MPs for Twickenham and Middlesex
Famous and notorious Members of Parliament
1295 - 2004
Represented by courtiers, revolutionaries, radicals, reformers and a future saint
From the Model Parliament of 1295 until 1885, Twickenham was in the constituency of Middlesex, which returned two Members of Parliament. The constituency, which was coincident with the old County of Middlesex, extended from Edmonton and Enfield in the north-east to Staines in the west, excluding the present-day Cities of London and, from 1540, Westminster. Because of its close proximity to London and the Royal Palaces, many early MPs were also courtiers - John Walden (MP from 1414 to 1415) was a favourite of Richard II.
The Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 split the Middlesex constituency into 7 divisions, reflecting the vast expansion of the population which had occurred in the 1870s. The area of the present-day Twickenham constituency was divided between Middlesex, Brentford and Middlesex, Uxbridge. The Representation of the People Act 1918, resulted in reorganised boundaries and Twickenham was divided between the constituencies of Middlesex, Twickenham, and Middlesex, Spelthorne. Finally, the Representation of the People Act 1948 created the Twickenham constituency as it is today, which includes Whitton, St. Margaret's, Fulwell, Teddington, the Hamptons and Heathfield.
Middlesex Parliamentary representation to 1885
A notable early Middlesex MP was Sir Thomas More (MP from 1523 to 1529), who was also Speaker of the House. He became Lord Chancellor in 1529, but disapproved of Henry VIII's marriages to Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn and was forced to resign his position. His refusal to take the oath of the Act of Succession in 1534 led to his imprisonment, treason charge, execution in 1535 and his subsequent canonisation in 1935.
Sir Francis Bacon (MP from 1593 to 1597) lived at Twickenham Park from 1580 to 1608. While still MP in 1595, he became Queen Elizabeth's personal advisor and protégé of Essex. Essex gave him Twickenham Park in 1580, Bacon selling it for £1800 in 1608. However, Bacon betrayed Essex during the latter's treason trial. He was knighted at the coronation of King James I and was Lord Chancellor from 1618 to 1620, during which time he prosecuted both Raleigh and Suffolk. An itinerant MP, he also represented Bossiney (Cornwall), Weymouth and Melcombe Regis, Liverpool, Taunton, Ipswich, Cambridge University and St Albans at various times between 1581 and 1620.
Sir Julius Caesar, MP for Middlesex from 1614 to 1620, was Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1606 to 1614, when he was appointed Master of the Rolls, an office which he held to his death in 1636. He was also MP for Reigate (1588 to 1614) and Malden (from 1620). Caesar had close connections with Sir Francis Bacon (see above): in 1620, the King appointed him as one of Bacon's liquidators, and in 1625 Bacon nominated "my good friend and near ally, the Master of the Rolls" as a supervisor of his will.
During the Long Parliament (1640 to 1653), Middlesex's two MPs, Sir John Franklyn and Sir Gilbert Gerrard, were parliamentarians. The Civil War battles of Brentford and Turnham Green were fought on Middlesex soil. At Turnham Green, the parliamentarians, with 24,000 troops, defeated the royalists convincingly. The King retreated to Hampton Court and later fled to Oxford. After the War, Sir James Harrington (later MP from 1654 to 1655) refused to sign Charles I's death warrant.
John Wilkes (MP in 1768, briefly, and from 1774 to 1790) is well-known for campaigning for wider suffrage, religious toleration, the US revolution and parliamentary reform. A member of Francis Dashwood's infamous Hell Fire Club, he was one of Middlesex's more colourful members. His parliamentary career began in Berwick with a bribery scandal, and continued when he bought the seat of Aylesbury in 1757. In 1763 he was prosecuted for issuing seditious and blasphemous pamphlets. Imprisoned for his role in a duel, friends helped Wilkes flee to Paris. Whilst living there with a courtesan, he attempted to explain his absence from Parliament by producing a false certificate of ill health, for which he was prosecuted in 1764. In 1768 he was returned as Radical MP for Middlesex, but in June he was found guilty of libel, jailed, fined £1000 and expelled from parliament. In February, March and April 1769, Wilkes was three times re-elected but parliament overturned the decision on every occasion. He was released from prison in April 1770 and began campaigning for press freedom. In 1774 he became Lord Mayor of London. Eventually he became more conservative and turned on his own backers. Ousted as MP in 1790, he died in 1797. Sir Nathaniel Wraxall, a contemporary MP, describes him in his memoirs as "an incomparable comedian in all he said and did, he seemed to consider human life itself as a mere comedy". John Wilkes remains famous for his radical views, his unconventional sex life and his cruel wit.
