Stockbridge (UK Parliament constituency)

Stockbridge was a parliamentary borough in Hampshire, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1563 until 1832, when the borough was abolished by the Great Reform Act. It was one of the more egregiously rotten boroughs, and the first to have its status threatened for its corruption by a parliamentary bill to disfranchise it, though the proposal was defeated.

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of membersTwo


Early yearsEdit

The borough was first enfranchised during the reign of Elizabeth I, and consisted of the town of Stockbridge, a small Hampshire market town on the Great West Road that cannot have been a town of any real size or importance even at the outset. Although in Hampshire, in Tudor times the borough came within the jurisdiction of the Duchy of Lancaster, and it is possible that it won its right to vote on the assumption that it would allow the Duchy to nominate its members. However - and unlike most boroughs within the Duchy's sphere at that period - the historian John Neale found little evidence that most of early representatives were Duchy nominees: most were Hampshire men, and it may be that the influence of the local gentry was too strong. Nevertheless, towards the end of Queen Elizabeth's reign Stockbridge returned several MPs who were probably the choices of the Chancellor of the Duchy.

The election of 1614Edit

The system came to grief, however, at the election of 1614, causing a controversy that has been regarded as a significant milestone in the House Of Commons' assertion of its privileges. In that year, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Sir Thomas Parry, sent a threatening letter to the borough claiming the right by precedent to choose the two MPs, and nominating Sir Henry Wallop and Sir Walter Cope as his choices. But the intrepid 28 electors of Stockbridge ignored his wishes, voting almost unanimously for their own candidates, Sir Richard Gifford and a Mr St John. But the bailiff of the borough (who was ex-officio returning officer) ignored the vote and returned the names of Wallop and Cope as elected; furthermore, the angry Parry, furious to have been defied, had one of the voters arrested and imprisoned.

The electors now petitioned against this outcome, and the House of Commons proved strong enough to protect its elections from interference. Although there was considerable discussion as to the legal precedents, they eventually resolved that the election of Wallop and Cope was void. Furthermore, they expelled Parry from his own seat for subverting the election in another constituency, and prevailed upon the King to suspend him from his office and from the Privy Council.

17th century attempts to disfranchise Stockbridge for corruptionEdit

It is not recorded whether the stand of the Stockbridge electors was based on principle or had some less worthy motive, but their successors were certainly more venal. At least from the late 17th century, the right to vote in Stockbridge was exercised by all inhabitant householders who paid scot and lot, which generally amounted to about 100 voters. Bribery was routine, and led to frequent scandal. In 1689 and again in 1693, the election in the borough was declared void. After the 1689 election was overturned by the Commons for "gross and notorious bribery", its original victor debarred from being re-elected for the constituency in that Parliament, and the bailiff and three other inhabitants of the town were thrown in jail. Then an unprecedented motion was put to disfranchise Stockbridge, and transfer its two seats to the county, but the other MPs - perhaps nervous as to their own position - proved unenthusiastic. After debate the proposal was quietly dropped.

In 1693, very unusually, the House went against the findings of its own election committee, declaring the election corrupt and void even though the committee had decided that the winner had been duly elected. Instead of issuing a writ for a new election, the House then considered a bill to disfranchise Stockbridge; this time the bill made considerable progress, but it was eventually defeated on the third reading and a by-election was held to fill the vacancy.

Not all the bribery in Stockbridge was as direct as buying votes or corrupting the bailiff. Thomas Oldfield, the 19th century historian of and polemicist against electoral abuse, records the following anecdote of the author Richard Steele, elected in 1713:

The ingenious Sir Richard Steele ... carried his election against a powerful opposition, by the merry expedient of sticking a large apple full of guineas, and declaring it should be the prize of that man whose wife should first be brought to-bed [i.e. have a baby] after that day nine months. This, we are told, procured him the interest of the women, who are said to commemorate Sir Richard's bounty to this day, and once made a strenuous effort to procure a resolution, that no man should ever be received as a candidate who did not offer himself upon the same terms.

