Thursday, 26 July 2018

Voting in the General Election at Eltham in the November of 1837

In the November of 1837 the electorate of Eltham went to the polls.  

Well Hall in 1844 with Well Hall House at 382
All 67 of them, which if my sums are correct represented just over 13% of the adult male population and 6% of the entire adults in Eltham.

This did not compare well with some other places.  In the smaller rural township of Chorlton-cum-Hardy just 4 miles from Manchester the figures were 16% and 9% respectively which was better than the national average which in 1833 stood at just 7% of the adult population.

Worse still only 35 of the 67 lived in Eltham and those who didn’t passed most of the year in places like Chorley in Lancashire, Corbridge in Northumberland and Swinthrop in Yorkshire and even where their residences were in the south they were across the Thames on the other side of London.

And stating these figures is important given that only men had the vote and the qualification to vote was tied to property.  Some of our Eltham electors were tenants and this compounded potential inequality.

In an age when voting was still conducted in the open there was always the possibility of intimidation.  A tenant would cast his vote under the watchful eye of his landlord and the tradesmen would share his political choice with all his customers.

In General Elections the powerful made it known who their favoured candidates were and it took great courage for electors to ignore that stated preference.

Eltham Street now the High Street, 1844, Samuel Jeffyres lived near 309
The 1832 Reform Act may have been greeted by some as an attack on privilege and out moded electoral practices and it did abolish some of the more indefensible ways of electing MPs, widen the electorate to some of the middle class and give the great northern towns of manufacture a representation in Parliament.

But is also deprived some working people of the vote, continued to ignore women  and “if there was less rioting and less bribery at an election, there was still much bribery and more intimidation and election day was still a carnival which usually ended in a fight.” *

So just two years earlier in 1835 in South Lancashire the Tories claimed the Whigs owed a “very great proportion of their votes to the direct interference of the [Whig] Earls of Derby, Sefton and Sheffield “and “200 votes were given to Lord Molyenux and Mr Wood at Ormskirk because Lord Derby had expressed his sincere good wishes in their favour” **

This may well have been the case but pales in comparison with the actions of the Tory landowners to their tenants.  According to the Manchester Times & Gazette, *** Thomas Joseph Trafford of Trafford Park instructed his tenants to vote for Lord Frank Egerton & Wilbraham while Lord Wilton followed the same practice, instructing his tenants to vote for Lord Egerton and use their second vote for the candidate of their choice.

 In Stretford all but one of Trafford’s tenants voted the Tory party line. The level of potential intimidation was all too clear from the one tenant who refused to follow the line.  He expected “in the spirit of the olden times, to hear of Tory vengeance.” 

Now much research has to be done on the Eltham result of 1837 because our 67 electors did not march with the general swing of things in the great big constituency of West Kent.

Election result for West Kent, 1837
Five years earlier the Whigs had swept to power on the back of the Reform Act but a combination of Tory fight back and a slowdown of the pace of reform made the Whigs look tired and over confident.

And so the Tory Party made gains in both the 1835 and ’37 General Elections.

In West Kent the two seat constituency elected a Whig and a Tory, but in Eltham the vote went overwhelmingly to the Tory candidates.

Election result for the Eltham Division of West Knet, 1837
Now this we know because the choices the 67 made were recorded in the poll books.

Our old friend Samuel Jeffryes used both his votes for the Tories as he did again in 1847.

So matching the electorate to their landlords and charting the political preferences of these great landowners will be revealing.

But one should be careful. Intimidation is more likely to work on the small tenant farmer or shop keeper and men like Samuel Jeffryes who styled himself “gentleman” and eventually retired to Westminster to live may just have voted as his conscience dictated.

We shall see.

Location,; Well Hall, Eltham, London

Pictures; Well Hall and Eltham Street in 1844 from the Tithe map for Eltham courtesy of Kent History and Library Centre, Maidstone,

*Young G.M., Portrait of an Age Oxford University Press 1953 Page 28
** The Hull Packet January 30 1835
*** Manchester Times & Gazette January 3 1835
****Thomas Joseph Trafford 1778-1852, owned Trafford Hall and land in Trafford and Stretford

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