Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: chapter 3.4

The Mighty Cataract and the Webs of Influence

See also: Nigel Morgans’s Desirable Dwellings

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4. Leadership and influence

On a significant number of occasions, especially at the elections of mayors or nominations for magistrates, particular remark was made on the public role, or lack of it, of the person concerned. Of Peter Haydock, one councillor said that ‘he had followed a deviating line of conduct’. James German was praised by Thomas Miller for his strenuous exertions in the public interest. George Jacson as mayor was praised for constantly being accessible and ‘looking into the wants of the poor’. George Smith’s return to the Council (after resigning) was welcomed by a correspondent in the Guardian for the economical and straightforward course he pursued so as to ‘secure the respect and esteem of his fellow townsmen’. Francis Armstrong, Lawrence Spencer and John Goodair were praised at a ratepayers’ meeting for their self-less independence of judgment (see Chapter 5). Robert Ascroft when Town Clerk himself turned out as a principal speaker in an open air meeting behind the Town Hall against the proceedings of the Burial Board. In innumerable ways the leaders of this community had a public presence, a role and character both drawn from and projected onto the community; and if they were not seen in public, their utterances at meetings were printed in full in the newspapers.

But there was another side to the coin. It was said in 1856 that ‘the Bull Bar not the Council rules the town’. It was more likely that the Winckley Club (81), founded in 1844, ruled it. The original 70 shareholders of this elite institution, 24 of whom were textile manufacturers, 22 lawyers and 12 merchants, were mostly but not all Conservative, and mostly members of the Established Church, but Robert Segar, Edward Sidgreaves and George Gradwell – all prominent Catholics – were among them. It was a Christ Church ward club: John Goodair, John Hawkins and George Smith were not members.

It is impossible to tell exactly who influenced whom and how, but certain that no theoretical explanations can be based on the surface impressions of the evidence. A ‘bank Character book’ for 1837-1857 contains many notes about credit-worthiness of merchants, builders, and millowners. On Joseph Livesey, for example, ‘well conducted and thriving. Good for £100 or two’, signed by George Gradwell December 1836; ‘Wm. Ainsworth & Co – Weak’ signed T.C. Hincksman; ‘Francis Sleddon junr – observe caution – May 1838’. Most of the-references concern strangers and relatively long distance trade, but those for known Preston men show, in laconic shorthand, judgments which must be derived from private networks of information.

It would be unwise to draw firm conclusions about the methods of influence and control. It was a very complicated underground process, only some of the elements of which are either-accessible in historical sources or intelligible. The public leadership of a relatively small number of individuals was the result of it.

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81. LCRO Winckley Club papers.

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