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Plymouth (UK Parliament constituency)

Plymouth was a parliamentary borough in Devon, which elected two members of parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons in 1298 and again from 1442 until 1918, when the borough was merged with the neighbouring Devonport and the combined area divided into three single-member constituencies.

Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of members two
Replaced by Plymouth Drake and Plymouth Sutton



In the Unreformed Parliament (to 1832)Edit

Plymouth first sent MPs to the Parliament of 1298, but after that the right lapsed until being restored in 1442, after which it returned two members to each parliament. The borough originally consisted of the parish of Plymouth in Devon; in 1641, the parish was divided into two, St Charles and St Andrew, and both remained in the borough. (This included most of the town as it existed in mediaeval and early modern times, but only a fraction of the city as it exists today). Plymouth was a major port, both naval and commercial, and unlike many of the boroughs of the unreformed parliament fully merited its status both for its importance and its population. (It was one of the few boroughs that retained both its members in the short-lived reform of the electoral system during the Commonwealth.) By the time of the Great Reform Act of 1832, the population of the borough was a little over 31,000, but the whole conurbation including the two nearby towns of Devonport and Stonehouse, had about 75,000 inhabitants.

Until 1660, the right to vote in Plymouth was restricted to the corporation. In that year, the House of Commons determined that the right was vested in the "Mayor and Commonalty", but the term "commonalty" was ambiguous and in 1740 it was held to mean only the freemen of the town rather than all the freeholders, a much more restrictive franchise. This amounted to only about 200 voters in the 18th and early 19th century, and the highest number actually recorded as voting was 177. Since the corporation was responsible for electing its own successors and also controlled the admission of freemen, it was easy for any interest having once gained control of the borough to retain it. Because of the importance of the naval dockyard to the town's prosperity, Plymouth fell under the influence of the government very early, and from at least the late 17th century was regarded as a safe constituency where ministers could nominate both members with little likelihood of serious opposition.

The members so nominated almost invariably included a distinguished naval officer, or instead on occasions a high official of the Admiralty (who, of course, could bring valuable patronage to Plymouth). When the Admiralty nominated only one member, the other was often the choice of the governor of the garrison, though at the turn of the 19th century the Prince Regent (who was recorder of the borough) was generally allowed to pick both members.

Nevertheless, government control of the borough did not entirely preclude an influential role for local aristocratic or landed families, not least because somebody had to manage the government's patronage and decide how it should be exercised. Around 1700, the Trelawny family considered themselves "patrons" of Plymouth (which, together with their pocket boroughs of East Looe and West Looe in Cornwall, gave them control of six seats in Parliament). Charles Trelawny, who was Governor of Plymouth from 1696 to 1712, had power of nomination to both seats throughout this period, sitting himself as MP and choosing his brother for the other seat on one occasion.

Many of Plymouth's MPs, naval or otherwise, justified the borough's confidence in them by bringing patronage to the town. Namier and Brooke quote a letter from the First Lord of the Admiralty, Lord Sandwich, to the Plymouth MP Viscount Barrington, rebuking him for the extent of the continual requests he was making on their behalf; but many of these requests, it is clear, were nevertheless being met.

After the Reform Act (1832–1918)Edit

The Great Reform Act left the borough of Plymouth unaltered, but its nature was affected radically. One change was the franchise reform, giving more than 1,400 of the inhabitants the vote. (Many of these, however, would have been able to vote for the county constituency of Devon before the Reform Act, since 40 shilling freeholders could vote for the county even if their property was within the borough boundaries.)

The second change was the creation of a new borough for the neighbouring town of Devonport, which included both Devonport and Stonehouse. These two towns, though outside the boundaries of Plymouth borough, had been influential on its politics, but now had two MPs of their own. As a result, the naval influence on Plymouth was somewhat reduced after 1832, though the importance of the dockyards to the economic interests of the constituency remained. In 1901, 7.9% of Plymouth's population were in defence-related occupations and a further 1.6% in boat or ship manufacture; but in Devonport the figures were 29.9% and 1.6% respectively.

