Welcome to the Victorian Commons

The Victorian Commons blog provides news and highlights from the History of Parliament’s research project on the House of Commons, 1832-68. For details about the project and how to access our work see our About page. The main History of Parliament website can be accessed here with regular blogs here. You can also follow us on Twitter @TheVictCommons and our colleagues @HistParl & @GeorgianLords

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MP of the Month: Joseph Locke (1805-1860)

Our Victorian MP of the Month is Joseph Locke (1805-1860), who represented Honiton from 1847 until his death. With Isambard Kingdom Brunel (1806-1859) and Robert Stephenson (1803-1859), Locke formed the ‘triumvirate of the engineering world’, who laid the architecture of Britain and Europe’s nineteenth-century railways. Unlike Stephenson and Brunel, however, Locke has remained a marginal figure in histories of nineteenth-century Britain, partly due to his political standing at the time of his death.

Joseph Locke was born in Attercliffe, near Sheffield, in 1805, but had relocated to Barnsley by 1810, where his father was a colliery manager. After receiving his education at a local grammar school, Locke was apprenticed at the age of 14 as a colliery viewer in Durham, and later under his father in Barnsley. As a gifted mining engineer, Locke caught the eye of family friend and ‘father of the railways’, George Stephenson, who employed him as an engineer at his locomotive works in Newcastle-upon-Tyne from 1823.

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‘Opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway’, Isaac Shaw, 1830, Yale Centre For British Art

In 1826 Locke was appointed assistant engineer to Stephenson on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, and with Robert Stephenson (George Stephenson’s son) was crucial in ensuring the use of locomotives on the railway. In an episode that haunted him for the rest of his life, Locke was driving the Rocket at the line’s opening ceremony in 1830 when it fatally injured William Huskisson, the leading Canningite and former minister. Although some felt he was culpable for Huskisson’s death on account of the excessive speed at which the Rocket was travelling, Locke was never officially blamed for the incident.

The episode did little to hamper Locke’s upward trajectory in the burgeoning field of railway engineering. He was appointed chief engineer of the Grand Junction Railway in 1835 and subsequently enjoyed an illustrious career overseeing, among others, the London to Southampton, Sheffield to Manchester, Paris and Rouen, and Rouen and Le Havre lines, as well as railways in Spain and Holland. As an engineer, Locke developed a reputation for his innovative, efficient designs, which allowed for railways on steeper gradients. The apparent simplicity and cost-effectiveness of his work partly explains the subsequent lack of public recognition for his engineering career.

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The impressive Barentin Viaduct, part of the Paris Le-Havre Railway. Locke was the railway’s chief engineer, ILN, 27 March 1847

It was a railway project that brought Locke into Parliament. In August 1846, he purchased the manor of Honiton for £80,000 (roughly £7 million in today’s money) to aid the London and South Western Railway’s attempts to build a line between Exeter and Yeovil. The tenancies owned by the manor effectively provided Locke with a safe seat for the notoriously corrupt borough of Honiton. He was first returned at the 1847 election, labelling himself a ‘Liberal in politics’, and calling for a transformation in the social and moral condition of the country at a rate akin to that with which the railways had revolutionised travel since the 1830s.

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Locke represented the venal borough of Honiton from 1847 until his death (PP 1831-2 (141) xl.)

He held his seat until his death in 1860, and from 1857 struck an increasingly radical, anti-Palmerstonian tone. The railways featured prominently in all of his election campaigns. And, when he criticised the Conservative’s government’s international diplomacy during the 1859 election, his opponents suggested that his radicalism and involvement in continental railway development had been a covert attempt to support a much feared French invasion.

It was on one of his trips to France in 1856 that Locke sustained a knee injury during railway construction. This left him with a limp for the rest of his life and led to doctors’ orders that he be accompanied at all times by an ‘assistance-pony’. Unfortunately, we have found no proof of him using the donkey in Parliament.

