The Man of Philanthropy, Politics and Clogs, circa 1868

Philip Jeffs‘ latest blog examines political smearing in the 1860s…

The last three election posters I have shown you have all been very wordy, so I thought that today I would share with you a more visual poster.

I have chosen the poster below because it shows a good caricature of Peter Rylands, but also because it raises both an important issue in the 1868 general election and a major issue in the local politics of Warrington at the time.

In this image, with its subtitle of “Does he deserve a working man’s vote?”, we see Peter Rylands with the top hat and cane one might associate with a man of his rank, but also wearing the clogs of a working man. Somewhat snazzy clogs admittedly (more suited to a clog dancer than a steel worker), but the implication seems clear nonetheless.

The suggestion is that Peter Rylands portrays himself as a representative of the working classes, but is in fact one of the town’s wealthy elite. This image is further alluded to by the sign, just to the rear of Peter, pointing to Massey Hall, Peter’s extensive home and grounds in Thelwall.

Whilst Peter is waving down the road, perhaps to the potential voter, his back is turned to a family of cottagers being turned out of their home in Lymm. Whether this refers to an actual event or is simply symbolic I haven’t been able to find out, but certainly it reinforces the message of the poster.

I mentioned at the start of this entry that the poster touched upon a major factor in the 1868 election. That factor was the passing of the Second Reform the year before.

In basic terms the Reform Act of 1867 gave all male householders and all men paying more than £10 a year rent living in the boroughs the right to vote. It also gave the vote to all men living in the Counties occupying property rated at £12 a year or more.

In effect this still left great swathes of the working classes unable to vote, but did make a massive and startling change to the electorate. With the election coming so soon after this change to voting, both the Liberals and the Conservatives suddenly had to start appealing to working men as a major priority in their election campaigns. In reality neither party had that much to offer the new voters, so a different tactic was required. Instead of focusing on how you are the working man’s representative, put all of your effort into showing how your opponent is not.

If you have read some of my past blog entries you will know that I love to look at how the events shown in the archives can seem to echo what is happening today, and in this case the recent election has given us a sterling example. We had David Cameron with his “Call me Dave”, then the opposition turn up pictures of him in the Bullingdon club, and we have Ed Miliband telling us how he went to a comprehensive school, then the opposition push stories about his two kitchens.

The local issue that seems to be referred to in the poster, though I admit I may be reading too much into it, is the police force. In the background of the picture, the cottagers are being moved on by two policemen.

After Peter’s death in 1887 his son, Louis Gordon Rylands, published a volume of the correspondence and speeches of his father’s along with an account of his career. In this book Louis describes the issue of policing in Warrington to have been the great problem faced by Peter whilst mayor of Warrington in 1853-4.

It appears from the memoirs that with a police force of 10 many in the town felt that criminals were able to act without any threat in certain parts of town. This group, supported by Peter Rylands, argued for a larger police force. An opposing group argued vehemently against an increase of police, as it might result in an increase of the rates.

The ‘anti-increase’ supporters were so successful that, rather than increased, the police force was actually dropped to 9 men. In protest at this cut, Peter resigned from the town’s Watch Committee (the watch committee was responsible for arranging the town’s policing before such matters became more national). The Watch Committee promptly cut the force again to 7 men.

A constant round of arguments ensued, with one council meeting on the subject lasting two days. The argument went on for 10 years until 1864 when under national pressure the council finally agreed to increase the police force to 29 men.

Following 10 years or more of arguing about policemen, it seems fair to speculate that showing two policemen evicting tenants on a poster would probably be hoping to resurrect bad feeling against Rylands.

This article was originally posted on Monday, June 15th, 2015.