Wood's Gatton 1802 - 1830

Col. Mark Wood had also made a fortune in India and had bought his way into Parliament. When he quarrelled with his then patron, he needed another seat and so bought Gatton for £90,000 in 1802. He initially shared it with his brother-in-law, James Dashwood, but was prevailed upon by the Government to replace him with Philip Dundas, a member of Pitt’s triumvirate. It says something of the value of a nomination that the Opposition unsuccessfully counterbid £10,000. His support for the government was rewarded with a knighthood (of Gatton Park) in 1808.

Despite the Napoleonic war, the Radicals remained a thorn in the side of government. For example in 1810 Sir Francis Burdett published a Commons speech (re the cover-up of the Walcheren disaster) which was still illegal. So the Commons voted for his arrest but the people blocked the ability to serve it and riots followed. The cavalry was called in and several demonstrators were killed. The severity of the situation was such that the Government called in 50,000 troops to secure the city and strategic towns around London.

Then, in 1812, the Prime Minister, Perceval, was assassinated and a fresh election was called. For this, Sir Mark Wood sold his other seat to a fellow military engineer, William Congreve who was a friend of the Prince of Wales and a prolific inventor, best remembered for his least original idea, military rockets. Congreve’s inspiration for these was the Indian rockets used against British troops during the Mysore Wars. Parliament authorized Congreve to form two rocket companies for the army in 1809, one of which Congreve subsequently commanded at the Battle of Leipzig in 1813. He was then appointed comptroller of the Royal Laboratory at Woolwich (his father’s old position) which explains his relinquishing of his Gatton seat. As an aside, Congreve rockets were immortalized as the "rockets' red glare" in the American national anthem, which describes their firing at Fort McHenry during the War of 1812.

The 1816 by-election provided the best example of why a pocket borough was so contemptible: "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.”

It may be due to his son being taken to court over the death of his aristocratic boxing opponent at school which cost Mark Wood his establishment support (t.b.c.) but Gatton never got him the government posts that he wanted and he later lost interest in his Commons seat other than as an investment. There was precious little else to invest in: By 1812 Britain’s exports were down a third, and poor law expenditure was up by £6m. Prices were 87% above pre-war levels and men (“Luddites”) were smashing machines in the Midlands and in the North. The end of the Napoleonic Wars brought no respite: The 1815 Corn Law kept wheat at an artificially high level leading to the Ely & Littleport bread riots and the Hunger March from South Wales the following year. Reform of Parliament was vital in this context, but Henry Hunt’s attempt to petition the Regent led to the December Spa Fields riot. The next year, 1817, brought the Blanketeers hunger march from Manchester. Habeus Corpus was again suspended 1817-8. The infamous ‘Peterloo massacre’ of 1819 changed nothing: That year saw the Six Acts which included restrictions on “seditious” meeting (over 50) and stronger libel law. But the pressure for reform only grew: There were 19 Petitions for Reform in 1821, 12 in 1822 and 29 in 1823. Then in 1824 the odious Combination Laws were repealed, there was a reduction in public expenditure and taxes, and there were no more reform petitions for the next 5 years.

Mark Wood’s son, also Sir Mark, inherited Gatton in 1829, unmarried and “well known in racing circles”. He was only interested in selling Gatton, and luckily at a time when George IV’s death meant another election and a potential change in government. He had no problem getting a buyer and in 1830 sold it to the trustees of the young Lord Monson for £100,000. Days later news of the Paris uprising fuelled likelihood of Parliamentary Reform and the value would have plummeted. At the same time “the starving field labourers of the counties south of the Thames marched about in riotous manner demanding a wage of half-a-crown a day. The revenge taken by the Judges was terrible: three were unjustly hanged and 420 were transported to Australia.”


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