A Rotten Borough

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For hundreds of years, the Lords of Petersfield Manor were able to bribe their way into parliament. This was all thanks to an unfair voting system.

In 1599, Elizabeth I signed a document giving political control to the new Lord of Petersfield Manor, Thomas Hanbury. The document gave anyone with that title the right to appoint a mayor to supervise elections. This was before voting took place in secret, so the Lord of the Manor could find out how each person had voted.

In the 1730s, John Jolliffe bought Petersfield Manor and inherited property in the town. As Lord of the Manor and landlord, he knew which of his tenants he needed to influence. For 140 years, members of the Jolliffe family won almost every Petersfield election.

Did you know?

Petersfield was a ‘rotten borough’ until voting reform in 1832. Before then, the system was so unfair that Petersfield sent two MPs to Parliament, but big industrial cities like Manchester didn’t have one.

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‘The Grant to Thomas Hanbury Esq. of the manors of Cornehampton and Maplederham, with the Borough of Petersfield’, reproduction, 23 July 1599

Hampshire Record Office: Petersfield Borough Archive: 39M74/DB41

Signed by Queen Elizabeth I, this grant gave the new Lord of the Manor, Thomas Hanbury, the right to Petersfield’s rents and market tolls. It also gave him the right to appoint a mayor to supervise elections, paving the way for years of undue political influence.


Election poster ‘to the Electors of the new Borough of Petersfield’, reproduction, John Shaw Lefevre, 1832

Image courtesy of Liss Historical Society

The Great Reform Act of 1832 was the first step in releasing Petersfield from the political control of wealthy landowners. That year’s election saw candidates fight for the support of the new ‘independent Petersfield Voter.’


‘The Independent Petersfield Voter’, reproduction, Anonymous, 1832

Image courtesy of Liss Historical Society


Election poster ‘to the Electors of the Borough of Petersfield’, reproduction, Hylton Jolliffe, 1832

Image courtesy of Liss Historical Society


Inscribed stone, ‘JJ 1753’

This stone was removed from number 10 the Square, owned by John Jolliffe (JJ) in 1753. In rotten boroughs like Petersfield, owners of property could persuade their tenants to vote for them in parliamentary elections.


Bronze silk formal coat, around 1760 to 1780

We can imagine the men of the wealthy Jolliffe family wearing clothing like this. The coat is a fantastic and rare example of men’s formal wear from the late 1700s. The sleeve cuffs are a much later addition.


Report of the Case of the Borough of Petersfield, in the County of Southampton: Tried and Determined by Two Select Committees of the House of Commons in 1820 and 1821 

‘The Case of the Borough of Petersfield’ saw Parliamentary committees decide whether Petersfield’s MPs had fairly won the 1820 election.