Social and Political Leadership in Preston 1820-60: chapter 5.1

The modernisation of local administration

See also: Nigel Morgans’s Desirable Dwellings

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1. The scale of local government, and resistance to growth in Poor Law affairs

Victorian Preston was ‘made’ by landowners, manufacturers, surveyors, agents, builders and the leaders of voluntary organisations, such as the churches and schools, rather than by its statutorily constituted Improvement Commission, Town Council or Board of Guardians. These bodies reacted to growth more than they led it, but their role grew, so that the functions and powers which they had acquired by 1860 far exceeded anything which was conceivable to the same individuals in 1830. The themes of this chapter are the transformation of men, of their perceptions of the role of leadership, and of the scale of their collective endeavours; the gradual and still only partial acceptance of the implications of collectivism itself by the end of my period; and the pragmatic manner in which a relatively small number of unpaid local leaders, principally elected councillors, solved the unprecedented and unpredictable problems of creating the organs of truly municipal government from virtually nothing. In anticipation of the conclusion of this chapter I may say that in this town at least the politics and jobbery which Dr Fraser has perceived in the affairs of other towns were totally overshadowed by the practical realities of the processes of municipal government which confronted contemporaries. (1)

A certain historiographical tendency to anachronistic exaggeration of the role of statutory authorities must be corrected at the outset. The relative scale of private and public enterprise in Preston in the middle years of the 19th century helps to define the scope of local government then.

When Horrocks Miller and Company’s land and buildings were valued for rating purposes in 1844 at £59,376 (2), the total assets of the firm were nearly half a million pounds (3), or about eight times their rating valuation. Applying the same ratio to all the thirty cotton mills assessed at that date, the total rating valuation of all the mills, £229,656, might have represented assets of Preston’s cotton firms in the region of two million pounds; and the spate of mill building in the late 1840’s must have been increasing that sum. For comparison the average annual turnover of the Improvement Commission from 1833 to 1850 was £7,575 (4); Corporation ordinary and extraordinary expenditure averaged £6,977 between 1836 and 1847, and £9,980 from 1847 to 1854 (5). Transfer of the responsibilities of the Commission to the Council as Local Board of Health increased the scale of both, but the total sum under the General District Rate Account of the Local Board for 1851-52 was only £18,051 (6), which might be compared with Horrocks’s profit of £30,434 in 1836 and their loss of £34,215 in 1842 (7). The biggest local government spenders were the Guardians whose total expenditure for 1855-56 was £29,105 (8), but this was for the Union as a whole, comprising 28 other townships besides Preston.

Given this vast difference of scale, the Local Board’s decision in 1852 to acquire the Waterworks Company at a price approximately equivalent to the rateable value of all the property within the municipal boundary (9) followed in 1853 by the borrowing of £52,000 for building the sewerage (10), represented a change in the nature as well as in the scale of municipal government. Remarkably, there was little protest at what might have been regarded as the practical unreality of such decisions, or opposition to the collective principles which they manifested; indeed the Preston Guardian declared that the purchase of the Waterworks had been ‘inevitable’ for eighteen months, while the Pilot expressed only a lack of confidence in the competence of the Local Board to manage the project. (11). Regardless of the ultimate effects of these decisions on the health of the inhabitants (which was scarcely perceptible in that generation), the immediate result was growth and organisational adaptation within local government itself, and a transformation in the relationship between public authority and private enterprise which was eventually symbolised in the building of a new Tom Hall after the end of my period.

‘The Town Hall’, wrote Hardwick in 1857 referring even at that date to a single room in a building erected in 1782 at a cost of £615,

is but a mean edifice for so populous and wealthy a borough… The interior of the hall is dark, and not sufficiently spacious for the transaction of the… magistrates’ business… in no way adequate to the growing wants of the town. The guild hall, or council chamber, is certainly a better room… (12).

A plan of 1845 (13) compared with an Inventory of Corporation property in 1855 (14) shows that the Town Hall accommodation of a body then engaged in public works costing about a quarter of a million pounds consisted of three rooms: the Town Hall itself, the Council Chamber, and a small adjoining committee room. For the 48 members of the Corporation there were ‘thirty six and one arm mahogany chairs in black hair cloth’ in the Council Chamber and ‘seventeen and one’ similar chairs in the committee room. The list of goods in the Town Clerk’s office, beginning with ‘three large iron double door bookcases or safes’ and ending with ‘quantity of lumber, waste paper and sundries’ mentions neither desk nor chair, suggesting that the senior officer of this great borough was expected to carry his papers to ‘one mahogany full flap dining table’ or that his work was done elsewhere. The only other offices mentioned in this inventory were those of the Borough Police, presumably in the old police station in Avenham Street (one stool for a clerk and thirteen rush chairs), the Weight Inspector (three chairs), the Bellman (a bench, a cupboard and a bell), the Corn Inspector , (a writing desk and a stool), and of the Steward – the Corporation Treasurer – which contained ‘one desk… one painted office stool, five small stools’, and nothing else.

