Pontefract (UK Parliament constituency)

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Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
A map of the Parliamentary Borough of Pontefract as it existed before the 1832 Reform Act (in green) and after (in red)
Number of members 2
1621–1974 (1974)
Number of members 2 until 1885; 1 from 1885 to 1974
Type of constituency Borough constituency
Replaced by Pontefract and Castleford

Pontefract was an English parliamentary constituency centred on the town of Pontefract in the West Riding of Yorkshire, which returned two Members of Parliament to the House of Commons briefly in the 13th century and again from 1621 until 1885, and one member from 1885 to 1974.


In the unreformed Parliaments (1295-1832)[edit]

Pontefract had representation in the Model Parliament of 1295, and in that which followed it in 1298, but gained a continuous franchise only from 1621. The constituency was a parliamentary borough, returning two members, consisting only of the town of Pontefract itself.

Until 1783, Pontefract was a burgage borough, where the right to vote was attached to the holders of about 325 specified properties in the borough. As in most burgage boroughs, the majority of the burgage tenements were concentrated in a small number of hands, giving their owners an effective stranglehold on the choice of representatives; but, since an individual could not vote more than once in person, however, many of the burgages he controlled, such a majority could only be exercised by conveying each of the properties to a reliable nominee at election time. In Pontefract the two chief landowners in the first half of the 18th century, George Morton Pitt and Lord Galway, owned between them a narrow majority of the burgages, but rather than putting in dummy voters to enforce their control they had preferred to reach an amicable settlement at each election with the remaining small burgage holders, who were mostly residents of the town. Consequently the inhabitants generally had some voice in the choice of their MPs, as well as benefiting from the monetary outlay that the patrons expended to secure their goodwill.

However, in 1766 Pitt sold his burgages to John Walsh, who persuaded Galway to join him in abandoning canvassing and treating of the other voters, instead bringing in "faggot voters" to enforce their majority. At the next general election, in 1768, the indignant inhabitants put up their own candidates (Sir Rowland Winn and his brother), and a riot on polling day prevented the imported voters from reaching the polling booth. The election was declared void and Walsh's nominee duly returned at the by-election, but the townsmen refused to abandon their quest.

Defeated in 1774, when Charles James Fox stood as one of their candidates, they petitioned against the result, but the Commons upheld the burgage franchise. But in 1783, when they tried again, the Commons abandoned its usual practice of refusing to reconsider a decision on a constituency's franchise, and declared that the right to vote was properly vested in all the (male) resident householders; this remained the case for the final half-century of the unreformed Parliament.

By the time of the Great Reform Act in 1831, roughly 800 householders qualified to vote, and 699 did so in the contested election of 1830; the borough at this period had a total population of just under 5,000. Nevertheless, Pontefract still classed as a pocket borough, where the Earl of Harewood had the effective power to choose one of its two MPs.

After the Reform Act[edit]

The Reform Act of 1832 extended the boundaries of the constituency, bringing in the neighbouring townships of Tanshelf, Monkhill, Knottingley, Ferrybridge and Carleton, as well as Pontefract Castle and Pontefract Park, which had previously been excluded. This doubled the population to just over 10,000, in 4,832 houses.

In 1872 Pontefract became the first British constituency to hold a parliamentary election by secret ballot, at a by-election held shortly after the Act ending the old practice of open voting had come into effect. There was considerable interest in the outcome, many observers believing that support for the parties might be drastically different once voters were able to make their choice in secret; but in the event the shares of the vote were much as they had been at the previous general election. Hugh Childers was re-elected on 15 August 1872 following his appointment as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. The Pontefract museum holds the original ballot box, sealed in wax with a liquorice stamp.[1]

The third Reform Act, which came into effect at the general election of 1885, reduced Pontefract's representation from two members to one, though the boundaries remained essentially unchanged. In 1918, Pontefract became a county constituency, with boundaries extended to cover a much wider area - Pontefract itself, the towns of Knottingley and Goole, and the Pontefract and Goole rural districts.

At the 1950 general election Pontefract regained its borough status, being redrawn as a wholly urban constituency consisting of Pontefract, Castleford and Featherstone. From February 1974, the constituency was renamed Pontefract and Castleford, although its composition remained unchanged.

Members of Parliament[edit]


Parliament First member Second member
Right to return members restored, 1621
1621 George Skillet Sir Edwin Sandys, jnr
1624 Sir John Jackson Sir Thomas Wentworth
1625 Sir John Jackson Richard Beaumont
1626 Sir John Jackson Sir Francis Foljambe, 1st Baronet
1628 Sir John Ramsden Sir John Jackson
1629–1640 No Parliaments summoned


Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 John Ramsden Royalist Sir George Wentworth of Woolley Royalist
November 1640 Sir George Wentworth of Woolley Royalist Sir George Wentworth of Wentworth Woodhouse Royalist
September 1642 Wentworth disabled to sit - seat vacant
January 1644 Wentworth disabled to sit - seat vacant
1645 Henry Arthington
1646 William White
1653 Pontefract was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 John Hewley John Lambert
May 1659 William White One seat vacant
1660 William Lowther Sir George Savile, Bt.
1661 Sir John Dawnay
1679 Sir Patience Ward
1685 Sir Thomas Yarburgh
1690 Henry Dawnay Sir John Bland, Bt.
1695 Sir William Lowther Robert Monckton
1698 Sir John Bland, Bt. John Bright
1701 William Lowther
1710 Robert Frank
1713 John Dawnay [2]
1716 [3] Sir William Lowther, 1st Baronet Hugh Bethell
1722 John Lowther
1729 Sir William Lowther, 2nd Baronet
1730 John Mordaunt
1734 1st Viscount Galway
1741 George Morton Pitt
1747 William Monckton
1749 1st Viscount Galway
1751 Robert Monckton
1754 2nd Viscount Galway Sambrooke Freeman
1761 William Gerard Hamilton
March 1768 Sir Rowland Winn
December 1768 Henry Strachey
1772 3rd Viscount Galway
March 1774 Robert Monckton
October 1774 Sir John Goodricke, Bt. Charles Mellish
1780 William Nedham 4th Viscount Galway
February 1783 Nathaniel Smith
April 1783 John Smyth
1784 William Sotheron
1796 4th Viscount Galway
1802 Richard Benyon
1806 Robert Pemberton Milnes
1807 Viscount Pollington
October 1812 Henry Lascelles[4]
December 1812 Viscount Pollington
1818 Thomas Houldsworth
1826 Le Gendre Nicholas Starkie
1830 Hon. Henry Stafford-Jerningham Whig Sir Culling Eardley Smith, Bt.
1831 The Earl of Mexborough
1832 John Gully Whig
1835 Viscount Pollington Conservative
1837 Richard Monckton Milnes Conservative William Thomas Stanley-Massey-Stanley Whig
1841 Viscount Pollington Conservative
1847 Samuel Martin Whig
1851 Hon. Beilby Lawley Whig
1852 Benjamin Oliveira Whig
1857 Liberal William Wood Liberal
1859 William Overend Conservative
1860 Hugh Childers Liberal
1863 Samuel Waterhouse Conservative
1880 Sidney Woolf Liberal
1885 Representation reduced to one member


Election Member Party
1885 reduced to one member
1885 Rowland Winn Conservative
February 1893 Harold James Reckitt Liberal
June 1893 Thomas Willans Nussey Liberal
1910 Frederick Handel Booth Liberal
1918 Sir Joseph Compton-Rickett Coalition Liberal
1919 Walter Forrest Coalition Liberal
1922 Tom Smith Labour
1924 Christopher Robert Ingham Brooke Unionist
1929 Tom Smith Labour
1931 Thomas Edmund Sotheron-Estcourt Conservative
1935 Adam Hills Labour
1941 by-election Percy Barstow Labour
1950 George Sylvester Labour
1962 by-election Joseph Harper Labour
Feb 1974 constituency abolished: see Pontefract & Castleford


  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ Dawnay had also been elected for Aldborough, but a petition against the result there had not been resolved by the time the Parliament was dissolved. Not being required to choose which constituency he would represent while there was an outstanding petition against one of the elections, he sat for both boroughs throughout the Parliament
  3. ^ At the general election of 1715, Dawnay and Frank were declared re-elected, but on petition the result was overturned and their opponents, Bethell and Lowther, seated in their place
  4. ^ Lascelles was also elected for Yorkshire, which he chose to represent, and never sat for Pontefract


Elections in the 1880s[edit]

Hugh Childers
General Election 1885: Pontefract [1]

Electorate 2,465

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hon. Rowland Winn 1,111 50.8 n/a
Liberal Rt Hon. Hugh Culling Eardley Childers 1,075 49.2 n/a
Majority 36 1.6 n/a
Turnout 88.7 n/a
Conservative win (new seat)
General Election 1886: Pontefract [2]

