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Dunwich (UK Parliament constituency): Wikis


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Borough constituency
House House of Commons
Elects Two MPs
Created 1298 (1298)
Abolished 1832 (1832)

Dunwich was a parliamentary borough in Suffolk, one of the most notorious of all the rotten boroughs. It elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1298 until 1832, when the constituency was abolished by the Great Reform Act.



In medieval times, when Dunwich was first accorded representation in Parliament, it was a flourishing port and market town about thirty miles from Ipswich. However, by 1670 the sea had encroached upon the town, destroying the port and swallowing up all but a few houses so that nothing was left but a tiny village. The borough had once consisted of eight parishes, but all that was left was part of the parish of All Saints, Dunwich - which by 1831 had a population of 232, and only 44 houses ("and half a church", as Oldfield recorded in 1816).

In fact, this made Dunwich by no means the smallest of England's rotten boroughs, but the symbolism of two MPs representing a constituency that was essentially underwater captured the imagination and made Dunwich one of the most frequently-mentioned examples of the absurdities of the unreformed system.

The right to vote was exercised by the freemen of the borough. Originally, these freemen could vote even if they did not live in the borough, and at times this was abused as elsewhere, notably in 1670 when 500 non-resident freemen were created to swamp the resident voters. From 1709, however, by a resolution of the House of Commons, the franchise was restricted to resident freemen who were not receiving alms. By the 19th century, the maximum number of freemen had been set at 32, of whom the two "patrons", Lord Huntingfield and Snowdon Barne, could nominate eight each, so that between them they controlled only half the voting power and could never gain total influence over elections.

Earlier, in the 1760s, Sir Jacob Downing had been the sole patron, but he also was considered to have only influence, rather than the absolute power to dictate the choice of MPs. Nevertheless, in 1754 Downing was able to occupy one seat himself and sell the choice of the other member to the Duke of Newcastle (then Prime Minister) for £1,000; possibly he had to share some of this largesse with the co-operative voters.

Dunwich was abolished as a constituency in 1832, what remained of the village being placed in the new Eastern Suffolk county division.

Members of Parliament


Before 1660


Year First member First party Second member Second party
1660 Sir John Rous Henry Bedingfield
1661 Richard Coke
1670 Sir John Pettus
1671 William Wood
1678 Thomas Allin
February 1679 Sir Philip Skippon
September 1679 Sir Robert Kemp
1685 Roger North Tory Thomas Knyvett Tory
1689 Sir Philip Skippon Sir Robert Rich Whig
1691 John Bence
1695 Henry Heveningham
1700 Sir Charles Blois
1701 Robert Kemp
1705 John Rous
1708 Robert Kemp
1709 Sir Richard Allin Daniel Harvey
1710 Sir George Downing Richard Richardson
1713 Sir Robert Kemp
1715 Sir Robert Rich Charles Long
March 1722 Sir George Downing Edward Vernon
December 1722 Sir John Ward
1726 John Sambrooke
1727 Thomas Wyndham
1734 Sir Orlando Bridgeman
1738 William Morden
1741 Jacob Garrard Downing
1747 Miles Barne
1749 Sir Jacob Garrard Downing
1754 Soame Jenyns
1758 Alexander Forrester
1761 Henry Fox Eliab Harvey
1763 Sir Jacob Garrard Downing
1764 Miles Barne
1768 Gerard Vanneck
1777 Barne Barne
1790 The Lord Huntingfield
1791 Miles Barne
1796 Snowdon Barne
1812 Michael Barne
1816 The Lord Huntingfield Tory
1819 William Alexander Mackinnon
1820 George Henry Cherry
1826 Andrew Arcedeckne
1830 Frederick Barne
1831 Earl of Brecknock
1832 Viscount Lowther Tory
1832 Constituency abolished

In popular culture

Dunwich is satirised in an episode of the British television show Blackadder the Third titled Dish and Dishonesty. Named Dunny-on-the-Wold, it has a population of three cows, a dachshund called `Colin', and "a small hen in its late forties"; only one person lives there and he is the voter. After an obviously rigged election (in which it is revealed that Blackadder is both the constituency's returning officer and voter, after both died in highly suspicious "accidents"), Baldrick is made an MP having received all 16,472 of the votes cast.


  • Lewis Namier, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (2nd edition - London: St Martin's Press, 1961)
  • T H B Oldfield, The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1816)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Edward Porritt and Annie G Porritt, The Unreformed House of Commons (Cambridge University Press, 1903)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs


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