West Looe (UK Parliament constituency)

West Looe
Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
County Cornwall
Major settlements West Looe
Number of members Two
Replaced by East Cornwall

West Looe, often spelt Westlow and Westlowe, was a rotten borough represented in the House of Commons of England from 1535 to 1707, in the House of Commons of Great Britain from 1707 to 1800, and in the House of Commons of the United Kingdom from 1801 to 1832. It elected two Members of Parliament (MP) by the bloc vote system of election. It was disfranchised in the Reform Act 1832.


West Looe was one of a number of Cornish boroughs enfranchised in the Tudor period, and like almost all of them it was a rotten borough from the start, with the size and importance of the community that comprised it quite inadequate to justify its representation. The borough consisted of the town of West Looe in Cornwall, connected by bridge across the River Looe to East Looe, which was also a parliamentary borough. From the reign of Edward VI, West Looe and East Looe were jointly a borough, returning two members of Parliament; however, under Queen Elizabeth the two towns were separated, and each thereafter returned two members except between 1654 and 1658, when they were once again represented jointly, by one member of the First and Second Protectorate Parliaments. At this early period, West Looe was sometimes alternatively referred to as Portby or Portpigham.


In 1660, the Commons had resolved that "the right of election is in the freemen and inhabitants paying scot and lot". But this determination proved to be ambiguous. It was presumably intended to secure the vote to the inhabitants whether or not they were freemen, but it was quickly re-interpreted as restricting the vote to those who were both freemen and residents. This arrangement was eventually formalised into a franchise held by the Mayor and members of the Corporation, providing they lived in the town. This corporation, which seems to have been set up for the purpose, consisted of 12 "capital burgesses" and an indefinite number of "free burgesses". The free burgesses were appointed by the corporation and tended to be few in number; furthermore, a small number of prominent local families provided the majority of both the corporation and the free burgesses. There were just 12 registered electors in 1816, and 19 in 1831.

In practice, this meant that the power to choose the MPs was in the hands of the local landowner or "proprietor", making West Looe (like East Looe) one of the most notorious of the rotten boroughs. For many years at the time of the Reform Act, West Looe had been controlled by the Buller family (which also controlled East Looe and Saltash), and many members of the family sat for the borough in the House of Commons; nevertheless, they generally assuaged local feelings by allowing the other families some influence over one of the two seats.


Elections at West Looe were almost always uncontested. There was not one contest at a general election between 1700 and 1832, although a by-election in 1765 was fought out when an alliance of local families clearly felt they had enough sway on the corporation to challenge the Buller domination; the Buller candidate won.

Their uncontested nature did not guarantee that elections ran smoothly. West Looe waited only until its second Parliament to have its first controversial election, choosing Dr Alexander Nowell, a Prebendary of Westminster, as one of its members in the second Parliament of 1553. At this stage the eligibility or otherwise of clergy to sit in the Commons was not established, and a committee of six was appointed to consider the case on 12 October 1553. The following day it reported that, since his ecclesiastical rank entitled him to a vote in Convocation, he could not sit in the House of Commons. A writ to elect a new member in his place was ordered, though there is no record that such an election was ever made. Nowell's case became established precedent as to the eligibility of similar candidates in future places. (The situation was not finally clarified until clergy were declared ineligible by statute early in the 19th century.)

Nearly two centuries later, West Looe was again found to have elected an ineligible candidate when it chose Edward Trelawny in 1734, who was a Commissioner of Customs at the time.


In 1831, when commissioners were collecting the statistics on which the Reform Act was founded, West Looe had a population of 593 and 126 houses; the borough and town were coterminous, giving no scope for expanding the boundaries to save it from disfranchisement. The borough was abolished by the Reform Act 1832, its voters being absorbed into the new Eastern Cornwall county division, which had its place of election at Bodmin.

Members of Parliament


ParliamentFirst memberSecond member
First Parliament of 1553 John Ashley William Morice
Second Parliament of 1553 Dr Alexander Nowell[1] Richard Cleu
Parliament of 1554[2] William Bendlowes (?) Robert Monson (?)
Parliament of 1554–1555 Clement Higham Ambrose Gilbert
Parliament of 1555 William St Aubyn John St Clair
Parliament of 1558 Oliver Becket
Parliament of 1559 John More[3][4] William Pole[3]
Parliament of 1563–1567 John Fowler John Young
Parliament of 1571 Clement Throckmorton John Fineux
Parliament of 1572–1581 John Audley William Hammond
Parliament of 1584–1585 Thomas Lancaster Geoffrey Gates
Parliament of 1586–1587 Richard Champernowne John Hammond
Parliament of 1588–1589 Matthew Patteson Robert Sanderson
Parliament of 1593 John Shelbury Hugh Beeston
Parliament of 1597–1598 Robert Hitcham Sir Henry Lennard
Parliament of 1601 John Hare Richard Verney
Parliament of 1604–1611 Sir George Harvey,

replaced after his death by
Sir William Wade[5]

