Midhurst (UK Parliament constituency)

Midhurst (UK Parliament constituency)
Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
1311 (1311)1885 (1885)
Number of members two (1311-1832); one (1832-1885)
Replaced by Horsham

Midhurst was a parliamentary borough in Sussex, which elected two Members of Parliament (MP) to the House of Commons from 1311 until 1832, and then one member from 1832 until 1885, when the constituency was abolished. Before the Great Reform Act of 1832, it was one of the most notorious of England's rotten boroughs.



From its foundation in the 14th century until 1832, the borough consisted of part of the parish of Midhurst, a small market town in Sussex. Much of the town as it existed by the 19th century was outside this ancient boundary, but the boundary was in any case academic since the townsfolk had no votes. As a contemporary, writer, Sir George Trevelyan explained in writing about the general election of 1768 [1],

the right of election rested in a few small holdings, on which no human being resided, distinguished among the pastures and the stubble that surrounded them by a large stone set up on end in the middle of each portion.

No doubt these "burgage tenements" had once included houses, but long before the 19th century it was notorious that several of them consisted solely of the marker stones, set in the wall of the landowner's estate. Even compared with most of the other burgage boroughs this was an extreme situation, and during the parliamentary debates on the Reform Bills in 1831 and 1832 the reformers made much play of Midhurst's "niches in a wall" as an example of the abuses they wished to correct.

The natural result of a burgage franchise was to encourage some local landowner to attempt to buy up a majority of the tenements, thereby ensuring absolute control of the choice of both of the members of Parliament, and this happened at an early stage in many other burgage boroughs. In Midhurst, however, there was still no single proprietor by the middle of the 18th century. The most influential figure was The Viscount Montagu, who in 1754 claimed to own 104 burgages, but Sir John Peachey owned 40 and there were more than 70 independent burgage holders. Montagu could usually control matters since he could count on the support of at least half of the independent voters, but for many years there had been an agreement not to force matters, and the Peacheys were allowed one of the two seats.

However, after 1754 Montagu began to buy up the independent burgages; meanwhile Peachey sold his property in the borough to Sir William Peere Williams, who in his turn also tried to increase his holding. At the general election of 1761, the two proprietors seem to have been unsure which would prove to have a majority, and both the Prime Minister and opposition leaders were drawn into the negotiations before a compromise could be reached to avoid a contest. However, when Williams was killed during the capture of Belle Île later the same year, his burgages seem to have been bought by Montagu, who thereafter had a clear field. In 1832 there were still said to be 148 burgage tenements, but only 41 qualified electors, of whom no more than 20 voted. Midhurst was now an undisputed pocket borough: its elections consisted, as Trevelyan related of 1768, in a legal fiction: [2],

Viscount Montagu ... when an election was in prospect, assigned a few of [the burgage tenements] to his servants, with instructions to nominate the members and then make back the property to their employer.

In fact by 1761, Montagu's political affairs were being directed by his son, Anthony Browne, who put the borough's seats at the disposal of his parliamentary leader, Lord Holland - Holland used one of them to bring his son, Charles James Fox, into Parliament even though underage. But Holland died before the 1774 election, and Browne (by now the 7th Viscount Montagu) being short of money sold the nomination for both seats to the Treasury in return for a government pension.

After the 7th Viscount's death in 1787, the Montagu property in the borough was sold to the Earl of Egremont for £40,000. The earl used the seat to return two of his younger brothers, Percy and Charles William to the Commons, with Charles only serving one parliament for Midhurst.[3] Egremont in turn sold it to Lord Carrington, who used it more often than not to provide a parliamentary seat for one his many brothers or nephews.

In 1831, the population of the borough was 1,478, and the first draft of the Reform Bill proposed to abolish it altogether. But after argument the government recognised that it was possible to make a more respectably-sized constituency by expanding the boundaries to bring in the whole of the town and some neighbouring parishes, and Midhurst was reprieved. The expanded borough consisted of the whole of nine parishes and part of ten others, and had a population of 5,627. Nevertheless, Midhurst was permitted to keep only one of its two seats. Under the reformed franchise, its electorate at the election of 1832 was 252; but this was not sufficient to lead to more competitive elections, since the MP was returned unopposed at every election between 1832 and 1868.

Midhurst was eventually abolished as a separate constituency in the boundary changes of 1885, the town being included from that date in the North Western (or Horsham) county division.

