Political control of the borough by the combined influence of the Whig House of Stanley and the Tory Corporation, which had become increasingly precarious up to 1820, and was likely to be even more so in the social milieu of the mid 1820s, was cut at its root by the collapse of the coalition. Samuel Horrocks unexpectedly retired from politics. This excited ‘considerable sensation’ amongst the electioneering parties in the town (8) and after ‘much conversation amongst the members of the Council’, the Chronicle reported that they were
pretty unanimous in the opinion that the wisest course for the Corporation to take would be to give up all interference in electioneering concerns … this borough is now perhaps the most open, as it undoubtedly is the most general in its suffrage, of any in the United Kingdom – rare times for speculating politicians, and aspiring young senators (9).
The electioneering practices in Preston in 1826 were not significantly different from those of other boroughs at that period, though the franchise was. (11)
The election lasted two months and a few days, from the arrival of the Hon. E. G. Stanley on Saturday 22nd April, to the departure of William Cobbett on 27th June. There were four serious candidate (but each of them introduced a partner for tactical reasons during polling): Stanley (Whig); John Wood, described as ‘Ultra Whig’ or in later terminology, Liberal; William Cobbett (Radical), and Captain Barrie (Tory). The court of election opened on Friday 9th June, and closed after 15 days on Monday 26th June. The dashing young Stanley, presented by his grandfather, Lord Derby, in the place of his uncle Edmund Hornby, whose majority had been halved and expenses doubled between 1818 and 1820 (12), represented a traditional but fast weakening connection with Whig county society. John Wood, a justice on the northern circuit, apparently put forward by the same Liberal Liverpool connections as his predecessor Dr Crompton, represented the rising commercial part of the community who had long tried to end their exclusion from power; and Catholic hopes of emancipation, which was good tactics in Preston. Cobbett was the focus of both Roman Catholic and Radical hopes but not necessarily the favourite of such Radical organisation in the town as had encouraged Henry Hunt in 1820: nasty quarrels on the left in 1830-32 suggest that there was not a stable organisation. Captain Barrie seems to have been persuaded at the last minute to contest the borough by the mayor, Nicholas Grimshaw, who claimed an old friendship with him, for the main purpose of putting the Oaths of Allegiance, Supremacy, and Abjuration, and ‘such other Oath or Oaths required to be taken by … Subjects professing the Roman Catholic Religion’. Presumably the exclusion of Catholics from the franchise, though practically in abeyance since the Relief Act of 1776, remained constitutionally legal until the requirement to take these oaths was explicitly removed by clause V of the Emancipation Act of 1829. (see references 10 and 13 to 17).)
Cobbett was certainly the popular hero. ‘His long harangues were attended by the largest crowds, his arrival on the hustings was greeted by ten minutes of cheering (24), and at the show of hands ‘for Mr Cobbett and Mr Wood the numbers were nearly equal, and consisted of almost all the people outside the barrier. For Mr Stanley the numbers were much inferior, and for Captain Barrie we did not observe a single hand…’ (25). So the problem is to explain why Cobbett ended at the bottom of the poll and Stanley at the top: Stanley 2944; Barrie 1643; Wood 1974; Cobbett 995 (26).
This result was achieved partly artificially by the delaying and exclusive tactics of Nicholas Grimshaw at the hustings, combined with the use of military force, which allowed only 4,222 of over 6,000 electors to poll (references 28-34). It was also the result of the normal means of political persuasion: money, ‘influence’ both deferential and coercive, ritual, and violence. Candidates adopted methods according to their rank and means, and Stanley had more of both. A lavish sharing of wealth gave tangible proof of an almost magical aristocratic power, and it was enhanced by the mass rituals of an hierarchically ordered society, and by personal cultivation. To the poor electors ‘bribery’ must have been an unfeelingly inept term for a rare social perquisite (references 35-37, and 40-45), The scale of Stanley‘s largesse can be seen in the facsimile of the Summary of his election expenses (36). £4,165-18-6d to the innkeepers, if translated into beer with perfect efficiency, at 6d a quart would have supplied a third of a million pints, or 53 pints per voter, which was enough to bath in never mind drink. (Evidence from 1830 shows that, fortunately, much of it must have been free dinners.)
Cobbett’s long tirades against the landed classes, the duties and ‘the swindling debt’, his evident popularity in the streets and at the show of hands, his strong arm gangs, his appeal to the Roman Catholics, and the marked division between the support for him and for Wood had persuaded nearly a thousand voters to poll for him, most of them ‘plumpers’ (46). His parting shot: “Derby has fixed his claws on this borough as much as any peer has claws on any borough …’ was an inaccurate forecast. From the evidence of the newspaper accounts (there is no pollbook) I conclude that the Preston electorate behaved deferentially: at a price. Radicalism was a real and an increasing force.
8. P.C. 22 April 1826.
10. P.C. 29 April 1826.
11. e.g. N. McCord, ‘Gateshead Politics in the Age of Reform’, Northern History IV, 1969; D.G. Wright,’ ‘A Radical Borough: Parliamentary Politics in Bradford 1832 – 41, N. Hist. IV, 1969; A.J. Heeson, ‘The Sunderland By-Election 1841’, N. Hist. IX, 1974; D. Fraser, ‘The Fruits of Reform: Leeds Politics in the Eighteen-thirties’, N. Hist. VIII, 1972; J.A. Jowitt, ‘Parliamentary Politics in Halifax 1832 47’, N. Hist. XII, 1976.
12. W. Dobson, op. cit.
13. P.C. 17 June 1826: Grimshaw in altercation with Cobbett on Tuesday 13th June 1826.
14. P.C. 13 May, 27 May and 3 June 1826.
15. Pilot 29 April 1826.
16. P.C. 3 June 1826.
17. P.C. 6 May 1826.
18. P.C. 10 June 1826.
19. P.C. 6 May 1826.
21. Pilot 13 May 1826.
22. Pilot 20 May 1826.
23. Pilot 17 June 1826.
24. Pilot 10 June 1826
25. P.C. 10 June 1826.
26. Lancs C.R.O. DDPr 131/17.
27. By extrapolation from censuses of 1821 and 1831.
28. If Catholics were enfranchised, as they were after 1829.
29. P.C. 17 June 1826. (See graphs in Appendix).
31. ibid (my emphasis)
33. P.C. 24 June 1826.
35. P.C. 17 June and 24 June 1826.
36. ‘The Honble E.G. Stanley’s Expenses incurred in contesting the Election for the Borough of Preston in 1826’: MS in Harris Museum, Preston.
37. P.C. 6 May 1826.
38. P.C. 17 June 1826.
40. As in the Guild of 1822, when the tailors claimed priority: P.C. 24 August 1822.
41. P.C. 10 June 1826.
42. Pilot 13 May 1826.
43. P.C. 13 May 1826.
44. P.C. 24 June 1826.
45. P.C. 3 June 1826.
46. P.C. 24 June 1826.