Locke maintained a regular attendance in the Commons, where he usually sided with radicals on issues like the ballot, shorter parliaments and the abolition of the income tax. He was a regular presence in the committee rooms and made a number of speeches during his career, with one contemporary recording that he spoke ‘with much effect’ and that his ‘easy elegance’ was ‘equalled by his choice of language’.

During his first Parliament Locke tried to assume the role of figurehead for the railway interest at Westminster. This boosted his national profile a little, particularly when his 1849 attempts to secure the Sunday opening of railways inadvertently pushed him to the forefront of the anti-Sabbatarian lobby for the restoration of Sunday post-office deliveries in 1850. However, the forty or so MPs connected with the ‘railway interest’ proved difficult to manage, and Locke failed in his major aim of introducing legislation to prevent fraudulent practices in railway companies, a move he had hoped would restore investor confidence in the railways following a recent collapse in share prices.

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Engraving of 1855 photograph of Joseph Locke by John Mayall, from Devey, The Life of Joseph Locke (1862).

After dispensing with the idea of representing the railway interest, Locke turned to the scrutiny of publicly funded engineering and building projects from 1852. While his regular interventions were generally ‘well heard’ in the House, his efforts to effect a cultural shift in parliamentary attitudes towards the costing and planning of projects proved generally fruitless.  He was highly critical of the management of the rebuilding of the Houses of Parliament, the Thames embankment, the National Science Museum and the Scottish Ordnance Survey.

His activities meant that by the end of his parliamentary career he was regarded as Westminster’s foremost engineering expert, particularly following the death in 1859 of his friend and former colleague, Robert Stephenson, who had sat as MP for Whitby. This prompted rumours that Locke would succeed Henry Fitzroy as first commissioner of works in January 1860. However, he was disregarded by Palmerston on account of his unpopularity with the Cabinet, his lack of loyalty to the Liberal party and his reputation for outspokenness.

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Albumen print of Carlo Marochetti’s statue of Joseph Locke, c. 1865, Camille Silvy, NPG

Locke died suddenly of appendicitis (after complaining of ‘considerable pain in the bowels’) in September 1860 while shooting in Scotland during the parliamentary recess. He was a wealthy man and left around £350,000. Following his death, the Institute of Civil Engineers commissioned a statue of Locke which was proposed to be placed in St Margaret’s, Westminster. It was intended to complement Robert Stephenson’s statue in Euston Square, and Isambard Kingdom Brunel’s in Embankment gardens. However, the Liberal government refused the application, probably as a result of Locke’s parliamentary independence. The statue was instead installed in Locke Park, Barnsley, and a replica was also erected in 1951 at Barentin in France, where Locke had overseen the construction of the impressive Barentin Viaduct.

For a brief period Locke had a memorial window in Westminster Abbey. However, after being in storage ‘for many years’, it was purchased by Barnsley town council in 1952 and is currently held by Cannon Hall Museum, Cawthorne.

The full biography of Joseph Locke MP is on our free preview website. For details of how to obtain access to this or any other of our completed articles please click here.

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Upcoming event: Victorian Elections & Political Culture Workshop

Keble College: home to the Research Centre in Victorian Political Culture

On Friday 20 April 2018 the Research Centre in Victorian Political Culture, led by Professor Angus Hawkins, will be hosting a workshop on Victorian politics aimed at graduate students in the Jean Robinson Room, Keble College, Oxford OX1 3PG. The seminars will consist of 30 minute papers on some key topics followed by 45 minutes of questions and discussion.

Timetable:

9.15  Philip Salmon (Editor, The History of Parliament, 1832-1867), Victorian Elections 1832-1867

10.30 Coffee break

11.00  Simon Skinner (Balliol College, Oxford), Elections and Confessional Politics

12.15  Sandwich lunch

1.00  Alex Middleton (Corpus Christi College, Oxford), The Impact of Foreign Autocracies on mid-Victorian Political Culture.

To register please email Professor Angus Hawkins and include details of any dietary or access requirements.

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MP of the Month: John Barton Willis Fleming (1781-1844)

With modern electioneering tactics currently attracting so much scrutiny at home and abroad, our Victorian MP of the Month focuses on a notorious election fixer or ‘boroughmonger’, whose activities increasingly pushed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour. His refusal to answer questions when he was summoned before a parliamentary inquiry led to demands for his arrest and scuppered his chances of an expected peerage. Disowned by the political establishment, within two years he was dead and insolvent.

The political career of John Fleming MP serves as an important reminder of the extraordinary lengths to which some election activists were prepared (and able) to go in the past, especially in the period before the introduction of the secret ballot (1872). Born John Barton Willis, Fleming had changed his name on inheriting the ‘very large fortune’ and Hampshire estates of his cousin John Fleming MP (1743-1802). By 1818 he had become the leading organiser of Hampshire’s Tories and an ‘intimate friend’ of his new ‘celebrity’ neighbour the Duke of Wellington, and had started work on a huge Grecian mansion at North Stoneham Park. Elected for the county two years later, he sat as a loyal Tory MP for Hampshire until 1831, when the popularity of the Whigs’ reform bill, to which he was staunchly opposed, made him unelectable.

North Stoneham House: seat of John Fleming MP

Furious at having to give up his Commons seat, Fleming became determined to leave nothing to chance in future. He was one of the first campaigners to fully exploit the new yearly voter registration system, employing lawyers to lodge objections to the votes of political opponents and help enrol supporters and the tenants of local Tory landlords. With would-be electors having to pay a registration fee, prove their legal entitlements if objected to, and face disqualification for various technical reasons, such as receiving charity or getting into arrears with their rates, the new system was ripe for abuse. In Southampton, where Fleming owned ‘considerable’ property, his behind-the-scenes shenanigans helped to get a Tory MP get elected in 1832, only for the result to be overturned after evidence came to light of fraudulent voting. Fleming’s activities in the county were not enough to get himself and the Duke of Wellington’s son elected in 1832, but in a shock result three years later, Fleming defeated and ousted the future Liberal prime minister Lord Palmerston, who accused him of threatening to evict tenants and of bribing supporters with tithe rebates.

Building on his personal triumph and the victory of two Tory MPs at Southampton, where Fleming now ‘ruled the electors with a rod of iron’, Fleming was instrumental in establishing the South Hampshire Conservative Society (and its various sub-committees) to collect local intelligence about voters and their families for use in the registration courts and during election campaigns. In London, meanwhile, he began to host lavish ‘grand dinners’ for the party leaders at his Pall Mall residence. ‘Fiercely partisan’, he was not beyond using his influence with Wellington, Hampshire’s lord lieutenant, to promote exclusively Tory appointments in local administration, from the bench to the board of guardians. Many of these positions involved the management of local rates, upon which the 1832 Reform Act’s household voting qualification depended.

John Fleming MP: © The Willis Fleming Historical Trust

Fleming’s activities did not go unnoticed by his political opponents in Parliament. Indeed their accusations prompted most of his rare contributions to debate. In one highly revealing episode in 1837, he was charged with manufacturing ‘faggot’ votes on the Isle of Wight, by parcelling up land and making ‘gifts’ of 40s. freeholds to non-residents (a practice later used to great effect by the Anti-Corn Law League). Even if this ‘was not against the letter of the law’, protested the local Liberal MP, ‘it was at least against its spirit, and contrary to the constitutional rights of the electors’. In response, Fleming insisted on his ‘right to dispose of his property as he pleased’.

