Gloucester, 1835-1985: Parliamentary representation

Pages 205-209

A History of the County of Gloucester: Volume 4, the City of Gloucester. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1988.

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Parliamentary Representation

After 1835 (fn. 1) Gloucester, which returned two members of parliament until 1885, was represented by political moderates, usually Whigs or Liberals. Maurice Frederick Berkeley (M.P. 1835–7 and 1841–57) and his son Charles Paget Berkeley (M.P. 1862–5) belonged to a leading county family, but the influence of Whig landowners on Gloucester's parliamentary elections declined in the mid 19th century. The Guise family of Elmore continued to support Liberal candidates. (fn. 2) Most members, including John Phillpotts (fn. 3) (M.P. 1837–47), had significant city connexions. William Philip Price (fn. 4) of Tibberton Court (M.P. 1852–9 and 1865–73) was a leading timber importer and Unitarian, and the barrister Charles James Monk (fn. 5) (M.P. 1859, 1865–85 and 1895–1900) was the son of a former bishop of Gloucester. The Tory or Conservative Henry Thomas Hope of Deepdene (Surr.), a banker who owned the Hampnett estate near Northleach, (fn. 6) won a seat in 1835 and 1837, when M. F. Berkeley and Phillpotts, both supporters of parliamentary reform, were at loggerheads, and again in 1847 when Price, who came forward as candidate in place of Phillpotts, failed to join forces with Berkeley and withdrew before the poll. (fn. 7)

The electorate numbered 1,308 in 1835. (fn. 8) By 1859 it had risen to 1,518, (fn. 9) and in 1868 the parliamentary borough was enlarged to take in most of the suburbs, the new boundary including Dockham ditch on the north, the Wotton brook on the east, a disused railway line bypassing the city on the south-east, and watercourses, notably the canal, Still ditch, and the Severn, on the south and south-west. (fn. 10) The electorate, which was also increased by the extension of the franchise in 1867, rose from 4,040 in 1868 (fn. 11) to 5,371 in 1880. (fn. 12)

With the exception of the 1847 election all general elections were contested and Conservative candidates, often only one at the beginning of the period, were usually men brought in from outside. (fn. 13) Improper electoral practices, encouraged by the conduct of municipal elections, were a prominent feature of parliamentary contests and occasionally, as in 1857, influenced the result. The electorate showed little interest in political debate and the venality of many voters, both freemen and householders, was disclosed in evidence before a Royal Commission in 1859. Both parties paid for men to register as freemen, thereby slowing the decline in the number of freemen voters, which fell from 800 in 1832 to 534, including 197 outvoters, in 1859. Hope's opponents attributed Conservative successes to his lavish expenditure, and after the election of 1837, which was particularly costly and corrupt, there was a petition against his return. He resigned and regained the seat the following year. In 1852 the three candidates agreed to avoid unnecessary and corrupt expenses and the election was conducted with remarkable purity. Hope, who lost his seat, unsuccessfully contested a byelection in 1853 (fn. 14) when his supporters were accused of treating on a lavish scale. (fn. 15) That contest broke the convention of not opposing the re-election of members appointed to office under the Crown. In 1855 Price was unopposed in a byelection following his involvement in a government contract for supplying huts to the army in the Crimea. (fn. 16)

Although there were earlier party clubs to ensure the registration of supporters, (fn. 17) Gloucester's first permanent political organization was established by the Conserva tives in 1853 to repair the loss of Hope's seat and to win control of the city council. For the parliamentary election of 1857 they brought in Sir Robert Carden, a wealthy London stockbroker, and secured his place at the top of the poll by extensive bribery and treating. The Liberals also resorted to corruption, though on a much smaller scale. Political issues were irrelevant to the result and Berkeley, who had supported Palmerston on the Chinese question, was beaten into third place. Petitions against Carden and Price were unsuccessful, but it was later found that at least 116 voters had been bribed, 109 of them by Carden's supporters. After the election the Liberals improved their organization by setting up a political club similar to the Conservative association and at the election in 1859 copied the methods used by their opponents two years earlier. The 1859 contest was consequently energetic and even more costly and corrupt, with 250 voters, a sixth of the electorate, taking bribes. The Liberals were also helped by the strong local ties of C. J. Monk, who had become their second candidate in Berkeley's place. Carden, who spent more than his two opponents together, was decisively beaten, but Price and Monk were unseated for bribery and a Royal Commission was appointed to investigate illegal practices. (fn. 18)

