Politics and Preston Society 1826 to 1832
See also: Nigel Morgans’s Desirable Dwellings
4. Society and the Politics of Parliamentary Reform 1830-32
(b) Parliamentary Reform and Elections 1831-2
Conflicts over the Reform Bill taught the same lesson. There was a fairly rapid deterioration in political relationships between the spring and the autumn of 1831. Middle class reformers split from Radicals, and Radicals fought amongst themselves.
Total harmony between all interests and authorities on the reform question could not be expected, but coordinated expression of opinion was called for at the time of the second reform bill in the spring of 1831. The unlikeliness of this brief combination of interests was the subject of a light hearted personal postscript to a letter written by the Town Clerk, Richard Palmer, to Philip Park, Corporation Steward, then in London: ‘A meeting is convened by the mayor for tomorrow on the reform question = we live in a wonderful age!!’ (119) This was a public meeting in the Corn Exchange on 29th March 1831, chaired by Thomas Batty Addison (Borough Recorder), whose avowal that he ‘had been an advocate of reform nearly the whole of his life’ was qualified in his own words: the Bill ‘would put the choice of representatives in the hands of people above corruption’, a social distinction typically confirmed by his admission that as the Bill would disfranchise most of the electors of Preston ‘he did not think it prudent to encourage a public meeting’ (120). Addison and Haydock virtually admitted that the only reason for making the meeting public was to stiffen the petition in favour of the Bill with a threat of popular agitation. The Corn Exchange was appropriately crowded with five or six hundred people, and ‘three fourths of the assembly consisted of working people’.
The social attitudes revealed by some of the organising leaders of this meeting were surprisingly hierarchical and paternalistic. Robert Arrowsmith, a banker, thought the ministers
were actuated by a desire to serve the lower orders… he felt it his duty to state that there was no class (he) had so much reason to admire as the lower orders… their patience and humility in suffering, frugality, and willingness to toil (121).
To this he added, in September,
It was right there should be a proper scale in society; and there was no greater pleasure a … landed gentleman could have than looking into the wants of society and relieving the poor (122).
The attitudes of even those middle class reformers who were willing to go to the extreme of voting for Hunt, though expressed in different terms, were basically compatible with Arrowsmith’s. Robert Segar, a barrister who played a leading role among his fellow Catholics as well as the political Radicals, said in September that
the interests of the middle classes were parallel with those of the humblest classes… (he was) sorry to observe that it had been the habit of the higher classes to treat the poor as beasts of burden and not as rational beings’. (123).
Joseph Livesey’s lifetime guiding principle was mutual cooperation and harmony between all classes of society in the town. He was ‘sorry there had been even the appearance of a division’ and although decidedly in favour of the ballot and universal suffrage he thought the present measure ’eminently calculated to prevent revolution’ (124), and would open the way to free trade, the eight hour day, and the abolition of monopolies.
For the purposes for which this meeting was called, this was still a single political community which could admit all interests and classes to the same platform. The opportunity was therefore seized by Joseph Mitchell to take the initiative away from the middle class minority and apply it to the political purposes of the majority. But he did so in terms which destroyed the illusion of social harmony. To the resolution to petition in favour of the Bill, he proposed an amendment:
praying for such measures as would secure the labourer’s earnings to himself… he conceived there was an attempt made to cut off the whole of the labouring class by granting suffrages to occupiers of houses of £10 per annum only.
As Arrowsmith had flaunted his admiration of the lower orders, Mitchell pointed out that
This was the class the new bill would disfranchise… The present measure gave the franchise to tradesmen only, and the labouring classes would be cut off as they fell into their graves (125).
The counter-culture from which Mitchell was arguing was radically different from that of the Whigs. It was the labour theory of value and the democratic natural law of the American Declaration of Independence:
the whole of that portion of the community from whence (sic) all property emanates… are totally overlooked and excluded, especially as it regards future generations… in the enjoyment of those naturally inalienable rights of being fairly represented in the legislature of the country (125).
