The Barnstaple By-Election of February 1880
Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive: for this description of the By-Election of February 12th 1880, taken from the North Devon Journal of Thursday 19th February, 1880.
(This is the election described by Ethel M. Munro in The Square Egg).
The Barnstaple Election
Great Liberal Victory
From an early hour this morning the good old borough has been in a state of intense ferment: in fact it is said that no election even in pre-ballot days ever caused more excitement. With the exception of a few brief intervals in the forenoon the weather has been fine, and the effect of the party colours was greatly enhanced by the cheering illumination of the sun. Almost everyone is wearing either the orange and violet, which indicates attachment to the cause of Lord Lymington, or the blue and pink, which proclaims adherence to that of Sir Robert Carden. At Derby there is a profuse display of flags, lines of posters strung across the streets, &c.; and although until the beginning of the week the “true blue” which is supposed to symbolise Toryism, had the pre-eminence, the orange and violet now make an even better show. In honour of the occasion, and as an anticipatory welcome to the successful candidate, the bells of the old church are ringing out merrily.
Everything conspires to make the day a pleasant one, and while the “working bees” are too dreadfully in earnest to indulge in pleasantries, those who have voted and whose duty is over are in the highest spirits. It is gratifying to observe that good humour generally prevails. Occasionally a man far gone in drink may be seen doing his best to get up a quarrel; but such instances are rare, and in general the only forms in which the spirit of partisanship vents itself are those of good humoured badinage and hearty cheers and counter cheers. The authorities have however taken the precaution to supplement the borough's police force with a detachment of stalwart “men in blue” from Exeter. The shops were kept open all the morning, but for any business they did, they might as well have been closed altogether.
In the factories of Messrs Miller and Bayliss and in the Iron Foundry of Mr Willshire, work has been entirely suspended for the day, so that the hands may have every facility for voting; and other large employers of labour either have not opened their doors at all or have closed them before the dinner hour.
At the request of the Returning Officer, the following gentlemen accepted the appointment of presiding officers, and fulfilled their duties at the several polling stations with entire satisfaction, viz., Mr John Brewer at polling place No 1, Trinity Schoolroom, Mr H K Thorne at No 2 The Guildhall, Mr G O Peard (of the firm of Messrs Hole and Peard, of Bideford, at No 3, the Corn Market, and Mr F Day of the firm of Messrs. Crosse, Day and Crosse of South Molton, at No 4, the shop of Mr Prideaux in Pilton Street. Mr J A Thorne was Lord Lymington's agent and Mr J P Ffinch Sir Robert Carden's.
While the more boisterous spirits were revelling in noise and brag on Wednesday evening, the committees were meeting and making arrangements for the morrow's work. During the night the streets were paraded by bands of Liberals forming a Vigilance Committee. When people go on nocturnal expeditions in search of reported ghosts they usually “see nothing “ as the phrase goes; but the Vigilance Committee were on the look out for something much more tangible than “spirits from the vasty deep” or from any other locality, and it is currently reported that they saw something of which more may be heard anon. The canvassing committee were early at their posts this morning, and on both sides they have been working with the most strenuous activity.
On the Liberal side they have not only had to stimulate lagging electors, and bring up to scratch doubtful ones, but it has also been found necessary to keep strict watch on several public houses which flaunt Sir Robert's colours in their windows and which are much resorted to by voters of the baser sort. Outside are little knots of electioneers wearing the colours of the Conservative champion and a frequent visitor at one if not more of these establishments is a certain parson who is popularly supposed to be much better versed in electioneering tricks than in some other acquirements more immediately suited with the sacred profession of which he is so lustrous an ornament. The advice given by both candidates to their supporters to “poll early” had been carried out to the letter.
The bulk of the freemen set the example by meeting at the Assembly Rooms at nine o'clock and going in a body to Pilton to give Sir Robert Carden a good start by putting their marks against his name. The voters poured steadily into the various polling stations from the time of opening - eight o'clock – until the sun had begun his descent. At half past 11 we had it from a veracious source that nearly 1,300 of the 1,600 electors had already recorded their votes. At this time it was said that there was a large Liberal majority, while soon after it was reported that the preponderance was greatly on the other side. All sorts of vehicles, public and private were chartered, from the pair horse break to the huckster's cart; and while the conveyances were gay with large posters called in upon the electors to vote for “the working men's friend” or Lord Lymington whose mottos were “Peace and Plenty” “Truth and honour” or others equally appropriate, the Jehus * and their steeds were resplendent with huge rosettes and flowing ribbons.
