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.
Two prominent townsmen, Captain Thompson and a Dr. Mair, were both cut across the face. At this point in proceedings, one of the occupants of the Lowther Hotel – which was also doubling as the Conservative Campaign HQ – began to throw water out of the windows on the heads of the crowd. The crowd, presumably attributing this to Conservatives, seized this as grounds for smashing the many windows of the hotel.
A solicitor, Mr England, came to the front door of the hotel, but was greeted with a shower of stones and quickly retreated back into the hotel, ‘the panes of the glass door being smashed as they fell to after him’. The disturbances continued for several more hours – this provoked the calling out of local police, while others from further afield were telegraphed for. Unusually for such election violence reports, it was noted that after this, ‘beyond a state of rowdyism, discreditable to any party or town, no further damage had occurred when our report left’.
Later, however, after the polling had closed, and despite the extra police which had been imported from nearby Wakefield (including 30 Special Constables), the Lowther Hotel was once again besieged by an angry crowd, ‘almost wholly wearing orange favours’. They refused to disperse, so the local JP read the Riot Act, and the police cleared the streets, ‘but not before nearly the whole of the windows of the hotel, many of which were large plate-glass ones, were smashed’. Intriguingly, the last sentence of the article briefly notes that ‘women took part in the riot’. The inclusion of this fact implies that this was somewhat unusual; in fact, our project has found that a great deal of election crowds which descended into violence were made up of both men and women; indeed, some violent crowds were exclusively female in composition.
(Source: Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough, 6 April 1880. Retrieved 2019, via British Newspaper Archive. Newspaper Images © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED)