Politics, parties and voters in parliamentary elections 1835-1862
See also: Nigel Morgans’s Desirable Dwellings
4. Leadership and methods in parliamentary electioneering after 1832
Working class political activity was diverted underground to Chartism and Socialism after the failure of 1832 (see Chapter 3), re-emerging under different leadership in the more immediately practical form of an organised and militant wages movement in the early 1850s. Clemesha’s (10) opinion that ‘the Radicalism of Preston was probably never very deep or very widespread… its solitary… success a fluke’ has been shown in Chapter 2 to be a reasonable judgment; but by trying to explain the wilting of Radicalism on the hustings by its own weaknesses he failed to appreciate the role of other agencies.
Although a predominantly working class electorate survived until 1841, the organisation of other movements and parties in the town established a commanding influence over the voters and diverted attention from the Radicals’ sweeping political goals, which were beyond hope of realisation, to more material interests such as the price of food and the hours of labour in the mills, and to religious sectarianism. The left wing of Preston politics was appropriated by an alliance of anti-Corn Law and Roman Catholic leaders. The right wing, identified from 1835 to 1852 with the bigoted Protestant squire of Cuerden Hall, Robert Townley Parker, exploited the sectarian and anti-Irish animosities of the lower orders, and quickly established a well-knit web of political connections through the Operative Conservative Association.
Political organisation per se was created by registration. The apparent apathy of voters in 1833 continued in 1834, when even compliance with Joseph Mitchell’s suggestion of ‘advertising upon the walls’ had little effect (11). But in 1835 some of the employers found a remedy for apathy. At the Court of Revision the Reformers’ barrister, George Noble, presented over 900 objections because of
an opinion that an undue preference had been given to the conservatives by the overseers in receiving the claims and registering long lists of workmen… by master manufacturers and others,
while the single names of others ‘in the humbler walks of life’ submitted by their relations were rejected. The reply of the Overseers is very revealing of the nature of social organisation in a population approaching 50,000:- ‘they did not refuse to receive any name handed in by persons who were known to them‘ (12). The Reformers’ attorney at the revision courts of 1836 and 1837 was Robert Ascroft, the Tories’, Francis Armstrong (see list of innovative leaders of the 1850s in Chapter 5). In the five years from 1835 five primarily political organisations were formed, all directly concerned with the registration of voters, three of them Conservative and two Reforming or Liberal: the North Lancashire Conservative Association in June 1835; the Operative Conservative Association later that year; the Conservative Registration Club in 1837; and the Constitutional Reform Association in 1835 and Operative Reform Association in 1841. In addition there were secondary associations of a quasi-political or religious character, such as the Operative Conservative Sick Club (1838) and (Anglican) District Visiting Society (see Chapter 3).
The formation of the county association immediately had exactly the effect which Lord Stanley’s letter to Sir T.D. Hesketh deplored – ‘All the arguments of self-defence… pass at once to the side of your opponents… beware how you organise the whole country… that every man must be a partisan’ (13). This letter was quoted by Robert Segar in the same month at a meeting to form the Constitutional Reform Association, the objects of which were:
to assist the voter at the time of registering’ and ‘to know who every man was, where he was to be found, and whether his master was ready to find him another place if he voted contrary to his wishes’ (14).
