The parliamentary diary of Henry Broadley

One of our early modern colleagues at the History of Parliament, Dr. Stephen Roberts, recently gave a fascinating seminar paper on a parliamentary diary recording events from 1640 and 1641. Inspired by this, our MP of the Month is a man who kept a diary exactly two hundred years later: Henry Broadley (1793-1851), Conservative MP for the East Riding of Yorkshire from 1837 until his death in August 1851.

Broadley came from a family of merchants based in Hull, who had acquired considerable wealth through their purchase of land and its subsequent sale for building plots as the town expanded. Broadley also owned a substantial country estate near Howden. Despite his considerable wealth, he was notorious for his stinginess, and caused dissatisfaction among his supporters by quibbling over election costs. This, together with concerns that he was not sufficiently identified with his constituency’s agricultural interests, prompted a failed attempt to replace him with an alternative Conservative candidate. However, he proved his commitment to the needs of the East Riding’s farmers when he voted against the repeal of the corn laws in 1846, expressing his ‘grief’ at Robert Peel’s change of heart on this question. He remained a committed Protectionist for the rest of his parliamentary career.

An edition of Broadley’s diary, covering the period from 1 January 1840 to 17 March 1842, with almost daily entries, was published by Humberside Leisure Services in 1987, with notes and an introductory essay by John Markham. Markham describes Broadley as

‘a disciplined but infuriating diarist, recording in pedantic detail the topics of discussion and correspondence which at the time seemed so important but are now justly forgotten, missing almost every opportunity of describing the scenes and people to which his wealth and privilege gave him access’.

There is certainly plenty of the mundane in Broadley’s diary: the weather, the state of his health and his household arrangements. Lost keys, broken combs and the purchase of cheeses and wine are all carefully noted. (Despite his parsimony, he left a wine cellar worth over £850.) In a rare comment on any of the leading figures of the day, he observed that Queen Victoria looked ‘fat and pasty’ at the opening of the 1842 parliamentary session.

However, as Markham notes, the diary also provides an invaluable account of ‘the busy life of a backbench MP: his meetings, journeys, correspondence, work on behalf of constituents, attendance in the Commons, and, most important, voting’, and also covers one of the election contests which Broadley fought in the East Riding, that of 1841.

Broadley’s detailed daily record is particularly useful in providing insights into how a Member whose name is absent from Hansard – although he did, according to his diary, utter ‘a few words’ in the Commons chamber when seconding a bill on sewerage – could nonetheless be an effective constituency representative. The Yorkshire Gazette praised his parliamentary efforts in no uncertain terms, declaring that ‘a more attentive member… did not exist. His name appeared in almost every division, and his punctuality was equalled by his consistency’. Broadley himself complained at an election dinner that ‘the fatigues of parliamentary life were great, occasioned by the uncertainty of the length of time that members had to sit’ listening to debates.

Seal of the Hull and Selby railway company

Seal of the Hull and Selby railway company

One of Broadley’s key roles outside Parliament was as chairman of the Hull and Selby railway company, and his diary reveals the amount of time which this occupied. Given the substantial number of MPs in this period who had similar outside interests, this provides several useful insights into how such positions could be combined with parliamentary activities. Broadley was a dutiful parliamentary representative, which his diligently kept, if somewhat dull, diary aptly reflects.

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