In this guest blog post, Chris Shoop-Worrall explores how the ‘new dailies’ Mail, Express, and Mirror reported electoral news in the early-twentieth-century Britain, making them mass spectator events:
As Thompson (2018) notes, political campaigns in early-twentieth-century Britain were awash with vibrant forms of mass political communication. The four general elections which preceded the outbreak of the First World War were no exception. This blogpost explores the prominent role of the emergent daily mass press – the ‘new dailies’ Mail, Express, and Mirror – in the creation of election communication as spectacle: fireworks, explosives, and interactive experiences all played a part in making the dissemination of election news, particularly in London, into mass spectator events. Within this election-news spectacle was a curious reality, where often-violent spectacles (and direct allusions to war) were used as part of a form of mass political communication that – at its heart – channelled ideas of socially-conservative, consumer-based election conduct framed around an idealised ‘man in the street’.
In this guest blog, Lydia Buckroyd explores the impact of the 1872 Secret Ballot Act on election violence and in particular on election violence deaths. Contrary to widely held views, the introduction of the Secret Ballot did not eliminate, but merely changed the type and timing of election violence deaths:
In the period between the Great Reform Act and Great War, British elections transformed from public, rowdy, and often violent events to the more private, tranquil occasions that we recognise today. The violent nature of elections during the nineteenth Century is starkly reflected in the number of fatalities. It was routine in the nineteenth Century to see several deaths per election, sometimes several killed in a single event. One of the worst examples of this was the Sheffield election of 1832, when five people were shot by military forces called in to disperse an election riot (Bell’s Weekly Messenger, 1832). But by the turn of the century, only the very occasional fatality was recorded. Why did British electoral conduct change so dramatically?
In 1885, a black American was convicted as the ring-leader of an election riot in Nottingham. This blogpost describes the accusations of police brutality which likely sparked the riot, examines how a black American come to be arrested and prosecuted, and explores associated accusations of racism.
Did police brutality spark the riots?
It is in many ways unexceptional that there was a riot in the 1885 election in Nottingham. As Richard Floyd (2008) notes, ‘outright bribery and riot’ were routine features of elections in the city. Our Election Violence database records that Nottingham experienced some form of violence in nine of the ten general elections between 1832 and 1885. This included several riots.
Today’s Short EV Account looks at a 1906 case of property damage and intimidation of a constituency agent, revealing perceived differences between pre- and post-election violence:
At the Poole Police Court in the aftermath of the 1906 election, two men living in Branksome were brought before the magistrates for breaking windows and fencing at the house of A.G. Barralet, having done damage to the extent of £5. Barralet had been constituency agent for the unsuccessful Unionist candidate for East Dorset. Interestingly, M.W.H. Curtis, the agent for the victorious Liberal candidate, had also been the target of violence – a brick thrown through one of his windows was said to have narrowly missed his sleeping daughter.
A large mob had gathered at Branksome late on Monday night, proceeding to Barralet’s house – the police were sent for, but the damage had been done before they arrived. The two defendants were not the ringleaders, but were unfortunate enough to be on the spot at the time, clearly part of the now-dispersed mob.
One hundred and ten years ago this month, County Durham witnessed a rather different form of political turmoil to that experienced in the December 2019 general election. On the evening of Wednesday 26 January 1910, Horden miners attacked the colliery manager’s residence. Police protecting the building baton-charged miners, leaving one man seriously hurt. An imprecise press report added that a boy was ‘injured by a gun shot’. The managers’ house was ‘much damaged’ and his car was ‘hurled over a cliff’. Though the police managed eventually to repulse the attack on the managers’ house, disorder continued and ‘it was deemed advisable to secure the arrival of the military by special train’. As during the Gateshead riots, the pithead was also attacked with baulks of timber, coal tubs and other debris hurdled down the pit shaft. Rioters proceeded to loot the miners’ social club, smashing every window and breaking up its fixtures. As Horden had no pubs, the social club was the only place in the village that sold alcohol. The rioters ‘made a raid on the liquor’, carrying off small casks and bottles and opening the larger casks in the cellar. Many of them were soon ‘the worse for liquor’. The caretaker’s house was also wrecked. The next day, Thursday 27 January, a number of men returned to the looted social club and set fire to it, for good measure. This was the final act of the 1910 Horden riots.