Most of Fleming’s other speeches focused on his role in the highly controversial Southampton election contest of 1841. Charged in a petition with targeting and ‘corrupting’ vulnerable voters, Fleming was summoned to appear before an election inquiry. ‘Striking his hand energetically upon the table’, however, he refused to give details about the Conservatives’ election expenses and ‘betray the names’ of those involved. The attorney-general ruled that he must answer or face arrest. Called again the next day, he was expected to be committed to the sergeant-at-arms, only to be conveniently spared further questions when the committee decided it already had enough evidence to overturn the result. Concerned that so many ‘foul transactions’ had taken place, as one local paper put it, the Conservative prime minister Sir Robert Peel intervened to delay the issue of a new writ, against Fleming’s wishes, and backed the appointment of an inquiry into whether Southampton should be disfranchised. After finding insufficient evidence, however, the committee eventually allowed the delayed double by-election to go ahead.

Shortly after helping two new Tory MPs get elected for Southampton in 1842, Fleming resigned as an MP for Hampshire South and took himself off on his yacht Syren. He ‘retires in disgust, having been rumped by Sir Robert Peel’, reported a local paper, adding that he would now ‘give a few years to foreign travel’.

Fleming died two years later of ‘malignant fever’ whilst sailing in the Mediterranean. His vast estate was declared ‘insolvent’. According to one obituarist, the costs associated with his electioneering activities in Hampshire after 1832 had ‘averaged’ a staggering £18,000 per year. His ‘splendid mansion’ at North Stoneham, meanwhile, though never completed, was reckoned to have cost £100,000.

The full biography of John Fleming MP is on our free preview website. For details of how to obtain access to this or any other of our completed articles please click here.

Further info and reading:

The Willis Fleming Historical Trust

David Brown, Palmerston, South Hampshire and Electoral Politics, 1832-1835 (2003)

P. Salmon, ‘Electoral reform and the political modernization of England’, Parliaments, Estates, and Representation, xxiii (2003), 49-67 VIEW

Ruscombe Foster, The Politics of County Power: Wellington and the Hampshire Gentlemen 1820-1852 (1990)

A. Temple Patterson, A History of Southampton 1700-1914 (1966)

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MP of the Month: Andrew Carew O’Dwyer (1801-1877)

Many of our recent posts have focused on the way barriers to the franchise were gradually removed in the 19th century, but it is worth noting that there were also many barriers to becoming a Victorian MP. One of these was the property qualification for MPs that existed until 1858. The last MP to be unseated under this rule, Edward Glover, found himself in Newgate prison as a result of making a false declaration about his qualification.

Since 1711 membership of the Commons had been restricted to those receiving an income of £600 a year from land for county MPs, and £300 a year for borough MPs. This could prove a particular obstacle for Irish parliamentary candidates with backgrounds in trade or the professions who, although not without means, did not possess, as one Irish viceroy put it, ‘a shovelful of land’, and therefore had to make often hasty arrangements to meet the necessary property qualification.

Daniel O'Connell

Daniel O’Connell

One such MP was Andrew Carew O’Dwyer, an Irish barrister and follower of Daniel O’Connell, who sat for the Liberal borough of Drogheda from 1832 to 1835. Described as one of the ‘band of stout and brawling patriots, who had, in 1834, formed the hope of trusting Ireland’, O’Dwyer had been a late convert to O’Connell’s Repeal campaign. In January 1831 he had still been an advocate for the Union, albeit on the basis of ‘equal participation in British laws’. However, once he embraced Repeal he became one of its most determined advocates. One of the earliest and most active members of the Reform Club, he was a man of strong opinions and was not afraid to differ with O’Connell over the need for an Irish poor law. He was one of the most conspicuous of Ireland’s young ‘patriots’ and made more than one hundred contributions to debate in the 1833 session alone, speaking even more frequently than Sir Robert Peel. However, he was not well liked at Westminster. The Whigs’ election manager, Denis Le Marchant, thought there was something ‘of the ruffian’ about him, while other critics claimed that he prided himself ‘upon a total disregard for truth’.

