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Electoral Records

Some history of the various franchises is given here in order to understand the four main kinds of electoral records—freeholders lists, burgess rolls, poll books and electoral registers. The chart below lucidates the meanings of some words found in the documents.

Chart: Election Definitions

Electioneer
One who busies himself in political elections
Electioner
Person qualified to election to a parochial office by virtue of his holding in the parish
Elector
Voter; one who has the franchise; one who has right of election, especially of Members of Parliament.

Electoral or Electors Register,

Roll or List

The older term for voters list or register
Electorate
Body of electors or voters
Voters list or register
A more colloquial, modern term for Electoral Register or Roll
Free Vote
Secret Ballot


Franchises

The Poor Law Franchise

By Gilbert’s Act of 1782 the election of guardians of the poor (in the few places that had them then) was given only to owners or occupiers of premises assessed at £5 or more. Some areas had less than ten people in this category and this restriction did not apply there.

Unions for most parishes were created in the New Poor Law 1834, and the guardians were elected by all owners of land and ratepayers rated for one year, in their respective parish unions. The number of votes varied according to their poor rate assessment.

The Public Health Act 1848 required local public health boards to be elected by all landowners and ratepayers. Again, the number of votes varied according to their poor rate assessment. Members of the boards had to live in the area or within seven miles. In boroughs the councils acted as the boards.

The Local Government Franchise

Local government enfranchisement was more comprehensive, earlier, than that for parliament. The most important forms of local government were:

  • Vestries

This was the most common form of local administration until well into the 19th century and could be either:

  • An open vestry at which all male ratepayers could speak and vote. From 1818 each ratepayer had between one and six votes depending on the amount he paid in poor rates. From 1819 it was possible for a small representative vestry or poor law committee to be appointed which generally consisted of the incumbent, churchwardens, overseers and some of the wealthier parishioners.

or;

  • A select vestry whose members were few and nominated by Parliamentary Act or co-opted, with no participation of ratepayers. By an Act of 1831 the select vestry could be chosen by the ratepayers, each one who had paid rates for one year having one vote for each vacancy. One third of this kind of select vestry retired each year.
  • Municipal Corporations
    Most boroughs had, until 1835, obtained their status by charter, which gave them various rights such as:
  • To levy a toll at the town market.
  • To send a representative to the House of Commons.
  • To hold a court dealing with civil and some lesser criminal matters.

The administering body, which may have been called by various names, perpetuated itself without public elections. Shelagh Bond describes the records, called hall books, of the borough of New Windsor 1653-1725 which are typical of any small borough.

The reform of the franchise for municipal elections came in 1835 and was similar to that of the 1832 Reform Act for Parliamentary elections (see below). Now, any man could vote who had:

  • Occupied a property in the parish as owner or tenant for 21/2 years, or
  • Had paid poor rates, or
  • Lived within seven miles of the borough for the previous six months.
  • Town councillors in the 178 boroughs affected were now to be elected for a maximum three-year term, although aldermen could serve for six years. Women with the necessary property qualifications and who paid rates could vote in local elections from 1869.
  • Metropolitan Board of Works (MBW)

In 1855 an overall local authority for London, the Metropolitan Board of Works, was established, mostly from nominations from the vestries. Underneath the MBW, district board were set up and their membership elected by the vestries.

  • County Councils and County Borough Councils

In 1888 elected county councils, as well as councils for towns with a population over 50,000 (County Boroughs) were organized. These took over the administrative responsibilities of the county quarter sessions and appointed their own medical officers. County councils were given further powers:

  • Housing and planning from 1890.
  • Elementary and secondary education from 1902.

However, outside the county boroughs public health was administered by urban and rural sanitary authorities. The records of these bodies are in local record offices, and county councils and county borough councils were abolished in 1974.

Local Government Outside London

In 1894 the civil functions of vestries outside London were transferred to new parish councils (parish meetings in rural areas); and urban and rural sanitary authorities became rural and urban district councils. All county and parliamentary electors were given one vote each and any electors, including women who had been resident for 12 months, were eligible for election.

