One of our previous blogs described an 1865 election murder, the result of a prank gone wrong; a person in Cheltenham had party colours pinned to them without their knowledge, which led to their assault and death. As we move into analysing later elections, we’ve found that such pranks were not isolated, and could lead to other:
During the election of 1880, the county constituency of West Gloucestershire featured at least one violent event. Rather than the mass election riots and extensive property damage which regularly occurred in nearby Bristol, this incident, was more individual in nature – but no less tragic. A Mr Charles Butt, native of Kingswood near Bristol, went to Bridgeyate, where the polling was taking place to elect the two MPs for West Gloucestershire. Unknown to him, some person had attached a piece of blue ribbon to his clothes – a party colour sure to infuriate local partisans. When he approached the polling booth, a ‘Radical’ mob began to pelt him with very large stones. Quite a few of these struck Mr Butt, and he was soon ‘literally covered with blood’.
He escaped from the crowd as soon as possible, as it was clear that, had the abuse continued, he would have been killed on the spot. After having escaped, it became immediately clear that his injuries were serious, and he was attended to by a doctor. His efforts were, however, in vain; he died on Monday 19 April 1880.
Interestingly, a detailed report on the 8 April polling at Bridgeyate by a reporter on the ground downplayed the circumstances which had led to this death. Describing a carnival atmosphere, featuring with party colours, food and drink vendors, and fairground rides, it was also passingly stated that ‘in the morning a few blue rosettes were displayed, but by the afternoon they had all disappeared’. Similarly, the reporter recounted the fatal stoning incident in mild terms, with only ‘clods of earth’ described as being thrown. This illustrates that relying on polling-day and other immediate reports of election proceedings is unwise; Mr Butt passed away eleven days later as a result of his injuries. Tracing the trajectory of election incidents over a longer period can bring additional violence, and additional tragedy, to light.
What makes this incident all the more unfortunate is that history was almost exactly repeating itself – unknown persons attaching party colours to innocent bystanders without their knowledge was not without precedent. Death as a result of this was also repeated. In 1865, William Lynes was killed for this very reason during the Cheltenham election – the colours attached to him in that instance had been red or white. The repetition of these incidents underlines that party colours were a prominent election feature which could lead to violence.
(Sources: Exeter and Plymoth Gazette, 30 April 1880; Bristol Mercury, 9 April 1880. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)