‘Rough Rollicking Enthusiasm’: Relationships Between Election Violence and the Restricted Franchise

Our project covers not one period, but many – at different points between 1832 and 1914, different proportions of the adult male populace were entitled to the vote, as successive Reform Acts expanded the franchise.  Towards the end, electoral violence by women seeking the vote is also evident. Research Assistant Genevieve Johnson explores the rather biased editorial line of an 1865 electoral violence report, one which suggests a close link between violence and exclusion from the franchise:

In nineteenth-century England and Wales, a wide and confusing variety of overlapping factors could prompt electoral violence, from the displaying of party colours to the utilisation of hired roughs as political weapons. Even more varied was the type of violence, which could range from brutal murders to the throwing of cabbages and herring. One common factor amongst many of the electoral events to be found in nineteenth-century newspapers was the type of person generally found in violent mobs. In many (if not most) cases across the decades, they were largely made up of working-class men and boys – labourers of various types, and “paupers”. In other words, the disenfranchised. Continue reading “‘Rough Rollicking Enthusiasm’: Relationships Between Election Violence and the Restricted Franchise”

Elections, Riots, and Election Riots: Whittlesey

The dismantling and distribution of wood from the hustings was a hallowed tradition in many constituencies – but not always an accepted one.  Project Research Assistant Elise Boothroyd explores one such instance of the practice in which official intransigence provoked a serious incident of election violence:

Much of the electoral violence reported in articles from nineteenth-century newspapers is attributed to causes immediately relevant to elections, including disagreements between electors, electors’ disapproval of candidates, or a more general desire to create trouble and disturb the political process. In an article describing events in Whittlesey in April 1857, however, there is no specific mention of political feeling in favour of, or against, any party, nor about the election more generally. Indeed, 1857 was reputed to be one of the quieter Victorian General Elections. Yet, still a riot occurred. The cause? According to one newspaper report, the townsfolk of Whittlesey decided that they fancied the wood from the hustings platform, where candidates gave their nomination speeches, for their personal use. Having taken the wood by force, a conflict with the police ensued. Continue reading “Elections, Riots, and Election Riots: Whittlesey”

Tragic Election Death at Cheltenham

The carnival atmosphere of Victorian elections was often characterised by visible party colours and the presence of music. This atmosphere was thought by many to contribute to the ‘excitement’ of participants and bystanders – with occasionally terrible consequences. In this blog post, Paul Reynolds, one of our Project’s Research Assistants, shares his summary and analysis of a particularly tragic case of election violence involving both colour and music:

On the evening of the 12th of July 1865, in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, William Lynes, a ‘labouring man’ who worked as a messenger for the Liberal candidate Colonel Francis Berkeley, was wandering down the High-Street with another messenger called Fitts. Passing them along the street came a band, playing the Scottish ‘The Bonnets of Blue’, and Lynes piped up with a hearty ‘Hurrah for the Bonnets of Yellow’, as yellow was the Liberal colour.

Hogarth’s Enraged Musician (1741) Continue reading “Tragic Election Death at Cheltenham”

Across The Spectrum: Party Colours, Election Violence, and the Tragic Case of William Mellor

In this post, Research Assistant Sam Holden explores an election fatality, and touches on the role played by party colours and other visible partisan symbols in election violence more generally:

Votes weren’t necessarily the only things being counted at Victorian elections. Unfortunately, occasionally there was also a body count.

Much like today, election periods provoked much excitement in the Victorian period. Allegiances were often ironclad, and rivalries fierce. In some instances, simply displaying party colours was an invitation to violence. This was one visible manifestation of what some have termed a ‘carnival’ atmosphere; some historians posit that this atmosphere was one of the main catalysts for elections which spilled over into lawlessness, rioting, and even killing. It’s often difficult to uncover the motivations behind different incidents, be they elite strategic manoeuvring or popular partisanship on the one hand, or adrenalin-fuelled excitement on the other.

Continue reading “Across The Spectrum: Party Colours, Election Violence, and the Tragic Case of William Mellor”

Victorian Election Violence and Newspaper Bias

In addition to other sources such as the Home Office Disturbance Book, one of our main sources for detecting election violence is newspaper reports.  These can be of immense value, but must always be taken with a pinch of salt…

One of our main aims is to discover the identity and intensity of partisan allegiances in Victorian electoral violence.  How much of the violence was down to groups or individuals who clashed because of opposing party loyalties?  What’s more, of these partisan-caused incidents, was any party or parties particularly likely to be the perpetrators or victims?  How did these trends vary geographically, and over time?