Lord Lymington's supporters were extremely proud to see his mother, the gracious and charming Countess, driving a pair of splendid horses attached to a carriage containing her gallant son and Mr Cave. Beside her Ladyship, on the box, was the Lady Catherine Milnes Gaskell and in the carriage was the Lady Dora Wallop; and it need not be said that wherever the party went fresh enthusiasm and energy were inspired. Peal after peal of cheering greeted them, which the ladies acknowledged with their customary grace; while Lord Lymington and Mr Cave made response in the more demonstrative form of waving their hats. The cheering was especially loud when the noble lord and his loyal friend emerged from an opposition public house triumphantly escorting a Liberal voter whom they had tracked there.
The Countess handled the ribbons with consummate dexterity, and was much admired for her spirit and skill as she swept past a rival carriage in the High Street, the wheels of the two vehicles just escaping contact. The drivers of other conveyances displayed as much boldness but much less skill, and a Liberal break standing outside the Fortescue was turned round by a more more heavily laden break belonging to the opposition, and nearly upset. Sir Robert Carden gave to his followers what encouragement his presence was capable of affording; but there was a remarkable difference between his reception and that of his opponent.
The leaders of the two parties are conspicuous by their unremitting activity. Mr. Willshire, the Liberal general, is not to be found in the thick of the fight, but in the background, directing the operations of his forces with his pre-eminent electioneering skill. Though less prominent than others, it goes for saying that no one is working with more indomitable ardour than Mr Wilshire, although fagged by the severe strain of a political contest which has been waging for many weeks.
Mr Harrington is to be seen looking much less sanguine than when addressing boisterously sympathetic audiences, and appearing also to be smarting under the castigation administered by the Liberal champion a few evenings before ; while Mr Ramsbotham is as imperturbably cool and collected as though he felt not the slightest interest in the result of the contest. He would indeed be a bold man who would infer from the expression of Mr Ramsbotham's face whether that gentleman is confident or despondent; but the more readable countenance of Mr Harrington and the local leaders betrayed their consciousness of defeat soon after noon. Their demeanour was in marked contrast to what it had been during the earlier stages of the contest; and while it would be ungenerous to gloat over their defeat, it is impossible to avoid the reflection that their mortification has been intensified by their unconscionable brag.
The poll closed at four, but the voting was practically concluded more than an hour before that time. On both sides the books were completed by 3 o'clock , and the last hour was spent in a final drive round. The Liberal conveyances formed into a procession, headed by the Countess's carriage, and drove several times around the town, greeted at every point with a general cheering which declared plainly enough who was the popular candidate. Loud were the expressions of admiration of Lady Portsmouth's grace and spirit, and those who before were unacquainted with her Ladyship marvelled no longer at the combination of excellent qualities which it has been their delight to discover in her eldest son.
It was announced by bill just after one o'clock that at that hour 758 votes had recorded for Sir Robert Carden and 598 for his opponent. The object of this statement was no doubt to catch any voters who might be waiting to to rank themselves on the winning side; but the announcement was so obviously absurd that no one believed it. The Liberal Committee met in their Central Rooms just after the poll closed to receive the reports of the Chairmen of the districts – Mr Willshire, Mr Lander, Mr Bayliss, and Mr Pulsford, and on their notes being compared, it was concluded that there was a majority of over 100 for his Lordship.
The counting was begun at five o'clock, an hour being allowed for the bringing in of the ballot boxes from the different districts. At six o'clock the approximate result of the poll was disclosed by an eager partisan, and was to the effect that Lord Lymington headed the poll by 111 votes – a majority somewhat in excess of the actual fact when it was officially proclaimed an hour afterwards. The premature publication of Lord Lymington's triumphant success was hailed with rapturous delight by a vast crowd which thronged the vicinity of the Guildhall. It was nearly half past seven o'clock when the Mayor appeared at the door of the Guildhall, and read out the numbers, which were at once placarded in front of the Hall, and were as follows; -
Lymington – 817
LIBERAL MAJORITY.... 96
There was the most tremendous cheering when the official return was ascertained, although it slightly detracted from the majority before assigned to the successful candidate.