Another local government Act of 1899 converted the London vestries into borough councils, with aldermen being co-opted by councillors. Women were not allowed to be councillors until 1907. A common franchise for county councils, boroughs, parishes and urban and district councils was established in the Representation of the People Act 1918.

Burial Board Franchise

The election of burial boards by vestries commenced in 1852 in London, and 1853 elsewhere. Board members had to be ratepayers.

School Board Franchise

The Education Act 1870 required the election of school boards by:

  • All burgesses in boroughs.
  • All parishioners rated for one year in London.
  • All ratepayers elsewhere.

The system was unusual in that each voter had one vote for each vacancy but he could choose to cast all his votes for one candidate.

For further details on local government and its elections see Richardson.

The Parliamentary Franchise

Before the 1832 Reform Act the House of Commons consisted of:

  • Burgesses elected by towns, with the franchise depending upon the borough’s customs and its charter. There were some boroughs in which all householders (known as potwallers or potwallopers i.e. anyone occupying a room with a fireplace at which they cooked their own food) had the right to vote, but in others only a few, such as freemen, had this right. There were a large number of rotten boroughs, whose population had declined dramatically but who still returned members to parliament. Many of them were controlled by a single landowner who bribed his constituents well, and were much resented by the growing industrial towns, especially in the north, that had very scant representation. An example is the town of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis in Dorset. In had fewer than 3,000 inhabitants in the 1760s yet returned four MPs. Reeves describes the situation in the rotten borough (and Cinque Port) of New Romney, Kent.
  • Knights of the shire elected by counties. This meant that large tenant farmers in the counties did not have the right to vote.
  • Representatives elected by Oxford and Cambridge and, from 1867, London universities.
A research enquiry concerning election bobbins led me to find that both Northampton and Bedford, centres of lace-making, were potwalloper boroughs where all adult men (approximately 60%) not receiving alms or poor relief had the vote before 1832. Many would have been husbands of lace-makers and distribution of free bobbins, with suitable slogans of-course, was a popular way of gaining publicity. There is a bone bobbin inscribed Vote for Althorp in the Abington Museum, Northampton—John Charles Spencer, Viscount Althorp held the seat for Northampton from 1806-1832.

The Representation of the People Act (RPA, but usually called the Reform Act) of 1832 largely corrected the geographical imbalance of seats but the majority of voters were still forty-shilling freeholders. Of the rotten boroughs 56 were disenfranchised and 30 reduced to one member only, whilst 22 new boroughs were created to send two members and 20 to send one member. Gibson and Rogers Poll Books (1990) has a map of pre- and post-1832 parliamentary representation as well as a list of general elections from 1715-1874, and there is interesting discussion by them and Herber (Ancestral Trails, 2003). The rotten borough of Weymouth and Melcombe Regis was reduced to two MPs in 1832 and in 1885 the town was merged into a county constituency (White).

The Representation of the People Act 1867 extended the franchise to over two and a half million men by reducing the property qualifications including the new £10 householders. In addition some 45 constituencies were redistributed.

The Representation of the People Act 1884 gave a further one and half million men the vote by reducing the qualification in the counties to be similar to that in towns. The next year a separate measure equalized the ratio of population to representation throughout the country.

Chart: The Parliamentary Franchise

Date
Extension of the Parliamentary Franchise
1429
About 1 in 10 adult males could vote, with different qualifications in counties, boroughs and universities. In counties, it was freehold estate worth,( that is the value to the owner if he leased it to a tenant), 40 shillings or more a year.
1832
In counties: (a) 40 shilling-freeholders .
(b) Men having a life interest in, or occupation of, property worth £2-£5 a year.
(c) Holders of land worth at least £10
(d) Tenant occupiers paying rent of £50 a year or more.
In boroughs: Owners or tenants of buildings worth at least £10 a year if they had 12 months residence and had paid their poor rates and assessed taxes.
About 1 in 7 adult males could now vote.
1867
Large reduction of property qualification in boroughs and counties e.g. to land holdings worth £5; and men over 21 who occupied as owner or tenant for 12 months a separate dwelling (with no regard to value), or lodgings of £10 unfurnished value. About 1 in 3 adult men could not vote.
1884
Further reduction of property qualification, affecting especially rural areas. About 4 out of 5 men allowed to vote, although Gibson and Rogers estimate that only 60% actually registered.
1918
All men over 21 with 6 month’s residence, and women over 30 who were occupiers in their own right or married to men entitled to a local government vote. About 6 million women, roughly 60% of them, now qualified to vote.
1918-1919
Soldiers and sailors age 19 and 20 were given the right to vote in these 2 years.
1928
All women aged 21 and over could now vote.
1945
All those registered for Parliamentary elections became able to vote in local elections.
1969
Everyone aged 18 and over.


