A History of the County of York East Riding: Volume 6, the Borough and Liberties of Beverley. Originally published by Victoria County History, London, 1989.
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Political and Social History, 1835-1918
Slow economic growth provides the background to the 19th-century political history of Beverley: the reforming legislation which is so often expounded in relation to fast-growing industrial areas worked out very differently in such an environment. Unreformed Beverley had possessed an electorate which was extensive. The franchise for parliamentary elections consisted of the whole body of the freemen. (fn. 1) They comprised those who had been born within the borough of Beverley and were sons of freemen, those who had completed an apprenticeship within the town, and those who had bought the freedom; after 1832 any who lived more than 7 miles outside the town were excluded. The municipal franchise, to elect the 6 aldermen and 18 councillors who made up the reformed corporation, was narrower, being restricted to freemen assessed to the poor rate. In a town growing as slowly as Beverley the number of new parliamentary voters after 1832, comprising the £10 householders, was inconsiderable, and the freemen, many of whom were poor, or young men not yet established in life, continued to dominate the scene, in both local and national elections, until after the Second Reform Act of 1867. In the general election of 1865 as many as 792 freemen voted, compared with 316 £10 householders, and it is a striking fact that more votes were cast in the general election of 1830 than in any subsequent election until 1868. (fn. 2)
By far the most important enterprise with which the freemen were concerned was the management of the town's common pastures. One of the pastures, Westwood with Hurn, hemmed in the town on the west and, even without significant population growth, the way in which it was handled was crucial to the character of the town. Until 1835 the pastures had been under the control of the corporation, which appointed pasture masters. The Municipal Reform Act cast doubt upon the corporation's rights and a local Act was therefore obtained in 1836 which vested the management of the pastures in a body of 12 pasture masters to be elected annually by the freemen, while ownership of the pastures remained with the corporation. After disputes between corporation and pasture masters about the felling of trees an agreement was reached in 1839 by which the pasture masters were to enjoy all the assets of the pastures, not only the grazing but also the racecourse grandstand, trees, windmills, and chalk, provided that they consulted the corporation before trees were felled. (fn. 3) The pastures continued to be a source of contention. In the 1840s and 1850s the election of pasture masters caused no trouble, an assortment of Conservatives and Liberals being chosen. (fn. 4) Later, however, their election became a party matter. (fn. 5) In the long term, the pasture masters also became increasingly unrepresentative of the townspeople, as the number of residents in Beverley grew and the number of electing freemen steadily declined: by the 1890s there were only about 600 freemen. There were, moreover, endless disputes throughout the second half of the century about the details of management, which arose in turn from doubts about the corporation's overriding powers. It was even suggested in the 1890s that to attract visitors from Hull shelters and other amenities should be provided on Westwood. (fn. 6) The division of authority between pasture masters and corporation nevertheless kept change to a minimum: apart from trees planted along the roads in celebration of the Jubilee of 1897, Westwood remained much as it was in the early 19th century. (fn. 7)
The decisions of 1836 and 1839 on the management of the pastures left the corporation with few immediate duties; lighting, scavenging, and the supply of gas were the responsibility of the improvement commissioners created in 1808. (fn. 8) The Municipal Reform Act removed the patronage of the minster from the corporation, together with the administration of the minster's valuable Old Fund. (fn. 9) There remained the administration of the grammar school and the beck, and one new responsibility, the borough police. There was not much in that list to provoke political activity. In 1835 the new corporation found the borough in debt, and, like some other corporations, it sold off some of its insignia and plate. (fn. 10)
In 1848-9 the corporation's receipts amounted to £1,601 8s. 8½d., which included £206 11s. 9½d. as the product of a 3d. watch rate, £922 16s. 6d. from rents, £225 19s. 10d. from tolls of markets and fairs, and £201 3s. 6d. from investments. In addition, receipts from beck tolls amounted to £615 11s. 1d. and a pump rate produced £28 a year. There was no general borough rate, and the figures show that nine-tenths of those receipts were derived from corporation property of one kind or another. (fn. 11)
