Westminster was a former parliamentary constituency in the Parliament of England to 1707, the Parliament of Great Britain 1707-1800 and the Parliament of the United Kingdom from 1801. It returned two members to 1885 and one thereafter.
The constituency was first known to have been represented in Parliament in 1545 and continued to exist until the redistribution of seats in 1918. The constituency's most famous former representatives are Charles James Fox and John Stuart Mill.
In the 1885 redistribution of seats the Westminster area (within the expanded boundaries of what became the Metropolitan Borough of Westminster which was created in 1900) was divided into three single-member seats. The south-eastern part, including the traditional heart of Westminster and such important centres of power as the Houses of Parliament and the seat of government in Whitehall, continued to be a constituency called Westminster. The official definition of the areas included was "the Westminster district and Close of the Collegiate Church of St. Peter". In the north-east was the constituency of Strand and to the west that of St George, Hanover Square.
In the 1918 redistribution the Metropolitan Borough was divided into two single member constituencies, Westminster St George's in the west and Westminster Abbey in the east. The Abbey division incorporated the area of the 1885-1918 Westminster constituency.
Before the Reform Act 1832 the right to vote was held by the male inhabitants paying Scot and Lot (a kind of local property tax). This was an extensive franchise, by the standards of that era. Westminster had the largest electorate of any borough in the Kingdom. Only the largest county constituency of Yorkshire had more voters. Sedgwick estimated the electorate at about 8,000 in the first half of the eighteenth century. Namier and Brooke estimated that there were about 12,000 voters later in the century. The large size of the electorate made contested elections immensely expensive.
In the sixteenth century the Church officials associated with Westminster Abbey had a large influence in the area, but as the community became bigger that became less important. The Court (or His Majesty's Treasury) had some legitimate influence (by the standards of the age), because of the royal residences and government offices in the borough. The use of public funds to bribe the electorate was not unknown, during close elections (see the comments about the cost of the 1780 and 1784 contests below). Local landowners who were prepared to stir up ill-will by threatening to evict or raise the rents of tenants voting the wrong way, could also affect the result.
Unlawful means were sometimes used to make sure that the right candidates were elected. In 1722 the election of two Tories was declared void because of rioting which prevented some Whigs voting. In 1741 a Whig returning officer called upon the assistance of some troops to close the poll before the Tory candidates could catch up to the Whig votes.
The House of Commons declared the 1741 election void with the ringing resolution that "the presence of a regular body of armed soldiers at an election of members to sit in Parliament, is a high infringement of the liberties of the subject, a manifest violation of the freedom of election and an open defiance of the laws and constitution of this kingdom".
By the eighteenth century it was normal for the members to be Irish peers, the sons of peers or baronets, as it was thought appropriate for them to be of high social standing so as to be worthy to represent the seat.
The Treasury spent the enormous sums of more than £8,000 in 1780 and £9,000 in 1784, in unsuccessful attempts to defeat the opposition Whig leader Charles James Fox. So expensive were these contests that for the next general election in 1790, the government and opposition leaders reached a formal agreement for each to have one member returned unopposed. However in the event a second Whig candidate did appear, but the Tory (the famous Admiral Lord Hood) and Fox were re-elected without too much difficulty.
The last MP for this constituency, William Burdett-Coutts, was connected with a family prominent in City of Westminster politics since the eighteenth century. He himself was born in the United States in 1851, his grandparents on both sides having been British subjects. After he married Baroness Burdett-Coutts in 1881 he changed his surname from Bartlett to Burdett-Coutts. He represented the area from 1885 until 1918 and continued to sit for the Abbey division until his death in 1921.
