Newcastle under Lyme Elections 150 years ago.  

The Bednall Archive 

Last updated 05/07/2008

Letter to the Editor The Newcastle under Lyme Post & Times, 7 March 1987  
(A. W. Bednall )

 Dear Editor,  

 1987 looks like being an election year and soon the voters of Newcastle may find their votes being canvassed by the various parties. These days most adults have the right to vote (even if they don’t all choose to use it) and there is talk of proportional representation.  150 years ago, in 1837, the situation was very different -only 700000 people out of the population of 14 million in England and Wales had the vote.  In Newcastle under Lyme, then a town with some 9838 inhabitants whose chief occupations were hat making, shoe making, silk manufacture and pottery manufacture, fewer than 900 had the privilege of voting in the town’s two parliamentary representatives.  Previous elections. had often been accompanied by corruption but in 1837 not only was the elected member charged with corruption but several Newcastle voters were subsequently charged with perjury.  At least one of those charged was convicted and sentenced to two years in the House of Correction having only narrowly escaped being transported.  

The 1837 election 

 The 1837 election was the first of the Victorian era and in Newcastle it looked like being a dull one of “No contest” for the two conservative candidates -48 year old William Henry Miller of Britwell Court, the sitting member since 1830, and Spencer Horsey de Horsey of Glenham in Suffolk.  Miller (who was a book collector) was known as “Measure Miller”, because he always carried a ruler to enable him to check that the books he purchased were all of a standard size. The other Tory, Spencer Horsey de Horsey, was the son of a Dr. Kilderbee and had adopted his mother’s name in 1832. He was also the son in law of the 1st Earl Stradbrooke and had previously sat in Parliament as the member for Aldeburgh and Orford, in Suffolk.  

 Voters who liked a contest because they were able to sell their votes to the highest bidder looked like being disappointed. Two days before nomination day, the Staffordshire Advertiser reported that “the spirits of the burgesses were depressed at the tame manner in which the election was proceeding”.    However, at 8 p.m. that evening an open coach drove into the yard of the Roebuck and a prospective Liberal candidate made an impromptu address to the great and enthusiastic crowd which soon collected.


The Candidates

Richard Badnall jnr, of Ashenhurst, Leek, Staffordshire about 1826.The candidate was Richard Badnall of Cotton Hall near Alton.  Badnall, who had formerly been a silk manufacturer in Leek; was an inventor, engineer and at a partner of Robert Stephenson the elder brother of George Stephenson in a joint venture to exploit Badnall’s patent “Undulating Railway”.  At 40 he was the youngest of the candidates and although a liberal his views were more radical than those of the outgoing Liberal Prime Minister Melbourne.  Many of the points made in his address concerned matters still important to-day, e.g. the relative distribution of taxation between the “higher and the lower classes”; Ireland and religion.  He favoured he said, a “conciliatory government in accord with the wishes of the people generally..”

 Half an hour later Miller and de Horsey addressed the Electors from the Castle Hotel where they had their committee rooms. They promised to maintain freemen’s rights, the constitution and in particular the established church.  Miller also expressed his intention to see every Elector before election day.  Vigorous campaigning took place the following day and early on the day of the nominations but because of other commitments the Liberal candidate could not canvas in person and had to leave his canvassing to his 17 year old son.  


Nomination day

 Nomination day was Saturday the 22nd of July and the returning officer -Mayor Thomas Ward- should have started the proceedings at 8 o clock but could not do so because they were delayed by the late arrival of the Liberal candidate.  When, at a quarter past eight, Richard Badnall, junior, finally arrived and took his seat at the table there was “loud and prolonged cheering”.  According to the Staffordshire Advertiser, “any stranger would at once have concluded that he was by far the most popular Candidate.”  The candidates were proposed and seconded with the conservatives being described as  “an old and true servant” (Miller); and ”a sound conservative and a true patriot“ (De Horsey).  

 The liberal nomination stressed that Badnall was a Staffordshire man concerned with the interests of all classes and not of one class as opposed to another.  Personal attacks were no doubt as common then as they are now but it was the Liberal candidate who resorted to this tactic by asking why De Horsey did not seek election in his own county.  He also used satire in an attempt to ridicule the Tories. The modern Tories were to the ultra-Tories, he said, “what the kettle was to the dog’s tail. The kettle went rattle, rattle, while the dog squeaked”.  

The candidates had then to swear to their qualifications -£300 a year clear- and it is possible that the Liberal candidate was not qualified (as had already been rumoured on the hustings) since he had been declared bankrupt in 1826; an insolvent debtor in 1832 and in November 1337 he swore an affidavit that he had no other means of supporting his wife and family than his own exertions and certain unproductive mines and patents!

 A show of hands was then called for and, according to the Staffordshire Advertiser of July 29th, the result was in favour of De Horsey and Badnall.  This, however, seems likely to have been a reporter’s error since subsequently it was said to have gone in favour of Miller and De Horsey.  A poll was then demanded and the following Monday morning polling took place. 


