Short EV Account: General Election Polling Disrupted

The date the 2019 General Election coincides with a great many election riots which broke out during 12 December 1832, 187 years before. Today’s Short EV Account looks at one such riot, in the constituency of Bolton:

The present-day constituencies covering what was the old borough of Bolton have both been marginal seats in recent history, hotly contested by Labour and the Conservatives. In 1832, Bolton was a newly-created borough seat, electing two members.  The first election there was hotly contested between Conservatives and Whigs. Notably, the local returning officer decided that polling should begin on 12 December; periodic updates on its progress, and the violence which broke out, appeared in local and national newspapers.

Continue reading “Short EV Account: General Election Polling Disrupted”

‘[Loud cheers, and eggs]’: Protests at the 1865 Election for Colchester

In today’s guest blog, Lara Green explores the interplay between national issues and local reputations, and how these affected the character of electoral violence:

At the nomination for the 1865 election for Colchester borough, Essex, the arrival of the Conservative candidate Phillip Oxenden Papillon and his supporters on the hustings was greeted with ‘eggs, fresh and rotten’, thrown by members of the crowd. When it finally came time for Papillon to make his speech, he was assailed with further volleys of eggs and a newspaper, which he attempted to deflect with his umbrella. The crowd, estimated at around four thousand, called for ‘soot’ and mocked Papillon’s campaign. More than once, their actions forced those on the hustings to retreat. Continue reading “‘[Loud cheers, and eggs]’: Protests at the 1865 Election for Colchester”

Short EV Account: Violence Without (Political) Purpose?

Today’s short EV Account contextualises a rather disdainful account of popular violence, which perhaps reveals more about the attitudes of the writer than the nature of the violence:

In previous Short EV Accounts, we have mainly focused on incidents which appear to have been motivated by overtly political reasons (with the following exception). These could spring from the electoral machinations of political elites, or the dissatisfaction of the disenfranchised.  There were, however, incidents which appear to have owed little or nothing to politics – events which occurred as a by-product of the festival-like atmosphere of Victorian elections. These were often encouraged by the apparently widespread popular belief that disorder was (to an extent) tolerated by the authorities during contests. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Violence Without (Political) Purpose?”

Short EV Account: Special Constables In The Dock

The use of Special Constables to keep order during Victorian elections was common – as one court case illustrates, however, this practice could do more harm than good:

During the 1874 election for Newcastle-under-Lyme, there were disturbances in which large crowds of men gathered and several free fights took place in the neighborhood of both the Conservative and Liberal parties. The Conservative committee rooms were smashed, with public-houses displaying red flags also targeted. The Mayor threatened to delay the declaration of results, which had the desired effect of ending the violence.

In the aftermath, several rioters were brought before the local magistrate, including Martin Fallon, John Kelly, Alfred Rogers, and three members of the same family – William, John, and Sarah Matthews. Three regular policemen gave evidence, corroborated by several other witnesses, that during the breaking of the windows of the Gardener’s Arms, one of the Constables went into the mob and was attacked by John and William Matthews. In a striking example of female participation in rowdy popular politics, Sarah Matthews was also present in the crowd and apparently masterminded the assault. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Special Constables In The Dock”

1865 Election Violence Mapped

After a short break, we are happy to post releasing a geographical day-by-day representation of our recent 1865 election violence tweets; the red dots appear on the day that they occurred, while the black dots represent all events over the election period:

The following map also roughly splits these into incidents (green), disturbances (red) and riots (blue):

It seems clear that election violence was both common and geographically widespread, reaching most areas of England and Wales.  The most interesting things among the dispersed events that we’ve noticed are as follows:


