Parliamentary Election 1847 (Hustings and Poll)
On Friday July 30th 1847 the hustings for the Parliamentary election in Stamford were erected in Broad Street for the candidates to present themselves for nomination before the electors of the Borough. It was the first true contested election in the town for nearly forty years and the growing unrest in both the middle and lower classes uniting against the Burghley interest meant that there was a real possibility of political change. Both believed that the economic future was dependent on the London to York railway passing through the town and that the Marquis of Exeter was working to prevent such a route. An expansion of the town and its numbers of voters would have of course destroyed for ever his control.
The independent minded amongst the Borough Council had found John Rolt Esquire as a candidate and using the George and Angel on St Mary’s Street as a base began their campaign with the support of Alderman Richard Newcomb – owner and proprietor of the Lincoln, Rutland and Stamford Mercury.
On the day of the hustings Mr Rolt and his supporters met up at the George and Angel to march to Broad Street, by the time they got there the crowd numbered close to two thousand. Lord Exeter’s nominees – the Marquis of Granby and Mr Herries arrived slightly later with few supporters who were shouted at and hissed by the crowd. It was reported in the Stamford Mercury that all the remarks were in ‘good humour’.
Once the initial formalities had been completed the nominations began. Doctor Hopkinson nominated the Marquis of Granby stating that the Marquis was a fit person to represent the town and having done so these last ten years.
However within his speech he highlighted a bill signed: ‘An Elector, to which it was stated that the Noble Lord’s and Mr Herries’s friends had been guilty of exercising undue influence. He begged distinctly to say that no influence of the kind had been put into practise’.
This was met by cheers which were soon drowned out with hissing and cries of ‘It has’.
Mr Cayley seconded the nomination speaking of the ability and integrity of the Marquis of Granby; however most of his speech was drowned out by the crowd.
Mr C.Haycock then proposed the Right Honourable John Charles Herries of Sevenoaks, Kent; as the second candidate for Stamford. The crowd by now had found its voice and it was a while before he began to speak. Much of which was drowned out by the crowd. Mr Henry Chase Atlay seconded the nomination.
Mr Hatfield then came forward to nominate Mr Rolt, he was met with much cheering at which he stated that it was time that Stamford had its own representative. He stated that the question had to be considered ‘whether Lord Exeter should continue to usurp the power of returning both their members’. ‘it was a shame that any attempt should be made to prevent the electors to having at least some share in the choice’. He then reminded the crowd, although it was probably as much as a message to the Burghley candidates ‘that there was a standing order of the House of Commons which made it a high infringement of the Liberties of the People for a Peer of Parliament to interfere in elections to the House of Commons’. He reminded the crowd that such influence of the aristocracy would be able by legislation to coerce both the Crown and the People. He then stated that ‘it was a maxim of the constitution that the People should not be taxed without their consent; but that principle became an absurdity when the electors were prevented from choosing whom they thought proper to vote the taxes, and were threaten with pains and penalties, which being turned out of their houses, or deprived of their trade or means of living, if they made a free and conscientious selection’. He then stated that suffrage was not given as a right for a man’s own benefit, it was a privilege for the benefit of his fellow man.
He then spoke of the loss of freemen’s right because of a lack of proper representation, an issue which closely touched on the majority of the adult male population of the town. Whether or not they had the vote.
In finishing his speech he raised the issue of the mainline railway passing through the town and; ‘to serious loss the town was likely to experience by the carrying to a distance of the Great Northern Railway through the Marquis of Exeter’s opposition to it from pecuniary motives’. In proving this point he reminded the crowd how the Marquis had offered land to the railway company at ‘monstrous terms’ compared with prices he had been willing to buy land only a few years previous.
Mr G.H.Betts then seconded Mr Rolt’s nomination. After mentioning issues around the Corn Law and Game Laws he too raised the issue of the north-south railway and ‘the scandalous manner in which the town had been cheated out of the advantages of railway communication from North to South’.
