Bere Alston (UK Parliament constituency)

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Bere Alston
Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of membersTwo

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[edit]


Parliament First member Second member
Parliament of 1584-1585 Edward Montagu Edward Phelips
Parliament of 1586-1587 (Sir) Charles Blount Nicholas Martin
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 Cheke[1]
Useless Parliament (1625) Sir Thomas Cheke William Strode
Parliament of 1626-1627 William Strode Thomas Wise
Parliament of 1628-1629 William Strode Thomas Wise
No Parliament summoned 1629-1640


Year First member First party Second member Second party
April 1640 William Strode[2] Parliamentarian John Harris
November 1640 Sir Thomas Cheek[3] Parliamentarian
December 1640 Hugh Pollard[4] Royalist
1641 Charles Pym Parliamentarian
1646 Sir Francis Drake Parliamentarian
December 1648 Drake and Pym excluded in Pride's Purge - both seats vacant
1653 Bere Alston was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament and the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate
January 1659 Sir John Maynard Parliamentarian Elisha Crymes Parliamentarian
May 1659 Bere Alston was not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 John Maynard Parliamentarian George Howard Cavalier
June 1660 Richard Arundell Cavalier
1661 Sir John Maynard Parliamentarian George Howard Cavalier
1662 Richard Arundell Cavalier
1665 Joseph Maynard Parliamentarian
February 1679 Sir William Bastard Whig
March 1679 Sir John Trevor Tory
1681 Sir Duncombe Colchester Tory John Elwill Whig
1685 Sir John Maynard Whig Sir Benjamin Bathurst Tory
19 January 1689 John Elwill Whig
31 January 1689 Sir John Holt Tory
May 1689 Sir John Trevor Tory
1690 Sir Francis Drake Whig John Swinfen Whig
1691 John Smith Whig
1694 Sir Henry Hobart Whig
November 1695 John Elwill Whig
December 1695 Sir Rowland Gwynne Whig
1698 John Hawles Whig
1698 James Montagu Whig
January 1701 Sir Rowland Gwynne Whig Sir Peter King Whig
March 1701 William Cowper Whig
1705 Spencer Cowper Whig
1710 Lawrence Carter Whig
1715 Horatio Walpole Whig
1717 Edward Carteret Whig
1721 Philip Cavendish[5] Whig
1721 St John Brodrick Whig
1722 Sir John Hobart[6] Whig
1724 Sir Robert Rich Whig
1727 Sir John Hobart[7] Whig Sir Francis Drake[8] Whig
1728 Sir Archer Croft Whig Lord Walden Tory
February 1734 William Morden[9] Whig
May 1734 Sir Francis Drake Whig John Bristow Whig
1740 Samuel Heathcote Whig
1741 Sir William Morden Whig
1747 Sir Francis Henry Drake Whig
1754 John Bristow Whigs
1761 Hon. George Hobart Whig
1771 Francis William Drake Whig
1774 Sir Francis Henry Drake Whig
September 1780 Lord Algernon Percy[10] Tory The Lord Macartney Whig
December 1780 Viscount Feilding Tory
1781 Laurence Cox Tory
1784 The Earl of Mornington Tory
1787 Charles Rainsford Tory
1788 John Mitford[11] Tory
1790 Sir George Beaumont Tory
1796 William Mitford Tory
1799 Lord Lovaine Tory[12]
1806 Hon. Josceline Percy Tory
1820 Henry Percy Tory
1825 Percy Ashburnham Tory[13]
1830 Christopher Blackett Tory[14]
January 1831 David Lyon Tory[15]
May 1831 Lord Lovaine Tory[16]
1832 Constituency abolished

Election results[edit]

Elections in the 1830s[edit]

General election, 2 May 1831: Bere Alston[17]
Party Candidate Votes %
Tory Algernon Percy 9 50.0
Tory David Lyon 9 50.0
Whig Charles Wood 0 0.0
Whig James Mackintosh 0 0.0
Majority 9 50.0
Turnout c. 9 c. 30.0
Registered electors c. 30
Tory hold
Tory hold
By-election, 11 January 1831: Bere Alston[17]
Party Candidate Votes %
Tory David Lyon 7 100.0
Non Partisan John Attwood 0 0.0
Majority 7 100.0
Turnout c. 7 c. 23.3
Registered electors c. 30
Tory hold
General election, 31 July 1830: Bere Alston[17]
Party Candidate Votes %
Tory George Percy Unopposed
Tory Christopher Blackett Unopposed
Tory hold
Tory hold


  1. ^ Cheek sat for Essex and was replaced by William Strode
  2. ^ Died 1645
  3. ^ Cheek was also elected for Harwich, which he chose to represent, and did not sit again for Bere Alston
  4. ^ Expelled 9 December 1641 for involvement in a plan to intimidate Parliament by bringing the Royal army in the North to Westminster
  5. ^ Cavendish was initially declared elected, but on petition the Commons found in favour of his opponent, Broderick, who was seated in his place
  6. ^ Hobart was also elected for St Ives, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
  7. ^ Hobart was also elected for Norfolk, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
  8. ^ Drake was also elected for Tavistock, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
  9. ^ Morden later changed his name to Harbord
  10. ^ Percy was also elected for Northumberland, which he chose to represent, and did not sit for Bere Alston
  11. ^ Sir John Mitford from 1793
  12. ^ Jenkins, Terry. "PERCY, George, Lord Lovaine (1778-1867), of 8 Portman Square, Mdx". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  13. ^ Spencer, Howard. "ASHBURNHAM, Hon. Percy (1799-1881), of 95 Park Street, Grosvenor Square, Mdx". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  14. ^ Jenkins, Terry. "BLACKETT, Christopher (1787-1847), of Wylam Hall, Northumb". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  15. ^ Fisher, David R. "LYON, David (?1794-1872), of 34 Grosvenor Square, Mdx". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  16. ^ Jenkins, Terry. "PERCY, see Algernon George, Algernon George, Lord Lovaine (1810-1899), of 8 Portman Square, Mdx". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 May 2020.
  17. ^ a b c Jenkins, Terry. "Bere Alston". The History of Parliament. Retrieved 25 May 2020.


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