Elections and the Post in the Great Reform Act Era



This was a 16-sheet (actually 8 double sheet) entry for the GBPS Theo Jones Open Class Salver.

The "Representation of the People Act 1832", 2 & 3 Will. IV c.45, aka Great Reform Act was (along with linked Scottish and Irish Reforms) the first of a series of 19th-century Acts that reformed the electoral system of the UK to make it more democratic in character.

Before 1832, most MPs nominally represented either "Parliamentary boroughs" to which the right to return MPs had been granted over the years (often for obscure reasons) or counties. The sizes of electorates were often small, the qualifications to vote were variable, and voting was in public, which meant many seats were subject to bribery, influence by local notables or outright nomination. No new boroughs had been added since 1661, and many towns that had grown greatly in importance due to the Industrial Revolution lacked representation.

While the 1832 Act did not, in itself, sweep away the old system, it heavily modified it - removing the franchise from many boroughs with small electorates and allocating their MPs to counties and unrepresented towns, and also establishing a set of uniform (property-based) qualifications to vote. This increased the size of the electorate by some 60%, most of whom came from the middle classes. The old abuses of bribery and influence were not eliminated, but they were significantly weakened.

The Role of the Post

Previously, political parties had tended to be somewhat loose associations of like-minded persons, but the wider pool of voters made organisation important in the many seats that were now open to contest.

The Penny Post of 1840 made it much cheaper and more practical to issue circular letters and to send and receive necessary paperwork. The Parliamentary Voters Registration Act 1843 laid down uniform rules for the compilation and maintenance of voting rolls, and offered a concessionary registration rate of 2d for "notices of objection" to names on the roll (at a time when the standard fee was 1s). Since the open hustings meant that likely supporters and opponents were already known, battles over the validity of their qualifications were a key area of dispute, with hundreds of "voting notices" sent out annually as the rolls were compiled.

This exhibit brings together a number of postal items (with both the content and strictly postal features noted) that relate to the conduct of elections in the "Great Reform Act Era", defined here as the period between 1832 and the passing of the next wide-ranging Reform Act in 1867 in which matters were as above. That Act further increased the franchise and reduced the landed interest in elections, and brought this electoral and postal Era to a close.


Frame 1

  1. Introduction
  2. Responsibilities of the Election Officers
  3. Register Available to Members of Public
  4. Defending Claims to Be Registered on the List of Voters
  5. Notices of Objection to a Name on the Register - Authorised under Parliamentary Voters Registration Act 1843
  6. Notices of Objection - Prepared in Duplicate and Sent in Bulk
  7. Special Handstamps for Use on Notices of Objection
  8. The Limits of the Franchise