MP of the Month: Benjamin Rotch (1793-1854)

Today marks the anniversary of the death of Benjamin Rotch, Whig MP for Knaresborough from 1832 until 1835. This quirky character, described by one contemporary as a man who ‘would resort to any wily expedient to attain his own ends’, provides a good example of the varied backgrounds and experiences of the new intake of MPs elected in 1832. Untangling his eclectic career proved to be an extremely interesting piece of research, taking in the Nantucket whaling industry, the complexities of patent law, prison reform and a challenge to a duel.

'Dangers of the whale fishery' (1820), via NOAA Photo Library

‘Dangers of the whale fishery’ (1820), via NOAA Photo Library

The Rotch family had emigrated from England to Massachusetts, where they rose from humble beginnings to become the most influential figures in the colonial whaling industry by 1750. However, the American revolutionary war’s adverse effects and the imposition of a punitive British tariff on whale oil in 1783 led many whalers to relocate. Rotch’s grandfather William, ‘by far the richest man on Nantucket’, transferred his activities to Dunkirk in France, where Rotch was born in 1793. Following the outbreak of war between France and England, his father moved the family to London. Later reports that Rotch and his mother had escaped from France hidden in a butter firkin and a flour barrel were refuted by his brother.

Rather than entering the family business, Rotch trained as a barrister, qualifying in 1821. He also became involved in other ventures, taking out patents, including one for a rubber horseshoe, and designing the prize-winning ‘Arcograph’, which allowed arcs of large circles to be drawn and measured. In collaboration with a Mr. Bradshaw, Rotch ended the monopoly of hackney coaches in London by acquiring licences to operate the cheaper and faster cabriolets in 1823, only to sell his interest the following year. He achieved financial success with his ‘patent lever fid’, a device to assist with striking and raising the topmast of ships. As a barrister he specialised in cases on patent rights and was an expert witness to the 1829 select committee on the patent laws.

Benjamin Rotch, MP for Knaresborough, 1832-1835

Benjamin Rotch, MP for Knaresborough, 1832-1835

Rotch first considered entering Parliament in 1826, when, in contrast with his later views, he canvassed Sudbury as a ‘true blue’. However, he withdrew amidst allegations that another candidate had bought him off. In 1830 he assisted the campaigns of Tory candidates at Knaresborough and Evesham. However, at the 1831 election he supported the Whig Sir James Mackintosh at Knaresborough, making a speech which Mackintosh presciently described as being ‘chiefly calculated to obtain a seat in the reformed Parliament’.

In 1832 Rotch stood as a Whig at Knaresborough, where he fought an acrimonious battle for the second seat with another Whig, Henry Rich. When Rotch emerged victorious, Rich petitioned against him on the grounds that he was an alien, having been born in France of American parents, but had to withdraw the case after difficulties obtaining documents from France. Although Rotch had, like his family, been a Quaker, he was not practising by 1832; it was therefore Joseph Pease who took the honour of being the first Quaker MP.

An active MP, Rotch somehow managed to combine his parliamentary duties with the unpaid position of chairman of the Middlesex quarter sessions, sitting in court at Clerkenwell each day from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., before going to the Commons after dinner. In one year alone he claimed to have tried 1,570 cases, handled 100 appeals and sat for 125 days. This prompted him to speak self-interestedly in support of proposals for Middlesex to become the only county which paid its chairman, but these did not bear fruit.

His expertise led Rotch to serve on several select committees on legal matters, such as the laws of inheritance. He assisted with drafting a bill on patents, although the measure subsequently stalled. Reflecting his earlier interests as a cab proprietor, Rotch moved without success in July 1833 for an inquiry to consider regulating the conduct of drivers of cabriolets, hackney coaches, omnibuses and stage coaches. Drawing on his experience on the bench, he took a sustained interest in crime and punishment, being particularly concerned about the poor state of prisons such as Newgate. He unsuccessfully attempted to pass legislation to confiscate the property of convicted felons in order to compensate their victims and defray imprisonment costs. His desire to pass a bill to protect workers who did not wish to join trades unions cost him support in his constituency, and he stood down in 1835.

