Open main menu

County Durham (UK Parliament constituency)

Durham or County Durham was a county constituency in northern England, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1675 until 1832.

Former County constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of membersTwo
Replaced byGateshead, North Durham, South Durham and South Shields


The constituency consisted of the whole county of Durham (including the enclaves of Norhamshire, Islandshire and Bedlington, all situated within the boundaries of Northumberland and now part of that county, and of Crayke, now in North Yorkshire).

Because of its semi-autonomous status as a county palatine, Durham had not been represented in Parliament during the medieval period; by the 17th century it was the only part of England which elected no MPs. In 1621, Parliament passed a bill to enfranchise the county, but James I refused it the royal assent, as he considered that the House of Commons already had too many members and that some decayed boroughs should be abolished first; a similar bill in 1624 failed to pass the House of Lords. During the Commonwealth, County Durham was allowed to send members to the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate, though the privilege was not maintained when Parliament reverted to its earlier electoral arrangements from 1658. After the Restoration, Durham's right to return MPs was recognised in 1661, and finally confirmed by statute which came into effect in 1675; the county was to return two members, and the same Act also established Durham City as a parliamentary borough with its own two members.

As in other county constituencies the franchise between 1430 and 1832 was defined by the Forty Shilling Freeholder Act, which gave the right to vote to every man who possessed freehold property within the county valued at £2 or more per year for the purposes of land tax; it was not necessary for the freeholder to occupy his land, nor even in later years to be resident in the county at all.

By the time of the Reform Act, the county had a population of just over 250,000, although this was slightly reduced by the boundary changes which severed the enclaves and made them part of Northumberland or the North Riding of Yorkshire for parliamentary purposes. The electorate was only a fraction of this number: at the general election of 1790, 5,578 voted, and in 1820 the number was only 3,741. Although nobody could exert the degree of control over the voters that was common in many boroughs, several of the major local landowners had significant influence, in particular the Vane Earls of Darlington.

In 1832 the county's representation was doubled, and the constituency divided into two new two-member constituencies, North Durham and South Durham.

Members of ParliamentEdit

Election First member First party Second member Second party
1654 George Lilburne Robert Lilburne
1656 Thomas Lilburne James Clavering, Bt
June 1675 John Tempest Thomas Vane
October 1675 Christopher Vane
February 1679 Sir Robert Eden, Bt
August 1679 William Bowes Thomas Fetherstonhalgh
1685 Robert Byerley William Lambton Tory
1690 Sir Robert Eden, Bt Tory
1695 Sir William Bowes
1698 Sir Robert Eden, Bt Lionel Vane
1701 William Lambton Tory
1702 Sir Robert Eden, Bt Tory Sir William Bowes Doubtful
1707 John Tempest Tory
1708 William Vane, of West Auckland
1710 William Lambton
1713 Sir John Eden Tory John Hedworth[1] Independent Whig
1727 George Bowes
1747 Hon. Henry Vane Whig
1753 by-election Hon. Henry Vane[2] Whig
1758 by-election Captain the Hon. Raby Vane
1760 by-election Robert Shafto
1761 Hon. Frederick Vane
1768 Sir Thomas Clavering, Bt Whig
1774 Sir John Eden, Bt Whig
1790 Rowland Burdon Tory Captain Ralph Milbanke[3] Whig
1806 Sir Thomas Liddell, Bt Tory
1807 Sir Henry Vane-Tempest, Bt Tory
1812 Viscount Barnard Whig
1813 by-election John George Lambton Radical
1815 by-election Hon. William Powlett Whig
1828 by-election William Russell Whig
1831 Sir Hedworth Williamson, Bt Whig
1832 Constituency divided. See North Durham and South Durham


  1. ^ Hedworth died before the end of the Parliament but a dissolution was called before a writ for a by-election had been issued
  2. ^ Styled Viscount Barnard from 1754
  3. ^ Sir Ralph Milbanke from 1793

Election resultsEdit