Constituencies 1754-1790

Published in 1964

The volumes covering 1754-1790 were the first of the History of Parliament's sets to be published. They were compiled under the editorship of Sir Lewis Namier, who wrote a substantial number of the biographies and constituency surveys, although Namier died before he could begin serious work on the survey, and that task was completed by his former research assistant John Brooke.

The constituencies and elections are fully described in a section in the Introductory Survey. Between 1754 and 1790 the House of Commons consisted of 558 Members, elected by 314 constituencies. The 245 English constituencies (40 counties, 203 boroughs, 2 universities) returned 489 Members; the 24 Welsh constituencies and 45 Scottish constituencies returned one Member each. The constituencies are listed in an appendix to the introductory survey.

The franchise in the counties was the ancient 40 shilling freeholder franchise: the vote belonged to those with freehold property worth £2 or more. Owing to the infrequency of polls at elections during the period (only 50 county elections in England were taken to a poll, out of a possible 363) only approximate estimates can be given of the size of county electorates in England. Yorkshire, the largest, had about 20,000 voters; the smallest, Rutland, had about 800.

In the boroughs, the widest franchise lay in the householder or 'potwalloper' boroughs, where all inhabitant householders not in receipt of alms or poor relief were able to vote. The largest group of boroughs was the freeman boroughs, where the right of voting lay in the freemen of the town. These included London, with around 7,000 voters, and Camelford, with about 20. In the scot and lot boroughs, the right to vote was held by inhabitants paying the poor rate, ranging from Westminster, with 12,000 voters, the largest urban constituency in Great Britain, to Gatton, where no one lived within the bounds of the parliamentary borough and voters were put in specially at election times. Corporation boroughs, where the right to vote was confined to the corporation, were uniformly small, under 60 electors; burgage boroughs, where the franchise was attached to property, not to people, often became pocket boroughs. In a small number of boroughs, the freeholder boroughs, the right of voting lay in possession of a freehold within the borough concerned.

The twelve Welsh counties each returned one Member to Parliament, using the same franchise as for the English counties. The largest of them could muster around 2,000 voters. There were 12 Welsh borough constituencies, 5 of them single boroughs, and the others groups of boroughs united for electoral purposes, using various franchises.

In Scotland, the pre-1707 franchise had been adapted for the purposes of the Union Parliament. 27 of the 33 Scottish counties each sent one Member to the House of Commons, with six of the smaller counties grouped together in pairs and one of each pair alternated with the other in electing Members, Parliament by Parliament. The Scottish burghs, with the exception of Edinburgh, were, like the Welsh ones, combined in groups for the purpose of electing Members of Parliament, with fourteen groups or districts, five of them having four burghs and nine having five burghs. They used a system of indirect election, with each burgh council electing a delegate to a meeting which elected the Member of Parliament.