Peter Barnsley recalls for us a dramatic local election at the close of the 19th century, in which passions ran high.
CRADLEY Parish Council was born on 4th December 1894; it was one of the many that emerged from the prolific womb of the local Government Act of the same year. The birth was almost painless. The first step towards the election of the council was the calling of a public meeting in the National (i.e. Church) Schools on the evening of Monday, 5th November (the date was presumably a convenient one, but the irony of its choice cannot have been lost on those who selected it, nor on those who attended the meeting)1. The meeting was called by the parish overseers, George Taylor and Henry Clift - and not, as rumour suggested, by either the Liberal or the Conservative Party (vexatious elements in the parish suggested that one party or the other was seeking to gain advantage by calling a meeting under its own auspices).
Avoidance of a Contest
The meeting was reported to have had a very good attendance, and its first act was to elect Samuel Hingley (a son of Noah Hingley, and a county councillor) to the chair. Mr. Hingley made it clear that the purpose of the meeting was to consider the best means of avoiding an electoral contest - thereby saving ratepayers' money. (Election could be by show of hands, but if a ballot was demanded, the ratepayers had to fund it).
The first speaker was a Mr. T. Homer (possibly the Cradley solicitor, Thomas Homer). He had his own ideas as to who was best qualified to serve on the parish council: ". . . whoever are chosen, they should be the most intellectual of the people, and the people who are taxed the most ... There are some large ratepayers, and if they would stand it would be most desirable ... the most intelligent men should be members of the council ... we should get the names of the large colliery owners
Mr. Homer's views did not endear him to the meeting; when later his own name was put forward as a candidate, there was such strong opposition to it that he withdrew.
Henry Clift immediately opposed Mr. Homer's opinions: "the (Local Government) Bill has not been brought in for gentlemen with money but for everybody (applause). It is not a question of who are the largest or smallest rate-payers. I hope we have sufficient intelligence among us, whether working men, large ratepayers or small ratepayers. I will be satisfied if the gentlemen we get are the best men." (applause).
Henry Clift received support from a Mr. J. Southall: "There are plenty of men who are great taxpayers who have no brains, and there are plenty of working men who can see things quite as clearly as those who pay a large amount of money in taxes."
Charles Clewes, who in his future career as both parish and rural district councillor, and as Chairman of Cradley School Board, was to be ever watchful of expenditure, returned to the main theme: "I am in sympathy with the purpose of the meeting," he said, "- to see if we can avoid a contest, and so save the ratepayers' money ... I should be very sorry to introduce politics into the question (Mr. Clewes was a Liberal) or religion, or even social questions. The sole question should be 'Who are the best men?' In this meeting of ratepayers, there should be sufficient intelligence to avoid a contest."
James Hingley, who was a Cradley representative on the Board of Guardians, suggested that a committee be formed to select representatives. "Whatever that committee decides, " he said, "let it be final." Not surprisingly, this was seen as an undemocratic method of selection, and Mr. Hingley was shouted down with cries of "No, No." "Never" and "You've gone off your head."
A Mr. Fendell objected strongly to James Hingley's suggestions. The Cradley Vicar, the Reverend Robert Edmondson, also objected, but not quite so vehemently: "I do not quite approve," he said, "but if a committee is appointed, the members should stand as candidate; otherwise the council will be deprived of the representative ratepayers who will be on the committee." (Hear, hear).' Mr. Edmondson also appealed for the avoidance of party feeling and suggested that the parish council "... should represent the different trades ... the large colliery owners, the tradesmen and workmen ..... We don't want all big ratepayers or all little ratepayers .... and we do not want a parish council all of working men. We want one that will represent the people of Cradley." (Applause).
The meeting proceeded to nominate 24 men (reduced to 23 by Mr. Homer's withdrawal) for the 15 places on the parish council. The 15 were to be chosen at a second meeting on Tuesday, 4th December; this meeting also was to be held in the National Schools.
According to the County Express, the National Schools were filled to their utmost capacity for the election. "Considerable excitement," added the County, "prevailed throughout the meeting." Samuel Hingley was again voted into the chair.