After leaving the Commons Rotch continued his legal practice and remained chairman of the Middlesex quarter sessions. In October 1835, however, he became embroiled in a dispute which culminated in his resignation from the post. In evidence to a Lords inquiry on prisons, Rotch had condemned Newgate as ‘one of the most ill-conducted gaols in the country’ and accused London’s lord mayor and aldermen of only accepting into the gaol ‘such county prisoners as are, by the fees paid on their trial and conviction, likely to enrich the City purse’. A war of words prompted Rotch to challenge the lord mayor, Alderman Winchester, to a duel. Winchester responded by filing charges against Rotch for trying to incite a breach of the peace. Admitting that no provocation could have justified his actions, Rotch resigned as chairman in December and the charges against him were dropped after he apologised.

Cold Bath Fields Prison (in 1864)

Cold Bath Fields Prison (in 1864)

Despite this incident, Rotch remained active as a magistrate and took a keen interest in prison reform. In 1849, at his own cost, he sent sheep into Cold Bath Fields prison, hoping to train prisoners for new careers as shearers in Australia. This, combined with his zeal for teetotalism, on which he lectured prisoners and prison staff, led to him being mocked as ‘Drinkwater Rotch, the Sheep-shearing Magistrate’. He continued to dabble in a variety of projects, such as drafting an insurance scheme for railway passengers and taking out a patent for the manufacture of artificial saltpetre, until his death on 31 October 1854.

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180th Anniversary of Town Council Elections

This month marks the anniversary of a completely new system of local elections being implemented throughout England and Wales. One hundred and eighty years ago, almost 180 boroughs in England and Wales began to publish the lists of all those eligible to vote in the new town council elections created by the 1835 Municipal Reform Act. Barely three weeks after the Act’s passage, specially appointed revising barristers started setting up registration courts to decide who would be able to vote in what initally looked like being a remarkably democratic franchise. Unlike the parliamentary household vote – only given to those occupying property worth at least £10 a year in rental value – the new municipal franchise had no minimum property requirement. In theory every male householder, no matter how humble his dwelling, would be able to take part.

Hand written council voting paper, 1835

Hand written council voting paper, 1835

As the revising barristers set about making their lists another group of lawyers were also busy. The Municipal Corporations Act completely eradicated all the old town corporations, many of which were self-electing and controlled by patrons, ending a system of local government that in some places had been around for over 500 years. All town halls and other corporate property had to be transferred to the new councils, but with exceptions or compensation for anything that belonged to private institutions or individuals, such as independent charities and freemen. The legal fallout from this, especially over inherited debts and liabilities, often rumbled on for years, leading to costly court cases and numerous appeals to parliament.

It was the impact on local politics and democratic accountability, however, that was most striking. For many local reformers the creation of elected town councils in 1835 amounted to a far more significant event than the 1832 Reform Act. Annual elections, in particular, made municipal reform a far more relevant and ‘popular’ measure than parliamentary reform. The political memorabilia that was produced to celebrate the 1832 Reform Act is fairly well known. What is often overlooked is the vast amount of very similar material made to celebrate the ‘crushing of the closed corporations’ in 1835, usually on a borough by borough basis.

Stockport Municipal Reform Jug

Stockport Municipal Reform Jug

A number of studies of electoral behaviour in this period have suggested how important municipal reform was in stimulating local party organisation. One factor behind this, which at first seems rather odd, is that the number of town council electors often turned out to be much smaller than had been expected – in some boroughs it was even less than the number who qualified for the parliamentary vote. The reason for this, which soon became apparent at the first October registration, was the registration requirement for municipal voters to have been resident for 3 years and to have paid all their local rates up to the last 6 months – in effect 2 ½ years of ratepaying. Parliamentary electors, by contrast, only had to have been resident for the last 6 months and to have paid a minimum of 2 ½ months’ rates.

