A History of the County of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely: Volume 3, the City and University of Cambridge. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1959.
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After the social unrest that engendered Ket's Rebellion, and the violent swings of the religious pendulum under Edward VI and Mary, registered, for instance, in the parish books of Great St. Mary's, (fn. 1) Cambridge settled down to enjoy its prosperity and civic pomp, concerning itself little with national politics. When in 1564 Elizabeth I visited Cambridge, the church bells rang, and the Mayor and aldermen rode out to meet her between Newnham and Grantchester and presented her with a standing cup of silver gilt containing 40 angels. As soon, however, as the cortège reached King's College the civic representatives had to fall out, having 'no authority or jurisdiction in that place', (fn. 2) and the rest of the celebration was the University's affair. The burgesses could well afford the purchase of the charters of 1589, 1605, and 1632, no less than the frequent gifts to the noble patrons to whose support they looked in their unceasing disputes with the University. (fn. 3) The ill-feeling between town and gown was to take on a fresh colour in the 17th century and to be absorbed into the national conflict. With some important exceptions, the University was high church and royalist, the town puritan and parliamentary.
Though we may see a sign of the times in the ordinance of 1612 that provided that
the election of the town officials should be adjourned if 16 August fell on the Sabbath, (fn. 4)
it is probable that the first note of the battle was sounded from the pulpit. The will of
Alderman Faune in 1551, providing for an annual sermon to be preached before the
Mayor and aldermen, (fn. 5) had shown the changing direction of civic piety and political or
religious propaganda. A 'publique pracher' to the Borough was already an established
institution before 1610, when the minister, churchwardens, and parishioners of Trinity
parish invited Dr. Sibbes to accept their church for his exercises. (fn. 6) The royal prohibition
of 'new erected lectures that might draw scholars away from catechising' (fn. 7) ended Sibbes's
tenure in 1615, but after a short interval the town lectureship was revived. Financed by
the subscriptions of the townsmen, who filled the newly erected galleries at Holy
Trinity, (fn. 8) it was held by a succession of eminent puritan divines. (fn. 9) In 1624 Dr. Preston
refused the bishopric of Gloucester, offered him as an inducement to abandon the post
of town lecturer at Trinity. (fn. 10) Another attempt to suppress it in 1630 broke down when
it was represented to the Secretary of State that the University sermon at St. Mary's
would be impossibly overcrowded if the town sermon, customarily held at the same
time, were discontinued. (fn. 11) A diatribe on Cambridge Tradesmen of the year 1640 ends:
And if this vexe 'um not, I'll grieve the Towne With this curse: States, put Trinity Lecture downe! (fn. 12) In 1657 the town lecture was being given every Wednesday afternoon at Trinity Church, being followed by a dinner at the Mayor's house, charged to the expense of the town. (fn. 13) In 1660 the lecture was being given once more on Sundays, and the lecturer was appointed by the Mayor and paid by the town. (fn. 14) In 1662, however, when the Corporation was being purged, attendance at the preaching of Senior, the town lecturer, was the decisive argument for the removal of Alderman French from the bench. (fn. 15)
Politics were permeating other churches; even in the University church the preachers laid themselves open to censure for disloyal or insubordinate observations (fn. 16) and in 1636 a long list of disorders there and elsewhere in Cambridge was submitted to Laud. (fn. 17) On the other hand Dr. Beale, the Vice-Chancellor, was reported to the Short Parliament in 1640 for a sermon preached in 1635 'against freedom and liberty'—it was even asserted, 'against the power of parliaments'. (fn. 18)
It was in the same year that the town, which had paid its contributions to the ship money levies of 1635 and 1636 without protest, (fn. 19) gave evidence of nonconformity in politics as well as religion. In the election to the Long Parliament in October 1640 the burgesses not only preferred their newly admitted freeman, Oliver Cromwell of Huntingdon, their member in the Short Parliament, to the brother of their High Steward Lord Keeper Finch, but they also rejected his other nominee, Meautys, clerk of the Privy Council, (fn. 20) in favour of John Lowry, one of the Common Council, later a colonel in the parliamentary army, and nominated as a judge in the trial of the king. (fn. 21)
The election of a wealthy local squire in place of a government official registered the close connexion of Cambridge with a county which was petitioning against episcopacy. (fn. 22) Cromwell's support of the commoning rights of the St. Ives freeholders (fn. 23) broadened the basis of the new member's local popularity, and when the two Cambridge members sent down a declaration in favour of the true reformed Protestant religion, the privilege of Parliament and the liberties of the subject in May 1641, it was signed at the next Common Day by nine of the aldermen and most of the commonalty. (fn. 24) The minority in the Corporation was again routed when at the election of officers in August 1641 Lord Keeper Coventry's orders of 1629 were repealed so that the electors should be free to choose whom they would for Mayor. (fn. 25) From 1638 to 1650 the Mayors of Cambridge were good parliamentarians, most of them serving on one or more of the local committees under the Eastern Counties Association, but one of them, Robert Twells, served as Mayor three times in five years. (fn. 26) The vote of twenty nobles to the two Members of Parliament for their 'extraordinary pains' in January 1642 (fn. 27) stands in contrast to the grudging bell-ringing and bonfires which celebrated the king's return from Scotland in the previous November, 'we being commanded thereto by the justices'. (fn. 28)
By March 1642 the control of the militia had become not only the serious concern of the Cambridgeshire gentry but the burning issue between king and Parliament. It was at Newmarket in March 1642 that Charles gave his final refusal to the parliamentary commissioners, and he 'graciously turned in' at Cambridge to pick up his eldest son who had been greatly enjoying the hospitality of the University. (fn. 29) But the students' loud acclamations of 'Vivat Rex!' were offset by the women and others of the town who 'followed his coach humbly and earnestly entreating that he would return to his parliament or they would be undone', (fn. 30) as he drove from St. John's College along the Huntingdon Way to muster his forces at Nottingham.