On 17 January 1910 up to 10,000 miners from South Moor, Tanfield Lea, Annfield Plain and Stanley area of the Durham coalfield marched on Gateshead, on the south bank of the Tyne. Parading the town’s streets, they chanted slogans in opposition to John Johnson, a Durham Miners’ Association (DMA) fulltime official (who was now standing for Labour) and in support of Johnson’s Liberal rival. On the march up, a breakaway of up to 400 miners attacked Marley Hill colliery (which was working), looting and smashing windows for about an hour before moving on. On the return home from Gateshead, another group of miners attacked a colliery in Birtley, only to be surprised by a contingent of 100 police and men employed by the Birtley Iron Company waiting for them. Fierce fighting and serious injuries inevitably resulted.
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.
In collaboration with the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD), the research team for the Victorian Election Violence project recently held a workshop exploring the causes and consequences of contemporary and historical election violence in London.
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”
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”
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:
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:
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”
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”
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”
This week’s Short EV Account is looks at some violence associated with a local municipal election. It would appear that the Victorians perpetrated and experienced violence during elections of all types:
During the 1868 election in Bolton, a major disturbance led to serious damage of a mill owned by Thomas Barlow, with the perpetrators eventually standing trial. In their defence, it was asserted that the ‘riot’ had been caused by the system of ‘bottling’ employed by the Liberal party (this being a contemporary term for kidnapping/detaining voters during an election). On the night of Sunday 1 November, a number of voters were kidnapped and detained in Barlow’s mill, and then ‘supplied with drink until their senses were stupefied’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Bottled Voters”
In a guest blog, Alan Heesom explores the history of dead cats in electoral politics, straddling, fact, fiction, and symbolism:
Election speaker in 1847 has dead cat and other missiles flung at his cab
Recent assaults with milk shakes, eggs and vegetables are (at least from a candidate’s point of view) presumably preferable to the early custom of using dead animals as election projectiles. Dead cats seem to have symbolised hatred towards an individual. When the unpopular John Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare, died in Dublin in 1802, dead cats were flung on his coffin. Continue reading “Dead Cats, and other missiles”
Victorian men and women, most/all of whom did not have the vote, were often to be found throwing missiles at candidates. This blog explores a few of their choices:
Perhaps the most traditional missile; the Roman Emperor Vespasian was pelted with turnips, and those medieval unfortunates sentenced to the stocks would often be pelted with rotten fruit and vegetables.
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’”
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’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: ‘Win, Tie, Or Bring It To A Wrangle’”
The election of 1868 was particularly violent, as set out in our tweets of last year. Following on from a previous blog exploring the 1868 election violence in Blackburn, David Hughes delves deeper into earlier events, identifying sectarianism as a major cause of subsequent events:
When William Murphy proposed giving a series of anti-Catholic lectures in Blackburn in October and November 1867, the mayor and magistrates tried to stop him. Murphy ended his visit to Blackburn with a ‘Great Protestant and Orange Demonstration’ which received no support from local political parties and was described sneeringly by the Conservative-supporting Blackburn Standard. Continue reading “Religion and Electoral Violence: Blackburn, 1868”
For Easter Friday, we have suspended our usual Short EV Accounts in favour of releasing a geographical day-by-day representation of our 1880 election violence tweets; the red dots appear on the day that they occurred, while the black dots represent all events over the election period:
