Chapter 3 - The Candidates

Two parties contested the 1768 election in Preston; Whigs and Tories. The Whigs, backed by the Stanleys and other powerful families in the area, were strongly pro-Hanoverian whereas the Tories, nominated and backed by the Corporation, were a little more fluid in their beliefs.

When the election was called in the summer of 1767 the standing MP was Sir Peter Leicester (image to the left) – a nominee of the Corporation. He had only recently taken over from Nicholas Fazackerly Esq, who had died early in 1767. Leicester was elected unopposed in the 1767 bi-election with no sign of the turmoil to appear later that year. Sir Peter belonged to a family with large estates in Cheshire and, unlike Fazackerly, had no obvious link to Preston. In fact he was only made a freeman of Preston in the March of 1767 about the time the bi-election (1).

In all of the documentation relating to the election, Leicester generally presented a low profile and, in his short time in Parliament, there is no record of him making any speeches. He was to die two years later in 1770.

The second Tory candidate chosen, at the dissolution of Parliament, was Sir Frank Standish who was nominated in 1767 as a replacement for the recently retired Edmund Starkie.  Sir Frank had acquired most of his wealth through family interests in the coal-mines of the Wigan area and lived at Duxbury Hall, Chorley.  At the time of the election he was a comparatively young 22 year old and seems to have been chosen to bring money and local support to the Tory campaign.  At times in the campaign he was accused of bringing miners into the town to back his cause and counter the violence of the Whig supporters.

 It should be mentioned at this time that the two previous Tory MP’s, Nicholas Fazackerly and Edmund Starkie, had been accused of having Jacobite leanings and, with that, possible Catholic sympathies.  One rumour surrounding Starkie was that he had housed the “Young Pretender” when the Jacobites came through Preston in 1745.  What was certain was that the Mayor and Corporation, when nominating some Catholics in recent elections (and not Whigs) to be free burgesses, only reinforced the view that the Corporation had Jacobite leanings.  As we will see later, this suspicion will be used against the Tory party to foment divisions and encourage Hanoverian support.

The personalities and background to the two Whig candidates will be examined later but it was the Stanley family that seemed to be pulling the political and financial strings for this election.   The Stanley family had been, and still were in 1768, a prominent family in the area and demonstrated by their political muscles by a Stanley monopolising the role of Lord Lieutenant of Lancashire from 1714 until 1851.  This run of Stanleys only ending with the 14th Earl of Derby becoming Prime Minister - so, I suppose, he had an excuse.  In earlier years they had been influential in choosing, or at least nominating, an MP for Preston but in the years before 1768 a rift opened between the Whig Stanleys and the staunch Tory Corporation, who now adopting a more independent standpoint.  This eventually manifested itself in the aggressively contested 1768 election.

As Abram wrote in his Sketches (2).

  It came after about a century of almost uninterrupted political inertness and indifference in Preston.

This isn’t quite true since there had been the occasional disputed election but nothing at the level, as we will see, of the 1768 election.
The ancestral home of the Stanley family was to be found at Knowsley, South Lancashire, but they also retained a large house in Preston – Patten House in Church Street.  Being property owners and employers along with supporting the local economy and church guaranteed them a large core vote from the town. 

 The Whigs, initially, only nominated the up and coming, fashionable, Colonel Burgoyne as their candidate - probably at the instigation of the Stanley family.  A colourful character, he had attended Westminster School at the same time as Lord Strange, the son of Lord Derby.   Although Lord Strange was several years older it was possibly at Westminster that Strange had taken Burgoyne under his wing and friendship ensued. 

After purchasing a commission in the Horse Guards in 1737 Burgoyne joined fashionable London society eventually acquiring the moniker “Gentleman Johnny” due to his manner and attitudes.  By 1741 this high living had garnered similarly high debts which led to him having to sell his commission – the rumour at the time being that it was to settle gambling debts.  He rejoined the army again in 1745 and, later, was posted to Preston where his connections with the Stanley family were renewed.  All the records show that Burgoyne had a love of the good life and even de Fonblanque (3), in his hagiography of Burgoyne, states

     “he inherited little from his father beyond his extravagant tastes” 

And calls Burgoyne

     a soldier of fortune

The friendship between Strange and Burgoyne was put under strain in 1751 when Burgoyne formed a liaison and eventually eloped with Lady Charlotte Stanley, the daughter of Lord Derby.  The Derby family, initially, refused to countenance the marriage due to the difference in social status and Lord Derby cut off his daughter without a penny.  For Burgoyne, who had again amassed large gambling debts, this must have been a shock so he sold off his commission for £2600, paid off his debts and moved to the Continent.  His daughter, Charlotte Elizabeth, was born in 1754 and this proved to be way into acceptance from the Stanleys.