  1. Between 1 and 24 July, the 1865 General Election and its lead-up directly caused to a total of six deaths, including that of a small child
  2. There were at least 28 small-scale violent and individual incidents, including assaults, shots fired, property damage, and murder – once our data collection is complete, it’s likely there will be much more of this type of violence to report.
  3. There were at least 43 serious mass disturbances, involving large crowds, significant property damage, and multiple serious injuries.
  4. There were at least 21 full-scale riots, with giant crowds (at least several hundred, often thousands), many serious injuries, occasionally-devastating property damage, significant military/police responses, and reading of the Riot Act.
  5. Over the total period covered by our tweets (23 days), this equates to almost one English/Welsh full-scale riot per day in 1865, but in reality violence was much more concentrated.
  6. The 11th of July was the 2nd-most violent day: 11 July. 19 events of varying intensity occurred, including in Grantham, where rioting caused the destruction of the polling booth, military to be called in, Riot Act read, and a man’s death.
  7. The 12th of July was the most violent day. 22 violent events of varying intensity occurred, including in Lincoln, where the mob set fire to a barrel of tar and rolled it to a hotel where a candidate was dining, smashing the windows of the room he was dining in. One hotel owner shot at them, injuring several people.
  8. This election was (somewhat) comparable in terms of violence to the next General Election in 1868, the first held after the 2nd Reform Act expanded the electorate. That election featured at least 18 incidents (10 less than 1865), 29 disturbances (14 less than 1865), 30 riots (9 more than 1865).
  9. While smaller incidents and disturbances were seemingly more common in 1865 than 1868, full-scale riots were significantly more likely to occur in 1868. Mortality rates were also comparable – at least 20 were killed due to 1832 election violence, 6 in 1865, 8 in 1868, and 3 in 1880.


(The county boundaries are provided by and uses historical material which is copyright of the Great Britain Historical GIS Project and the University of Portsmouth)

Election Violence Poetry, Part II: The Hero Of The Hustings

We have previously brought to light Victorian election poetry of questionable quality – to celebrate the recent sunny weather, we are republishing another dubious poem from 1852, about a fictional candidate braving the summer heat on the hustings,  not to mention the various missiles thrown at him:



The honourable gentleman upon the hustings stood

For two hours of a summers day–a feat of lustihood–

And shouted forth, and saw’d the air with all his force and might,

The temperature higher than a hundred, Fahrenheit.


The sun above him blazing from a blue unclouded sky,

He frying like a sausage that could feel itself to fry:

It rain’d upon him cats and dogs; and likewise, it is true,

However strange the circumstance, that he was dripping too.


The undeveloped offspring of the gallinaceous tribe,

The free and independent men with many a taunt and gibe,

Launch’d also at the candidate’s unvenerated head,

And frequently advised him to go home and go to bed.


Not only did this hero spout thus long upon his legs,

And brave the sun, the puppy-dogs, the kittens, and the eggs;

Not only he incurr’d the execrations of the mob,

But lost above a thousand pounds, moreover, by the job.


Such lots of money, fortitude, exertion, pluck, and nerve,

It costs to gain the privilege those gentlemen to serve,

Who yell at you and pelt you with all sorts of nasty things;

Surely a seat in Parliament some vast enjoyment brings!


(Source: Reprinted from Punch, in the Wiltshire Independent, 22 July 1852. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)


Short EV Account: A Case of Mistaken Identity

Today’s Short EV Account looks at an attack on a constituency’s Conservative committee rooms, with the mob targeting someone in an unfortunate case of mistaken identity:

In Buckley, North Wales, the 1885 election was a heated one – having been elected unopposed in 1880, the Conservative Lord Richard Grosvenor, MP for Flintshire, was locked in a battle against a Liberal challenger, Henry Lloyd-Mostin. After the contest, serious rioting broke out as soon as darkness set in, and continued until about 9pm. The conservative committee rooms were savagely attacked, with ‘every window being broken’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: A Case of Mistaken Identity”

Short EV Account: Party Urchins

Victorian elections took place before universal suffrage, when only some propertied men could vote.  Today’s Short EV Account looks at a serious riot started by a group which is still unenfranchised in the present day:

During the 1868 election at Trowbridge, a group of ‘disreputable characters’ were evidently hired by the Liberal party to cause disruption at polling, and intimidate the electors.  This group was, of course, unenfranchised. What makes them all the more unusual, however, is that the group would not possess the vote even in the present day – they were hired thugs well under the age of 16! Continue reading “Short EV Account: Party Urchins”

Short EV Account: Larking About

This week’s Short EV Account explores an unusual incident of window-breaking and stone-throwing in Sunderland, involving yet more animals – in this particular case, a lark:

The 1885 election for the borough of Sunderland saw two Liberals, Storey and Gourlay, narrowly beat the sole Conservative candidate, Austin, by just over a thousand votes. The contest also saw some rioting, during which Storey was targeted by missiles and some damage to property occurred. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Larking About”