The Representation of the People Act 1918 gave the vote to any man over 21 who could prove six month’s residence, regardless of value of rent etc. Many women over 30 were enfranchised, and plural voting, which gave as many votes to a man as he had residences in different constituencies, was abolished almost completely. Curiously, the university franchise was extended to graduates of all universities, in addition to their residential vote. The receipt of poor law relief no longer disqualified a person from voting. There were also some reforms in registration procedures and transference of responsibility to the Clerk of the borough or county, as well as having the polls open for one day only. The Equal Franchise Act 1928 gave women the same voting rights as men, and the 1948 Representation of the People Act abolished both the university vote and the city of London constituency so everyone had only one vote.
There were also those who were disqualified from voting at various times, such as:

  • Aliens, unless naturalized since 1870.
  • Anyone convicted of election bribery, for five years thereafter.
  • Commissioners and most collectors of government revenues before 1918.
  • Election agents and others paid to help at elections until 1918.
  • Felons i.e. anyone serving a prison sentence.
  • Idiots.
  • Lunatics, although not if in a temporary period of lucidity.
  • Many customs and excise officers (until 1918).
  • Peers of the realm (for parliament as, until very recently, they were entitled to sit in the House of Lords). Peeresses were qualified from 1918-1963.
  • Perjurors.
  • Police serving and for six months thereafter (until 1887).
  • Postmasters (until 1918).
  • Those receiving public alms, their spouses and children until 1918.
  • Those whose names have been omitted from the register.
  • World War I conscientious objectors 1918-1923.[1]

Early Electoral Records

Freeholders (Jury) Lists

From 1696 rural vestries and urban corporations had to send to their county clerk of the peace lists of those eligible for jury service. These were men aged 21-70 who owned freehold land worth at least 40 shillings, (£2, but always expressed as 40s) per annum. The lists were called Freeholder or Jury Lists and these qualifications were also used as the basis for local and parliamentary enfranchisement. The upper age of eligibility was lowered to 60 in 1825 and the qualification revised to include:

  • Freeholds worth over £10 per annum.
  • Leaseholds for 21 years or more worth £20 or more per annum.
  • Rateability as a householder at £20 (£30 in Middlesex) or more.
  • Occupation of a house with 15 or more windows.

There have always been occupations that were exempt from jury duty, and these were extended in 1825.

Freeholders lists provide at least the names of qualifying persons, and from 1832 their addresses and the qualifying property was specified, as shown below.

Chart: Electors Eligible to Vote for Guardians of the Poor in Halifax Township, Yorkshire 1856 FHL film 1551144

#
NAME
ADDRESS
PROPERTY IN RESPECT WHEREOF RIGHT TO VOTE IS CLAIMED
AGGREGATE AMOUNT OF ASSESSMENT
25
Thos Bland this re a claim see No 14
dead
30 Hopwood Lane, Halifax
Houses, shops and other tenements in Hopwood Lane, Upper and Lower Brunswick Streets, Silver Street, ( Black Swan Passage)
£250
27
Jas R. Farrar
67 King Cross St., do
Houses, warehouse, shops and land, King Cross Street, Hopwood Lane, Bull Green and Brunswick Street
£150
28
Saml Waterhouse
Hope Hall, do
House, Land, Warehouses and other tenements, Hope Hall and West Parade
£250
29
John Waterhouse
Well Head, do
Houses, Warehouses, Land and other tenements Well Head, Love Lane and West Parade
£250
31
Chas Child
56 King Cross Street, do
Houses, Shops * other tenements King Cross St.
£50


Freeholders Lists are typically found amongst the quarter session papers at the county archives. Other examples of from Essex for 1734, 1759 and 1739-1762 are on FHL film 0543660.