By late 1755 Burgoyne seems to have been fully re-integrated into the family and, around 1756, he bought yet another commission, this time in the 11th Dragoons.  He served in France during the Seven Year War and finally, in 1762, was sent to Portugal.  In between he became MP for Midhurst – a notorious rotten borough - so this implies he was given strong political backing.  It was in Portugal where he finally distinguished himself and was promoted to Colonel.   The Prime Minister at the time, the Earl of Bute, commented that this promotion was

  “out of regard to Lord Strange and your own merit”  

which seems to be a slightly back-handed complement.  So, even at this early stage, the hand of Lord Strange appears in the background and it was probably he that suggested Burgoyne become the Whig candidate for Preston.  As an outsider, the first canvas indicated that Burgoyne was some way behind in the polls (see the Winter of Discontent section) and this probably led to the recruiting of a local and more powerful candidate as support.
Sir Henry Hoghton, the other Whig candidate, entered the fray quite late - probably after the 14th March, 1768  (the canvas that took place in 1767 fails to mention him) and certainly became a way of adding local influence.  The Hoghton family had a number of properties in Preston; the parish church, St Johns and now the Minster, was in their gift and, with it, leverage over the clergy, schools and local businesses.  As Abram says, his presence would reinforce the protestant dissenting part of the Whig party.

A member of a local, landed family, Sir Henry was the nephew and heir to another Sir Henry Hoghton who had been returned as MP for Preston four times between 1710 and 1735.  By the time of the 1768 election, the first Sir Henry had died and so the second Sir Henry succeeded to the baronetcy.  Wraxall (4) described him as

 ‘a rigid Presbyterian, of ample fortune, adorned with the mildest manners’.

Compared to Colonel Burgoyne, Hoghton only took a minor role in the election as a driving force but his wealth and influence was useful. 

Although not a candidate, Lord Strange (son of the 11th Earl of Derby and thus a member of the Stanley family) had significant influence on the running of the election. The family had a large house in town (Patten House on the north side of Church Street) and they would have been known to most of the townsfolk. Strange had, in the past, been on relatively good terms with the Corporation but by the time of the 1768 election this relationship had disintegrated – the Corporation no longer wanted to accept a Derby family nominee but he was still a powerful and respected member of the town.  In the cross-examination of the potential voters, Lord Strange seems to be the major player.  If there was any legal decisions to be made (eg how someone should be classified as a pauper or receiving parish relief) then it would be Lord Strange giving advice or suggestions.

A number of prospective voters worked for Lord Strange in Patten House either as servants or gardeners - some just before the election.  Needless to say, they all plumped for the Whig candidate although, on more than one occasion, voters gave the impression that they were voting for Lord Strange (or some other member of the Derby family) rather than Burgoyne or Hoghton.

From 1741 onwards, Lord Strange became the Member of Parliament for Lancashire and, by 1762, had become a privy councillor and, with this, access to powerful allies in the Commons and Lords. When the outcome of the election went to the House of Commons one of the tellers was Lord Strange.  His influence was everywhere.

 As an example of the break between the Corporation and Lord Strange the Court Leet for 1752 censors Lord Strange for

for laying Rubbish in the Street opposite his House in Churchgate, and if he don't remove the same in a Week after Notice We amerce him in ffive shillings.

Even Lord Strange wasn't above the law.

After the election, when a court case of rioting was pursued against Standish and Leicester, it was suggested that much of the fomenting of rioters took place outside the gates of Patten House in Church Street.  The case was eventually dropped through lack of evidence - the majority of pubs and hotels in Church street were strongly on the side of the Whigs (Burgoyne & Houghton).

