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Elections in the 1830s

April 30, 2015

As we move towards an election in the UK on the 7th May it is interesting to reflect on past elections and to look back to a time when most people couldn’t vote. Expression of any sort of opinion by the disenfranchised could be met by repercussions. This is the story of elections in 1833 and 1835 in Wolverhampton.
In 1832 the Reform Bill was enacted by Parliament and by this Act Wolverhampton could send two representatives to Parliament for the first time. Voting rights were limited to households having at least £10 so most people did not have the right to vote. The four candidates were Mr Wolryche Whitmore, Mr Fryer, Mr Holyoake (part of the banking fraternity) and a Mr John Nicholson, a tea dealer from London who stood as a representative of the working man. Those who couldn’t vote, loudly supported those who could, and stones were thrown at supporters of Whitmore and Holyoake. G. B. Thorneycroft and others were badly injured by the stones and getting to a polling station at all was a frightening experience. The main polling station was at Tudor’s coach works on the Cleveland Road and a crowd of colliers and ironworkers gathered there. The military were called in and Sir John Wrottesley read the Riot Act. Polling continued fairly peacefully but afterwards a crowd gathered in the Market Place and an attack was made on the Swan Inn, breaking several windows. Squire Gifford was injured by a flying stone which kept him in bed for some days.
The next election was in 1835 when the tussle was between Colonel Anson and Sir F. Goodricke. Anson was in favour of enfranchising more of the people, only 4,000 out of a population of 130,000 could vote, but it was Goodricke who was returned. You can imagine the effect on the crowd. To say they weren’t happy was an understatement and what enraged them was a defiant attitude amongst Goodricke’s supporters who stood on the balcony of the Swan Hotel taunting them. The Rev. Clare, Vicar of Wednesfield and Bushbury, was urged to read the Riot Act but he thought the crowd was peaceable (as it was) and was in favour of walking amongst them and talking to the people. This might have worked had he not been accompanied by red-coated dragoons and the Vicar and his protectors had to beat a hasty retreat to the Swan Inn. The Rev. Clare then went on the balcony of the Swan to read the Riot Act and Captain Manning and the soldiers started to clear the crowd. The soldiers drew their swords and charged at the crowd. People fled in all directions with the soldiers galloping after them, swords being brandished to left and right. The soldiers started shooting with live ammunition, badly injuring four people. A boy of eleven, called Barton, was shot through the leg while he stood in the porch at St Peter’s, Adam Keay, a youth, was shot in the heel, Pinson, aged 20, was hit on his arm and Marriott was shot through the knee, requiring immediate amputation to save his life. After nightfall the soldiers continued to ride around threatening people and some were fired at in their own homes.
James Marriott, a hinge maker, aged 70, living on the Wednesfield Road, was interviewed by the Chronicle in 1888, to share his memories of a day that changed his life.
“ Oh, ah, I remember it well enough; I’ve cause to. It were about nine o’clock on the Wednesday night, May 27th 1835. I had taken no part in’t disturbances, not I. I were an apprentice lad then, about 17 years of age. I was apprenticed to the late Obadiah Westwood, i’ Brickkiln Street and he had sent me to Tarrett’s warehouse in’t Townwell Fold to see if it were open so that we might tak in a lot o’ work we had finished up the shop. Well, when I got to Townwell Fold there was a row on, and I heeard a shout as to how the sojers were coming down Cock Street. I stood still, we about eighteen more, just to have a peep at ’em, and just at that moment tow on ’em galloped past. They went straight on at first, driving the people before ’em and just at that moment tow on ’em galloped past. They went straight at first, driving the people before ’em, but I suppose seeing us standing together one on ’em turned his horse back and without saying a word he pointed his carbine straight at us and fired and I was down on my back in a jiffy. I felt stunned like in my right leg, and I hobbled up as well as I could on to my other, and sot me down on a big stone that were in front of that Blacksmith’s shop at the top o’ what they call Skinner Street. I then hitched my breeches up and saw a great hole right through my knee as I could have put my finger in, an’t blood was spurting out like water from a tap. Some on ’em around took me into a house near, and then they fetched Dr Coleman. As soon as he had looked at my knee he said he should have it off, too, afore midnight. The people had been hissin’ and groanin’ at t’ soldiers, there’s no doubt, and stonin’ on ’em as well, but I’d now’t to do wi’ that. Thank God! I got well over it and takin in all I’ve had very good health and good luck till now as well tho’ trade’s bin bad this last year or two.”
The affair caused a considerable stir not only in the immediate area but throughout the country. Two MPs, Villiers and Thornley raised the matter in the House of Commons and demanded a public enquiry to which Sir F. J. Wrottesley gave his support. The upshot was that Bow Street Magistrates came down from London to carry out an enquiry. At first this was behind closed doors and the Press were excluded. A letter was sent to the Home Secretary asking that the enquiry be held in public and Lord John Russell agreed. This was an enquiry of national interest and The Times and other major newspapers sent their reporters. Witnesses for the soldiers spoke, Captain Manning defended his decision to use live ammunition instead of blanks as had been done previously and said that the soldiers deliberately aimed low, as shown by the wounds of those injured. On the other hand there were credible witnesses of high standing, who spoke against their actions. T. M. Phillips, ( the Coroner I assume) said he was in Dudley Street, and saw the soldiers brandishing their sabres to the left and right. He saw one man fall and people flying in all directions. Certainly one or two victims suffered wounds to their heads. Richard Fryer Junior said that soldiers chased him to his door in Lichfield Street and one pointed a gun at him and threatened to “let the daylight into him if he didn’t go inside.”
The House of Commons judged that the soldiers had acted properly and shown, “commendable forbearance,” and the matter was dropped. Rather wisely, perhaps, Goodricke decided not to stand at the election two years later and Colonel Anson, Liberal MP, was returned.
Wolverhampton Chronicle 1888