The number of nominations had grown to 31; the 15 were to be chosen - as the rules allowed - by show of hands. It seems that each elector had 15 votes. Who, if anyone, counted each person's votes, is not stated. The Chairman did say, in answer to a question by the vicar: "A man's vote is bad if he votes for more than 15 candidates." There can hardly have been much point in voting for more than 15 candidates when only 15 could be elected - unless you were trying to keep other candidates out. Of course, 15 votes was the maximum number; a voter was not required to use them all.
No-one wanted to question any of the candidates; none of the candidates withdrew; so the election proceeded.
The 15 elected candidates certainly reflected the wish expressed at the earlier meeting that the council should not represent one class or section of the population. Those elected were:
Alfred Bate (works manager: 201 votes)
Rev. Robert Edmondson (Clerk in Holy Orders: 169 votes)
Joseph Hingley (gentleman: 167)
Frederick Cutler (Licensed victualler: 164)
Hezekiah Walker (publican: 154)
R. Turnley (colliery manager: 147)
Charles Hodgetts (chainmaker: 142)
George Taylor (shopkeeper: 141)
Ben Hodgetts (chainmaker: 134)
George Davis (printer: 132)
William Chapman (colliery manager: 123)
Amos Pearson (draper: 121)
George Bissell (land agent: 119)
Henry Clift (anchorsmith: 111)
Charles Clewes (manufacturer: 103)
After the close of poll, ten minutes were allowed for a possible demand for a ballot. Preliminary plans had been made for a ballot, with three polling booths, on 17th December between noon and six o' clock in the evening. Thomas Plant, a Netherend publican, did in fact demand a ballot, but after some discussion, he changed his mind. The Chairman declared the 15 duly elected.
Mr. Edmondson was soon to become the first Chairman of Cradley Parish Council. So efficient and popular did he prove to be in that office, that when the next year he declined to stand for re-election to the Council, the councillors debated the possibility of inviting him to resume his office anyway. They finally decided against it, and George Davis succeeded him. Charles Clewes and Frederick Cutler were both later to be elected to Halesowen Rural District Council and Mr. Clewes, in 1900, became the first Chairman of Cradley School Board (of which Mr. Edmondson was also a member). George Bissell was also involved in the management of the British School (ancestor of the present Colley Lane Primary School). Press advertisements for teaching staff appeared over Mr. Bissell's signature but his position was not specified, except once, when he described himself as "Correspondent".
Joseph Hingley, who was seventy-three years old 'was another son of the late Noah Hingley. He was also Cradley's Highway Surveyor, and he too was shortly to be elected to Halesowen Rural District Council. He died in 1900. Hezekiah Walker was a friend of Cradley-born Steve Bloomer, the Derby County and England footballer [whose] memorial plaque was unveiled in Cradley on 14th September this year. On at least one of his visits to Cradley, in October 1899, the footballer (who was in the area to play for Derby County in a friendly match against Stourbridge) stayed with Mr. Walker at his licensed house
Ben Hodgetts was one of three generations - father, son and grandson - who all bore the same Christian name, and who were known succinctly as "owd Ben, young Ben and young Ben's son Ben."
At the meeting on 5th November, Mr. J Southall had said that the Local Government Act2 meant that ". . . every little parish would have its little parliament." A pleasant thought, but parliaments have power; parish councils had - and have - very little power. Cradley Parish Council was dependent on two superior authorities: Halesowen Rural District Council and Worcestershire County Council. Cradley Parish Council's powers were limited to such minor matters as the provision of allotments, putting down ash on muddy footpaths, and organising fetes and parades at times of national celebration or crisis.
Cradley Parish Council was in any case short-lived. In 1925, its powers were subsumed under the newly-formed Halesowen Urban District Council. (Halesowen had been granted the urban powers that Cradley itself had unsuccessfully applied for a quarter of a century earlier).
In its account of the last meeting of Cradley Parish Council, which took place on Monday, 30th March, 1925, the County Express tersely stated "The members separated and the Council ceased to exist." Cradley's "little parliament" had run its course.
Notes by Cradley Links
Peter is of course here referring to Guy Fawkes, and the plot to blow up the Houses of Parliament on November 5, 1605 [Mike Hamilton]
The Act (together with its forerunner, the Local Government Act, 1888, which established County Councils) established a hierarchy of local government councils that remains broadly the same today.
This essay is © Copyright Peter Barnsley,
who has generously granted permission to
Cradley Links to reproduce it on this web site.