pp. 185. British History Online https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/wilts/vol8/p185 [accessed 1 March 2024]


Westbury first sent representatives to Parliament in 1448, the last but one of the Wiltshire boroughs to do so. (fn. 1) Thenceforth two representatives were summoned regularly until 1832 when the number was reduced to one. (fn. 2) The borough was finally disfranchised in 1885. (fn. 3) The franchise was by burgage tenure.

Before the 17th century the representation of the borough seems to have been determined by no obvious influence and followed no particular pattern. It was thus slightly easier for a stranger to be returned than was the case in most of the other Wiltshire boroughs. (fn. 4) At Westbury the first signs of domination by a single influence appear during the first quarter of the 17th century. In this period Sir James Ley (cr. Earl of Marlborough 1626) acquired all 10 estates in which the burgages were situated, (fn. 5) and in the seven Parliaments, for which returns survive between 1597 and 1627, Westbury was represented either by Sir James or his brother, Matthew, or his son, Henry. (fn. 6) For approximately the next 50 years the borough was represented by members of various local families, and no particular influence is apparent, but after 1681 James, Lord Norris (cr. Earl of Abingdon 1682), who acquired the capital manor that year, began to establish his control. (fn. 7)

Burgage tenements in Westbury could be held in fee, for lives, or 99 years, determinable on lives, or by copy of court roll, and the payment of an annual rent of 4d. or 2d. (fn. 8) By 1715 the 2nd Earl of Abingdon (d. 1743) had acquired 50 out of the 61 burgages, (fn. 9) and although the family's control was challenged throughout the middle years of the century, by 1784 it was complete, (fn. 10) and the 4th earl on his death in 1799 held all but two of the burgages. (fn. 11) This control passed in 1810 to Sir Manasseh Massey Lopes when he bought the manor from the 5th earl (d. 1854). (fn. 12) For this Sir Manasseh had to pay over £75,000, and, according to Oldfield, was obliged to rebuild most of the burgages since residence was a necessary qualification for those who were made freeholders for an hour to enable them to play their part in elections. (fn. 13) Before his death in 1831 Sir Manasseh had all the burgages in hand. (fn. 14)

Besides establishing control by the systematic acquisition of burgages, the lord of the manor, or his agent, could, at any rate from the 18th century onwards, exercise an influence over the General Council which was the machinery for returning the members to Parliament. (fn. 15)


  • 1. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 73.
  • 2. Ibid. 301.
  • 3. Ibid. 312.
  • 4. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 121.
  • 5. See p. 139.
  • 6. Rtn. of Members of Parliament, 1213-1702.
  • 7. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 215. For a more detailed account of Westbury's 18th-century parliamentary history, see J. A. Canon, 'Wilts. Boroughs 1754-90', D. Phil. Thesis, Bristol Univ. 1958.
  • 8. T.H.B. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. v. 145.
  • 9. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 215.
  • 10. Ibid.
  • 11. J. A. Canon, 'Wilts. Boroughs 1754-90', D. Phil. Thesis, Bristol Univ. 1958, 293.
  • 12. V.C.H. Wilts. v. 215, and see p. 150.
  • 13. Oldfield, Rep. Hist. v. 145.
  • 14. Rep. Com. Munic. Corps. H.C. 116, p. 1377 (1835), xxiv.
  • 15. See p. 186.