|1660||1660||Gilbert Gerard (NP)||c. 1618||5 November 1683|
|1660||1660||Thomas Clarges (NP)||c. 1618||4 October 1695|
|1661||1679||Sir Philip Warwick (NP)||24 December 1609||15 January 1683|
|1661||1679||Sir Richard Everard (NP)||c. 1625||29 August 1694|
|1679||1679||Sir Stephen Fox (NP)||27 March 1627||28 October 1716|
|1679||1685||Sir William Pulteney (NP)||25 March 1624||6 September 1691|
|1679||1680||Francis Wythens (NP)||c. 1635||9 May 1704|
|1680||1685||Sir William Waller (NP)||c. 1639||18 July 1699|
|1685||1687||Charles Bonython (T)||c. 1653||30 April 1705|
|1685||1687||Michael Arnold (T)||...||31 August 1690|
|1689||1691||Sir William Pulteney (W)||25 March 1624||6 September 1691|
|1689||1690||Hon. Philip Howard (W)||5 March 1629||September 1717|
|1690||1695||Sir Walter Clarges, Bt (T)||4 July 1653||March 1706|
|1691||1698||Sir Stephen Fox (NP)||27 March 1627||28 October 1716|
|1695||1701||Charles Montagu (NP)||16 April 1661||19 May 1715|
|1698||1702||James Vernon (NP)||1 April 1646||31 January 1727|
|1701||1701||Sir Thomas Crosse (T)||29 November 1664||27 May 1738|
|1701||1702||Sir Henry Colt (NP)||c. 1646||25 April 1731|
|1702||1705||Sir Walter Clarges, Bt (T)||4 July 1653||March 1706|
|1702||1705||Sir Thomas Crosse (T)||29 November 1664||27 May 1738|
|1705||1710||Henry Boyle (NP)||12 July 1669||14 March 1725|
|1705||1708||Sir Henry Colt (NP)||c. 1646||25 April 1731|
|1708||1715||Thomas Medlycott (NP)||22 May 1662||July 1738|
|1710||1722||Sir Thomas Crosse, Bt (T)||29 November 1664||27 May 1738|
|1715||1722||Hon. Edward Wortley-Montagu (W)||8 February 1678||22 January 1761|
|1722||1722||Archibald Hutcheson (T)||c. 1659||12 August 1740|
|1722||1722||John Cotton (T)||22 October 1671||December 1736|
|1722||1727||Charles Montagu (W)||after 1695||29 May 1759|
|1722||1727||1st Baron Carpenter (W)||10 February 1657||10 February 1732|
|1727||1734||Lord Charles Cavendish (W)||after 1700||28 April 1783|
|1727||1741||William Clayton (1st Baron Sundon) (W)||9 November 1671||29 April 1752|
|1734||1741||Sir Charles Wager (W)||c. 1666||24 May 1743|
|1741||1747||Viscount Perceval (T)||24 February 1711||20 December 1770|
|1741||1747||Charles Edwin (T)||c. 1699||29 June 1756|
|1747||1754||Viscount Trentham (W)||4 August 1721||26 October 1803|
|1747||1752||Sir Peter Warren (W)||c. 1703||29 July 1752|
|1753||1762||Hon. Edward Cornwallis (W,NP)||22 February 1713||14 January 1776|
|1754||1761||Sir John Crosse, Bt (NP)||c. 1700||12 March 1762|
|1761||1763||Viscount Pulteney (NP)||c. 1731||11 February 1763|
|1762||1770||Hon. Edwin Sandys (NP)||18 April 1726||11 March 1797|
|1763||1776||Baron Warkworth (Earl Percy) (NP)||14 August 1742||10 July 1817|
|1770||1774||Sir Robert Bernard, Bt (NP)||c. 1739||2 January 1789|
|1774||1780||Lord Thomas Pelham-Clinton (NP)||1 July 1752||18 May 1795|
|1776||1779||Viscount Petersham (NP)||20 March 1753||15 September 1829|
|1779||1780||Viscount Malden (NP)||13 November 1757||23 April 1839|
|1780||1782||Sir George Brydges Rodney, Bt (W)||13 February 1719||24 May 1792|
|1780||1784||Rt. Hon. Charles James Fox (W)||24 January 1749||13 September 1806|
|1782||1784||Sir Cecil Wray, Bt (W)||3 September 1734||10 January 1805|
|1784||1788||Samuel Hood (T)||12 December 1724||27 January 1816|
|1784||1806||Rt. Hon. Charles James Fox (W)||24 January 1749||13 September 1806|
|1788||1790||Lord John Townshend (W)||19 January 1757||25 February 1833|
|1790||1796||Samuel Hood (T)||12 December 1724||27 January 1816|