The growth and functional definition of the salaried and wage staff of local government is inseparable from the policies and activities of the various bodies, and will be dealt with below, but the general nature of its composition from the Corporation Reform Act until 1850 is fairly characterised in the list of salaries paid by the Corporation in 1836-7, when fourteen officers received salaries (and these had been reduced to eleven in 1848-9). These fourteen included: two masters of the Grammar School, two mace bearers, the beadle, the librarian, the market-looker, the (Corn) Exchange Keeper and the clock winder (15). Apart from the Superintendent of Police, none of the principal officers (including the Recorder) was employed on a full-time basis. For Philip Park, the duties of Corporation Steward, for which he received a salary of £100, were an extension of his private practice as senior partner of Park, Son and Garlic, land surveyors of 40 Fishergate,. Richard Palmer, paid £200 a year as Town Clerk, had much other business to occupy him besides the professional practice of Grimshaw and Palmer, attorneys: in 1851 he was

town clerk, coroner for the county, clerk to the borough justices, to the trustees of the Preston and Garstang turnpike roads, to the commissioners for the improvement of the borough, and clerk and cursitor in the court of Chancery in Lancashire (16).

Uncertainty about the distinction between salaried service and fee- charging professional service was to bedevil relationships between Council and officers throughout my period; despite repeated attempts to draw a clear line, the Council could not bring itself to deprive ‘professional gentlemen’ of their right to private practice. It was different with the Superintendent of Police (but not, oddly, with the constables (see below)).

Leadership therefore belonged to the members of these three bodies, not just in the sense that initiative lay with them (and when it did not, in the case of the Guardians, the elected leadership asserted itself by obstructing the initiative of the Poor Law Commissioners), but also in the sense that they inspected the streets, visited the courts and alleys, heard the applications for relief, attended to extraordinarily frequent and detailed committee meetings, approved building plans, analysed bills before parliament, calculated the cost of brickmaking, and toured the towns of England in search of example and advice. Given that the environment in which they functioned was a rapidly growing industrial tom increasingly dependent upon a staple economy vulnerable to extreme fluctuations of trade, common in its day no doubt but never previously experienced, the quality of that leadership may be judged in the account of its circumstances and behaviour in the second half of this chapter.

But there were clear differences between the active or functional membership of the Improvement Commissioners, the Town Council, and the Board of Guardians. Of the three, the Guardians were the most different, partly because the Union formed by the Assistant Commissioner, Mr Power, bound with the borough a very wide rural area including the townships of Ribchester and Samlesbury to the east, of Bretherton and Much and Little Hoole to the west, with Walton-le-Dale and Cuerden in the south and Woodplumpton, Barton and Whittingham in the north (17) and partly because the majority of the ratepayers of the centre of this Union, Preston, were strongly opposed to the implementation of the principles of the Poor Law Amendment Act.

Some struggles for control of the Select Vestry and the Overseers continued in General Vestry meetings after 1834 on the same lines of division as in the days of the Radical Vestry, but the challenges of Joseph Mitchell were resisted or outmanoeuvred (18), as were his attacks on the expense of the workhouse, on its governor, on the salary of the medical officer and on members of the Select Vestry. His resolution to protest against the Poor Law Amendment Act was received with laughter in 1834, and he himself drew the conclusion

It was high time since the Overseers and the Select Vestry had separated themselves from the working classes… that the working classes should separate from them and stay at home (19).

One last great open battle in 1835 over the rights of the ratepayers of the parish to control the administration of the old poor law anticipated the pattern of the new. The occasion was an attempt by the Select Vestry to determine in one detail the organisation of the New Poor Law in Preston by reappointing one of the Overseers under the old system as Assistant Overseer and cashier at a higher salary under the new. The finer details of the proposal and of the opposition were of far less significance than the underlying issues and the scale and range of the struggle. This extraordinary Genera Vestry began on Thursday 18th June and continued by adjournment until Monday 22nd June.