This was too much for Preston in 1831, it was too much for Livesey, too much for Segar, and too much for the majority of Hunt’s supporters in Preston. They were not ready for this view of society.
Hunt’s problem was delicate. He therefore came to Preston on 8th April, with the customary band, procession and street crowds, and from a window in Lune Street explained the matter bluntly to the crowds below:
… the great question… is only a measure that will enable all the big fish to eat up the little ones… you may be sure there is not much good for the people, when such persons as Battye Addison turn reformers… The object of the bill is to take away the rights of the labourer and give them to the middle class (127).
Hunt’s quandary broke Preston’s political community apart:
I tell you I shall support the bill, unless you say to the contrary… I cannot conscientiously say I approve of the measure, nor am I bold enough to stand in the face of all the country to oppose it.
At this stage Mitchell had already fallen out with Hunt (it was said they had come to blows) and in calling on the crowd to show their desire that Hunt should move an amendment ‘to the extent at least of household suffrage’, he unleashed his hatred of the class which would benefit from the bill:
The habits of the trading community were such as to make them hostile to the labourer; their craving and griping disposition – their limited information and talents rendered them unwilling to confer any benefit on the labourer (128).
As the labouring class was presumably at the same disadvantage, we may suppose that Mitchell had a special, perhaps exclusive, conception of the importance of leadership by a revolutionary vanguard. But leadership was already slipping from his hands. Opposition to the Reform Bill lost him the sympathy of the middle class Radicals. Sagar compared him with ‘a man refusing roast beef because he couldn’t have plum pudding after it’, and by Mitchell’s own account the consequence of his apparent victory at the Corn Exchange had been that some of his customers were deserting his shop, and ‘in passing they had even spitten on his window’ (129).
The general election of April 1831 followed too quickly for the opposition interests to organise themselves, though the Chronicle reported ‘an eager desire… in the breasts of a vast body of the electors’ to recover the services of Stanley (130). Stanley refused, so did Richard Potter of Manchester and Charles Swainson, a Preston manufacturer who owned ‘the big factory’ at Fishwick. At the last moment, with the encouragement of ‘those who had taken an active part in endeavouring to rid the town of Mr. Hunt’ (131), Colonel Delacy Evans was nominated. He expressed Radical opinions from the Tory Bull Inn, but as he did not go to the poll, the only significant event of the election was the nomination at the hustings. Here Robert Segar represented Wood as a Radical, and Mitchell, seconding John Irvin’s nomination of Hunt, believed if the Bill passed
the people would rise en masse. He was he aware he should be called a revolutionist, but no one was more hostile to revolution than himself, (laughter) ante he publicly avowed (these opinions) with a view to prevent the dreadful consequences of anarchy and confusion. (132).
He had made similarly threatening references to violence in December – to fires burning in six counties,
and how did they know they might not come nearer home? particularly as he had heard that … six and twenty factories were about to be stopt (sic) for the purpose of destroying the Trades Union’ (133).
It is not surprising that by June the Pilot beheld ‘fellows of the most notorious stamp struggling to divest themselves of the taint of radicalism… our Russell-Rads – the ten pounder people – recoil from contact with their old play fellows’ (134).
But the rot soon ran much farther to the left. In September four open air meetings of ‘the Friends of Mr Hunt’ (135) put Mitchell on trial for having ‘gone off from Hunt’, and for intriguing to bring in Cobbett in his place. John Irvin and John Taylor (‘the Quaker clogger’ of Lune Street) remained loyal to Hunt, accused Mitchell of a radical conspiracy at the Black Bull, and were supported by two delegates of ‘the Manchester Political Union’ who had come to put the charges. Mitchell’s opinion of Irvin and Taylor was low:- ‘you are two dirty mean fellows’. The embroilment of outsiders – James Whittle of Manchester, Hetherington of the Poor Man’s Guardian, and Hunt’s secretary Fitzgerald (‘the little Irishman’) suggests that this was a national rather than a local Radical split, but it had an ugly effect in Preston. An effigy of Mitchell was burned opposite his house in Fishergate when Fitzgerald came on 12th September. The Pilot summed up the fall
A few short months ago, upon the beck of this man’s little finger depended the issues almost of life and death, – obeyed in all things by the multitude and apparently their earthly idol; and here we behold him… bayed, mocked at, and rejected, – the object of universal wrath (136).
