The 1832-68 House of Commons project includes studies of every constituency – more than 400 – in England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Between 4,000 to 6,000 words in length, each study provides a detailed but accessible analysis of every parliamentary election in this period, alongside a brief social and economic profile. Borough entries also contain related information about local government. Since 2012 we have made our articles available in draft form on our preview site, where they can be consulted in full (and for free). The articles are uploaded as they are completed, and since our previous update last year, we have recently added a host of new constituency studies, ranging from England’s smallest constituency to a rare triple-member seat. These include:
Thetford. A double-member borough that straddled the Norfolk and Suffolk border, Thetford was the smallest English constituency in terms of its electorate following the 1832 Reform Act. The representation was controlled by the heads of the Grafton and Baring dynasties, by arrangement with the borough’s leading manufacturing families who dominated the town council. A striking feature of the borough’s post-Reform parliamentary politics was the ambiguous nature of the candidates’ party loyalties. Indeed, party spirit was generally lacking on both sides at the hustings, with candidates eschewing pledges and instead preferring to identify themselves solely with their family.
Suffolk East and Suffolk West. In the early 1840s Suffolk was described as ‘one of the most extensive agricultural districts in the empire’. The East Suffolk Agricultural Society, whose committee contained the leaders of local Conservatism, loomed large in county life and ensured that rural issues, particularly the much-detested malt tax, took centre stage during parliamentary elections. A sustained registration drive by the Conservatives in the five years following the Reform Act, coupled with the strategy of presenting their candidates as moderate and progressive, delivered complete electoral hegemony for the party in both constituencies from 1837 onwards.
Hereford and Herefordshire. The representation of the county town and cathedral city of Hereford was generally monopolised by the Liberals in this period, though the Conservatives, ignoring their own weakness on the register, made a habit of unwisely contesting elections that they had no chance of winning. The borough had a distinct political culture. Local Conservatism had a ‘High Tory’ flavour, a legacy of the influence of cathedral clergymen, known as the ‘Black and Tans’, and the corporation. The Whigs, meanwhile, due to the prevalence of bribery in the division, were early advocates of the ballot. The wider county, universally known for its cider production, was one of only seven English constituencies to elect three MPs after 1832, and the representation was generally shared between the Conservatives and Liberals. The county’s triple-member status also allowed candidates to differentiate themselves from their party colleagues.
Elgin District. A Scottish constituency, this single-member borough comprised, in descending order of electoral importance, the burghs of Elgin, Banff, Peterhead, Kintore, Invery and Cullen, the later being ‘little more than a street’. The district remained in Liberal hands throughout this period, but this was far from assured, especially in the 1830s and 1840s when the Conservatives posed a serious challenge. The Liberals also suffered from internecine conflict, though, unlike in the larger Scottish towns, these disputes concerned the nature of representation and influence in the burghs, rather than religious divisions over patronage in the Church of Scotland. The most prominent landowner was the extraordinarily popular James Duff (1776-1857), 4th Earl of Fife, locally known as the ‘good earl’. The Duffs were victorious in 1847 and held the seat without opposition for the remainder of the period.
We have now uploaded over 75 constituency studies to the 1832-68 preview site. For details about how to obtain access, please click here.