How Democracy Came To Benfleet

The voting entitlement 1832 - 2012

Benfleet and the right to vote

The process by which citizens of Benfleet obtained the right to vote was long and slow as the table below shows. Despite the accolade of being the “Great Reform Act” of 1832, little changed in rural areas like Benfleet until the twentieth century. The table is not a list of every general election  but a record of the voting changes and the impact made on the following election as regards the size of the electorate.

What also surprised me in those nineteenth century elections was the number of voters who did not reside in Benfleet ….in most cases these absentee landlords have long gone……in fact in recent times Castle Point had the reputation of being the local authority with the highest percentage of private ownership.

It wasn’t until 1918 that a significant number of Benfleet folk were entitled to vote, but even then a couple of factors need to be borne in mind…firstly the constituency boundaries keep changing and secondly the number of people living in Benfleet grew rapidly in the twentieth century. I have wherever possible used figures based on the parish/political wards of South Benfleet rather than Benfleet as a local authority area.

Another surprise was to find that it wasn’t until 1950 that multiple votes (plural voting) were abolished.

General election yearConstituency changesReforming legislationVote extended
Benfleet electorateComments
1802 – 1832Essex5
                                                      1832South EssexGreat Reform ActPropertied adult
1 in 7
males now en-franchised
10 (see Barstable Hundred list for namesnumber may have doubled but…
1868South EssexReform Act 1867Adult male house-holders16of those, only 6 lived in Benfleet !
1885South East EssexRepresent-ation of the People’s Act 1884Counties as well as boroughs5.5 million men now en-franchised (= 40% male pop).22little impact locally
1918South East EssexRepresent-ation of the People’s Act 1918Males over 21 and propertied  women over 30Electorate rose to 21.4 million779
1929South East EssexRepresent-ation of the People’s Act 1928Equal rights for women over 212835
1950South East EssexRepresent-ation of the People’s Act 1948One person one vote6002
1970Castlepoint and RochfordRepresent-ation of the People’s Act 1969Everyone over 1811586
2013Castlepoint and part of Basildon  ?Only a proposal

South Essex 1832 poll book
1832 list of those eligible to vote

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