The object of the meeting had excited very considerable interest throughout the town, and the doors of the (Town) Hall being opened the rush to obtain admission was unusually great. A large muster of the ‘broad cloth’ of the town was observable: but the majority consisted of tradesmen and working people. (20)

Polling for and against the Overseer’s reappointment opened in the Town Hall on the afternoon of the first day, and continued in the Corn Exchange, both places being crowded with voters, ‘the greater part working men’, and unusual exertions including on-the-spot subscriptions, were made to pay rates to qualify voters; while in the streets some of the opposition paraded with fife and drum, and a man rode on horseback, ‘fantastically dressed’, calling on voters to vote for the opposition (21).

The issues which caused such excitement appear to have included the Select Vestry’s attempt to substitute the sanction of the Poor Law Commissioners for the popular authority of the general vestry; the character of the Overseer himself in his public role: ‘That was required was a man of good temper and kindness of disposition, not one who was known only for his severity and cruelty’; and, to quote again from Joseph Livesey’s speeches, ‘this was not merely a question of economy, but of parish liberty…’ (22).

Although called upon twice to argue their case in public, the members of the Select Vestry remained conspicuously silent, leaving their part to be played by the Tory attorneys Joseph Bray and Peter Haydock and the Liberal banker John Lawe. The opposition was led by middle class Radicals and Liberals, Robert Segar (voted into the chair when Bray was dismissed from it), Joseph Livesey and Robert Ascroft. Joseph Mitchell, for reasons which can only be surmised, deliberately abstained from interfering. The opposition won by a large majority.

Those who had tried to introduce the spirit of the Act by stealth never recovered from this defeat. Efficient and economical they may have been – expenditure was so much reduced in 1835 that with a large balance in hand they could dispense with further rates (23) – but in conformity with the new law the members of the Vestry now played the role of the future Board of Guardians by personally hearing applications for relief (24), and were therefore personally identified with the new policy and the manner of its application. According to Joseph Livesey they were ‘teasing and tormenting the poor’, and humiliating them by obliging them to go to the Workhouse for food and clothing; under this system, said Mitchell, ‘outdoor relief was rapidly passing away’. ‘It had long been the practice with vestries in this parish to relieve the necessitous too grudgingly…’ Livesey observed in 1836, unconsciously revealing their political short-sightedness: ‘… the good they might effect was frequently neutralised by the ungenerous manner in which relief was administered.’ (25)

Consequently the first election of Guardians for the township of Preston was a minor revolution: not one of the six had been a member of the Select Vestry in the previous two years (26) and in the 1838 election the only Vestryman returned was the Chartist sympathiser John Noble. The Tory Pilot declared that this election ‘had been made a political one, there being seven declared radicals out of nine’ candidates (27). Livesey himself was elected in both, and Robert Ascroft in the second. Another interesting comparison is that a much higher proportion of the Guardians were active on the Improvement Commission: five out of six in both cases, three of them leaders in that body, whereas less than half the Vestrymen had appeared in it, and only two with any regularity. Occupationally the town’s elected Guardians showed no sign of its staple industry: they included in 1838 two corn merchants, a maltster, an iron founder, a cheesemonger (Livesey) and an attorney (Ascroft) (28).

There were forty-five Guardians, ten of whom, as magistrates for the district, were members ex officio, invulnerable to popular opinion. Miss Proctor has shown how in the early years of the Union the elected frustrated all attempts by the ex-officio Guardians to carry out the intended purposes of the Act (29).

Skirmishes and scandals occurred throughout the 1840s: on the ‘one workhouse’ issue (30); on the Commissioners’ general orders for Workhouse rules, which were voted down point by point (31); on the election of a returning officer (32) and the validity of the election of Preston’s Guardians (33); on a motion for abolishing the Union (34); on the appointment of a chaplain for the Workhouse and of medical officers (35); on the right of Catholic clergy to visit Workhouse inmates (36); on charges against the Assistant Overseer (37) and on cruelty in the Penwortham Workhouse (38). But the abiding issues were the principles and application of the Act itself, and the personal hostilities engendered by it.

Joseph Livesey had set the example of rational and political ‘resistance in a series of three lengthy and well attended debates in the Theatre in May 1838 (39), and the theme of the annual elections was expressed by the Chronicle in 1842:- ‘We abominate that Frenchified system of centralisation… it is the right of every free born British citizen to protest against this intolerable authority and upstart rule…’ (40). proclaiming to the electors the need ‘to return only such candidates as pledge themselves to I ameliorate the odious provisions of this inhuman law’ (41).

