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The Poll Book for the County of Berkshire, 1727 was transcribed by members of the Berkshire Family History Society and published in 2008. This article is abstracted from the information it contains, focussing on Hungerford. Please refer to the BFHS book (or CD) for further information.
The poll book identifyied the voters for the 'Knights of the Shires' in the General Election of 1727. `Knights of the Shires' is a term applied to the Members of Parliament who sat for the County of Berkshire as opposed to those members representing boroughs or other places privileged to select their own MPs.
In Berkshire there were two MPs for the Shire, two each for Windsor, Reading and Wallingford and one for Abingdon.
The Poll Book is not a list of those entitled to vote, but a list of those who did vote. It includes details of who voted for whom - it was not a secret ballot!
The year 1727:
The year in which this election took place saw the death of King George I on 12 Jun. He was to be succeeded by his son, George II.
Politically there were still serious concerns about the Hanoverian succession; many still supported the Stuart cause.
While there were political tendencies known as Whig and Tory, the political party was still a thing of the future. Whigs tended to be firmly protestant, often non-conformist and were opposed to absolute monarchy, essentially the remnants of the parliamentarians of the civil wars of the previous century; the Tories were more likely to be Anglo or even Roman Catholic and had the support of the more traditionalist voters who perhaps felt that the wrong side won the civil wars. It is often assumed that they supported the restoration of the Stuart succession, and many did, though many more were pragmatic enough to support the general Tory ideals without seeing the need to replace the Hanoverians.
The general trend was for the Shires to return a higher proportion of Tories while the Borough representatives were more likely to be Whigs. The election of 1727 was during a period of Whig ascendancy, the Tory cause not being helped by the Jacobite rebellion of 1715.
However, the government was formed by a group of individuals not by a party. Whoever could command the most support in the House of Commons would run the country.
At this time this was Horace Walpole, often classed as Britain's first prime minister, though the title of prime minister would not officially appear until 1905 when Henry Campbell-Bannerman was the first to be appointed to that position. Walpole, a Whig, served as First Lord of the Treasury from 1722 to 1742, such was his power that he became known as the First Minister and sometimes, derisively, the Prime Minister.
Who could vote?
Voting rights in the Shire or County elections were limited to freeholders (effectively disenfranchising Catholics, who were not allowed to own land); consequently the electorate was small. In the Berkshire election two members were elected to parliament so each elector could, if they wished, choose two of the available candidates.
In contrast to modern elections the call to vote was in fact a rarity. In most elections the nebulous group usually referred to as the 'County interest' decided in advance who was to represent which area and ensured that the number of candidates matched the seats available, doing away with the need for an election.
This was very obviously not democracy, as we know it. But the cost of elections was borne by the candidates and their supporters; if an MP had to defend his seat at every general election it could quickly lead to bankruptcy. The expenses were not only the costs of holding the poll, wages of tellers, the cost of erecting polling booths etc. but included the cost of transporting voters to the poll and paying for their overnight accommodation, meats etc if they came any distance. In the 1812 election the defeated party, William Hallet, broke with this tradition and proudly stated that everyone who supported him did so at their own expense. However, he got less than a third of the votes of his rivals. However, there were occasions when the status quo was challenged and a vote was required. This became ever more likely as the fervour for political reform grew in the early 19th century resulting in the Great Reform Act of 1832.
There were three candidates:
Charles, Lord Viscount Fane of the Kingdom of Ireland. The title, along with that of Baron of Loughguyre was created in 1718, as it suggests, within the Irish peerage. He was courtier and a major landowner in both England and Ireland but his roots were in Berkshire. He was baptised in Basildon in 1676, second son of Sir Henry Fane. His elder brother Henry Bouchier Fane was killed in a duel in 1696. This left him heir to his father's title and estates; he also took over from his brother as the Standard Bearer of the Gentleman Pensioners a post he held from 1696 to 1712. In 1715 he was appointed Deputy Lieutenant for Berkshire. In 1727 he was standing as a Whig candidate for parliament. Following his elevation to the Irish peerage he was appointed a member of the Irish privy council in 1725. He died in 1744 and was buried at Basildon.
On 12th December 1707 he married Mary daughter of the hon. Alexander Stanhope, (the youngest son of the first Earl of Chesterfield) at the Chelsea Hospital.
Mary Fane was an old friend of the Mistress of the Robes, Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, having been one of the six original Maids of Honour to Queen Anne, appointed 4th June 1702, an office she had vacated by November 1707. Robert Walpole was a witness the prenuptial 'indenture of settlement' that set her marriage portion at £3,000. In the 1720s and 30s she built the Fane Grotto at their new house by the Thames at Lower Basildon.
