THE BLACKBURN ELECTIONS OF 1832
Introduction; The Reform Act
The Tory, Duke of Wellington had become Britain’s Prime Minister in 1828 and served for two years, until the death of George IV on the 26th June 1830.
It was customary for the Government to resign and elections be called, and so, on the 23rd of July 1830 Wellington dissolved Parliament and a General Election was called. After the counting the Whigs had gained 83 seats but that still left the Tories with a majority. In the address debate made in November Wellington came out against the Reform Act.
On the 15th of November 1830 Wellington was defeated on a motion to examine the accounts of the Civil List, by 233 votes to 204, the following day he resigned and the Whig, Charles 2nd Earl Grey was asked to form a government.
In March 1831 Lord Russell outlined the Reform Bill to the House of Commons and on the 23rd of March the Bill was passed by just one vote. However, the House of Lords rejected the Bill and Earl Grey dissolved Parliament on April 23rd. After fresh elections held between April and June the Whigs were returned with a majority of 136 and the Reform Bill was reintroduced, and again passed by the Commons by 367 to 231. In October the House of Lords once again rejected it. After this show of defiance by the Lords rioting occurred throughout the country.
In Blackburn, although there does not seem to have been rioting, there was certainly support for the Bill by all parties. Meetings were held and petitions made to Parliament. George Dewhurst, the Radical, who had spent two years in Lancaster Prison for sedition, marched through the streets arm in arm with the Conservative William Fielding.
For the third time on the December 12th the Commons passed the Reform Bill, only to see it fail once more in the Lords. Drastic action was now needed if the Bill was to be passed and the King was asked to create enough Whig peers to see the Bill through. This however was not necessary, as the Tories who did not relish the idea of more Whig Peers the majority abstained and the bill was passed by 106 to 22, thus allowing the Bill to become law, and so, on the 7th of June 1832 the Reform Act received the Royal Assent. This new Bill now gave men who owned or rented property with an annual rate of £10 or more the vote.
The Reform Act, by removing most of the rotten boroughs and creating new, larger ones such as Manchester—which up to then, like Blackburn, had no Parliamentary representation—gave the franchise to many more people and made Parliament more representative than it had ever been. Initially it was recommended that Blackburn should send one Member to Parliament, but by the time the Reform Bill was passed it was decided that the town would be entitled to two MP’s.
A parliamentary report was made about the town in 1831 and gives a good insight into conditions at the time.
“The town of Blackburn is situated nearly in the centre of the parish of that name, and the limits everywhere well ascertained, with a considerable space of ground about it in the same township, making an agricultural border, on average, a mile broad. The Trade of Blackburn, which is confined chiefly to the manufacture of cotton, is stated to be much depressed, more so even than the other manufacturing towns in its neighbourhood, and certainly very little in the nature of building or improvement is going on; at the same time it should be remarked that neither at Blackburn, nor anywhere else, when it was represented that the trade was suffering, did it appear that any of the factories were closed for want of work. It is certainly true that the profits are small and wages exceedingly low, but when complaints of the state of trade are made it seems rather to bear reference to the diminution of profit than the quantity of work produced or sold. The township of Blackburn, as described, seems in every respect well calculated to become a borough, and as there appears no reason for adding or taking away anything from it, I recommend that the boundary of the borough of Blackburn be identical with the boundary of the township.”
The census of 1831 shows Blackburn to have had a population of 27,091, with 4,594 occupied houses and 208 empty giving a total of 4,802, there were 623 houses with a rateable value of £10 or more. When the list of electors was made in 1832 this had risen to 627.
On the 3rd December 1832 Parliament was dissolved, this was to be the first election under the new Reform Act. It would be Blackburn’s first chance to send two MP’s to the House of Commons. John Fleming, who founded Fleming Square in Blackburn in 1824, was selected by the High Sheriff to be the first returning officer and was in overall control of the election. The date for the nominations was fixed for the 11th of December. An advertisement in the Blackburn Alfred, of December 10th reads: “That I [John Fleming] shall proceed to such election on 11th December at 9am… at the Theatre in Ainsworth Street, when and where all persons interested in the Election are required to give their attention.” On the day of the nominations four candidates came forward, these were:
Mr. William Feilden of Feniscowles Hall Conservative. Proposed by his nephew Joseph Feilden and was seconded by James Cunliffe, Banker
William Feilden was born March 13th 1772 he was the third son of Joseph Feilden of Witton. Educated at Blackburn Grammar School and Brasenose College, Oxford. William married Mary Haughton of Jamaica and had three sons and three daughters. He bought the Feniscowles estate in 1798 and converted part into a deer park. He was created a baronet in 1846 and retired from Parliament in 1847. He died at Feniscowles on May 17th 1850.