The Returning Officer sent back the writ – duly endorsed with the election of Lord Lymington – to the Crown Office, by delivering it to the Postmaster just in time to be forwarded by to-night's mail.
Great Meeting in the Music Hall
Immediately on the intelligence of the Liberal Victory reaching the Fortescue, Lord Lymington announced from the balcony that he would address his constituents in the Music Hall. A rush was immediately made for that building, and the doors having been opened with great difficulty because of the press, the hall was in a few minutes crammed. A crowd was still waiting outside the Guildhall for the official declaration and it was well that they were thus engaged otherwise the Music Hall would have been inaccessible. In a few minutes not only was every part of the room crowded, but the lobby and the stairs as well, and many hundreds were unable to get near the doors. Inside the wildest enthusiasm prevailed – an enthusiasm which was almost ungovernable. The cheers which greeted Lady Portsmouth and her daughters as they entered the hall were deafening, to be renewed when a few minutes afterwards Lord Lymington and his gallant co-member, Mr. Cave, pushed their way into the hall; and when the two members mounted the platform and stood arm in arm before their constituents, the applause was almost frantic. The band played “Auld Lang Syne” when her Ladyship appeared, while it greeted Lord Lymington as “The Conquering Hero.” The chair was taken by Mr Miller, and around him were many ladies, besides the principal members of the Liberal Committee, several of whom were cheered individually, notably Mr Willshire, who must have been fully rewarded for his exertions, almost supernatural as they were, by the reception he met with and the scene he witnessed.
The Chairman said; “There appears to have been some very slight mistake in the figures that have been announced to you. The numbers, as sent here by the Mayor, really are – For Lord Lymington, 817; for Sir Robert Carden 721 – (groans) ; Liberal majority, 96. Gentlemen, we have received a most magnificent victory. (Applause.) Our opponents left no stone unturned (a voice; “Bribery”) they have been most thoroughly organised in their canvass and in their working altogether; we have fought against such odds as we have never done before in this borough, and the result is a signal triumph of Liberal opinions in an election which I cannot but look back up upon as a test election. (Applause)
When we consider that some 40 requests for telegrams have come to our Committee from various Liberal Associations, &c., we see that the whole of England has today been watching for the verdict of Barnstaple. From the whole of Liberal England a rush of congratulation will be flashed tonight; and in every Liberal Club, in every association for the promotion of Liberal opinions, at Sheffield, where Mr. Waddy is engaged in organising a Juvenile Liberal Association; at Chester, where Mr Gladstone is attending a Liberal demonstration; at Bristol where there is another Liberal demonstration, and in fact wherever their exists a body of good, hearty, consistent Liberals, the news of the return of Lord Lymington will cause a great amount of rejoicing just as Mr Waddy's victory at Sheffield did the other day.
Well, gentlemen, I congratulate you, who have worked so long and heartily, on the success of your efforts. I congratulate my friend Mr. Willshire, to whom, more than to anyone else in this borough, we are indebted for the result which has been announced to you. (Applause.) Few men in the wide world could have worked so hard, and none harder, than he, and it is certain that no one from Sheffield, or London, or anywhere else could have produced such good results as those he has produced today. (Applause.) I say, and shall always think, that his Lordship's return is largely due to the untiring labours of love of Alderman Willshire. (Loud Applause.) And lastly, though not least, I beg to congratulate Lord Lymington upon his success, and I am sure he will heartily endorse me when I say that not only have we triumphed in him personally, but in our cause, which he champions so ably. (Loud applause, in which a complimentary reference made by the Chairman to Lady Portsmouth's exertions was lost.)
