Gatton (UK Parliament constituency)

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of members Two
Replaced by East Surrey

Gatton was a parliamentary borough in Surrey, one of the most notorious of all the rotten boroughs. It elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1450 until 1832, when the constituency was abolished by the Great Reform Act.[1] Around the time of that Act it was often held up by reformers as the epitome of what was wrong with the unreformed system.


The borough consisted of part of the parish of Gatton, near Reigate, between London and Brighton. It included the manor and estate of Gatton Park. Gatton was no more than a village, with a population in 1831 of 146, and 23 houses of which as few as six may have been within the borough.

Robert Mayne (1724-1782), MP for Upper Gatton, by Joshua Reynolds.

The right to vote was extended to all freeholders and inhabitants paying scot and lot; but this apparently wide franchise was normally meaningless in tiny Gatton: there were only 7 qualified voters in 1831, and the number had sometimes fallen as low as two. This position had existed long before the 19th century: Gatton was one of the first of the English boroughs to come under the total dominance of a "patron": in the reign of Henry VIII, when Gatton's representation was only a century old, Sir Roger Copley described himself as "its burgess and only inhabitant". In these circumstances, the local landowners had no difficulty in maintaining absolute control, and for most of the 16th century it was the Copleys who held this power. However, the Copleys were Roman Catholics, and this caused difficulties in the later Elizabethan period: the head of the family, Thomas Copley, went into voluntary exile abroad, and when his wife and child returned to England after his death she was soon caught harbouring a Catholic priest. The Sheriff and Deputy Lieutenants of Surrey were directed by the Privy Council to ensure that Gatton made its choice free from any influence by Mrs Copley; the sheriff's precept for the election was directed not to the Lord of the Manor but to the parish constable; and it seems that between 1584 and 1621 the humble villagers of Gatton may have genuinely elected their MPs in their own right.

In the 1750s, Sir James Colebrooke (Lord of the Manor of Gatton) nominated for one seat and the Rev John Tattersall (Lord of the Manor of nearby Upper Gatton) the other. In 1774, Sir William Mayne (later Lord Newhaven) bought both manors and therefore control of both seats; from 1786 onwards they changed hands several times more, ending in the hands of Sir Mark Wood by the turn of the century. The borough was sold again in 1830, at a reported price of £180,000, despite the prospect of disenfranchisement; in the same year, while the ownership of the borough was under the administration of a broker, one of its seats in the new Parliament was sold for £1,200.

Contested election

Even though Gatton elections were entirely in the hands of the Lord of the Manor, there was a contested election in a by-election on 24 January 1803. James Dashwood, one of the sitting Members, was persuaded to resign to allow Philip Dundas (nephew of Pitt's ally Henry Dundas) to take a seat in Parliament. However, Joseph Clayton Jennings, a barrister who supported Parliamentary reform, arrived to contest the election together with a group of radical supporters. Jennings obtained one vote from a man claiming to be entitled to vote, but Dashwood (who was acting as returning officer on the occasion) rejected it; hence Dundas was returned by 1 vote to nil.[2]

A garbled version of the 1803 byelection was included by Henry Stooks Smith in The Parliaments of England from 1715 to 1847, as the supposed story of a byelection in 1816, at which Sir Mark Wood, 2nd Baronet was returned. Stooks Smith wrote:

"Mr Jennings was Sir Mark Wood's butler. There were only three voters, Sir Mark, his son, and Jennings. The son was away and Jennings and his master quarrelled upon which Jennings refused to second the son and proposed himself. To get a seconder for the son, Sir Mark had to second Jennings, and it was ultimately arranged, and the vote of Sir Mark alone given. This was the only contest within memory."[3]

The History of Parliament notes that this story "has not been confirmed".[2] Gatton's representation was abolished by the Reform Act in 1832.