The Conservative organisation was a continuous hierarchy, because notwithstanding its name, the membership of the North Lancashire Conservative Association belonged more to the borough than to the county. Its vice presidents included all the most weighty of Preston’s conservatives, especially the cotton masters (Horrocks, Swainson, Birley, Jacson, Paley) as well as the bankers (Clayton, Pedder) and political lawyers (Bray, Buck) (15). Its declaration of political principles was repeated word for word by the Operative Conservative Association: ‘to uphold the necessary connection between the established Church and the State… the continuance of the social order… the security of property…’ (16), and its vice presidents patronised the dinners of the Operatives as honorary members (17). The Pilot (whose editor Quarme was a member) observed at a coronation dinner in 1838 gentlemen such as Joseph Bray, John Catterall and John Armstrong ‘sitting familiarly side by side with the respectable operative members’ (18). John Armstrong, President in 1840, was commended by the Pilot for his exertions in removing radicals from the Council in 1839 as a man ‘nearly universally feared’ (ch. IV above). Through the Conservative Registration Club’s committee organisation by wards, the same conservative leadership completed its linkages. The President and Vice President were John Paley junior (Heatley Street and Victoria Mills) and William Birley. John Armstrong represented the committee in St. George’s ward; Richard Crankshaw (Moor Lane mill) and Francis Sleddon junior (Hanover St. mills) in St. Peter’s. Pledged to return conservatives in municipal as well .as parliamentary elections, this Club had annual exercise which kept its members in training (19).
Thus on the conservative side interlocking membership of registration societies extended from the Tory squires and manufacturers down to the doorsteps of the most humble voters. The ‘true Conservative, said the Pilot in 1841 ‘has no idea of politics apart from morals; of morals not founded on religion; of religion not derived from Revelation’ (20). At a dinner after the violent election of 1837 Joseph Bray toasted the members: ‘they had been the very backbone of the support given to the Conservative cause… (he repelled) the slanderous imputation that their support had been rendered under a slavish feeling of subserviency to the dictation of their masters’ (21)
In Preston an unexpected consequence of the Reform Act was that an operative could be Conservative by bashing the Irish (22) (see below).
While the Conservatives had unitary organisation and few beliefs, the Liberals had many beliefs and fragmented organisation. The ‘Liberal Party’ was organisationally an electoral alliance of different interests. Its rise and defeat in this period is the history of the formation and dissolution of that alliance. Vincent’s blunt statement that club movements in the wards, and central party organisation ‘Both date from the 1860s’ is quite inadequate for this borough, and, I suspect, for many others. During the 1840s the centrifugal tendencies of these different forces were masked by a genuine (and valid?) belief that all Liberal causes were morally right.
For this the Liberal leaders owed much to Joseph Livesey, to his Temperance Society, and its organ The Temperance Advocate; to his long crusade against the Corn Laws and his journal The Struggle; to his efforts to promote self help and to the third of his journals, The Moral Reformer; to the popularity of his campaign against the New Poor Law and its inhumane disciple T.B. Addison; to his leadership of the Factory and Ten Hours movements; and to The Preston Guardian, published weekly from 1844, which was not only a pantechnicon of all his moral crusades including civil and religious liberty, but a very good newspaper. Wilcockson’s Chronicle gradually turned blue in its shadow.
Livesey did his best to teach by example, by public speaking, and by organising festivals and meetings, but as far as the great mass of the voters were concerned his leadership must have had certain weaknesses. The first was that full understanding depended on the ability to read. Another was that Livesey disapproved of enjoyable recreations which were not rational, such as drinking and fighting. Thirdly, while Livesey and the Guardian believed in religious liberty, they were notoriously sympathetic to Roman Catholic liberty as well (24).
The Factory and Temperance movements were not political in an exclusive party sense, or in their local membership, but they did attract the leadership of men who were interested in the working man’s causes, and they provided extensions to the public personalities of early Liberal leaders in Preston. Ward has found that the Factory reformers of Lancashire ‘were less dominated than their Yorkshire colleagues by Tories and Anglicans’ (25). In Preston before the mid 1840s it was led by Radicals, Reformers .and Liberals. Mitchell, Livesey and Taylor appeared in 1831 and 1832; Segar in 1833; John Livesey in 1844 (26). In the early 1840s the nonconformist ministers joined the agitation. Then some of the manufacturers apparently joined in: William Ainsworth on the Ten Hours bill; Robert Gardner (a Catholic) reduced working hours at Kay Street mill from 12 to 11½ with great eclat in 1845 (27); and in 1849 the Vicar; J. Owen Parr, himself took a lead (28). All of these named except the Vicar were Liberals; but Ainsworth himself, and George Smith, both Liberals, had been prosecuted under the Factory Act at one time or another (29). Temperance had a politically more varied leadership and following (e.g. Charles Swainson (30), a Tory candidate in 1841) but the movement was being nursed by Peter Hesketh Fleetwood when he was a Liberal member for the borough (31). Perhaps politically more significant in the long run were, first, the close connection of leadership of the two movements – on one evening in 1833, for example, a short time meeting immediately followed a temperance meeting in the Cockpit, and short time meetings were commonly held in the Temperance Hall; and, second, the education in associative activities which such organisations must have provided (see Chapter 3).