Patronage in the 18th and 19th centuriesEdit

Yet despite the apparent need to secure every result by bribery, Stockbridge continued to have a generally recognised "patron", without whose support it was considered difficult if not impossible to be elected, and despite the precarious hold that this patronage entailed, it was as much a commercial property as the ownership of pocket boroughs where control of the elections was absolute. In 1754, the patron was the attorney-general, Robert Henley, who had personal rather than government-backed influence over the borough. He passed control to his colleague Henry Fox by leasing the rights for a term of years. Fox hoped to reduce the venality of the voters but quickly saw a deterioration rather than an improvement, and must have considered his payment to have been a poor investment. Namier and Brooke quote correspondence to show that in 1767 Fox's son, the Whig leader Charles James Fox, was admitting that while they felt certain of securing one seat for their chosen candidate at the following year's election they saw little likelihood of being able to choose both MPs: the 96 voters had already been bribed in advance to the extent of 50 guineas a man, and if the election was carried to a contest the need for further treating of the voters and payments to the returning officer would bring the cost to a candidate into the region of £2,500. (In the event this election was not contested, presumably because the votes bought in advance had already made it a foregone conclusion; but there were contests at each of the next four opportunities.)

By 1774 the younger Fox was in need of money and no longer able to afford the expense of maintaining control of Stockbridge's elections. Yet it seems that he was able to sell his interests there to the Luttrell family, a transaction that can in reality have entailed little more than a guarantee not to oppose the Luttrell candidates and so bid up the price of votes: lavish bribery by the Luttrells was still necessary to secure their seats. When the Luttrells tired of it, the borough passed into the hands of a West Indies merchant, Joseph Foster Barham, who occupied one seat himself and later kept the second for his step-grandson, John Foster Barham. But when he, too, found himself in monetary difficulties, he sold the borough to Earl Grosvenor. He not only vacated his seat immediately to allow Grosvenor's nominee (Edward Stanley, a future Conservative Prime Minister but then a Whig) to be elected, but took the trouble to introduce Stanley to the electors. By the time of the Reform Act, Grosvenor was being accused of having countered the prevalence of bribery by a different form of corruption, having hostile voters disqualified by persuading the local overseers of the poor (his appointees) not to rate them for scot and lot, and creating new votes by finding nominal jobs for "unemployables" with the surveyor of roads.


By the 19th century, Stockbridge was no more than a village, and had no case for survival as a constituency even had its elections been impeccably pure. In 1831, the population of the borough was 663, and contained 188 houses. It was abolished as a separate constituency by the Great Reform Act in 1832, being included within the Northern Division of the county thereafter.

Members of ParliamentEdit

MPs 1563–1640Edit

Parliament First member Second member
1563 Walter Sandys William St John[1]
1571 William St John Tristram Pistor[1]
1572 Henry Gifford Tristram Pistor[1]
1584 George Kingsmill Hampden Paulet[1]
1586 George Kingsmill John Fisher[1]
1588-1589 Chidiock Wardour Henry St John[1]
1593 John Awdeley[2] Henry St John[1]
1597 Miles Sandys Mark Steward[1]
1601 Edward Savage Thomas Grymes[1]
1604-1611 Sir William Fortescue Sir Edwin Sandys
1614 Sir Henry Wallop[3] Sir Walter Cope[4] (Election voided)
1621-1622 Sir Richard Gifford Sir William Ayloffe, 1st Baronet
1624 Sir Richard Gifford Sir Henry Holcroft
1625 Sir Richard Gifford Sir Thomas Badger
1626 Sir Richard Gifford Sir Thomas Badger
1628 Sir Richard Gifford Sir Henry Whitehead
1629–1640 No Parliaments summoned

