Poll books in the Institute of Historical Research Library

The IHR holds a large collection of British parliamentary printed poll books. These valuable published primary source documents record the names of voters, for whom they voted, and on occasion, the voters’ place of residence, occupation and the place of the voters’ qualification if different from their place of residence. In addition, the Library’s collection also contains guides, handbooks and reference works for using poll books for historical research. 

The collection contains poll books dating from 1698 for a county election in Essex, to the last known published poll book - that held in Cambridge for the constituency of the University of Cambridge in 1882. The rate of publication varied however, so the collection holds no poll books for the counties of Cornwall or Somerset, nor for the North Riding of Yorkshire. Similarly, while the collection contains holdings for Ireland, Scotland and Wales, it should be noted that these collections are significantly smaller than those for England. 

Using the IHR’s Collection of Poll Books

The Library’s collection of poll books are located in the IHR’s onsite store and can be consulted via request through email or in person. Full details can be found here: http://www.history.ac.uk/library/collections/collection-locations

Poll Book Classification

All poll books in the collection have the classmark, BC.228. Individual holdings are then classified by initials of county, then by initials of the city or town (if applicable), then by year of publication. For example: 

  • The poll for the borough of Reading in the county of Berkshire in 1754 has the classmark BC.228/Ber/Rea/1754
  • Please note that London poll books are an exception to this and instead have the classmark BC.228/Lon

The Library contains significantly smaller holdings for Ireland, Scotland, and Wales. Consequently, these collections have been assimilated into the same classification scheme as those for English poll books. They bear the classmark BC.2281 - followed by the first three initials of the respective countries, then city or regional initials, and then year of publication. For example:

  • The poll for the city of Edinburgh in 1852 has the classmark BC.2281/Sco/Edi/1852

Ireland: BC.2281/Ire

Scotland: BC.2281/Sco

Wales: BC.2281/Wal 

Oversized and folio poll books follow the same classification system under the classmarks of BCC.228 and BCC.2281.

Microform Collection

There are also a small number of poll books within the IHR’s microform collection. These holdings bear the classmark XR.2 and XF.6 and are for select elections held at Bishops Castle, Boston, BridportLincoln and Stroud. Advice on accessing the IHR’s microform holdings can be consulted here: http://www.history.ac.uk/library/collections/microform.

Additional Sources

The collection also contains a select number of works that relate to the history and study of poll books but are not direct copies or originals of the poll themselves. Therefore, these holdings are assimilated within the general British local collection. Highlights from this collection are listed below:

Reference Materials, Secondary Works and Guides

Other collections/organisations

The IHR only holds published material, however The National Archives holds a large proportion of manuscript material, and its website contains gateways to materials held in repositories across the country.

The Guildhall Library has significant holdings of British parliamentary materials and they have developed a guide to using their parliamentary collection.

The Society of Genealogists has a significant collection of poll books.

The Family History Partnership has created a database entitled, Lists of Names: Pollbooks and Electoral Registers.

The History of Parliament also contains a wealth of resources for parliamentary history during this time.

The British Library also contains a significant collection of poll books and reference guides.