Old Sarum – Map: County Series 1:2500 1881
Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, was a parliamentary constituency in England from 1295 to 1832. The constituency was on the site of what had been the original settlement of Salisbury, known as Old Sarum.
It was a so-called ‘rotten borough’ (or ‘pocket borough’) with an extremely small electorate that was consequently vastly over-represented and could be used by a patron to gain undue influence. Rotten boroughs were one of the curiosities of the British electoral system, where fathers passed on constituencies (and the power as an MP that went with this) to their sons as if they were personal property. In many such boroughs the very few electors could not vote for whom they truly wanted due to the lack of a secret ballot or simply due to the lack of a candidate desirable to their political philosophy. The term rotten borough came into use in the 18th century. The word “rotten” had the connotation of corruption as well as that of long-term decline.
Rotten boroughs had very few voters. For example, Old Sarum, in Wiltshire, only had three houses and a population of seven people. It was a possession of the Pitt family from the mid-17th century to 1802, and one of its Members of Parliament was Prime Minister William Pitt the Elder. In 1802 the Pitt family sold it for £60,000, even though the land and manorial rights were worth £700 a year at most.
Examples of rotten boroughs in 1831 include the following:
||Houses in Borough
||Voters in 1831
|Old Sarum, Wiltshire
||Earl of Caledon
||Sir Mark Wood
|Bramber, West Sussex
||Duke of Rutland
|Newton, Isle of Wight
||Sir Fitzwilliam Barrington
With just a few individuals with the vote and no secret ballot, it was easy for candidates to buy their way to victory.
The constituency of Old Sarum was abolished under the Reform Act 1832
Indications of prehistoric settlement at Old Sarum have been discovered from as early as 3000 bc. An was erected around 400 bc, The site continued to be occupied during the Roman period. The Saxons took the British fort in the 6th century and later used it as a stronghold against marauding Vikings. Later the Normans constructed a motte and bailey castle, a stone curtain wall, and a great cathedral. A royal palace was built within the castle for King Henry I and was subsequently used by Plantagenet monarchs. This heyday of the settlement lasted for around 300 years. By the early 13th century the population had moved to New Sarum at the foot of the hill, now known as the cathedral city of Salisbury and the long neglected castle was finally abandoned by Edward II in 1322.
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