Local government: Council and parliamentary representation

Pages 233-235

A History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 12, Chelsea. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 2004.

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Chelsea at first had two members on the London County Council, elected triennially from 1889; from 1949 there were three, also representing Kensington's Brompton ward. Progressives held the seats from 1889 to 1907, except at the 1895 election when they fell to Moderates, including the 5th Earl Cadogan. The 1898 election was marked by allegations of corruption on the part of the Progressives. From 1907 the Municipal Reformers held both seats. Basil Marsden-Smedley, elected as a Municipal Reformer in 1933, served to 1946, being joined from 1934 by an official Conservative. Conservatives held all three seats from 1949 to the abolition of the LCC in 1965. Thereafter Kensington and Chelsea had joint representation, dominated by Conservatives, on the Greater London Council. (fn. 1)


Chelsea formed part of the Middlesex county constituency, but from the 1830s agitation for separate representation drew strong local support. A meeting of the inhabitants in 1831 pressed for amendment to the Reform Bill to provide representation for a district including Chelsea, Kensington, Hammersmith, Fulham, and Brompton; Chelsea alone was more populous than 26 districts for which the Bill proposed representation. (fn. 2) A motion in the Commons in 1850 to incorporate Chelsea, Kensington, Hammersmith, and Fulham into a two-member parliamentary borough was withdrawn. (fn. 3) A public meeting in 1859 attacked the government's reform bill as inadequately representative, (fn. 4) and another in 1861 unanimously supported a proposed twomember borough of Kensington and Chelsea. (fn. 5) Finally under the Second Reform Act a two-member constituency of Chelsea, including also Kensington, Hammersmith, Fulham, and part of Chiswick, became effective in 1868. In 1885 the constituency was divided and Chelsea became a single-member borough, coinciding with the parish and later, after Kensal Town was excluded in 1918, with the metropolitan borough. It was extended in 1948 by the addition of Kensington's Brompton ward. In 1974 it became the southern division of Kensington and Chelsea, gaining Earl's Court from the former south division of Kensington. (fn. 6)

At the 1868 election Chelsea returned two Liberals, Charles Dilke (later Bt) and Sir Henry Hoare, Bt. Dilke remained the leading member while the two-member constituency continued, but in 1874 the second seat fell to William Gordon, a Conservative, the Liberal J.F.B. Firth regaining it in 1880. (fn. 7) Dilke was the first member for the single seat in 1885, but following allegations of his adultery he lost it to Charles Algernon Whitmore, a Conservative, in 1886. (fn. 8) At the 1906 election Whitmore was ousted by the Liberal Emslie Horniman, (fn. 9) but in January 1910 Samuel Hoare (Bt from 1915) won the seat for the Unionists, and Unionists or Conservatives have held it ever since. (fn. 10) Hoare, who held in successive Conservative or National governments the posts of air minister, Secretary for India, Foreign Secretary, First Lord of the Admiralty, Home Secretary, and finally air minister again, remained MP for Chelsea until promoted to the peerage as Viscount Templewood in 1944. His picturesque or prominent opponents at general elections included a relative, Hugh Hoare, standing for the Liberals in December 1910; (fn. 11) Miss E. Phipps, a feminist independent and ex-president of the National Union of Women Teachers, in 1918; (fn. 12) Bertrand Russell for Labour in 1922 and 1923; (fn. 13) and Mrs Bertrand Russell in 1924. (fn. 14) Though the British Union of Fascists, with a base at Whitelands at the junction of King's Road and Walpole Street, (fn. 15) nominated Sir Lionel Berkeley Holt Haworth as their parliamentary candidate in Chelsea in 1936, (fn. 16) he apparently did not contest an election.

Sir Samuel Hoare's successor William Sidney, son of a former mayor, returned unopposed in 1944, (fn. 17) became Lord de l'Isle and Dudley in 1945 (fn. 18) and was succeeded by Allan Noble, a junior minister under Churchill and Eden. Capt. John Litchfield was member 1959-66 and Marcus (from 1973 Sir Marcus) Worsley 1966-74. Nicholas (later Sir Nicholas) Scott, MP from 1974 and later a junior minister, narrowly deflected an attempted coup against him in 1977 by his constituency party, which deselected him in 1996 for alleged alcoholic horizontality, probably caused by illness; in 1997 it chose Alan Clark, also a former minister. Clark held the seat that year despite allegations of his adultery, and died in 1999. The ensuing by election was won by Michael Portillo, former Secretary of State for Defence, who held the seat in the 2001 general election. (fn. 19)

