The disruption of political meetings by organised groups of opposing partisans became commonplace as the nineteenth century wore on. One such incident, discussed in an article ‘RIOT AT AN ELECTION MEETING’, illustrates just how organised and commonplace they could actually be:
During the 1886 contest for West Islington, the Unionist candidate, Richard Chamberlain, intended to address a political meeting. Evidently, however, others had other ideas, and intended to disrupt this meeting with heckling, assaults, and an attempted rushing of the stage. In fact, this was so anticipated that an advertisement announcing the disruption had been pre-placed in the Pall Mall Gazette! The electors were encouraged in print to ‘come and see the sport’ at the meeting, of which there would be a considerable amount. In the meeting-room, there was considerable commotion; at a given signal, a rush was made at the platform, and the candidate only barely managed to escape.
One innocent attendee of the meeting, a Dr Slater, was then struck with a portion of a chair, which had been broken up. The doctor managed to seize the weapon, but it was then grabbed by another who struck him multiple times in the arms and head. This unprovoked attack had occurred before the meeting was even able to commence. At the later court case, it emerged that the assailant was one Arther Brighty, aged eighteen, ‘described as a joiner’. Multiple witnesses including policemen corroborated the above version of events, and one Constable stated that when taking Brighty into custody, he had said ‘I went there with a lot more thinking to have a barney (Laughter)’. Evidently, however, only Brighty had been caught. Brighty claimed that he had fallen from the platform with Dr Slater while struggling with the chair, and that no assault occurred. He then called a witness to reinforce his version of events, but he, however, ‘proved nothing to the prisoner’s advantage’.
The judge, in passing sentence, noted both the severity and unprovoked nature of the assault, and that the weapon was ‘rather a formidable one’. He therefore sentenced Brighty to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. Most interestingly, he stated in his summation that he thought it inappropriate to levy a fine instead, as ‘a penalty would very likely be paid on behalf of the prisoner’. This statement was an implicit acknowledgement that the group had may well have been paid to carry out their disruptive actions. Hired roughs received payment for their actions, and could also presumably benefit from de facto insurance in case of criminal fines.
Source: Illustrated Police News, 3 July 1886. Retrieved 2018, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)