Gloucester remained unrepresented in parliament until 1862 when a writ for a new election was issued. The Liberal candidates, including the barrister John Joseph Powell, held off a challenge from Richard Potter of Standish House, a local industrialist and former Liberal who fought as a Conservative, (fn. 19) and they stood down at the next general election in 1865 to enable Price and Monk to resume their parliamentary careers. (fn. 20) Conservatism received greater support in Gloucester in the early 1870s, and in 1873 William Killigrew Wait, a Bristol corn merchant with business interests in Gloucester, defeated the local Liberal leader, the corn merchant Thomas Robinson, in a contest for the seat vacated by Price on his appointment as a Railway Commissioner. Robinson's campaign was not helped by his outmanoeuvring of Powell in his bid for the Liberal candidacy, but Powell was equally unsuccessful as a candidate in the general election of 1874 (fn. 21) when both parties resorted again to widespread illegal practices. Corruption was on an even greater scale in 1880 when the Liberals, who in 1875 had improved their organization by establishing a party caucus chosen by ward meetings, redoubled their efforts to defeat Wait. Robinson and Monk were returned but were petitioned against for bribery. Robinson, who topped the poll, was unseated, but his willingness to stand down and the unwillingness of the Conservatives to continue proceedings against Monk and of Monk to claim his costs raised suspicions of collusion by the parties and led to the setting up of a Royal Commission to examine electoral practices.

Gloucester was among the most corrupt of the seven towns investigated at that time and 1,916 voters known to have taken bribes were disqualified for seven years. The Royal Commission concluded that bribery was the rule at all elections in the city, reckoned that c. 2,756 voters, over half of the electorate, had taken bribes in 1880, and blamed local politicians for most of the corruption; scheduled persons included 18 councillors and aldermen, 6 poor-law guardians, 3 magistrates, and 5 solicitors. (fn. 22) No new writ was issued for the seat vacated by Robinson (fn. 23) but a proposal to disfranchise the borough entirely came to nothing. (fn. 24) Gloucester's reputation for corrupt politics lingered until the First World War, and allegations of corruption on a significant scale were made, notably in January 1910. (fn. 25)

In 1885 Gloucester's parliamentary representation was reduced to one member. (fn. 26) Because many voters were disqualified for corruption the electorate was then only 4,547. In 1900 it was 7,685 (fn. 27) and in 1918, when the parliamentary borough was made coterminous with the larger county borough, (fn. 28) 25,006. It had grown to 34,786 by 1935. (fn. 29) In 1948 the constituency was enlarged to comprise the county borough and the parishes of Barnwood, Brockworth, Hempsted, Hucclecote, and Wotton Vill, (fn. 30) and in 1950 the electorate was 49,005. Several minor changes in the parliamentary boundary followed, and in 1970, when the parliamentary borough was again made coterminous with the county borough, that part outside the municipal boundary, namely the parishes of Brockworth and Hucclecote, was detached, leaving 61,164 voters. (fn. 31) In 1983 five parishes south of the city were added to the constituency to give an electorate of 74, 316. (fn. 32)

In the late 19th century the Conservatives gained ground in Gloucester. They benefited from the antipathy of some Liberals towards Thomas Robinson, whose control of the Liberal party caucus ensured that he, and not the sitting member C. J. Monk, became the candidate for the single parliamentary seat in 1885. (fn. 33) Robinson, who was knighted in 1894, represented Gloucester between 1885 and 1895. (fn. 34) The Liberals were harmed more by the split over Home Rule in 1886, (fn. 35) and prominent among the Liberal Unionists were former M.P.s Price and Monk. Price's daughter-inlaw, Margaret Price (d. 1911), remained a patron of the Gloucester Liberals, as did Sir William Wedderburn, a landowner at Meredith in Tibberton. Monk, who gained the support of the Conservative association, challenged Robinson for the parliamentary seat in 1892 and held it between 1895, when his opponent was an inexperienced and radical 'carpet-bagger', and 1900. (fn. 36)

In the 1890s there were occasional socialist gatherings in the city and a branch of the Independent Labour Party had been formed by 1896. Liberal candidates before the First World War broadly supported the demands of organized Labour, and Russell Rea, a Liverpool merchant and shipowner and a director of the Taff Vale Railway Company, regained Gloucester for the Liberals in 1900 with the backing of the railwaymen's national leader. Rea was defeated in January 1910 by a Conservative, and the Liberals failed by five votes to recapture the seat at the end of the year. (fn. 37) With few exceptions Gloucester's representatives in the 20th century lacked local ties. Of the four Conservatives holding the seat between 1910 and 1945 (fn. 38) Sir James Bruton (1918–23) was prominent in local industry and commerce and in civic affairs (fn. 39) and James Nockells Horlick (1923–9) was the son of a county landowner. (fn. 40) The first Labour candidate, W. L. Edwards, stood in 1918 and gained 17 per cent of the vote. (fn. 41) In the early 1920s Labour gained from having an exceptionally popular candidate in Morgan Philips Price, grandson and heir of the former Liberal M.P. and himself the prospective Liberal candidate before the First World War. Price, who as a journalist had reported political revolutions in Russia and Germany during the war and its aftermath, (fn. 42) won 36 per cent of the vote and came within 52 votes of defeating Bruton at the election of 1922. The Liberals, who from 1922 held third place, did not put up a candidate in 1931 or in 1935, when the Labour candidate won 43 per cent of the vote. Gloucester fell to Labour as part of the national swing in 1945 and the Conservatives recaptured the seat in 1970. The Liberals contested all but one election between 1945 and 1979, (fn. 43) and the Labour party retained second place in 1983 when a Social Democratic Party candidate represented the national alliance with the Liberals. (fn. 44)


