Elections in Stoke-on-Trent in the 1830-40's
Although they didn't have the vote, the working classes were involved in the process of elections and they certainly had their say. In his History of the Borough of Stoke-on- Trent, 1843, Ward gives accounts of recent elections.
But what image of the working class comes through his description?
Staffs did not experience the most severe expressions of discontent over the
Reform Act, as "the Reformers... confined themselves to mere display of
strength and numbers, and the exhibition of banners and ensigns, of rather
However, the first election under the act, December 1832...... "did not pass off very peaceably for on the day of nomination, at Stoke, whilst Mr Davenport was addressing the electors, missiles were profusely thrown into the hustings, which inflicted some severe contusions on several gentlemen, and drove the candidates and their friends to seek shelter in the adjoining Town Hall; and, on the afternoon of the first day of polling, at Lane End, the mob proceeded to demolish the windows of the Crown and Anchor Inn,
The Crown & Anchor, by the railway bridge
Mr Davenport's committee were assembled; and that gentleman was indebted for his
personal safety to an escort formed by the more respectable portion of the
friends of the adverse candidates. Several of the houses and manufactories at
Lane End, belonging to those who espoused Mr Davenport's cause, were likewise
attacked at night, and the windows demolished by the lawless mob. At Hanley too,
on the second day, when Mr Davenport's success became certain, the enraged
populace proceeded to similar outrages; but, at the two other polling places,
Stoke and Burslem, where Mr Davenport's interest preponderated, perfect
(Davenport was a big manufacturer, based at Longport. He was the least enthusiastic about the Reform Act and was a severe employer. He was also at the centre of trouble in the 1837 election, when he was again elected to parliament. Article on Davenport Pottery.)
"We wish we could pass over the events of this election without being compelled to speak of the disgraceful scenes to which it gave rise... As soon as it was known to the populace at Lane End, that Messrs Bridges and Sheridan were defeated, much ill humour was manifested there; and in the evening, the mob commenced breaking the windows of the houses and manufactories belonging to the friends of the successful candidates, at an appalling rate; and not only windows, but shutters, doors etc fell before their fury; large blugeons were used by the rioters in their lawless proceedings. The violence and rapidity of the attack spread consternation among the inhabitants and the police and special constables became entirely powerless. The police office fell beneath the attacks of the assailants, who liberated a notorious character confined in it on a charge of felony. Their outrageous proceedings did not cease until after midnight, and the next morning several acting magistrates came to the scene of the riots one of whom, Captain Powis, was attacked in a most brutal manner by a desperate character who was protected by his associates.
A troupe of the Staffordshire Yeomanry had assembled in the neighbourhood, and on being marched past the churchyard of Lane End, they were fiercely assailed from thence, with brickbats and missiles, whilst the rioters were secure from their approach. However they cleared the streets, and with the aid of several gentleman in the Liberal interest, who exerted themselves most indefatigably, the mob were ultimately dispersed, though not until after they had levied contributions in money and liquor, from many of the peaceable inhabitants, as the price of immunity from the violence."
The two members elected were John Lewis Ricardo, a Liberal, and Alderman Copeland, manufacturer and Conservative. But Mr Copeland was not popular in certain areas:
"Whilst Mr Alderman Copeland and Mr Rider were proceeding with three or four attendants on horseback, and without any display whatever, for the purpose of canvassing Fenton and Longton, they were followed by crowds of people, issuing from the neighbouring manufactories, who grossly insulted and menaced them, and on their arrival at Longton, assailed them with stones and missiles, by which Mr Copeland received some severe contusions, and one of his attendants had the back part of his head laid open. The canvassing party hereupon made the best of their way to the town hall, where Mr Rose and another magistrate happened to be at the same time sitting, but who could afford them no protection further than offering to accompany them out of the town, in a different direction from that by which they entered, hoping thereby to secure them from further violence, and which had the intended effect in a great degree. The canvassing of the Conservatives was of course discontinued in this part of the borough.
the following Tuesday, being the day of nomination at Hanley, the Conservative
candidates and their friends, immediately on mounting the hustings, were
assailed on all sides with missiles from the crowds, whereby several persons
were injured, and the obnoxious candidates themselves, with their principal
supporters, were obliged, for their personal safety, to retire with
precipitation and remain concealed for several hours. The Liberal populace then
seized and destroyed the banners of the opposite party, routed them in all
directions and proceeded to Stoke to demolish the windows of Mr Copeland's
manufactory, which they effectively accomplished, as well as the windows of
several of his new houses adjacent; marking also their indignation against the
houses of many persons in his interest in that and other parts of the borough,
and affording a practical illustration of the superiority of intimidation and
violence over the futile notion on independence in election tactics, and the
great efficiency of ruffianism on occasions like the present."
This is an interesting level of violence, given the severe punishments of the
tension came to a peak in the following year, 1842...