These movements helped, but they were peripheral. The true beginnings of Liberal Party organisation can be located with perfect accuracy in the meeting to form the Constitutional Reform Association held at the Shelley’s Arms on Fishergate on 23 June 1835 (31). This combined all the essential elements, except the Anti Corn Law League (which had not yet been formed, although its impetus had been obvious since 1826). The first task of this meeting was to sign the petition in favour of the Corporation Reform Bill; the next was to establish that its goals were household suffrage and triennial parliaments: this identifies it precisely with the middle class reformers’ attitude to the Reform Bills in 1831-2. The third was to organise for registration of voters on a system very similar to Methodist classes, and imitated two years later by the Conservative Registration Club: a District Committee in each of the ten voting districts. As John Bright later wrote to the Rochdale Reform Association: ‘these arrangements will do little for you unless you have a very active and zealous secretary…’ (32). Preston had set the example by electing Robert Ascroft, who had drawn up the rules of the Association. Ascroft was a Methodist. Robert Segar, the President, was a Catholic. Segar was a trustee of the Roman Catholic chapel of St. Augustine which was then being built. Nine months after the formation of the Constitutional Reform Association a Catholic meeting at the Shelley’s Arms formed a committee to ask the Vicar Apostolic for the Northern Division to receive St. Augustine’s chapel into his care; in other words, to sanction the first secular breach in the Jesuit monopoly of the Preston mission. This committee included Joseph Gillow, George Gradwell, William Holmes, James Park and George Corry, all of them ‘Reformers’ and soon Liberals (34). Segar, Ascroft and Gillow were still leading in the late 1850s. The last characteristic of the Preston Reform Party which the 1835 meeting made clear was, in Segar’s words, that
the Reformers were not so firmly united on individual opinion, but if they did unite they would become invincible. (The Tories) had for their object to exclude men from political rights, while ours was to include all. (35)
This function was fulfilled by the Anti Corn Law movement.
This was an effect of the anti-Corn Law agitation. But party organisation had probably taken effect before 1840 rather than after the League organised. A very limited analysis of the pollbooks of 1835, 1837 and 1841 suggests that the political meaning of votes for three candidates in the transitional election of 1837 was almost as clear to the voters then as it was in 1841, when the difference between the two pairs of candidates had become obvious. First, a small cross section of voters in 1837 (36) shows that those who split their vote between Hesketh Fleetwood (the centre candidate) and the Tory Townley Parker were Conservative in 1841, while those who split with Crawfurd in 1837 were Liberal in 1841. ‘Upper crust’ voters (gentry, millowners, other employers, and professionals) (37) who supported the Free Trade platform of Fleetwood and Strickland in 1841 were already committed to the ‘Liberal’ interest in 1837; (and they had all opposed Hunt in 1832); and of 49 upper crust Conservatives in 1841 all but two voted for Parker in 1837, most of them splits with Fleetwood (38). Millowners were overwhelmingly on the Conservative side: in each of these elections 24 voted on Parker’s side, 22 of them in both elections (39). By 1847 the Anti Corn Law League had made a little difference, but more by recruiting the builders of new mills than by converting the owners of the older (see below). The most important exception was Horrocks Miller & Co., which passed into the hands of Thomas Miller Jun., after the death of his father in 1840.