This huge difference in rating and residency requirements meant that those who moved around a lot, missed the odd rate payment, or paid their rates to a landlord rather than directly, failed to qualify as council voters. As a result, the municipal and parliamentary franchises turned out to be remarkably similar in practice. Party activity in helping to enrol supporters for one set of elections therefore often had implications for the other electoral register, and it was not long before the local registration associations that had started to be formed to aid parliamentary campaigns also began to have a politicising effect on local municipal elections as well.

1835 Coventry Municipal Reform Medal

Coventry Municipal Reform Medal

One final lasting legacy of the town council system introduced in 1835 was its stimulus to local politicians and the creation of a new culture of civic service. Many long-serving councillors, mayors and aldermen went on to try their hand at parliamentary politics, both as organisers and candidates. An increasing number eventually found their way into the Victorian Commons, as the MP biographies being compiled for the 1832-68 project are beginning to make abundantly clear. For more information about how to access this material, via our 1832-68 preview site, please click here.

Further reading:

  • F. Moret, The End of the Urban Ancient Elite in England (2015)
  • J. Phillips, ‘England’s other ballot question: the unnoticed political revolution of 1835’, in C. Jones, P. Salmon & R. Davis (eds.), Partisan politics, principle and reform in parliament and the constituencies, 1689-1880 (2005)
  • P. Salmon, ‘Local politics and partisanship: the electoral impact of municipal reform, 1835’, Parliamentary History (2000), ix. 357-76
  • D. Fraser (ed.), Municipal reform and the industrial city (1982)
  • B. Keith-Lucas, The English local government franchise (1952)
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Scotland and the Conservative Party, 1832–1868

Gary Hutchison is a past winner of the History of Parliament’s undergraduate dissertation prize and is currently a PhD student and Wolfson Scholar at the University of Edinburgh. As he begins the second year of his doctoral research, he outlines his project on Scottish political history after 1832 in this guest blog.

The Conservative party has, to put it mildly, enjoyed mixed fortunes in Scotland.  At some points, it has constituted a serious political force, while at others has been relegated to a marginal position.  Whether strong or weak, however, the party (and conservatism more generally) has always exerted an influence on the general direction of Scottish political and social development.

While the evolution of the UK Conservative party after 1832 has been explored by many scholars, the course taken by the Scottish Conservative party remains almost entirely uncharted.  Indeed, it constitutes not so much a gap as a gaping hole in both Scottish and British political historiography.  Apart from some works on Scottish politics in general, and an official history, there are no specifically-focused works on Scots Tories between 1832 and 1868.  Much work has been done on the Scottish Liberal party, but this has tended to focus more on internal conflicts between Liberal factions, rather than their differences with their Tory opponents.

Charting the fortunes of the Scottish Conservatives is therefore well overdue. It allows for the exploration of a number of interconnected themes, including the extent of electoral deference in Scotland and how this related to the role of the landowner and employer in Scottish politics.  It also sheds light on how local party identities and organisations were formed, and how these affected the development (or lack thereof) of the Scottish Conservative party centrally.  The Scottish Conservatives have thus far been perceived as particularly backward in terms of their party apparatus. That is to say, while the Scottish Liberals were making organisational and ideological progress towards a ‘modern’ party status, the Conservatives were doing so at a slower pace.  This assertion has, however, never been proven through systematic historical inquiry.  Moving beyond organisational themes, a study of party-political evolution will serve to identify the types of people who voted Conservative, why they did so, and their consequent effect on Scottish society in the mid-nineteenth century. This study also undertakes prosopographical analysis of the Scots Tory cohort in the post-Reform parliament, which has already given rise to a number of unanticipated lines of inquiry.