Members of Parliament


ParliamentFirst memberSecond member
1510-1523 No names known [4]
1529 John Guildford ?William Saunders [4]
1536 ?
1539 ?
1542 Thomas Saunders Thomas Bishop [4]
1545 Edward Bellingham [5] Roger Heigham [4]
1547 Richard Shelley John Tingleden, died
and replaced by Jan 1552 by
Thomas Guildford [4]
1553 (Mar) Richard Southwell alias Darcy Leonard Dannett [4]
1553 (Oct) Sir Thomas Cornwallis Chidiock Paulet [4]
1554 (Apr) Thomas Gatacre Thomas Copley [4]
1554 (Nov) William Wootton Thomas Copley [4]
1555 Humphrey Moseley Sir Henry Hussey [4]
1558 Thomas Copley Thomas Norton [4]
1558/9 Thomas Copley Thomas Farnham[6]
1562/3 Sir Robert Lane Thomas Copley [6]
1571 Edmund Slyfield Edward Whitton [6]
1572 Edmund Tilney Roland Maylard [6]
1584 Francis Bacon, sat for Melcombe Regis
and replaced by
Edward Browne
Thomas Bishopp [6]
1586 Serjeant John Puckering Edward Browne [6]
1588 Richard Browne John Herbert [6]
1593 William Lane George Buc [6]
1597 George BucMichael Hicks [6]
1601 Sir Matthew Browne Richard Sondes [6]
1604-1611 Sir Thomas Gresham Sir Nicholas Saunders
1614 Sir Thomas Gresham Sir John Brooke
1621 Sir Thomas GreshamSir Thomas Bludder
1624 Sir Edmund BowyerSamuel Owfield
1625 Sir Charles Howard [7] Thomas Crewe
1626 Sir Samuel Owfield Sir Charles Howard [7]
1628 Sir Samuel Owfield Sir Charles Howard [7]
1629–1640No Parliaments summoned


YearFirst memberFirst partySecond memberSecond party
November 1640 Sir Samuel OwfieldParliamentarian Double return for second seat, not resolved until 1641
November 1641 Thomas SandysParliamentarian
1644 Owfield died - seat left vacant
1645 William Owfield
December 1648 Sandys and Owfield excluded in Pride's Purge - both seats vacant
1653 Gatton was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Edward Bishe Thomas Turgis
May 1659 Not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 Sir Edmund Bowyer Thomas Turgis
1661 William Owfield
1664 Sir Nicholas Carew
1685 Sir John Thompson, Bt
1696 George Evelyn
1698 Hon. Maurice Thompson
1702 Thomas Onslow
1705 Sir George Newland Paul Docminique
1710 William Newland
1735 Charles Docminique
1738 Professor George Newland
1745 Paul Humphrey
1749 Charles Knowles
1751 (Sir) James Colebrooke [8]
1752 William Bateman
1754 Thomas Brand
1761 Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Harvey
1768 Hon. John Damer Joseph Martin
October 1774 Sir William Mayne [9] Robert Scott[10]
December 1774 Robert Mayne William Adam
1780 The Lord Newhaven
1782 Maurice Lloyd
1787 James Fraser
1790 John Nesbitt William Currie
May 1796 John Petrie Sir Gilbert Heathcote, Bt [11]
November 1796 John Heathcote
1799 (Sir) Walter Stirling [12]
1800 James Du Pre
1802 Sir Mark Wood, Bt James Dashwood
1803 Philip Dundas
1805 William Garrow
1806 James Athol Wood
1807 George Bellas Greenough
1812 William Congreve
1816 Sir Mark Wood, Bt Tory
1818 Abel Rous Dottin John Fleming
1820 Jesse Watts-Russell Thomas Divett
1826 William Scott Michael George Prendergast
Mar 1830 Joseph Neeld
July 1830 John Shelley John Thomas Hope Tory
1831 Viscount Pollington Anthony John Ashley
1832 Constituency abolished


  1. "Parishes - Gatton". British History Online. Retrieved 2010-10-14.
  2. 1 2 History of Parliament 17901820, vol II p 380-1
  3. Henry Stooks Smith, "The Parliaments of England from 1715 to 1847" (Leeds, 1844-7), vol III p 73.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 "History of Parliament". Retrieved 2011-10-12.
  5. Lyons, Mary Ann. "Bellingham, Edward". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/2057. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  6. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 "History of Parliament". Retrieved 2011-10-12.
  7. 1 2 3 Davidson, Alan; Coates, Ben (2010). "Member biography, Charles Howard". The History of Parliament. Institute of Historical Research. Retrieved 5 April 2013.
  8. Created a baronet, October 1759
  9. Mayne was also elected for Canterbury, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Gatton in this Parliament
  10. Scott was also elected for Wootton Basset, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Gatton
  11. Heathcote was also elected for Lincolnshire, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Gatton
  12. Created a baronet, December 1800


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