If the Anti Corn Law League made little difference to political alignments at the elite level, which were largely determined before the end of the thirties, it nevertheless helped the Liberals by providing a unifying cause and another organisation to fight for it. Local politicians who had fought ‘Sour Pie’ Townley Parker and his diminutive loaf in 1837 (40), and failed to return their candidate Crawfurd by only a narrow margin (1,562 to 1,021 votes), hardly needed the encouragement of the League’s lecturer, Mr Paulton, during his missionary tour in January 1839, to form the Preston Anti Corn Law Association (41). In any case Joseph Livesey had identified the target long ago: ‘Let the people fix upon the abolition of the Corn Laws… as the rallying point… the ONLY HOPE’ (42).
Beginning in a serious way with a meeting convened by the mayor in the Town Hall, in February 1840 (43), the League’s activity in Preston followed the usual pattern of great public meetings and tea parties, normally to raise funds. Cobden and Bright addressed a large meeting at the Theatre in December 1842, in aid of the £50,000 fund (44) to which Preston contributed £500; the next year similar meetings contributed to the £100,000 fund (45). The Borough’s two Liberal MPs elected in 1841, Sir George Strickland and Charles Pascoe Grenfell, were present at a crowded meeting in the Corn Exchange Rooms in January 1843 (46), and in February the ramming year the Guardian reported the distribution of the League’s ‘Electoral Packets’ (of tracts) – ‘considerable pains have been taken to find every elector’ (47). In March 1844 the Theatre was again ‘densely crowded in every part’ to hear (and see) Cobden, R.R.R. Moore, Col. Thompson, and Mr G. Thompson ‘the anti-slavery lecturer’ (48). In 1845 the Corn Exchange was graced by ‘nearly a hundred ladies and gentlemen’ at a Free Trade Tea Party (49) and ‘crowded to excess in every part’ by the re-appearance of Cobden and Bright in November (50). Two months later the Preston committee gratefully published a list of subscriptions to the ‘QUARTER OF A MILLION LEAGUE FUND’ (51). Probably for reasons suggested below, the Anti Corn Law League did not spawn a productive Freehold Land Movement in Preston until 1850, when Sir George Strickland addressed ‘an overflowing attendance’ at the Theatre on this necessary defensive manoeuvre (52). The result was eventually the creation on farmland formerly owned by Samuel Horrocks of the tranquil middle class suburb of Fulwood, between the northern boundary of the borough and Watling Street Road (53).
The material contribution of Preston to the Anti Corn Law League was nevertheless relatively humble: in 1843 a mere £350, and in 1844 £814 (54), compared with £2,200 from Rochdale, and £1,400 from Nottingham, and £772 even from Bury in 1842 (55). The reason for this can be symbolically explained, as it was interpreted at the time, in the Guardian’s complaint that when the Corn Law was repealed the Vicar ‘ordered the church bells mute… refusing the traditional non-political form of public celebration’ (56). Free Trade, if it was a Liberal cause, was not ‘respectable’ with the Anglican and Conservative elite in the town. Material self interest which convinced the manufacturers of other towns was not enough to overcome for most of them what was a local identity with an Anglican establishment.
Only a few of Preston’s millowners subscribed significantly to the League. The Unitarian William Ainsworth (Church Street mills) was the first president of the Anti Corn Law Association (and his interference in the Council’s assumed right to appoint magistrates in 1846 and 1853 alienated him even further (57)). John Hawkins, a new man in St. Peter’s ward (Greenbank mills) was its first secretary (58). In 1844 George Smith (Moor Brook mill) and Hawkins subscribed £50 each, John Goodair £10, Ainsworth £100 and Thomas Miller £200 (59). In 1846 the millowners’ subscriptions were much larger, but the number of significant subscriptions not much increased. The largest were Thomas Miller £500, George Smith £255, John Hawkins, Ainsworth £200, McGuffog £100, Napier and Goodair i (John Goodair) £50, Joseph Haslam (Parker St. mill) £25. There was no Horrocks, Birley, Swainson or Paley among them. Most of the subscribers were small and many of them disguised their identities (60). Preston’s Anti Corn Law League was concentrated in St. Peter’s ward, apart from Miller and Ainsworth in Fishwick. A proportionately large part in the League organisation was taken by non-conformists (and their ministers) who were not manufacturers, but who, with most of the millowning members, were rising outsiders: Joseph Livesey; Robert Ascroft (subscribing £20 in 1844 and £50 in 1846, agent to the Freehold Society in 1850 (61)); Michael Satterthwaite (Quaker), Isaac Wilcockson, James German, and Robert Segar were all present at the League’s meeting in November 1845 (62) In summary, the evidence suggests that an existing Liberal Party in Preston used the League for its own purposes, rather than the other way round; and that, except for Thomas Miller, its leaders came from nonconfomist clergy and a rival elite to that which was ensconced in the Council, and its followers from the shopkeeping people who would have been Liberals anyway.
