Bristol was a two-member constituency, used to elect members to the House of Commons in the Parliaments of England (to 1707), Great Britain (1707–1800) and the United Kingdom (from 1801). The constituency existed until Bristol was divided into single member constituencies in 1885.
The historic port city of Bristol, is located in what is now the South West Region of England. It straddles the border between the historic geographical counties of Gloucestershire and Somerset. It was usually accounted as a Gloucestershire borough in the later part of the 19th and the 20th centuries.
The parliamentary borough of Bristol was represented in Parliament from the 13th century, as one of the most important population centres in the Kingdom. Namier and Brooke comment that in 1754 the city was the second largest in the Kingdom and had the third largest electorate for an urban seat.
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The use of Roman numerals in the list below denotes different politicians of the same name, not that the individuals concerned would have used the Roman numerals as part of their name.
Non Partisan denotes that the politician concerned is not known to have been associated with a party (not necessarily that he was not). Whilst Whig and Tory societies in the city continued to nominate candidates in the last half of the 18th century, the electoral labels used in Bristol had very little to do with what the MPs did in national politics.
1 By 4 February 1536 David Broke had been elected vice Thomas Jubbes deceased. He was probably re-elected in the 1536 general election and certainly was at the 1539 and 1542 elections..
2 A Peer of Ireland. He was created a Peer of England, as 1st Baron Butler, in 1666.
3 Died 16 October 1677.
4 Died 11 October 1685.
5 Died 30 September 1739.
6 Died 20 October 1742.
7 Died 24 January 1756.
8 Created a Peer of Ireland, as 1st Viscount Clare, in 1767.
9 Died 30 December 1780.
10 A Peer of Ireland, as 1st Baron Sheffield, created in 1781.
11 Adopted a new surname of Bathurst, in 1804.
13 Died 10 March 1870.
14 Election declared void on petition.
During the existence of this constituency, Bristol was a city with the status of being a county of itself. That meant that the city was not subject to the administration of the officials of the geographic counties in which it was situated. In electoral terms it meant that the voters for the parliamentary borough included those qualified on the same 40 shilling freeholder franchise as that for a county constituency. Other electors qualified as freemen of the borough. These were the ancient right franchises, applicable to Bristol, preserved by the Reform Act 1832, which also introduced a broader occupation franchise for all borough constituencies.
The bloc vote electoral system was used in two seat elections and first past the post for single member by-elections. Each voter had up to as many votes as there were seats to be filled. Votes had to be cast by a spoken declaration, in public, at the hustings (until the secret ballot was introduced in 1872).
Namier and Brooke, in The House of Commons 1754-1790, estimated the electorate of Bristol to number about 5,000. When registration of electors was introduced in 1832 the city had 10,315 names on the electoral register.
Note on percentage change calculations: Where there was only one candidate of a party in successive elections, for the same number of seats, change is calculated on the party percentage vote. Where there was more than one candidate, in one or both successive elections for the same number of seats, then change is calculated on the individual percentage vote.
Note on sources: The information for the election results given below is taken from Sedgwick 1715-1754, Namier and Brooke 1754-1790, Stooks Smith 1790-1832 and from Craig thereafter. Where Stooks Smith gives additional information or differs from the other sources this is indicated in a note after the result.
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Note (1715): Although the Whig candidates received fewer votes than the Tory ones, the Returning Officer declared them elected and the House of Commons did not hear the petitions against the return; so Daines and Earle continued to sit throughout the Parliament.
Note (1774): 5,384 voted. Lord Clare resigned on the second day when Mr. Burke was first proposed. Mr. Burke was at the time in Malton, for which place he had been returned when the deputation arrived to invite him to Bristol, where he arrived on the sixth day's poll. (Source: Stooks Smith)
Note (1852): From this election the number of electors who voted is unknown, so the number of votes cast is divided by two, and the resultant figure is used to calculate an estimated minimum turnout. To the extent that electors did not cast both their possible votes the turnout figure will be an underestimate.
Boundaries of Parliamentary Constituencies 1885-1972, compiled and edited by F.W.S. Craig (Parliamentary Reference Publications 1972)
British Parliamentary Election Results 1832-1885, compiled and edited by F.W.S. Craig (The Macmillan Press 1977)
McCalmont's Parliamentary Poll Book: British Election Results 1832-1918 (8th edition, The Harvester Press 1971)
The House of Commons 1509-1558, by S.T. Bindoff (Secker & Warburg 1982)
The House of Commons 1558-1603, by P.W. Hasler (HMSO 1981)
The House of Commons 1715-1754, by Romney Sedgwick (HMSO 1970)
The House of Commons 1754-1790, by Sir Lewis Namier and John Brooke (HMSO 1964)
The Parliaments of England by Henry Stooks Smith (1st edition published in three volumes 1844-50), second edition edited (in one volume) by F.W.S. Craig (Political Reference Publications 1973) out of copyright
Who's Who of British Members of Parliament: Volume I 1832-1885, edited by M. Stenton (The Harvester Press 1976)