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?”
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”
This week’s Short Account covers elections which took place years apart, and illustrates how many writers thought that, when looking back, violence was due to natural exuberance and on the decline. Editorials had been claiming such a decline since at least 1832, making the accuracy of such claims a matter of debate…
In 1906, polling for the county seat of East Worcestershire was reported to have proceeded peacefully. Notably, it was ‘unmarked by any of that horseplay and disorderliness seen at some previous elections’. It was the first contest the seat had experienced since 1892, and the reporter wrote approvingly of local party activists, who ‘wisely devoted themselves to looking up and checking off voters instead of chaffing and taunting political opponents’. After the conclusion of polling, there was some ‘booing and hurrahing’, by a crowd mostly composed of boys and young men – despite the decline in boisterousness, it was still evidently thought by them the ‘election night [was] a capital opportunity for giving vent to their feelings, but it is safe to say any other excuse would have served just as well as an election ’. The reporter goes out of his way to note that nothing was broken except the silence of the night – no windows smashed, nobody injured, merely that nearby residents were kept awake. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Hooliganism on the Decline?”
This week’s election violence Short Account explores an incident of very personal almost-violence at one of the pivotal parts of the election process – the counting of ballot papers. One candidate decided an attempt to force a recount was called for…
At the 1885 election for Ashton under Lyne, an extraordinary scene took place when the counting of votes had closed. Ten votes were unaccounted for, and after many attempts to discover an explanation for this, counting continued. The count had finally been completed by 10.45pm – it was concluded that the candidate Haugh Mason had prevailed with a majority of just three, but only if the particular table containing the discrepancies was excluded. Including the table, however, it appeared that the other candidate, John Addison, had won by over forty votes. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Ballot Paper Controversy”
This week’s election violence Short Account is closely connected to elements of pageantry and carnivalesque celebration – or, in the case of the mock funeral for the defeated candidate, feigned commiseration. Violence was often sparked by such factors, but there is also evidence of at least some partisan efforts to blunt the official response:
At the 1874 election for Evesham, the Liberal candidate Joseph Napier Higgins was defeated, losing by only forty-seven votes to the Conservative James Bourne. Supporters of Bourne were in something of a triumphant mood; they organised a ‘mock funeral’ for the defeated Liberal, ‘having a coffin containing an effigy borne on a bier’. The mob, said to be 200-strong and dressed in the party colours of blue, surrounded the coffin and proceeded along the principal street for as long as three hours. Continue reading “Short EV Account: A Violent Mock-Funeral”
Alcohol and Victorian elections often went hand-in-hand – this could promote a festive and exuberant atmosphere, but also create or exacerbate election violence if the mood turned sour; in this blog, Research Assistant Ilia Hionidou explores one such instance:
In 1847, the Nottingham Review reported some bemusing events that took place the Wednesday prior in Chepstow, a small town in south Wales. The report recalls incidents that took place during an 1842 election, a year that featured prominent Chartist uproar in Wales and around the UK. Chartism aimed to bring about far-reaching political reforms, which included universal male suffrage and the introduction of the secret ballot. Continue reading “Drunken Disturbances: Electoral Violence in Chepstow, 1847”
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”
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”
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”
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”