Public Petitions to the House of Commons, 1780-1918

Henry Miller*, Richard Huzzey

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Non-textual formData set/Database


The data contains two files that together record and classify over one million public petitions to the House of Commons, 1780-1918, by the subjects that they addressed, which in turn are placed into broader categories to facilitate analysis. For the 1833 to 1918 period, the data also records the 165 million signatures on public petitions to the House of Commons, classified by subject and category. The data was produced as part of a project examining the role of petitions and petitioning in the UK during the ‘long’ nineteenth century (1780-1918) as a universal form of political expression, participation, mobilisation and representative before democracy. This data enabled researchers to establish key chronological trends, and the key subjects and themes on which petitioners addressed the House of Commons. It was thus the foundation for the project. The data is based on aggregate of public petitions classified by subject. The data does not contain petitions to other authorities (e.g. the monarchy, local or central government, or the House of Lords); petitions to Parliament concerning private or local bills; petitions to Parliament regarding contested parliamentary elections; or the signatory lists for the petitions (as the original manuscript petitions do not survive). The data does not include the detail of specific petitions (e.g. the self-description of petitioners or specific location), rather it captures the number of aggregate petitions on particular topics.

The project investigated the scale, nature and effects of petitions and petitioning in the UK, 1780-1918. While historians and social scientists have privileged elections, voting and partisan activity in their studies of political culture and participation, in the period in question, many more people petitioned than voted. Indeed, petitioning was a universal form of political activity at a time when the right to vote was restricted: women were explicitly excluded from voting in parliamentary elections between 1832-1918, and a majority of adult men only attained the parliamentary franchise in 1885. Yet all British subjects (including in the British empire) enjoyed the formal right to petition Parliament. This right was not limited by gender, class, race, voting rights, literacy, property ownership or education. Per capita comparisons show that scale of UK petitions to the national legislature in the 1780-1918 period was historically exceptional compared to other countries and other periods. Petitioning was central to all the major social movements and mass campaigns of the era, such as the anti-slavery movement, women’s suffrage, and the working-class campaign for democratic rights known as Chartism. The project focused largely on public petitions – that is requests for measures of general applicability rather than demands for specific legislation limited to a locality or particular group - to the House of Commons, as these were the most popular form of petition in this period; and the wider culture of petitioning – the practices associated with the drafting, signing and presentation of petitions. The research was enabled by using the Reports of the Select Committee on Public Petitions (SCPP), which had generally been neglected by scholars.
Original languageEnglish
Place of PublicationColchester
PublisherUK Data Service
Media of outputOnline
Publication statusPublished - 7 Apr 2022
Externally publishedYes

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