Principles became enmeshed with personalities, above all with the personality of the regularly elected but frequently challenged Chairman of the Board of Guardians, the barrister Thomas Batty-Addison. This lean featured authoritarian bachelor made his philosophy clear in 1844:

… it is not only necessary to keep down the rates, but to raise the poor mass, to improve their morals and habits, and to make them ratepayers instead of paupers… Charity to paupers was a small charity compared to teaching then prudence and forethought (42).

Joseph Livesey attacked the philosophy and the man, in the Board of Guardians and copiously through his newspaper, the Preston Guardian: ‘Why should there be 887 inmates in the workhouses of Preston Union?’ asked the Guardian in 1847, pointing out that this was double the number in Bolton: because, it said, of T.B. Addison’s determination to enforce the letter and spirit of the New Law (43).

Mr Addison’s fundamental principle appears to be, that poverty is a heinous crime, and by a system peculiarly his own he would extirpate it accordingly… Come hither, then, ye squalid children of poverty, and see the consolation which the Chairman of our Board of Guardians has for you (44).

While there are clear signs that these differences corresponded to political divisions, it would be a mistake to draw the conclusion that the difficulties among the Guardians originated in party struggles which overflowed into poor law affairs. It is true that the Liberal Joseph Livesey’s nomination for returning officer was the leading middle class Radical, Robert Segar (45); true that in the wake of the Liberal triumph in the parliamentary election of 1841 the Chairman of the Operative Reform Association and League Liberal, the cotton spinner William Ainsworth, was elected a Guardian, and that in 1844 he topped the poll (46); also true that in 1842 the Chronicle bewailed that ‘the baneful spirit of party’ was introduced by a call for ‘conservative’ ratepayers to elect a ‘conservative’ Board. But while the elected Preston Guardians were of one mind in opposition to the Poor Law, half of them in 1842 were conservatives (47). The Union election of 1844 is easier to see in a political light, because out of thirteen politically mixed candidates five of those elected were Liberals (48).

The same list, however, suggests another distinction than the purely political: except for Ainsworth, those elected were all lesser manufacturers or tradesmen, The Catholic leader Joseph Gillow was a putting-out manufacturer, Michael Satterthwaite a leather cutter, Ralph Dickson a joiner, Christopher Ward a hatter, and Peter Dobson (probably) a printer: none except Ainsworth was ever a member of the Corporation. The defeated candidates, on the other hand, included two lawyers, a surgeon, and a partner in the Horrocks cotton firm: most of them were then or later members of the Corporation. In other words, the elections of Guardians in the township of Preston reflected the same subtle distinction between degrees of respectability-as the elections of Councillors did at the same period, but reversed the relationship.

This interpretation is perfectly illustrated (if not proved) in a Guardian editorial on the elections of 1855 (49) written probably by Joseph Livesey’s son John, who was then its proprietor. The subject was a private circular: ‘Sir, the committee of influential owners and ratepayers formed for the purpose of securing the appointment of fit and proper persons for Guardians… request the favour of your vote…’ including a list of two names for each ward. This circular the Guardian then rendered as a message from the ghost of General Despotism:

My friends! You have long achieved a distinguished fame for ruling this town and making all obedient to your will. Distinguished names, noble deeds, and mighty patronage have constituted the Square (50), the Downing Street of Preston. Attempts at rivalry there have been, but you can soon put them down. It is true that the prestige of long purses and tall chimneys has been somewhat impaired (51), but I appear to assist you to recover what you may seem to have lost. A fine chance now offers. You make most of the councilmen; you make all the aldermen; why should you not make the Board of Guardians too? They have refused to vote for your Union Workhouse; like Oliver, turn them out at once; pocket the key and replace them by a party of your own…

The editorial ends with the ‘counter list… which every friend to economy and every enemy to the erection of a Union House will do well to support’.

If poor law affairs had been political in the 1840s, they were certainly no longer political in 1855: both lists included eight who voted conservative in 1852 and in 1857. Occupationally the lists were hardly distinguishable. The only clear difference between them is in the residences of the candidates. A majority of the list identified with ‘the Square’ lived either in the fashionable streets close to Winckley Square or in the country; an equal majority of the second list lived in unfashionable quarters such as Fylde Street, Adelphi Street, Water Street and Friargate (52). The outcome was the return of four of the candidates identified with ‘the Square’, seven of their opponents, and one who was in both lists (53). The facts, such as they are, support the hyperbole of the Guardian editorial, they confirm the impression of the mid 1840s that ‘Guardians’ elected for Preston were the slightly-less-respectable middle class who resented (and possibly feared) the New Poor Law; and they show that in essentials they had successfully resisted change since 1835.

