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Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Election Fever II

In Regency Cheshire, I discuss the fight for parliamentary reform in northwest England and look forward in time to the Great Reform Bill crisis. Working class support for parliamentary reform received a great setback following the unsuccessful march of the Blanketeers and the Peterloo Massacre, but pressure for reform continued.
A Reform Committee was set up early in 1831. The extent of the planned reforms, kept top secret until their publication on 1 March, stunned even Whig supporters like the Grosvenors of Eaton. Sixty rotten boroughs were weeded out; over forty boroughs with few voters but several seats had their number of MPs curtailed. Unrepresented towns such as Manchester, Stockport, Macclesfield, Leeds and Stockport were enfranchised. The momentous 1832 elections went ahead with the usual allegations of bribery and vote-rigging. The Chester papers were up to all their old tricks. The Whig Chronicle rallied support for the Grosvenors and their friends; the Courant supported the Tories. Each editor used scurrilous invective against his rival, while supporting his favourite candidates with stomach-churning partiality. (The Chronicle, in a special election supplement, said Lord Richard Grosvenor was like ‘a lion roused from his lair that rises in his might’ while addressing the voters. (Supplement, 14 December 1832.) ) To their eternal credit, the Grosvenors supported reform, even though the demise of pocket boroughs greatly reduced their political influence. You can find out the result of the hard-fought Cheshire election campaigns in Regency Cheshire!

Image: Macclesfield, early 1900s. Etching by Roger Oldham (1871-1916) for Picturesque Cheshire (Sherratt & Hughes, 1903.)

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