Behind the king's back the cavaliers and Puritans were aligning themselves, and once again the strategic significance of a town which was both the centre of a strongly Puritan countryside and an important road junction became apparent. 'This place is what the enemy doth most aim at as a safe rendez-vous and an inlet into all other counties, and a means to stop the passage of provisions for London', wrote the committee of Cambridge to Speaker Lenthall in 1643. (fn. 31) The day after Charles's departure a large body of gentlemen and commoners of Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely came through the town on their way to London to pledge themselves, their lives, and fortunes in defence of the Lords and Commons. (fn. 32) Rival commands to the county militia came from king and Parliament: 'the war began on paper'. Whilst Cromwell was sending down arms to Cambridge, and moving the House that the townsmen of Cambridge should be allowed to raise two companies of volunteers and appoint captains over them, and securing a grant of £100 for the defence of the county, Charles was soliciting gifts from the University for the payment of his troops. Both sides seized arms destined for the other, bullets fired by unpractised soldiers began to make the streets of Cambridge dangerous, and in the first trial of strength between parliamentary and royalist forces Cromwell scored a bloodless, though qualified victory. The President of Clare, going by 'By-ways', succeeded in evading the 'disorderly Band of Peasants on Foot' who were guarding the Huntingdon Road at Lollworth Hedges, and carried part of the college plate to the king. But Captain Docwra who arrived in Cambridge on 10 August with a troop of horse to provide a military convoy, was disarmed and imprisoned, and thus the rest of the plate was saved from being melted down to supply Charles's needs. (fn. 33)
On 17 August the care of the town was entrusted by Parliament to Cromwell, together with the Mayor and three aldermen. (fn. 34) He had already seized the magazine at the castle on his own responsibility, (fn. 35) and he proceeded to organize the defence of Cambridge. By March 1643 the new works at the castle were well in hand and in July Parliament was informed 'our town and castle are now very strongly fortified, being encompassed by breastworks and bulwarks'. (fn. 36) All bridges over the Cam except the Great Bridge and the Small Bridges were destroyed; a gun was placed on the Great Bridge and a breastwork at Jesus Lane. Something like £2,000 was spent in bringing the fortification of the castle up to date. (fn. 37) The soldiers found it best to stay in barracks within the ramparts, as there was plague in the town, especially at Spital End, every year from 1643 to 1647. Ten 'brave pieces of ordnance' were mounted on the works. A garrison of 1,000 was originally intended but it does not seem in fact to have exceeded 300 at the most. (fn. 38) In fact the castle never stood a siege, though both in February and October 1643 and in March 1644 there were alarms. (fn. 39) It was actually soon after Naseby that the royalist forces came nearest to Cambridge when Charles, advancing south from Doncaster, drove a small body of parliamentary troops out of Huntingdon and occupied Godmanchester. On 27 August 1645 some of his horses were within two miles of Cambridge. The army there was 40 weeks' pay in arrears, and owing the town £3,000, but on 26 August a force of 1,800 foot with 8 troops of horse marched out towards Huntingdon. The king however refused battle and withdrew by way of St. Neot's and Woburn to Oxford; (fn. 40) and Cambridge, 'so faithfull and so reall' for the Parliament, (fn. 41) could breathe again.