  • 1. Paragraph based on Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 214–18.
  • 2. Glouc. Jnl. 1 Mar. 1862; 15 July 1865; 7 May 1873.
  • 3. For whom, above, Glouc. 1720–1835, parl. representation.
  • 4. For whom, above, econ. 1835–1914.
  • 5. Cf. C. J. Monk, Reminiscences of Parl. Life (priv. print. 1901).
  • 6. Glos. Chron. 6 Dec. 1862.
  • 7. Glouc. Jnl. 10 Jan. 1835; 29 July 1837; 31 July 1847.
  • 8. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 215.
  • 9. C. Jackson, 'British General Elections of 1857 and 1859' (Oxf. Univ. D. Phil. thesis, 1981), 314.
  • 10. Boundary Act, 1868, 31 & 32 Vic. c. 46, sched. 1.
  • 11. Glouc. Jnl. 21 Nov. 1868.
  • 12. Rep. Com. Corrupt Practices in Glouc. [C. 2841], pt. I, p. 14, H.C. (1881), xli.
  • 13. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 215–20.
  • 14. Rep. Com. Corrupt Practices in Glouc. [2586], pp. v–vii, xvi–xvii, H.C. (1860), xxvii; Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 215; Glouc. Jnl. 26 May 1838.
  • 15. Glouc. Jnl. 8 Jan. 1853.
  • 16. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 216–19; Glouc. Jnl. 18 July 1846; 31 Mar., 7 Apr. 1855; 28 May 1864.
  • 17. Cf. Glouc. Jnl. 13 Feb. 1836.
  • 18. Rep. Corrupt Practices (1860), pp. vii–xxxix; Jackson, 'General Elections of 1857 and 1859', 314–32.
  • 19. Glouc. Jnl. 22 Feb., 1 Mar. 1862; Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 218–19.
  • 20. Glouc. Jnl. 8, 15 July 1865.
  • 21. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 219–20; Glos. Chron. 3, 10 May 1873; Glouc. Jnl. 3, 7, 10 May 1873; 7 Feb. 1874. For W.K. Wait, Glos. Chron. 20 Dec. 1902.
  • 22. Rep. Corrupt Practices (1881), pt. I, pp. 1–34; Glouc. Jnl. 21 Mar. 1885.
  • 23. Williams, Parl. Hist. of Glos. 220.
  • 24. Monk, Reminiscences, 178–89.
  • 25. J. R. Howe, 'Corruption in Brit. Elections in the Early Twentieth Cent.: Some Examples from Glos.' Midland Hist. v. 63–77.
  • 26. Redistribution of Seats Act, 1885, 48 & 49 Vic. c. 23.
  • 27. Glouc. Jnl. 28 Nov. 1885; 6 Oct. 1900.
  • 28. Representation of the People Act, 1918, 7 & 8 Geo. V, c. 64; Glouc. Jnl. 28 Dec. 1918.
  • 29. F. W. S. Craig, Brit. Parl. Election Results 1918–49, 137.
  • 30. Representation of the People Act, 1948, 11 & 12 Geo. VI, c. 65.
  • 31. Craig, Brit. Parl. Election Results 1950–73, 149; Parl. Constituencies (Eng.) Order 1970.
  • 32. Parl. Constituencies (Eng.) Order 1983; Citizen, 10 May, 10 June 1983.
  • 33. Glouc. Jnl. 21 Nov. 1885; Monk, Reminiscences, 227–36.
  • 34. Glouc. Jnl. 30 Oct. 1897.
  • 35. Cf. ibid. 11 June 1887.
  • 36. J. R. Howe, 'Political Hist. of the Parl. Constituencies of Chelt., Glouc., and the Ciren. and Tewkes. Divisions of Glos. 1895–1914' (Bristol Univ. M. Litt. thesis, 1977), 18, 26–30, 41; Monk, Reminiscences, 249–79; Glouc. Jnl. 1 Apr. 1911.
  • 37. Howe, 'Political Hist. 1895–1914', 44, 64–6, 120–5, 149, 162–5, 174–82.
  • 38. Craig, Election Results 1918–49, 137.
  • 39. Glouc. Jnl. 4 Mar. 1933.
  • 40. Who Was Who, 1971–80, 382; cf. V.C.H. Glos. vii. 194.
  • 41. Craig, Election Results 1918–49, 137.
  • 42. M. P. Price, My Three Revolutions (1969); Howe, 'Political Hist. 1895–1914', 196–8.
  • 43. Craig, Election Results 1918–49, 137; 1950–73, 149; Citizen, 4 May 1979.
  • 44. Citizen, 10 June 1983.