The Blog and I return, somewhat shamefaced in the knowledge that we haven’t updated for well over a year. This is, in part, due to yet another annus horribilis – the details of which I shall not bore you with. However, as the Blog and I limp slowly into the sunset, desperately pursuing a pension which seems determined to outpace us, we solemnly vow to update ourselves at least once a month from now on. And we have just updated all pages and checked the links still work. Hurrah!
In view of the somewhat – erm – unsteady state of political affairs in this country at the moment, I have asked my good friend Jane Smith for her permission to share with you her article “Elections in the 1830s”, which first appeared on her site janealisonsmithdaily.wordpress.com/ on 30 April 2015.
Elections in the 1830s
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