A Cambridge freshman, Matthew Robinson of Hull, who had come up to Cambridge that summer to study philosophy, describes how 'the bells rang backward and the beacons were fired as if Hannibal had been at the gates'. All the students took to headlong flight, but were rounded up by the rustics of the country circumjacent, 'called in on pain of death to defend Cambridge', and brought back to the town. There Mat offered his services to the governor of the castle, 'a master of arts and a captain' (fn. 42) and was armed with sword, firelock, and bandolier, and did night duty until the king's forces were driven away and he could resume his studies. (fn. 43) In July 1646 Cambridge ceased to be a garrison town. It had, however, been more than a military strongpoint. It had been the headquarters of the Eastern Counties Association, formed with parliamentary approval on 20 December 1642 for the mutual aid and defence of Essex, Hertfordshire, Norfolk, Suffolk, and Cambridgeshire, joined in the following year by Huntingdonshire and Lincolnshire. (fn. 44) It was in theory a voluntary association, supported at first by the goodwill offerings of the countryside in money and arms, (fn. 45) and had no military commander until Manchester was appointed in July 1643, with Cromwell for his cavalry commander. It had no effective council of war until August 1643. (fn. 46) Yet it was to become in effect the military administrative authority of East Anglia and the reluctant parent, in January 1645, of the New Model Army. This Grand Committee and its different sub-committees sat in the Bear Inn; (fn. 47) their orders, now mostly lost, were printed in Cambridge; (fn. 48) the aldermen of Cambridge did yeoman service on it and on the sub-committee for the town and University of Cambridge. (fn. 49) The governor of the castle was subordinate to it. Perhaps at no other period in its history did Cambridge exercise a more decisive influence upon national events than during the years when the regionalized forces of the Parliament were being welded into one, and Cromwell's army was being born. In a contemporary phrase, Cambridge was 'a Bulwarke to the rest'. (fn. 50)
After 1646 political currents ran elsewhere. In 1647 the king, when the prisoner of the army, stayed at Hinchinbrooke and Childerley, but came no nearer to Cambridge than Trumpington, and the great army debates of that year were at Saffron Walden and Royston. There had been no violent demonstrations against the University on the part of the townsmen, though Parliament had imprisoned some royalist heads of houses, and the Earl of Manchester, by parliamentary authority, had ejected a number of 'ill affected' masters and fellows in 1644, and others were ejected in 1650 for refusing the Engagement. (fn. 51) Students had been able, if they wished, though the evidence on the subject is conflicting, to continue their studies in peace, (fn. 52) but some who were 'disaffected of parliaments proceedings' were sent away in March 1643. (fn. 53) The Commonwealth period passed uneventfully; the Corporation had the new responsibility of providing preaching ministers for the churches vacated by displaced Anglicans. They recommended that six of the churches, some of them in very poor repair, should be disused, and their parishes united with others. (fn. 54) Earlier enthusiasms were being replaced by Erastianism, and though George Fox was protected by Mayor Spalding when mobbed in the Cambridge streets in 1655, Mayor Pickering had ordered the flogging of two women Friends in Cambridge market-place in December 1653 and sent two men of the Society to prison in 1654. (fn. 55) As regards politics the Corporation played for safety. When their High Steward, Cromwell, died, no successor was elected, and though the town found seats in April 1660 for the two candidates whom the royalists of the county had rejected in the election to the Convention Parliament, (fn. 56) Charles II was duly proclaimed king on 11 May by Mayor Ewin, surrounded by the aldermen in scarlet, with 'acclamations of joy from all sorts', above all from the University, whose own celebrations lasted for three days. (fn. 57)
The turn of the royalists and Anglicans had come, and the Corporation had to pay the penalty for its Puritan politics. Those rights and privileges of the University which 'in the late years of distraction had been intrenched upon by the town' (fn. 58) were restored. In 1662 the commissioners appointed under the Corporation Act held their sessions at the 'Black Bear' and 'Red Lion' on various days from 18 July to 30 September, and displaced the Mayor, Thomas French, seven other aldermen, including two ex-Members of Parliament, Timbs and Lowry, and thirteen common council men, nominating others to fill their places. (fn. 59) Sir Thomas Sclater, whose moderating influences saved one Puritan ex-Mayor from being forbidden to practise in the town court, has left detailed notes of the proceedings. (fn. 60)
The years between the purging of the Corporation in 1662 and its second purging in 1687 were marked by the last and worst outbreak of plague in 1665–6, by the struggle of the humbler sects to maintain themselves in face of the alternating enforcement and suspension of the Conventicle Act, (fn. 61) and by the mounting concern in national politics evinced in the two elections of 1679, (fn. 62) the earliest in which the invasion of the Borough by county political interests became obvious. The story of Charles II's escape from the Rye House Plot through the Newmarket fire which almost produced an unexpected royal visit to Cambridge, (fn. 63) was greeted with a loyal address from the Corporation, (fn. 64) but its further repercussions were less welcome. When the king, having routed the Whigs, set to work to capture the corporations, Cambridge found it best to surrender its liberties on 11 November 1684. (fn. 65) The new charter, granted on 3 January 1685, defined the constitution more precisely, with the significant addition that the Crown could remove any official of the Corporation, including the common councillors, at will. (fn. 66) Only two aldermen and five common councillors, one being the coroner, were in fact displaced, (fn. 67) but it was under the charter of 1685 that James II in 1688 carried out a far more drastic purge. In September 1687 the aldermen had refused to unseat their newly elected Mayor in favour of James's nominee, Alderman Blackley; (fn. 68) on 8 April 1688 the king, by Order in Council, removed the Mayor, five aldermen, twelve common councillors, and the town clerk, and on 27 April six more aldermen and twelve more common councillors, filling their places with his own nominees. (fn. 69) The purge was completed by the substitution of Lord Dover as High Steward for Sir Thomas Chicheley. (fn. 70) Alderman Newton, on the bench since 1668, was one of the ejected, and his diary gives a picture of the evening consultations of the city fathers in the house of the Mayor, fetched out of the tavern to read the king's letter. (fn. 71) The new modelled Corporation on 8 May sealed a loyal address thanking the king for his Declaration of Indulgence and undertaking to elect such members to the next Parliament as would heartily concur with it. (fn. 72) They followed this up by the creation of 150 freemen, largely non-resident, whose votes could be counted on. (fn. 73) The dissenters, now free to build their meetinghouse on Hog Hill (St. Andrew's Hill), offered more spontaneous thanks for the Indulgence; (fn. 74) the University, fighting for the freedom to exclude Roman Catholics, was no longer loyal. (fn. 75) James's repentance and restoration of the lost liberties and ejected officials by the proclamation of 1688 were too late to save him. (fn. 76) As far as Cambridge was concerned the episode left an uncertainty as to the governing charter of the town not finally determined until 1789 by the judgement in Newling v. Francis. (fn. 77)