But in three respects the Anti Corn Law League played a real and important part in the political life of the town,. It recruited the leadership of an important and active minority of millowners, especially Goodair, George Smith, John Hawkins, William Ainsworth and, the greatest of all of them, Thomas Miller. It helped to legitimise the local party by linking it with a famous national leadership and organisation, and providing it with candidates and Members of Parliament, in a class above that of a bigoted and violently-inclined local squire. Finally, by packing the Theatre, the Corn Exchange and the streets with impressive crowds, it- appropriated the advantage of mass ritual which had belonged to the Radicals in 1830.
The political, as distinct from ecclesiastical, organisation of the Catholics is difficult to trace after the movement to build St. Augustine’s chapel, which in any case caused some alarm as ‘an opposition’ to the Jesuit establishment. Robert Segar and George Gradwell provided the public face of Catholic political leadership, but the managing influence behind the scenes was probably Joseph Gillow, a manufacturer in St. John’s ward (at Frenchwood). An anonymous but authoritative unpublished ‘History of St. Augustine’s Church’ says that he took a leading part in Preston elections
but his politics were always guided by the interests of religion. He was the acknowledged leader of the Catholic party, who were sufficiently powerful to turn any election… it was said that there was never a division in the body of any consequence… (he) was often attacked in the press for political inconsistency (63)
– a reference to the reversal of the Catholics’ attitude to one of the Liberal MPs, Charles Pascoe Grenfell, after his vote on the Ecclesiastical Titles Bill, which caused his defeat in 1852. According to the same source Gillow was ‘responsible for’ the building of St. Ignatius’ (1836), English Martyrs’ (1867) and St. Joseph’s (1874) Catholic churches; and for the defence of the Roman Catholics who caused a riot in 1867 by attacking an Orange procession. Gillow was not of course alone. The Gradwell family was influentially connected both with county society (George Gradwell’s mother was a daughter of a steward to the Stanley estate in the 18th century (64)), with the clergy, and with the ‘old Catholics’ of recusant fame. But as far as Preston Liberalism was concerned the Catholics, attached to longer roots than those of Philosophic Radicalism or the Anti darn Law League, were only temporarily useful allies.
At the general level, a single committee organised the election of Grenfell and Strickland in 1847, but in 1852 there were separate committees for each of the candidates. The Liberal fiasco of 1852, when James German, attempting to exploit the Catholic desertion of Grenfell, fought a public battle for the right to stand as a third Liberal candidate despite the resistance of Thomas Miller and heedless of the obvious arithmetical consequences of dividing Liberal voters by three, shows that at that date Liberal political organisation and discipline were in a flimsy condition. Trying to evade the charge that ‘I am a person who is breaking up a great and important interest in this borough’ he claimed for himself and the electors the right to ‘express political opinions without regard or fear of party… I am neither the organ of one party or another. I hate and detest the name of party’. To an audience in the Theatre ‘crammed in every part’, he explained how MPs were brought put for boroughs:
a few gentlemen meet together and decide whom to have for a member… They go up to London… (to) one or another of the great political clubs… where they keep a list of gentlemen with a certain amount of political capital… (65)
An exchange of letters between German and Thomas Miller in this crisis defined the ‘interest’ underlying the centre of Preston Liberalism. Charles Pascoe Grenfell was a London merchant, his Liberalism that of Free Trade, rather than political or religious principle, and the threat ‘to his position in Preston drew the reticent Thomas Miller out of the shadows; regretting to learn that it had
become necessary to nominate me as chairman of Mr Grenfell’s committee… I had strong objections to take so prominent a position as that of chairman of an election committee, still if the opposition to Mr Grenfell’s return was persevered in I should waive all personal consideration to devote my services so as to secure, if possible, the success of his election. (66)
This election also revealed the political role of the clergy, whose address to the electors caused some sensation (67).
