Chapter 5 - Zeitgeist
It has been mentioned before that the cause of the rioting had, primarily, been that the 1768 Election was disputed. A rich and powerful family choosing to battle against an entrenched Corporation who had no intention of changing their ways. The Stanley family had dominated local politics for generations and, when the Tory party wanted to break free from these shackles, the strains began to tell. In more recent years the Tory party in Preston had been the sole representatives in Parliament but, leading up to the 1768 election, the Stanleys and their allies in the guise of the Whig party appear to have made a concerted effort to take control of the seat. The names Tory and Whig are used here for convenience but there is an argument (1) that, by the 1760’s, both of these parties had lost central control. Local candidates could call themselves Whigs or Tories with next to no monitoring from their leaders in London. But there were other factors in the background which both sides would use to help them win the election.
In the years building up to the 1768 election Lancashire saw the beginning of mechanisation in the cotton industry and the movement away from hand-loom weaving. John Kay had invented the “Flying Shuttle” in 1733 but it was the "Spinning Jenny" invented by Richard Hargreaves in 1764 that had increased the productivity of weavers which eventually caused the price of yarn fell angering the spinners. Eventually antagonism built up against these new technologies and, as a consequence, a large group of spinners broke into Hargreaves’ house and destroyed the machines. Abram’s History of Blackburn (2) mentions that weavers from all over the area gathered in Blackburn making a mob of “some hundreds of persons”. These events eventually caused Hargreaves to move to Nottingham where the cotton hosiery industry made use of his invention and he was more easily accepted. These revolutions in the cotton industry are never specifically mentioned in any of the documents associated with the riots but may well have added to the underlying unease.
That same year the Manchester Mercury for March 8th, 1768 contains the following note:-
Last Friday a party of Colonel Mostyn’s dragoons quartered here (Manchester), marched from hence to Blackburn, in order to quell some disturbances that have happened there.
It does make you wonder why something similar didn’t happen in Preston. In addition the Quarter Sessions records for April 18th, 1768 mentions the issuing of a warrant for the transport of a baggage of a troop for the Eleventh Regiment of Dragoons on their march from Lancaster to Preston. So it was possible to call in the militia to break up the conflict but now the horse had bolted – the election was over by this date.
A more important factor in the election was the role of Catholics and their suspected support of the Jacobite cause. The 1768 election took place only 23 years after the 1745 Jacobite rebellion and 53 years after the 1715 rebellion - all within living memory. Lancashire and, in particular, Preston had a strong Catholic presence and, with this, there was an undercurrent of Jacobite support. A religious census was taken in 1751 and it was found that there were 762 protestant families, 145 papist families and 21 dissenter families - so approximately one fifth of the population were Catholic. As we will see, these totals, became an easy way of creating divisions between the parties and this was used by the pro-Hanoverian Whigs. On the other hand the Tories, depending upon your point of view, could be classified as Protestant and, for the most part, more Catholic tolerant.
Prior to the 1768 election, Catholics were rarely made freemen of the Town but when it looked like there would be a strong anti-Tory vote the council set out to enroll catholic supporters. This had to be viewed against the fact that the Council refusing to make many Whig supporters into freemen. Not surprisingly undercurrents of discontent surfaced. Catholics, in principle, could vote in elections but they had to swear oaths of allegiance, supremacy, and abjuration, as prescribed by the Government in 1715. In previous generations this was an overwhelming stumbling block but, by 1768, a number of Catholics in Preston probably found that the financial aspects of being a freeman overcame their religious doubts. More details on this can be found in the Voting Constituency section.
The differences between Protestants and Catholics came to a head when St Mary's Chapel, in Friargate, was burned down, as earlier mentioned, by the mob. Registers were burned and the priest - the Rev. Patrick Barnewell - "only saved his life by beating a rapid retreat at the rear.”
By all accounts it was the Burgoyne/Hoghton supporters were responsible for this act and, by suggesting that the Tory party was pro-Catholic, it would spur the mob to increased violence. The "Propaganda" section provides numerous examples of songs and ditties which use the Catholic card as a way of separating the two parties.
A pamphlet, mentioned by Hardwick, produced during the 1796 election refers back to the St Marys incident.
“The Catholics of this town think proper to remind their dear brethren that their place of Divine Worship, where the blessed sacrament was kept, was scandalously and impiously plundered and violated by a band of unprincipled ruffians, in the year One thousand, seven hundred and sixty eight.”
The pamphlet goes on to mention that the priest, Rev. Joseph Smith, died a month later of a broken heart.
