Tottenham in his Boots

Charles Tottenham - 1694 to 1758

From the memoirs of Sir Josiah Barrington

Another custom in the House of Commons in Ireland gave rise to a very curious anecdote. The Members of Parliament formerly attended the House of Commons in full dress - an arrangement first broken though by the following circumstances.

“A very Important constitutional question was debating between Government and the Opposition - a question by-the-by at which my English readers will probably feel surprised - namely, as to the application of a sum of £60,000 then lying unappropriated in the Irish Treasury, being a balance after paying all debts and demands upon the country on its establishment. The Members seemed to be nearly poised, although it had been supposed that the majority would incline to give it to the King, while the Opposition would recommend laying it out upon the country, when the Sergeant-at-Arms reported that a Member wanted to force into the House, undressed, in dirty boots, and splashed up to his shoulders. The Speaker could not oppose custom to privilege, and was necessitated to admit him. It proved to be Mr. Charles Tottenham, of Tottenham Green, Co. Wexford, covered with mud and wearing a pair of huge jack-boots! Having heard that the question was like to come on sooner than he had expected, he had (lest he should not be in time) mounted his horse at Tottenham Green, set off in the night, ridden nearly 60 miles up to the Parliament House direct, and rushed in without washing or changing himself, to vote for the country. He arrived just at the critical moment - and critical indeed it was - for the Members were, in truth, equal, and his casting vote gave a majority of one to the Country Party... This anecdote could not die while the Irish Parliament lived, and I recollect "Tottenham-in-his-Boots" remaining down to a very late period a standing toast at certain patriotic Irish tables.”

From a letter in "The Times" of Dec. 29th, 1925, from "a correspondent."

“In 1731 a financial question arose in the Irish House of Commons about a fund which had been provided for paying the interest and principal of the National Debt. The Court Party desired that this sum should be granted to the King, his heirs and successors forever, redeemable by Parliament. The Opposition insisted that it should be granted in the usual constitutional manner from session to session. The Court Party proposed a compromise to vest it in the Crown for 21 years, and this proposition was put to the vote. The Members were at first equal, but at the last moment [Col.] Tottenham, the Member for New Ross, having ridden over in haste to be present at the division, appeared in boots and riding attire, splashed with mud… His vote turned the balance against the Government... The boots with spurs, which are not fellows - a testimony to the haste with which they were put on - are preserved and treasured as precious heirlooms in the family.”


The Rev. George Reade's account of the Family Ghost - see App. IV - also refers to the story of Tottenham in his Boots. He says that the ride took place from Loftus Hall, and that the sum of money involved was £80,000. He adds that the Speaker ruled that, as a Member, he had the right to enter, but was liable to the penalty of £500, which the Rules prescribed for not attending in full dress. He paid the fine.


Note 1:


In memory of this exploit a portrait of Charles was painted by Pope Stevens in 1749 (from which an engravement was made by Andrew Miller) in the attitude of descending the steps of the Parliament House in his travelling dress.

Note 2:

Tottenham Green, near Taghmon, between New Ross and Wexford, is about 87 miles from Dublin. Loftus Hall, near Hook Head, must be about 100, Reade's account - which seems exaggerated in other respects - may be rejected.

The Dictionary of National Biography, Vol. LVII, p.75, says that the ride took place from Ballycarny, near Ferns, where Charles Tottenham owned some property. This would make the ride about 65 miles, and is probably correct