|1796||1806||Sir Alan Gardner, Bt (1st Baron Gardner) (T)||12 April 1742||1 January 1809|
|1806||1806||Earl Percy (W)||20 April 1785||11 February 1847|
|1806||1807||Sir Samuel Hood (T)||27 November 1762||24 December 1814|
|1806||1807||Richard Brinsley Sheridan (W)||30 October 1751||7 July 1816|
|1807||1837||Sir Francis Burdett, Bt (W,L,C)||25 January 1770||23 January 1844|
|1807||1818||Lord Cochrane (W)||14 December 1775||31 October 1860|
|1818||1818||Sir Samuel Romilly (W)||1 March 1757||2 November 1818|
|1819||1820||Hon. George Lamb (T)||11 July 1784||2 January 1834|
|1820||1833||Sir John Cam Hobhouse, Bt (W,L)||27 June 1786||3 June 1869|
|1833||1841||George de Lacy Evans (L)||1787||9 January 1870|
|1837||1847||John Temple Leader (L)||7 May 1810||1903|
|1841||1846||Hon. Henry John Rous (C)||23 January 1795||19 June 1877|
|1846||1865||Sir George de Lacy Evans (L)||1787||9 January 1870|
|1847||1852||Charles Lushington (L)||14 April 1785||23 September 1866|
|1852||1865||Sir John Villiers Shelley, Bt (L)||18 March 1808||26 January 1867|
|1865||1874||Hon. Robert Wellesley Grosvenor (L)||25 January 1834||13 November 1914|
|1865||1868||John Stuart Mill (NP)||20 May 1806||8 May 1873|
|1868||1885||William Henry Smith (C)||24 June 1825||6 October 1891|
|1874||1882||Sir Charles Russell, Bt (C)||22 June 1826||14 April 1883|
|1882||1885||Lord Algernon Percy (C)||2 October 1851||28 December 1933|
|1885||1918||William L.A.B. Burdett-Coutts (C)||1851||28 July 1921|
After 1832, when registration of voters was introduced, a turnout figure is given for contested elections. In two-member elections, when the exact number of participating voters is unknown, this is calculated by dividing the number of votes by two. To the extent that electors did not use both their votes this will be an underestimate of turnout.
Where a party had more than one candidate in one or both of a pair of successive elections change is calculated for each individual candidate, otherwise change is based on the party vote. Change figures at by-elections are from the preceding general election or the last intervening by-election. Change figures at general elections are from the last general election.
Candidates for whom no party has been identified are classified as Non Partisan. The candidate might have been associated with a party or faction in Parliament or consider himself to belong to a particular political tradition. Political parties before the nineteenth century were not as cohesive or organised as they later became. Contemporary commentators (even the reputed leaders of parties or factions) in the eighteenth century did not necessarily agree who the party supporters were. The traditional parties, which had arisen in the late seventeenth century, became increasingly irrelevant to politics in the eighteenth century (particularly after 1760), although for some contests in some constituencies party labels were still used. It was only towards the end of the century that party labels began to acquire some meaning again, although this process was by no means complete for several more generations.
Sources: The results for elections before 1790 were taken from the History of Parliament Trust publications on the House of Commons. The results from 1790 until the UK general election, 1832 are based on Stooks Smith and from 1832 onwards on Craig. Where Stooks Smith gives additional information to the other sources this is indicated in a note.