Reforming Preston – section 4

Manufacturers, professionals and merchants

Election after election brings this fact more forcibly before the public mind, that the franchise is to many but a nominal privilege – that the real electors are the men of ‘great property’ and influence, and consequently, – that our legislators; being selected and appointed by such men are not the representatives of the ‘people’.
(Preston Guardian, October 19th 1844)

It is through the study of the occupational composition of the municipal corporation that one may gain an interesting insight into the operation of nineteenth-century urban administration. The rise of the industrial elite through the early years of the nineteenth century resulted in the passing of municipal authority from the hands of the aristocracy into the mills of the cottonocracy.

Cotton, without doubt the largest employer in Preston and accounting for forty-eight per cent of employment in 1848, transformed the horizon and its presence was felt within the council chambers as well as the houses of Preston’s inhabitants.

Table 5 and Figure 2 show that the textile interest within the town had a strong representation on the council and that, at least potentially, the cotton manufacturers had a powerful voice in municipal politics. They were without doubt respected citizens in their own class and respected employers at the head of their own communities within the factories and mills – and understandably so, since it was due to their endeavour and success that Preston was able to enjoy a period of boom and prosperity. Of the twenty-five mayors between 1835 and 1860, thirteen were engaged in the cotton industry either as manufacturers or spinners and all were conservative in their politics. Although the cotton men were predominantly conservative it would be misleading to assume that there was no liberal influence since there were several liberal manufacturers, particularly in the 1850s who were active members of the council: in 1860 there were sixteen cotton spinners on the council and five of them were Liberals.

Table 5: occupational composition of Preston Town Council 1835-1860
Year Textile
Prof Merchants
& Retailers
1835 14 8 19 7
1836 14 11 16 7
1837 15 11 15 7
1838 16 12 14 6
1839 18 10 15 5
1840 17 10 16 5
1841 16 11 16 5
1842 17 13 14 4
1843 18 14 13 3
1844 17 18 12 1
1845 17 18 12 1
1846 14 19 12 3
1847 14 17 14 3
1848 11 19 13 5
1849 11 20 11 6
1850 11 20 11 6
1851 10 20 12 6
1852 12 18 12 6
1853 11 17 17 3
1854 10 17 19 2
1855 9 16 20 3
1856 11 16 19 2
1857 12 15 17 4
1858 11 15 18 4
1859 14 12 19 3
1860 16 10 15 7

 Fig. 2Figure showing occupational composition of Preston Council 1835-1860

John Goodair was a well-known figure in Preston, although he was not a native of the town, being born in London. He began as a hand-loom weaver but was soon enjoying great prosperity as one of the most powerful Lancashire cotton masters and owner of four factories’ He was an energetic council member and although not a radical in politics, as was often supposed, he supported the liberals in municipal issues, and is recorded as being in favour of women’s rights.

In contrast to the above liberal gentleman, Preston was also the home of a cotton family who became very much involved with municipal politics. John and Samuel Horrocks were the youngest of eighteen children who saw that a fortune was to be made in the gigantic trade growing up around them. After starting on a few spinning frames John’s cotton yarn acquired a high reputation for its excellent quality and he subsequently went into partnership with his brother Samuel, and under the ‘Horrockses’ name built five factories in various parts of the town. Their factories gave an immense impulse to Preston’s trade, and shops, houses and places of business were erected around their mills.

Before the age of twenty-eight John stood against the powerful Stanley family in the Parliamentary elections, but was defeated by only fourteen votes – six years later he was returned unopposed. Together, the three members of the family that sat on the council between 1835 and 1860 gave thirty-nine years of service to the council.

The Horrockses were not the only cotton family giving long municipal service, there were also William Paley, John Paley, senior and John Paley, junior; both the latter were mayors of the borough, the second, twice; John and Peter Catterall, both mayors, John and Joseph Haslam, and John and Richard Goodair.

The other industrial group represented on the council were the ‘merchants and retailers’. They showed no particular political affiliation, although the four mayors which their number produced between 1835 and 1860 were all conservatives and successful businessmen.

The ‘professional’ group were, in the 1830s, among the least represented of all the occupational groups, but the Table 5 shows that in the 1840s and 1850s their numbers grew substantially. The group may be subdivided into its four constituents to give a clearer picture of the professions from which these councillors were drawn. Between the years of 1835-1860 there were twenty members of the legal profession, seven bankers, four doctors and four surveyors (including an engineer) but no one group was dominantly conservative or liberal except for the lawyers with thirteen conservatives and seven liberals. This group did, however, produce several prominent municipal councillors.