Once William III was on the throne, calm descended again upon the Corporation, who loyally welcomed the king on a flying visit from Newmarket in 1689, condoled with him on Mary's death in 1695, and assured him of their support against the Pretender in 1701. (fn. 78) Under Anne the temperature rose. The rivalry of Whigs and Tories produced two hotly contested elections in 1708 and 1715 and two parliamentary inquiries. The first of these elicited such evidence of bribery on both sides as to call for a new election. (fn. 79) The second showed the strength of party passion within the Corporation itself and the lengths to which both Mayor and aldermen were prepared to go in exploiting the institutions of their Borough; in the purchase of votes, in the invalidation of meetings by deliberate absenteeism the whole technique of 18th century corruption had arrived. (fn. 80)
There followed a period of apparent political torpor, signalized by uncontested elections to Parliament, but it would seem that the interest in politics survived. Cole speaks of 'the collars of Brawn and other good things that were packed up and directed to Berlin when the King of Prussia was in Fashion', and later 'when Wilkes and Liberty were the Ton and Vogue, hampers of wine and all the good things that the fens and county were famous for went from Cambridge to the Demagogue'. (fn. 81) Down to the middle of the century, as will be seen later, (fn. 82) the Borough had been content to be manipulated by a succession of county families, following the tradition which had only been interrupted between 1640 and 1660. But by the sixties there were signs of internal divisions of a more spontaneous character, and by the seventies reform was in the air. Two at least who supported 'the old interest' equated political reform with Protestant dissent. 'The Presbyterians are at the bottom of it', said Dr. Ewin, (fn. 83) and Cole attributed the 'Tide of Fanaticism and Rebellion' to a 'Rabble of Dissenters of various Hues and Colours'. 'Aeconomy, Alterations in the Method of Parliament and other wild and republican Schemes', he declared, 'were first engendered at Mr. Robinson's conventicle'; (fn. 84) the Stone Yard Baptist chapel, of which Robert Robinson was pastor from 1761 to 1790. (fn. 85) All the evidence goes to show that the Corporation of Cambridge had not been strict in enforcing religious tests. Between the year 1699, when five common council men had been ejected for not having taken the sacrament, (fn. 86) and 1787, when the same objection was brought against Patrick Beales, (fn. 87) the condition seems to have been ignored. Alderman Purchas who opened the famous meeting of 25 March 1780 'with all the Confidence of a true Fanatic' (fn. 88) came of a family 'professedly Presbyterian or Independent', (fn. 89) four generations of which filled the position of Mayor. The legacy of puritanism was not exhausted. Thus the first manifesto of the 'New Party', put as a test to the four candidates in the parliamentary election of 1774, upheld not only parliamentary reform and justice to the American colonists, but also 'An enlarged toleration to Protestant dissenters of every denomination'. (fn. 90)
In 1774, as the result of intricate manœuvring, (fn. 91) the Mayor, Alderman Newling, was an adherent of the Old Party, and this assured the return of the sitting members. Next year Tunwell was Mayor, and he did not scruple to call for the support of townsmen who were not freemen to sign the protestation against the American War that went up to London from Cambridge in November 1775, though ten of the twelve aldermen signed the loyal counter-address also presented to the king in that month. (fn. 92) Newling was again Mayor and returning officer in the by-election of 1776 when only 34 of the 135 freemen voting were for the New Party's candidate. (fn. 93) Both on the bench and on the floor the position of the Old Party seemed secure. But a new figure was coming on the scene. On 2 June 1778 John Mortlock, woollen draper, was admitted to the freedom for the sum of £40. (fn. 94) This young man of 23 had two years earlier married the wealthy daughter of Stephen Harrison, a dissenting grocer recently retired from business. (fn. 95) In 1777 he had inherited another fortune from his father. Though his wife's father was a freeman, he was the first Mortlock to become a member of the Corporation; it is possible that from the first he was aiming at political mastery. In April 1780 he was elected to the common council and in 1782 to the bench. (fn. 96)
John Mortlock had influential connexions. One of his aunts had married Peter Goddard, later Master of Clare, a declared enemy of the Duke of Newcastle, who for him represented the old interest. (fn. 97) His mother's brother was a fellow of Caius, and, according to Ewin, he had also a friend in Trinity. (fn. 98) As a landholder in the county he, like the 'anabaptist' Purchas, had a vote in the county elections, and took part in the meeting held outside the Senate House on 25 March 1780 at which, to quote the Cambridge Chronicle, 'The voice of the people under the canopy of heaven called aloud for redress of grievances.' (fn. 99) More specifically the resolution that was finally carried declared: 'That your petitioners consider every system of public administration carried on by means of parliamentary corruption . . . to be as dishonourable to the upright intentions of the Crown as it is burthensome to the property and dangerous to the liberties of the people' and prayed the House of Commons 'that effectual measures may be taken to . . . abolish all sinecure places and unmerited pensions'. (fn. 100)
A following-up committee was appointed of which, besides the Duke of Rutland and a number of county gentlemen, three Cambridge aldermen were members; Purchas, Finch (another dissenter), and Forlow, who had recently 'come in on the Liberty side'; (fn. 101) and three burgesses, Anderson, Foster (a Baptist), and Mortlock. Cole mentions that Alderman Burleigh also recommended it to the notice of the Corporation. (fn. 102) It was the year of county petitioning, and the resolution is easily recognized as advocating 'economical' rather than 'parliamentary' reform. Of its supporters on the Corporation only Forlow was to remain permanently attached to the New Party. But apart from the dramatic sounding of the popular war cry, the meeting was significant as being the means by which Mortlock was brought into contact with Rutland, the challenger of the 'old interest' in county and borough, and through Rutland with his college friend, Pitt. Rutland was glad to avail himself of Mortlock's personal and financial interest on behalf of his brother, a candidate in the coming county election, (fn. 103) and in due course, as we shall see, (fn. 104) Mortlock was to add the town of Cambridge to the list of Rutland pocket boroughs.
