Electoral Register Guide
Electoral Registers are a useful resource for many research purposes, including tracing your family history. They list the people eligible to vote in parliamentary and local government elections. The lists are organised by constituency and divided into polling districts.
Registers of parliamentary voters were more widely kept as a result of the Reform Act of 1832. At the time very few people could vote at elections. Women were excluded entirely. The following Acts increased the numbers of people allowed to vote. They are worth bearing in mind when searching the Electoral Registers.
- The Reform Act of 1832 known as the Great Reform Act was the first major step towards equal representation. Men owning or occupying property worth £10 or more could vote. This added about 217,000 voters to an electorate of 435,000 in England and Wales. Electoral Registers were introduced and the parliamentary bprough of Tower Hamlets was established. It was also however the first time women were explicitly barred from voting
- The Reform Act of 1867 extended voting to householders of property rated at £5 or more in the boroughs and £12 or more in the counties. This added about 2.5 million voters, mainly working clas men.
- The Franchise Act of 1884 established a £5 voting qualification for both borough and county constituencies. This raised the numbers in the United Kingdom electorate from about 3 million to 5 million. Hailed at the time as democratic, gave the vote to only three out of every five adult males and no women.
- The Representation of the People Act of 1918 extended householder voting. Some women at last had the right to vote, but only those over 30 who met the old occupancy qualification or whose husband did. Men only needed to be resident for six months to be able to vote. This Act added more voters to the register than all its predecessors put together. There were now 13 million men and 8.5 million women eligible to vote.
- The Representation of the People Act of 1928 lowered the voting age for women to 21 with the same six-month residency qualification as for men. This added about 5 million voters to the register.
- The Representation of the People Act 1969 reduced the voting age from 21 to 18.
The struggle to expand the franchise took place over many decades and involved thousands of participants, with perhaps the most famous being the chartists and the suffragettes (see 320.7 and 320.6 in our library classification scheme). If you think your ancestors could have been involved in either struggle you can find out more by visiting the Chartist Ancestors website or by searching the Home Office’s index of suffragettes who were arrested between 1906 and 1914 on Ancestry Library Edition.
Records held by Tower Hamlets Local History Library and Archives
We hold all Tower Hamlets registers dating from 1901 except:
- During the First World War period of 1916 to 1917
- During the Second World War period of 1940 to 1944
- Metropolitan Borough of Stepney in 1926
- Between 1901 to 1915, the Electoral Registers cover Tower Hamlets as a whole. The exception is Bethnal Green whose registers are separate from 1901.
- Between 1918 to 1966, there is a division into three separate volumes. These cover Metropolitan Boroughs of Stepney, Bethnal Green and Poplar / Bow and Bromley.
- From 1964 to the present day, the Electoral Registers cover Tower Hamlets as a whole.
Recent Electoral Registers have two types:
- Full Register lists everyone who is entitled to vote
- Edited Register, available for general sales, omits details of anyone who does not wish to be included in the Full Register.
We hold the Full and Edited Registers registers for most years, however registers produced less than ten years ago cannot be photocopied or photographed, and you will need to complete a short form to view any current register.
Volumes with a Streets Index
Our electoral registers can only be browsed by street, not by name, so you will need to know where your ancestor may have lived before looking them up. Without knowing the exact division a street is listed under, this can make searching them time a consuming process. Useful street indexes are available for the following years:
- Tower Hamlets Registers: 1901-1915, the index is at the front of volume one
- Stepney Registers: 1955-1966
- Bow and Bromley / Poplar Registers: 1918-1919; 1928-1933; 1937-1964
- Bethnal Green Registers: 1919-1939; 1950-1963
- All Tower Hamlets Registers after 1967
Earlier registers are held at the London Metropolitan Archives, though we do hold a small number of mid-nineteenth century ones for certain parishes. Those for the period 1832-1965 are now available online and can be searched by name via Ancestry Library Edition.
Robert Ensor. England 1870-1914. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1968.
Llewellyn Woodward. The Age of Reform 1815-1870. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.