This did little to diminish his popularity in Ireland, and he faced only token opposition at the 1835 general election. A petition was soon presented against his return, however, and an election committee decided that owing to a mistake that O’Dwyer had made in his declaration regarding his property qualification, the election was void. Since the deed for the land in question had been hastily conveyed to him, his uncertainty as to his new property’s precise location was perhaps understandable. The seat was re-contested that April, when the Conservatives, confident that they would be able to prove that O’Dwyer had no legal claim to his property, fielded an opponent. Although O’Connell assured Drogheda’s Liberal electors that O’Dwyer was ‘certainly qualified in point of property’, O’Dwyer’s victory at the poll was immediately contested. In June another committee concluded that O’Dwyer’s title to his property was not valid. He was unseated once more and his opponent was seated in his place.

The verdict proved controversial because the committee had been composed of ten Conservatives and one Liberal, and their decision had required the casting vote of the chairman, Henry Goulburn, a man O’Dwyer described as ‘a bitter political partisan, and a virulent opponent of mine’. In July O’Connell presented a petition to the Commons on behalf of O’Dwyer, which called for a more liberal regulation of the property qualification, and by 1838 the rules had been amended to include income from personal as well as landed property.

Orlagh House

Orlagh, near Dublin (via www.buildingsofireland.ie)

In the meantime, O’Dwyer was still without a seat, and as Drogheda had been earmarked by the ministry as a safe berth for Sir William Somerville, a future chief secretary of Ireland, O’Dwyer benefited from the ‘bonanza of jobbery’ which accompanied the Whigs’ administrative reforms in Ireland. In February 1837 he was appointed to the lucrative legal post of filacer of the Irish court of exchequer, and in 1841 was promoted further. When his office was abolished in 1845 he was granted a generous pension, which enabled him to purchase an estate at Orlagh, near Dublin.

Now free from office and a man of property, O’Dwyer made several unsuccessful attempts to revive his political career. At the 1852 general election he offered for the borough of Waterford, but retired in favour of the Catholic bishop’s preferred candidate, and in 1857 he came bottom of the poll. In 1859 he tried again at Drogheda, but resigned in favour of the Liberal Member. Without hope of returning to Parliament, O’Dwyer retired from politics and spent the rest of his days in London, where he died in November 1877.

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Parliaments and Popular Sovereignty Conference

On 22 March 2018 the History of Parliament will be hosting an event at Westminster featuring 19th century highlights from the recent conference: Parliaments and Popular Sovereignty: Political Representation in the British world, 1640-1886. This conference was held at the People’s History Museum in Manchester and organised by the History of Parliament and Durham University History Department. The speakers on 22 March will be:

Katrina Navickas (University of Hertfordshire): extracts from her conference keynote, ‘Why political history still matters: representation of the people from the Bill of Rights to the Third Reform Act’

Richard Huzzey and Henry Miller (Durham University), ‘The Rise and Fall of Petitions to the House of Commons, 1780-1918’

Matthew Roberts (Sheffield Hallam University), ‘Daniel O’Connell, Repeal and Parliamentary Reform’

To register for a free place (tickets are limited) and for further details please click here.

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Before the vote was won: women and politics, 1832-68

This month marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which received royal assent on 6 February. For the first time, virtually all the adult male population received the parliamentary franchise, whereas before this reform, around 40% of men were excluded from the electoral registers. Perhaps most notably, the Act extended the parliamentary franchise to some – although not all – women. Although females were excluded from the parliamentary franchise before 1918, it would be wrong to suppose that they were previously unable to play any part in parliamentary politics. Our research on the House of Commons, 1832-68 project continues to highlight the role of women in many aspects of Victorian politics, and we’d like to begin our 1918 centenary celebrations by revisiting some of our previous posts on this topic.

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G. Cruikshank, The Rights of Women, or the Effects of Female Enfranchisement (1853)

Although women were excluded from voting in parliamentary elections until 1918, some women were eligible to vote at local government level, even before the 1869 Municipal Franchise Act enabled female ratepayers to vote for local municipal councils. Dr. Sarah Richardson of Warwick University blogged for us on the Victorian female franchise, drawing on a rare parish election poll book from Lichfield. Concerns about the proposed disfranchisement of female municipal voters at Brighton in the 1840s were raised by the town’s former Radical MP, George Faithfull, who featured in one of our MP of the Month blogs. One of his supporters argued that

I consider it unjust that a man should have a vote simply because he is a man, and that a lady should be disfranchised because she is a lady and the weaker body.