While it is true that the Liberal party dominated Scottish politics in the period 1832–68, this depiction can be somewhat misleading.  In fact, the Scottish Conservative party was far from dormant, holding some seats securely throughout the period, and offering a strong challenge in many others.  Conservative voters may have represented a significant part of the electorate – a part that has received little to no attention.  As the vast majority of Scottish seats were of the single-member type, it may well be that the vagaries of the First Past The Post electoral system have led subsequent researchers to seriously underestimate the extent of Scottish Conservative support, especially in comparison to an English electoral system which still contained a great many multi-member seats.  Much work has been done on the central question in nineteenth-century Scottish politics, ‘Why was Scotland Liberal?’.  In order to more fully explore this however, it is also necessary to ask – why was Scotland not Conservative?


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Captain Brownlow Layard: The Soldier’s Friend

Contrary to popular perceptions of the nineteenth-century British army, a significant number of its officers who sat in the Commons held progressive and radical views. Among them was our MP of the Month, Captain Brownlow Villiers Layard (1804-53), who sat as a Liberal for Carlow between 1841 and 1847 and campaigned tirelessly to improve the common soldier’s lot.

A career officer, Layard was no ‘feather bed soldier’ and had joined the British army in India in 1823. Three years later he distinguished himself at the siege of Bhurtpore by planting his regiment’s colours on the ramparts of the city. After purchasing a captaincy in 1834 he married an Irishwoman and settled in county Dublin.

The storming of Bhurtpore, 1826; artist unknown (c) Prince of Wales's Own Regiment of Yorkshire; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The storming of Bhurtpore, 1826; artist unknown (c) Prince of Wales’s Own Regiment of Yorkshire; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Although little known in politics, Layard came forward at the 1841 general election for Carlow, a significant Irish borough and a frequent party battle-ground. As in many such constituencies money was ‘lavishly and unblushingly squandered’, and it seems likely that Layard’s return was financed by Josiah John Guest, the wealthy Welsh ironmaster and Liberal MP for Merthyr Tydfil, 1832-52, who had married Layard’s first cousin, Lady Charlotte Guest.

An advocate of ‘civil and religious liberty’ and a keen supporter of the Irish temperance movement, Layard consistently supported the Whigs, but also favoured more radical policies such as the secret ballot, and, having witnessed its effects in China and Singapore, the suppression of the opium trade. Although he was opposed to a repeal of the Union, he demanded that Ireland be governed ‘with justice and impartiality’ and offered an enthusiastic welcome to Daniel O’Connell when he returned to the Commons after his state trial in 1844.

However, Layard’s chief concern was army reform, and he frequently called for better equipment, transport, pensions and education to be provided. A critic of the system by which officers could purchase rank, he also wanted to improve the welfare of families of married soldiers, recommending that their wives and children receive treatment in regimental hospitals and be allowed to accompany them on foreign service. Above all, Layard wished to see the practice of life-time recruitment ended, arguing that Britain was the only country to require such long periods of service. He raised the issue on several occasions between 1842 and 1845, and generated favourable publicity for his cause when he moved unsuccessfully for an inquiry into enlistment in August 1846.

Layard returned to this subject the following year and used parliamentary returns to demonstrate that in just three years 28,000 British soldiers had served terms of imprisonment, 3,500 had been flogged and 8,000 had deserted. He also denounced the ‘immense’ mortality rates of colonial service, informing the House that since 1817 more than 120,000 soldiers had died while serving in the Leeward Islands and Jamaica alone. He argued that by reducing the minimum period of service to ten years the army would attract a better class of recruit and thus reduce the cost of apprehending and imprisoning deserters. He also hoped that it would remove the need for corporal punishment, which he regarded as a ‘revolting custom’ and ‘a national disgrace’.

Unfortunately for Layard, such concerns had little resonance in Carlow, where at the 1847 general election he was defeated by John Sadleir, later leader of the Irish Independent party. Within ten years both Sadleir (implicated in bank fraud) and Layard had ended their own lives. One of Layard’s chief criticisms of the long service tradition of the British army was that it caused so many young soldiers to kill themselves rather than face a lifetime in the ranks, suicide then accounting for one in twenty deaths in some branches of the army. His final speech in the Commons had outlined the fate of one such man who had cut his throat while under arrest in county Galway.

