The joy of being a Pocket Borough

Buckingham Town Hall in 1965
Buckingham Town Hall in 1965

Back to the Past with historian Ed Grimsdale

Buckingham was amongst the ‘rotten’ or ‘pocket’ boroughs that the Great Reform Bill of 1832 attempted to snuff by widening the electorate.

Buckingham Borough’s bailiff and 12 burgesses were well and truly in the pocket of the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, as our distinguished local historian, Julian Hunt, has revealed.

These 13 councillors were solely responsible for electing two MPs to represent Buckingham.

Each was kept warm and nourished in our duke’s kangaroo-­like pouch.

Seven were his tenants, one had been his banker, another his attorney. His steward and steward’s clerk were burgesses, too, as were two who had been landlords of our lord’s Cobham Arms coaching inn.

Three were leaders of the Bucks Militia (one of the Duke’s military units) and Mr Bennett was the Duke’s Buckingham grocer.

So dependent had Buckingham been on the Duke’s employment and patronage that articles appeared in the press in the 1830s under dismal titles such as “So Much For Buckingham”.

The dynasty of Temples at Stowe yearned for influence beyond the temporal.

When the citizens of Buckingham fell to their knees to worship in the house of our Lord, they saw a magnificent east window erected in 1823 by the newly promoted Duke of Buckingham.

Its theme was not our Lord Jesus Christ but, in a contemporary account: “beneath the royal arms are those of his Grace, the Duke of Buckingham and Chandos, richly blazoned with all the appendages of ducal dignity”.

It did not occur to our town’s councillors, as they met in the Town Hall to discuss matters of great moment such as their next celebratory dinner, or to fine tune the wording of an address on the coming of age of the eldest son of their duke, that they assembled not in town property but in the Duke’s Town Hall.

After the bankruptcy of the 2nd Duke in 1848, our councillors were informed that they must impose taxes to buy Buckingham’s Town Hall from the late Duke’s estate!

Not until 1885 had Buckingham Town Council cleared the mortgage on its Town Hall.

Of course, the town lost control of its town hall to AVDC in the local government reorganisation of 1975.

In reality, Buckingham owned its Town Hall, built in 1783, for only 90 years – 1885 to 1975.

My picture shows ‘our’ Town Hall 50 years ago.