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The Parliamentary Reform Acts of 1832, 1867 and 1884 extended voting rights and redistributed parliamentary seats. These successive extensions of the franchise created a mass electorate, although it was still all-male until the following century.
The 1832 Reform Act brought to an end "pocket" or "rotten" boroughs such as Great Bedwyn, which had formed unrepresentative constituencies, based on historic population sizes dating back to the Middle Ages.
The Parliamentary Reform Acts were important even in a small rural market town such as Hungerford because they were part of the many measures that increased the middle class social awareness to a level not seen since the 1640s. Along with the repeal of the Corn Laws in 1846, and a succession of Factory Acts and Education Acts, saw great social change throughout the country, especially during the Victorian era.
1822 - Lord John Russell proposed a redistribution of seats. Whig Party espoused cause of reform.
1830 - Duke of Wellington resigned as prime minister, bringing in Whig ministry under Lord Grey, committed to reform. (Electorate 516,000 - 2% of population).
1832 - Reform Act involved redistribution of parliamentary seats from 'rotten boroughs' to urban constituencies. Franchise extended to householders paying £10 per year rent in towns and 40-shilling freeholders in counties. (Electorate 813,000 = 3% of population.)
1867 - Reform Act involved further redistribution of seats and extension of franchise to all ratepayers in boroughs. (Electorate 2,500,000 = 8% of population.)
1872 - Ballot Act introduced secret ballots for elections.
1883 - Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act set limits to election expenses.
1884 - Reform Act again involved redistribution of seats and equalization of franchise for boroughs and counties, to include all householders and ratepayers. (Electorate 5,600,000 = 16% of population.)
1885 - Further redistribution of parliamentary seats.
1918 - Representation of the People Act gave the vote to all men over 21 and all women ratepayers (or wives of ratepayers) over 30.
1928 - Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act gave the vote to all women over 21.
1948 - Plural voting abolished. Permanent Boundary Commission established.
1970 - Voting age reduced to 18.
1979 - Constituencies established for direct election to European Parliament in Strasbourg.
1983 - Number of parliamentary seats raised from 635 to 650.
1985 - Representation of the People Act gave the vote to British citizens living abroad for a period of five years after they have left Britain.
1989 - Representation of the People Act extended the period during which British citizens abroad may vote to 20 years after leaving Britain. Televising of House of Commons proceedings approved.
1992 - Number of parliamentary seats raised from 650 to 651.
1994 - Number of UK seats in European parliament raised from 81 to 87.
1997 - Number of parliamentary seats raised to 659.