This week’s bi-election fever in Stoke-on-Trent and Copeland has prompted us to look closer to home.
Did you know, in 1832 East Grinstead was one of 56 borough constituencies to lose its franchise. Rather than gaining the vote, inhabitants of East Grinstead lost it! Along with the famous boroughs of Dunwich and Old Sarum, East Grinstead was a ‘Rotten Borough’.
Up until the Private Ballot Act of 1872 voter corruption was rife. As Lords of the Manor and owners by the 1820s of almost all of the burgage properties to which the right to vote was attached, political control in the borough of East Grinstead lay firmly in the hands of the Sackvilles. Just 32 voters out of a population of less than 4000 were represented by two MPs. In comparison, Manchester, one of Britain’s largest and fastest growing industrial centres with a population in the region of 142,000 in 1831, had no representation in Parliament beyond that of the wider county. The North of England was in fact woefully unrepresented in comparison to the South.
In an attempt to quell the increasing agitation for Parliamentary reform and greater equality, many rotten and pocket boroughs in the South were disenfranchised and their seats reallocated to previously unenfranchised towns and cities in the North, such as Manchester. Thus, in the Great Reform Act of 1832, the electorate of East Grinstead lost their right to vote!