Upper Gatton 1628 - 1704

King James I treated his parliament in much the same way as Queen Elizabeth had. Luckily Peace & Plenty helped ensure parliamentary support (1604-7, 1610, 1614, 1621 & 1624). William Copley, who had succeeded to his father’s estates, kept a low profile, though six of the seven Gatton voters were his tenants in 1620. It is not until the next reign that the government’s chronic shortage of cash brought Charles I more into conflict with his Parliaments (1625, 1626, 1628).

The challenge to the authority of the monarchy was matched by the Puritan challenge to the authority of the Anglican Church, and Parliament was the battleground. Gatton’s parliamentary seats were not immune: The 1628 election was contested – almost certainly Gatton’s first contested election – and the case rested on whether the largely absentee freeholder (Copley) was more entitled to vote than a newly established resident (Samuel Oldfield, or ‘Owlfield’, who had recently bought land on the Downs just above Gatton, henceforth “Upper Gatton”). Interestingly it was decided in favour of Oldfield, who appears to have Presbyterian views and who probably targeted Gatton precisely because his opponent being a known Catholic recusant would ensure his challenge had a better chance of success. Gatton reflected a wider change in the Commons membership at the time as it was this parliament that was responsible for the Petition of Rights that started to severely restrict the royal authority.           


Despite a temporary reverse in 1640 when Oldfield’s designated partner was contested and the authorities of the time found in favour of the freeholder, William Copley, the Upper Gatton resident was to control at least one of Gatton’s two parliamentary seats for the next turbulent century. It was the Short & Long Parliaments of 1640, summoned to get money to fight the Scots invasion, that were responsible for the Triennial Act that established that Parliament had to be summoned every 3 years. But in 1642 Charles failed to arrest five ringleader Members of Parliament, an event which marks the start of the Civil War.

William, Samuel Oldfield’s heir to Upper Gatton, was not a prominent member for Gatton during the strife and indeed the Gatton members were among those “purged” in Dec 1648 as unlikely to support the trial of King Charles.

A side effect of the Civil War was the fortune made by those able to profit from the disruption to the supply and price of food. Thomas Turgis of the Grocer’s livery company was 31 years old when he bought Gatton off the Copley heiresses in 1654, adding it to land owned in London, Sussex, Hampshire, Middlesex and Warwickshire, and soon known to be one of the wealthiest commoners in England. It was a risky investment at a time when Cromwell dissolved Parliament and put Britain under military rule.

However, once Cromwell had died, in 1658, various factions manoeuvered for position and vacant former parliamentary boroughs were of renewed interest: The spat over control of Gatton was not entirely private:

Lewis Audley, a major in the Parliamentary army and a man of some note in the Commonwealth was a Justice of the Peace and owner of the West Purley estate. He had taken the principal part in suppressing Holland's Royalist rising in 1648. In February 1659 Major Audley had called Mr. Bish “Rascal; and Base Rascal”; and followed him in the [Westminster] Hall, calling him those contumelious names; and that he had called Mr. Turgis “a base stinking fellow and a shit-breech” Of which abusive and opprobrious language the House being satisfied; it was resolved, &c. “that Major Lewis Audley be committed prisoner to the Tower, during the pleasure of this House; for the Breach of the Privilege of Parliament, in his giving of contumelious and provoking language on Thursday last, to two of the Members of this House”. It didn’t pay to insult the hon. Member for Gatton!

Not surprisingly, then, Gatton was contested in the 1660 Restoration election but both Thomas Turgis and William Oldfield were able to see off the challenge from imported Londoners. After Oldfield’s death in 1664, Turgis was able to control both seats and he appointed Nicholas Carew as his fellow member for Gatton. In 1679 Sir John Thompson, Oldfield’s powerful Whig brother-in-law, and Sheriff of Buckinghamshire, failed to replace Carew, but he succeeded in 1685 and thus established a convenient Tory and Whig partnership for Gatton.


Both were members of the Convention Parliament that declared William of Orange King in return for the politically significant Declaration of Rights, and sat for the annual parliaments summoned from 1689 to 1697 to cope with war with France. In 1698 Sir John Thompson was rewarded with promotion to the Upper House as Lord Haversham, leaving his Gatton seat to his son, Maurice, before selling his Upper Gatton interest in 1704. As Lord Haversham, John Thompson caused embarrassment to his Whig colleagues – and the intense displeasure of Queen Anne who was in attendance - by calling for the heir-presumptive, Sophia of Brunswick, to be invited to live in England.

While the Whigs were favoured by William & Mary, and the Tories for the most part by Queen Anne, this new ‘party’ rivalry was not an issue in the boroughs. The uncontested co-existence of the two members for Gatton was typical of a similar accommodation in most pocket boroughs and by 1707 some 432 of the 558 English, Welsh and now Scottish seats, were returned by pocket boroughs. Accordingly, most (about 75%) members of the Commons were nominees. The control of parliamentary seats was a prerequisite for government favour. Such was the small number of persons of influence that these 400 plus members of the Commons were nominated by only 87 Peers and 9 commoners. Some 16 members were nominated by the Crown. Given that the peerage was a group of close-knit family factions, it is not surprising to find that, in 1710 for example, Joseph Wyndham Ashe had 50 relatives who were MPs. None of them represented Gatton, mind you.


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