In 1780, however, Mortlock had yet to make himself master of the Borough. In April 1782 he was elected alderman, and Purchas and he founded a new club at which plans were presumably hatched for ousting the Old Party. The very general terms of the charter of 1632, coupled with the unwillingness of the courts to restrict the powers of corporations, made it possible for a skilful and audacious man of property to undermine the power of the aldermanic aristocracy and base his power on the direct support of a handpicked body of freemen. (fn. 105) The by-law that prescribed a six-year interval before a man could be re-elected Mayor was successfully defied when the courts in 1783 upheld the election of Tunwell, (fn. 106) and its repeal made possible the monopoly of the office by Mortlock, his dependants and his sons from 1784 to 1820.
In 1784 Mortlock was elected, without a contest, to represent Cambridge in Parliament—the first native since Lowry to do so. For this he had to resign the profitable office of receiver-general of the land tax for the county, and when he secured the reversion of the post for his banking partner, Francis, the alliance between himself and Purchas, who had counted on it, was at an end. (fn. 107) Mortlock could stand alone now; in 1785 he secured the repeal of the by-law which made a quorum of six aldermen necessary for the transaction of corporation business, thus setting aside 'the old and established custom of 200 years'. (fn. 108) In the following year, like Lowry again, he doubled the parts of Mayor and member, and carried through the by-law which, by abolishing the initial ballot, put the election of the Mayor completely under his control. (fn. 109) The legality of these steps had been contested by the Old Party in a series of lawsuits, but successive judgements established the right of the Corporation to remodel the constitution of the Borough at will, provided the charter was not infringed. Finally in 1788, Newling of the Old Party was elected Mayor by the old procedure, and Francis, Mortlock's nominee, by the New. Newling appealed to the Courts, and judgement was given for Francis on the grounds that the charter of Charles I had left the method of election open, and that James II's proclamation of 1688 had revoked the charter of Charles II, which had prescribed existing custom. (fn. 110) As a last hope, the Old Party appealed to Chancery, but the application was withdrawn in December 1789. (fn. 111) They admitted defeat, and, with some honourable exceptions, prepared to share the spoils, though not the exercise, of power. (fn. 112)
Meanwhile in the field of national politics the 'master of the town of Cambridge' had finally, after prolonged hesitation, taken his stand with Pitt and against Fox and Sheridan. (fn. 113) By September 1787 the deal with the Rutland interest had been effected, (fn. 114) and Cambridge, once open to the highest bidder, had become a safe Tory seat. In the county the Yorkes and the Mannerses had reached a working compromise, but in the Borough Lord Hardwicke had been ousted. This was patent in January 1788 when, in the contest for the recordership, an event without precedent, the Yorke candidate was defeated and Mortlock himself elected. (fn. 115) He was merely keeping the place warm for the Duchess of Rutland's brother who succeeded him in the following April, (fn. 116) the duke himself having died in October 1787. The duchess was fully capable of watching over her son's interests, and when Mortlock applied for the Chiltern Hundreds in May 1788, a Manners connexion was elected to Parliament in his place, his opponent only securing seven votes. (fn. 117)
From 1788 to 1835 Cambridge was under one-party administration. Mortlock was Mayor or deputy-Mayor every year until 1810; from then until his death in 1816 his two sons held office in turn. For sixteen years 'the town of Cambridge was exempt from the mortification of having its chief magistrate bear any other name than that of Mortlock'. (fn. 118) The younger Mortlocks, however, lacked their father's ability and energy. In 1817 the management of the Borough, according to Cooper, (fn. 119) passed to John Purchas, the son of John Mortlock's one-time ally. He was Mayor five times between 1817 and 1831. But the system, as surveyed in retrospect by the commissioners of 1833, was what Mortlock had made it. Its worst features were manifest even before 1788, and after Mortlock's death corruption was unredeemed by efficiency.
