The Irish act of 21 George III, cap. 10, and more particularly its eighth clause, derived its nickname from the borough of Newtown, now Newtownards, Co. Down, which was then and for a decade thereafter in dispute between the families of Ponsonby and Stewart. According to the wording of its preamble, the eighth clause was designed merely ‘ … for the more effectual quieting of corporations and securing the rights of persons who have been or shall be elected into the offices of aldermen and burgesses’; yet historians have attributed to it purposes more sinister and consequences more dire than this innocent, conservative wording would ever suggest. (The wording of preambles and titles should not of course always be taken at face value: it was after all an act ‘ … for the further regulating the election of members of parliament and preventing the irregular proceedings of sheriffs and other officers in electing and returning such members’ which in 1728 provided for the automatic disfranchisement of all Roman Catholics.) The preamble to the eighth clause of the Newtown act goes on to state that, owing to a dearth of protestant inhabitants of appropriate standing, many corporations have been forced, in violation of their charters, to elect as burgesses and other officers persons who are not resident within their precincts; and the clause purports only to be giving legal authority to an existing situation, by ‘quieting’ such persons in the possession of their offices. Historians, on the other hand, have seen the dispensing with the residence qualification as a pernicious innovation, not as a legalisation of the status quo. Accordingly they have blamed the Newtown act for strengthening the hands of borough patrons and curtailing still further the independence of the corporations, and all this merely to gratify the particular local ambitions of one over-powerful family, the Ponsonbys, at the expense of their rivals, the Stewarts.