J.J. Myres was described in 1870 as the ‘father of the corporation’ with regard to his length of consecutive servitude. He first took a seat on the council in 1842 and was still serving in 1870. The council made good use of his skills as a surveyor and in 1846 he drew up a map of Preston which is remarkable in its detail.

Mr Peter Haydock was a prominent liberal and an active councillor who was also dedicated to the cause of the Ribble Navigation Company and did much to improve Preston’s status as a port through this work. Its operation provoked much controversy and created many difficulties for the corporation. He was one of the few liberal mayors and chairman of several council committees.

The council was made up of men who had established themselves within Preston society. The only example of a man of controversial background who held municipal office can be found in Thomas Swindlehurst, a roller-maker and liberal who was elected to St. Peter’s ward after the first municipal contests under the Reform Act – but was not re-elected for 1839. Together with another liberal, Joseph Mitchell, he lost his seat to two conservatives. Swindlehurst is interesting because he was at one time described as a drunkard and bankrupt debtor who was subsequently reformed by the Preston Temperance Movement led by Joseph Livesey.

Joseph Livesey was probably the most famous and notable of Preston’s town councillors, and one of its few liberal members. A self-made man, he was an orphan and brought up by his grandfather who worked handloom from his small cottage. After small beginnings Livesey became a successful cheese merchant, and town councillor. He is well-known for his leadership of the Preston Temperance Movement and his advocation of moral improvement (he helped to establish the local mechanics institution).

It is not difficult to see why he was dedicated to the liberal cause – his publication (1831-3) attacked the Corn Laws, brutal sports and absentee landlords. [1] He believed that Christian principles could remove all social disharmony and that these were also ‘the best remedy’ for the evils of the factory system. He was an active campaigner for the sufferings of the working class and chief objector against the new Poor Law being introduced into Preston. He tried to persuade other councillors to visit the poor in person and began taking the poor of the town on annual outings after 1845. The main expression of his views came through his proprietorship of the local Preston Guardian newspaper, which he used as a platform for his a political and social opinions.

Table 6: Preston Town Council – 1859 (source: Preston Chronicle)
Name Politics Religion Profession
L. Spencer Conservative Churchman Physician
J. Goodair Liberal Independent Cottonspinner
R. Pedder Conservative Churchman Tobacconist
W. Humber Conservative Wesleyan Cottonspinner
R. Parker Conservative Churchman Solicitor
W. Birley Conservative Churchman Cottonspinner
E. Pedder Conservative Churchman Banker
T. Miller Liberal Churchman Cottonspinner
W. Shawe Conservative Churchman Gentleman
T. Walmsley Conservative Churchman Gentleman
P. Catterall Conservative Churchman Gentleman
E. Birley Conservative Churchman Cottonspinner

St. John’s

J. Parker Conservative Wesleyan Grocer
R. Benson Liberal Friend Grocer
J.J. Myres Conservative Churchman Surveyor
J.B. Booth Liberal Catholic Spindle-Maker
J. Humber Conservative Churchman Cottonspinner
J. Whitehead Conservative Churchman Ironmonger
C. Birley Conservative Churchman Cottonspinner
R. Carr Liberal Catholic Corn Merchant
Jhn. Woods Conservative Churchman Tobacconist
L. Dobson Liberal Unitarian Gentleman
I. Gate Conservative Churchman Gentleman
Jos. Woods Conservative Churchman Tea Dealer
J. Naylor Liberal Wesleyan Cottonspinner
J. Isherwood Conservative Churchman Cottonspinner
G. Eastam Conservative Churchman Cottonspinner
W. Charnley Conservative Churchman Solicitor
T. Eastam Conservative Churchman Cottonspinner
E. Swainson Conservative Churchman Woollen Mfr.
Christ Church
M. Myres Conservative Churchman Solicitor
R. Hunt Conservative Churchman Spirit Merchant
G. Teale Liberal Independent Woollen Draper
J. Gudgeon Liberal Wesleyan Tea Dealer
W. Watson Liberal Independent Gentleman
E. Wilson Conservative Churchman Solicitor
St. George’s
J. Raw Conservative Churchman Druggist
J. Carr Conservative Churchman Carver & Gilder
S. Smith Liberal Wesleyan Merchant
J. Taylor Liberal Friend Gentleman
J. Swarbrick Conservative Churchman Corn Merchant
[1] Brian Harrison, Drink and the Victorians: The Temperance Question in England, 1815-1872 (Faber, 1971).

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