One reason for this might be that Preston’s Guardians had the solid support of the country Guardians who were ‘unmoveable in their opposition to the erection of a Union House’ (54) involving the expenditure of £20,000 or £30,000. Another, and intimately associated reason is that, in normal times ‘the poor’ of the town were essentially pre-industrial, and belonged both psychologically and legally in the countryside. A motion in 1854 for the division of the Union into three, separating the urban from two rural districts, was opposed on the grounds that

The great bulk of the poor belonging fa the out -townships resided in Preston…’ – a demographic fact pertaining to the still-transitional nature of the town – ‘and… one of the great advantages (of) the present system was… that applicants for relief had to appear before a board… where neither private friendship nor enmity could reach them, and where every case had to be decided upon its merits (55)

–a sociological judgment derived from experience of the anonymity of modern urban life.

But perhaps the most significant reason for attachment to the old system was that revealed by the reaction to the Poor Law Commissioners’ ‘prohibitory orders’ concerning out-relief in 1852, which prohibited the relief of any able-bodied person while he was employed for wages. The Preston Guardian pointed out that this was inappropriate in manufacturing districts because it compelled a man to become wholly a pauper: ‘There are in this town, as in many others, scores of handloom weavers, with families, earning 5 shillings to 8 shillings per week, upon which it is impossible for the families to subsist’ (56); and that the same condition applied to the factory operatives in times of depression and short time. ‘What would such men do without parochial relief?’ asked Christopher Ward, Guardian for St. George’s ward since 1842. (57) ‘… What must become of the ratepayers if all these families were driven to the workhouse?’ The Vicar, Canon Parr, observed that it would be very hard for the handloom weavers, and when Addison said they should try it and Ward reminded him that it would amount to the punishment of the poor Addison’s reply was ‘Now you come to it. It’s the feelings of the poor you look at’.

Note: Some difficulties of identification of minute books by LCRO calendar number, which have arisen since their transfer from the Town Hall muniment room, have not been solved. Where this is the case identification is by description. Possibly some of these books are still in the Town Hall.
Abbreviation MB = Minute Book
1. Fraser (1976) and (1979).
2. Assessment of cotton mills: Harris Lib. P677.2.
3. LCRO DDHs 76.
4. PC passim 1834-50.
5. Corp. Procs. 1846-7 and 1854-55: value of Corp -estate in 1847 £68,662 and 1855 £111,986.
6. PG 12 Feb 1853.
7, LCRO DDHs 76.
8. PG 13 Sept 1856.
9. £135,617 in 1851; PG 29 March 1851.
10. PG 10 Sept 1853.
11. PG and Pilot 19 Feb 1853.
12. Hardwick (1857) p.437-8.
13. LCRO.
14. Corp. Procs. 1854-55.
15. ibid 1836.
16. Mannex Directory 1851.
17. PC 24 Dec 1836.
18. PC 5 and 19 April 1834; 18 April 1835; 2 April 1836.
19. PC 25 Oct 1834.
20. PC 20 June 1835.
21. PC 27 June 1835.
22. ibid (my emphasis).
23. PC 28 March 1835.
24. PC 18 April 1835.
25. PC 2 and 16 April 1836.
26. Pilot 28 Jan 1837.
27. Pilot 31 March 1838.
28. ibid and Commissioners MB 1838-45.
29. W. Proctor “Poor Law Administration in the Preston Union” Trans Hist Soc L and C vol 117 (1965).
30. PC 25 Jan 1840 and Nov-Dec 1842 passim.
31. PC 26 Feb 1842.
32. PC 12 March 1842.
33. PC 16 April 1842.
34. PC 10 Feb 1844.
35. PC 9 March 1844.
36. PC Nov 1844 passin.
37. PG 10 Oct 1844.
38. PG 9 May 1846.
39. PC 19, 26 May and 2 June 1838.
40. PC 12 March 1842.
41. PC 25 March 1842.
42. PC 6 April 1844.
43. PG 30 Jan 1847.
44. PG 1 May 1847.
45. PC 12 March 1842.
46. PC 30 March 1844.
47. pollbook 1841 and poll list 1847 in PG 14 August 1847.
48. PG 30 March 1844.
49. PG 31 March 1845.
50. Winckley Square.
51. by the Great Strike 1853-4.
52. PG 31 March 1855; pollbooks 1852 and 1857.
53. PG 14 April 1855.
54. PG 2 April 1853.
55. PG 11 March 1854.
56. PG 2 Oct 1852.
57. ibid (my emphasis on obsolete nomenclature).

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