The public health agitation of 1847-8 began a slow process of change. In Beverley, as in many places, water supply and drainage posed problems. The town, lying near the spring line at the foot of the wolds, was traversed by several streams, which provided a natural drainage system all too easily. A supply of water was also readily obtained from householders' shallow wells. A further circumstance of general importance was that the cholera epidemic of 1848-9, which affected Hull so severely, had little effect in Beverley, where 10 inmates of the workhouse in Minster Moorgate died in August 1849. These considerations, in a small and poor community, were enough to ensure that progress was slow. A petition had, nevertheless, been sent to the General Board of Health in January 1849, six months before the peak of the cholera epidemic, asking that the Public Health Act of 1848 be applied. (fn. 12) The report of the board's inspector, George T. Clark, gives an illuminating account of the recent sanitary history of the town. He showed that the death-rate had been consistently high for some years, averaging 23.6 a thousand in 1841-4 and 30.5 a thousand in 1845-8. Deaths in 1848, many of them in a typhoid epidemic, had been 32 per cent higher than in 1847. The figures could be compared with death-rates of 20 or 21 a thousand in surrounding villages, and could be linked to a surface drainage system, emptying into the beck, which was wholly inadequate. (fn. 13) As the inspector said: 'Beverley is a remarkable instance of a place which has reached a very high rate of mortality, while a large portion of the inhabitants have believed it to be particularly healthy, and are consequently, at this time, by no means prepared to make the exertions and to incur the expenditure requisite to produce a better state of things'. (fn. 14)
The high death-rates brought Beverley well within the compulsory provisions of the 1848 Public Health Act, and in 1851 the town council constituted itself a local board of health, bringing the improvement commission to an end. In 1854 the board imposed a general district rate of 5d. in the pound, which it spent on highways and pumps, but the adoption of the Public Health Act was not followed by measures to improve either drainage or water supply for another 30 years. It was, moreover, not until 1872, when an outbreak of smallpox made it necessary to do so, that the board appointed a medical officer of health. (fn. 15)
The 1860s were a critical period in the history of the town, a period in which the traditional social and political arrangements were upset and the groundwork laid for some of the controversies of the future. The increasing momentum of party controversy shown in national politics could also be seen in Beverley. From 1861 there was a campaign for the enlargement of the franchise by the non-electors, who were mostly Liberal working men led by Edmund Crosskill. They had their headquarters at the Mechanics' Institute, where they held meetings and organized petitions. (fn. 16) On the Conservative side there is mention of a Working Men's Conservative Association, the membership of which consisted principally of freemen who were already electors. It had been instituted by E. A. Glover, M.P. for Beverley in 1852 and 1857, and was designed for the manipulation of the vote in favour of the Conservatives. (fn. 17) The most substantial expression of popular Conservatism was probably the revival of the Orange Society. (fn. 18) A further sign of political excitement was the appearance of two weekly newspapers, first the Beverley Recorder in July 1855, a Liberal paper run by John Ward, and then the Conservatives' reply, the Beverley Guardian, in January 1856, the proprietor of which was John Green. (fn. 19)
Those events were stages in a long-running scandal about electoral corruption which finally came to a head in the general election of November 1868. Beverley had survived the franchise reform of 1832, but with a massive enlargement of the constituency from 3¾ to over 15.sq. miles, taking in the whole of the liberties. (fn. 20) In other boroughs such a change was usually intended as a means of reducing electoral corruption. In Beverley after 1832 there was neither a dominant landed family nor a large-scale employer or group of employers exercising a controlling electoral influence. There was, however, a long-standing tradition among the electors that votes were a source of income. It was believed in 1868 that out of about 1,100 voters 800 consistently supported one or other party: the rest were described as 'rolling stock' who could be bought by either side. (fn. 21) In those circumstances Beverley had a fairly rapid turnover of M.P.s, but a general acceptance of the system.