The pollbook shows the confusion which resulted. It identified the four candidates as Parker ‘Con’, Strickland ‘Rad’, Grenfell ‘Whig’ and German ‘Rad’, and the splitting of votes in every conceivable direction (including Parker and Strickland, ‘the member for Rome’, who should have been distinguishable on religious grounds) quite defies mathematical analysis or interpretation (68). The result was the election of Parker and Strickland and the defeat of German with 692 votes which might have turned Grenfell’s narrow defeat into overwhelming victory. Significantly at the 1857 election Grenfell was nominated by Thomas Miller (who plumped for him) and by the provision merchant Samuel Smith, who split with the Conservative candidate both then and in 1847; and Strickland was nominated by John Goodair and Robert Segar. This time Strickland was defeated and, Grenfell returned beside the Conservative R.A. Cross (69).
In default of available evidence of the detailed working of political organisation I can only assume that the district committee pattern spread outwards as the town expanded. The geographical lineaments of this organisation might be discernible in the pattern of locations in which election meetings were held in successive years from 1847 to 1859, and I would expect this pattern to be recognisable in the great proliferation of registration societies which followed the second Reform Act (70). In the long prelude to the 1852 election, for instance, all the Liberal candidates toured the wards, and the names of certain streets and pubs are repeated in 1857: the Weavers Arms, King Street (Strickland in both years); Springfield Inn, Marsh Lane (German in 1852, Strickland 1857); the Adelphi Inn opposite the end of Friargate (Grenfell in both years); the Prince Arthur, Moor Lane (Grenfell in 1852, Strickland in 1857)(71).
The composition of the most prominent leadership in parliamentary elections repeats the pattern described elsewhere: small numbers, and marked continuity throughout the period, slightly more marked on the Liberal than the Conservative side. Townley Parker was nominated by the St. George’s ward cotton spinner John Paley jun. in 1835, 1837 and 1841; by the Fishwick men Swainson and Birley in 1847 and 1857: but others such as Joseph Bray, Myres, and Monk served the cause in other capacities in most years. For the Liberals Segar appears throughout from 1835 to 1857; Gradwe11, Livesey, Ascroft and Ainsworth from the beginning until at least 1847. Two combinations of Liberals are particularly interesting. At first they had a close association with Dr John Bowring and Philosophic Radicalism in putting forward Colonel Thompson (editor of the Westminster Review) in 1835, and John Crawfurd in 1837 (72). As the Catholic and Corn Law alliance emerged in the 1840s the organisation reflected an ideological shift. In 1841 Strickland was nominated by a Catholic (Gradwell) and seconded by a League man (Hawkins), an arrangement which was consolidated in a single Liberal committee for Grenfell and Strickland in 1847, including Gillow, Segar and Gradwell for the Catholics, and Ainsworth, Hawkins, George Smith and Joseph and John Livesey for the free traders. 1852 caused division and confusion, but John Goodair appeared at meetings for both German and Strickland, and German was nominated by George Smith. By 1857 the Liberal leadership as represented at the hustings was as strongly identified with the cotton industry as the Conservative leadership: John Goodair and George Smith of St. Peter’s ward for Strickland, and Thomas Miller of Fishwick for Grenfell (73). It almost looks like a contest between the two cotton mill wards.
