The UK has only had universal suffrage for less than one hundred years (since 1928) so quite a recent innovation in our parliamentary history which goes back eight hundred years.
The electorate was very restricted up until the Great Reform Bill of 1832. From the Glorious Revolution of 1688 (so called because there was no violent revolution or civil war) the electorate of Marlborough consisted of the “Burgesses” of the Borough Corporation. The electorate in 1688 numbered almost one hundred but by the 1830’s had been reduced to only eleven. These eleven not only elected Marlborough’s two MP’s but also elected a Borough Council who in turn elected a Mayor.
There were contested elections up until 1734 between the Seymour, Whig faction and the Ailesbury, Tory faction. This resulted for a few years of rival mayors. However the Ailesbury’s control was complete after 1734 and there were no contested elections for parliament until 1831 !
By the 1830’s there was a big build up of pressure for electoral reform. The old system of elections to parliament varied around the country; the system was very corrupt with the electors demanding to be bribed for their vote. As there was no secret ballot at the time the briber could check on the effectiveness of his bribe.
In the election before the Great Reform Bill there was the first contested election in Marlborough for almost one hundred years! The reform candidates demanded that lots of house-owners in the town were eligible to become burgesses and to have a vote. The Corporation denied them this and there was fury by the reform supporting people of Marlborough. The two candidates who had been successful had their effigies paraded around the town and burnt.
After the Reform Bill became law, the electorate expanded from the eleven burgesses to almost three hundred.
The irony was that in the General Election under this expanded franchise the same two Tory candidates were elected.
In the 1867 Reform Act, Marlborough was reduced to one member and in the 1885 Reform Act, Marlborough was absorbed into the Devizes constituency where it has been ever since.
Present day residents might be interested to hear that the Devizes constituency was a Conservative/Labour marginal throughout the fifties and sixties. However in more recent years it has become one of the safest seats in the country.
24 November 2019