Chart: Freeholders and Freemen

A freeholderwas free to do what he wanted with his freehold land. Most freeholders were in rural areas.

A freemanhad obtained the freedom of a trade guild (livery company), and usually was free to practice his trade in a certain city or borough because he had also been granted its freedom. Other non-tradesmen were granted the freedom of the city or borough as well, especially after 1835.

Burgess (Freemen) Rolls

Most cities and corporate towns had been governed since the Middle Ages by a body of men called freemen or burgesses. They had been given the freedom of the city or borough and this gave them certain rights and privileges. The most important were the two exclusive rights of:

  • Practicing their trade there. This exclusive right was abolished in 1835 except in London where it lasted until 1856.
  • Voting for municipal councillors (exclusivity abolished 1867) and MPs (in 1832 all £10 householders in cities and boroughs got the vote whether or not they were freemen).

Other rights were granted specific to the particular charter and customs of the town.

The City of London is unique; since mediaeval times it has been governed by the Corporation of the City of London which included:

  • The Lord Mayor. Elected from amongst the aldermen by Common Hall.
  • The 26 aldermen, one for each City ward, elected for life by the freemen, and of whom one served as Lord Mayor each year.
  • The Common Council consisted of about 230 representatives elected by the freemen in each City ward. The Common Council elected or nominated City officials such as the City Chamberlain, and had extensive legislative and financial powers.
  • Common Hall was originally an assembly of all the freemen but in 1475 was restricted to the senior freemen, called liverymen, of each City livery company. There were about 4,000 of them in 1625 rising to double that number by the 18th century. The liverymen elected the City’s MPs until 1867, and still elect the Lord Mayor from amongst the aldermen.
  • The Freemen who elected the aldermen and the Common Council.

The City of London freedom records are of interest to all family historians as so many people who lived elsewhere, and who were not professionals or craftsmen, (for example mariners, street hawkers, shopkeepers, labourers), gained their freedom here. Few City of London freemen actually lived in the City’s one square mile but mostly in what is now called Greater London and the Home Counties, and indeed anywhere in England.

Obviously registers (or rolls) of freemen were kept by both the trade guild (livery company) and the city or borough, which are dealt with here. With respect to the parliamentary and municipal franchise we are therefore concerned with the freemen of a city or town, not with freemen of a company. Many towns and cities have surviving lists if their freemen, and those for Exeter, King’s Lynn, Norwich, York and perhaps others have been published.

The City of London freedom records are held by the CLRO (Corporation of London Record Office) formerly at Guildhall and now at London Metropolitan Archives where they are now open to the public (see Aldous The Archives of the Freedom of the City of London 1681-1915. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #4, page 128-133, 1989, and My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London, 1999), Harvey (A Guide to Genealogical Sources in Guildhall Library. , 1998), and the Corporation’s website. They are not duplicates of company records, but often contain more information, and about different people. About 500,000 men are included from 1681 to 1940, with a few earlier as well. There are six main types of records, the surviving dates reflecting the devastations of the Great Fire (1666) and the Guildhall Fire 1785:

  • Freedom Order Papers 1681-1682, 1688-1775, and 1784-date. These may be by servitude (apprenticeship), redemption (payment), or patrimony (father was in this company)
  • Freedom Minute Books or Declaration Books.
  • Apprenticeship Enrolments and Indentures.
  • Freedom Enrolment Books
  • Wardmote Inquest Returns.
  • Complaints Books.