Now, ladies and gentlemen, we have succeeded, but we may learn from this contest that we might have had still greater success if some of our friends had been more staunch. We have not polled so many votes as we ought to have done, and while we do well to be elated with our success, we must not forget that this has been an even fight, and that at the General Election, which is now imminent, we shall have a three cornered contest in this borough; and we must spare no pains between now and then to increase the majority in which we rejoice today. (Applause.) We must not omit to thank our friend Mr Cave for giving us such hearty and valuable aid. That shows us the necessity of having thorough cooperation in all these matters. The simple fact Mr. Cave has come down here to assist us at this election must convince every Liberal in the borough that my Lord and Mr. Cave are one. (Loud applause.) You are, I know, anxious to know what his Lordship has to say to you after his success, and I will not, therefore, detain you longer, but request him to address you. (Applause.)
Lord Lymington, who was received with immense applause, requested the meeting to give three cheers for the Chairman, and that having been done, he proceeded;-
Electors of Barnstaple, and also ladies of Barnstaple, for I am sure I owe a great deal to your exertions – my present constituents – (loud applause) - my heart is so touched by your kindness and your enthusiasm that I am quite overcome. (Applause) I am sure you will not expect me to make anything like a speech. Speeches are serious things and tonight is a night of joy. (Applause) To-night is a time for enthusiasm at a great Liberal victory, which is now being flashed to every quarter of this great country. (Immense cheering) My constituents, I am altogether unable to put into words how strongly and how deeply I feel your kindness. It is, as my friend Mr. Cave remarks to me, impossible for any man to do so. (Applause.) Of this you may be sure - and I can say no more – that you will never repent the confidence you have placed in me. (Great cheering.)
Well, the boy has beaten the old gentleman. (Loud laughter and applause) And I thank God I am young, because it enables me to hope that I may have many future opportunities of addressing you. (Great cheering) I said on Tuesday night that we should win, and that by the greatness and justice of our principles, aided by our own individual efforts, and we have done so. (Great applause.) We have had no extra assistance, and when I take my seat with Mr Cave tomorrow morning I shall so as an independent Member of Parliament, I shall owe no allegiance to any single individual in that Parliament but the constituency that returns me. (Applause) I was was confident, my friends, of this triumph of Liberal principles. (Applause,) I knew it would be so. (Applause.)
Our opponents were wonderfully sanguine yesterday, but I noticed that they are very disappointed this afternoon ( Laughter and a voice “Harrington's a liar”) But we fought a good honest fight, and we have beaten them. (Applause,) And what I say to you is this – Organise, maintain your earnestness, be determined that if they come again you will beat them. (Great cheering.) But gentlemen, I am good friends with all the Conservatives. (Hear, hear.) With all those who opposed me I am willing to shake hands. Whatever may have been said, and whatever may have been done, this contest has stirred no personal animosity in my mind. (Applause) I am the representative of every elector in Barnstaple, whether he is a Liberal or whether he be Conservative, and that I shall always feel. (Great cheering.) You know on which side of the House I shall sit, don't you? (Laughter and cheers) Of this I am very sure, that we are very friendly with our opponents, but they had better not come at us. (Laughter and applause) We don't want any opposition and we don't court any opposition, and I am sure that I shall be most happy and delighted to travel back to London tomorrow with Sir Robert Carden. (Laughter and protracted Cheers.)
There were now calls for Mr Willshire, but the Chairman announced he was too much overcome by the labours and excitement of the day to speak at that stage of the meeting.
