The Members of Portsmouth Borough Council (1835-1925)


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In 1835 the Municipal Corporations Act came into force sweeping away the system of Burgesses and replacing them with Aldermen and Councillors. The latter were elected by the voters from specific areas, or wards, which were based on the parishes of the Borough but the early records do not show any association between Aldermen and specific wards.
The first Councillors were elected in two tranches, on 26th December 1835 and 9th January 1836. The Aldermen were elected on 1st January 1836. All officials are elected for a period of three years but there was necessarily some adjustment needed for the first two years. The annual elections for Councillors were to be held on 1st or 2nd November with the Aldermanic elections a week later. Although retiring Councillors and Aldermen could seek re-election, the latter were always re-elected, without contest, thereby giving them a 'job for life'.
Sources of Information
"Extracts from the Portsmouth Records" by Robert East. The author provides separate lists of Aldermen and Councillors from 1835 to 1889. Both start with a complete list of elected officials. In subsequent years only those successfully contesting elections and bye-elections are listed. The Aldermanic lists also provide the reason for bye-elections - usually the death of a serving member; the Councillor lists provide the names of outgoing members at bye-elections but not at annual elections. Interestingly, East gives the occupations of all incoming Councillors. He also indicates which of the six wards each Councillor is elected to represent. The Aldermen are not allocated wards.
Although East does not list the full council between 1835 and 1880 it is possible to reconstruct it using a spreadsheet showing all successfully elected members and tracking backwards to identify those that lost their seats. This is inevitably an imperfect system but the result is largely correct. Where problems have been identified a note has been added to the relevant pages.
"The Annals of Portsmouth" by WH Saunders. The author provides a list of the Mayors from 1835 to 1879.
"Records of the Corporation" by William Gates. This is a general history of Portsmouth divided into years from 1835 to 1935. There are no lists of elected officials, but there are occasional references to the members who have died and who replaced them. In the later years Gates also mentions the names of the new Councillors who were successful at the annual elections.
"The Council Year Books", issued to Council Members each year from 1886 which listed the Aldermen and Councillors in office at the time of printing, which was usually within a few weeks of the November annual elections. The information provided in the books has changed on several occasions. Early editions list the sub-committees each member served on, their occupations and even their telephone numbers. The latest format simply lists their wards, names, addresses, retiring dates and telephone numbers.
Given the variety of source format it is perhaps not surprising that this is reflected in the lists on this site. It has generally been the policy to record as much information as possible but the available evidence often restricts this. It is particularly sad that the practice of recording the occupations of Councillors was discontinued in 1895.
Tim Backhouse, June 2008