The two reform meetings in the autumn of 1831 were discordant from the first, beginning with John Taylor’s objection to the choice of chairman (Alderman Dixon), and interrupted frequently by noise and | confusion from the Huntites. Livesey tried to play his usual role, but was far less optimistic about the effects of the proposed reform – ‘it would not repeal the Corn Laws, nor destroy the sinecures… but it would pave the way’. But John Taylor, now in Mitchell’s place as Radical leader and admitting that he represented. the rump of the Huntites made no attempt to carry the whole meeting with him. He wanted
a bill that would let the working classes send men without being tied to any man or masters… There would be no good done until we have universal suffrage, annual parliaments, vote by ballot… a ten-pound party had got up a requisition and it was to be printed as the voice of the town… but I will take good care to show that the town has another voice… if they send this petition, I will send another (137).
And Robert Segar showed an equally irreconcilable attitude from what was now the other side of the reforming fence:
… if a meeting was called for universal suffrage and vote by ballot… he would say that man degraded himself who would attend (Ten fold excitement – applause from one side, hisses from the other) (138).
The very holding of the second meeting, on 13th October, was an explicit battle of strengths. Its organisers arranged that it should begin after the dinner hour on a weekday in order to minimise the working class attendance, but the Radicals had put out a call to ‘muster up strong today to beat the d—-d Reform Bill’, so between 1,500 and 2,500 people were present to vote down a motion to petition in favour of the Bill and carried instead an address ‘founded upon the principles of universal suffrage, annual parliaments, and vote by ballot’ (139). Neither respect for the conventions of such meetings, nor deference to the mayor and the Recorder, restrained the Huntites from snatching the reins: ‘Who had started this movement? US.’ (140) According to the Chronicle, although few of the ‘most respectable and influential men of the town” had attended the September meeting, the petition had been signed by ‘almost a majority’ of the Council (presumably meaning to say ‘almost all’?), by one or more partners in all manufacturing firms, and nearly all of ‘the middle order”, together with ‘the more orderly and decent of the working classes’. There were 2,300 signatures (to be compared with 6,300 on the first electoral register in 1832) (141)
On Guy Fawkes’ day, November 5th, Henry Hunt arrived in town just after dark, with a procession of flaming tar barrels, smoke, lights and music. ‘He went to Taylor’s house in Lune Street, and from the window directed all his aggression against Radical enemies: Mitchell, who ‘had lent or sold himself to the Whigs’, Wilcockson, proprietor of the Chronicle, and ‘old weathercock Cobbett’. His closing advice to his hearers was that they should point out Wilcockson and Mitchell in the street and hiss at them (142).
Next morning a mass meeting was held on Gallows Hill, beside the Garstang Turnpike three quarters of a mile north of the centre of the town (143), ostensibly to adopt a series of resolutions ‘as at the White Conduit House’ but in reality for a more physical purpose. This was Preston’s first and last taste of the threatened revolution. Newspaper accounts give no indication of the agency, but for their MP’s reception the previous evening the Huntites ‘had made considerable preparations’, and on this day the master manufacturers had heard of ‘a plan for the stoppage of their works during the day’ (144). The ‘mob’ spent the whole day methodically touring establishments with steam engines: Sleddon’s ‘extensive machine shop; Sleddon’s cotton factory; Ainsworth and Catterall’s; Riley’s; Swainson, Birley and Turton’s; Horrocks, Jacson and Co.’s; Sherrington’s (breaking open the lock-up in Avenham Street for good measure); and finally, as a climax, to Horrocks, Miller and Company’s cotton mills, before assembling at the House of Correction to defy the Governor’s ’18-pounder carronade charged with grape’, before returning to Gallows Hill in thunder and hail and gathering darkness (145).
