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Small Boroughs and Political Modernization 1832–1868: A Cornwall Case Study*

  • Edwin Jaggard

Extract

Mid-nineteenth century elections in England's small towns were vividly described in contemporary fiction. For example, Charles Dickens' Pickwick Papers included the Eatanswill contest in which a bucolic exuberance among voters rendered irrelevant the political differences between candidates Slumkey and Fizkin. Who could blame the enfranchised mob for their behavior during polling when “Excisable articles were remarkably cheap at all the public houses,” producing an epidemic of dizziness “under which they [the voters] might frequently be seen lying on the pavements in a state of utter insensibility.” Following his bitter experience in unsuccessfully contesting Beverley in East Yorkshire, one of the Eatanswills of the sixties, Anthony Trollope parodied the election in Ralph the Heir when he took his readers to Percycross, where the Conservative Sir Thomas Underwood managed to edge out Ontario Moggs, the radical bootmaker. Similarly, at Trollope's Silverbridge (in The Prime Minister), the levers of the “Castle” interest had long been pulled by the ironmonger Sprugeon and the cork sole maker Sprout, issues and principles apparently being of peripheral importance.

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Footnotes

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*

Earlier drafts of this paper were presented to the Celtic Studies Conference, Sydney, December 1995, and the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies, Los Angeles, March 1996. I am grateful to participants for their comments and for the valuable advice given by Richard Davis and John Phillips.

Footnotes

References

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1 Dickens, Charles, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwick Club (New York, 1943), p. 178.

2 Trollope, Anthony, Ralph The Heir (Oxford, 1990), chs. 26-29, Appendix A. The reference to “Eatanswills” is from Hanham, H. J., Elections and Party Management: Politics in the Time of Disraeli and Gladstone (Hassocks, 1978).

3 Trollope, Anthony, The Prime Minister (Oxford, 1974), chs. 23-34.

4 Phillips, John A. and Wetherell, Charles, “The Great Reform Act of 1832 and the Political Modernization of England,” American Historical Review 100, 2 (April 1995): 411–36.

5 Ibid., p. 432.

6 Ibid., p. 412

7 Ibid., p. 425.

8 O'Gorman, Frank, Voters, Patrons and Parties: The Unreformed Electorate of Hanoverian England, 1734–1832 (Oxford, 1989), pp. 343–45.

9 Thorne, R. G., ed., The History of Parliament: The House of Commons 1790–1820, 4 vols. (London, 1986). Discussions of electoral politics in the various constituencies reflect an enduring if lessening Namierite influence.

10 Vernon, James, Politics and the People: A Study in English Political Culture c. 1815–1867, (Cambridge, 1993), p. 163. Vernon's conclusions about Lewes' electoral politics are notably different than those of Phillips, John in The Great Reform Bill In The Boroughs (Oxford, 1992), ch. 5.

11 Vernon, , Politics and the People, p. 154.

12 Harvey, Caroline, “The British General Elections of 1857 and 1859” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Oxford, 1980), p. 396. The constituencies were Bury, Gloucester, Leicester, and West Kent.

13 Phillips, and Wetherell, , “The Great Reform Act of 1832,” p. 434.

14 At every general election between 1832 and 1880 Launceston returned a Conservative and Richmond a Liberal, usually without a contest.

15 Gash, Norman, Politics in the Age of Peel (New York, 1971), Appendix D.

16 O'Gorman, , Voters, Patrons, and Parties, pp. 4344.

17 Gash, , Politics, p. 193.

18 This paragraph is based on the author's The Parliamentary Reform Movement In Cornwall, 1805-1826,” Parliamentary History 2 (1983): 113–29.

19 Davis, Richard W., “The Whigs and the Idea of Electoral Deference: Some Further Thoughts on the Great Reform Act,” Durham University Journal, n.s., 36, 1 (December 1974): 7991; Gash, , Politics, pp. 97, 225–26; Bromund, Ted, “‘A Compete Fool's Paradise’: The Attack on the Fitzwilliam Interest in Peterborough, 1852,” Parliamentary History 12, 1 (1993): 4767; Fieldhouse, R. T., “Parliamentary Representation in the Borough of Richmond,” The Yorkshire Archaeological Journal 44 (1972): 207–16.

20 For Wareham, Gash, Politics; for Marlow, Richard W. Davis, Political Change and Continuity 1760-1885: A Buckinghamshire Study (Newton Abbot, 1972): for Peterborough, Bromund, “Fool's Paradise.”

21 Hanham, H. J., “Ashburton as a Parliamentary Borough, 1640-1868,” The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Literature and Art 98 (1966): 206–56; McCord, Norman, “Gateshead Politics in the Age of Reform,” Northern History 4 (1969): 167–83; Hanham, , Elections, p. 51.

22 Cornwall Record Office, TG 9/6, Duke of Northumberland to Charles Gumey, 22 December 1845 (hereafter, C.R.O.).

23 Prest, John, Politics In The Age Of Cobden (London, 1977), p. 132.

24 West Briton, 7 September 1841, pp. 23.

25 Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 May 1859, p. 1.