In 1837 two Conservative members, J. W. Hogg and G. L. Fox, were elected and when the latter retired in 1840 he was replaced by his brother S. L. Fox. Hogg retained his seat in 1841 but Fox was beaten by a Liberal, John Towneley. In 1847 Towneley was returned with Fox. Two Liberals, F. C. Lawley and William Wells, were successful in 1852 and another Liberal, A. H. Gordon, won a byelection in 1854 after Lawley had resigned. The Liberals attributed their success in the 1840s and 1850s to the work of the Beverley and East Riding Reform Association, founded in 1837; the Conservatives in Beverley had a similar organization, founded by 1841. In 1857 the Liberal W. H. F. Denison was elected with E. A. Glover, a Conservative, but Glover was disqualified. A petition against Denison alleging corruption was abandoned, but it had broken an old agreement at Beverley to conceal malpractices and all the later elections were followed by petitions. In the byelection later the same year to replace Glover the successful candidate was MajHenry Edwards, later Sir Henry Edwards, Bt. He was a manufacturer from Halifax, which he represented from 1847 to 1852, but had been out of parliament since then. Edwards was re-elected in 1859 with Ralph Walters, a Liberal, but the latter was unseated for corruption and a second Conservative, J. R. Walker, won the byelection the next year. In 1865 Edwards held his seat with another Conservative, Christopher Sykes. (fn. 22)
In 1868, the first election after the Second Reform Act, it seems that the Liberals initiated a change. They brought forward two candidates, Marmaduke Maxwell, son of Lord Herries, a local landowner, and the novelist Anthony Trollope, who was descended from a family of Lincolnshire gentry but whose introduction to Beverley came from the Liberal party headquarters in London. He was a Liberal anxious for a seat, and had contributed to the central election fund. His autobiography makes it clear that he found electioneering in Beverley entirely uncongenial, while local Liberals complained that he was not active in canvassing and that he disappeared for a day's hunting from time to time. (fn. 23) At the polls Maxwell received 895 votes and Trollope 740, compared with Edwards's 1,132 and his running mate E. H. Kennard's 986. (fn. 24) Neither Maxwell nor Trollope, however, had offered bribes.
On that occasion, corruption being abundantly clear, a petition was presented by the town asking for a Royal Commission to investigate the extent of local corruption. Under the Election Petitions Act of 1868 disputed elections were no longer decided by select committees of the House of Commons but by commissioners: judges who went to the place in question and heard evidence. The Beverley election case was a national cause célèbre: The Times gave full reports of the hearings daily, and published no fewer than five leading articles on the subject. The commissioners' report included a schedule of over 600 people who had given or received bribes since 1857; it contained many well known names, among them Alfred Crosskill, Edwards himself, J. E. Elwell, Joseph Hind, Christopher Sykes, and Sir James Walker, Bt. (fn. 25)
Perhaps the most significant feature of the investigation was the detailed evidence it produced of the way in which the various electoral systems round which local government was organized had been penetrated and perverted in the interests of parliamentary elections. The pasture masters' elections, which had previously not been a party matter, had been the occasion of bribery in 1863 and had resulted in the election of 12 Conservatives. In the same way the municipal election of 1868 had been accompanied by general bribery. Money had even been paid at the election of the churchwardens at St. Mary's. The purpose of all the scheming was to secure Edwards's continued tenure of his parliamentary seat: the pasture masters, the town councillors, particularly since the demise of the improvement commissioners, and the churchwardens all commanded considerable patronage in the town and could put pressure on tradesmen who were above the class normally amenable to direct bribery. Another form of pressure was exerted by the pasture masters, who were politically biased in their administration of Walker's Pasture Freemen's Gift, which benefited deserving freemen: thus a Conservative freeman whose cow had died in the rinderpest epidemic was given money, while a Liberal was not. (fn. 26) It was shown that of the recipients of the charity 89 voted Conservative and only 34 Liberal in 1868. (fn. 27)
Another fact to emerge from the investigation was that the purchase of the Beverley Iron & Waggon Co. had been made for political reasons. It was shown that the manager, Richard Norfolk, had been introduced into the firm from outside Beverley and was employed in managing the local Conservative vote. So were three of his departmental foremen, and at the works three out of four of the employees had voted Conservative at the previous election. (fn. 28)