Between 1780 and 1874, Middlesex was represented intermittently by three member of the Byng family. George Byng (MP from 1780 to 1784) was a Radical Whig and the grandson of Admiral Lord Byng (sentenced to execution in 1757 for neglecting his duty). Wraxall wrote of him as "a man of very honourable intentions, but of an ardent temper and very limited talents". His son, also George Byng, was Whig MP between 1790 to 1847 and Father of the House. He was an ally of Sir Francis Burdett (below) during his struggles to be elected in 1802 and 1804. His cousin, George Byng, nephew of the first Byng MP, was Liberal MP from 1857 to 1874.
Sir Francis Burdett represented Middlesex at various times from 1802 until 1806. After a Grand Tour of Europe, he started his political career in 1796 by marrying the daughter of Thomas Coutts, the banker, who bought him the seat of Boroughbridge in Yorkshire. In 1802, he joined George Byng as a member for Middlesex, but the election was disputed by his opponent and it was declared void in 1804. He lost the ensuing by-election by five votes. In 1805, Burdett managed to get this result amended and he was reinstated as MP. His triumph was short-lived, however, because, in 1806, his opponent had the result amended again in his favour. He must have given up on Middlesex, for he was elected Member for Westminster in 1807, and for North Wiltshire in 1837, which seat he held until his death in 1844. The Burdett family live for many years in Copt Hall, which gave its name to Copthall Gardens in Twickenham.
Twickenham Parliamentary Representation from 1885
William Joynson-Hicks (known as Jix) was Conservative MP for the Brentford, later Twickenham, divisions of Middlesex from 1911 to 1929. His political instincts were protectionist and strongly nationalistic and he became a standard bearer for the Tory right wing. His parliamentary career began in Manchester when he beat a youthful Winston Churchill in 1908, a seat he lost in 1910. He became Home Secretary in 1924 and, armed with the Defence of the Realm Act 1922, immediately began to institute measures against night-clubs, brothels, courting couples, aliens, homosexuality, late shop opening, works of art - any activity or artistic work which he considered to be immoral (D H Lawrence and William Blake were singled out for special attention). In response to a question from Lady Astor in the House, he, unexpectedly and without recourse to his fellow ministers, promised equal voting rights for women and men - a promise which the Conservative party was forced to keep in 1928 by reducing the voting age for women from 30 to 21. The following year, the "Flapper Vote" cost the Conservative Party the election and Jix his seat. He was created Viscount Brentford later that year. Joynson-Hicks was the first President of the Twickenham and Thames Valley Bee Keepers' Association from 1919 to 1929.
Since 1997, Twickenham has been represented by Dr Vincent Cable (Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills), replacing Toby Jessel, who was Conservative MP from 1970.
MPs with Twickenham connections
Horace Walpole was MP for Callington (Cornwall) from 1741 to 1754, Castle Rising (Norfolk) from 1754 to 1757 and Kings Lynn from 1757 to 1768, which was his family's constituency.
George Hardinge (MP for Old Sarum 1784 to 1802), barrister and friend of Walpole, lived at the now-demolished Ragman's Castle on Twickenham Riverside at the corner of the Orleans House estate.
George Granville Vernon Harcourt was the second husband of Frances, Lady Waldegrave, of Strawberry Hill in 1847. He was Liberal MP for Lichfield from 1806 to 1830, for Oxfordshire from 1830 to 1861 and Father of the House from 1850 to his death in 1861.
Henry Du Pre Labouchere, who lived at the reconstructed Pope's Villa in Cross Deep, represented Michael Borough (Somerset) from 1826 to 1830 and Taunton from 1830 to 1858.
Talk by Dr Vincent Cable MP to the Twickenham Society, 7th November 2003, with assistance from Amber Cobb.
The History of Parliament: The House of Commons, Secker and Warburg.
The Age of Illusion, Ronald Blythe, Penguin, 1964.
The Historical and Posthumous Memoirs of Sir N. W. Wraxall, H. B. Wheatley, London 1884.