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Drogheda

Drogheda was a county borough and its electors were both 40-shilling freeholders and freemen. The town probably had a larger electorate than Co. Louth. Its first charter dated from 1230 - 13 Henry III, which envisaged a split town with two corporations. These were united by a 1413 charter of 14 Henry IV. The corporation was composed of a mayor, two sheriffs, 24 aldermen (including the mayor) and an unlimited number of freemen. Freedom was by 'right of birth and apprenticeship' as well as grace especial. It had the following guilds: Bakers, Butchers, Carpenters, Shoemakers, Skinners, Smiths, Taylors and a guild of Merchants which became defunct. There was also a governing body called 'the Assembly' composed of the mayor, sheriffs, aldermen and common councilmen (14 of whom were elected by the guilds), the remainder being the sheriff's peers or persons who had served in the office of sheriff. The town was described in 1708 as 'a pretty large town, larger houses and every way [more] like Dublin than any one I have seen in Ireland. It stands on the famous river Boyne which is navigable within the walls to boats of 40 or 50 tons.' In 1785 John Wesley considered Drogheda 'a large handsome town, which seemed to me to be little inferior to Waterford'. The town was built around two main streets which intersected at the Thosel or Town Hall.277 In 1798 its population was given in a census as 15,225 persons. It was probably about the same size as Belfast and Kilkenny and smaller than Dublin, Cork, Waterford or Limerick. The linen industry was well established by 1760, when it was valued at £50,000 p.a., and by 1783 it was valued at nearly £130,000. Cotton, although expensive to establish, had made a beginning by 1780. Its other activity was related to the Boyne navigation, which brought grain from the Navan area and flour from the Slane Flour mills owned by Blayney (Townley-) Balfour (2094) of Townley Hall, while coal was a convenient back-cargo.278

Drogheda's MPs were largely local men. The Moores were Earls of Drogheda, and Charles Moore, the heir of the 3rd Earl, represented Drogheda until his death in 1714, in his father's lifetime. Edward Singleton was an alderman and his son, Henry Singleton, a leading legal figure of the mid-eighteenth century, sat from 1713 until his elevation to the bench as Lord Chief Justice of Common Pleas in 1740. Thereafter it was the turn of the Leighs and the Grahams. In 1717 John Leigh had been expelled from the House of Commons 'for his notorious Disaffection to the Protestant Succession in the illustrious house of Hanover'. His son Francis was more fortunate, and represented Drogheda from 1741 to 1776. He was a free merchant of Drogheda and elected to represent the Butchers' Guild on the Common Council of Drogheda; he was Sheriff of Drogheda in 1729 and Mayor in 1732. John Graham, first returned in 1710, was a prominent Drogheda merchant and alderman. His son William, also an alderman and Mayor in 1731, sat from 1727 until his death in 1748/9, when he was succeeded by his son John Graham. In 1761 John was returned, along with Francis Leigh, at a strongly contested election. The unsuccessful candidate was Graves Chamney, and all the candidates had large numbers of voters disallowed. At the close of the poll the numbers were: Leigh 172, Graham 140, Chamney 53.279 Voters claiming by birth and service, but disallowed by the Sheriff as being refused admittance by the corporation, were: Leigh 121, Graham 86, Chamney 75. Leigh and Graham were declared duly elected.

Shortly before the 1768 election, the main interest appears to have shifted from the Grahams to the Leighs and the Meades. In this election Francis Leigh and William Meade(-Ogle) were returned, but a petition complaining of an undue election was made by Graves Chamney, and raised the question of 'who was entitled to vote in a parliamentary election for the town'. The citizens had been inclined to waive their right to the freedom except when an election was pending, and then they immediately attempted to demand it. However, the Committee on Privileges and Elections upheld the return, and stated in its report: 'that persons entitled to the Freedom of the town of Drogheda and who demanded their Freedom in 1761, and have never since prosecuted any Suit for the Establishment of their Right, though they were at that Time refused by the Corporation to be admitted, had not a Right to vote at the late Election for Members of Parliament for the said Town'.280 The House agreed without a division that William Meade, against whom the petition had been aimed, was duly elected. Meade had been supported by his own 'good interest' and also by that of Francis Leigh, the other member, whose interest was 'now the greatest'.281 In the general election of 1776 Drogheda was uncontested, and in 1783 there were approximately 500 electors.282 In 1785 the town was described as 'open and popular'.283 From 1768 until 1797 it invariably returned one of the Meade-Ogle family for the one seat. From 1783 to 1796 Drogheda was represented by John Forbes, its Recorder from 1782. Forbes belonged to a prominent Drogheda family. His father had been an alderman. In 1790 he and the other representative, Alderman William Meade-Ogle, were unanimously elected.284 Forbes was a genuine Whig and described as 'decidedly a Portland man'. An ardent reformer, he introduced and gave his name to the 1793 Place Act, which required MPs to seek re-election on appointment to an office of profit under the Crown. In 1800 John Foster (0805) had sufficient popular interest in the town for Lord Cornwallis to refer to 'the Speaker's Town of Drogheda'.285

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Registered with The Charity Commission for Northern Ireland NIC100280