Once governments could no longer easily abuse their powers of patronage to secure their seats in such constituencies, the naval connection could be a hindrance rather than a help: Sir Edward Clarke, Conservative MP for Plymouth in the latter years of the 19th century, had considerable difficulty securing re-election in 1892 because of local criticism of the Conservative government's Admiralty policy on payment for shipwrights. Nevertheless, the naval aspect was probably normally helpful to the Conservative vote at this period: by the early 20th century, Plymouth was one of England's most densely populated cities, and also had a high non-conformist population, which would normally have suggested a safe Liberal seat, but in fact the two parties polled fairly equally and Conservatives were elected more often than not.


In 1914, the areas covered by the separate Plymouth and Devonport constituencies had been combined into a single county borough of Plymouth for local government purposes, and under the parliamentary boundary changes which came into effect at the general election of 1918 both two-member boroughs were abolished and the area of the county borough divided into single-member constituencies. The city's population was now adjudged to entitle it only to three MPs in place of the four it had had previously, and the new constituencies were called Plymouth, Devonport, Plymouth, Drake and Plymouth, Sutton. Of these, the Devonport division was very similar to the old Devonport borough, while the former Plymouth borough was split between the Drake and Sutton divisions.

Members of ParliamentEdit

MPs 1442–1640Edit

Parliament First member Second member
1510 Henry Strete John Bryan[1]
1512 Robert Bowring ... Legh[1]
1515 John Orenge ?[1]
1523 ?
1529 Thomas Vowell John Pollard[1]
1536 John Pollard ?[1]
1539 James Horsewell William Hawkins[1]
1542 George Ferrers James Horsewell[1]
1545 Thomas Sternhold George Ferrers[1]
1547 John Prideaux William Hawkins[1]
1553 (Mar) George Ferrers Roger Buttockshide[1]
1553 (Oct) Roger Buttockshide William Hawkins[1]
1554 (Apr) John Malet Richard Hooper[1]
1554 (Nov) Sir Thomas Knyvet Roger Buttockshide[1]
1555 Thomas Carew John Young[1]
1558 Humphrey Specote Nicholas Slanning[1]
1558/9 Sir Arthur Champernown Nicholas Slanning[2]
1562/3 Henry Champernown William Peryam[2]
1571 Sir Humphrey Gilbert John Hawkins[2]
1572 John Hawkins Edmund Tremayne[2]
1584 Henry Bromley Christopher Harris[2]
1586 Henry Bromley Hugh Vaughan[2]
1588 Miles Sandys Reginald Nicholas[2]
1593 Sir Francis Drake Robert Basset (1573–1641) of Heanton Punchardon[2]
1597 Warwick Hele William Stallenge[2]
1601 William Stallenge James Bagg[2]
1604–1611 Sir Richard Hawkins James Bagg
1614 William Strode Thomas Sherville
1621–1622 John Glanville Thomas Sherville
1624 John Glanville Thomas Sherville
1625 John Glanville Thomas Sherville
1626 John Glanville Thomas Sherville
1628–1629 John Glanville Thomas Sherville
1629–1640 No Parliaments summoned

