You are in [Themes] [Electoral Reform and Hungerford's Electorate]

For centuries, the UK Parliament had consisted of a small landowning elite whose priorities were their own power and prosperity.

From the 18th century onwards, the social changes brought about by industrial growth and the decline of agriculture meant that the demographic landscape of Britain was altered. With these changes came demands from the working and middle classes for equality and fairness. It took many years for a more representative Parliament to be achieved.

The Great Reform Act of 1832 disenfranchised 56 boroughs in England and Wales (including the so-called “rotten borough” of Great Bedwyn) and reduced another 31 to only one MP. Eligibility to vote was expanded to include small landowners, tenant farmers, and shopkeepers, as well as those householders who paid a yearly rental of £10 or more and some lodgers. However, the majority of single men could not vote. Only 214,000 men could vote, under 3% of the adult population.

The call for 'one man, one vote' was still resisted by Parliament and the Second Reform Act of 1867 was still based around property qualifications. The vote was granted to all householders, as well as lodgers who paid rent of £10 a year or more. The property threshold was reduced to give the vote to agricultural landowners and tenants with very small amounts of land. As result, the electorate doubled to 2.5 million men.

The Third Reform Act of 1884 established a uniform franchise throughout the country – “one man, one vote”. The electorate doubled again to 5 million – still only men!

The Virtual Museum has recently made available the list of Ownership Electors for Hungerford (excluding Charnham Street) in 1915. It is fascinating to see that the total number of men on this roll is only 83! The schedules for Occupiers involve most householders in the parish and is not yet available.

The well-publicised Women’s Suffrage movement worked hard to extend the vote to women, resulting in the Representation of the People Act of 1918. Even then it was only women over the age of 30 years who were either a member or married to a member of the Local Government Register. About 8.4 million women gained the right to vote.

The current electorate for the UK Parliament totals over 46 million. Things have changed greatly!

See also:

- Population and Censuses