The support of the gathered crowd at the hustings was very much in support of John Rolt for when the Marquis of Granby addressed the crowd he was met with a ‘storm of hissing’. When he finally spoke he attempted to defend his position on the Great Northern Railway, he had met a deputation from Stamford on the matter and that he had told them ‘that he would consult Lord Exeter on the subject’ produced laughter in the crowd. He then stated that ‘in doing so, he believed he had acted honourably and fairly’, a wag in the crowd was recorded as heckling; “Yes, to Lord Exeter, but not to the town’.
When asked by Mr Tebbutt whether the Marquis would support the railway bill if it was reintroduced, stated ‘I will pledge myself to nothing’. He then stated that he had supported the increase to the Maynooth Grant - a Roman Catholic seminary in Ireland - , alterations to the Corn Laws and the Ten-Hours Factory Bill.
Mr Herries then addressed the crowd and he too was met with much hissing and groans. He stated that he had twenty years service in Parliament of which ten years had been as a minister, latterly as Chancellor of the Exchequer. He stated that Stamford was exempt from corruption which antagonised the crowd. There was more heckling about why having been elected eight times for Harwich he was now standing in Stamford. His view on secret ballots when asked by an electorate was that such a change would be against the ‘honesty of Englishmen’. After stating that those who had the vote should use them and those who do not should make no noise, so aggravated the crowd that the cry that ‘You have insulted the non-voters and so we will not hear you’ was the end of his address. He just gave up.
Mr Rolt then addressed the crowd. He stated that he would come ‘to the great question’, which was ‘whether the constituency of Stamford should be free’. He reported to the crowd that he had spoken to many of them and that he had been told that although they wanted him to be elected to Parliament they could not vote for him because of their fears of ‘ejected from their houses or lose some of their customers’.
His view on the Corn Laws was that they should be given a fair trial and if they if they were not of benefit and led to the ruin of agricultural interests then there should be a return to protectionism.
He also stated that he supported the use of public taxes for the education of the People. Mr Rolt then touched on other aspects, including, the Maynooth grant, the Health of Towns Bill, the Poor Law, the Great Northern Railway measure; his views on these matter being supported by the crowd.
He finally asked the Electors to ‘assert their independence’ in voting for him.
The nominations being received the call for the vote was heard and the Mayor declared Mr Rolt and the Marquis of Granby elected. At this point Mr Haycock on behalf of Mr Herries demanded a poll. Mr Rolt was then escorted by a large crowd to his residence in Rock Terrace and on the Friday evening he addressed a meeting at the George and Angel.
The polling commenced on Saturday morning at about 8.00am and was carried on till about 11.00am, all the time the Marquis of Granby and Mr Herries being in front. Shortly after 2.00pm with the populous become more and more tumultuous and Mr Rolt realising that there was insufficient votes still to be polled agreed to ‘resign the contest’. After the books were closed the Mayor declared that the Marquis of Granby and Mr Herries had been elected and the votes cast were:
For the Marquis of Granby 359
For Mr Herries 290
For Mr Rolt 234
The Marquis of Granby and Mr Herries after saying a few words at the Stamford Hotel after Mr Rolt resigned the contest left Stamford by train to London via Cambridge before the vote was declared. Whilst Mr Rolt addressed a large crowd at the George and Angel stating that he would be willing to stand again in the Borough and that the reason for his defeat was that twenty three voters had promised to vote on his behalf but had been ‘induced by customary means’ to vote for Mr Herries and that others who had stated that they were going to remain neutral recorded their votes for the Burghley nominees.
The following week it was being reported in the Stamford Mercury how the recent contested election had passed so quietly. Although, it was noted that by some that they would have voted differently if the Marquis of Exeter’s agents had not been present.
Unfortunately the political future in Stamford over the next few years was hardly quiet. Resulting in violence at subsequent Municipal elections, alleged corruption in the ‘buying of votes’, Burghley Tenants thrown out of their homes, and an investigation of the Parliamentary election by a Select Committee of the House of Commons.