MPs 1640–1918Edit

Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 Robert Trelawney John Waddon
November 1640 Robert Trelawney[3] Royalist John Waddon Parliamentarian
1642 Sir John Yonge Parliamentarian
December 1648 Yonge and Waddon excluded in Pride's Purge – both seats vacant
1653 Plymouth was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament
1654 Christopher Silly William Yeo
1656 John Maynard Timothy Alsop
January 1659 Christopher Silly
May 1659 Plymouth was not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 John Maynard[4] Edmund Fowell
June 1660 Sir William Morice Samuel Trelawny
1666 Sir Gilbert Talbot
1677 John Sparke
1679 Sir John Maynard
1680 Sir William Jones
1685 Bernard Granville The Earl of Ranelagh
January 1689 Sir John Maynard Arthur Herbert
July 1689 John Granville
1690 John Trelawny
1695 George Parker
1698 Major General Charles Trelawny Sir John Rogers
1701 Brigadier Henry Trelawny
1702 John Woolcombe
1705 Rear Admiral Sir George Byng[5]
1713 Sir John Rogers
1721 Hon. Pattee Byng
1722 William Chetwynd
1727 Arthur Stert George Treby[6]
1728 Robert Byng
1739 John Rogers[7]
January 1740 Captain Charles Vanbrugh
November 1740 Lord Henry Beauclerk
1741 Admiral Lord Vere Beauclerk
1750 Captain Charles Saunders
1754 The Viscount Barrington Samuel Dicker
1760 Vice Admiral George Pocock[8]
1768 Admiral Sir Francis Holburne
1771 Admiral Sir Charles Hardy
1778 Viscount Lewisham
1780 Vice Admiral George Darby Sir Frederick Rogers
1784 Captain John Macbride Captain Robert Fanshawe
1790 Captain Alan Gardner[9]
1790 Sir Frederick Rogers
1796 William Elford[10]
1797 Francis Glanville
1802 Philip Langmead
March 1806 Thomas Tyrwhitt
November 1806 Admiral Sir Charles Pole
1812 Colonel Benjamin Bloomfield
February 1818 Sir William Congreve
June 1818 Sir Thomas Byam Martin
1828 Sir George Cockburn
1832 John Collier Whig Thomas Bewes Whig
1841 Thomas Gill Whig Viscount Ebrington Whig
1847 Roundell Palmer Conservative
1852 Charles John Mare[11] Conservative (Sir) Robert Collier Whig
1853 Roundell Palmer Conservative
1857 James White Whig
1859 Viscount Valletort Conservative Liberal
1861 Walter Morrison Liberal
1871 Sir Edward Bates[12] Conservative
1874 Sampson Lloyd Conservative
April 1880 Peter Stewart Macliver Liberal
July 1880 (Sir) Edward Clarke, QC Conservative
1885 Sir Edward Bates Conservative
1892 Sir William Pearce Conservative
1895 Charles Harrison Liberal
1898 Sigismund Mendl Liberal
February 1900 Hon. Ivor Guest[13] Conservative
October 1900 Henry Duke Conservative
April 1904 Liberal
1906 Thomas Dobson Liberal Charles Mallet Liberal
January 1910 Aneurin Williams Liberal
December 1910 Waldorf Astor Conservative Arthur Benn Conservative
1918 Constituency abolished


Elections in the 1860sEdit

Edgcumbe succeeded to the peerage, becoming 4th Earl of Mount Edgcumbe and causing a by-election.

By-election, 31 October 1861: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Walter Morrison 1,179 54.5
Conservative William Addington[15] 984 45.5
Majority 195 9.0 N/A
Turnout 2,163 77.8
Registered electors 2,781
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing

Collier was appointed Solicitor General for England and Wales, requiring a by-election.

By-election, 17 October 1863: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Robert Collier Unopposed
Liberal hold
General Election 1865: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Robert Collier 1,299 35.5
Liberal Walter Morrison 1,218 33.2
Conservative Richard Stuart Lane[16] 1,147 31.3
Majority 71 1.9 N/A
Turnout 2,406 (est) 81.7 (est)
Registered electors 2,944
Liberal hold Swing
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing
General Election 1868: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Robert Collier 2,086 36.9 +1.4
Liberal Walter Morrison 2,065 36.5 +3.3
Conservative Richard Stuart Lane 1,506 26.6 −4.7
Majority 559 9.9 +8.0
Turnout 3,582 (est) 74.0 (est) −7.7
Registered electors 4,840
Liberal hold Swing +1.9
Liberal hold Swing +2.8

Collier was appointed Attorney General for England and Wales, requiring a by-election.

By-election, 21 December 1868: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Robert Collier Unopposed
Liberal hold

Elections in the 1870sEdit

Collier was appointed Recorder of Bristol, causing a by-election.

By-election, 15 Aug 1870: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Robert Collier Unopposed
Liberal hold

Collier resigned after being appointed a Judge of the Court of Common Pleas, causing a by-election.

By-election, 22 Nov 1871: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Bates 1,753 53.7 +27.1
Liberal Alfred Rooker[17] 1,511 46.3 −27.1
Majority 242 7.4 N/A
Turnout 3,264 69.9 −4.1
Registered electors 4,671
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +27.1
General Election 1874: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Bates 2,045 27.4 +14.1
Conservative Sampson Lloyd 2,000 26.8 +13.5
Liberal George Young 1,714 23.0 −13.9
Liberal Walter Morrison 1,700 22.8 −13.7
Majority 286 3.8 N/A
Turnout 3,730 (est) 78.9 (est) +4.9
Registered electors 4,728
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +14.0
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +13.7

Elections in the 1880sEdit

General Election 1880: Plymouth[14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Bates 2,442 25.3 −2.1
Liberal Peter Stewart Macliver 2,406 25.0 +2.2
Liberal George Young 2,402 24.9 +1.9
Conservative Sampson Lloyd 2,384 24.7 −2.1
Turnout 4,817 (est) 86.8 (est) +7.9
Registered electors 5,552
Majority 36 0.4 −3.4
Conservative hold Swing −2.0
Majority 18 0.2 N/A
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +2.2

Bates was removed upon petition, causing a by-election.

