Dunwich (UK Parliament constituency)

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.

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of membersTwo
Replaced byEast Suffolk


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 Members of Parliament 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 half of the votes and needed only one other voter to gain control of elections.

Earlier, in the 1760s, Sir Jacob Downing had been the sole patron, but in theory he also was considered to have only influence, rather than the absolute power to dictate the choice of the Members. Unsurprisingly, 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; it is not recorded whether he needed to share some of this largesse with his co-operative voters.

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

Members of Parliament

Before 1660

1442 Robert Cuddon 1450 Robert Cuddon

ParliamentFirst memberSecond member
1306Robert Codoun
1332Geoffrey Cuddon
1372Peter Cuddon I
1373Peter Cuddon I
1383Peter Cuddon I
1386Peter Cuddon IHugh Thorpe [1]
1388 (Feb)Augustine KnightWilliam Woodward [1]
1388 (Sep)Peter Cuddon IJohn Bagge [1]
1390 (Jan)Peter Cuddon IRobert Runton [1]
1390 (Nov)
1391Robert RuntonWilliam Havene [1]
1393Robert CookAugustine Knight [1]
1395Robert Cuddon IWilliam Chock [1]
1397 (Jan)Peter HelmethNicholas Goodber [1]
1397 (Sep)
1399Peter Cuddon IIPeter Helmeth [1]
1404 (Jan)
1404 (Oct)
1410Peter Cuddon IIWilliam Barber [1]
1411Richard GristonThomas Clerk [1]
1413 (Feb)
1413 (May)Thomas ClerkThomas Brantham [1]
1414 (Apr)Nicholas BarberPhilip Canon [1]
1414 (Nov)Thomas JamesPhilip Canon [1]
1416 (Mar)
1416 (Oct)John LukePhilip Canon [1]
1419Nicholas BarberPhilip Canon [1]
1420John LukeRichard Russell[1]
1421 (May)William BarberRobert Cuddon II [1]
1421 (Dec)John LukeNicholas Barber [1]
1467William Rabett [2]
1472William Rabett (Rabbes)
1478Robert BrewesEdmund Jenny
1510-1523No names known [1]
1529Sir William RousChristopher Jenney [1]
1542Robert BrowneGeorge Coppyn [1]
1545Robert BrowneRobert Coppyn [1]
1547Robert CoppynJohn Harrison alias Hall died and
was repl. Nov 1548 by
Thomas Heydon [1]
1553 (Mar)Francis Yaxley[3]Robert Coppyn [1]
1553 (Oct)Robert CoppynNicholas Hasborough [1]
1554 (Apr)Robert BrowneGeorge Jerningham [1]
1554 (Nov)Sir Edmund RousRobert Coppyn [1]
1555George SaxmundhamAndrew Green [1]
1558Thomas PyctoJohn Browne [1]
1558/9Sir Edmund RousGregory Coppyn [4]
1562/3Robert HareRobert Coppyn [4]
1571William HumberstoneArthur Hopton [4]
1572Robert Coppyn, died
and repl.1576 by
Godfrey Foljambe
Richard Sone [4]
1584Walter DunchAnthony Wingfield [4]
1586Anthony WingfieldArthur Melles [4]
1588Edward HoningWalter Dunch [4]
1593Henry SavileThomas Corbet [4]
1597Arthur AtyeClipsby Gawdy [4]
1601John SucklingFrancis Myngate [4]
1604Sir Valentine Knightley
elected to sit for Northamptonshire
and replaced by Thomas Smythe
Philip Gawdy
1614Philip GawdyHenry Dade
1621Clement CokeThomas Bedingfield
1624Sir John RousSir Robert Brooke
1625Sir Robert Brooke
1626Thomas Bedingfield
1628Sir Robert BrookeFrancis Winterton
1629–1640No Parliaments summoned


YearFirst memberFirst partySecond memberSecond party
1640 (Apr) Henry Coke Anthony Bedingfield
1640 (Nov) Henry Coke- disabled Anthony Bedingfield
1645 Anthony Bedingfield Robert Brewster
1648 (Rump) Robert Brewster One seat only
1653 (Barebones) Dunwich not represented in Barebones Parliament
1654 (1st Protectorate) Robert Brewster One seat only
1656 (2nd Protectorate) Francis Brewster One seat only
1658 (3rd Protectorate) Robert Brewster John Barrington
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, Bt
1685 Roger North Tory Thomas Knyvett Tory
1689 Sir Philip Skippon Sir Robert Rich, Bt Whig
1691 John Bence
1695 Henry Heveningham
1700 Sir Charles Blois, Bt
1701 Robert Kemp, Bt
1705 John Rous
1708 Robert Kemp
1709 Sir Richard Allin, Bt Daniel Harvey
1710 Sir George Downing, Bt Richard Richardson
1713 Sir Robert Kemp, Bt
1715 Sir Robert Rich, Bt Charles Long
March 1722 Sir George Downing, Bt Edward Vernon
December 1722 Sir John Ward
1726 John Sambrooke
1727 Thomas Wyndham
1734 Sir Orlando Bridgeman, Bt
1738 William Morden
1741 Jacob Downing
1747 Miles Barne
1749 Sir Jacob Downing, Bt
1754 Soame Jenyns
1758 Alexander Forrester
1761 Henry Fox Eliab Harvey
1763 Sir Jacob Downing, Bt
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 Tory
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, and like Dunwich, described as being located in Suffolk,[5] 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 his predecessors had 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 – Constituencies beginning with "D" (part 4)
  • Evelyn Wright, Forgotten families of Suffolk (The Book Castle, Dunstable, 2008)


  1. "History of Parliament". History of Parliament. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  2. The registers of the parish of Thorington in the county of Suffolk, with notes of the different acts of Parliament referring to them, and notices of the Bence family, with pedigree, and other families whose names appear therein. p. 28.
  3. "Yaxley, Francis" . Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
  4. "Dunwich 1558–1603". History of Parliament. Retrieved 16 October 2011.
  5. "Blackadder III, Episode 1 - Dish and Dishonesty". BlackAdder Scripts. Retrieved 27 December 2019.