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Lily Maxwell

One of our most recent blogs featured a woman who did cast a parliamentary vote before 1918, the Manchester shopkeeper, Lily Maxwell. Placed on the register by a clerical error, she cast her vote for Jacob Bright at a by-election in November 1867. Bright became one of the leading parliamentary advocates of female enfranchisement, taking on the mantle of John Stuart Mill, who had been active in promoting the women’s cause during his time as Liberal MP for Westminster, 1865-8. We have looked in our blogs at Mill’s presentation of the first mass women’s suffrage petition in June 1866, and his failed attempt the following year to include women’s suffrage within the 1867 Reform Act.

As well as acting as petitioners, women performed a variety of other political roles. In this blog for Parliament Week, we looked at women as electoral patrons, exercising influence over the representation of a constituency through their control of local property. We also considered the involvement of wives in their husband’s parliamentary careers, highlighting the role of Emma Oliveira in overseeing the corrupt expenditure which won her husband his seat at Pontefract in 1852.

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Mary Anne Disraeli, by A. E. Chalon (1840)

Political wives have also featured in several other posts. Daniel Gaskell‘s formidable wife, Mary, played an important part in persuading her ‘reluctant spouse’ to stand for Wakefield in 1832, so much so that her nephew observed that ‘it is, in fact, my Aunt, that would be member of Parliament’. Another MP said to be ‘so completely under petticoat government, that he would not dare to vote on any question in the House of Commons without the sanction of his wife!’ was Wyndham Lewis, Conservative MP for Maidstone. After his death, his wife Mary Anne married Benjamin Disraeli, whose political career she helped to fund.

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Queen Victoria’s coronation

Despite the restricted franchise during this period, non-electors, both male and female, often took a keen interest in elections. Our blog on Peterborough’s elections looked at George Whalley’s tactic of targeting the wives, sisters and daughters of electors who, it was hoped, would persuade their male relatives to vote for him. At Lyme Regis, meanwhile, the Liberal MP, William Pinney, included the pioneering fossil hunter Mary Anning among his supporters. The efforts of campaigning bodies such as the Anti-Corn Law League to attract female support were highlighted in our blog on George Donisthorpe Thompson, a charismatic orator who later became MP for Tower Hamlets. Finally, since we are the Victorian Commons project, we should mention our blog on Queen Victoria’s coronation, where MPs had a privileged view of proceedings.

We look forward to sharing more of our research on women’s political involvement in the nineteenth century in future blogs.

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MP of the Month: John Moyer Heathcote (1800-1892), the MP who never was

One of our first tasks when we began our 1832-1868 project was to compile a full list of the MPs elected during this period whose biographies we would research. With invaluable assistance from Stephen Lees, who co-edited the later Who’s Who of British Members of Parliament volumes with Michael Stenton, we arrived at a total of 2,589 MPs, including a handful not featured in the 1832-1885 Who’s Who volume. Well over half of these biographies have now been written and can be accessed in draft form on our preview site. However, we always suspected that as our research progressed, we might find another MP or two who, for some reason, had been omitted from our original list. Our MP of the Month, John Moyer Heathcote, is one such new addition, which brings our total number of MPs to 2,590.