By-election, 10 Jul 1880: Plymouth[18][14]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Clarke 2,449 51.5 +2.6
Liberal George Young 2,305 48.5 −2.5
Majority 144 0.3 −0.1
Turnout 4,754 85.6 −1.2 (est)
Registered electors 5,552
Conservative hold Swing +2.6
General Election 1885: Plymouth[19][20]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Bates 4,354 26.0 +0.7
Conservative Edward Clarke 4,240 25.4 +0.7
Liberal Peter Stewart Macliver 4,132 24.8 −0.2
Liberal Reginald Brett 3,968 23.8 −1.2
Majority 108 0.6 +0.2
Turnout 8,389 82.8 −4.0 (est)
Registered electors 10,130
Conservative hold Swing +0.5
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +1.0
General Election 1886: Plymouth[19][20]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Clarke 4,137 28.2 +2.8
Conservative Edward Bates 4,133 28.1 +2.1
Liberal Thomas English Stephens 3,255 22.1 −2.7
Liberal Edward Strachey 3,175 21.6 −2.2
Majority 878 6.0 +5.4
Turnout 7,400 (est) 73.1 −9.7
Registered electors 10,130
Conservative hold Swing +2.8
Conservative hold Swing +2.2

Clarke was appointed Solicitor General for England and Wales, requiring a by-election.

By-election, 11 Aug 1886: Plymouth[20]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Clarke Unopposed
Conservative hold

Elections in the 1890sEdit

General Election 1892: Plymouth[19][20]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Clarke 5,081 25.5 −2.7
Conservative William Pearce 5,081 25.5 −2.6
Liberal Charles Harrison 4,921 24.6 +2.5
Liberal George Lidgett 4,861 24.4 +2.8
Majority 160 0.9 −5.1
Turnout 10,086 81.1 +8.0
Registered electors 12,431
Conservative hold Swing −2.6
Conservative hold Swing −2.7
General Election 1895: Plymouth[19][20][21]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edward Clarke 5,575 25.6 +0.1
Liberal Charles Harrison 5,482 25.1 +0.5
Conservative Evelyn Hubbard 5,456 25.0 −0.5
Liberal Sigismund Mendl 5,298 24.3 −0.1
Turnout 11,006 81.8 +0.7
Registered electors 13,460
Majority 277 1.3 +0.4
Conservative hold Swing +0.2
Majority 26 0.1 N/A
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing −0.5

Harrison's death caused a by-election.

Plymouth by-election, 1898[19][20][21]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Sigismund Mendl 5,966 50.7 +1.3
Conservative Ivor Guest 5,802 49.3 −1.3
Majority 164 1.4 +1.3
Turnout 11,768 89.0 +7.2
Registered electors 13,223
Liberal hold Swing +1.3

Elections in the 1900sEdit

Plymouth by-election, 1900[19][20][21]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Ivor Guest Unopposed
Conservative hold
General Election 1900: Plymouth[19][20][21]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Henry Duke 6,009 26.4 +0.8
Conservative Ivor Guest 6,005 26.4 +1.4
Liberal Sigismund Mendl 5,460 24.0 −1.1
Liberal Henry de Rosenbach Walker 5,264 23.2 −1.1
Majority 545 2.4 +1.1
Turnout 84.8 +3.0
Registered electors 13,566
Conservative hold Swing +1.0
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +1.3
General Election 1906: Plymouth[19][20]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Thomas Dobson 9,021 29.4 +5.4
Liberal Charles Mallet 8,914 29.0 +5.8
Conservative Henry Duke 6,547 21.3 −5.1
Conservative HG Smith 6,234 20.3 −6.1
Majority 2,367 7.7 N/A
Turnout 85.3 +0.5
Registered electors 18,196
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +5.3
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +6.0

