This new year (2022) marks our tenth anniversary of blogging about Victorian politics and society. Almost 300 blogs have now appeared on these pages, mainly written by researchers (past and present) working on the 1832-68 House of Commons project at the History of Parliament. 2022 also marks the sesquicentennial of the introduction of the secret ballot – arguably the single most important change to electoral culture in modern British history and something we will be looking at in more detail with some special events. To keep informed of our plans, please follow our blog or follow us on Twitter @TheVictCommons. For now though, here are some of the highlights from 2021.
Given the events of the past year, it was perhaps not surprising that our focus on Victorian vaccinations attracted many thousands of views. It is often forgotten that England implemented compulsory vaccinations in the 19th century. However, it was the bizarre way in which people receiving a vaccination risked losing their voting rights that was the main topic of this article, highlighting the legal anomalies arising from the bureaucratic small-print of the Victorian voting system.
Five other blogs also explored electoral themes – a subject with an endless supply of striking features to a modern observer. The vast amounts of alcohol given away in elections was one of the many issues covered by Kathryn Rix in her accounts of politics in Macclesfield and Whitby. After one Whitby contest people were seen ‘lying in the gutters in beastly and senseless drunkenness, too shocking for description, men, women and even children of six and seven years of age’. Similar reports peppered the broader survey of the role of pubs in electoral organisation by Philip Salmon. This again stressed the impact of elections not just on male voters, but also on unenfranchised women and children. The genuine vitality of local politics in this period, even in the smallest towns, was also picked up in a blog by Stephen Ball assessing Irish borough politics in County Cork. Taking a cue from recent boundary change announcements, meanwhile, Martin Spychal re-examined the processes of redrawing and mapping the UK’s electoral boundaries in 1832.
The buildings of Parliament and the working practices of MPs and staff emerged as another blogging theme of 2021. We began a new series about the different spaces used by the Commons in the 19th century, detailing the accommodation used before and immediately after the devastating fire of 1834.
We also took a closer look at the staff, clerks and servants who kept the Palace going in often difficult circumstances. Their work frequently involved staying up all night, as a blog about late night sittings and the attempts to reform what was effectively a nocturnal debating chamber clearly showed. Continuing our research on parliamentary procedure, we also explored the murky practices of ‘pairing’, when opposing MPs unofficially agreed not to vote, as well as examining ‘calls’ of the House and ‘counting out’ the House, a controversial procedure used to shut-down a sitting. Among other things this helped to trigger the introduction of bell-ringing and eventually electric bells.
The role of women in 19th century political life remained another important focus. The political influence of Harriet Grote, wife of the Radical MP George Grote, was investigated in blogs looking at her early life, her role as a radical hostess, and her activities behind-the-scenes in the first reformed Parliament of 1833-4. This series will continue next year. The impact of the Queen Caroline affair a decade earlier continued to attract our attention too. One blog scrutinised her political association with the Radical MP Matthew Wood. The way in which her popular campaign came to an end and a new style of Tory politics began to emerge formed the basis of another blog marking the 200th anniversary of the 1821 Coronation.
During 2022 we aim to produce more research guides, similar to the blog we posted about religious affiliations in the Victorian period. We will also be uncovering more information about non-élite and unconventional politicians, men like the former colonial activist John Dunn who left Tasmania to become an MP. For now though, all that remains is to thank all our loyal followers and readers for their support and to wish you all a much improved new year in 2022.