MPs 1640–1832Edit

Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 William Heveningham Parliamentarian William Jephson Parliamentarian
November 1640
December 1648 Jephson not recorded as sitting after Pride's Purge
1653 Stockbridge was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Francis Rivett Richard Whitehead
May 1659 Not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 Francis Rivett Sir John Evelyn
1661 Sir Robert Howard Robert Phelips
February 1679 Henry Whithed Oliver St John
August 1679 William Strode
1680 Henry Whithed
1681 Essex Strode
1685 John Head
January 1689 Richard Whithed Oliver St John
September 1689 William Montagu[5]
December 1689 Thomas Neale
1690 William Montagu
1691 Thomas Jervoise
November 1693 Anthony Rowe[6]
December 1693 Seat vacant [7]
November 1694 George Pitt
1695 Anthony Sturt John Venables
1698 George Pitt
1699 John Pitt
1701 Frederick Tylney Anthony Burnaby
1702 Henry Killigrew
1705 Sir John Hawles Sir Edward Laurence
1710 George Dashwood The Earl of Barrymore
1713 Thomas Brodrick Richard Steele[8] Whig
1714 The Earl of Barrymore
1715 Martin Bladen
1722 John Chetwynd
1734 Sir Humphrey Monoux John Montagu
1735 John Berkeley
1741 Charles Churchill Matthew Lamb
1747 Daniel Boone William Chetwynd
1754 John Gibbons Dr George Hay
1756 The Viscount Powerscourt
1761 George Prescott Nicholas Linwood
1768 Major-General Richard Alchorne Worge Richard Fuller
1772 James Hare
1774 Captain the Hon. John Luttrell The Lord Irnham
1775 Lieutenant the Hon. James Luttrell[9]
1780 Captain the Hon. John Luttrell
1784 Thomas Boothby Parkyns
1785 James Gordon
1790 [10] John Cator John Scott
1793 Joseph Foster Barham Whig George Porter Whig
1799 John Agnew
1802 Joseph Foster Barham[11] Whig
January 1807 Sir John Leicester, Bt
May 1807 Joseph Foster Barham Whig
1820 John Foster Barham Whig
1822 Edward Stanley Whig
1826 Thomas Grosvenor Whig George Wilbraham Whig
1830 William Sloane-Stanley Tory
1831 John Foster-Barham Whig Sir Stratford Canning Whig
1832 Constituency abolished


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 2011-10-30.
  2. ^ Awdeley was also elected for Lancaster. The Parliament was a short one, and he may never have chosen for which of the two constituencies he wished to sit.
  3. ^ Wallop's election was declared void. On the instructions of the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the bailiff of the borough (acting as returning officer) had returned the names of Wallop and Cope, even though the electors had voted almost unanimously for Sir Richard Gifford and Mr St John.
  4. ^ Cope's election was declared void - see previous note
  5. ^ On petition, Montagu's election was declared void for bribery, and Montagu was debarred from being elected again for the constituency in the same Parliament.
  6. ^ On petition, Rowe's election was declared void for bribery
  7. ^ After the invalidation of Rowe's election, the House of Commons initially failed to issue a writ for a new election, instead debating a bill that would have disfranchised the borough. When the bill was defeated on third reading, a new writ was issued.
  8. ^ Expelled for issuing a pamphlet in favour of the Hanoverian succession
  9. ^ Captain from 1781
  10. ^ On petition, Scott and Cator were found not to have been duly elected; their opponents Foster-Barham and Porter were seated in their place. The House ordered the Attorney-General to prosecute Scott for having used bribery and corruption at the election.
  11. ^ Barham was re-elected in 1806, but had also been elected for Okehampton, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Stockbridge in this Parliament.


  • Robert Beatson, A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) [1]
  • Michael Brock, The Great Reform Act (London: Hutchinson, 1973)
  • D Brunton & D H Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
  • John Cannon, Parliamentary Reform 1640-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1972)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [2]
  • Maija Jansson (ed.), Proceedings in Parliament, 1614 (House of Commons) (Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 1988) [3]
  • Lewis Namier & John Brooke, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790 (London: HMSO, 1964)
  • J. E. Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949)
  • J. E. Neale, Elizabeth I and Her Parliaments 1559-1581 (London: Jonathan Cape, 1953)
  • T. H. B. Oldfield, The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1816)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Edward Porritt and Annie G Porritt, The Unreformed House of Commons (Cambridge University Press, 1903)
  • Henry Stooks Smith, The Parliaments of England from 1715 to 1847 (2nd edition, edited by FWS Craig - Chichester: Parliamentary Reference Publications, 1973)
  • Frederic A Youngs, jr, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol I (London: Royal Historical Society, 1979)
  • House of Commons Journal
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "S" (part 5)