|Administrative / biographical background:
Registers of Parliamentary Electors
The democratic principle of one man, one vote, with the exception of peers, criminals and certified lunatics, was not fully introduced as a basis for Parliamentary elections until 1918, and women had to wait for a further 10 years before they obtained equal rights - in 1918, women over 30 were given the vote for the first time.
Before then, it might be said that Parliament represented Property rather than People, and this principle is reflected in the records of entitlement to vote - the Electoral Registers.
Printed registers of persons entitled to vote for members of Parliament do not begin until 1832 and belong to the records of the Court of Quarter Sessions. The Cheshire Record Office reference is QDV 3. Before then, poll books, recording the names of those who actually voted, were deposited with the Quarter Sessions records only for disputed Parliamentary elections. Those held by the Cheshire Record Office, under the reference QDV 1, cover the elections of 1714, 1722, 1832, 1837 and 1841. In county constituencies, most 40 shilling freeholders had the vote ; in boroughs, there was great variation in the entitlement to vote. The large number of tenant farmers in Cheshire gave it one of the largest electorates in the country. A useful historical account of the development of parliamentary representation in the Cheshire can be found in the Victoria History of the County of Chester vol.II.
After the passage of the 1832 Reform Act (2 & 3 Will. IV cap.45), the qualification to vote in borough constituencies was extended to the occupiers of property worth at least #10 p.a. who paid rates for poor relief - no one who was receiving poor relief was allowed to vote. In the counties, it was extended to those holding copyhold or long leases of land worth at least #10 p.a. and those leasing land worth #50 or more on shorter leases, as well as all 40 shilling freeholders. The Act added some 217,000 new voters to the electorate in England and Wales.
The Overseers of the Poor were to compile lists of those claiming the right to vote which were to be sent in to the Clerks of the Peace, together with any written statements of objections. These lists were then to be revised by barristers, nominated by the Judges of Assize, who would examine the claims and order insertions or deletions from the lists. The revised lists would then be kept by the Clerk of the Peace with the records of Quarter Sessions and copies were to be printed. Throughout the period in question, separate registers were printed for each constituency.
The registers were to follow the form laid down in the Act, organised alphabetically by Hundred and within each Hundred by township and then, within each township, alphabetically by name of voter. They give the full name of the elector, his number on the register, where he lived, what his qualification was entitling him to vote and where this qualifying property was.
Cheshire was divided into two constituencies - North, consisting of the Hundreds of Bucklow and Macclesfield, and South, the Hundreds of Broxton, Eddisbury, Nantwich, Northwich and Wirral - both of which returned two members of Parliament. In addition, the towns of Chester, Macclesfield and Stockport had two members each and after 1859, Birkenhead was also given one.
The Second Reform Act - The Representation of the People Act, 1867 (30 & 31 Vict. cap. 102) gave the vote to most of the prosperous working classes in the boroughs - all householders who paid the Poor Rate and lodgers occupying unfurnished property worth at least #10 p.a. In the counties, the franchise was extended to all owners of property rated at #5 p.a. or more and occupiers of property rated at #12 p.a. or more who paid the Poor Rate. It added a further 938,000 electors to the electorate in England and Wales.
Cheshire was now divided into three constituencies - East Cheshire, consisting of the Hundred of Macclesfield ; Mid-Cheshire, the Hundreds of Bucklow and Northwich ; and west Cheshire, the Hundreds of Broxton, Eddisbury, Nantwich and Wirral. Within each constituency, the registers of electors are arranged, from 1868, by polling district and township and list voters in respect of property, including tenant occupiers paying rent of #50 or more, first and then voters as occupiers of property of a rateable value of #12 or under #50 rental, ending with any names added by the revising barrister.
The Third Reform Act - The Representation of the People Act, 1884 - (48 Vict. cap.3) extended the vote to working men in the counties and established a uniform franchise for all householders and lodgers, in both boroughs and counties, throughout the United Kingdom. Occupation of any property, including tied cottages, worth at least #10 p.a., entitled all male occupiers to the vote. The Overseers of the Poor were required to serve notices on all such properties, requiring the return of a list of all male occupiers and were to record the information in their rate books. Two million voters were added to the electorate. In Cheshire, the total electorate now numbered about 10,000.
