Constituencies 1790-1820

Published in 1986

Between 1790 and 1801 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. In 1801 the addition of 100 Irish Members elected by 66 constituencies made an Imperial Parliament of 658 Members.

The total electorate in the 40 counties is estimated in R.G. Thorne's Introductory Survey at little more than 190,000, an increase over the preceding period of no more than 8 or 9 per cent. In the counties contests were relatively uncommon: of the possible 362 county contests (280 at general elections and 82 at by-elections) only 63 went to a poll, about one in six.

The introductory survey classifies the 203 English boroughs by six types of franchise: householder or 'potwalloper' where all inhabitant householders subject to a residence requirement could vote (13 boroughs, about 6-8,000 voters in total); freeman (91 boroughs, including London, about 75,000-83,000 voters in total); scot and lot (where the franchise was held by inhabitant householders paying the rates, 37 boroughs, about 23-25,000 voters in total),  corporation (where the members of the corporation only had the right to vote, 25 boroughs, with about 700 voters in all), burgage (where the right to vote was attached to the tenancy of a house or property designated as a burgage for parliaemntary elections, with an average of no more than 30 voters each); and freeholder (7 boroughs).

Altogether the English boroughs had an electorate of about 111,000 in 1790, rising to above 123,000 in 1818. Contests were more common in the boroughs, with 529 constests in all out of 2,245 potential contests.

The Welsh county electorate was less than 18,700, with less than one in ten elections experiencing a contest; the Welsh boroughs saw few more, and were often securely held by aristocratic patrons. The Scottish county electorate was far smaller, between 2,000 and 3,000, with many counties controlled by individual peers. The burghs in Scotland had a minute electorate of under 1,300, a system exploited by Henry Dundas, one of Pitt's closest friends, to deliver effective support to the Prime Minister.

Irish representation after the Union of 1800 was the same for the 32 Irish counties as it had been for the pre-Union Irish Parliament, with the same franchise as in England. The county electorate was growing rapidly in this period: in 1803 is was about 160,000. There was considerable change in the boroughs, with the number of boroughs reduced to 33 from 116, under four different categories of franchise.