Members of Parliament


  • 1399: Michael Bageley or Bagley (brother of Thomas Bagley, a Lollard burnt in 1421
  • 1415: Johannes Ives
  • 1415 & 1425: Johannes Sewale
  • 1425: ? Westlond
  • 1426: Walter Lucas
  • 1563-1567: Edward Banister
  • 1604-1611: Francis Nevile Sir Richard Weston
  • 1614: Thomas Bowyer
  • 1621-1622: John Smithe Richard Lewknor
  • 1624 Sir Anthony Manie Richard Lewknor
  • 1625 Richard Lewknor Samuel Owfield
  • 1626 Richard Lewknor Sir Henry Spiller
  • 1628 Christopher Lewknor Edward Savage


Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 Robert Long Thomas May
November 1640 Dr Chaworth [4] Thomas May Royalist
February 1641 William Cawley Parliamentarian
November 1642 May disabled from sitting - seat vacant
1645 Sir Gregory Norton
1653 Midhurst was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 William Yalden Benjamin Weston
May 1659 William Cawley One seat vacant
April 1660 William Willoughby John Steward
March 1661 John Lewknor Adam Browne
May 1661 John Steward
February 1679 Sir William Morley John Alford
October 1679 John Lewknor
1681 William Montagu John Cooke
1685 Sir William Morley John Lewknor
1701 Lawrence Alcock
1705 Robert Orme [5]
1709 Thomas Meredyth
1710 Robert Orme
1711 John Pratt
1713 William Woodward Knight
1715 John Fortescue Aland
1717 The Viscount Midleton
1721 Sir Richard Mill, Bt
1722 Bulstrode Peachey Knight
1729 Sir Richard Mill, Bt
1734 (Sir) Thomas Bootle
1736 Sir Henry Peachey, Bt
1738 Sir John Peachey, Bt
1744 Sir John Peachey, Bt
1754 John Sargent
1761 William Hamilton John Burgoyne
1765 Bamber Gascoyne
1768 Lord Stavordale Hon. Charles James Fox Whig
October 1774 Herbert Mackworth [6] Clement Tudway [7]
December 1774 Hon. Henry Seymour-Conway John Ord
September 1780 Hon. John St John [8] Hon. Henry Drummond
November 1780 Sir Sampson Gideon
April 1784 Benjamin Lethieullier [9]
June 1784 Edward Cotsford
1790 Hon. Percy Wyndham Hon. Charles Wyndham
1795 Peter Thellusson
1796 Sylvester Douglas [10] Charles Long
1800 George Smith
July 1802 Samuel Smith [11]
1802 Edmund Turnor
1806 John Smith [12] Tory William Wickham [13] Tory
January 1807 Henry Watkin Williams-Wynn William Conyngham Plunket
May 1807 Samuel Smith James Abercromby Whig
July 1807 Thomas Thompson
October 1812 George Smith
December 1812 Viscount Mahon
1817 Sir Oswald Mosley
1818 Samuel Smith John Smith Tory
1820 Abel Smith Tory
1830 John Abel Smith George Smith
1831 George Robert Smith Martin Tucker Smith
1832 Representation reduced to one member


Year Member Party
1832 Hon. Frederick Spencer Whig
1835 William Stephen Poyntz Whig
1837 Hon. Frederick Spencer Whig
1841 Sir Horace Beauchamp Seymour Conservative
1846 Spencer Horatio Walpole Conservative
1856 Samuel Warren Conservative
March 1859 John Hardy Conservative
April 1859 William Townley Mitford Conservative
February 1874 Charles Perceval Conservative
September 1874 Sir Henry Thurstan Holland Conservative
1885 Constituency abolished

Election results


  • 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)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [2]
  • F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1832-1885 (2nd edition, Aldershot: Parliamentary Research Services, 1989)
  • Hansard's Parliamentary Debates, Third Series, Volume 3 (1831) [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)
  • 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)
  • Frederic A Youngs, jr, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol I (London: Royal Historical Society, 1979)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "M" (part 2)


  1. ^ G O Trevelyan, Life of Fox, quoted by Porritt
  2. ^ G O Trevelyan, Life of Fox, quoted by Porritt
  3. ^ Thorne, R. G (1986). "The House of Commons, 1790-1820". History of Parliament Trust. http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=j0AsmWc5zYwC&pg=RA3-PA658&dq=Egremont+3rd+earl&hl=en&ei=r1IFTfmZEsmeOvKOsKYB&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=5&ved=0CD0Q6AEwBA#v=onepage&q=Egremont%203rd%20earl&f=false. Retrieved 9 December 2010. 
  4. ^ The election of November 1640 was disputed. On 6 January 1641 the House of Commons resolved that "Mr Thomas May and Dr Chaworth, elected for this borough, shall sit till the election be avoided"; but a further resolution on 15 February decided that "Mr Cawley and Mr May are well returned".
  5. ^ Orme was initially declared re-elected in 1708, but on petition his election was declared void
  6. ^ Mackworth was also elected for Cardiff, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Midhurst
  7. ^ Tudway was also elected for Wells, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Midhurst
  8. ^ St John was also elected for Newport (Isle of Wight), which he chose to represent, and never sat for Midhurst
  9. ^ Lethieullier was also elected for Andover, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Midhurst
  10. ^ Created The Lord Glenbervie (in the Peerage of Ireland), November 1800
  11. ^ Smith was also elected for Leicester, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Midhurst in this Parliament
  12. ^ Smith was also elected for Nottingham, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Midhurst in this Parliament
  13. ^ Wickham was also elected for Callington, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Midhurst

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