The framers of the 1832 reform act, by introducing a uniform £10-householder franchise and removing ancient franchises such as the scot-and-lot (for a man who paid the local rate called a ‘scot’) and the potwalloper (for a man with his own hearth, who cooked his own meals), sought to alter the balance of the electorate in the towns decisively in favour of the middle classes. The act fulfilled their intentions. The working-class element of the population had never formed an important part of the electorate except in those places where the town corporations had been liberal in the creation of freemen; after 1832 its position was even weaker than before. At a time when the average house rental (though prices varied throughout the country) was somewhere between £4 and £8 a year, there were very few manual labourers who qualified for the vote as £10 householders. The old freeman vote, moreover, by which town corporations had brought a number of working men on to the registers, was retained after 1832 only for the lifetime of existing freemen and their eldest sons. Those freemen who did retain the vote were concentrated in the old, smaller boroughs where they were virtually in fee to their political masters and peculiarly susceptible to bribery.
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