When John Cuerdale came to vote, Jo. Turner (a witness)  was quoted as saying (5)

  If I co[ul]d help him to 50s he wou'd come & vote for Lord Strange.

  which demonstrated a confusion as who to vote for together with a little potential bribery.  His vote was eventually for Leicester & Standish (which was rejected) which shows no (obvious) bribe was paid.
In his role as Lieutenant of Lancashire, Strange could, on one hand, have the power to assemble the militia to quell any riots and, on the other hand, influence the militiamen to forcibly support his nominess; Burgoyne & Hoghton.  It may be a coincidence but Strange authorised the raising of the Loyal Militia for the County of Lancaster in July 1767 - just after the election was called and they were to be based on Preston Moor.  Also, according to the later tallies of voters, many of these members of the Militia remained in Preston to vote for Hoghton & Burgoyne.  Strange was a very powerful ally indeed.

1.  The White Book - Lancashire Archives - CNP 3/1/1

2.  W. A. Abram “Sketches in Local History” – Sketch 7

3. “Political and military episodes in the latter half of the eighteenth century” by Edward Barrington de Fonblanque

4. http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/member/hoghton-sir-henry-1728-95

5.  Lancashire Archives – Register of Voters 1768 - DDPd 11/51 – 31st tally.


Chapter 2 - Background

Although this may seem a little strange, the most important factor governing the result of the 1768 election took place a little over 100 years earlier, in 1661. In that year there had been another disputed election and, as we will see, all disputed elections create great animosity and bad feeling between the various parties. In the 1661 election there were three aspirants for the two available seats; Dr Rigby, Dr Fife and Dr Rishton. Dr Rigby collected votes from all sections of the voters but Dr Fife, who was the nominee of the corporation, lost the election to Dr Rishton who was supported by the “freemen at large”. A more complete explanation of the different voter types will appear later but, for the moment, these individuals could be treated as freemen of the town but not permanent residents. As far as the corporation was concerned any expansion of the electorate would take control out of their hands.  By restricting the voting electorate to the “in-burgesses” or “in-freemen” who were nominated by the Mayor and corporation, their nominee was more than likely to win. When the corporation lost this election the case was put to the parliamentary committee of privileges and elections. The question posed to them being

whether the Mayor and twenty four burgesses had only voices, or the inhabitants at large.

The committee responded with the ruling

that all inhabitants had voices in the election

meaning that all the freemen including all those at large should be allowed to vote and Dr Rishton should be the elected MP. By phrasing their conclusion in these words the committee had, probably unintentionally, sanctioned universal male suffrage. As far as Preston (and the rest of the Country) was concerned, for the next hundred years the outcome of this election and the decision of the parliamentary committee was largely ignored. It was rarely mentioned and, even when it was, it had no obvious effect on the subsequent elections.  In fact, in the 1690 election, all parties agreed that the franchise be restricted to in-burgess inhabitants alone.  Only when powerful opponents to the Corporation appeared would the situation change and these words to disrupt the status quo.

Preston wasn’t the only Borough in the Country where the Mayor and Corporation controlled the electorate in this way. Rotten Boroughs notwithstanding, it was, more often than not, the general situation around the country. By 1768, this issue of manipulating the electorate had come to a head in that a number of cases were presented to the King’s Bench citing the abuse power by local Corporations. Maidstone and Northampton particularly stand out and, in fact, Northampton also suffered similar rioting in 1768. These cases, as in Preston, had less to do with democracy and more to do with power.

​It should be explained at this point that, in Preston for the 1768 election, the opposing parties were the Whigs and Tories - but this was only in name only and had nothing to do with our modern view of the Tory party being to the right of centre. In this election the Mayor and Corporation backed the Tory candidates whereas the Stanley and Hoghton families supported the Whigs. It seems that splitting the groups on party lines was largely less important than the personalities involved and the powerful factions in the background.

In the years just prior to the 1768 election, the MP (or MPs) for Preston tended to be a “shoe-in” nominee of the Corporation. The only people who would be allowed vote, in local and national elections, were the freemen or in-burgesses of the town. The Mayor and Corporation had, for some time, ignored many Whigs who, all things being equal, would have expected to have been nominated. By this underhand manner the Mayor and corporation reinforced the status quo. According to Abram (1)

More than one-third of the householding residents of Preston in 1768 were excluded from the Burgess Roll, and thereby were deprived alike of the Municipal and the Parliamentary franchise.

How he came about this figure is unknown and the position of Catholics is also unstated but we will come to this later.