John Bowring of Queens square London Radical. Proposed by James Millington, seconded by Joseph Eccles
John Bowing was born in Exeter on October 17th 1792. Amongst other things he was a linguist and could speak a hundred languages, a writer who wrote many books and a traveller. He was a friend of Sir Jeremy Bentham who recommended him to Blackburn, and in his politics an extreme Radical. He stood for Blackburn in 1831 and 1835, after some rioting took place in the 1835 elections Bowring left Blackburn on the second day of the elections and went to Kilmarnock, Scotland and was elected there by a majority of 247 votes. He went on to be Governor of Hong Kong and was knighted in 1854. He died on November 23rd 1872.
William Turner Of Mill Hill and Shrigley Hall, Cheshire Whig. Proposed by John Hargreaves, coroner, seconded by Thomas Dugdale.
The youngest of four sons, William Turner was born in 1777. The family moved to Blackburn in the early part of the nineteenth century and opened a calico printing works at Mill Hill. William married his cousin Jane and acquired an estate at Shrigley Hall in Cheshire; he served as High Sheriff of that county. In 1826 his only daughter was persuaded by an unscrupulous fortune hunter called Edward Gibbon Wakefield to leave her school and go to Gretna Green were he married her. Later the Lords annulled the marriage and Gibbon was jailed for 3 years. For a full account of this incident see the book excellent little book “Abduction the story of Ellen Turner” by Kate M. Atkinson. In 1833 William and Jane Turner erected the Almshouses on Bank Top Blackburn. William Turner died at his home in Mill Hill on July 17th 1842 and was buried in St. Johns churchyard Blackburn.
John Fowden Hindle of Woodfold Park. Proposed by James Barlow (doctor) Seconded by W.H. Hornby.
John Fowden Hindle was the son of John and Mary Fowden Hindle. He was born July 1795. His father had purchased Woodfold Park Mellor in 1831 after its owner Henry Sudell had gone bankrupt, but died at Walton Parsonage the same year at the age of 74. The estate came to his son John Fowden Hindle; he was appointed the High Sheriff of Lancashire in 1844 and died in Dublin in 1849.
William Feilden had indicated from when the Reform Bill had first been mooted that he would stand for election and at one point it was thought that he and John Bowring would take the two seats without a contest, but as the day for nominations drew near William Turner entered the fray, “almost like a bomb shell, offering himself to the Free and independent electors of both parties” is the way William Durham put it. The Turner family were very popular in Blackburn and he was a much-liked employer. Outside the Old Bull Hotel on Church Street in front of a large crowd of working men he made what I think is my favourite political speech of all time he said;
“Gentlemen, They said I wouldn’t come; but I am come, and will be here at the day of the election. I’ll stand the contest. It rains; it will wet you and will wet me. Good night. Give us three cheers.” Turner then went into the Old Bull Hotel and bought barrels of beer for the crowds. Durham says the “barrels of beer were rolled into the yard of our ancient parish church, the ends were knocked out and the people were debauched with drink and over the very graves which contained our forefathers.” At first the Tories resisted this type of electioneering but they finally succumbed to it and it was said that money was being left in pubs by Fielding and Turner to buy drinks for the undecided, amounts between £60 and £200 pounds were mentioned as being laid out.
Only Mr. Bowring and John Fowden Hindle resisted this type of electioneering, Bowden openly condemned the practice and had the motto “Purity of election” Durham says only two publicans “plumped” for Bowring these were John Durham, of the Star Inn Shorrock Fold and Henry Baines, New Inn Victoria Street. John Fowden Hindle stated that he was to be a “staunch defender of Church and State”
The Blackburn Alfred of Monday December 10th says,
“…Nominations to take place in the field called Lower Tackets in possession of James Watson [Durham and Abram call the field Bull Meadow] at the back of and adjoining the theatre where the hustings have been erected, and after the proceeding connected with the ceremony are ended, if a poll be demanded of which there is little doubt, an adjournment will take place till the following morning at nine o-clock, when polling will commence and proceed till four o-clock in the afternoon, at which hour the Act directs it shall, if any voters remain unpolled, be again adjourned to the succeeding day when, at the same hour, it must at all events, be closed.