Electorate 2,465

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hon. Rowland Winn 1,156 55.0 +4.2
Liberal Charles James Fleming 947 45.0 -4.2
Majority 209 10.0 +8.4
Turnout 85.3 -3.4
Conservative hold Swing +4.2

Elections in the 1890s[edit]

General Election 1892: Pontefract [3]

Electorate 2,518

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Conservative Hon. Rowland Winn 1,132 50.9
Liberal HSL Wilson 1,092 49.1
Majority 40 1.8
Turnout 88.3
Conservative hold Swing
Harold Reckitt
Pontefract by-election, February 1893[4]

Electorate 2,575

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Harold James Reckitt 1,228 51.3 +2.2
Conservative John Reginald Shaw 1,165 48.7 -2.2
Majority 63 2.6 4.4
Turnout 92.9 +4.6
Liberal gain from Conservative Swing +2.2
Thomas Nussey
Pontefract by-election, June 1893[5]

Electorate 2,575

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Thomas Willans Nussey 1,191 50.7
Conservative E Lees 1,159 49.3
Majority 32 1.4
Turnout 91.3
Liberal hold Swing
General Election 1895: Pontefract [6]

Electorate 2,721

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Thomas Willans Nussey 1,245 51.2 +0.5
Conservative James Fitzalan Hope 1,188 48.8 -0.5
Majority 57 2.4
Turnout 89.4 -1.9
Liberal hold Swing +0.5

Elections in the 1900s[edit]

General Election 1900: Pontefract [7]

Electorate 3,004

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Thomas Willans Nussey 1,385 52.2 +1.0
Conservative Sir Frederick W Ripley 1,269 47.8 -1.0
Majority 116 4.4 +2.0
Turnout 88.3
Liberal hold Swing +1.0
General Election 1906: Pontefract [8]

Electorate 3,288

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Thomas Willans Nussey 1,837 64.1 +11.9
Conservative Charles Edward Yate 1,030 35.9 -11.9
Majority 807 28.2 +23.8
Turnout 87.2 -1.1
Liberal hold Swing +11.9

Elections in the 1910s[edit]

General Election January 1910: Pontefract [9]

Electorate 3,661

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Sir Thomas Willans Nussey 1,924 55.9 -8.2
Conservative John Reginald Shaw 1,515 44.1 +8.2
Majority 409 11.8 -16.4
Turnout 93.9
Liberal hold Swing -8.2
General Election December 1910: Pontefract [10]

Electorate 3,661

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Liberal Frederick Handel Booth 1,679 50.8
Conservative John Reginald Shaw 49.2
Majority 1.6
Turnout 90.3 -3.6
Liberal hold Swing

General Election 1914/15: Another General Election was required to take place before the end of 1915. The political parties had been making preparations for an election to take place and by the July 1914, the following candidates had been selected;

Pontefract General Election, 1918[11]

Electorate 29,841

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Coalition Liberal Sir Joseph Compton-Rickett 8,561 62.9
Labour Isaac Burns 5,047 37.1
Majority 3514 25.8
Turnout 45.6
Coalition Liberal hold Swing
Walter Forrest
Pontefract by-election, 1919


Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Coalition Liberal Walter Forrest 9,920 54.0
Labour Isaac Burns 8,445 46.0
Majority 1,475 8.0
Turnout 18,365 61.5
Coalition Liberal hold Swing

Elections in the 1910s[edit]

Mary Grant
General Election 1923: Pontefract[12]

Electorate 33,425

Party Candidate Votes % ±%
Labour Tom Smith 11,134 45.3
Unionist Albert Newby Braithwaite 8,872 36.1
Liberal Mary Pollock Grant 4,567 18.6
Majority 2,262 9.2
Turnout 73.5
Labour hold Swing


  1. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  2. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  3. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  4. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  5. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  6. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  7. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  8. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  9. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  10. ^ British parliamentary election results, 1885-1918 (Craig)
  11. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow, 1949 p520
  12. ^ British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949, FWS Craig
  • Robert Beatson, "A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament" (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) [2]
  • John Brooke, The House of Commons 1754-1790: Introductory Survey (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968, reprinted from Volume I of Namier & Brooke, The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1754-1790, London: HMSO, 1964)
  • "Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803" (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [3]
  • Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1977]. British parliamentary election results 1832-1885 (2nd edition ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN 0-900178-26-4. 
  • Craig, F. W. S. (1983) [1969]. British parliamentary election results 1918-1949 (3rd edition ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. ISBN 0-900178-06-X. 
  • J Holladay Philbin, "Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Frederic A Youngs, jr, "Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol II" (London: Royal Historical Society, 1991)

External links[edit]