Old Sarum

A classic example of the pre-Reform Act ‘pocket borough’, L.W. Cowie describes how the uninhabited Salisbury town of Old Sarum did not lose its Parliamentary privileges until 1832.

‘Under the present system, Manchester, with two hundred thousand inhabitants, has no members, Old Sarum, with no inhabitants, has two members’ - so commented the future Lord Macaulay in 1831 during the debate in the House of Commons on the second reading of the Reform Bill in a speech attacking the existing system of representation which the bill proposed to amend.

As Macaulay himself would have said, every schoolboy knows today that Old Sarum is the classic example of both a ‘rotten borough’ and a ‘pocket borough’, in which a minute number of electors voted under the control of their landlord because the old city on a hill had been abandoned in favour of the new city of Salisbury down by the river. Not so well known is the story of the rise and fall of Old Sarum, which impinges upon the political, military and ecclesiastical history of several centuries.

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