Thursday, August 4, 2011

Polhill to the Polls! Election Excitement 1830 & 1832

In 1830, when it was declared that Lord John Russell would be a Bedford election candidate alongside William Henry Whitbread, the Conservatives decided to try to break the Russell domination by putting forward a new candidate, Captain Frederick Polhill. Polhill agreed to stand as an Independent candidate. The election opened on the 2nd August and lasted 13 days. The hustings were held on St. Peter’s Green, Bedford.

The Candidates: William Henry Whitbread
William was first elected in 1818 as MP for Bedford, as a Whig following in his father’s footsteps, a brewer and politician.  He also supported many of the causes his father had previously promoted, such as Catholic emancipation, the Reform Bill, the Poor Law and the Abolition of Slavery Bill.

Captain Polhill's Election Poster
Courtesy of Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service ref:BorBG10/1/33

Captain Frederick Polhill 1798-1848
Frederick, who had been born in London, moved to his inherited family home Howbury Hall, Renhold in October 1828. In 1830 he decided to run in his first election encouraged by a group of Conservatives led by John Pulley. Frederick addressed the electors at the end of the first day of opening in Bedford, you can see his election slogan above.

First Day Results:
Polhill 200; Whitbread 200; Russell 186.

'Polhill Forever' inscribed on this election bobbin, BEDFM 7554
Created as propaganda to show support for Polhill.

Lord John Russell 1792-1878
John was the third Son of the 6th Duke of Bedford and later became a great Whig reformer, introducing the 1832 Reform Act to Parliament. He had previously represented Tavistock, Huntingdonshire and Banson (Co. Cork). 

According to election propaganda an address was printed by 'A FREEMAN' suggesting that the friends of Mr Polhill were making attempts to “bribe and cajole and terrify those who have promised their votes to Mr. Whitbread and Lord John Russell.”

In view of the support of Russell’s father, the Duke of Bedford, his defeat in the Bedford election was unexpected and a great triumph for Captain Polhill. It was reported that due to the attitude of the Wesleyans, who were incensed by some unwelcome remarks by Russell about prayer, that this swayed the vote in Polhill’s favour. Polhill won against Russell by one vote.

The final count: Whitbread 515, Polhill 491, Lord John Russell 490 – a very closely run contest.

Lord Russell was not long out of Parliament, gaining a seat at Tavistock later in the summer. The Duke of Wellington and the Tory party resigned in November and the Whigs succeeded under Earl Grey who offered Russell a seat in the Cabinet. In December 1831 Russell introduced the Third Reform Bill to be passed by the Commons, but it was rejected by the Lords. Throughout 1831 Polhill as an Independent candidate supported the Reform Bill. The Duke of Wellington agreed to withdraw enough Tory peers so that the Bill might become law, which it did on 7th June 1832. By modern standards the proposals, which caused so much alarm in 1832, were moderate, resulting in enfranchising only one in six of the adult male population, but were indeed revolutionary for their time.  

Bedford Election of December1832.
 Whitbread, Polhill and Crowley outside the Swan Hotel and George Inn, Fp.114 

In the subsequent election of December 1832, Captain Polhill lost his seat at Bedford. A petition was raised alleging malpractices by William Henry Whitbread and Samuel Crowley, which was unsuccessful.  Polhill had at least won the earlier 1830 election against John Russell, a victory that ironically enabled him to participate in supporting the Reform Act of 1832 that Russell later introduced. Polhill had the last laugh though, successfully regaining his seat from Crowley in the 1835 election.

Lydia Saul, Keeper of Social History

Thanks to Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service for the Polhill Election Poster image.

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