In order to facilitate the poll, the Borough has been divided into three districts, each having a separate polling place for the voters in that district… A great number of people have been sworn in as special constables, to assist in preserving the peace, which we sincerely hope there will be no attempt to break, and by the way further diminishing the chances of a disturbance, it has been agreed by the respective candidates, that no ribbons shall be worn by any Party and that no parade of music, banners, flags, etc., shall take place. Beside this the magistrates have very prudently issued an order that all beer shops shall close at eight o-clock, and all public houses at nine o-clock each evening during the continuance of the election.”
The districts were called East district, West district and north district and the respective polling places were, East, at Threlfall’s Smithy Jubilee Street, West at house on Nab Lane belonging to Thomas Duxbury, North at the theatre, Ainsworth Street.
The Blackburn Alfred of Monday December 17th says about the Three days of the election; “Early in the morning of that day the Political Union and Dr. Bowring’s friends were astir with drums, fifes, flags and banners, beating up all quarters, not, it seems deeming themselves bound by the understanding which, as we mentioned last week, had been come to, that all such exciting measures should be abstained from”
At 9 o-clock the returning officer and his retinue left the Old Bull and made their way to the hustings in Tackets field. When they arrived there “ comparatively few people had assembled in the field in front, notwithstanding the beating-up aforesaid, but the crowd continued to increase, and there might be at one time ten thousand persons present, but amongst them was a very considerable sprinkling of boys and special constables; women also were not wanting; and we believe nineteen twentieths at least were non-electors.”
After the nominations had been made and the candidates questioned a show of hands was taken which came out in favour of Turner and Bowing. The other two candidates however, demanded a poll and so the election was adjourned until the following day.
The night before polling took place was a busy one for all the candidates, and their supporters, meetings were held to try and sway any undecided voter. All kinds of methods were used to drum up support. Durham says about Bowrings Radicals, “The Liberals held Public meetings in various parts of the town, and, what was calculated to cast a blot upon the cause, which should be,
“Green as spring and white as snow
Honouring lofty, honouring low”
Issued placards threatening to use exclusive dealing against those burgesses who did not record their votes in favour of Bowring.” As there were no secret ballots at this time this sort of threat could be achieved quite easily and did in fact happen in this elections and future ones. Durham goes on to say “ the Conservatives, who had the “sinews of war,” were occupied in conveying the “free and independent” voters to the various hostelries in the town, regaling them with drink, etc., which, from the result of the poll, was more convincing than the threats of exclusive dealing.”
Chapter thirteen of Dickens “The Pickwick Papers” gives an amusing but vivid account of how elections were carried on at this time.
On the first day of Polling W.H. Hornby made the announcement that John Fowden Hindle was withdrawing from the contest. This meant it was a three-way contest with those who would have voted for Hindle now having to decide how to use their votes.
After the first day of polling the results were,
Again, that night, the candidates and their supporters were out drumming up support. It was reported that large sums of money were being offered for votes, but nothing was ever proved on this matter.
As the second day of voting began it became clear that some tactical voting was being done to stop Bowring gaining a seat. At 2 o-clock on Thursday the Radicals conceded defeat and the poll shut. The returning Officer then gave out the final result, which was,
Again quoting from the Blackburn Alfred of Monday december17th about the aftermath of the election it says.
“The populace before the announcement was made [of the result] had exhibited symptoms of violence and several stones and other missiles were thrown from the field [Tackets field] in Ainsworth Street, by which many individuals were slightly wounded and some panes of glass broken, But Dr. Bowring quieted them for a while, by exhorting them to preserve peace and good order. However, whilst closing the proceedings at the hustings were going on, another portion of the populace were employed in breaking the windows of the old Bull Inn, and several skirmishes took place between the mob and the special constables; wherein some of the latter were seriously injured. The riot at one time assumed a very alarming appearance, but Dr. Bowring coming from the hustings, he addressed the people again from Mr. Clemesha’s window, and eventually the crowd dispersed without further damage.”