The Poll

On polling day, newspaper reports indicated considerable activity by friends of the Conservatives and hinted that the reformers were dispirited and divided. When the poll closed the vote was declared in favour of Miller and De Horsey with 669 and 635 votes respectively. Mr Badnall’s supporters numbered only 292.  

 Liberal support although fairly broadly spread amongst the voters was strongest amongst the “£10 tenants” recently enfranchised by the 1832 Reform Act.  As might be expected, they did less well amongst those voters -clerks, teachers, officials, labourers and textile workers-whose livelihoods were most directly linked to the power and patronage of the conservative employers and landowners of Newcastle.  Miller, it should be noted, was related to a leading Newcastle hat manufacturer and other leading hat manufacturers were members of his election committee.  


Unjust interference and undisguised bribery?

 A week after the election the Staffordshire Advertiser carried the customary notices thanking the voters for their support but that inserted by Richard Badnall, the defeated Liberal, complained of “unjust interference...undisguised bribery and a luke warmness of the dissenters of Newcastle “. and exhorted them to take the matter further.  Some of them did so for that November a petition was presented to Parliament accusing William Henry Miller of obtaining his seat by bribery and asking that he be unseated.  This led to the setting up of a distinguished select committee of the House with a predominance of Liberal members, in March 1838, which examined the matter and during the hearings both sides were represented by able counsel.  

 Four Newcastle voters -Robert Gallimore, a cabinet maker; Samuel Plant, shoemaker; Enoch Wall, a tailor and Samuel Shepheard, a butcher and publican- were Richard Badnall’s principal witnesses. They claimed to have overheard a conversation in a room in the Castle Hotel, in which Miller’s agent William Mason -a hat manufacturer and miller- said that he had spent £900 on the election and needed £700 more to buy a further 140 burgesses.  It is interesting to note that Miller, who had represented Newcastle since 1830, later admitted that the borough had cost him between £10000 and £12000 and that the election of 1833 had cost him between £2000 and £3000. However, he maintained that the 1837 election had not cost him more than £400 in expenses.  The verdict of the Select Committee went in favour of Miller but they also round that the petition had been properly brought and that, in their words, "a most objectionable practice had existed for many years in the borough of giving money to poor voters after the election“. The taking of elector’s votes in alphabetical order tended, they said, to “facillitate and promote corruption”?  

 The verdict was an expedient one which avoided the need for a further election in the constituency and in any case, the odds -based on past experience- were 3 to 1 against unseating the sitting member.  Richard Badnall had withdrawn from the dispute when the petition was presented on the grounds of ill health. He had for many years suffered severely from gout aggravated by his financial problems and was to die within two years.  His final act in the aftermath of the Select Committee hearings was to publish the Committee proceedings “that the public might judge “ and accuse Miller, in the preamble to it, of having obtained previous seats by corruption.  


Perjury and conspiracy? 

Miller reacted by prosecuting Gallimore, Wall & Co. for perjury and conspiracy and they were brought to trial on the 19th May 1838 before Justices Park and Patterson and a Grand Jury at the Central Criminal Courts.  Miller and Mason his agent, together with other witnesses, including Mason’s wife and others in Mason’s employment, swore that Miller was not in the Castle Hotel at the time stated.  Miller also denied that he had been prompted by William Holmes, the Tory whip and a fellow founder member of the Carlton Club, to bring the prosecution.

 A public subscription was raised for Gallimore and the others accused by Miller and they were represented by a Mr Clarkson and a Mr C. Jones. It took just half a day for the case to be heard and only half an hour for the Jury to find Gallimore guilty and at this the prosecution expressed their satisfaction and indicated that if the others pleaded guilty they would take the matter no further. The defence however said they would not plead guilty and the session was adjourned with Wall, Plant and Shepherd being bound over in the sum of £100 to appear at the next sessions.  It was not until the 26th June that year that Gallimore came up for sentencing before Mr Sergeant Arabin who said the case was a very serious one for which transportation might be appropriate.  In the end, however, he sentenced Gallimore to two years in the House of Correction.  The fate of the others is not yet clear their case having been moved to the Court of Queens Bench.  



 The alphabetical system of voting continued for some years at Newcastle and was in use there in 1841 when the voters decisively rejected William Henry Miller, possibly because of his prosecution of Robert Gallimore or perhaps because of the growing confidence and influence of Staffordshire Liberals supported by the Gower interest.  The House of Commons records show that Spencer Horsey proved a “consistent Tory” and took no part in any House of Commons debates.

 The next parliamentary election in Newcastle under Lyme is unlikely to be as eventful as that of 1837 and all the voters will be able to vote secretly without risk of being penalised for their political views. In 150 years we’ve made some progress but when the issues canvassed at the elections -then and now- are examined it seems that only the context has changed slightly, the issues are much the same.  

©awbednall, macclesfield 1987