Covent Garden Market, Westminster Election


This busy view of the piazza, during a Westminster election, is dominated by the ‘handsomest barn in England’: St. Paul’s, Covent Garden. The main focus is, however, the vast crowd of people gathered to attend and listen to the political speeches. Two hustings have been erected, with a candidate addressing the people, in an eloquent posture. A pair of breeches, held up before him on a stick, perhaps refers to an episode of sexual misconduct, whilst the flags are lettered with the names of the eligible parishes.

The franchise in Westminster was extremely wide for the day, consisting of all (male) householders who paid tax in the parish, exacerbating the bitterly partisan nature of 18th and early 19th century elections. The practice of effectively bribing electors with alcohol added to the febrile atmosphere.

Customarily, one of the candidates in a Westminster election was a naval officer, here seen standing up in a boat to the left, accompanied by musicians and carried by uniformed sailors (who could often be incited to violence on behalf of their candidate). Interestingly, the scene is viewed from the edge of the crowd, where the participants are perhaps less politically engaged, more interested in singing, drinking, fighting and dancing.

The view was published in volume one of Rudolph Ackermann's popular print series, Microcosm of London.

Full title:
Microcosm of London. [W. H. Pyne and William Combe. With coloured plates by A. C. Pugin and T. Rowlandson.]
1 July 1808, London
Rudolph Ackermann
Aquatint / Etching / Hand-Colouring / View
John Bluck, Augustus Charles Pugin, Thomas Rowlandson
Usage terms
Public Domain
Held by
British Library
C.194.B.305-307 (vol.I, plate facing p.209)

Full catalogue details

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