It is scarcely possible nowadays to imagine someone being elected to Parliament while absent from the country, but that is exactly what happened in Morpeth in June 1826.
The following January, William Woodman, then a 20-year-old articled clerk, received an elegant printed invitation. His father, Benjamin Woodman, had died just over a year before, and it was partly perhaps a mark of respect to his memory:
“I request the favor of your company, to meet LORD MORPETH, at Dinner in the Town Hall, at 4 o’Clock on Thursday Jany 11th.
“I remain, Dear Sir, Your Obt. Sert And. Rob. Fenwick”
The text was printed on the right-hand side of the paper, the left side being folded behind.
The whole was folded twice more to enclose the writing, sealed in red wax with a phoenix rising from the flames, and addressed on the plain side to ‘Mr Wm. Woodman, Morpeth’.
The Newcastle Chronicle of January 13 describes the occasion:
“Viscount Morpeth having been abroad with the embassy to attend the Coronation of the Emperor of Russia...he appointed Thursday last for the purpose of paying his respects to the freemen; and it being also the first time of his Lordship’s visiting that place since he came of age, great preparations were made to receive him with every demonstration of joy and respect.
“He was accordingly met by a numerous body of the tenants on horseback at Stannington...and escorted by them to the High Church where a large concourse of the inhabitants were waiting his arrival.
“The horses were there taken from his carriage, which was drawn forward by the populace; and on arriving at the boundary of the borough, near the old castle, they were met by the Bailiffs and Corporation.
“The senior Bailiff, Mr Railston, addressed his Lordship, welcoming him to the borough....His Lordship shortly thanked him, and the procession proceeded, headed by a band of music...followed by the Noble Lord in an open carriage, and a long retinue of horsemen...amidst the cheers of the inhabitants, the firing of guns, and the bells ringing merrily all the time. The windows were clad with ladies, and his Lordship stood up in the carriage, bowing to them as he passed.
“Having reached the head of the town, the cavalcade returned...and the carriage having been drawn up in front of the Queen’s Head Inn, his Lordship briefly addressed them...then alighted, and after taking some refreshment, set out to wait upon the freemen...his Lordship’s freedom of address, and openness of manner (gave) general satisfaction.
“During the morning the preparations for the dinner given by his Lordship to the freemen, in the Town Hall, excited the greatest curiosity, and crowds were constantly pressing in to inspect the tables, &c.
“About half after 4 o’clock the party consisting of nearly 200 sat down to dinner. Viscount Morpeth took the chair, supported on his right by the Rev. F. Ekins, Mr Railston, the senior Bailiff, Mr R. Fenwick, Mr Carr, Mr Brumell, and Mr Potts; and on his left by Mr King, junior Bailiff, Rev. Mr Shute, Mr Bennett, Capt. Dixon, R.N. and Mr W. Thompson. Mr Serjeant Bates, Mr Swan, Mr Bootyman, Mr Young, and Mr Heron, acted as vice-presidents.
“After the cloth had been withdrawn, the noble chairman gave ‘The King’...After the army and the navy had been separately drunk, Mr Brumell proposed the health of the Earl of Carlisle...and it was drunk accordingly with thunders of applause. Lord Morpeth thanked them...(etc.)
“Mr Fenwick then rose to propose a toast which he was sure would be equally gratifying to them....He had had opportunities, when at Castle Howard in the summer, of witnessing the amiable and charitable qualities by which the Countess of Carlisle endeared herself to the neighbourhood in which she lived....He therefore proposed ‘The Health of the Countess of Carlisle’,... The toast having been rapturously drunk, Lord Morpeth briefly returned thanks.
“Mr Railston next proposed the health of Lord Morpeth....The Noble Lord’s health was then drunk with 3 times 3, and very great applause.
“Lord Morpeth then rose and said, he felt himself inadequate to express his heartfelt gratitude, for the flattering manner in which his health had been proposed, and the enthusiastic manner in which he had been received. He, however, could not refrain from expressing to them his regret, that circumstances had necessarily prevented him from waiting upon them at the general election;...he considered their having consented to elect him without paying them that respect, was only an additional claim upon his gratitude (applause).
“With respect to his conduct (as their MP)...Their kindness had enabled him to go into Parliament independent and unshackled, and he assured them it should always be his endeavour to promote to the utmost of his power, the general interests of the country...loyalty to the King, a sincere attachment to a free and equal constitution, an earnest desire to secure the welfare of every class of his fellow subjects, and an ardent love of that freedom which had made us the proud and happy people it was our boast to be (loud cheers)....The Noble Lord concluded by proposing the Bailiffs of Morpeth.
“Mr King next proposed the Members of the Borough, for which the Chairman returned thanks...for his worthy colleague Mr Ord.
“The Rev. Mr Ekins next proposed the health of Mr W. Howard, their late member....(Lots more toasts).
“The Noble Lord quitted the chair at half after nine o’clock, but it was late ere his visitors departed...and the greatest hilarity prevailed to the last.”
A Howard being MP for Morpeth dated from the Convention Parliament of 1660. The seat was sometimes held by nominees or in-laws, but after 1794 by family members exclusively, Mr W. Howard being Lord Morpeth’s uncle.
Mere nominees had to fight for their place, but to reject Lord Carlisle’s son was unthinkable when the freemen, especially senior ones, enjoyed so much of his favour so most of the people mentioned were either freemen or were beholden to Lord Carlisle in some other way.
James Railston was a tanner and agent for Lambton’s Bank. The Tanners Company helped Lord Carlisle to restrict the number of freemen, and thereby control parliamentary elections.
Andrew Robert Fenwick, also of the Tanners Company, was agent to the Barony of Morpeth.
Thomas King, stone-mason and contractor, belonged to the Merchant Taylors’ Company.
Of the other guests, the Rev Frederic Ekins was rector of Morpeth, the richest living in Lord Carlisle’s gift. Mr Shute was his curate.
Mr Carr was probably one of a family of lawyers who served as stewards of Lord Carlisle’s manorial courts. Henry Brumell, solicitor, acted for the Barony, and served as Deputy Steward.
Captain Archibald Dixon, a naval officer living in Morpeth, was perhaps one of the few not beholden to Lord Carlisle in any way.