The town had been ‘in a state of great alarm’, and the ten constables were quite unable to deal with the situation. The magistrates must have been taken by surprise, because the military – 3 companies of the 80th Regiment – did not arrive until the following day. This, together with the observation that ‘a considerable number of strangers’ had been among the mob, suggests a sophisticated combination of organisation and secrecy: for while the Pilot‘s observation on ‘strangers’ suggests a normal expectation of face-to- face familiarity, the failure of anticipation surely proves that communication within the community was very thoroughly broken. This was quite different from the defensive preparations made in the spring and summer of 1826; yet the political dangers in 1831 were much greater, and had been apparent for much longer. Were the magistrates in 1831 inefficient, or had their informers changed their allegiance? Of the two local newspapers, the Pilot was far more likely to have been intimate with enemies of the Whigs.
The riot of 6th November 1831 has Joseph Mitchell’s stamp upon it: he was a good organiser, he had a veteran’s experience of secret political organisation, and a publicly declared taste for physical force; and he had fallen out with the Huntites, who were in communication with the Tory networks.
A revolutionary interpretation of the demonstration of 6th November 1831 is doubly suspect. The response of the factory hands, (who had been willing to strike in 1826) is particularly significant. According to the Pilot ‘the workpeople of the different establishments did not join the rioters… all of them… have been sworn in as constables’, and, although this sounds like an exaggeration, a published declaration of loyalty by Swainson, Birley and Turton’s hands after a meeting at the King William IV in London Road confirms the impression (146). The stopping of the factories was probably the work of the weavers (hence the ‘strangers’ – from the country districts). Joseph Mitchell’s victory in December 1830 had been achieved by the weavers rather than the spinners, and his recourse after the split among the Radicals of the borough would have been to the discontented rural weavers. I suggest, therefore, that the violence threatened in November 1831 was not the revolutionary potential of an industrial working class of the steam age, but the reactionary violence of Luddites, marshalled by an advanced theoretician for personal tactical purposes. The most important division in the Preston political community was that between hand workers and mill operatives, and it was the hand workers who were prepared to take the risk of violent demonstration.
The Radicals appear to have been well on the way to establishing a ‘counter-culture’ in 1832, with their own weekly publication, Addresses from one of the 3730 Electors which ran from January 1832 to January 1833. Its tone of class antagonism was in marked contrast to the reasonable but perhaps patronising Moral Reformer published by Joseph Livesey (which, incidentally, survived much longer), but its uninhibited pages contain information which is not available in other sources, and its tone, particularly at the end, has the millenarian fervour of a tribe lost in the political wilderness.
One item in particular shows clearly how political behaviour must have been inseparable from the whole mesh of social concerns and economic interests. In March 1832 Addresses contained a letter from John Taylor (the clogger of Lune Street, and Huntite leader), saying that he had applied to the magistrates to have Mr Bannister’s son bound an apprentice to him. The magistrates were T.B. Addison and John Law
‘both worthy gentlemen Whigs’, and ‘when they saw that it was John Taylor of Radical principles, Mr Addison brought forward my politics… for his part, he would not bind a son of his to a man who professed such bad politics; so the learned Batty could not sign the indenture (147).
There could hardly have been a better demonstration to Taylor of the need for the ballot; to the Whigs of the opposite principle; or to the historian of the need to interpret pollbooks in the light of such consideration.
Tactical political unity was restored to Preston briefly by the last minute resistance of Parliament to the final passing of the Reform Bill; but it was the lop-sided unity of a political union. As soon as the news reached Preston of defeat of Grey’s Bill in committee, a public meeting was called in the Corn Exchange, on Friday 11th May (148). The middle class Radical-Reformer Robert Segar was called to the chair, emphasising the need for ‘unity and firmness’ in making known that the late Bill did not go far enough. Joseph Livesey seems to have been the principal speaker for those who had organised the meeting, and after a long speech berating despots, Tories and bishops, and recommending that Preston should act in unison with the Reformers of the rest of the country, he read the resolution calling for household suffrage, short parliaments, and the ballot. Despite the division on the left – Mitchell’s friend Johnson was hissed down – the Radicals, led by Taylor, relished the spectacle of the Whigs now being forced to join ‘the great body of the people’, and argued for ‘universal suffrage’ until it was necessary to adjourn. Accordingly on Saturday evening a crowd of some 1,200 gathered on the open land known as Chadwick’s Orchard in front of the Blackamoor’s Head (149). The petition, read by Segar, was now for universal suffrage, short parliaments, and the ballot, and was backed by the threat of refusal of supplies.