Lastly. Rioting occurred in areas other than Preston; Lancaster being the most obvious one and there were a number of parallels with the situation in Preston. The sitting MP, George Warren, had been cut from the same cloth as Colonel Burgoyne. He started with a career in the army and then, in 1758, eloped with a rich heiress with political clout, married her and then retired from the army. Her contacts gained him influence and so, in that same year, he became MP for Lancaster. In the build-up to the 1768 election the local merchants of Lancaster made a determined attempt to dislodge the increasingly unpopular Warren and put up a member of the local gentry, Lord John Cavendish. So we have two rich and powerful groupings attempting to wrest power from the other. The campaign became increasingly violent and on the 14th and 16th of January, 1768 (around the time of the main disturbances in Preston – surely not a coincidence) rioting occurred and Lancaster, unlike Preston, still has records of property owners suffering at the hands of the rioters (4).
The amount of disruption and damage is recorded in several documents. At least 15 streets were affected with different levels of damage as some owners were quite happy to correct “at own expense”.
Even early in the campaign it became obvious that Cavendish didn’t relish the fight and wrote
my opponents ... have engaged all the lower sort of people, and they spare no expense to keep them firm to them
The next comment indicates that the expense might be proving too much
my opponents were bidding any sums for votes, so that my success was very uncertain and an enormous expense inevitable.
Cavendish withdrew a week before the election was due, leaving Warren to be returned unopposed.
A letter to the Manchester Mercury dated 23rd December, 1767 gives public notice of a meeting for admitting freemen’s sons and apprentices. This was going to take place on the 14th and 21st January. It is interesting that the first riots took place on the 14th January.
The above meeting may be related to several documents in the Lancashire Archives relating to under-age voters. One document, in particular, is named “Alphabetical List of Minors admitted by Lord John Cavendish, Warren and Reynolds” (5). This should be illegal but all three candidates seem to be agreeing - perhaps with a little pressure being put on Cavendish. This is analogous to the “Articles of Agreement” in Preston mentioned earlier.
Riots also took place in Pontefract and Northampton (6) with the latter more interesting in that it also concerned the rival claims of powerful local families. Prior to 1768 the seat was controlled by Lord Halifax and Lord Northampton but on that date Lord Spencer tried to break the monopoly. George Osborn was Lord Halifax’s nominee, George Rodney that of Lord Northampton, while Spencer backed Thomas Howe.
Agreements were made after some early rioting, which probably had parallels in Preston. Buying of votes was also rife.(7)
That if on any occasion houses should be opened after seven days notice, it shall be done by tickets for drink given to the men inhabitants, half a crown to drink to those who have promised one vote and a crown to drink to those who have promised two.
In the Gazetteer and New Daily Advertiser for Tuesday, November 24th, 1767 the following appears
We hear from Northampton, that last week two men drank to such excess of the liquors given to the populous on account of the ensuing election, that they died in a few hours after; that the lower sort of people, being continually heated with liquor, assemble in large bodies, and go about the town in riotous manner, knocking people down, etc. One man, a few days ago, received so violent a blow on the head as killed him on the spot: and it is dangerous for persons to go about their business.
The same newspaper for Friday, December 25th, 1767 contains a letter with the following comment
the days of election of days of riot and dissipation; that time when every elector should principally exercise sober judgement, is made a season of drunkenness and debauchery.
And again for Saturday, January 16th, 1768.
We are informed that in a late riot at Northampton, occasioned by the present vigorous contested election, one great man was knocked down by a person, and another of equal rank (Earl) was rolled in the mud, and otherwise greatly hurt by the mob, for their interfering in a matter which the opposite party declared these great men had no right to interfere.
The returning officer was hostile to votes for Thomas Howe and this was noted in the number of rejections compared to the other candidates. Not surprisingly there was a petition presented to the House of Commons and the return overturned.
The History of Parliament online website gives the following glimpse of the overall expense
Lord Halifax was ruined by it and abandoned his interest at Northampton; Lord Northampton, already in debt before the election, retired to the continent and left his electoral affairs in the hands of his agent; and even Lord Spencer, one of the richest men in England, is said to have been seriously embarrassed financially.
The Northampton election was known locally as the “spendthrift” election – for good reason.
So, in Preston, we had many of the features found in the previous examples. In the less contentious election of 1796, the “Public House Bills” (8) alone for Hoghton & Burgoyne came to over £5500. Putting all of this together we have a powerful, wealthy group (the triumvirate of Burgoyne, the Stanleys and the Hoghtons) up against an entrenched Corporation who, in effect, had custom and practice on their side together with the ability to manipulate the electoral process. Money didn’t seem to be a problem and a win at all costs attitude added to the violence.
I. Lewis Namier - The Structure of Politics at the Accession of George III
2. W. A. Abram – History of Blackburn
3. Old Catholic Lancashire Vol 2 - Blundell
4. Lancashire Archives - DDCa 15/5 - Lancaster Riots.
5. Lancashire Archives - “Alphabetical List of Minors admitted by Lord John Cavendish, Warren and Reynolds” – DDCa 15/27
6. Northampton Riots - http://c5110394.myzen.co.uk/mw/index.php?title=Northampton_Riots
7. History of Parliament Online - http://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1754-1790/constituencies/northampton
8. Lancashire Archives – Amount of Public House Bills of Stanley and Hoghton - DDK 1683/35