Election bribery was common in England in the mid 19th century; in Beverley it had been used by the Liberals as well, and was probably necessary if they were to have any chance of success at the polls. What was exceptional was the way in which every avenue of influence had been systematically exploited by a powerful combination, Edwards, with his apparently bottomless purse, and his man of business William Wreghitt, who also came from outside Beverley but had established himself as a draper in the town. Wreghitt had created an elaborate structure of control with a range of payments for votes: 2s. 6d. for a vote for the churchwardens and £1 or £2 for a parliamentary vote. (fn. 29)
Nationally the Beverley election case looked 'blacker and more repulsive now than it would have looked before the Reform Act of 1868'. (fn. 30) Locally reactions were slightly different. There was little interest in national politics, and it is noticeable that in the voluminous evidence expression of opinion on national questions is almost wholly absent. Local feelings were, however, embittered when scheming for a national election spilled over into municipal politics. Alfred Crosskill, as secretary of a party formed to protect the independence of local elections, was one of the prime movers in the demand for a Royal Commission. Before Edwards's arrival in 1857 local elections had been financed by local subscriptions; they were later subsidized by the parliamentary candidates. (fn. 31) The consequences of the election commission were seen in the next decade: the prolonged hearings in the sessions house, with accusations and counter-accusations made face to face and with the political organizers Joseph Hind for the Liberals and William Wreghitt sitting opposite each other and briefing counsel, created lasting bitterness in a small and close community. The immediate outcome of the inquiry was the disfranchisement of Beverley in 1870. (fn. 32)
In 1872 the corporation assumed the role of an urban sanitary authority and the local board of health was wound up; a medical officer of health, which the board had been so slow to provide, was promptly appointed the next year. (fn. 33) Almost at once the corporation was faced with a revival of the water question when in 1873 a private company put forward a scheme to sink a well at a site near the southern edge of Westwood, close to the newly opened East Riding lunatic asylum in Walkington. From that point water would be piped down to the town and supplied to subscribers. The scheme was greeted with an immediate outcry, its opponents claiming that it would interfere with existing wells and that the cost of a supply would restrict it to the rich. A further, unstated, reason was that a public water supply, and water closets, would force the corporation to provide an adequate sewerage system. The Bill was rejected by the House of Lords, but it was rejected on the understanding that the corporation would proceed with a scheme of its own. (fn. 34)
The water question was the main issue in local politics in the 1870s, and it must be seen in its general context. It was a time of poverty in the town: in March 1874 an inspector from the Poor Law Board visited Beverley to investigate the excessive amounts of outdoor relief being distributed, and was told it was in proportion to the number of paupers in the district. (fn. 35) There were genuine grounds for fearing the impact of public works on the rates. Underlying those doubts, however, was party hostility. Support for the water scheme came predominantly from the Conservatives, two of the leading proponents being J. R. Pease, of the Quaker banking family, and Joseph Beaumont, the borough surveyor and co-designer of the scheme. Another weighty supporter was a local chemist, Thomas Marshall. (fn. 36) The opposition came from the Liberals, and particularly from a body of ratepayers expressing a type of low-spend ing laissez-faire radicalism which was fast disappearing in other parts of the country. They were recruited from among the poorer householders and were led by Joseph Hind. Opposition to the waterworks proved a popular cause, and it is easy to see how the public's memory of Conservative manipulation of the council and the pasture masters would serve to generate suspicion of the new scheme which, in some indefinable way, might become the vehicle of political pressure or favouritism. In the municipal elections of November 1874 three Conservatives and three Liberals were elected, and in the following year five Liberals and one Conservative. Joseph Hind's election slogan was 'No waterworks, no half-crown rate!'. Alfred Crosskill, of the East Yorkshire Cart & Waggon Co., who had campaigned actively against the waterworks, became mayor in 1875, and a period of Liberal domination of the council began. (fn. 37)
In 1881 the same promoters again came forward and again were opposed by the council, by a vote of 15 to five. A poll of ratepayers showed that only 583 out of 2,197 were in favour of the scheme. (fn. 38) It was still being argued that there was nothing wrong with the existing supply, and that the town's death-rate, at 19 a thousand, was low. In reply T. J. Thompson, medical officer of health for the Beverley rural district, argued that pollution of the water was shown in the frequency of outbreaks of fever and diarrhoea, which could be demonstrated from the books of the dispensary. At this second attempt, however, the scheme went ahead in spite of local opposition; the Bill passed through parliament, though with some amendments which the council claimed as a minor victory. (fn. 39)