Sir John Stonehouse Bt was a landowner in the north of the county, his full title being the 3rd Baronet Stonehouse and 6th Baronet Stonehouse of Radley. He was first elected MP for Berkshire in 1701 and served until his death in 1733. He was forced to defend his seat on two occasions, in 1722 and 1727. He came from a parliamentary family, his father and grandfather both sat for Abingdon where the family had considerable influence over the selection of MPs for generations. He was a lifelong Tory who served as Comptroller of Queen Anne's Household in 1713-14.
During the period 1721 to 1727 Sir John built a new mansion at Radley that was, in 1847 converted into a school, Radley College, which was to become one of the country's leading public schools. His sister Elizabeth married the 3rd Lord Byron, and was thus the great grandmother of the poet.
Robert Packer of Shellingford was first elected to parliament in an unopposed by-election following the elevation of his brother-in-law Henry St John to the peerage as Baron St John of Lydiard Tregoze and Viscount Bolingbroke, in 1712. His marriage to Mary St John associated him firmly with the Tory cause for the St Johns were strong supporters of Charles I during the civil war and had served the Stuarts in exile. In 1723 his father-in-law (also Henry) had made his peace with the government and returned to England to be restored in his estates but not his title which had been stripped from him on the succession of George I. The Packers had supported Parliament in the civil wars although their Berkshire stronghold of Donnington Castle was occupied early in the war by a Royalist garrison and held out for three years against several Parliamentary attacks.
Robert served as MP for Berkshire until his death in 1731 to be succeeded by his son Winchcombe Howard Packer of Donnington.
The polling took place in Abingdon on Wednesday 30 Aug 1727. This was a very quick election, it is not unknown for polls to last two weeks. Voters from Hungerford had to travel a considerable distance to the polling station. It is clear that many did not make the effort despite being qualified to vote; a comparison of polls in 1812 and 1818 shows large variations in who voted from where, far more than could be explained by changes in land ownership over six years. Some villages appear in 1818 that do not appear in 1812 and vice versa.
Each voter could cast two votes as there were two members elected. This led to tactical voting, especially in this election, where voters would deliberately use only one of their votes in order to bias the vote towards their favoured candidate. This poll is unusual in the extent of this practise with the vast majority of voters opting to vote either for Fane alone or for both Stonehouse and Packer. This lead to an unusually close contest with the final result being:
The 1727 Poll Book for Berkshire, Hungerford entries:
The number of freeholders polled during the Election was 2,806. There were 56 from Hungerford.
All entries for Hungerford were recorded as voting for Sir John Stonehouse and for Robert Packer.
Name Place of Freehold Place of Abode
Coxhead, Jonathan Hungerford Hungerford
Rendall, William Hungerford Hungerford
Palmer, John Hungerford Hungerford
Young, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Cox, John Hungerford Shefford
Bonner, William Hungerford Hungerford
Plaisted, John Hungerford Hungerford
Peirson, Vivian Hungerford Chilton Parke
Cooke, John # Hungerford Hungerford
Allen, William Hungerford Hungerford
Horne, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Siney, John Hungerford Hungerford
Feild, Anthony Hungerford Hungerford
Jeffet, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Brasier, John Hungerford Hungerford
Wells, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Rosier, Robert Hungerford Hungerford
Stonhouse, Francis Hungerford Hungerford
Thistlethwaite, Alexander Hungerford Hungerford
Beenes, Michael Hungerford Hungerford
Viner, Andrew Hungerford Hungerford
Viner, William Hungerford Hungerford
Playstin, Edward Hungerford Hungerford
Westall, Edward Hungerford Hungerford
Heath, Richard Hungerford Hungerford
Tutton, Walter Hungerford Hungerford
Hamblin, George Hungerford Hungerford
Skanwell, John Hungerford Kintbury
Butler, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Robinson, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Sawyer, Richard Hungerford Hungerford
Soloman, Thomas Hungerford Hendred East
Webb, James Hungerford Hungerford
Wright, Harmless Hungerford Hungerford
Pike, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Woodrose, Anthony Hungerford Hungerford
Wise, George Hungerford Hungerford
Edwards, John Hungerford Hungerford
Hamblin, John Hungerford Hungerford
Patey, Robert Hungerford Hungerford
Winnett, John Hungerford Hungerford
Patey, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Mackrell, John Hungerford Hungerford
Eastman, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Tubb, John Hungerford Hungerford
Kimber, Jehosaphat Hungerford Hungerford
Webb, John Hungerford Hungerford
Pike, John Hungerford Hungerford
Westall, Edward Hungerford Hungerford
Povey, Joseph Hungerford Hungerford
Hanson, Edward Hungerford Hungerford
Woodroffe, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Patey, Thomas Hungerford Hungerford
Biss, John Hungerford Hungerford
Ryman, William Hungerford Hungerford
Bird, Jonathan Hungerford Hungerford