< Back to Part 1.
On Friday, the learned Serjeant renewed his canvass, and we are extremely happy to learn that the success with which he met was very great. In the evening he addressed the electors in a very able speech, in the course of which he stated that the promises of support which he had received were such, as fully justified his determination to proceed to a poll. This announcement was received with tremendous cheers. Mr. Blanshard, (the chairman of Mr. Atcherley’s committee,) also addressed the electors, and entreated them not to forget their old and tried friend, Mr. Lowther, but to give their first vote for Lowther, and their second vote for Atcherley. Such was his intention and the intention of those who composed Mr. Atcherley’s committee. – Yorkshire Gazette, 22 July 1837.
As we have seen, the British parliamentary elections which took place in the later years of David Francis Atcherley’s life bore some similarities with those taking place in modern times: partisan press reporting and canvassing by candidates being part of the scene then and now. That said, canvassing practices have changed somewhat, with considerably less in the way of music, banners, and corruption! In many respects though, elections in the 1830s (and for quite some time afterwards) were very different to those of today. The electorate was very limited (and all male), ballots were not secret (leaving voters open to threats and bribery) – and in those constituencies which returned more than one MP to Parliament, each elector had two votes.
Historical researcher Gary W Cox, writing in 1984, noted that between 1832 and 1867 (the years in which the first and second Reform Acts were passed), 193 English constituencies – 76% of the total – were “double-member districts” with a further eight (3%) returning three or four MPs each. The majority of electors therefore had two votes to cast at parliamentary elections. They could use those votes in any way they wished (or in some cases, in any way they were told to by those with leverage over them), so long as they did not cast both for the same candidate.
Could the Tories of York (the city’s coat of arms is shown here) persuade enough of the city’s electorate to vote for both Lowther and Atcherley, instead of voting for Lowther alone, or for Dundas, the Whig, or for one of the Tory candidates and Dundas? Not without a fight by the opposition, and if the Yorkshire Gazette of the time is to be believed, the fight was a dirty one. To continue the report from the Gazette of 22 July 1837:
Faced with the possibility of their candidate losing out to two Tories, it appears that the Whigs were encouraging ‘plumper voters’. These were not, as the term might suggest, the more generously proportioned members of the electorate, but voters who cast only one of their two votes. Hence the alleged requests for “plumping Mr Lowther” or for “a plumper for Atcherley”. The Gazette went on:
For the purposes of balance, I will now return to the Leeds Mercury’s report of events. On the subject of canvassing, the Mercury maintained that “Mr. Dundas […] waited upon every elector, and obtained the assurance, so far as it can be obtained from the promises of York electors, of the most triumphant success. Mr. Lowther, apparently relying on his exertions of another kind made subsequent to the last election, was less anxious as to the result of the contest, and only issued one single bill in the course of the whole fortnight.”
After the canvassing of electors came the official nominations of the candidates, which took place on Monday 24 July at the hustings erected for the purpose on the north-west side of St Sampson’s Square in York (the location of which can be seen in the map below, at the top of Parliament Street). The day was, in the words of the Leeds Mercury, “remarkably fine,” and “there was a very large attendance, probably between three and four thousand” (the Yorkshire Gazette estimated at least 8,000). The Mercury went on to state that “Every window in the vicinity of the hustings was crowded with ladies, most of whom displayed Orange favours.”
Hustings have remained a feature of elections in Britain to the present day, giving members of the electorate then and now an opportunity to hear the views of the candidates seeking their votes. These days they are usually civil and polite affairs, taking place some time before election day and acting as a forum at which “election candidates or parties debate policies and answer questions from the audience.” Back in the day, things were rather different, and those differences started with the pre-hustings parades. Here’s the Leeds Mercury again:
The description of Sergeant Atcherley’s horse as a “square-built Rosinante”, incidentally, was an unflattering reference to the horse of Don Quixote, which like Quixote himself was “awkward, past his prime, and engaged in a task beyond his capacities”! Naturally, the Yorkshire Gazette painted a rather different picture of these events, providing details which both supplement and contradict the report emanating from Leeds:
It is tempting to think that the saying “Don’t believe everything you read in the papers” was coined in response to press coverage of politics. Certainly, you would hardly believe that the Leeds Mercury and the Yorkshire Gazette were reporting the same events. I find it unfortunate, to say the least, that the same can be said for many of today’s media accounts of events relating to politics.
If the York Gazette’s version of events is correct, there was some serious crowd trouble before the official business of the day was begun (although thankfully not the full-scale riot that reportedly took place at the Yorkshire West Riding hustings at Wakefield that July).
Prior to all of this, at 10 o’clock, Mr Sheriff Lockwood had already attended York’s Guildhall and opened the Electoral Court, before adjourning it to the hustings. With the proclamation against bribery and other preliminaries having been carried out, all the candidates present, and the crowd settled, it was time for the nominations to be made and for the prospective MPs to make their addresses to the assembled voters.
To be continued.
Picture credits. York city arms: Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons. Map showing location of St Sampson’s Square and the Guild Hall, York: Extract from Ordnance Survey six-inch map Yorkshire 174 published 1853 (surveyed 1846-1851), Crown Copyright expired; reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. Monk Bar, at Monkgate, York, early 1800s: Public domain image from York Museums Trust. Covent Garden with election hustings, circa 1790: Image from Getty Images / Hulton Archive, embedded with code provided for that purpose.
(See also references 15 and 16 from Part 1 of this story.)
 19th century elections. At: www.parliament.uk (accessed 26 Nov 2019).
 Gary W Cox (1984), The Development of Party Voting in England, 1832 – 1918. In: Historical Social Research / Historische Sozialforschung, No. 31, pages 5-6. Copy viewed at JSTOR (account – free – needed to view).
 Are you holding a hustings? At: The Electoral Commission website (accessed 28 Nov 2019).
 Rosinante. At A.Word.A.Day (website, accessed 28 Nov 2019).
 Rocinante. At: Wikipedia (website, accessed 28 Nov 2019).
 The Champion and Weekly Herald, 7 Aug 1837, columns 404-408. Great Riot at the Yorkshire (West Riding) Election. Copy viewed at Google Books.
 Leeds Times, 9 Jul 1837, page 3. “YORK CITY ELECTION.” Copy viewed at British Newspaper Archive.