Electoral registers are simply a list of people eligible to vote, either in county and/ or parliamentary elections. They generally provide the name of each elector (i.e. each person eligibile to vote), and an address that qualifys them the vote. Electoral registers are initially split into constituency divisions and then can be arranged either alphabetically by name of elector (this is common pre World War II) or by address (this is the usual format after 1945).
The Representation of the People Act 1832 required the quarter sessions Clerk of the Peace to compile a register of electors comprising those entitled to vote for members of parliament in the county constituency from the lists returned to him by revising barristers (ref. QE14). The first surviving registers for the West Riding date from 1840. Each entry gives the full name of the elector, place of abode, the nature of his qualification and details of the property that established his right to vote. These registers replaced the Land Tax returns which had previously been compiled.
Initially the right to vote was based on a property qualification. As only a small percentage of the population met this qualification very few people were eligible and so early electoral registers are much smaller than twentieth century ones and were compiled on a county basis. The first registers contain the whole of the West Riding arranged alphabetically by constituency over two volumes. The county was then split into the North and South divisions in 1862, until a third division, the Eastern (or Mid division) was created in 1867.
From 1868 the voters in each township were divided into two lists. The first contained owners of property of a value not less than £5 a year and owners of property leased for £50 or more a year. The second contained those newly-enfranchised by the Representation of the People Act of 1867 who occupied property rated between £12 and £50 a year; this was the first time tenants and not just the owners of property were eligible to vote).
In accordance with the provisions of the Registration Act 1885 electors were divided into three groups; owners, occupiers and lodgers. This greatly increased the number of electors; in the West Riding alone the number of electors rose from 33,863 in 1843 to 210,150 in 1886.
The WYAS: Wakefield holds a set of electoral registers for the County Parliamentary Constituencies, a list of these Constituencies can be found here.
Borough electoral registers
Boroughs were obliged to compile their own electoral registers which were commonly known as Burgess Rolls. Ripon, Knaresborough and Pontefract were parliamentary boroughs before 1832 and continued to be so after that date. Other borough constituencies created in the West Riding in 1832 were Bradford, Halifax, Huddersfield, Leeds, Sheffield and Wakefield. Dewsbury was created a borough in 1867.
The Borough Parliamentary Constituencies in West Yorkshire were:
- Batley & Morley
We do not hold records of places within these Boroughs pre 1964. A list of Borough electoral registers available at other organisations is available here.
However, the WYAS: Wakefield does hold a series of Borough Constituency electoral registers from 1964 to 1974 following reorganisation when these Constituencies were abolished and the whole of the the county of West Yorkshire was organised into one parliamentary electoral system. These former Boroughs from 1964 are also included in the list of divisions here.
Following the Representation of the People Act c1948 some County Constituencies eg. Keighley became Borough Constituencies, meaning the series of electoral registers held by WYAS: Wakefield stops in 1949 but resumes again in 1964.
- 1832 Representation of the People Act formalised the election process and instigated the compilation of the first electoral registers
- 1885 Registration Act saw the right to vote extended to tenants as well as owners of property (although this still restricted the poorest from being eligible)
- 1918 Representation of the People Act gave all men over the age of 21 and all women over the age of 30 the right to vote
- 1928 Representation of the People Act was the first time all men and all women over the age of 21 were given the right to vote
Other useful information can also be found in Absent Voters.
For a guide how to the use electoral registers held by the WYAS see here.