Today’s Short EV Account took place #OnThisDay in 1880. One feature of the disturbance was the presence of an effigy of a leading statesman – though it did not survive for long…
On the 12th of April 1880 (a Monday night), the local election contest in Barrow-in-Furness was in full swing. A torchlight procession proceeded throughout the town to great fanfare. At the head of the procession, an effigy of Lord Beaconsfield, Conservative Prime Minister (better known as Benjamin Disraeli), was held aloft. As the figure was passing along Cavendish Street, however, ‘some of the admirers of the earl dashed into the crowd, and, seizing the figure, demolished it’, simultaneously trading blows with the ringleaders of the procession. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Struggle for an Effigy”
This blog explores an incident of election violence which occurred 139 years ago today. There was some difficulty in selecting only one to highlight, as 5 April 1880 featured eight disturbances, two outright riots, one small incident, and a partridge in a pear tree:
In the Yorkshire town of Goole, the county election was in full swing. Historically said to be a rather quiet town during contests, a disturbance occurred ‘unlike any that has occurred before’. The crowd, which included a considerable number of non-voters, gradually increased in size throughout the day; eventually, some members began amusing themselves by pulling off the favours and rosettes of those who supported the ‘blue’ party. They ‘hooted and be-spattered with mud the blue vehicles and their opponents’, and then began to throw stones. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Trouble at Goole”
This blog explores an incident of election violence which occurred 139 years ago tomorrow. Quite possibly the largest event of that day, with an alleged crowd of 20-40,000 present, but it was by no means the only violence taking place on 30 March:
The Liberal candidate, Mr Reed, led a torchlight procession composed of his supporters, who numbered 2,000. Surrounding the procession was a much larger crowd, which ‘eventually numbered 20,000 persons, the total number of spectators being estimated at twice that number’. During its progress, however, it was stopped in its tracks by a group reported to consist of ‘stalwart Irishmen, who literally mowed the foremost ward of Liberals down with long sticks’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Torchlight Battle”
This blog explores an incident of election violence which occurred #OnThisDay 139 years ago – the very first recorded incident of violence for the 1880 UK General election. We’ll be tweeting the many other incidents throughout the rest of March and into April:
In the run-up to the 1880 election for Derby, it was widely rumoured that the Conservative candidate, Thomas Collins, would be appearing at the open-air marketplace to give a speech to locals, both electors and non-electors. On Monday night between six and seven o’clock at night, an ‘immense crowd’ gathered at the square in anticipation of his arrival. Gradually, however, the conviction came over the crowd that Collins would not be attending, as he was ‘otherwise engaged’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: On Your Marks, Get Set…”
This week’s blog is taking a break from Short Accounts, instead publishing a somewhat amusing 1835 poem on the topic of post-polling election violence and the general spectacle associated with elections:
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”
In the course of an election, candidates often employed a large number of people to perform a varied set of functions – a Chief Agent, many sub-agents, on-the-ground canvassers, messengers, colour-carriers, bands of music… and ‘others’. Some of these carried out roles other than their stated ones, however:
After the Sheffield election of 1865, a large crowd of people loitered outside the George Hotel, the headquarters of the two of the candidates. As noted in a newspaper article, ‘the crowd presented the same appearance as the gang who swept through the town on Wednesday night’. The crowd had attended because it had been advertised by the election committee that they would, at that time and that place, pay those who had been employed to help the candidates win – ‘check-clerks, canvassers, writers, “and others”’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Who Hired The Thugs?”
