The electoral wards (of Bath and North East Somerset District) which will make up the revised Bath constituency are:
The precise way in which its MPs were chosen in medieval times is unknown. It is recorded that "election was by the Mayor and three citizens being sent from thence to the county court who in the name of the whole community, and by the assent of the community, returned their representatives"; but what form the "assent of the community" took is unrecorded, even assuming it was not a complete dead letter. By the 17th century elections had become more competitive, and the means of election in Bath had been formalised to a franchise restricted to the Mayor, Aldermen and members of the Common Council (the City Corporation), a total of thirty voters. The freemen of the city challenged this state of affairs in 1661 and again in 1705 claiming the right to vote and petitioning against the election of the candidates chosen by the corporation, but on both occasions the House of Commons, which in those days was the final arbiter of such disputes, decided against them. The Commons resolution of 27 January 1708, "That the right of election of citizens to serve in Parliament for this city is in the mayor, aldermen and common-council only", settled the matter until 1832.
Bath was the biggest of the English boroughs where the right to vote was restricted to the corporation (at the time of the 1801 census it was one of the ten largest towns or cities in England by population), and almost unique in that the voters generally exercised their powers responsibly and independently. As was the case elsewhere, the Common Council was not popularly elected, all vacancies being filled by co-option by the remaining members, so that once any interest gained majority control it was easy to retain it. Most corporation boroughs quickly became pocket boroughs in this way, the nomination of their MPs being entirely under the influence of a "patron" who ensured that only his supporters became members of the corporation. But in Bath, the Common Council retained its independence in most periods, and took pride in electing suitable MPs who either had strong local connections or a national reputation. Nor was there any suggestion of bribery or other corruption, which often took the place of a patron's control in other "independent" constituencies. Pitt the Elder wrote to the corporation in 1761, on the occasion of his re-election as Bath's MP, to pay tribute to "a city ranked among the most ancient and most considerable in the kingdom, and justly famed for its integrity, independence, and zeal for the public good".
But even in Bath the voters expected their MPs to work for the constituency's advantage and procure favours for their constituents to a degree that would be considered utterly corrupt today. By exercising their efforts successfully in this direction, MPs could in return expect a degree of control over the voters that differed little from patronage in pocket boroughs except that its duration was limited. Thus the lawyer Robert Henley, MP from 1747 and Recorder of Bath from 1751, seems to have been assumed to have had control over both seats while he remained Bath's MP; yet when he was transferred to the House of Lords, Pitt replaced him on the understanding that he was independently chosen. Pitt himself then acquired a similar degree of influence: the Council vetoed Viscount Ligonier's suggestion that he should be succeeded by his nephew when he was elevated the Lords in 1763, but instead allowed Pitt to nominate a candidate to be his new colleague, and voted overwhelmingly for him when he was opposed by a local man. But Pitt's influence also waned when he fell out with the Council over the Treaty of Paris.
In the final years before the Reform Act, however, local magnates seem to have been allowed to exercise more influence in Bath. Oldfield, writing early in the 19th century, stated that at that time the Marquess of Bath nominated one member and John Palmer the other; both were former MPs for the City (the Marquess having sat under the title Viscount Weymouth), but neither was still in the Commons - each had a family member sitting in their stead as MP for Bath. Palmer had succeeded another former MP, Earl Camden (the former John Jeffreys Pratt), who had held one of the nominations before 1802. At the time of the Reform Act, the Marquess of Bath was still being listed as influencing one of the seats, though the second was considered independent once more.
The franchise was further reformed in 1867 and 1885, but there were only minor boundary changes. Bath was probably lucky to retain its double-representation in the 1885 reforms, its electorate of under 7,000 being very near the lower limit. The continued Liberal strength was unusual for a prosperous and predominantly middle-class town, and the seats could never be considered safe for the Conservatives.
The Liberal revival in the 1970s pushed Labour back into third place, helped by the adoption of a nationally-known candidate, Christopher Mayhew, who had defected from the Labour Party. The formation of the SDP-Liberal Alliance made Bath a realistic target. The SDP came just 1500 votes from winning in 1987 under Malcolm Dean. In 1992, Conservative Chris Patten was ousted by Liberal Democrat Don Foster in a narrow defeat which was widely blamed on Patten's being forced to concentrate during the election on his national responsibilities as Conservative Party Chairman rather than nursing his own constituency.
The boundary changes implemented in 1997 expanded the constituency beyond the city for the first time, to include five village wards from the neighbouring Wansdyke district, encompassing about 7,000 voters. This change was considered slightly beneficial to the Conservatives. Nevertheless, Foster more than doubled his majority, and increased it again in 2001.
William Pitt the Elder was briefly Prime Minister from 30 July 1766 while a Bath MP. However on 4 August 1766 he was given a peerage, the Earl of Chatham, so that he could also be Lord Privy Seal, and ceased to be an MP.
|Year||First member||First party||Second member||Second party|
|November 1640||William Bassett||Royalist||Alexander Popham||Parliamentarian|
|February 1642||Bassett disabled from sitting - seat vacant|
|1653||Bath was unrepresented in the Barebones Parliament|
|1654||Alexander Popham||''Bath had only one seat in the First and Second Parliaments of the Protectorate|
|January 1659||John Harrington|
|May 1659||One seat vacant|
|March 1660||Alexander Popham||William Prynne|
|November 1669||Sir Francis Popham|
|November 1669||Sir William Bassett|
|1675||Sir George Speke|
|1679||Sir Walter Long|
|1681||The Viscount Fitzhardinge||Sir William Bassett|
|1695||Sir Thomas Estcourt|
|1722||General George Wade|
|1748||General Sir John Ligonier|
|1757||William Pitt the Elder||Whig|
|1763||Major-General Sir John Sebright|
|1775||Lieutenant-General Sir John Sebright|
|1780||Hon. John Jeffreys Pratt|
|1794||Sir Richard Pepper Arden|
|1796||Lord John Thynne|
|1826||Earl of Brecknock|
|1832||John Arthur Roebuck||Whig|
|1837||The Viscount Powerscourt||Conservative||William Heald Ludlow Bruges||Conservative|
|1841||Viscount Duncan||Whig||John Arthur Roebuck||Whig|
|1851||George Treweeke Scobell||Whig|
|1855||(Sir) William Tite||Whig|
|1857||Sir Arthur Hallam Elton||Whig|
|1859||Liberal||Arthur Edwin Way||Conservative|
|1865||James Macnaghten McGarel-Hogg||Conservative|
|May 1873||Viscount Chelsea||Conservative|
|June 1873||Viscount Grey de Wilton||Conservative|
|October 1873||(Sir) Arthur Divett Hayter||Liberal|
|February 1874||Nathaniel Bousfield||Conservative|
|1885||Robert Stickney Blaine||Conservative|
|1886||Liberal Unionist||Colonel Robert Laurie||Conservative|
|1892||Colonel (Sir) Charles Wyndham Murray||Conservative|
|1906||Donald Maclean||Liberal||George Peabody Gooch||Liberal|
|1910||Lord Alexander Thynne||Conservative||Sir Charles Hunter||Conservative|
|October 1918||Charles Talbot Foxcroft||Conservative|
|1918||Representation reduced to one Member|
|December 1918||Charles Talbot Foxcroft||Conservative|
|1924||Charles Talbot Foxcroft||Conservative|
|1929||Hon. Charles Baillie-Hamilton||Conservative|
|1945||Sir James Pitman||Conservative|
|1964||Sir Edward Brown||Conservative|
|1992||Don Foster||Liberal Democrat|