Rotten or Pocket Boroughs were a feature of the British political system that existed before the Reform Act of 1832. Prior to this Act, Cornwall held 20 boroughs, each of which ‘elected’ two members of parliament. Why did Cornwall return so many MPs? The most likely reason is that Royal influence in Cornwall, through the Duchy of Cornwall, itself established in 1337, created these extra boroughs (by issue of a Royal Charter) to effectively enable Royal representation within the Commons. In reality, few of the boroughs held competitive elections in the modern sense since only (male) householders could vote, and were subject to coercion, bribery and the desires of influential rich land owners. Records show that in 1831 the Borough of West Looe had 126 houses and only 19 voters!
The Reform Act of 1832 (more correctly termed the Representation of the People Act 1832) corrected these abuses and abolished the numerous over-represented small boroughs, replacing them with county-based divisions, each represented by 2 MPs.
This fundamental change in political representation clearly impacted upon the Duchy of Cornwall as a major landowner within the county. Disenfranchisement of the boroughs necessitated a redistribution of minor land holdings, which in the case of West Looe was made by a Declaration of Trust.
Thus, following the death of the last Mayor of West Looe, Nathaniel Hearle, in 1869 the Duchy of Cornwall initiated the conveyance of the lands formerly belonging to the Corporation of the Borough of West Looe, together with the commons of West Looe Downs, for the benefits of the inhabitants of West Looe.
The earliest recorded minutes date from 22nd November 1871 and provide a record of the written communications between the Trustees and the offices of the Duchy of Cornwall in London.
By the 12th December 1873 the minutes of a meeting at Mayoralty House, West Looe, record the Declaration of Trust from The Duchy of Cornwall to the Trustees.
The first Trustees were:
Isaac Willcocks of West Looe – Esquire