In response to general cries for “the Countess”, Lady Portsmouth arose. After the furore of applause had subsided and perfect quietude had been restored, her Ladyship addressed a few words to the meeting, speaking with a charm of manner that is indescribable, and with a voice which, without apparent exertion, penetrated with the clearness of a bell to every corner of the building. Highly excited as they were, the audience listened with the greatest attention to her Ladyship, who said:- My dear ladies and gentlemen – If it is difficult for gentlemen to speak to you to-night, you can understand that it is more difficult for me to do so. If they are overcome, must I be in almost double or treble a degree. When I ventured to speak to you the other day I said I expected to receive your congratulations today, and my expectations have been more than realised. (Applause)
I am very grateful indeed for the happy day you have given me, and for this delightful evening, which I shall never forget. (Great cheering.) I thank you a thousand times for your great kindness to my son – (applause) - for your wonderful kindness to me, (Great cheering) I have spent the whole of the day in driving about in Barnstaple, and I received throughout the greatest kindness and courtesy from everyone. (Loud Cheers) I must say “Good night” for I have to go home and tell Lord Portsmouth of all that I have seen and heard. (Cheers for Lord Portsmouth) I am quite certain that his joy will be beyond words, not only that you have done his son and my son the honour of choosing him for your representatives, but that the great Liberal cause has had such a victory today. (Immense cheering)
Lady Catherine Milnes- Gaskell, who received a similar ovation to that which greeted the Countess, said:- I hardly know how to thank you for the kind way in which you have received all the members of the family to which I belong, and especially for the warm, the enthusiastic and, I may say, the delightful reception you have given to my brother and to my mother. (Great cheering.) My husband is a Liberal – (hear, hear) and I am sure it would have given him great pleasure to be here this evening on the scene of the splendid victory that the Liberal cause has gained. (Great applause) He is working hard for that cause in the Ridings of Yorkshire, and all I hope is that wherever he stands, whether it is in a borough or whether it is for a county, he will meet with the same kindness, the same warmth, the same loyalty which have distinguished the reception of my brother at Barnstaple. (Great cheering)
Mr Cave, whose rising occasioned enthusiastic applause, said:- I am in a terrible puzzle for once. (Laughter) Where everybody has done so well, who can be thanked? (A voice: Everybody.”) You are right. From the highest to the most humble man amongst us, unless every man had done his duty we should not now be in the triumphant position in which we are tonight. (Applause) There is one thing I am very thankful for besides this victory. I never voted for Female Suffrage, and I'm blessed if I ever do. (Laughter) Why, if Lady Portsmouth and her daughter Lady Gaskell, were to oppose Lord Lymington and myself, we should be nowhere. (Laughter) But there are some of our friends whom we must thank very specially. There are the men of Bideford, of Southmolton, of Bristol, of Ilfracombe, of Torrington, and of other places, who have come to help us. The Freemasons of those and many other places – Freemasons of Liberalism, I mean – have come together as one, and said, “If our warm hearts, our good wishes, our hearty help, can assist you, you shall place your candidate at the top of the poll.” (Applause.) Ladies and gentlemen, that is the secret of our success. Some men have at their backs old opinions, others aristocratic feelings, others have big balances at their bankers; and yet others have Hume and Robertson and other old historians; but we to-day have had at our back the men and women of England. (Applause)
When I was in the midst of the fight to-day one whom I won't call a friend but a very candid fellow, said to me, “Don't you see that the Cardenites and Lymingtonites are going to unseat the old member for Barnstaple and that you will never be wanted any more?” (Loud cries of “No.”) I said, “Old gentleman, do you see anything very green there?” pointing to my eyes. (Loud laughter.) “Why, if they care for the old member they will care for the new, and if they care for the new member they will care for the old.” (Loud applause.) We represent the same principles, and whether or not you return me again, I shall rejoice with you so long as you are true to the cause, and shall be proud to work for the cause anywhere. It is quite impossible for the members of Barnstaple to tell you the feelings that arise in their minds when they recognise the fact that whereas there was one, now again there are two. (Applause)
Tomorrow afternoon, when the clock strikes four, think of me, and elderly gentleman of M – (laughter) – walking up the floor of the House arm in arm with a noble young fellow just beginning his prime. On the right hand side of him shall be one of two members, and you shall decide which it shall be – whether it shall be our glorious leader, Mr Gladstone, or our dear old friend Waddy. (Loud and general cries of “Waddy.”) Waddy has it. I am so glad. (Applause.) I like you to love a man who has served you faithfully and well, and who is loyal to us when he is with us and when he is from us. (Applause.) He cares for his country, and he will never forget you, and I know you will never forget him. At four o'clock, then, one of us on the right and the other on the left, we will take my noble friend to the table of the House of Commons, an unbiased and unpledged member. Neither the Government on one side nor the Front Bench on the other, shall put their hand on him and say that he owes them anything. He will go into the House of Commons to serve his country, and nothing in the world will deter him from the conscientious discharge of his duties.
