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”

Short EV Account: Illegality and ‘Extreme Illegality’

This week’s Short EV Account looks at boisterous series of tit-for-tat violent exchanges between Welsh Conservatives and Liberals during the 1841 Flintshire contest. Many were illegal but ignored by authority, but the final incident may well have crossed the line – giving a useful indicator of where the line was located at that time and place:

A newspaper alleges that the Conservatives made every effort to win the contest, and that ‘neither cajolery, gold, nor threats was spared by them’.  When it became clear during the first of two days of polling that the Conservatives were significantly behind the Liberal candidate Mostyn, all seemed lost. It was at this point that ‘a certain indiscreet supporter of the Tory candidate’ brought a large party of miners in his employ to the polling place at Mold. They were alleged to have been brought ‘for the avowed purpose of fighting’.  The miners, having been ‘well primed with drink’, proceeded to do so, in the afternoon of the first polling day. A bottle and other missiles were hurled out of the Lion Hotel (The Conservative Election HQ) at a passing (and peaceful) group of opposing Liberal ‘Mostynites’.  Continue reading “Short EV Account: Illegality and ‘Extreme Illegality’”

Short EV Account: ‘Win, Tie, Or Bring It To A Wrangle’

Before the Liverpool election of 1852, the swift actions of local police prevented hundreds of deadly weapons from falling into the hands of partisans – uniquely, the detail offered by the reporter gives an idea of the scale of organisation behind election violence, especially when sectarian factors came into play:

Acting on information received, a group of constables raided a workshop operated by a Mr Turner of Williamson Street. There, they found an incredible cache of several hundred weapons, ‘of the most formidable description’. Having seized and then and conveyed them to the police station, they ‘filled a large spring cart’.

The article notes that for some time, the Protectionist party in Liverpool had been boasting that, with regard to the upcoming 1852 contest for the city, they would ‘win, tie, or bring it to a wrangle’. It was further alleged that many of the ‘worst characters’ in the surrounding counties had been brought to the city to intimidate Liberal electors, discouraging them from appearing at the polling booths.

The new Head Constable for the city however, Captain Greig, had taken several innovative precautionary measures in the run-up to the contest – as had the Mayor, who despite being a Protectionist was thought by the reporter to be a ‘high spirited honourable man’. The man who had allegedly ordered the weapons to be manufactured was in fact a colleague of the Mayor – an Alderman, who was both a Protectionist and a member of an Orange Society.

Each weapon consisted of a two-foot long wooden staff, with a handle at one end and an indent at the other, ‘into which a pike blade or spike could be driven’ – similar to a pikestaff. The reporter notes that other weapons of a similar (but not identical) description had been manufactured elsewhere; interestingly, he alleges that the original design for these was given by ‘a foreign refugee to the chartists some years ago’.

During and after the election itself, several riots nevertheless occurred in Liverpool with many weapons employed; in addition to widespread damage to property and injuries, this led (at least indirectly) to the death of a pregnant woman.  Even the most determined preventative measures were inadequate in the face of such a strong determination by various groups to ‘bring it to a wrangle’.

 

(Source: North & South Shields Gazette, 9 July 1852Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)

Two Sides of the Coin: Bribery and Corruption in the 1852 Election

Intimidation and violence could be used as tools of electoral corruption, but there were other means at the disposal of candidates.  Research Assistant Sam Holden looks at one 1852 newspaper editorial and what it can tell us about the carrot and stick in mid-Victorian elections:

In 1852 a senior Government member was directly linked to a plot offering money for votes in Derby, while landlords demanded more than just rent from their tenants. An editorial carried by the Londonderry Times of 29 July 1852 lamented the corrupt state of British politics.

Elections during this period were particularly susceptible to “undue influence”. Continue reading “Two Sides of the Coin: Bribery and Corruption in the 1852 Election”

Electoral Violence in Blackburn, 1868: The Politicisation of a Death

Election violence was seldom simple or isolated; it could be the result of a complex and interlinked chain of events, across multiple elections and involving themes which included class, religion, and nationality.  In this post, David Hughes explores one such richly complex event:

In November 1868, the Lancashire town of Blackburn was the site of intense electoral activity. The municipal elections, in which all six wards were contested, were held on Monday 2nd November. The borough parliamentary election followed on 16th November then, on the following day, the nominations for the newly created county seat of North East Lancashire. All three of these elections were accompanied by violence, with the most serious occurring, somewhat unusually, during the municipal elections – indeed, a man died two days after the municipal elections from injuries sustained at that contest. Soon, this death was politicised by both parties when alleged death threats were made against the Tory candidates. Continue reading “Electoral Violence in Blackburn, 1868: The Politicisation of a Death”