Bere Alston (UK Parliament constituency)
Former Borough constituency|
for the House of Commons
|Number of members||Two|
Bere Alston or Beeralston was a parliamentary borough in Devon, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1584 until 1832, when the constituency was abolished by the Great Reform Act as a rotten borough.
Bere Alston was first summoned to return MPs in 1584; like many of the boroughs over the county boundary in Cornwall that were enfranchised during the reign of Elizabeth I, it had never been of much size and was a rotten borough from the start. Indeed, its first return of members specifically states that they had been elected at the request of The Marquess of Winchester and Lord Mountjoy, the chief landowners in the borough, and its enfranchisement plainly designed to allow them to nominate MPs.
The borough consisted of most of the village of Bere Alston in the parish of Bere Ferris, 10 miles north of Plymouth. By the time of the Great Reform Act there were 112 houses within the borough boundaries, and 139 in the whole village. The population was not separately recorded in the census. It was customary for elections to be conducted under a great tree in the centre of the village; there was no equivalent of a town hall, and indeed no municipal corporation.
Bere Alston was a burgage borough, the right to vote resting with the freehold tenants of a number of specified properties within the town of which there appears to have been only 30. For much of the eighteenth century most, if not all, of these burgage properties were owned by the Drake and Hobart families (the latter becoming the Earls of Buckinghamshire in 1746). Only one contested election therefore occurred in the eighteenth century, when the two families failed to compromise. In the 1770s the borough was acquired by the 1st Duke of Northumberland, and was retained by his descendants until the borough was disenfranchised.
In the debates before the passing of the Reform Act, Bere Alston was held up as one of the most notorious examples of a rotten borough, vilified in more than one of the pro-Reform newspapers. The Times carried the following report of what happened in Bere Alston in the general election there in 1830:
"Dr Butler [the Portreeve, who was Returning Officer for the borough] ... met the voters under a great tree, the place usually chosen for the purpose of election. During the time the Portreeve was reading the acts of Parliament usually read on such occasions, one of the voters handed in to him a card containing the names of two candidates, proposed by himself and seconded by his friend. He was told ... this was too early. Before the reading was completed, the voter on the other side handed in a card corresponding with the former, which he was told was too late. The meeting broke up. The Portreeve and assistants adjourned to a public house in the neighbourhood, and then and there made a return of Lord Lovaine and Mr Blackett, which was not signed by a single person having a vote."
The election return actually bears seven signatures - individuals who were probably made temporary burgage holders to qualify as electors for the day of the election but none of whom probably resided in the borough. The two "voters" who sought to nominate candidates were probably unqualified but were actual residents. Otherwise the report is probably truthful.
The borough was disenfranchised by the Reform Act.
Members of Parliament
|Parliament||First member||Second member|
|Parliament of 1584-1585||Edward Montagu||Edward Phelips|
|Parliament of 1586-1587||(Sir) Charles Blount||Nicholas Martyn|
|Parliament of 1588-1589||Richard Spencer||Ferdinand Clarke|
|Parliament of 1593||Sir Charles Blount||Thomas Burgoyne|
|Parliament of 1597-1598||Sir Jocelyn Blount||George Crooke|
|Parliament of 1601||Charles Lister||John Langford|
|Parliament of 1604-1611||Sir Arthur Atye 1604
Humphrey May from 1605
|Sir Richard Strode|
|Addled Parliament (1614)||Thomas Crewe||Sir Richard White|
|Parliament of 1621-1622||Thomas Keightley||Sir Thomas Wise|
|Happy Parliament (1624-1625)||Thomas Jermyn||Sir Thomas Cheek |
|Useless Parliament (1625)||Sir Thomas Cheek||William Strode|
|Parliament of 1625-1626||Thomas Wise|
|Parliament of 1628-1629|
|No Parliament summoned 1629-1640|
- Cheek sat for Essex and was replaced by William Strode
- Died 1645
- Cheek was also elected for Harwich, which he chose to represent, and did not sit again for Bere Alston
- Expelled 9 December 1641 for involvement in a plan to intimidate Parliament by bringing the Royal army in the North to Westminster
- Cavendish was initially declared elected, but on petition the Commons found in favour of his opponent, Broderick, who was seated in his place
- Hobart was also elected for St Ives, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
- Hobart was also elected for Norfolk, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
- Drake was also elected for Tavistock, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
- Morden later changed his name to Harbord
- Percy was also elected for Northumberland, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
- Sir John Mitford from 1793
- Robert Beatson, "A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament" (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) 
- Michael Brock, The Great Reform Act (London: Hutchinson, 1973)
- D Brunton & D H Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
- Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) 
- Lewis Namier, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (2nd edition - London: St Martin's Press, 1961)
- J. E. Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949)
- T. H. B. Oldfield, The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1816)
- J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
- Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "B" (part 2)