At this point Joseph Mitchell, who had just contrived his own election to the Select Vestry and begun to apply it to his purposes (see Chapter2.4a) made a political come-back to the Radical fold. Barely allowed a hearing, amidst hisses and catcalls, on the evening of Saturday 12th May he contributed his usual threatening truculence, and proposed a remonstrance instead of a petition
He… would not care if the shops and factories were all closed, and that the people should make a stand and declare for universal liberty’ (150).
The petition was signed, however, by ‘upwards of 3,000 of the electors’ (151), and despatched to Hunt and Wood at Westminster, Segar proposing another meeting the following week to hear their members’ replies. This was the time, he said, ‘for general and organised agitation… the lower classes must join the middling and higher classes’ (152). In fact, both sides thought they were winning. The Radical leaders of the lower classes were allowed to write a Radical petition, and the middle class reformers knew it would further a middle class reform.
On Saturday 19th May a large crowd heard that both Wood and Hunt would support the present reform. The fact that this was a defeat for the Preston Radicals seems not to have been noticed, perhaps because attention was deflected by the presence of Mr Hetherington, editor of the Poor Man’s Guardian, who had come to organise a union of classes, a Political Union ‘like that of Birmingham’ (153); and perhaps also by the diplomacy of Robert Segar. Rejecting insinuations by John Irvin that the middle class ‘Bill-men’ were not sincere in their desire to join the working classes, he repeated the old belief that ‘their interests were inseparably bound up with those of the working man’, and then, cunningly, ‘regretted that so small a portion of those who ought to be the natural leaders of the people were present on this occasion’. By this classic ploy he was able to satisfy the crowd that all present were of one mind, and to leave hanging on the cold air this traditional view of social relationships:
… the various classes of society should in future be more united than they had been. The attempt to unite then ought to proceed from the better informed, who, he trusted, would put off a little more of their pride, and approach their poorer brethren in the cause, in a spirit of candour and conciliation. They would thus obtain… good and cheap government; they would… be bound in one endless chain, which it would be impossible to touch without affecting the whole, and which enemies would find it difficult to dissever – (loud cheers) (154).
The meeting, reported the Chronicle, separated ‘in perfect harmony and good humour’, but I should like to have seen the faces of Mitchell, Irvin and Taylor.
The harmony and good humour were artificial and transitory of course. The Reform Act may have satisfied the ten-pounders, but it betrayed the household suffrage and ballot men as thoroughly as it did the Radical democrats. This alone must have reduced the credibility of those who had led 1,974 electors to poll for Wood in 1826, and 2,489 in August 1830, and shattered the illusions of political unity between different social classes. Some of the most influential and respectable, if not the weightiest, of the tom’s leadership constituted the committee of 32 to make a presentation to Wood in July 1832 when it was known that he was retiring from parliament (155). Eight of them were manufacturers, seven were lawyers, four, corn merchants. They included for example Thomas Ainsworth of Church Street Mills, Peter Haydock the attorney, Joseph Livesey, and Robert Segar, the Catholic Barrister. Of the fifteen whose religion I can positively identify, five adhered to the established church (this is probably an underestimate out of the total 32) and six were Roman Catholics, while the last four were Methodist, Baptist, Unitarian and Quaker.
