Retford antique map. This antique map is from the 1837 “Report of Commissioners upon the Boundaries and Wards of certain Boroughs and Corporate Towns,” concerning East Retford, Nottinghamshire. East Retford, which this proposal was meant to address, was a notorious ‘rotten borough,’ which is now part of the Bassetlaw Parliamentary constituency. It is taken from an original copy “…to be preserved in the Office of Her Majesty’s Principal Secretary of State, Home Department, 1837.”
The Representation of the People Act 1832 (known informally as the 1832 Reform Act, Great Reform Act or First Reform Act to distinguish it from subsequent Reform Acts) was an Act of Parliament of the United Kingdom that introduced wide-ranging changes to the electoral system of England and Wales. According to its preamble, the Act was designed to “take effectual Measures for correcting divers Abuses that have long prevailed in the Choice of Members to serve in the Commons House of Parliament”. Before the reform, most members nominally represented boroughs. The number of electors in a borough varied widely, from a dozen or so up to 12,000. Frequently the selection of MPs was effectively controlled by one powerful patron: for example Charles Howard, 11th Duke of Norfolk controlled eleven boroughs. Criteria for qualification for the franchise varied greatly among boroughs, from the requirement to own land, to merely living in a house with a hearth sufficient to boil a pot. There had been calls for reform long before 1832, but without success. The Act that finally succeeded was proposed by the Whigs, led by Prime Minister Charles Grey, 2nd Earl Grey. It met with significant opposition from the Pittite factions in Parliament, who had long governed the country; opposition was especially pronounced in the House of Lords. Nevertheless, the bill was eventually passed, mainly as a result of public pressure. The Act granted seats in the House of Commons to large cities that had sprung up during the Industrial Revolution, and removed seats from the “rotten boroughs”: those with very small electorates and usually dominated by a wealthy patron. The Act also increased the electorate from about 500,000 to 800,000, making about one in five adult males allowed to vote.
The full title is An Act to amend the representation of the people in England and Wales. Its formal short title and citation is “Representation of the People Act 1832 (2 & 3 Wm. IV, c. 45)”.