As a result of these riots four men, Henry Nutter, bricksetter’s labourer, Henry Archbold, mechanic, John Salisbury, sizer, and Mark Coates, moulder, were all brought before the Magistrate charged with “being concerned in the riots and breaking of windows and constables staves. They were all required to find “sureties for their appearance at the next Preston Sessions… Coates and Nutter, being unable to so, were committed to the House of Correction.
At the Preston Sessions Held in January 1833 they were all sentenced to Twelve Months imprisonment.
When all the results were in the Whigs had a large majority in the House of Commons. The final result was as follows,
Whigs 441 seats
Tories 172 seats
Irish Repeal 42 seats
And so ended the first election in Blackburn.
As a Post Script, on August 1st 1865 John Bowring [then Sir John Bowing] sent a letter to William Durham giving an account of his reminiscences of the election and of the people of Blackburn. It read
The flight of a third of a century has not erased from my mind the recollections of those old electoral contests at Blackburn, and the kind of exertion of your family on my behalf. Mr George Dewhurst was one of my most energetic friends.
After the Reform Bill, several constituencies did me the honour of asking me to become a candidate. Blackburn appeared to have an irresistible and superior claim. Mr James Pilkington, father of the late member, was my special friend, and my hospitable host.
It was on the 30th of July, 1832, that my first public reception took place. At Darwen, twenty thousand people came out to meet me with flags, banners, and music, and reiterated bursts of enthusiasm broke out in the whole line of the procession. Vast crowds accompanied us on our canvass the following day, and at every house we entered “Bowring forever” was the cry.
There were four candidates in the field, and every inquiry led to the conclusion that I should have a large majority, and be returned at the top of the poll. It was believed that Mr. Feilden's success was certain; he belonged to a very respectable family—was a gentleman, and though certainly not a zealous Liberal, he had been a partizan of the Reform Bill; indeed, it was scarcely possible for any one to be otherwise, who desired to represent a constituency which had been created by that Bill. Though he never took any active part in any parliamentary measures, [In fact William Feilden never spoke once in the House of Commons in his fourteen years as a M.P. for Blackburn.]
or did anything to distinguish himself from the mass of the mediocrities who, from local influence, or the possession of money, make their way into parliament, he was quite entitled to rank among respectable M.P.’s. Mr. Turner had absolutely no [his italics] recommendation whatever, but that he had wealth and was willing to spend it to obtain the honour [his italics] of a position which he was about as fitted to fill as to quadrate the circle, to calculate an eclipse, or to give a lecture on Plato. He had the distinction of being the father of the young lady who was abducted by Edward Gibbon Wakefield. His success was due, and could only be due, to a fixed purpose, to accomplish his objective by the drunkenness and demoralisation of the people. A third candidate was a Mr. Hindle, whose opinions were not much known, but who was believed to belong to the Tory party. He had never any chance of being elected. He withdrew, but his withdrawal flung all his votes into the hands of Feilden and Turner, who naturally brought a great amount of local influence, to oppose a stranger [up until the 1900’s no outsider was ever elected a M.P. for Blackburn.] who had no other claim than that of his long devotion to the cause of reform. I had, therefore, to struggle not only with all the powers of corruption—with gross intimidation, exercised by masters over their dependents—but against that connection with the manufacturing interests of the adjacent districts, which my opponents had at their command; besides which I determined that neither in drink nor bribery should a single farthing be spent by me or with my sanction. I knew that it was my mission to elevate and not brutalise, the people—to make them wiser and happier, and never to degrade and disgrace them. But the evil influences had the ascendancy, and on the 13th December 832, the state of the poll was declared to be Feilden, 376; Turner, 346, Bowring 334. Elections so conducted are an opprobrium to the national character, and the men who employ such instruments to obtain the honour of being the makers [his italics] of laws for their country, only show emphatically that they are the breakers [his italics] of the higher laws of sobriety and truth, and are more deserving of punishment for their own offences than fitted to award punishment for the offences of others. The analysis of the poll is instructive. The number of voters was 637. Plumpers Bowring 126; Turner 20; Feilden 6;
Bowring and Feilden 126 126
Bowring and Turner 82 82
Turner and Feilden 244 244
Total 334 346 376
[Plumpers are those who voted for only one candidate]
Thus if the plumpers had the same value as the divided votes, the state of opinion would have been represented by Bowring, 460; Feilden, 382; Turner, 366.”
The figures in the letter Bowring’s and do not match with other sources. The numbers of voters in Blackburn at that time was 627 and not 637 as Bowing suggests.