Wood’s retirement was obviously a handicap to these people in 1832, but as the election in December was fought by a Whig and a Conservative on one side and a pair of Radicals on the other, with Wood’s replacement isolated between them, it is doubtful whether even the sitting member would have survived. What happened in the agonisingly protracted period between the passing of the Act in May and the election six months later, was largely a continuation of the class division which had opened up in the previous year. The ‘Whig reformers’, content with the bill, had not, as Mr Watkinson had stated at the meeting on 11th May, ‘realised the necessity of joining the great body of the people’, while the Huntite Radicals’ attitude reflected Taylor’s hope that ‘those who had joined the ten pound faction would not be received back by the radicals’. As soon as the Reform Bill passed, ‘An Elector’ initiated a public correspondence on the importance of returning William Cobbett as a ‘vigorous and clear headed reformer’, which as it continued throughout June projected a clear division of opinion which rendered it unlikely that the search for two new members would unite the Radical factions (156). On Thursday 12th July Henry Hunt arrived accompanied by John Irvin, John Taylor and Richard Warwick ‘the noted keeper of a beershop’ (157) for his usual procession and lengthy speech; but ‘Mr Cobbett’s Friends’ persisted, at least until August 7th, when they summoned a meeting at Chadwick’s Orchard for taking measures to secure Cobbett’s election. When Mitchell and Johnston attempted to speak, from a window of the Blackamoor’s Head, ‘It became evident, that the crowd, aware of the party whence the meeting originated, were determined not to hear anything from that quarter’. The other faction, obviously well organised, had left nothing to chance, and before the crowd dispersed a very large band of Huntites ‘with drums and fife’, marched up from the lower end of the Orchard and appropriated the audience for John Taylor (158). The organisation did not stop there, for within a fortnight Hunt had acquired a running mate, one Captain Forbes, who, although he seems to have aroused grave suspicion even among Hunt’s Preston supporters, and on later occasions was shielded from any kind of interrogation or public exposure, clearly served the purpose of denying spare Radical votes to any Cobbettite candidate.
The Huntites won this round because they were organised: by the Political Union. They were three years ahead of the Conservative Association and the Reform Association, and they had their own press, the Addresses from One of the 3730 Electors (159).
The Political Union was formed at a meeting ‘of a numerous body’ at the Blackamoor’s Head on 4th June, on the principles of universal suffrage, annual parliaments, vote by ballot and no property qualification for MPs. Adjourning to the Roast Beef Tavern (160) the meeting then decided that ‘each district be divided into classes’ and ‘each class… have its own leader’, the classes to pay equal proportions to a small fund to be placed in the hands of ‘the council’. (161). When ‘representatives of the various classes of the union’ met the following week they refined the organisation by resolving that there should be a general meeting of the union once a month, to which no one should be admitted who could not produce his ‘red card’ (162) (probably the ‘card signed by the secretary of his district with the number of his class’ agreed at the first meeting). (This organisation resembled those of the Methodists and of the Friendly Societies.) The union had an instant success, for on Monday 18th June the Roast Beef Tavern was ‘crowded to excess’, applications pouring in for help in setting up infant classes, justifying the boast of Addresses that ‘hundreds, nay thousands (were) binging them- selves together in one common bond having in one view one common object’ (163). To accommodate this increase in membership it was necessary to take a larger room for general meetings, and, more interestingly, for ‘each representative to be provided with a list of the names and residence of each individual in his class’, a precaution reflecting not only the size of the membership, but also the potential anonymity of relationships in the town. (It should be compared with the reliance of the Overseers on ‘knowing’ the accredited agents of voters unable to make personal application for entry on the Register of Voters in 1835 – (see Chapter 6.4).
The ‘one common object’ of this remarkable ‘union’ embraced not only the constitutional goal of its principles, but a more immediate political task, resolving, on 11th June,
That in consequence of the prevalent report of Cobbett being put in nomination at the approaching general election, we wish it to be generally known that we should feel ourselves disgraced as radical reformers and as men for having anything to do with him or his self-interested partisans, (164)
any possibility of doubt being removed the next week thus:
All convicted political and moral offenders have not the privilege of enrolling themselves as members, and as the SPY stands in the advance of this degenerate cause… any attempt to insinuate himself amongst us will be futile. (165)
To the Cobbettite Preston Chronicle the Political Union was anathema, and its methods, if truthfully reported, abhorrent:
The Political Unions are now organising plans of intimidation, which are disgraceful to the parties concerned in them. We denounced this system, with all our force, when it was confined to the higher classes… We now protest, at all risks, against the same infamous conduct when practised by the lower.’ (166)
In September the paper reported a ‘Shameful Outrage’ in which a party of Huntites had burned a straw effigy of a shopkeeper who ‘had rendered himself politically obnoxious by attaching himself to the cause of Mr Stanley’, giving rise to violence among the crowd of ‘five or six hundred’ (167).
The idealistic reasonableness of the middle class Radicals the future liberals – could hardly have made a sharper contrast, and I think that this reasonableness, good and admirable in itself, was partly to blame for the failure of their cause, for in the massive working class electorate, when the weapons were chosen by the Political Union it was simply ineffective. For practical purposes, the flaming effigy was mightier than the pen. Approaching Dr Crompton in July (an unsuccessful candidate in 1818), they had accepted his son Charles as their candidate instead (168). They had then committed political suicide by criticising the son’s Address to the electors as too vague (169), and, attempting to sell him to the Political Union as its second Radical, by arranging a parley between the Union and Charles Crompton at the Blackamoor’s Head, during which Isaac Wilcockson submitted the young fallow to a detailed political catechism (170). After they had thus publicly bitten their dubious gold, it is not surprising that the Huntites produced Captain Forbes in August, and instead of advertising his weaknesses, had done their best to cover them up: in November about 300 people, including Robert Segar, attended the Blackamoor’s Head to interrogate this Captain Forbes, but he wisely failed to turn up (171). (An attack of rheumatism had saved Hunt and Forbes from a confrontation with at Trades Union at the Grey Horse, in August. (172)) With Wilcockson, Segar and most of the Wood farewell committee bound to Crompton (173), and Irvin, Warwick, Taylor and Watkinson – the Union men – for Hunt and Forbes, the fissure between Radicals and ten pound reformers, visible at the reform meetings, therefore ran straight through to the election in December.
Little need be said of the other side except that the early agreement on Sir Peter Hesketh Fleetwood and H.T. Stanley as their candidates (Stanley, at the Bull, declaring unflinchingly that though in favour of the ballot he was not in favour of universal suffrage (174)), demonstrated that Preston’s Tories and Whigs were now birds of a feather. It would be helpful to know more about the active ‘Friends’ of these two candidates, but the only significant information I have is a report in July that a meeting of ‘some of the leading manufacturers and others’ (175) had named George William Wood of Manchester (176) and Peter Hesketh Fleetwood as possible candidates. The social alignment was quite clear to the Pilot before the election:
The lower orders are notoriously for Hunt and Forbes… as to the higher, the whole (are) pledged either to Mr: Hesketh Fleetwood or Mr. Stanley’ (177),
an impression which the Chronicle confirmed in its post mortem on Crompton’s failure. Any feeling for Crompton
was completely overpowered by the strong determination entertained by one class of voters to throw out, and by the other to bring in, Mr. Hunt’ (178).
The fact is that the party alluded to – the Green party as it is called – can do nothing of itself: it has always depended for help from the Whig or Stanley party, on one side, but chiefly from the multitude on the other. The latter we know have long since withdrawn themselves… (179).
The final state of the poll confirmed these judgments: Hesketh Fleetwood – 3,372, Stanley – 3,273, Hunt – 2,054 Forbes – 1,926, Crompton – 118.
This was the first result of the Reform Act in Preston. Political polarisation is obvious. Because the pollbook shows the polling districts and sub districts of individual voters (180), spatial distribution is easier to demonstrate in this election than in any other (see Map 2 below) and, except for sub districts 2b and 8b, there is a clear difference between the south west (windward) and north east (leeward) halves of the town. This appears to corroborate geographically the impression of social and political 0pposition suggested by the election result and it roughly matches the distribution of the cotton industry. The first impression, both of the poll book and of the map, is that political division corresponds with class conflict, and that middle class liberals were a nullity in 1832.