Information that can be found (but not all for everyone) amongst these records includes:

  • Name
  • Age and place of birth (or whether or not in the City of London), and from 1916 the exact date and place of birth.
  • Father’s name, residence, trade and livery company, and exact date of City of London freedom.
  • Date of admission to freedom of city.
  • Apprenticeship indenture which gives master’s name, trade and livery company, consideration money, dates of binding and completion of apprenticeship.
  • Summonses made against those found trading in the City of London without having taken out their freedoms, including name, address, trade and comments.
  • Complaints of masters against apprentices, and vice versa.

Aldous (The Archives of the Freedom of the City of London 1681-1915. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #4, page 128-133, 1989, and My Ancestors were Freemen of the City of London, 1999) and Medlycott (The City of London Freedom Registers. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 19 #2, page 45-47, 1977) give more details, and Aldous’ 2003 article (Records of King’s Freemen in the City of London in the 18th and 19th Centuries. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 27 #9, page 415-421) describes another group called King’s Freemen who were discharged soldiers and sailors. Many freeman lists are filmed for example:

  • In the FamilySearch Catalog under ENGLAND - KENT - MAIDSTONE - VOTING REGISTERS The Freeman Lists for Maidstone 1551-1842 can be found on FHL films 1656613-4.
  • On the Thomson-Gale website of old documents City of London liverymen were listed by company and then letter of the alphabet in a Canvassing Book, that is a list of eligible men (see chart below) with their address, trade and company name. Note that even in 1776 not all men were members of the company indicated by their trade.

Chart: City of London Canvassing Book for Elections by the Livery 1776

NAME ADDRESS TRADE COMPANY
Townsend, Wm Lime Str. Wine merchant Coopers
Topping, Timothy Chiselhurst, Kent -- Coopers
Totten, Sam Chancery Lane --- Cutlers
Townsend, Jn 7 Gracechurch Str. Bridgemaster Embroiderers
Towers, John Aldgate --- Fishmongers
Towers, Sam Fenchurch Str. Ironmonger Fishmongers
Townley, Hammet Tower Str. Hop merchant Fishmongers
Toplis, John White Lion Str. Apothecary Girdlers
Tomlinson, Joshua Prince's Str, Lambeth Pump maker Girdlers
Townsend, Wm Fleet Str. Goldsmith Glovers
Townsend, Rich. Gracechurch Str. Ironmonger Goldsmiths
Townsend, Wm Charles Str., Grosvenor Sq. Upholder Goldsmiths
Todd, Rob 22 Watling Str. Tea Dealer Grocers


A detailed document survives from the early 1760s for Weymouth and Melcombe Regis which has been published by White (Property Relating to Weymouth and Melcombe Regis for the Purpose of Voting circa 1760s, undated). The occupiers and use of every building in each street is listed with some extra notes in some cases (see chart below).


Chart: Property Relating to Weymouth and Melcombe Regis for the Purpose of Voting circa 1760s [data from White]

No Occupier Descripton

Melcombe Regis St. Thomas Street
East Side

58 Poor Alms House 59
59 Wm White A deal yard goes through into the Market Street.
71 Saml Cosens House, slaughter-house and stables backside
72 J. Johns House and garden
73 Edwd Rickett House and garden
74 ----- Void Spott
75 -- Bridle House and garden
76 Widdow Coffin House
77 Wlm Sadler House
78 Thos Bryer A warehouse
79 Jno Mansell A cellar and school room over tenanted by John Dowle
80 Widow Way A house, workshop and garden
81 Philip Adams Stables and corn-house
82 Geo Shuttleworth House, stables and garden
83 Mrs Reed Meeting House and dwelling
Weymouth Hooker's Dock to Hope
21 Jno Newton A house claims by purchase from Mary the sister and heir of Wm Spragg grandson and heir of Tristram Spragg
22 Jno Sandford A house and garden claims by conveyance from Prudence widow of Richd Morris
23 Wm Speck A moiety of a house claims by purchase from Richd Hardy who purchased of Eliz. Fletcher[2]

Poll Books 1694-1872

Returning Officers were required from 1696 to compile a list of voters and how they voted. This was to prevent irregularities in parliamentary elections by biased returning officers. The electorate was limited to freeholders so was quite small at this time. Soon after, the poll books were produced commercially so many copies were available up until 1872 when the free vote came in. The parliamentary poll books for boroughs often contained only a dozen or so names, and may have been published in the local newspaper instead of a booklet. Most poll books are for parliamentary elections but some were published for elections of county coroners.

