Blog 4: September journal entries

Potwallopers, Prisons and Peterloo

By September 1820, Henry Hunt had spent at least three months in Ilchester County Gaol. Although Hunts complaints about the corruption and unfair treatment he faced in prison dominate most of his September entries, I found the entry for September 3rd to be very interesting for a different reason. In that entry, Hunt laments the ‘rank and barefaced bribery’ committed during the 1820 parliamentary elections. Hunt mentions the fights between Lord Darlington’s voters who in the 1820 elections helped him secure Ilchester’s parliamentary seats for two other Whig politicians: Sir Isaac Coffin and Stephen Lushington. Lord Darlington was known to aid people in his party by buying votes for them and even for himself. Darlington was a well known political player, it was said of him that “he got his boroughs to make him a marquis and got rid of them to be made a Duke”.

The 1820 elections which took place in the February of that year, came after the death of George III and produced the first parliament of George IV. At that point in time, Ilchester was a notorious rotten borough, where members of parliament would buy the votes of those who lived there. Ilchester initially started out as a ‘potwalloper’ borough, this meant that any man who owned a property that contained a separate hearth large enough to hold a cauldron or ‘wallop a pot’ was given the right to vote in elections. As such, parliamentary seats were often bought by influential members and voters were given compensation after the elections had taken place, for generations this was largely how many families made money in Ilchester, relying on corrupt officials to buy their votes.

The process of buying and keeping boroughs was quite widespread in England at the time. Many MP’s saw them as useful property for political advancement, as in the case of Sir William Manners (later made Lord Huntingtower).  Manners was able to maintain his position in Ilchester during his tenure as MP (between 1803 and 1806) by demolishing the houses of his opponents and putting them in workhouses which meant they were not able to vote. When his son was not elected in 1818, he demolished the workhouse.

Ilchester, a town which only had a population of just over a thousand was able to elect two members to parliament during elections meanwhile Manchester which had a population of over ninety-five thousand in 1820 did not even have a single MP. Ilchester had been granted franchise by a royal charter in the 1180’s and was later granted more powers as the Ilchester Corporation was created in 1556, on the other hand, Manchester was first represented in parliament in 1654, being granted one seat in the First Protectorate Parliament. This was later repealed in 1660 when Charles II was restored to the throne. Manchester’s growth in population and as an industrial city meant that its lack of franchise was truly quite unusual. Demands for greater representation and political agency ultimately led to the Peterloo Massacre.

However, the inequalities of the political system were not to remain unchallenged for long, as the Great Reform Act of 1832 restructured the political constituencies of the time. Ilchester was abolished as a separate constituency, meanwhile Manchester was given franchise for the first time since 1654, being able to elect two MP’s to Parliament. Hunt however, believed that the 1832 Act did not go far enough, and urged the working classes to aim for full equal rights.

This journal has been kindly transcribed by  Tricia Neal for Archives+. To view the original journal and full transcription for this section please see below. 

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