Bere Alston (UK Parliament constituency)

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Bere Alston
Former Borough constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of members Two

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


Parliament First member Second member
Parliament of 1584-1585 Edward Montagu Edward Phelipps
Parliament of 1586-1587 (Sir) Charles Blount Nicholas Martyn
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 Cheek [1]
Useless Parliament (1625) Sir Thomas Cheek William Strode
Parliament of 1625-1626 Thomas Wise
Parliament of 1628-1629
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
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 Elisha Crymes
May 1659 Bere Alston was not represented in the restored Rump
April 1660 John Maynard George Howard
June 1660 Richard Arundell
1661 Sir John Maynard George Howard
1662 Richard Arundell
1665 Joseph Maynard
February 1679 Sir William Bastard
March 1679 Sir John Trevor Tory
1681 Sir Duncombe Colchester John Elwill
1685 Sir John Maynard Sir Benjamin Bathurst
19 January 1689 John Elwill
31 January 1689 Sir John Holt
May 1689 Sir John Trevor Tory
1690 Sir Francis Drake John Swinfen
1691 John Smith
1694 Sir Henry Hobart Whig
November 1695 John Elwill
December 1695 Sir Rowland Gwynne
1698 John Hawles
1698 James Montagu
January 1701 Sir Rowland Gwynne Sir Peter King
March 1701 William Cowper
1705 Spencer Cowper
1710 Lawrence Carter
1715 Horatio Walpole
1717 Edward Carteret
1721 Philip Cavendish [5]
1721 St John Broderick
1722 Sir John Hobart [6]
1724 Sir Robert Rich
1727 Sir John Hobart [7] Sir Francis Henry Drake [8]
1728 Sir Archer Croft Lord Walden
February 1734 William Morden [9]
May 1734 Sir Francis Henry Drake John Bristow
1740 Samuel Heathcote
1741 Sir William Morden
1747 Sir Francis Henry Drake
1754 John Bristow
1761 Hon. George Hobart
1771 Francis William Drake
1774 Sir Francis Henry Drake
September 1780 Lord Algernon Percy [10] The Lord Macartney
December 1780 Viscount Feilding
1781 Laurence Cox
1784 The Earl of Mornington
1787 Charles Rainsford
1788 John Mitford [11]
1790 Sir George Beaumont Tory
1796 William Mitford
1799 Lord Lovaine
1806 Hon. Josceline Percy
1820 Henry Percy
1825 Percy Ashburnham
1830 Christopher Blackett
January 1831 David Lyon
May 1831 Lord Lovaine
1832 Constituency abolished


  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


  • Robert Beatson, "A Chronological Register of Both Houses of Parliament" (London: Longman, Hurst, Res & Orme, 1807) [1]
  • Michael Brock, The Great Reform Act (London: Hutchinson, 1973)
  • D Brunton & D H Pennington, Members of the Long Parliament (London: George Allen & Unwin, 1954)
  • Cobbett's Parliamentary history of England, from the Norman Conquest in 1066 to the year 1803 (London: Thomas Hansard, 1808) [2]
  • Lewis Namier, The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III (2nd edition - London: St Martin's Press, 1961)
  • J. E. Neale, The Elizabethan House of Commons (London: Jonathan Cape, 1949)
  • T. H. B. Oldfield, The Representative History of Great Britain and Ireland (London: Baldwin, Cradock & Joy, 1816)
  • J Holladay Philbin, Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "B" (part 2)[self-published source][better source needed]