Typically a poll book had a preface with something about the candidates and their opinions, so you may learn about your ancestors’ political leanings. The lists of voters are arranged by hundred and then in alphabetical order of parish and vary in the amount of information that they give about voters. Some have only the names and who they voted for, whilst others have addresses and occupations of the voters, and what freehold land they held in order to qualify. The front page of the poll book gave the poll results, and there may be notations in the lists of those who were absent, neutral, removed (moved away) or deceased. The candidates’ names may appear as abbreviations or initials only at the head of the columns, and the two votes allowed each voter may be marked with a forward slash in the originals but by a horizontal line in printed editions. Some copies have been used by canvassers for the next election who added notations about the voters.

A poll book for Maidstone in 1754 is shown in below and Guy Lawton (Burgess Rolls and Poll Books - A Detective Story. Family Tree Magazine Vol. 16 #12, page 4-6) shows how parish registers, burgess rolls and poll books aided his research.

Chart: 1754 Maidstone, Kent Poll for The Knights of the Shire
(from Thomson-Gale website)

To Represent The County Of Kent Expressing the Names of the Candidates; and for Which of Them every Person Voted.
Taken at Maidstone on Wednesday and Thursday the 1st and 2nd of May 1754.
[FWD are the candidates: Fairfax, Watson and Dering]
FREEHOLDERS ABODE and NAME
FREEHOLDS
OF WHAT
CONSISTING

OCCUPIERS
VOTES
F W D

Maidstone
John Oare, cl. Adington Rectory -
-- --
George Gorham Kennington Land Th. Bourne -- -
Thos Pope, sen Maidstone Ditto His own --
Rich Holloway Wormshill House and land John Durtnall -- --
Thomas Pope, jun Stoke Ditto Will Rich --
Edward Argles Debtling Ditto Will Plummer -- --
James Brattle Goudhurst Ditto Edw Osborne --


Other examples include:

  • A list of the names of the persons, together with the places of their freehold and abode: who voted for knights of the shire for the county of Bucks, at the last election held at Allesbury [now Aylesbury], September the second and third, 1713 is on FHL film 0908345 and examples from it and from the 1839 Buckinghamshire poll book are given by Markwell and Saul (Facsimiles of Documents of Use to Family Historians, page 72-73, 1987)).
  • Bath Poll Book 1855, Banbury Poll 1859 and 1865, were published inexpensively by the Open University (Drake).
  • The poll for electing two burgesses, for the King’s town and borough of Maidstone, in the county of Kent: 1830, 1807, 1820, 1859, 1865 including an index is on FHL film 0475161 found under FHCL - ENGLAND - KENT - MAIDSTONE - VOTING REGISTERS.
  • At the FamilySearch Catalog COUNTY level are the original editions of polls for knights of the shire of Kent 1734, 1790 and 1802 on FHL film 0475521; and also a series of new printings by the Kent FHS for 1734, 1754, 1790 and 1803 for Kent, and 1835, 1837, 1847, 1852, 1857, 1859, 1865 and 1868 for both the Eastern and Western Divisions of Kent. The new printings are in microform but are not for circulation to FSCs, as fiche copies are sold by the society which produced them.

An 1841 poll book for Westminster confirms that there were, indeed, two men called Thomas Abbott who lived in Silver Street at that time (Chart below).

Chart: 1841 Poll Book St. James Parish, Westminster, Middlesex
FHL film 0962702

NAME and ADDRESS
VOTES

EVANS
LEADER
-
ROUS
Abbott, Thomas, Silver Street


-
Abbott, Thomas, Silver Street

--
Absolon, John the younger, Jermyn Street -- --
Ackermann, Rodolph, Regent Street

--
Anderson, Sir Jas Eglington, New Burlington Street --
--
Jupp, Robert, Regent Street --
--

Jupp, Joseph, Regent Street --
--


Good collections of poll books are held at:

  • Bodleian Library, Oxford
  • British Library
  • Family History Library, Salt Lake City both in printed form and on film.
  • Guildhall Library
  • Institute of Historical Research, University of London
  • Society of Genealogists (Newington-Irving).

