As the 18th century closed revolution was simmering beneath the surface of Britain. The ruling class were fearful that discontent of ‘the masses’ that had exploded in France might envelope Great Britain too. The new ‘middle class’ whose economic ‘clout’ had developed as the industrial revolution progressed felt excluded from political influence and thus provided another avenue for social discontent.
In our area, as the 19th century dawned, East Retford was becoming notorious as a Rotten Borough. At the time, East and West Retford were separate, sometimes intensely separate, units. We should also note that Clarborough was a third unit juggling for influence - at the time the Parish extended into the heart of East Retford along what are now Moorgate and Spital Hill.
Having received its first Royal Charter as early as 1246 from Henry III, the borough sent MPs to the House of Commons in 1316 after which things lapsed until 1571 after which they ‘sat’ regularly. Throughout this period, election of MPs fell to just a few local ‘interests’ - aldermen and burgesses who typically amounted to some 50-100 men. These were easily manipulated by powerful interests from outside. These included various Earls (Rutland, Shrewsbury) and Cavendish family - latterly Duke of Newcastle. These ‘influences’ degenerated into bribery and intimidation so that the interested parties could field two MPs who could influence national politics. Click here for more on the background to all of this.
History of Parliament Research details the events of the elections of 1820 to 1831 and illustrates just why the 1832 Great Reform Act had East Retford as a central focus.
Hansard, the official recorder of parliamentary debates, records much argument around the same topic, for a flavour of this click here... for some of the debate on the East Retford Disfranchisement Bill (1828).
This Bill transferred the franchise to the new constituency of Bassetlaw which covered what had been the ancient hundred or wapentake of Bassetlaw. Bassetlaw elected just one MP - as it does to this day. The borough itself survived as a Municipal Borough from 1835 until 1974 when it was abolished under the Local Government Act 1972, forming part of the new Bassetlaw district of Nottinghamshire.
For an exhaustive examination of the background, interests and issues relating to the Reform Act Crisis, click here...