Mortlock inherited Rutland's friendship with Pitt whom, according to family tradition, he entertained festively at the bank house when the University burgess visited Cambridge. Like Pitt, he found himself compelled to sacrifice his earlier liberal ideals to the necessities of war-time administration, though, again like Pitt, he was still supporting the abolition of the slave trade in 1792. (fn. 120) But he loved power for its own sake. He could argue with his young friend, Gunning, that 'without influence, which you call corruption, men will not be induced to support government, though they generally approve of its measures', (fn. 121) but a less friendly critic describes him as saying to a chessplayer, 'You, sir, play with wooden men, I play with real men. I can advance my men forwards or move them backwards as absolutely as you can yours.' (fn. 122) Even the sober and judicious Cooper declared in 1853: 'I believe that Mr. Mortlock could have made his own footman member for the town.' (fn. 123)
Yet it may be argued that Mortlock was a good ruler for Cambridge in the hardships and hazards of the French wars. Even in peacetime he was trying to keep down the price of food by enforcing the old market regulations against forestalling, (fn. 124) and when in July 1795 the food riots threatened to get out of hand he took steps, in co-operation with the Vice-Chancellor, to secure the sale of food and meat at a reasonable price, patrolling the streets himself. 'Mr. Mortlock continued on horseback with the mob the greater part of the day; and under the idea that they would not be guilty of any very violent excesses, if not provoked, he determined to risk the appeasing them himself, without calling in the constables, or swearing in supernumerary ones.' (fn. 125) We do not, however, hear of Mortlock's taking any action to restrain the violence of those riotous assemblages who, from 1792 on, attacked the meeting-houses and broke the windows of his former allies, the dissenters, who were coming to be labelled republicans, levellers, and enemies to the constitution. The proceedings of the mob even drove some Cambridge dissenters to emigrate to America. (fn. 126) In 1798 Mortlock chaired a meeting in the Town Hall at which a voluntary military association, to be called the Cambridge Loyal Association, was formed, 'to serve without expence to government'. A rival 'Patriotic Association' had been organized the night before at a meeting sponsored by the professor of anatomy and the son of one of Mortlock's opponents of the Old Party. (fn. 127) In the corn riots of 1800, Mortlock did not scruple to swear in the whole of the Loyal Association as assistant constables, whilst at the same time attempting once more to deal with forestallers and regrators by law. (fn. 128) When invasion threatened in 1803 it was his eldest son who, as Mayor, presided at the meeting in the Town Hall which resolved to form volunteer corps of cavalry and infantry. An infantry corps of 450 men was formed, and recognized by the Government, and the younger Mortlock became its commandant, with the rank of lieutenant-colonel. (fn. 129)
During the periods of greatest distress, when subscription funds for the relief of the poor were organized, no official action was taken by the Borough. (fn. 130) The Vice-Chancellor might take the lead; the Mayor was passive. And the gargantuan feast on Parker's Piece to celebrate the return of peace in 1814, at which 5,338 pounds of beef and 700 plum puddings of 6 pounds each were consumed, was organized independently of him. (fn. 131)
Mortlock's death in May 1816 opened the second chapter in the history of the Rutland ascendancy in Cambridge. Under less efficient domination and against a national background of political protest, the townsmen, excluded from power but not from rate- paying, grew restive and vocal. Whittred's Letter to the Freemen of Cambridge prepared the way in 1818 for the first contested election since 1780. (fn. 132) A new local newspaper of liberal views appeared—The Independent Press. (fn. 133) The by-election of 1819, in which only two freemen had the courage to vote against the Rutland candidate, evoked a popular demonstration and a trial for riot, (fn. 134) and in the election of 1820 the votes were only 2 to 1 against the independent candidates. The election was followed by a town meeting, held in spite of the Mayor's refusal to convene it, which appointed a committee to take steps for the recovery of the ancient rights and privileges of the unenfranchised inhabitants. (fn. 135) This was the first of a series of meetings in which town opinion, generally hostile to the views of the Corporation, found open expression. Resolutions were carried and petitions drafted in support of Queen Caroline, for the abolition of slavery, in sympathy with the insurgent people of Spain, in favour of parliamentary reform and of the Reform Bill. (fn. 136) The Corporation for its part was varying its loyal addresses on royal deaths and accessions with deprecations of the factious spirit of anarchy and infidel philosophy and protests against Roman Catholic relief. (fn. 137) Its last gesture in 1834 was to resolve to unite with Norwich and other corporations to resist by all lawful means any design to wrest from such corporations their ancient liberties. (fn. 138)
In 1789 a Cambridge pamphleteer had asserted, 'Corporations are certainly now become obsolete—however serviceable they may have been in the infancy of our constitution . . . they are now lumber that ought to be cleared away'. (fn. 139) In 1833 The Times, in a leading article devoted to Cambridge, said: 'Probably no judicial investigation into a public trust ever brought to light more shameless profligacy or more inveterate dishonesty . . . a more heartless disregard of the claims of the poor, in the perversion of the funds left for their benefit . . . a more insatiable cupidity in the corporate officers to enrich themselves with the corporate property or a more entire neglect of their duties and functions as magistrates than are presented by the evidence now before us.' (fn. 140) That the Corporation, as Mr. Starmer told George Long and John Buckle, had a right to expend the town's income on themselves without being bound to apply any part of it to the good of the town was undoubtedly the general opinion in many boroughs besides Cambridge, but few boroughs had handled their charitable trust funds so cavalierly. (fn. 141) As to the other assets at their disposal, the