26 West Briton, 21 July 1837, p. 2.

27 For details, see West Briton, 6 August 1847, p. 4.

28 Vyvyan “managed” the borough in this way until he retired in 1857.

29 Somerset Record Office, DD/HY/24/23, Election Notebook 1859, part 1 (hereafter, S.R.O.).

30 Results were: 1837 Cantelupe (C) 160, Buller (L) 125; 1841 Vyvyan (C) 159, Vigors (L) 133; 1859 Rogers (C) 158, Trueman (L) 126.

31 For an informative account of the Assistant Boundary Commissioners' visit to Helston on 26 October 1867, see Royal Cornwall Gazette, 3 October 1867, p. 6. Three antagonistic factions argued among themselves throughout the proceedings.

32 Alliance House, London, 13th Report of the Executive Committee of the United Kingdom Alliance 1864-65.

33 Gash, , Politics, pp. 264–66.

34 Hanham, H. J., ed., Charles R Dod. Electoral Facts From 1832 to 1853 Impartially Stated (Brighton, 1972), p. 272.

35 S.R.O., DD/HY/24/23, Election Notebook 1859, part 1.

36 Royal Cornwall Gazette, 26 September 1867, p. 5; Hayden, Peter, “Culture, Creed and Conflict: Methodism and Politics in Cornwall, c. 1832–1879” (Ph.D. thesis, University of Liverpool, 1982), ch. 4.

37 Bodleian Library, Oxford, Sir Phillip Rose's Election Notebook, 1859.

38 C.R.O., RR 5545, Thomas Robins to William Rashleigh, 10 October 1842.

39 For insights into venal behavior, see nd in C.R.O., CN, 3229/1, P.P. Smith to Colonel Carlyon, 12 February 1843.

40 British Library, Add. Mss. 40409, for 93-94, J. W. Freshfield to Sir Robert Peel, 3 January 1835; Gash, , Politics, p. 337. See also Royal Cornwall Gazette, 11 June 1841, p. 2.

41 Between 1832 and 1865 Penryn & Falmouth's electorate ranged between 800 and 900 hundred voters. Support for the two parties' leading candidate could vary by as much as 160 votes in consecutive elections, suggesting a large number of swing voters.

42 Allen, J., History of the Borough of Liskeard and its Vicinity (Liskeard, 1856), p. 297.

43 West Briton, 31 December 1830, p. 1.

44 Ibid.

45 See the author's Patrons, Principles and Parties: Cornwall Electoral Politics 1760–1910” (Ph.D. diss., Washington University, St. Louis, 1980), ch. 5.

46 Ibid.

47 Ibid.; West Briton, 1 January 1836, p. 2.

48 This was William Pole Carew, the former Conservative member for East Cornwall 1845-1852. Carew, the sitting Conservative, was defeated in 1852 by Nicholas Kendall, who ran as a Protectionist and promised not to supplant Carew. The latter unsuccessfully contested Liskeard in 1859.

49 Government Muncipal Corporations, “First Report of the Commissioners on the Municipal Corporations of England and Wales 1835,” P.P., 2, p. 449.

50 lbid., p. 450.

51 C.R.O., R.5545, Edward Geach to William Rashleigh, 11 February 1843.

52 C.R.O., CN., 3229/1, P.P. Smith to Colonel Carlyon, 12 February 1843.

53 Hanham, , Elections and Party Management, p. 28.

54 Royal Institution of Cornwall, Hawkins MSS, HH/13/76, William Roberts Jr. to Thomas Hawkins, 30 March 1761.

55 C.R.O., X (Penryn and Falmouth) 394/32, 33.

56 S.R.O., DD/HY/24/23, Election Notebook 1859, part 1.

57 West Briton, 28 July 1837, p. 2.

58 Jaggard, , “Patrons, Principles, and Parties,” pp. 329–33.

59 Ibid., ch. 6.

60 Harvey, , “British General Elections,” p. 38.

61 Further information on this may be found in Phillips, The Great Reform Bill, ch. 8.

62 West Briton 14 December 1832, p. 12.

63 Jaggard, “Patrons, Principles, and Parties,” ch. 4.

64 Phillips, and Wetherell, , “The Great Reform Act of 1832,” p. 426.

65 See, for example, West Briton, 14 May 1852, p. 4; Royal Cornwall Gazette, 6 May 1859, p. 1.

66 Alliance House, 13th Report.

67 Harvey, , “British General Elections, p. 396.

68 Phillips, and Wetherell, , “The Great Reform Act of 1832,” p. 425.

* Earlier drafts of this paper were presented to the Celtic Studies Conference, Sydney, December 1995, and the Pacific Coast Conference on British Studies, Los Angeles, March 1996. I am grateful to participants for their comments and for the valuable advice given by Richard Davis and John Phillips.

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Small Boroughs and Political Modernization 1832–1868: A Cornwall Case Study*

  • Edwin Jaggard

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