Perhaps because of the rebuilding of Chelsea and the lack of a Labour Party in the constituency, (fn. 20) turnout at general elections was low by national standards, and generally well below its peaks of 71.1 per cent in October 1924 and 70.6 per cent in February 1950. (fn. 21) The Conservative share of the vote, 60.5 per cent in 1910, reached 85 per cent in 1935. After the Second World War, and in the later 20th century, it normally varied between 60 and 67 per cent, rising to 73.4 per cent in 1955 and falling below 60 per cent only in the general elections of 1966 and 1997. (fn. 22)


  • 1. W.E. Jackson, Achievement: a Short History of the LCC (1965), 252-83; Vestry Rep. 1889-90, p. xxi; Pearman, Cadogan Est. 97; The Times, 26 March, 20, 26 April 1898, 23 June 1948; Knott, Electoral Crucible, 141; Royal Com. on Local Govt in Greater London: Written Evidence from Local Authorities, Misc. Bodies and Priv. Individuals, I (1962), 156; Husbands, 'London Council Elections of 6 May 1982', 186; Who's Who (1985), s.vv. Crofton, Sir Malby, and Rugg. Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1964), pp. 16-19, states that Marsden-Smedley was elected in 1932.
  • 2. The Times, 15 July 1831.
  • 3. CJ, CV. 38.
  • 4. The Times, 19 March 1859.
  • 5. Ibid., 23 Jan. 1861.
  • 6. P. Arnold, A Hist. of Britain's Parl. Constituencies: The Constituencies of the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (priv. print. 1994; copy in CL), sect. 3 p. 1; LCC, London Statistics, XXVI (1915-20), 14; LCC, Stat. Abstract for London, XXXI (1939-48), 31, notes (c) (but reading 'latter' for 'later') and (e); Boundaries of Parl. Constituencies 1885-1972, comp. and ed. F.W.S. Craig (Chichester, 1972), pp. 3, 49, 127.
  • 7. Roy Jenkins, Dilke: A Victorian tragedy (1965, paperback edn 1996), 46, 52, 86, 123; McCalmont's Parl. Poll Bk of All Elections 1832-1918, ed. J. Vincent and M. Stenton (1971), part I, p. 54.
  • 8. Jenkins, Dilke, 227 seqq.; McCalmont's Parl. Poll Bk 1832-1918, part II, p. 39; Arnold, Hist. Constituencies, Kensington and Chelsea, sect. 3 p. 1, wrongly giving Witmore; cf. Vestry Rep. 1899-1900, p. xxi; G. Noel, 'The scandalous member for Chelsea', Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1993), 26-3.
  • 9. The Times, 17 Jan. 1906.
  • 10. Rest of this and next para. based unless otherwise stated on Arnold, Hist. Constituencies, Kensington and Chelsea, sect. 3, pp. 1-2; McCalmont's Parl. Poll Bk 1832-1918, part II, p. 39; part III, pp. 15, 42. For Sam. Hoare, e.g. Who's Who of Brit. MPs, ed. M. Stenton and S. Lees, III. 166.
  • 11. The Times, 16, 24 Nov., 7 Dec. 1910.
  • 12. Ibid., 26, 27 Nov., 5, 30 Dec. 1918.
  • 13. Ibid., 4, 16 Nov. 1922; 16, 19, 21 Nov., 7 Dec. 1923; B. Barker, 'Two Chelsea Philosophers', Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1997), 32.
  • 14. The Times, 13, 31 Oct. 1924.
  • 15. L. Lewis, 'Whitelands: From Merry Maidens to Blackshirts', Chelsea Soc. Rep. (1994), 50-1.
  • 16. The Times, 19 Nov. 1936.
  • 17. Ibid., 3, 18 July, 18, 19 Aug., 12 Oct. 1944.
  • 18. Ibid., 5 May, 19 June 1945.
  • 19. The Times, 21, 23, 28 Sep. 1977; David Butler and Dennis Kavanagh, The British General Election of 1997 (1997), 197; Kensington & Chelsea election results, via web site ( consulted 5 June 2003; Evening Standard, 6 Feb. 2002.
  • 20. Above, Soc. Hist., political clubs.
  • 21. LCC, Statistical Abstract for London, XXI (1917-26), p. 37; XXVIII (1926-36), pp. 18 seqq.; LCC, London Statistics, NS, III (1947-56), p. 12.
  • 22. Arnold, Hist. Constituencies, Kensington and Chelsea, sect. 3, pp. 2-4; Pelling, Social Geog. of British Elections, 30-1; House of Commons Factsheet M15: General Election Results 1 May 1997, table 11 (web site, consulted 2 Dec. 2001).