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Isle of Ely (UK Parliament constituency)

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Number of members

Isle of Ely (UK Parliament constituency)

Created from
Wisbech Newmarket (part) Chesterton (part)

Replaced by
Wisbech, Newmarket (part), Chesterton (part), North East Cambridgeshire, South East Cambridgeshire

Isle of Ely was a county constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, centred on the Isle of Ely in Cambridgeshire. Until its abolition in 1983, it elected one Member of Parliament (MP) by the first past the post system of election.



The Isle had previously been represented by two members of the First and Second Protectorate Parliaments, between 1654 and 1658.

The twentieth century constituency was created in 1918. The territory included in the new seat was similar to that previously constituting the Wisbech constituency (the north division of Cambridgeshire). That constituency was dominated by the Fens, a district of Liberal inclined smallholders. The towns in the Wisbech division, predominantly Conservative Wisbech and the more Liberal inclined March, tended to be outvoted by the rural areas.

The small city of Ely had formerly been part of the Newmarket constituency (the east division of Cambridgeshire). Pelling suggests Ely was Conservative "because of the cathedral and its fairly substantial middle-class population".

In 1918 the former Liberal MP for Wisbech, Colin Coote, was returned unopposed as a Coalition Liberal. In 1922 Coote contested the seat again, this time as a National Liberal candidate. A Labour candidate appeared for the first time. The anti-Conservative vote was badly split (National Liberal 27.7% and Labour 21.4%), so the Conservative soldier Lieutenant Colonel Norman Coates was easily elected. Coates retired and did not seek re-election in 1923.

In 1923 the reunited Liberal Party nominated a member of the family of one of their richest members. Henry Mond was the son of the industrialist Alfred Mond (later the 1st Lord Melchett). He was able to squeeze the Labour vote down to 12.4%, which was sufficient for a narrow Liberal victory as part of the party's best election result after the First World War.

In the 1924 general election, both the Conservative and Labour candidates increased their vote. Mond was defeated. The new MP was the Conservative, Sir Hugh Lucas-Tooth, Bt. Lucas-Tooth had a long political career, not leaving the House of Commons until 1970, but he only retained this seat for one Parliament until his defeat in 1929.

The Monds had joined the Conservative Party in 1926 after a disagreement with Lloyd George's land policy. However another rich Liberal stood in this constituency in 1929, the flamboyant James de Rothschild. He retained the seat for three Parliaments, serving from 1929 to 1945. In the 1945 general election de Rothschild came third, the first time this had happened to any Liberal candidate in the constituency.

It must have appeared that the days when the Isle seat was a Conservative/Liberal marginal had ended in 1945. The new Conservative MP, Harry Legge-Bourke, had a majority of 6.1% over Labour, with the Liberal almost 10% further behind. He retained the seat until his death in 1973, with Labour in second place. The Liberal Party did not contest general elections in 1951, 1955, 1959, 1964 and 1970. The Liberal vote in 1966 was only 11.4%.

Clement Freud gained the seat for the Liberals from the Conservatives in a 1973 by-election during the height of the 1970s Liberal revival. He retained this seat until it was abolished in 1983; however, Freud surprisingly lost its successor seat in 1987.

The constituency was renamed in 1983, with most of the territory incorporated into the constituency of North East Cambridgeshire.


In 1918 the county constituency was defined as having the same boundaries as the administrative county of the Isle of Ely, which had been formed in 1889 from a traditional sub-division of the historic county of Cambridgeshire in East Anglia.

In 1965 the Isle of Ely area was merged into the new administrative county of Cambridgeshire and Isle of Ely and in 1974 this merged with Huntingdon and Peterborough to form the non-metropolitan county of Cambridgeshire.

In the next redistribution of parliamentary seats, which took effect in 1974, the Isle constituency was defined as comprising the Municipal Borough of Wisbech; the urban districts of Chatteris, Ely, March, and Whittlesey; and the rural districts of Ely, North Witchford, and Wisbech.

Elections in the 1910s

  • endorsed by Coalition Government
  • References

    Isle of Ely (UK Parliament constituency) Wikipedia

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