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City of Durham is a constituency represented in the House of Commonsmarker of the Parliament of the United Kingdommarker. It elects one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election. It has elected Labour MPs since 1935, although there have been strong Liberal-SDP Alliance and Liberal Democrat challenges to Labour since the 1980s.


The parliamentary borough (1678-1918)

The City of Durham was first given the right to return Members to Parliament by an Act of Parliament in 1678, the last new borough but one to be enfranchised before the Great Reform Act of 1832. It was the only borough in County Durham, the county also having been unrepresented until the same Act of Parliament, which created two MPs for the county and two for the city. Both constituencies were frequently referred to simply as Durham, which can make for some confusion.

The constituency as constituted in 1678 consisted only of the city of Durhammarker itself, though this included its suburbs which were within the municipal boundary. The right to vote was held by the corporation and the freemen of the city, many of whom were not resident within the boundaries. Unlike the situation in many small rotten boroughs, the corporation had no jurisdiction over the creation of freemen: freemen were generally created by connection with companies of trade, either by apprenticeship or by birth (by being the son of an existing freeman), though the common council of the city had a power to create honorary freemen.

The creation of honorary freemen with the specific intention of swaying elections was a common abuse in a number of boroughs in the 18th century, and at the Durham election of 1762 became sufficiently controversial to force a change in the law. The election was disputed because 215 new freemen, most of them not resident in the city, had been made after the writ for the election was issued. The existing freemen petitioned against this dilution of their voting rights, the candidate who had been declared elected was unseated by the Commons committee which heard the case, and the following year an Act of Parliament was passed to prevent any honorary freeman from voting in a borough election within twelve months of their being accorded that status.

Through having a freeman franchise the electorate was comparatively numerous for the period, though comprising only a small fraction of the city's population; at the time of the Reform Act there were between 1,100 and 1,200 freemen in total, of whom 427 were resident and 558 lived within seven miles, while the total population of the borough was 9,269. The Lambton and Tempest families were influential, and were generally able to secure election, but fell far short of the sort of control common in pocket boroughs.

The city retained both its MPs under the 1832 Reform Act, with its boundaries adjusted only very slightly, although as elsewhere the franchise was reformed. In 1867 the boundaries were extended to include part of Framwellgatemarker parish which had previously been excluded. From 1885 the borough's representation was reduced to a single MP. In the boundary changes of 1918, the borough was abolished, but a division of County Durham was named after the City.

County constituency (since 1918)

From 1918, Durham City was included in a county constituency officially called The Durham Division of (County) Durham, consisting of the central part of the county. Until 1974 it included the town of Hetton-le-Holemarker and between 1950 and 1974 that of Spennymoormarker, as well as the rural districts in between, in which coal mining was the principal industry. The Durham county constituency from 1974 to 1983 included Durham itself, the Durham Rural Districtmarker except Brancepethmarker and Sedgefield Rural District. In the 1983 boundary changes the constituency officially acquired the unambiguous City of Durham name for the first time, and its boundaries were realigned to match the new City of Durham local government district.

Current Boundaries

The constituency corresponds to the former City of Durham local government district and as such includes a number of surrounding villages and suburbs as well as Durham itself, the largest of these are Brandonmarker, Coxhoemarker, Bowburnmarker, Framwellgate Moormarker, Sherburnmarker and Ushaw Moormarker. The constituency expands as far west as Waterhouses and as far east as Ludworthmarker. The seat has traditionally been dominated by Labour, with support particularly strong in those villages historically connected to County Durham's mining industry. Durham is famous as an educational centre, for Durham Universitymarker and the feepaying preparatory school, Chorister Schoolmarker where Tony Blair was educated. The city centre is more inclined to the Liberal Democrats. Like many other university cities such as Cambridgemarker and Oxfordmarker, in the 2005 election it swung strongly towards the Liberal Democrats, one possible reason being these cities' sizeable student population who were viewed as being hostile to Labour's policies on areas such as top-up fees and the Iraq War. The Liberal Democrats were able to reduce Labour's majority by over 10,000 votes, although they were still unable to gain the seat from Labour.