For two reasons I think that these conclusions would be premature, if not mistaken. The first is that posterity soon demonstrated that liberalism was not a nullity: in 1841 and 1847 Preston elected two Liberal members of parliament. Nine years could not have altered the social composition of the town so grossly. The second reason is that there were marked disparities between the votes of different groups within the ‘working classes’. The two largest categories, weavers and spinners, although both more than averagely inclined to the Radical side, showed a very different degree of Radicalism. A comparison of all weavers and spinners who voted either for the Whig and Tory pair of candidates or for both Radicals, 1,164 in all or 18.3% of all voters, shows once again that the main strength of the Radicals was among the weavers.
|voted for Whig and Tory||197||22.75||159||53.36|
|voted for Radicals||699||12.25||139||46.64|
It may be that spinners were more directly subjected to ‘coercion’ by their employers, an explanation which might be supported by the fact that 53 (75%) of the 71 overlookers voted for the Whig and Tory, and only 10 (14%) for both Radicals. But the overlookers were surely ‘ much more directly dependent upon the millowners for their relative superiority as well as for their jobs, so the total of 14 (20%) voting for one or both Radicals must indicate that coercion was not an insurmountable obstacle to free voting. The two maps above showing the crude fractions of weavers and spinners voting Radical prove that both groups were more numerous in the northern fringes of the town where both were more Radical than the average for their occupations: 55% of the 138 spinners were able to vote Radical in these districts and 82% of the weavers did so. In the Fishwick districts to the south east, conspicuously Cobbettite in 1826, weavers in particular were fairly densely congregated, and this was where the influence of Horrocks might be expected to bear most heavily on voting; yet 75% of the weavers and 40% of the spinners polled for the Radicals. It therefore seems unlikely that coercion by employers had a decisive influence.
The only remaining explanation for the disparity between these two groups is that they perceived their political interests in different ways, and hence were not a ‘class’, but perhaps two ‘classes’. Spinners were sometimes in conflict with their masters, the mill regimes were strict, the hours long and already becoming a matter of contention; but the relationship between master and hands was no more uniform or consistent than any other continuous working relationship. Thomas Banks remembered with affection the feasting and celebrations provided by Swainsons at the ‘rearing’ of the ‘Big Factory’:
about 1823 all the hands working at Water Street Mill [which belonged to Swainson and Birleys] were invited to attend the rearing; … those under sixteen years were well supplied with special ale and currant bread, and there was some fine scampering among those large long rooms like a lot of young hares (181).
The complexity and, to some degree intimacy, of relationships between master and hands is hinted at in the biography of one of the lesser manufacturers, T.C. Hincksman. Managing a manufacturing concern in Chorley for Robert Gardner, he was transferred to Kay Street in Preston in 1827, and ‘many of the weavers packed up their hand looms, and went with their young master’. In his own words, ‘I was accompanied by a large staff of workpeople to whom I had become attached…’ (182) Hincksman voted for Stanley and Fleetwood in 1832: there is no way of knowing whether his loyal weavers did the same, or of explaining their behaviour either way even if we did know.
A summary conclusion of the political effects of the collapse of the coalition in 1826, of Catholic Emancipation, of the intervention of Cobbett and Hunt (and Joseph Mitchell), and of the Reform agitation is therefore by no means as simple as the crude election results of 1832 might suggest. It would be perverse to argue against all the evidence that class opposition divided the community politically, but a mistake to believe that Cobbett, Hunt, Mitchell, Irvin, Taylor, Johnson and their like referred to a simple objective reality. Only Mitchell referred to ‘the working class’ in the singular. Reality was not so simple. I think that if a simple perception of class alienation existed in the minds of any, it was in the minds of the upper crust and of some of the middle class reformers. Their attitudes and responses are the subject of the next chapter.