Others can be found locally at county record offices (who are likely to have any surviving original manuscript lists as well) and reference libraries; some have been reprinted as booklets or on fiches by the Society of Genealogists and FHSs (for example 1775 Surrey) or commercially. Some are found in auctioneers’ catalogues, and Gibson (Poll Books for Sale. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 23 #7, page 264, 1990) has interesting commentary on this subject.

Gibson and Rogers’ Poll Books (1990) is the standard listing of extant material, (mainly for parliamentary elections) and where it is held, but much is filmed and hence more accessible for most researchers via the FamilySearch Catalog under the sections termed VOTING REGISTERS for counties and towns. The sections on Great Britain and England just give handbooks and catalogues etc. with little on film as they are still in print and available from FHSs and the Society of Genealogists. Excellent discussion on the subject of poll books can be found in Cannon (Poll Books #2 in Short Guides to Records edited by Lionel M. Munby, 1972), Gibson and Rogers (Poll Books c1696-1872: A Directory to Holdings in Great Britain, 1990), Harvey (Telephones, Ratepayers and Buff Books. Some 19th and 20th century Sources at Guildhall Library. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 25 #5, page 177-180, 1996) and Herber (Ancestral Trails, 2003).

Electoral Registers 1832-date

Prior to 1832 the land tax assessments were used as the basis for electoral lists, especially the printed forms 1780-1832. Since 1832 registers of parliamentary electors have been made annually except 1916-1917 and 1940-1944 (when the 1939 list was used). During 1919-1926 and 1945-1949 the registers were compiled twice a year. Electoral registers have always been open to public scrutiny with no closure period, so they are a good source for 20th century research. They are different from poll books in that they record only the entitlement to vote, not the vote itself. The 1832 Reform Act greatly enlarged the county franchise, and necessitated registration of every person qualified to vote in each parish, and the publication of these registers. The qualification to vote was the holding of property and entries give:

  • Name of elector.
  • Abode.
  • Property (owned or leased) that qualified him to vote, with its name and situation in the locality.

Later the registers include voters’ addresses including house number or name.

The franchise was gradually extended so the lists became more comprehensive. Since 1928 they list the names and addresses of all adults who have registered.

Extensive bribery and corruption attended elections until 1872; votes were literally bought, and since your affiliation was in print for all to see, many pressures were brought to bear on electors. The last General Election where who you voted for was noted was in 1868, secret ballots (the free vote) being introduced from 1872. County and borough rate books were compiled from the latter part of the 19th century and were used as the basis for the right to vote in municipal and county elections (see section on rates). Since these were wider than the parliamentary franchise there are more people included, an example is given below.

Chart: 1897 Parochial Electors List Whippingham, Isle of Wight, Hampshire FHL Film 1526198

#
NAMES OF ELECTORS IN FULL, SURNAME BEING FIRST
PLACE OF ABODE
NATURE OF QUALIFICATION
DESCRIPTION OF QUALIFYING PROPERTY
OWNERSHIP ELECTORS
175
Coleman, William Hobday
The Rectory, Wooton
Freehold benefice
The Rectory
176
Cuthell, Thomas George
Oaklawn, Wootton
Leasehold house and land
Oaklawn, Wootton
177
Denison, Albert Denison Somerville
Army and Navy Club, Pall Mall, London
Freehold house and land
Woodside
OCCUPATION ELECTORS other than lodgers
181
Barton, George Wootton Farm Land and tenement Wootton Farm
182 Barton, William Wootton Farm Dwellinghouse Cottage on Wootton Farm
183 Burgess, George Wootton Tenement Part of Wooton Farm
184 Coffen, Frederick Lisle Court Cottage Dwellinghouse Lisle Court Cottage
188 Gallop, Edward Fatting Park Farm Land and tenement Fatting Park Farm
191 Hobbs, William Wootton Brickyard Part of Wootton Farm[3]