One of our previous blogs described an 1865 election murder, the result of a prank gone wrong; a person in Cheltenham had party colours pinned to them without their knowledge, which led to their assault and death. As we move into analysing later elections, we’ve found that such pranks were not isolated, and could lead to other:
During the election of 1880, the county constituency of West Gloucestershire featured at least one violent event. Rather than the mass election riots and extensive property damage which regularly occurred in nearby Bristol, this incident, was more individual in nature – but no less tragic. A Mr Charles Butt, native of Kingswood near Bristol, went to Bridgeyate, where the polling was taking place to elect the two MPs for West Gloucestershire. Unknown to him, some person had attached a piece of blue ribbon to his clothes – a party colour sure to infuriate local partisans. When he approached the polling booth, a ‘Radical’ mob began to pelt him with very large stones. Quite a few of these struck Mr Butt, and he was soon ‘literally covered with blood’. Continue reading “Short EV Account: History Repeats Itself”
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. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Pre-Advertising a Riot”
The Peterloo Massacre, in which 15 people were killed and many injured, lives on in public memory. Yet, it was not an isolated event – the intervention of the military was not an uncommon response to nineteenth-century mass gatherings, especially during elections. As the following instance illustrates, this could lead to tragedy and death for bystanders:
Newspapers often reported violent events connected to elections – less commonly, they also reported events which did not happen. These reports are of great use to our project, as one of our main aims is to uncover not only the causes of electoral violence, but also why widespread election violence gradually disappeared from the political landscape as the nineteenth century progressed:
One report, in the Bolton Evening News of 26 November 1868, discusses one such instance – or, rather, almost-instance, of election-related violence. In an article entitled ‘THE TORY TORCHLIGHT PROCESSION THAT DID NOT COME OFF’, it is revealed that in Liverpool, local Orangemen intended to organise a torchlight procession to celebrate the successful election of Messrs. Turner and Cross, the new Conservative MPs for South-west Lancashire. The local authorities, however, had had recent experiences of such events. Sectarian-related election violence had been a prominent feature of the 1868 contest throughout the region. Continue reading “Short EV Account: The Torchlight Procession That Did Not Come Off”
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”
This Short Account focuses on the aftermath of an election, illustrating that those not-so-shadowy figures who engaged hired roughs to intimidate voters could find themselves on the receiving end of rough treatment …
For no fewer than eight days after the conclusion of the 1852 Carlisle election, the town was still in a state of considerable ferment – solely because the ‘bludgeon-men’ hired by the Conservative party for the duration of the election had been unable to obtain their pay (said to be 5 shillings per day). It was alleged that the Conservative candidate Hodgson had hired no less than 495 bludgeon-men; this is likely a slight exaggeration, as only the seat only boasted 1,134 electors. This would mean that there was almost one rough for every two electors, and a near one-to-one parity for every elector who had not voted Conservative. Continue reading “Short EV Account: Prompt Payment of Bludgeon-Men Needed”
In another of our Short Accounts, Research Assistant Emma Varley explores a rather amusing (if unreliable) account of an incident involving an angry candidate, a printer skilled in self-defence, and a thorough dousing in black ink…
Slander, sensationalism, and general mockery are part and parcel of election politics. One need only look to the numerous cartoons depicting an exaggerated version of an orange-skinned, toupee-wearing former television star which continue to proliferate in nearly every newspaper across the globe. Opposing candidates, party members, and journalists are always on the lookout for the next opportunity to mock their competition, and it is all the better when this ammunition is handed to them by the opposition themselves. Continue reading “Short EV Account: The Press Fight Back”
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.
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”
Aside from more analytical posts, the Causes and Consequences of Electoral Violence project will also be posting short EV Accounts – brief summaries of incidents of electoral violence gleaned from single (and often biased) newspaper reports. Our first EV Account focuses on an election death during the Warwickshire contest of 1832-33, and the editorial line which it provoked:
During the 1832-33 county election for Warwickshire, at the polling place of Nuneaton, a disturbance took place during the polling, though the article’s author asserts that it was of no particular seriousness. Not convinced of this, however, the local Magistrates called in the military to quell the unrest. This action took place (again, asserted by the author) long after any breach of the peace had long since passed. While the crowd was ‘quietly proceeding in the constitutional exercise of their right’, the military force attacked – several people were said to have been wounded, and one elderly person was killed.
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”
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.
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.
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?
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:
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”
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.
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:
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:
One of the main aims of our project is to examine the causes of electoral violence from both bottom-up and top-down perspectives – essentially, whether such violence was the result of spontaneous popular expression, or an strategic phenomenon, perpetrated by elites to influence election results. It’s likely that (to varying extents) both types of violence existed between 1832 and 1914, but one strong indication that there was an element of elite-directed election violence is the presence of hired ‘roughs’ at many election contests. Continue reading “Roughs at Elections: Hired to Cause Trouble”
Our dataset will enable scholars to track the prevalence, intensity, and geographical spread of electoral violence at individual contests, as well as a host of other features and characteristics. Moreover, the select case-study accounts to be explored in this blog series will reveal the answers to some of these questions and more. Continue reading “Election Violence Accounts”