Launching the new website London Electoral History, 1700-1850

Today we have a guest blog to introduce a fantastic new resource for those of you interested in politics and elections in London. Penelope Corfield, Emeritus Professor at Royal Holloway tells us all about ‘London Electoral History, 1700-1850’…’

There’s nothing like getting fabulous research data and argumentative interpretation into the public arena, after over twenty years of preparation. So the launch party on 3 February 2014 for the website London Electoral History, 1700-1850 was a joyous occasion. It took place, appropriately enough, at the HQ of the Georgian Group at 6 Fitzroy Square, in one of London’s great Georgian piazzas; and we were delighted to be joined by many friends of the project, including colleagues from the History of Parliament. Particularly welcome too was Prof. David Butler (Nuffield College, Oxford), the doyen of modern British electoral studies.

The London Electoral History website has been produced by the collaborative team of Prof. Penelope J. Corfield, Dr Edmund Green and Prof. Charles Harvey; and the project is hosted by the School of History, Classics & Archaeology at Newcastle University UK, where Prof. Corfield is a Visiting Professor, Dr Green a Visiting Fellow, and Prof. Harvey is Pro Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Humanities & Social Sciences.

In aggregate, the new website, which is linked to the History of Parliament’s website, provides a new analysis and presents all the surviving data relating to all metropolitan elections between 1700 and 1852. In some cases, the records show no more than the total votes cast, which are listed in the section entitled ‘Metropolitan Polls’. But wherever individual level data survives, all information is available via the London Electoral Database, which is integrated into the website. Users can check not only how an individual butcher, baker or candlestick-maker voted but also the votes of all individuals, grouped (depending upon the surviving data) by occupation, parish, rateable-status or livery company, and so forth.

Penelope J. Corfield explains: ‘The number of hitherto-forgotten elections which have been discovered or rediscovered, mainly within the eighteenth-century press, is staggering. Between 1700 and 1852, there were 873 recorded contests across metropolitan London. That meant 174 parliamentary elections alone, 93 for municipal posts, and 595 for modest but vital positions such as common councilman, alderman or beadle. We think even more may actually have taken place’.

Edmund Green adds: ‘Tens of thousands of Londoners voted regularly, presenting themselves publicly at open polling booths, with levels of turnout that put today’s stay-at-home no-voters to shame. Our website and database make information about these pioneer voters available to all.’

Charles Harvey agrees: ‘These resources certainly give a unique insight into how voting and democracy was developing in the long eighteenth century. Around a quarter of a million individuals polled half a million times – casting, in multi-member seats, a million votes. In most cases, these elections were conducted seriously. Indeed, we describe all this constitutional activity as marking the advent of “proto-democracy”.’

Lastly, a big research project like this takes a massive of time and effort. The research team gave hearty thanks to all their technical helpers, web designers, supporters, and financial backers, including the ESRC and the AHRC. At the launch, Penelope Corfield commented: ‘the research team has experienced a long-running academic mariage à trois. There were moments of great elation. And moments of boredom, which are unavoidable in long-running projects. Yet the team never had to call in academic marriage guidance counsellors. A common belief in the value of what we are presenting to the world saw us through. That’s vital for all collaborative research.’

P.J.C.

See http://www.londonelectoralhistory.com/ for website and integral London Electoral Database. To accompany this, Green, Corfield and Harvey have also produced a limited edition two-volume book Elections in Metropolitan London 1700-1850, published by Bristol Academic Press (2013). For more about the website, consult p.corfield@btconnect.com; and LEH Twitter feed @LondonVoting. For more about the book, contact Bristol Academic Press at 7 Grange Park, Westbury-on-Trym, Bristol BS9 4BU; tel/voicemail +44 (0)117 962 4363; or email info@bristolacademicpress.co.uk.

About The History of Parliament

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