Corporation had indeed regarded the soil of the town of Cambridge as their private property. Well before the days of Mortlock it seems probable that the chance of getting a lease of town land at easy rates was one of the chief advantages of being a freeman. But the terms of the leases granted from 1791 on were the more scandalous as the demand for building land was so rapidly rising. (fn. 142) Both the New and the Old Parties had profited at the expense of the community. As Whittred observed in 1818, the income of the Corporation ought to have doubled from the increased value of property in the last 30 years. In fact there was an actual deficit, for the Corporation was in debt to Mortlock's Bank to the amount of £1,300. (fn. 143) By 1833 this debt had been reduced to £150, but the financial situation was even worse. In the last fourteen years, £7,500 had been spent on legal charges, not to mention £1,300 on dinners, as against some £450 spent for the good of the town. And the unenfranchized ratepayers had to pay some, at least, of the funds for dinners and lawsuits. (fn. 144)
The health and welfare of the inhabitants of a borough were nowhere in England considered the affair of its Corporation. Mortlock might well claim that he, following in the footsteps of his ally Tunwell, had discharged all obligations in obtaining the private Act which established the Improvement Commissions in 1788. (fn. 145) As to legal obligations, the Corporation had been indicted for not repairing Garret Hostel Bridge and the Small Bridge in 1813. (fn. 146) When the Great Bridge, for which they were not responsible at law, was rebuilt in 1823 they had subscribed £150 (fn. 147) to the University's £600. (fn. 148) To the recent drainage scheme the University had contributed £2,000 and the town nothing. As to the maintenance of law and order, the magistrates were slack, neither they nor the town court commanded respect, and the police were so inefficient that the inhabitants looked to the University rather than to the Borough for protection. (fn. 149) In this sphere it would seem that the situation had deteriorated since John Mortlock's days. (fn. 150)
To the ardent young Whigs who held the investigation of 1833 the worst feature of the town government, and one that explained all its vices, was its political exclusiveness. Only supporters of the Manners interest were admitted to the Corporation. Persons claiming the freedom by birth found insuperable obstacles placed in their way unless they had the right friends. In a town of over 20,000 inhabitants, only 118 were freemen; office was the monopoly of a small inner ring, and so informal and domestic were the proceedings that they became irregular. It was not uncommon for the Grand Common Day for the election of town officers to be short of the required number to hold the election (the procedure called for eighteen electors); it appeared on investigation that Mortlock's younger son, Frederick, who had been Mayor four times, had never been sworn in as a freeman. (fn. 151) It is ironical that the career of the man mainly responsible for this state of things had opened with the support of a resolution asserting that public administration carried on by means of corruption was unjustifiable, dishonourable, burdensome, and dangerous.
Pictorial expression to the judgement of the commissioners was given in the anonymous cartoon of a local artist (fn. 152) entitled 'The Unjust Stewards'. It represents a table surrounded by eight aldermen exhibiting every sign of dismay at the apparition of two shrouded skeletons, waving papers inscribed 'Crane's Charity' and 'Sir Thomas White's Charity', and uttering the words, 'Give an account of your stewardship or ye shall be no longer stewards.' On the wall behind hang pictures of a grossly fat 'corporator', a lean and haggard 'non-corporator', and the representation of a gallows, with the noose prepared for the criminal. The fate of the old régime was indeed sealed, but it passed 'not with a bang, but a whimper'.
The Municipal Corporations Act did not dissolve the old Corporation of Cambridge; as Maitland says, 'In 1835 it renewed its youth.' It recognized a three-century-old shift of power by changing the style from 'The Mayor, Bailiffs and Burgesses' to 'The Mayor, Aldermen and Burgesses of the Borough of Cambridge'. The number of the aldermen was reduced to ten, and that of the councillors increased to 30, elected by the ratepayers of the five newly constituted wards. (fn. 153) Tacitly, it would seem, the Common Day ceased to be a municipal function, only meeting for parliamentary elections, and then in a number of different polling stations.
As the Reform Bill of 1832 had destroyed the Rutland ownership of the Borough, so the first elections to the new Borough Council swept away the former corporators. The men who had taken the lead in town meetings and civic protests were elected, and any former alderman who stood was defeated. (fn. 154) The first act of the new council, after electing its Mayor, was to eject the Duke of Rutland from the High Stewardship, and then to appoint a new town clerk. (fn. 155) The Poor Law Commissioners meanwhile had constituted the fourteen parishes of Cambridge a poor law union, (fn. 156) whose guardians were, with the Improvement Commissioners, the chief administrative rivals of the Borough Council.
The main features of the history of the Borough since 1835 are the increase of its population from some 21,000 to some 90,000; the extension of its area from 3,233 to 10,061 acres, with the accompanying thinning out of the congested ancient heart of the town; the settlement of its century-old disputes as to jurisdiction and taxation with the University, the gradual concentration of administrative responsibilities for the various needs of one community in one authority, and the change of its style from Borough to City in 1951.
The settlement with the University in 1856 was reached after long negotiation. The tradition of joint responsibility was translated into a modern form when it was agreed that the Senate should elect 5 of its members to sit on the Watch Committee with 9 members of the Borough Council, the Mayor acting as chairman. The practice was carried a stage further in 1889. The University then agreed to elect 6 councillors and 2 aldermen to sit on the town council (fn. 157) and was thus in effect constituted two wards for local government purposes. Since that year a number of members of the University have served as Mayor.