The construction of the waterworks began in October 1881 and the company began to supply water in 1883. (fn. 40) Controversy nevertheless continued. In 1884 several hundred households were attacked by enteric or typhoid fever, and more than 50 of the 185 houses which had been connected to the new supply were among them. Those who died included H. E. Silvester, a former mayor and a director of the water company. (fn. 41) The source of the typhoid outbreak was traced to the lunatic asylum, which stood on higher ground than the company's well enabling sewage to seep into the water supply. There were further outbreaks of typhoid in 1893-5 and 1904. During the last of them the inspector of nuisances made a careful investigation of most of the affected houses and found that in 60 per cent there appeared to be no fault in the drains, thus confirming suspicions of the water supply. (fn. 42) In 1905 the council therefore decided to purchase the water company for £20,850, and it eventually did so in 1907. (fn. 43)
The history of the water company well illustrates the politicizing of day-to-day life in the town. The company bought its stationery from Green's, the proprietors of the Conservative Beverley Guardian, and banked with the East Riding Bank, the proprietor of which was a leading figure in West Riding Conservatism. The chief shareholders were a varied collection: they included Pease, the archbishop of York, and Marshall the chemist, of whom the last named built up the largest shareholding. The concern was never profitable; the dividends, which rose from nothing in the first years to about 4s. 6d. after 1900, represented a meagre return on fully paid-up shares of £10. (fn. 44)
The epidemics of 1884 made it inevitable that Beverley corporation would be required by the Local Government Board to build a sewerage system. The proposal caused similar opposition to that engendered by the water schemes, and it was again led by Hind and Crosskill. In the municipal elections of November 1884, however, the beginnings of a shift in opinion appeared. Two prominent Liberals seceded from the others: J. E. Elwell, the woodcarver, contested Minster ward with the energetic support of Richard Hodgson, of the tannery, who had opposed the water company. Elwell was returned at the head of the poll. (fn. 45) In 1886 the corporation accepted a sewerage scheme prepared by B. S. Brundell, an engineer from Doncaster, who proposed a system of main drainage with outfall works on the south side of Beverley beck. Work on the scheme was begun in 1888. (fn. 46)
Beverley was therefore slow to adopt water and drainage measures which were normal elsewhere. This conservatism was shown by the townspeople as much as by the council: the mains water supply did not reach 50 per cent of the houses in Beverley until 1913. (fn. 47)
The water and sewerage questions must be considered in the light of the town's general finances. The figures for 1882-3 show that in most respects the finances had hardly changed over the previous 35 years. The borough's receipts, which totalled £3,746, included £1,166 from tolls and dues, £832 from rents, and £491 in a government grant towards the maintenance of the police force. Expenditure totalled £3,359, of which £888 went on the police, £492 on public works, £475 on salaries, and £644 towards the repayment of loans. It was still true that much of the borough's expenditure was financed by the beck dues and by rents in the town. The finances of the corporation as the urban sanitary authority were on a larger scale. Receipts in 1882-3 of £9,034 included £6,733 as the profits of the gasworks and £2,201 from a highway rate. The authority spent £9,641, including £6,932 on the gas supply, £1,108 on highway maintenance and scavenging, £231 on salaries, and £1,000 on the repayment of loans. (fn. 48)
The corporation's financial policy, therefore, was to keep both revenue and expenditure to a minimum. Compared with those figures, the £18,000 capital which was invested in the waterworks and the £12,349 which was estimated to be the cost of Brundell's scheme were enormous sums. (fn. 49) To buy out the water company, albeit at a small profit, when the concern was at last beginning to be profitable was good business.
At the end of the 19th century national concern about slum conditions was growing, and the state of overcrowding was investigated in the census of 1901. Beverley compared satisfactorily with other places: there were 3,046 inhabited houses and 3,095 households, with an average of 4.3 persons to a house. There were some examples of gross overcrowding, but not many: 191 houses had fewer than five rooms and more than five occupants. (fn. 50) In the years 1901-14 the medical officer of health condemned an average of eight houses annually, but there was no policy of replacement. (fn. 51) Pressure on housing was not seen as a major problem.