The methods of electioneering used by these leaders and their organisations consisted of rational persuasion at extreme length and detail the Conservative Townley Parker holding out the stick of papal despotism (even suggesting, when Education bills were at issue, that the Catholics had neither God nor Bible), and Liberals the carrot of cheap food, the ballot and the extension of the franchise – very fully supported by all available means of ‘persuasion’. These gradually became more peaceful as the duration of the poll was reduced from five days to one, but no less corrupt.
The influence of the masters, whether by coercion or helpful leadership, had been notorious in the early 1830s (see Appendix 2, for Tory justification of it), and intimidation was reported in the 1840s. In 1841, for example, a correspondent to the Chronicle claimed that: ‘certain of the masters have notified their workmen that they must poll as they please to dictate to them… or they must forfeit their… situations’ (74), and in 1847 the same paper claimed rather more mildly ‘Employers not unfrequently canvass their workpeople… (and) cause it to be understood that (their) future prospects will depend (on it)’ adding, for good measure, and presumably in support of the principle of the ballot, that ‘There is much coercion and intimidation resorted to over many of the ten pound householders, even over… substantial and independent tradesmen’ (75). In 1857 Hardwick thought that this abuse was ‘much rarer at the present day’ because employers were held in check by public opinion (76). But as the electorate shrank, as the old franchise voters became fewer, older and more vulnerable, and as the numerous social networks matured, the distinctions between intimidation, coercion, influence and bribery must have been blurred. In 1852 John Livesey himself had tried to secure the vote of Walter Johnson by an unfulfilled promise to purchase ‘three violoncellos at £3-10 each and four smaller fiddles at £1-10 each, for Sir George Strickland’s choral Society’ and the old man’s attempt to force Livesey to fulfil the bargain gave much entertainment to the County Court (77). Blatant bribery – ‘open, avowed, unblushing… was transacted in the public streets’ in 1847 according to the Chronicle, and ‘personation was carried to an excess that would scarcely be credited’. The election of 1859 reduced Preston to the level of some of the most corrupt boroughs by the evidence given to the Select Committee of the House of Commons on-the Preston Election (78).
The dispensing of drink and the game of ‘bottling’ voters of the opposite party continued in all elections up to at least 1868 (as a picture in the Harris Art Gallery illustrating all the abuses clearly shows) and in 1852 it reached the police force, the Watch Committee resolving that Inspector Rigby ‘be discharged the Force… for Insobriety and absenting himself from duty on… the day of Election’ (79).
As means of persuasion, street demonstrations and violence are not practically distinguishable (the riots of 1837 were a different matter) and they are historically more useful than has normally been supposed. The appropriate context for interpreting them is not in elections alone, where they appear as merely colourful incidents, but in the context of the apparent necessity for Victorian townsmen to translate ‘aggregation‘ into the more intelligible form of ‘congregation‘ whatever the occasion (see Chapter 3). Elections in general, and parliamentary elections in particular, gave everyone the occasion to express ‘congregational’ identity in a period of very rapid and otherwise confusing aggregation. It is difficult, and perhaps unrealistic, to draw a line between those collective entertainments and rituals which were rural and pre-industrial, and those which were truly urban, but urban society provided greater necessity and more opportunities. In electioneering the heavy hand of the magistrates and the watch committee gradually suppressed those aspects of public demonstration which were likely to be most dangerous or damaging, but elections nevertheless remained the most important of these festive occasions in my period, as the attitudes to demonstration in 1847 were to prove.
