A year of the Victorian Commons

The House of Commons, 1833, by Sir George Hayter

The House of Commons, 1833, by Sir George Hayter

This month marks the one year anniversary of the Victorian Commons blog. To celebrate this milestone, and the 10,000 hits the blog has received, we look back over our first year of blogging.

From the outset, one of our aims has been to offer a Victorian perspective on current events. After Ed Miliband mentioned ‘One Nation’ 44 times in his October 2012 conference speech, we examined Disraeli and One Nation Conservatism. The cabinet reshuffle, the policy of quantitative easing, the phenomenon of novice MPs, boundary changes, voter registration, the Statute Laws Repeal Act and the state opening of Parliament were also examined from a nineteenth-century angle. Two very different electoral contests in November 2012 inspired a post on Victorian police commissioner elections and a discussion of what Victorian MPs thought about American presidential campaigns. Meanwhile, the horsemeat scandal of March 2013 led to a post on food adulteration in Victorian Britain. Most recently, the start of the Ashes test series produced a First Eleven of Victorian cricketing MPs.

We have also written posts to mark significant historical anniversaries. 2013 witnessed the 175th anniversary of both Queen Victoria’s coronation and the publication of the People’s Charter. We were also inspired to blog by certain dates in the year: on Valentine’s Day we looked at Tom Lefroy MP, Jane Austen’s putative boyfriend; we celebrated St. David’s Day by considering the record-breaking career of the Welsh MP and Father of the House Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot; on Trafalgar Day we highlighted a number of naval MPs in the Victorian Commons; and during the festive season we examined why Edward Glover MP spent Christmas Day 1857 in prison. Meanwhile, on 16 October 2012, 178 years to the day since Parliament was destroyed by fire, we investigated the consequences of that fateful event.

In November we began our ‘MP of the Month’ series, showcasing some of the more interesting parliamentary characters we have researched. The first of these was John Walter, who performed an intriguing dual role as MP for Nottingham and owner of The Times. William Christmas, MP for Waterford, who died after sustaining injuries at a by-election in 1866, was our aptly named festive choice. We have also featured the idiosyncratic and unpopular William Hughes Hughes, whose speeches were the signal for ‘general uproar’ in the Commons; Robert Stayner Holford, the creator of the National Arboretum; and Viscount Ingestre, who championed the naval weaponry inventions of Samuel Warner, whose ‘invisible shell’ turned out to be a fraud. Among the other MPs in this series have been Joseph Holdsworth, who lost his seat at Wakefield because he was technically the returning officer at the time of his election in 1841; Sir Robert Heron, a notable diarist who kept an extensive menagerie of exotic animals; and George Faithfull, the unsung champion of female voting rights in Brighton’s local elections. We have also highlighted MPs who were more famous in other spheres than in Parliament, notably William Henry Fox Talbot, the inventor of photography, and Robert Fitzroy, the pioneer of the weather forecast. This month’s blog on another notable inventor is coming soon…

Our blog has also featured guest posts from historians at other institutions who are researching on different aspects of Victorian electoral politics. In March Dr. Sarah Richardson of the University of Warwick blogged on the Victorian female franchise. Using records from parish council elections, she argued that female participation in local government contests before the 1870s has been overlooked. Drawing on an exhibition on ‘Democracy in Devon’ which he oversaw at the Devon Heritage Centre, Dr. David Thackeray of the University of Exeter shared some fascinating images which highlighted the vibrancy of local electioneering rituals.

Finally, in an effort to share further the fruits of our research, we have produced a series of more specialist blogs. The Scottish dimension to our project was considered in two separate posts, and we also discussed our work on Irish constituencies and their MPs. Meanwhile, to highlight the growing importance of web-based research, we blogged about other countries’ online dictionaries of national biography and useful but lesser known historical databases. The latter proved to be an especially popular post, so we now have a full page of our blog dedicated to online resources. One of these, the Old Bailey Online, marked its tenth anniversary this year, for which our blog joined in the celebrations.

All the blogs we’ve written over the past year have drawn on our continuing research for the History of Parliament’s House of Commons 1832-1868 project. The biographies and constituency studies we’ve produced so far are now available to access through our preview site. For more details see here. We already have a number of exciting blog posts planned for the coming year, so please do come back to check them out. You can follow our blog via WordPress or e-mail, and also join us on Twitter (@TheVictCommons).

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2 Responses to A year of the Victorian Commons

  1. The Victorian Commons blog is a fantastic resource, supplementing the great work done by the History of Parliament team. I’ve learnt so much over the past year, and look forward to the notifications of new posts. I was very privileged to be allowed a guest blog spot, and I hope other parliamentary historians will take the opportunity to share snippets of their work.

    I look forward to the next year of blogs!

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