A number of other categories of “potential” voters appear in the 1768 election; the military, Catholics and “foreigners”. Each of these groups had a presence in the town causing disputes as to the validity of their vote - without clear resolution. Prior to 1768 these groups were largely ignored although a limited number of Catholics appeared in the 1766 elections.

Another conflict rumbling in the background was that the relationship between the Corporation and the Stanley/Hoghton families and, in the years running up to the 1768, it had broken down. The Stanleys and Hoghtons could lay claim to being the most influential families in the area and they, or at least a nominee of theirs, had been adopted by the Corporation in most elections until 1741 – in fact Sir Edward Stanley had been the mayor in 1731. By 1768 the Corporation had declared independence from these families and the battleground was set.

1. W. A. Abram “Sketches in Local History” – printed as a series of articles in the Preston Guardian between 1878 and 1881. A more convenient way of examining these articles can be found as a “cuttings book” in the Harris Library with the reference P12 ABR.

Chapter 1 - Introduction


In 2014, Wyre Archaeology group were invited to excavate an old water mill at Hollowforth, near Woodplumpton. Whilst researching the background to this area I came across the following reference to Hollowforth in the Haydock Papers (1).

St Marys Church

 In 1768, during the anti-Jacobite and No-Popery fermentation at Preston, Newhouse chapel narrowly escaped destruction. An infatuated mob, after destroying St. Mary's chapel, in Friargate, Preston, and burning that at Cottam, moved in the direction of Newhouse for the purpose of demolishing the chapel there. But a neighbouring Protestant, named Hankinson, a descendant of the family of the man who betrayed George Haydock, the martyr, met the mob near Hollowforth Mill, and persuaded them not to touch the chapel. He entreated them not to molest Mr. Carter, whom he highly praised. He then provided them with food and drink, which appeased them, and thus they marched back to Preston.

The image is a representation of the first St Mary's Chapel, Preston destroyed in the riots of 1768.  Unfortunately no original images remain.

All of this information was new to me even though I had a keen interest in the history of Preston. Riots in Preston! Burning down of churches! A quick on-line search revealed that, even after 250 years, the 1768 election was known as “The Great Election”. Why should this election be famous? I was intrigued.

 More online research provided another reference to the election in "The Gentleman's Magazine" and contains "A letter from Preston, in Lancashire” dated February 21st, 1768, which reports:-

"The contest here is attended with imminent danger. I have just escaped, with many friends. The country is now up in arms. As the town is now abandoned by our [the Tory party's] men, the cry is, 'Leave not a freeman alive !' God knows where this will end. I think to-night, or tomorrow, may be fatal to many. This is shocking work in a civilised country."

Local histories provide a little more background information but lack details. From them, it seems that this election stood out from the hundreds of other elections down the centuries for a number of reasons; the many thousands involved in riots, running battles in the streets, lack of official intervention, churches being burnt down, houses ransacked, corruption in the “buying” of votes, the MP’s initially returned had their election win overturned by a Parliamentary committee, comprehensive records giving the full details of the male population of Preston and, not least, universal male suffrage.

For me, it was the phrase “universal male suffrage” which stood out since this election took place exactly 150 years before the 1918 Representation of the People Act which gave full voting rights to all males across the country - so something out of the ordinary was taking place in Preston.  Anyone gaining these rights in the 1768 election could retain them in principle even into the 19th Century.  Amazingly, and an explanation for this will be revealed later, a large number of documents still exist covering the election and its aftermath. Through these comprehensive records a unique glimpse of lives at the time can be viewed; the paupers, the criminals, the ordinary man in the street trying to make a living as well as the rich and powerful flexing their political muscles. After reading some of these documents in which the ordinary lives of 18th Century Prestonians were revealed, in particular the voter cross-examinations, I became hooked.

This article is intended to provide a slightly different view of this election through these original sources and links to transcriptions of these sources. The most revealing of the documents provide a listing the male population of Preston; sometimes their age, employment, background, relationships, if they like a drink, trustworthiness and voting intentions together with their actual vote. Movement of individuals, power struggles between the local gentry and legal arguments all added to the complex background surrounding the election. And where else could you find out that there were 7 peruke (wig) makers in Preston in 1768?

1.  The Haydock Papers – a glimpse into English Catholic life under the shade of Persecution and in the Dawn of Freedom by Joseph Gillow.
2.  Old Catholic Lancashire Vol 2 - Blundell