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Jenkyns Collection 87: Wells Parliamentary Election

Jenkyns Papers III.8

Parliamentary elections at Wells to fill a vacant seat in 1765 and the two available seats at the general election of 1768 were very controversial. The electorate comprised ”..... the Mayor, Masters, Burgesses and Freemen of the said City, who are admitted to their Freedom in any of the Seven Companies within the said City, being thereunto intitled by Birth, Servitude, or Marriage“(as quoted in Jenkyns III.8.ic below). The Corporation, which was practically in the control of the Tudway family, could manipulate the electorate by creating Honorary Burgesses, and did so openly between 1765 and 1768.

Peter Taylor and Robert Child were candidates in 1765; Child was elected after two polls.
In 1768, there were three candidates for the two seats: Taylor again, Clement Tudway, who had first been elected unopposed in 1761, and Robert Child, who had been elected in 1765. The election began on Friday 18 March 1768. The proceedings involved examination of all who claimed a vote one by one as to their qualifications, and were adjourned day by day until the late afternoon of Tuesday 22 March, when the Mayor declared the voting as Peter Taylor 119, Robert Child 164, and Clement Tudway 171, so the last two were elected.The Mayor was Charles Tudway, father of Clement Tudway, for whom he had retired from the seat in 1761.

See The History of Parliament 1754-1790, ed L Namier and J Brooke (1964), which was in September 2012 freely available online.

Jenkyns III.8 contains three printed papers relevant to these elections, and a notebook recording the proceedings of March 1768 in very great detail. For comment on how this material, which was re-examined in 2012, might have passed into the Jenkyns Papers (John Jones,The Jenkyns Papers.A Guide,1988), see below.

Jenkyns III.8.i, Printed papers

a. Case of the Wells Election, 1765. Foolscap double fold making 4 pages, text printed on pp1-3. Somewhat damp-damaged.

b. Touch of the Times; or things as they are at Wells, towards the Close of the Year 1765 ...... being the Reports of Ambidexter Ignoramus, Gent...... Foolscap, single sheet, satirical.

c.The Case of Mr Taylor, Petitioner for the City of Wells, nd but 1768. Foolscap single sheet, text printed one side, setting out Taylor’s case, presumably addressed to Parliament. It was rejected.

Jenkyns III.8.ii

A notebook, 11.5 x 18cm, with a limp brown leatherette cover. It is mostly filled on both sides in a small neat hand (but much abbreviated, and needing a little patience). Foliation was added in 2012, top right in pencil. Contents:-

  • fos1r-1v.Blank.
  • fo2r. Minutes of the opening proceedings, 18 March 1768.
  • fos2v-29r. Verso only: numbered entries 1-282 giving voter’s names, qualifications claimed (Burgess, Honorary Burgess, former MP for Wells, Master, servitude, birth, or marriage) and votes cast. Recto only: facing the relevant entries, details of evidence for the qualifications, objections raised, witnesses for and against, etc. There was systematic, albeit unsuccessful, objection to the category “Honorary Burgess” (termed “Occasional Burgess” by the opposition). Other matters examined were whether Freedom by servitude (ie apprenticeship) had been fully earned and properly recorded, whether the intending voter was really entitled by birth (as eldest surviving son of a Freeman) or marriage (to a Freeman’s eldest surviving daughter or widow), whether he was of full age, and so on. In many cases a considerable amount of information was carefully noted.
  • fo29r. Minutes of the closing proceedings, 23 March 1768.
  • fos29v-30r. Blank.
  • fos30v-42r. “An Account of the Claims, Qualifications & Disqualifications of Persons who offered to poll & whose votes were rejected”. Each of the 45 numbered entries is written across both verso and recto pages. All in this section wanted to vote for Taylor.
  • fos42v-43r. Blank.
  • fos43v-48r. “An Account of the Claims, Qualifications & Disqualifications of Persons who offered to poll & whose votes were rejected “. Each of the 19 numbered entries is written across both verso and recto pages. Six in this section wanted to vote for Tudway and Child; the rest did not say for whom they wanted to vote.
  • fos49r-49v. Blank.

The very first entry on fo 2v reads ”Wm Sandford an honry Burgess–sworn”. Sandford voted for Tudway and Child. Facing his entry on fo 3r is ”Objected to by Mr Hobhouse, of Council wth MrTaylor, for yt he was not a Freeman before he was admitted a Burgess.”, and “Object: over-ruled” . Lower down on fo 3r another objection is noted by “MrThos Gould, of Council wth Mr Taylor”. Gould was a Somerset-born barrister (1726-1808, MiddleTemple 1750) and it is likely that “Mr Hobhouse” was Henry Hobhouse (1742-1792, born Bristol, Middle Temple 1766). This Henry Hobhouse married into the Jenkyns family in 1775, and it could have been through him that this notebook passed into the Jenkyns Papers.
The notebook might on the other hand have been written by the Town Clerk, but its highly abbreviated style would seem to rule it out as an official record, unless it was meant to be written out in full later. But even the Town Clerk, John Gutch, voter number 276 as eldest son of a Freeman, was a Taylor supporter. Despite the fact that the Corporation was dominated by Tudway and Child supporters he only used one of his votes, for Taylor. So even if it was written by Gutch, he might have passed the notebook to Taylor’s lawyers.

But careful comparison of handwriting points to Richard Jenkyns of Wells (ca 1736-1806), a lawyer, as the writer of the notebook: numerous ALS by him survive in Jenkyns VIA.1bii although none are of the 1760s or 70s.
In his unsuccessful petition (Jenkyns III.8.ic),Taylor speaks of the ”clearest grounds” on which he can disqualify many of those who voted for the Mayor’s candidates, and validate many votes on his side which the Mayor had rejected. Perhaps this notebook was his evidence.

Papers re the Wells elections of 1765 and 1768 on the Tudway side survive at Somerset Heritage Centre, reference DD\TD/6.

- listed by JH Jones, 20 September 2012


- John Jones

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