Short EV Account: Prompt Payment of Bludgeon-Men Needed

This Short Account focuses on the aftermath of an election, illustrating that those not-so-shadowy figures who engaged hired roughs to intimidate voters could find themselves on the receiving end of rough treatment …

For no fewer than eight days after the conclusion of the 1852 Carlisle election, the town was still in a state of considerable ferment – solely because the ‘bludgeon-men’ hired by the Conservative party for the duration of the election had been unable to obtain their pay (said to be 5 shillings per day).  It was alleged that the Conservative candidate Hodgson had hired no less than 495 bludgeon-men; this is likely a slight exaggeration, as only the seat only boasted 1,134 electors. This would mean that there was almost one rough for every two electors, and a near one-to-one parity for every elector who had not voted Conservative.  

Violence on the election day itself by this group was averted by timely police action, though a minor disturbance was caused.  Later that day, the hundreds-strong group accosted the candidate, demanding their money.  When none was forthcoming from Hodgson, they proceeded to harass him, members of his election committee, and other allies over the following days.

Intriguingly, on one of these occasions when the police were present, the bludgeon-men asked the constables to act as middlemen between party figures and the hired group. This was unsuccessful, though police negotiation did enable party figures to escape a building where they had effectively been besieged by angry bludgeon-men.  Later, one party figure employing a time-honoured delaying tactic, claimed to have no money on hand, and that the mob would need to wait until the bank opened the next morning.  Another claimed that the money had been withdrawn on the day of the election but had been ‘lost’.  After many promises but no action, it was stated by other party members that no money would ever be forthcoming. Once again, they had been besieged, and were hiding in an upstairs room. At this point, matters took an ugly turn:

Despite this, the police convinced the crowd to disperse yet again upon a promise of speedy payment.  Yet, still more excuses were made.  Eventually, members of the crowd were able to bring a case before the local Magistrate for non-payment, by claiming their service to be that of legitimate and peaceful ‘colour-carriers’, despite this being a patent fiction.  The Magistrate claimed that the matter was out of his jurisdiction, however, and instructed them to apply to the County Court.  Mr Hodgson was said to have eventually settled up with his bludgeon-men, despite losing the election.  This series of incidents illustrates, if nothing else, that hired roughs were not merely a passive tool wielded strategically by office-seeking candidates; it was necessary to handle them carefully and, above all, pay them on time and in full.

 

(Carlisle Journal,  16 July 1852. Retrieved 2018, via British Newspaper Archive).

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