Sir Henry Goodyer[5]
Addled Parliament (1614) Sir Edward Lewknor John Harris
Parliament of 1621–1622 Heneage Finch Christopher Harris
Happy Parliament (1624–1625) George Mynn James Bagg
Useless Parliament (1625) John Wolstenholme Edward Thomas
Parliament of 1625–1626 John Rudhale
Parliament of 1628–1629 John Parker Edward Thomas
No Parliament summoned 1629–1640


YearFirst memberFirst partySecond memberSecond party
April 1640 Anthony Mildmay George Potter
November 1640 Henry KilligrewRoyalist Thomas ArundellParliamentarian
January 1644 Killigrew disabled to sit – seat vacant
1647 John Arundell
November 1648 Thomas Arundell died – seat left vacant
December 1648 John Arundell excluded in Pride's Purge – seat vacant
1653 West Looe was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament
1654 John Blackmore East Looe and West Looe jointly elected
a single member to the First and
Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
1656 John Buller
January 1659 Dr William Petty William Whitelock
May 1659 Not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 John Buller John Kendall
April 1661 John Trelawny John Nicholas[6]
June 1661 Sir Henry Vernon
1677 John Trelawny
1680 Jonathan Trelawny
1685 James Kendall Henry Trelawny
1689 Percy Kirke
1690 Edward Seymour Tory Jonathan Trelawny
1695 James Kendall John Mountstephen
1701 The Earl of Ranelagh[7]
July 1702 Sidney Godolphin
December 1702 Richard Hele
1703 Charles Seymour Henry Poley
1705 Sir Charles Hedges Tory John Mountstephen
1707 Francis Palmes
1708 John Conyers
1710 Arthur Maynwaring
April 1713 John Trelawny
September 1713 Rear Admiral Sir Charles Wager
1715 Rear Admiral George Delaval Thomas Maynard
1722 Sir John Trelawny
1724 Edward Trelawny
1727 John Willes
1733 Thomas Walker
1734 Edward Trelawny[8]
1735 John Owen
1737 John Strange
1741 Benjamin Keene Admiral Sir Charles Wager Whig
1743 John Frederick
1747 William Noel
1757 William Trelawny
1761 Francis Buller
1765 John Sargent
1767 James Townsend Whig
1768 William Graves
1774 Sir William James Charles Ogilvie
1775 John Rogers
1780 John Buller
1782 John Somers Cocks
January 1784 John Buller
April 1784 John Scott John Lemon
August 1784 James Adams
1790 Sir John de la Pole John Pardoe
May 1796 Sitwell Sitwell John Buller
November 1796 John Hookham Frere
1802 James Buller Thomas Smith
1803 Quintin Dick
1805 Ralph Allen Daniell
1806 James Buller
January 1812 Sir Joseph Yorke
October 1812 Charles BullerWhig Anthony Buller Whig
1816 Sir Charles HulseTory Hon. Henry Fitzgerald-de Ros Tory
1818 Henry Goulburn Tory
1826 Charles BullerWhig John Buller Whig
1827 Sir Charles HulseTory
1830 Charles Buller Whig
1831 Sir Anthony Buller Whig
1832 Constituency abolished


  1. Nowell was declared ineligible to sit by virtue of being a prebendary of Westminster. A writ to elect a new member in his place was ordered, though there is no record that such an election was ever made. (Porritt, pp 125–6).
  2. Thomas Bond's Topographical and historical sketches of the boroughs of East and West Looe, in the county of Cornwall (1823) gives four names as elected to the second Parliament of 1553 – A. Nevel, R.Clere, W. Bendlus and R. Mounson – and none for 1554. Browne Willis renders the first two names as Alexander Nowell and Richard Cleu and lists them for West Looe (Willis 1750, p. 26). He also lists William Bendlowes as elected for Helston and Robert Mounson for "Dunheved" (correctly the alternative name for Launceston but here apparently indicating Newport). His list omits West Looe completely in 1554, but it may be that their appearance in Bond's list, albeit against the wrong date, indicates that Bendlowes and Mounson were the members.
  3. 1 2 History of Parliament, House of Commons 1558-1603
  4. Bond and Browne Willis both only give the same single name for 1559 (Willis 1750, p. 63)
  5. 1 2 historyofparliamentonline.org, West Looe (1604–1629).
  6. Nicholas was also elected for Wilton and Ripon. He chose to represent Ripon, and never sat for West Looe
  7. Ranelagh was expelled from the Commons on 1 February 1703 when discrepancies were found in his accounts as Paymaster of the Army
  8. 1734: Edward Trelawny was a Commissioner of Customs at the time of election, which made him ineligible, and his election was void


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General Election 1754: West Looe (2 seats)
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Non Partisan John Frederick Unopposed N/A N/A
Non Partisan William Noel Unopposed N/A N/A
By-election, 1765: West Looe
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Non Partisan John Sargent 23 N/A N/A
Non Partisan James Townsend Unknown N/A N/A

Note: It is known that Townsend claimed 42 votes and that "the greater part" of these were declared invalid by the Returning Officer, but beyond the fact that his final total must have been lower than Sargent's the figure is not determinable

See also


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