Ladies and gentlemen, all England is rejoicing with us now. I am not at all sure that the Tories of Barnstaple are not rejoicing too, (Laughter) I beg you to mark this – that we have not one word in the world to say against our opponents. They have fought a gallant fight, and have only done their duty in straining every word to carry their man. They have fought with all their energy and powers, and I for one don't think the worse of them for it. (A voice: “How about Harrington?” Groans.) Oh never mind Harrington. (“Laughter”) We'll pitch half a dozen Harringtons out of the way. If they get in it. What I care for is this – that to-day this borough had made a deliberate expression of its honest opinion. This constituency is not so large as some, but it is one of the oldest in the country. It has from time immemorial sent representatives to assist the Sovereign in the Government of the country. Remember, there is a high dignity in what we have done. Of course we have been excited but the one feeling that has been in the bottom of our hearts is this – that we want to make our country great and good. (Loud applause.)
Lord Lymington: Excuse the interruption, and permit me to say, in the words of a Tory, that “they can't tich Tom Cave.” (Laughter and loud applause.)
Mr Cave : And they can't “tich” Lord Lymington (Renewed applause.)
Viscount Ebrington briefly addressed the meeting, congratulating the electors as one who felt a great interest in the borough – as his family had for generations done – on the choice they had made, and opining that even the Tories would not regret it, or Lord Lyminton was sure to both himself and his constituents credit. (Applause.)
After a few stirring remarks from Mr. Green and Mr. Lacy, Mr Willshire, who produced a storm of applause, said; - The limits of physical endurance prevent my doing more than saying one word of gratitude to you for the kind support you have rendered me throughout this trying and very arduous contest. On Monday a week last, in this hall, I said that we were certain of carrying Lord Lymington, if only we held together and worked hard. I then pledged my political reputation in opposition to that of Mr. Harrington and Mr. Young, and you see that I am as good a prophet as either of them. (Laughter and applause.) Men of all classes and ranks have nobly worked with me in this great cause. To me it has been a labour of love during the last 10 weeks, and I may say that while every man has the proudest day in his life, to-day is the proudest in my life. To-morrow I mean to finish the good work we have begun; it is my intention to go to London and see Lord Lymington take his seat. (Great applause.) As one of the “has-beens” - no, no – I beg to thank you for the kind and warm hearted reception you have given me tonight. (Loud applause.)
With a note of thanks to the Chairman, enthusiastically passed, on the motion of Lord Lymington, seconded by Mr Cave, and promiscuous cheering, the proceedings ended.
His Lordship, with Mr Cave, left by the 8.55 on Friday morning for London, in order to take his seat in the House in the afternoon. He was accompanied to the station by a number of friends, who cheered lustily as the train started. Sir Robert Carden left the borough later in the forenoon by the South Western train.
The foregoing was published as a supplement on Friday morning. We learn from “The Western Times,” whose reporter was a passenger by it, that as the evening train on Thursday returned from Barnstaple to Exeter it landed at various stations ardent Liberals, who had during the day visited the capital of North Devon to be present at the election. Loud cheers were raised every time the train stopped, and between Southmolton on Road and Eggesford, bonfires were burning on the hills. As the train ran into Eggesford, it was welcomed with volleys of cheers from those assembled on the platform; and on the Countess of Portsmouth, accompanied by Lady Catherine Gaskell and Lady Dora Wallop alighting on the platform, there was quite a demonstration by those in the train as well as by those who were awaiting their Ladyships' arrival. In the midst of the excitement the train moved off, and several enthusiastic Liberals who were bound for Exeter, but had landed on the platform, found themselves left behind.
At Eggesford, and also at Yeoford, there was a discharge of fog detonators. When the train ran into Exeter, the platform at Queen-street station was crowded by persons awaiting the return of the City Liberals, several of whom had been down to Barnstaple to assist the Liberal cause, and the scene was one of great excitement. Headed by a band, the party went in procession, burning coloured lights, to the Reform Club, where hearty congratulations were exchanged. Immediately the result being made known in the City by telegram, the following message was wired by the President of the Exeter Reform Association to Lord Lymington; -
“The Liberals of Exeter congratulate Lord Lymington, as a representative of the National Liberal Cause, on his glorious victory.”
An extra report