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12 Comments
  1. stephen padley permalink

    Great story to be read, nice piece of history
    The man Gifford, would that of been the Gifford family of Chillingtpn Hall.

    • Many thanks Stephen. Indeed it was the Gifford of Chillington Hall.
      Best Wishes,
      Jane

      • stephen padley permalink

        I’m a metal detect land of the of the Gifford family and found the copper cast alloy of the giffard panther, dating back to the 1700s. I’ve recorded it with Birmingham museum, and handed it back to his family where it belonged.

  2. stephen padley permalink

    Was the Gifford of chillington Hall

  3. Hi Stephen, I have just had a look at the panther on the PAS Database. What amazing condition it was in. I love the harness fittings and adornments. How the tack must have glistened in the sunlight. I know this area of Chillington quite well (not as well as you, of course), because we kept our horses at White House Farm for about five years.

    I worked with Frank Taylor to put together a history of Worfield and Rudge Parishes as seen through his metal detected finds. It was a privilege to see and touch the artefacts. They tell an amazing story and you are right, they belong back home.

    As it says that Squire Gifford was injured he must have come from Chillington Hall but which one he was I haven’t investigated.

    • stephen padley permalink

      Well Jayne, in the same field I found 92 lead medieval trade tokens, all recorded at Birmingham museum, this shows they where trading in that field, and was a meeting place, just down the road from my field is black lady’s priory. The Gifford family owned that, and also boscobel, I’ve built up s good friendship with John Gifford, and also found on the land livery buttons with the coat of arms of the Gifford family, date wise 1768. Also the oldest recorded lead trade token, was date wise 1450 -1500s . I am in the same club that found the Staffordshire Hoard.

  4. Stephen, what a fantastic collection. Detectorists such as yourself unlock history and in many cases have rewritten history which is why I wanted to capture the contribution Frank had made. Just tried to have a look on the PAS for your finds.but it has sent me round the houses. Can you give me some links or numbers, please. I am most interested as I trust are the local history societies. Someone was talking to me about you the other day – in the nicest way I hasten to add! – but I am struggling to think who it was.

    Best wishes,
    Jane

    • stephen padley permalink

      I’m on my mobile at moment, but on face book you can find me add me has friend and you can see my posts of what I find. I’ve got two but its the metal detecting site you want.

    • stephen padley permalink

      I have a folder some where, with all my records, of finds, but would be even better showing you in person, and see how our past foke struggled , esp when a 1 penny was a weeks wages, and Queen Elizabeth 1 wouldn’t mint small change, so the locals made their own out of lead, putting their own design and marks on, so you new where it came from.

  5. It would be great to meet Stephen but meanwhile I will sign in to Facebook tomorrow. Brilliant!

  6. stephen padley permalink

    There is a great day in history coming soon May24 this day was celebrated every year after Queen victoria died.
    Empire Day. All the children where given a medal to wear and raise the British flag and sing what a wonderful Empire we have, I found this medal on a club Dig, but the king on it is special Edward the 8th, he was never crowed king, so no money was ever made with him on it except gold sovereign’s. Now we are no longer an Empire, so we celebrate commonwealth day, the date has also changed, but they where the glory days when British’s people where proud of their country and Empire.

    • That sounds an interesting find, Stephen. I will go on facebook later sorry but I have been in 1535 in Worfield and am just going into nineteenth century Wolverhampton. I am away the week after next but it would be great to meet and compare local finds.

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