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1887: Why 'deafening cheers' greeted Thomas Sergison - 1747 General Election

Updated: Dec 4, 2023

Mid Sussex times- Tuesday 21 June 1887

Interesting memoirs.

Number 1.

The General Election of 1747 resulted in the return of two illustrious statesmen, both holding ministerial rank, for the county of Sussex. At that period our County contained fourteen constituencies and each of these returned two members to parliament; the entire electorate being less than is now contained in the parliamentary borough of Brighton.

It is, perhaps, hardly the correct thing to say that these twenty eight gentlemen were returned by the legitimately enfranchised of the several constituencies as, in some instances, the voters had no choice in the returns whatsoever, and some of the nominal representatives of Sussex boroughs were utter strangers to their constituents. Bramber, Steyning, East Grinstead, Arundel, and Midhurst were notoriously known as ‘pocket boroughs’.

Shoreham, however, was the most shamelessly corrupt, being as the learned Hibernian would say, “spotless in its impurity.” At Bramber each Burgess received a bank note at every election. These burgesses rarely exceeded 16 in number. The constituencies which might be recognised as independent were the County, the city of Chichester, and the boroughs of Lewes and Horsham. The ports of Winchelsea, Rye, Hastings and Seaford were also, in some measure, free from venality.

A political poster from 1747 (please see note * for details)

Of the two able Ministers previously indicated, Seaford had secured one, namely, the first William Pitt, afterwards known as ”the Great Commoner”, or the political lion of the 18th century. This gentleman had previously sat for the borough of Old Sarum, but having been invited to contest the western port, he fought and won an independent seat, the worthy owner of Glyndebourne, William Hay, Esquire, being his colleague. The county itself, after a heated contest, had returned the Prime Minister, namely the Right Honourable Henry Pelham who was chiefly admired for his manifestation of the spirit of toleration.

In those days the speeches of members of parliament were not published, it being illegal to do so. Ever and anon, however, some choice specimen of eloquence found its way to the printing press, but this infringement of the law was usually visited with fine or imprisonment.

The Prime Minister was the first to battle against this legal restriction. “I like to read the speeches of honourable members”, he said, “the printer's delineations being, invariably, the more superlative”. The pocket boroughs before mentioned were controlled by the various borough monger's, but the representatives of the independent constituencies were generally selected from the county squires.

The most interesting contests, at the time of our epoch, took place at Horsham and Lewes, and a few facts in connexion with these political campaigns are here recorded. The borough of Horsham had been represented in anterior parliaments by the honourable Charles Ingram, who resided at an ancient mansion called hills; He was much respected by all sections of people. His colleague was the nominee of a local magnate, and his services in parliament were not universally appreciated in the borough. Mr Charles Ingram, son and heir of the popular member, (generally known as “Charley”), was held in much esteem throughout the district, in consequence of his known integrity- so exceptional at that period among the younger branches of the aristocracy.

Charley never entertained the idea of going to parliament during the lifetime of his father. The people of Horsham, however, decreed that the son’s public career must not be impeded by any uncertainty as to the time of his father’s demise.

Why did the inhabitants of this ancient borough thus interest themselves in the young gentleman's behalf? It came about this way. In the year previous to the general election the battle of Culloden was fought, and an occasional victim of that inglorious campaign would turn up in various towns; Such was the case at Horsham. This injured warrior bore testimony to the revolting scenes and relentless cruelties enacted by the commander in chief, afterwards known as “Butcher Cumberland”, and the young man's recitals aroused a feeling of horror in the minds of all right thinking people. Every attempt was made, however, by a small clique, to palliate the atrocities of the unfeeling Prince and, headed by the unpopular Member, they indicated their intention of having the soldier arrested if he persisted further in exposing the royal exploits.

This information was resented by the opposite party, and this party included the Ingram family, for though the head of this family held a Commission in the army, he had no sympathy with the brutally indecent and repulsive proceedings which took place after the pretenders forces had been annihilated. When, therefore, the the time grew near for dissolving the old parliament, Charley Ingram was publicly announced as a coming candidate for the new one. This unexpected announcement created an immense stir, and party feeding was formented to an extraordinary degree, not culminating without effecting considerable mischief.

The walls of the town were scribbled with the words “Vote for Ingram and Charley.” Every effort was made to secure votes, even beyond necessity, for the issue was plainly foreseen. Ingram and Charley were ultimately the new members for Horsham.

At Lewes, matters assumed a similar aspect. Thomas Sergison Esquire, of Cuckfield Place, was chosen to contest the borough against a powerful opposition. Strange doings were reported to by the opposing parties in order to secure votes. Some of the electors were inveigled into a Brewers vault, where they were regaled to intoxication and then put under lock and key to the pole was over. One influential voter received an intimation that his near kinsman, many miles away, was at the point of death, and desired his presence immediately. In short, every ingenious device was resorted to to keep partisans out of the way during polling hours.

While the contest was waging at Lewes, the inhabitants of Cuckfield maintains such a pitch of enthusiasm that the like was unexampled in the annals of the little town, and when it was known that their Squire was numbered with the winning aspirants to parliamentary honours immediate preparations were made to give him a welcome reception. Nearly every tenant mounted his horse, each taking his wife behind him, and road to “Uards Awth”. There were also two waggons, each drawn by four yoke of oxen, all decorated with flowers and ribbons.

These conveyances were for the old people and children. Hundreds of foot folk likewise assembled at the place of rendezvous. Most of the females wore farthingales, which expensive costumes must have been inconveniently superfluous to those elevated on pillions.

The approach of a new MP was no sooner signalled than the most deafening cheers arose from the assembled crowd. A procession was formed, and with intense enthusiasm it moved towards Cuckfield. In the foremost waggon was a a band of music. The uneven road and deep ruts produced startling musical effects, some of the syncopations being of indefinite length. Ox goats were dispensed with, and each beast had to bear two human beings on its back, in most instances of male and female. Presently the town was entered, and the remainder of the day was spent in drinking the health of the elected Squire, each inn constituting a free house for the occasion.

It is not known what quantity of liquor was consumed, but many participants had great difficulty in maintaining their equilibrium in steering homeward. There is, however, no record of either misadventure or accident.

*A satire on the General Election in Great Britain held in late June and July of 1747, which resulted in a healthy majority of 144 for the Whig government. The Tory opposition was reduced to its lower number ever, largely due to the impact of the Jacobite Rebellion. The engraving depicts the Prime Minister's government as "his honour's pack ass", laden with revenue from Customs & Excise, and land tax, from which the tree of Government corruption and influence has grown. The title refers to Queen Caroline's famous pavilion at Richmond Gardens, known as Merlin's Cave, which was designed as a political allegory of the times, and became a subject of ridicule in the press subsequently.



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