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Liverpool 1832 Poll Book

Our thanks go to Martin Slater for his efforts and for his permission to reproduce this work.


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The Reform Act of 1832 was a major turning-point in British history. Landowners, who had had a monopoly on political power now had to share this with others, including "Town Dwellers" who for the first time had the right to vote. As a result the next twenty years saw a series of major reforms. In the years immediately preceding 1832, a ban on the existence of trade unions had to be lifted (Test & Corporation Acts- 1828) and there had to be Catholic Emancipation (1829). Only then was the Reform Act possible (1).

An Act to Amend the Representation of the People in England and Wales, 1832 (2).

This extended the franchise in Boroughs to include adult males who owned or occupied premises (houses, warehouses, counting-houses, shops, and other buildings) of an annual value of more than £ 10.

A freeman retained his right to vote provided that he had gained it by birth or servitude and lived in the borough or within 7 miles of it. Those whose residence fell outside this boundary were known as 'Non-Resident Freemen'.

Prior to the Representation of the People Act, 1832, - only FREEMEN were eligible to vote in the parliamentary and mayoral elections in Liverpool.

The origin of the FREEMEN in Liverpool goes back to the Charter of 1207, when King John encouraged settlers to take up burgages in his new Royal Borough of Liverpool by promising the burgesses "all the liberties and free customs in the township of Liverpool which any Free Borough on the sea has in our land". These included freedom from tolls levied in the markets and fairs and from forced agricultural service to a lord. The burgesses, or freemen were the settlers who took up burgages, i.e. building plots, at one shilling per annum rent.

In 1229, Henry 111 granted Liverpool the right to a Merchant Guild. All burgesses were entitled to membership, however, members could be elected and sons and apprentices of members were also admitted. All Guild members continued to enjoy their trading privileges and freedom from certain tolls etc. They therefore became known as 'Freemen' of the Guild and imposed tolls and fines on non-residents wishing to trade in the borough. Later, there were craft guilds for certain occupations such as carpenters and tailors who regulated conditions for apprenticeships and strictly controlled admissions to the trades.

By the 14th century, the original burgages had become divided, and election as a 'freeman' was now more important than being a burgage-holder. By the 16th century, the rights and privileges of the borough could only be enjoyed by gaining admission to freedom.

At this time, freedom could be claimed :-

  1. Through birth or servitude, i.e. by being the son or apprentice of a freeman.
  2. Marriage into a freeman's family.
  3. Possession of a burgage.
  4. Purchase.

By the 18th century freedom could only be claimed by birth, servitude or purchase, however, purchase of freedom was abolished in 1777.

Freedom by right is not to be confused with 'honorary freedom'. Before 1835, the honour of freedom could be bestowed on distinguished persons by gift, but this was made illegal by the terms of the 1835 Municipal Corporations Act. The practice was restored by 'The Honorary Freedom of The Boroughs Act, 1885'.

A man who believed he was entitled to freedom, either by birth or servitude, would petition the Council and produce either his birth certificate or his apprenticeship indenture, details of when his father or master were sworn free were also given. The Council either granted or rejected the petitioner, if admitted he would take the oath and pay a standard fine of 3/4d by birth or 6/8d by servitude. Only then was he entitled to vote.

The Poll Book for the election of members of Parliament for the Borough of Liverpool was one of many produced throughout the country in an apparent act of celebration of the emancipation the 1832 act had brought about. This went so far as to publish how each person voted, there being no attempt at secrecy as is the case today. From this, if you are lucky enough to find an ancestor listed, you will also be able to discover his political viewpoint. The Burgesses and Freemen are also identified in the Status column, (BGM/FMN).

In general terms William EWART Esq., & Thomas THORNELY Esq., can be described as the liberal reformers and Lord Viscount SANDON & Major General Sir Howard DOUGLAS Bart., can be seen as more conservative. In the listing, each respective candidate is referred to by surname initial in the Politics field/column.

The introduction to the Poll Book graphically describes the campaign and the high passions that it raised. All candidates political addresses are fully reported.

At the end of the Poll Book there are listings of "Returns of different Elections from the year 1734" and all the "Representatives for the Borough of Liverpool" since the Restoration in 1660.

The Election was held on Wednesday, 12th & Thursday, 13th June 1832 and the result was as follows:-