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Chartered Status

Up to 1835 most boroughs had achieved their status by charter, mostly granted in the 16th and 17th centuries though some had royal or baronial charters dating to the medieval period. Each borough usually had rights to levy tolls at a market, to send members to the House of Commons, and hold a civil court. early charters are listed in:-

Ballard, A; Tait, J; Weinbaum, H:: British Borough Charters 1042-1660:: 3 vols
After the Municipal Corporation Act 1835, refined and consolidated by an act in 1882, the system of election of councillors and aldermen was reasonably democratic; it had not been so before.

Reform Act

In the early 19th century there were 658 members of the House of Commons. England accounted for 489 seats; 2 each from 40 counties and 409 from boroughs. The right to return 2 members to Parliament had been awarded indiscriminately by the Crown in previous centuries; the distribution of those boroughs bore no sensible relationship to the population of the early 19th century, great towns having grown up in the north and other towns in the south having declined. By the 1800s only 3177777f the adult male population had 'the vote'. And the distribution of seats was such that the voters of the 10 counties south of a line from Bristol to the Thames elected 2/5 of the House of Commons. The influence of land owning classes was all pervasive.
The whole system of election to Parliament, once in 7 years, was hardly democratic: there were irregularities of franchise from place to place, the distribution of seats was outdated, the system was corrupt. It is no wonder that both monarch and government feared revolution.
Pitt, in 1785, had already made proposals about the 'rotten boroughs' but had been defeated by influence and indifference. By 1820 the climate of expectations for voting rights had changed enormously. Constitutional reform under Lord Grey's cabinet 1830-34 aimed to redistribute the constituencies according to the current population, wiping out the old 'pocket' and 'rotten' boroughs, and extending franchise in counties and boroughs to a more even and wide proportion of the population. Grey was not a champion of the middle class, but:-
... it was the spirit of the age which was triumphing ... to resist it was certain destruction
The Reform Bill did not have an easy passage through Parliament, and the country was at times near to revolution; it passed eventually, 1832. There were still 658 seats in the House of Commons. But, in England, 56 boroughs no longer sent any member to Parliament, another 31 sent fewer than they had, there were 22 new 2 member boroughs and 20 with 1 seat, 7 counties had a 3rd seat, 26 counties had been divided into 2 constituencies with 2 seats each. The electorate had roughly doubled and was based on the same qualifications everywhere, but was still only about 3.5177777f the population. Not everything had been put right; the land was still not a democracy as we believe it to be today. The Reform Act 1832 modified rather than eradicated abuses but set the stage for more reform; 'it was not a good Bill, but it was a great Act when it was passed' was the comment attributed to Bright. Successive reforms brought us to today's happier situation.

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