The most important characteristic of demonstrations and fights was that they reduced complex and abstract political issues to the simplicity of the Oxford and Cambridge boat race. Before the confusion of 1852 the electors and non-electors (the distinction is unrealistic in this dimension) divide themselves, Byzantine fashion, into ‘the blue and orange party’ and ‘the red party’ in 1835, ‘the blues’ and ‘the greens’ in 1841 (80). The evidence produced at ‘the Lancaster Assizes in March 1835 shows that the rioters indicted had been raiding one another’s party rooms to take away their colours and ribbons. the riot in the market place in 1841 was by the Pilot‘s account, caused by ‘the Blues’ wreaking vengeance for insults by ‘the Greens’ in the-Corn-Exchange. Likewise in1847 fighting between Liberals and Conservatives was explained by the Guardian (rather implausibly) as an attack by ‘drunken ruffians engaged on the blue side’ on a party bearing flags from the Weavers Arms which had inconsiderately interrupted a speech by Townley Parker from the window of the Bull Inn. The result was the retreat of ‘the Tory bludgeon man’ and the smashing of windows and shutters at the Bull Inn. ‘It was apprehended that for the sake of retaliation an attack might be made upon the Red Lion Hotel’ (which faces the Bull across Church Street) and the contractor for the building of the Fleetwood Preston and West Riding Railway was prevailed upon to prevent his workmen from being engaged for such political purposes (81). Perhaps the most significant aspect of the demonstrations in 1847, however, was the evident competition between the two parties in terms of the splendour of their displays. The Guardian gave the most flattering account of a procession for the reception of Sir George Strickland – ‘such a demonstration… has rarely been witnessed either in Preston or in any other town’ (82) and the Pilot, giving a similar account of Parker’s demonstration – ‘there could not have been less than 4000 or 5000 persons’ reduced the Liberals’ procession to a comic display of a hackney carriage, a gig, and a few persons ‘who waved their hats in the most maniacal manner’ (83). This was not merely journalistic play, because at the hustings Robert Segar was
sorry to see that… that proud and great party, who used to march into Preston with bugles and trumpets, their flags gilt and spangled with gold… have gone so much down in the world… that they bring no flags and banners and no music beyond a little bit of a drunken bugleman… (84)
0pinion aside, it remains a fact that the Liberal procession with Strickland had followed almost the same route as that which had gone to lay the foundation stone of the Roman Catholic Talbot Schools on Whit Monday in the same year (85). In the middle of my period, therefore, both parties still used mass demonstrations and symbolically simplified means of persuasion.
The election of 1837 was different because the Tories resorted to the 19th century equivalent of race riots: they attacked the Irish, almost certainly with the troops of John Armstrong and the Operative Conservative Association, possibly with the connivance of Robert Townley Parker, the Tory candidate (see below). The Chronicle reported ‘shameful destruction’ in that part of the town known as ‘New England’ on 25th July rendered by the Pilot as ‘Little Ireland’, ‘the whole of the houses on one street (were) literally gutted’ and not just by a crowd of roughs because ‘some persons calling themselves respectable… even… professional… were among the most busy’ (86). On the following morning John Gradwell, the Rev. Mr Connell (of the Jesuit church of St. Wilfrid) and Peter Haydock (the mayor) went to pacify ‘the Irish Brigade employed on the railway’. In the next week Robert Townley Parker denied that he was a violent Orangeman: he was not ‘one who would flog alive all Roman Catholics’ (87).
Parliamentary legislation in 1854 to reduce corruption had the immediate effect of removing some of the more expensive means of influencing the electors, particularly those for which the candidates had to pay; the expenses of the three candidates in 1857 amounted to a mere £2038 – compared with the reputed £13 – £15000 ten years earlier (88). With the ban on bands, music and colours in 1852 peace began to prevail. The mayor, Lawrence Spencer, told the electors at the end of the polling in 1857:
I believe that this is the first election within my memory for the borough of Preston at which the electors and non-electors have had an opportunity of listening to the sentiments of (the) candidates… (you listened to them) and it goes to show that whatever pains have been taken in your education, whatever advantages you may derive from society, on occasions like this, when you would be expected to be excited to a great degree… without drink, … without bribery, corruption, or violence… (you have elected the members) (89).
In other words, with the help of the law the town was apparently civilising the electors.
The changing and varied effects of organisation, leadership and influence on the voting patterns of the electors are analysed in the final section of this chapter.