As we gear up for May’s Local and Community History Month, today Dr Robin Eagles, editor of our Lords 1715-1790 project, begins our look at port constituencies. Hubs of trade and industry, historically ports have been central to both national economy and military defence, making their representation in Parliament very important. Here Dr Eagles casts an eye on the town of Lymington on the south coast in the 18th and 19th centuries.
On 27 December 1813, a serious disturbance took place in the small port town of Lymington in Hampshire. It involved troops from some of the Independent Companies, made up of mostly French troops in British service, and gunners from the Foreign Regiment of Artillery, largely comprising Dutch and German soldiers. The contretemps led to a stand-off in a local pub, the Bricklayer’s Arms (later renamed the Waterloo Arms), and there were other running battles in the streets involving members from both units. [Alistair J. Nichols, ‘Desperate Banditti’: The Independent Companies of Foreigners, 1812-14’ Journal for the Society of Army Historical Research, 79 (2001)].
Such scraps between the bored and poorly housed personnel appear to have been regular occurrences, though it was unusual for them to take place on such a large scale. The affair indicated the tensions evident within the Napoleonic-era British army, particularly among the recruits of the various foreign regiments, many of them deserters from the army of Napoleon. It also points to some of the local tensions within a small port town like Lymington, which was an important hub for some of the temporary units incorporated into the British army from the continent.
Lymington’s fortunes had always been limited by the greater reach of its neighbour Southampton. It was a relatively compact place, though its population underwent a steady increase from around 2,300 at the turn of the 19th century to just over 3,000 at the time of the 1821 census. However, if overshadowed by its larger neighbour, Lymington was far from insignificant. The population had shown warm support for the duke of Monmouth, when he launched his unsuccessful attempt to overthrow James II in 1685, and Monmouth was probably making for Lymington after his defeat at Sedgemoor when he was finally captured.
If Lymington was small, the numbers of those qualified to vote there were even smaller. The franchise fell from about 40 during the Restoration period to around 20 by the end of the 18th century (half the number eligible in 1715), pretty much all of them nominated as burgesses by one of two families.
At the beginning of the 18th century, Lymington’s parliamentary representation, technically in the freemen, was shared between the rival interests of the duke of Bolton, one of the principal grandees in Hampshire, and the local Burrard family, who had succeeded to an interest originally wielded by the Buttons. For most of the period influence over the town was shared, but on occasion the duke of Bolton over-reached himself and attempted to assume control of both seats. He was never successful, and following one particularly unsuccessful attempt, the duke was forced to agree to a humiliating accommodation. He would be permitted the return of one candidate for the present Parliament, on the understanding that his candidate would not interfere in the town, but thereafter he was to retreat and the Burrards would decide the fate of both seats.
Lymington struggled to maintain its position as a port of real significance throughout the 18th century. Its sea-going enterprises were limited to coastal trading, greatly reducing its ability to expand. Its most important local industry was salt, but by the end of the period this was in terminal decline. However, at times of emergency it was looked to as an important bastion along the south coast.
Lymington had been subjected to French raids on occasion, and in the latter part of the 18th century it once more became a significant part of the coastal defences against possible attempts from revolutionary, and then Napoleonic France. It was initially home to a number of French émigré families, and latterly to a melange of troops from various disbanded units, grouped together in a depot. According to one local historian, commenting from the removal of a number of decades:
Their behaviour was as their position in life: they were turbulent and unruly set of men. Duels among the officers were not unfrequent; crimes of violence (among the men) were but little thought of…
The town registers note the names of many of these displaced individuals, who bolstered the town’s population from 1784 to 1814, with occasional comments on their position and fortunes. The records for 1796 detail a mixture of nationalities, among them Daniel Ramsker, with his twin sons Castor and Pollux, Lawrence Izaak Kroes and Wilhelm Knewitz; in 1800 a French émigré priest named de Caen; another Frenchmen, Frederic Heitre, who was among the 1808 intake, was recorded as having shot himself. At the head of the list of those recorded in 1811 was one Friederich Frankenstein. Few were trusted to play a part in any of the central theatres of war, but many were employed in the colonies for short periods, and otherwise helped free up other troops for service in the front line. Some stayed on following the peace and settled in the town.
The loss of the depot at the end of the war, combined with the decline in the salt industry, left Lymington seriously hit economically. Despite this, Lymington seems to have avoided many of the disturbances of the decade running up to the Reform Act and in 1832 the borough’s boundaries were extended enabling Lymington to retain both of its parliamentary seats. Unsurprisingly, one went to a member of the Burrard family, the former sitting member, Sir Harry Neale, 2nd bt. dubbed by his opponents, ‘his imperial majesty, the king of Lymington’.
Sidney Burrard, Annals of Walhampton (1874)
David William Garrow, The History of Lymington and its Immediate Vicinity (1825)
Edward King, Old Times Revisited in the Borough and Parish of Lymington, Hants (1879)
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