Recent Electoral Registers

Since 2002 there have been restrictions on access to electoral rolls less than 30 years old, and two separate versions:

  • A full version kept by theElectoral Registration Officer and used only for electoral purposes and by the police.
  • An edited version for any other use (such as direct mail and genealogy) where voters may choose to be omitted (Hawgood’s Two Electoral Registers. Journal of One-Name Studies Vol. 7 #12, page 25 and Stockdill’s New System is a Bad Idea!. Journal of One-Name Studies Vol. 7 #12, page 25). Let us hope that by the time our descendants need to use them the full versions will be open to public scrutiny.

The current (edited) electoral roll is online at 192.com for a fee. It contains names, addresses and telephone numbers (unless ex-directory) and is also available on CD. Modern electoral registers are known to have some duplicates—people listed twice with the same address but different postcodes.

Read more about electoral registers in Gibson and Rogers’s Electoral Registers Since 1832; and Burgess Rolls (1990) who also have a good section on sources of inaccuracies in electoral registers; Harvey (Telephones, Ratepayers and Buff Books. Some 19th and 20th century Sources at Guildhall Library. Genealogists’ Magazine Vol. 25 #5, page 177-180, 1996) especially for the extra registers for the City of London; Herber (Ancestral Trails, 2003) and Wood (Did Your Ancestor Vote? Family Tree Magazine Vol. 13 #2, page 55-57, 1996). Weeds (Election Fever. Practical Family History #25, page 16-18, 2000) conjures up the real flavour of the pre-1832 elections, illustrated with Hogarth’s series of election paintings.

National Registration Scheme 1915

There was a World War I Adult National Registration Scheme in 1915 which, had it survived, would have made a most useful census. However, only the records for Yeovil, Somerset, and Barrowford, Lancashire seem to be extant (Tom Wood 2002).

Other Political Election Records

There are plenty of other records kept by political parties around election times, for example (Healey):

  • Accounts.
  • Annotated copies of electoral registers.
  • Correspondence.
  • Ex-servicemen willing to act as Special Constables on polling day.
  • Invitation lists.
  • Lists related to the need to capture women’s votes in 1928.
  • Members and subscriptions paid.
  • Minute books.
  • Names and addresses of people willing to help with canvassing, office work, driving a car on polling day etc. There is a nice story of my maternal grandmother requesting from the Conservatives a ride to the polling station. When they turned up at her house they found it was the headquarters of the local Labour Party, as my grandfather was a staunch and active organizer. I bet there was a bit of muttering going on!
  • Organizers of fundraising events.
  • Party officials at county and district levels.
  • Possible defectors.
  • Those present at meetings.

It is a mistake to dismiss pre-1928 electoral registers of various kinds as containing too few people in too high an economic level to be worth the researcher’s time. Even if your ancestor couldn’t vote, maybe someone else in the family could—a brother, father, husband, uncle or in-law, perhaps. However, the touted value of electoral lists to provide at least the geographic areas where the surname occurs is really only useful if indexes are available. Census indexes for the period 1841-1901 are now more easily available than electoral lists, but the latter are valuable for geographic location of the surname prior to and after this time.[4]

References

  1. Christensen, Penelope. "England Electoral Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Electoral_Records_%28National_Institute%29.
  2. Christensen, Penelope. "England Freeholders Lists, Jury Lists, Burgess Rolls, Freemen Rolls (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Freeholders_Lists,_Jury_Lists,_Burgess_Rolls,_Freemen_Rolls_%28National_Institute%29.
  3. Christensen, Penelope. "England Poll Books 1694 to 1872, Electoral Registers 1832 to the Present (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Poll_Books_1694_to_1872,_Electoral_Registers_1832_to_the_Present_%28National_Institute%29.
  4. Christensen, Penelope. "England Modern Electoral Records (National Institute)," The National Institute for Genealogical Studies (2012), https://familysearch.org/learn/wiki/en/England_Modern_Electoral_Records_%28National_Institute%29.

 

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