Elections in the 1910sEdit

General Election January 1910: Plymouth[19][20][22]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Liberal Charles Mallet 8,091 25.8 −3.2
Liberal Aneurin Williams 7,961 25.5 −3.9
Conservative Waldorf Astor 7,650 24.5 +3.2
Conservative Mortimer Durand 7,556 24.2 +3.9
Majority 311 1.0 −6.7
Turnout 87.9 +2.6
Registered electors 18,085
Liberal hold Swing −3.2
Liberal hold Swing −3.9
General Election December 1910: Plymouth[19][20][22]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Waldorf Astor 8,113 26.4 +1.9
Conservative Arthur Benn 7,942 25.9 +1.7
Liberal Charles Mallet 7,379 24.0 −1.8
Liberal Aneurin Williams 7,260 23.7 −1.8
Majority 563 1.9 N/A
Turnout 85.5 −2.2
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +1.8
Conservative gain from Liberal Swing +1.8

General Election 1914/15:

Another General Election was required to take place before the end of 1915. The political parties had been making preparations for an election to take place and by the July 1914, the following candidates had been selected;

Notes and referencesEdit

  • Robert Beatson, A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) [23]
  • D. Brunton & D. H. Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [24]
  • The Constitutional Year Book for 1913 (London: National Union of Conservative and Unionist Associations, 1913)
  • F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1832–1885 (2nd edition, Aldershot: Parliamentary Research Services, 1989)
  • Michael Kinnear, The British Voter (London: BH Batsford, Ltd, 1968)
  • Lewis Namier & John Brooke, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754–1790 (London: HMSO, 1964)
  • J. E. Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949)
  • T. H. B. Oldfield, The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1816)
  • Henry Pelling, Social Geography of British Elections 1885–1910 (London: Macmillan, 1967)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 – England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Edward Porritt and Annie G Porritt, The Unreformed House of Commons (Cambridge University Press, 1903)
  • Robert Walcott, English Politics in the Early Eighteenth Century (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1956)
  • Frederic A Youngs, jr, Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol I (London: Royal Historical Society, 1979)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "P" (part 2)
  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "History of Parliament". History of Parliament Trust. Retrieved 11 November 2011. 
  3. ^ Expelled from the House of Commons, March 1642, and committed to prison for publicly stating that the Commons had no power to appoint a guard for themselves without the King's consent
  4. ^ Maynard was also elected for Exeter, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Plymouth in this Parliament
  5. ^ Admiral from 1708
  6. ^ Treby was also elected for Dartmouth, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Plymouth
  7. ^ On petition (in a dispute over the franchise), Rogers was declared not to have been duly elected and his opponent, Vanbrugh, was seated in his place
  8. ^ Admiral Sir George Pocock from 1761
  9. ^ Rear Admiral from 1793, Vice Admiral Sir Alan Gardner from 1794
  10. ^ Created a baronet, November 1800
  11. ^ Mare's election was declared void on petition, and a by-election was held
  12. ^ Bate was initially declared re-elected in 1880, but the election was declared void on petition, and a by-election was held
  13. ^ Guest was elected as a Conservative, but crossed the floor to join the Liberal Party in April 1904
  14. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Craig, F. W. S., ed. (1977). British Parliamentary Election Results 1832-1885 (1st ed.). London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 978-1-349-02349-3. 
  15. ^ "Plymouth Election". Western Morning News. 28 September 1861. p. 1. Retrieved 15 March 2018 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  16. ^ "Plymouth". London Evening Standard. 19 July 1865. p. 1. Retrieved 15 March 2018 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  17. ^ "The death of Mr. Alfred Rooker, Plymouth". Cheltenham Chronicle. 1 June 1875. p. 5. Retrieved 17 January 2018 – via British Newspaper Archive. (Subscription required (help)). 
  18. ^ "Plymouth Election". The Cornishman (105). 15 July 1880. p. 7. 
  19. ^ a b c d e f g h i j The Liberal Year Book, 1907
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k British Parliamentary Election Results, 1885-1918 FWS Craig
  21. ^ a b c d Debrett's House of Commons & Judicial Bench, 1901
  22. ^ a b Debrett's House of Commons & Judicial Bench, 1916
  23. ^,M1
  24. ^ "titles A-Z". Archived from the original on 4 September 2015. Retrieved 27 August 2015.