Following a review of parliamentary representation in County Durham, the Boundary Commission for England has made no changes to the City of Durham constituency, which will remain co-terminous with the boundaries of the former district. The City of Durham local authority was abolished in the 2009 structural changes to local government in England.

Members of Parliament

Durham City (borough)

  • Constituency created (1678)


Year First member First party Second member Second party
1678 Sir Ralph Cole John Parkhurst
February 1679 William Tempest
September 1679 William Blakiston Sir Richard Lloyd
1681 William Tempest
1685 Charles Montagu
1689 George Morland Henry Liddell
1690 William Tempest
1695 Charles Montagu Henry Liddell
1698 Thomas Conyers
1701 Sir Henry Belasyse
1702 Thomas Conyers
1708 James Nicolson
1710 Sir Henry Belasyse
1712 Robert Shafto
1713 George Baker
1722 Charles Talbot
1727 Robert Shafto
1730 John Shafto
1734 Henry Lambton
1742 John Tempest
1761 Ralph Gowland
1762 Major General John Lambton
1768 John Tempest Tory
1787 William Henry Lambton Whig
1794 Sir Henry Vane-Tempest Tory
1798 Ralph John Lambton Whig
1800 Michael Angelo Taylor Whig
1802 Richard Wharton Tory
1804 Robert Eden Duncombe Shafto
1806 Richard Wharton Tory
1813 George Allan Tory
1818 Michael Angelo Taylor Whig
1820 Sir Henry Hardinge Tory
1830 Sir Roger Gresley Tory
March 1831 William Chaytor Whig
May 1831 Hon. Arthur Trevor Tory
1832 William Charles Harland Whig
1835 Hon. Arthur Trevor Conservative
1841 Thomas Colpitts Granger Whig Robert FitzRoy Conservative
April 1843 The Viscount Dungannon Conservative
July 1843 John Bright Radical/Anti-Corn Law
1847 Henry John Spearman Whig
July 1852 William Atherton Liberal
December 1852 Lord Adolphus Vane Conservative
1853 John Mowbray Conservative
1864 John Henderson Liberal
1868 John Robert Davison Liberal
1871 John Lloyd Wharton Conservative
February 1874 Thomas Charles Thompson Liberal
June 1874 Farrer Herschell Liberal Sir Arthur Middleton Liberal
1880 Thomas Charles Thompson Liberal
1885 Representation reduced to one member


Year Member Party
1885 Thomas Milvain Conservative
1892 Matthew Fowler Liberal
1898 Arthur Elliot Liberal Unionist
1906 John Waller Hills Conservative
1910 Liberal Unionist

Durham, Durham/City of Durham (county constituency)


Year Member Party
1918 John Waller Hills Conservative
1922 Joshua Ritson Labour
1931 William McKeag Liberal
1935 Joshua Ritson Labour
1945 Charles Grey Labour
1970 Mark Hughes Labour
1987 Gerry Steinberg Labour
2005 Roberta Blackman-Woods Labour



See also


  • F W S Craig, "British Parliamentary Election Results 1832-1885" (2nd edition, Aldershot: Parliamentary Research Services, 1989)
  • J Holladay Philbin, "Parliamentary Representation 1832 - England and Wales" (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1965)
  • Michael Kinnear, "The British Voter" (London: Batsford, 1968)
  • E Porritt and AG Porritt, "The Unreformed House of Commons, Vol I: England and Wales" (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903)
  • Henry Stooks Smith, The Parliaments of England from 1715 to 1847 (2nd edition, edited by FWS Craig - Chichester: Parliamentary Reference Publications, 1973)
  • Robert Waller, "The Almanac of British Politics" (3rd edition, London: Croom Helm, 1987)
  • Frederic A Youngs, jr, "Guide to the Local Administrative Units of England, Vol II" (London: Royal Historical Society, 1991)
  • The Constitutional Yearbook, 1913" (London: National Unionist Association, 1913)

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