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John Moyer Heathcote, by Carmen Silvy (1860) (C) NPG, used under CC licence

Heathcote, a local Liberal landowner, was returned for Huntingdonshire at the general election in April 1857. James Rust, who had represented this double member county as a Conservative since 1855, topped the poll with 1,192 votes. His Conservative running-mate, Edward Fellowes, received 1,106 votes, as did Heathcote. After checking the poll books three times, the high sheriff made a double return for the second seat, declaring both Fellowes and Heathcote elected. Following the presentation of three election petitions, an election committee undertook a scrutiny of the poll. It struck off the votes of two disqualified voters and two others who had voted twice on the basis of the same qualification, and added the vote of one duly qualified voter. On 31 July 1857 it declared Heathcote not elected and Fellowes elected. The official record was amended three days later by the clerk of the crown, who erased Heathcote’s name from the return, replacing it with that of Fellowes.

Technically, therefore, Heathcote was never an MP, since his return was invalidated and his only subsequent attempt to win a seat ended in failure. This makes him almost unique in our period – the only other individual we have found who falls into the same category is John Scandrett Harford, whose name was expunged from the parliamentary record following an election petition in 1841, when he had been elected for the Cardigan Boroughs on a double return. Like Heathcote, Harford’s subsequent attempt to enter Parliament ended in defeat.

Although his parliamentary career was non-existent, Heathcote’s biography can still shed valuable light on the politics of this period. He was the first Liberal to contest Huntingdonshire for two decades, challenging what the Daily News described as ‘the compact alliance of conservative family interests, which is paramount in this county’. While the Whigs and the Conservatives had shared the representation without a contest in 1832 and 1835, the Conservatives had made a successful bid for both seats in 1837. The subsequent prominence of agricultural protection as an election issue meant that a Liberal challenge in this predominantly agricultural constituency was fruitless, especially given that many of its leading landowners were Conservatives. Heathcote considered standing for a vacancy in August 1855, but with an early dissolution of Parliament anticipated, he decided to wait for the next general election. Although the Conservatives had monopolised the county’s representation for twenty years, the latent strength of Liberalism was demonstrated by the fact that Heathcote tied with Fellowes for the second seat in 1857.

Despite the disappointment of losing the seat on petition, Heathcote stood again in 1859, when he faced two Conservative opponents, Fellowes and Lord Robert Montagu, brother of the Duke of Manchester, a major local landowner who had previously sat as the constituency’s MP. There was considerable excitement at the hustings due to the appearance of Lord John Russell, who owned property in the county. Russell had plumped for Heathcote in 1857, and after casting his vote had spoken briefly from the window of Heathcote’s committee room. Now, however, he abandoned ‘the reserve usually practised by statesmen of his standing’ in order to propose Heathcote as a candidate. His intervention was spurred on not only by ‘personal friendship’, but also the belief that this was a timely opportunity for ‘a last appeal to the still undecided constituencies’.

Russell began his hustings speech in support of Heathcote by referring to his own service as Huntingdonshire’s MP over thirty years earlier. With its representation dominated ever since by the Conservatives, he compared its MPs to men waiting on a railway platform, ‘looking vacantly at the trains going by’ and ‘declining to take part in any progress whatever’. The issue of parliamentary reform, on which he had defeated the Derby ministry a few weeks earlier, was clearly at the forefront of Russell’s mind. He denied that those who had joined him in opposing the Conservative ministry’s reform bill were motivated by faction and emphasised his own differences from John Bright’s more radical view of reform. He also criticised Derby’s government for its ‘lame and impotent measures’ and its incompetence in both domestic and foreign policy. Alluding to landlord influence in Huntingdonshire, he urged that ‘the real opinion of the electors’ on these national questions should decide Heathcote’s fate.

Despite Russell’s endorsement, Heathcote finished third in the poll, almost 250 votes short of Montagu. He did not make a further attempt at the seat, and the Conservatives were spared a contest in 1865. Heathcote did, however, continue to play an important role in local administration as a magistrate and chairman of the Huntingdon board of guardians. In 1876 he published Reminiscences of fen and mere, a local history illustrated largely by his own sketches. He died in March 1892 at the age of 91. His estates passed to his eldest son, John Moyer Heathcote (1834-1912), a talented real tennis player who also made a major contribution to the development of lawn tennis, being the first to suggest covering the ball with flannel.

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