The Act of 1835 had provided that the powers vested in the Improvement Commissioners could only be transferred to the Borough Council if the University consented. (fn. 158) As members of the University had been prominent in urging such a transfer, this proved no obstacle when in 1889 it was agreed to extinguish the Improvement Commissioners and pass their duties on to the Borough Council. As early as 1855 the Borough had availed itself of the powers given by the Public Libraries Act of 1853 to open a free public library in the temporarily vacated Friends' meeting-house in Jesus Lane. (fn. 159) The Education Act of 1902 imposed further responsibility. Meanwhile the extension of the town boundary was desirable. Though the open fields of the Domesday Borough were not yet entirely built over, to the east and south Cambridge was encroaching on the countryside. Under the Local Government Board Act (1911) the area of the Borough was in 1912 increased by 2,224 acres and its population by 15,785 persons. (fn. 160) Three new wards were added, bringing the number of the councillors up to 42 and the aldermen to 15. Twenty-four years later the boundaries were again extended, 4,603 more acres were added and 3,380 persons. (fn. 161) There are now 12 wards, (fn. 162) each represented by 3 councillors, besides the 6 University councillors, and 14 aldermen, 2 representing the University.
Successive Acts of Parliament have laid so many burdens on the shoulders of the council that in 1950 25 committees and 32 sub-committees were needed to discharge them. (fn. 163) Since 1907 the services of women have been available, and very widely used; Cambridge has had many women councillors and up to 1945 three women Mayors. (fn. 164) Under the Police Act (1946) Cambridge and Peterborough were the only non-county boroughs to retain their own forces. By the Civil Defence Regulations of 1949 there was imposed on the Borough, together with only four other large non-county boroughs, the duty of recruiting, training, and administering its own division of the Civil Defence Corps. It is also an 'Excepted District' under the Education Act (1944) with delegated powers from the county council as the local education authority; and the Borough was recommended for county borough status by the Local Government Boundary Commission. The headquarters of the county council and two rural district councils are located in the City.
In the Second World War (fn. 165) Cambridge became an important centre for the defence of the east coast, an R.A.F. training centre, and the headquarters of regional organization for the counties of Norfolk, Suffolk, Essex, Cambridgeshire, Huntingdonshire, Hertfordshire, and Bedfordshire. It also served as an evacuation centre. Over 7,000 were billeted by the education officer in September 1939; but a large number both of school children and of adults returned to London, so that only 1,300 remained a year later. (fn. 166) In February 1941 the figure rose again to 5,500, and a third movement was started by the enemy's guided missiles in September 1944. Five of the 'Schools' of the University of London were transferred to Cambridge during the war. From 1941 the armed forces of the U.S.A. were spending their leave in Cambridge, occupying various centres from the Bull Hotel to Burleigh House on the Newmarket Road; an AngloAmerican Hospitality Committee was organized by the Mayor, and the old house that had served as Foster's Bank in the 1860's became the home of the English Speaking Union.
Amongst the special measures which the arrival of immigrants necessitated was the establishment of four British restaurants. These were at the Pitt Club (Jesus Lane), St. John's and St. Andrew's halls and the Romsey Labour Club. In the years 1941–5 some million and a half meals were served. For the civil defence of the town some 100 full-time and 2,500 part-time workers were enrolled and were placed under the control of the Borough surveyor. Fire protection was organized by the deputy town clerk. Cambridge suffered only intermittently from air raids. Apparently railways were the main target, and no ancient buildings were destroyed, the town profiting by the determination in 1844–5 of the conservatives to keep the railway station well away from the centre. Bombs fell some 22 times, and 29 persons were killed. On 2 August 1945 the freedom of the Borough was conferred on the U.S. Army Air Force which, operating from bases round about Cambridge, had done so much to defeat German attacks.
Of all the meetings held in Cambridge during this war none was more notable than the conference of the three armed services held, most secretly, in Trinity College in April 1944. Then the 'Great Court positively blushed with generals' and plans were laid for the invasion of Europe. (fn. 167)
Apart from such vicissitudes the war left a permanent stamp on Cambridge. The decision that Cambridge should be the regional headquarters for the eastern counties in case of need was taken some years before the war, and the system came into effect in August 1939 when the regional commissioner began his work. Liaison officers appointed by the various ministries arrived with skeleton staffs in the following weeks, and the regional organization built up during the war years became permanent. In 1950 it consisted of some fifteen offices representing as many departments of the central government, located chiefly in Brooklands Avenue, 'covering acres of ground and employing thousands of people'. (fn. 168)
In March 1951, 750 years after the grant of John's first charter, the Borough Council resolved to petition the king to grant to the Borough of Cambridge the title of city. The petition was accompanied by a statement setting forth the antiquity of the town, of its civic offices and of its chartered privileges; its importance as an administrative centre for both county and region; its economic significance as a manufacturing and marketing centre; its educational and social welfare records; its cultural and material wealth; and its increase in population and area. The culminating plea was that Cambridge, alone of the six towns that were the seats of ancient universities, had no special status, in spite of the Borough's pride in its University and the cordial relations of town and gown. University aldermen and freemen of the Borough had shared equally in promoting the petition—a situation that would have been inconceivable to either party in 1617 when James I had rejected a similar request. George VI was graciously pleased to grant the petition and on 24 March 1951 Cambridge became a city, incorporated in the name of the Mayor, Aldermen, and Citizens of the City of Cambridge. (fn. 169)