Continue reading “Victorian Election Violence and Newspaper Bias”

“A Disgraceful Riot”: Intriguing Links between Irish Politics and a Cornish Village

Much of the election violence which plagued the UK in the nineteenth century was connected in various ways to Ireland and Irish-related policy issues; in this blog post, Zara Kesterton, one of our Project’s Research Assistants, discusses her own surprise at finding such links in seemingly-unlikely places:

Reading through newspapers for incidences of election violence provides a fascinating insight into the everyday preoccupations of those living in the 19th and early 20th centuries. During the 1886 election, reports of disturbances linked to the Irish Home Rule movement featured prominently in newspapers across Great Britain. Continue reading ““A Disgraceful Riot”: Intriguing Links between Irish Politics and a Cornish Village”

Reverend And The (Noise) Makers: A Mass Walkout

Religion played a prominent role in Victorian politics, and religious figures enjoyed a special (and precarious) position in relation to party politics.  In looking at a non-violent mass disruption which followed election property damage, Research Assistant Sam Holden explores the religious dimension to partisan rivalries:

Election violence generally involved damage to persons and/or property – the Causes and Consequences project also records the explicit and immediate threat of violence in order to examine events which never quite boiled over into outright violence. How such near-violent situations were resolved is, after all, indicative. The following event was never likely to descend into violence, but does illustrate that violence was merely one extreme in a spectrum of activity which encompassed remonstration, disobedience, and disruption.

On Friday 7 August 1847, the Liberals won the constituency of Taunton during a General Election. That Sunday, at St. Mary Magdalene Church, the Reverend Dr. Cottle was surprised to observe that there were over two hundred extra people in his congregation than was normal, many of whom he had never seen before. Continue reading “Reverend And The (Noise) Makers: A Mass Walkout”

Herring: A Dish Best Served Cold

Throwing things at elections may or may not be classed as election violence – a tomato is unlikely to do much damage, but a brick aimed at a candidate’s head could do a great deal of damage.  In this blog post, Richard Lambeth, one of our Project’s Research Assistants, shares his thoughts on one less dangerous but definitely unpleasant missile regularly employed – flying herring:

One striking feature of Victorian elections, amidst the frequent bouts of violence, was the use of symbolism by its bustling crowds. The placards and banners that Victorian crowds held aloft for all to see ranged from pro-free trade images of large and small loaves of bread side-by-side, to the near-inexplicable images of figures dressed in blue riding squirrels, or funeral processions followed by mourning donkeys! These visual aids were seemingly the memes of the Victorian period, except instead of provoking trolling in response to pithy political observations, banner-holders could end up in fist-fights, covered in mud and flour, and possibly rendered unconscious.

Continue reading “Herring: A Dish Best Served Cold”

Radical Rowdyism

Sophie Franklin, a Research Assistant on the Project, writes about an Edwardian Conservative poem which gives a revealing view of attitudes towards the disrupters of political meetings:

Five days before the General Election in January 1910, the Conservative bi-weekly Manchester Courier published a curious poem titled ‘Radical Rowdyism’. It begins with a challenge to those loud ‘Socialistic gang of interrupters’, the Radicals of the poem’s title, who cause disturbance during hustings. Using the term ‘Radical’ in a derogatory fashion had a long tradition behind it, describing in various instances Chartists, staunch Liberals, and boisterous non-electors in general. The first stanza claims that those making the most noise were in fact the most well-fed, hinting at a kind of “champagne Socialism”, an accusation which runs throughout the poem:

Continue reading “Radical Rowdyism”

Shaftesbury Goons Thwarted By Telegraph

During the 1874 election in Shaftesbury, an attempt to employ hired ‘roughs’ (goons employed to disrupt elections by violent means) was made. However, the plans, made by some significant political actors, came to naught before they even had a chance to begin.  In this particular incident, it’s clear that roughs were not only hired, but brought in specially from London by train:

Continue reading “Shaftesbury Goons Thwarted By Telegraph”