As a result, new parliamentary constituencies had to be created and the Redistribution Act of 1885 divided the country into constituencies of roughly equal size, each returning one member only.
In Cheshire, the constituencies that were created were Altrincham, Crewe, Eddisbury, Hyde, Knutsford, Macclesfield, Northwich and Wirral.
The Registration Act of the same year (48 Vict. cap. 15) extended the system of registration used in the boroughs to the counties. The Registers were to be arranged by polling districts, established by the Court of Quarter Sessions, within each Parliamentary division. Each polling district was to have a distinctive letter and each elector within it was to be numbered. Within each polling district, the registers were arranged alphabetically by township and ward and then ownership voters listed first, followed by occupation voters other than lodgers and, finally, lodgers, recording a description of their lodgings and rent paid.
After the County Council was established, in 1889, the Clerk of the Council became responsible for the electoral registers and so the archive reference changes to CCRg 1. From 1889, the electoral registers distinguish between occupation voters other than lodgers who were entitled to vote as County electors and those who were not.
Not until the Representation of the People Act was passed in 1918 was the property qualification finally abolished for voting in Parliamentary elections - it gave the vote to all men over the age of 21 and women over the age of 30. Constituency boundaries were re-drawn, mainly to form single member constituencies. Equal voting rights for women had to wait until the Representation of the People (Equal Franchises) Act of 1928.
After 1918, the electoral registers continued to be arranged by Parliamentary division, polling district, parish and then alphabetically by name of voter, identifying his entitlement to vote in Parliamentary elections and Local Government elections and whether this was based on residence, occupation or business premises. From 1937, the registers are arranged by street name and number within each ward, rather than by name of voter. There is no general index of street names and a street may be divided between more than one ward, so much patient searching is needed.
Changes in the number and size of Parliamentary constituencies in the 20th century reflected changing population trends, with the addition of Wallasey (1914), Chester (1918), Stalybridge (joined with Hyde, 1918), Bucklow (1945-1948), Cheadle (1949), Runcorn (1949) and Nantwich (1955) and the disappearance of Altrincham (1945) and Eddisbury (1949).
Registers of Persons entitled to vote at County Council Elections
Archive Ref. - CCRg 3 1890-1915
The County Electors Act of 1888 (51 Vict. cap.10) established the criteria for electing members of the newly established County Councils by extending the burgess qualification, as laid down by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882, to the counties i.e. the occupation of a property for 12 months and the payment of rates, and granting the vote to anyone entitled to vote by the ten pound occupation qualification, as defined by the Registration Act of 1885. This meant that unmarried women property owners and rate-payers were able to vote in County Council elections, but not in Parliamentary elections.
Cheshire was divided by the Court of Quarter Sessions into 57 electoral districts of equal size, each of which returned one County Councillor. The Registers are arranged in alphabetical order of electoral district, from Alderley to Witton, with a separate volume of burgess rolls for the municipal boroughs of Congleton, Crewe, Hyde, Macclesfield, Stalybridge and Dukinfield. Within each electoral division, they are arranged alphabetically by polling district, ward and street - occupation voters, other than lodgers, who were entitled to vote in Parliamentary elections as well, are listed first, followed by those who could only vote as County electors.
At the first election to Cheshire County Council in 1889, 89,566 persons were entitled to vote. By the 1921 election, after the passage of the Representation of the People Act, the number entitled to vote was nearly quarter of a million.
After 1918, entitlement to vote in local government elections is recorded in the registers of parliamentary electors - CCRg 1. The separate series of registers ceases in 1915.
Registers of Persons entitled to vote at Parish Council Elections
Archive Ref. - CCRg 4 1894-1915
The Local Government Act of 1894 (56 & 57 Vict. cap. 73) created urban and rural district councils, parish councils and parish meetings, for those rural parishes with a population under 300, all elected by ratepayers. Urban districts were towns with a population under 50,000 that had not been created boroughs, and rural districts were the area outside those towns and boroughs.
Anyone entitled to vote in parliamentary or county elections could vote in parish council elections, with the addition of married women who were rate-payers in their own right. The Registers are arranged by Parliamentary division, polling district and ward, then ownership voters are listed first, followed by occupation electors other than lodgers who could vote in both parliamentary and county elections ; occupation electors (other than lodgers) enabled to vote as County electors and finally persons entitled to vote as parochial electors only.