After he retired from the army in 1852 Layard became concerned about his financial circumstances and began to suffer ‘various fanciful diseases’. In December 1853 he fatally slashed his throat with a razor after being refused laudanum. A largely forgotten man, Layard’s ideas would not bear fruit until the Cardwell army reforms of 1868-74, when shorter terms of army service were introduced and flogging (at least in peacetime) was abolished.

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MP of the Month: the untimely death of James Platt, MP for Oldham (1823-57)

James Platt (1823-57), MP for Oldham

James Platt (1823-57), MP for Oldham

On this day in 1857, a shocking and tragic accident took place on the moors above Ashway Gap, near Saddleworth. One of Oldham’s recently elected Liberal MPs, James Platt, was shot dead by his close friend and relative, Josiah Radcliffe, the mayor of Oldham. Radcliffe’s gun had discharged accidentally after he stumbled while they were out with a shooting party on the moors, hitting Platt in the lower leg. The ‘innocent cause of the calamity’, Radcliffe was ‘beside himself with grief’ and ‘took Mr Platt round the neck and bewailed his fate in the most heart-rending tears’. Platt was carried to his family’s newly constructed summer residence nearby, where doctors were hurriedly summoned, but died just over an hour later, having suffered extensive blood loss. His family declined the suggestion of a public monument, but commemorated him with a memorial cross on the moors.

Josiah Radcliffe, mayor of Oldham (c) Gallery Oldham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Josiah Radcliffe, mayor of Oldham (c) Gallery Oldham; supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Just five months earlier, Radcliffe had presided as returning officer at Platt’s election as MP for his native borough. With his older brother John, Platt was a partner in the largest machine-making firm in the world, Platt Bros. & Co., which manufactured machinery for the textile industry in Britain and overseas. His engineering and marketing ability helped the business, founded by their father Henry in partnership with Elijah Hibbert, to flourish. The Platts bought out the Hibberts’ interest in the firm in 1854.

Alongside their business interests, the Platts took a leading role in the campaign for the rapidly expanding industrial town of Oldham to be incorporated as a municipal borough. When their efforts bore fruit in 1849, James Platt was elected to Oldham’s first town council. Although he was defeated in 1852, he was re-elected as a councillor in 1853 and chosen as an alderman in 1856. Renowned for his local benevolence, he took a particular interest in educational causes, believing that ‘ignorance is … the parent and perpetuation of error and misery’. From 1848 until his death he served as president of the Oldham Lyceum, founded in 1840 as a mutual improvement society for working men.

As with many of the MPs we have researched, Platt’s civic service acted as a springboard for a parliamentary career. In 1856, supporters of William Johnson Fox, one of Oldham’s sitting Liberal MPs, approached John and James Platt to ask if either would be Fox’s running-mate at the next general election; while John declined, James accepted. Divisions among the local party meant that he and Fox faced a rival radical candidate, John Morgan Cobbett. During the contest in March 1857, Platt emphasised his local credentials and expressed support for the extension of education, the ballot, shorter parliaments, the redistribution of seats, universal suffrage, disestablishment of the Church and the admission of Jews to Parliament. When it became apparent during the polling that Platt would take the second seat behind Cobbett and ahead of Fox, he mooted retiring in Fox’s favour, but this was not pursued.

Platt’s untimely death produced a flurry of tributes. The Manchester Examiner and Times praised him as ‘a rising man’, whose opinion was sought by the government, and claimed that ‘it was the general feeling in the House that Mr. Platt would one day distinguish himself greatly’. This picture of him as a promising parliamentarian appears to have been justified. Although Platt made only three contributions to debate during his brief spell in the Commons, he demonstrated his commitment to advocating the needs of industrial Lancashire. His first speech, 29 June 1857, emphasised the benefits for manufacturing in assisting the development of art in Britain. Earlier that month he had attended the annual dinner of the Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures, and Commerce. Platt was involved with the Cotton Supply Association, a Manchester-based organisation which aimed to reduce British dependence on the supply of American cotton by promoting cultivation elsewhere. This prompted him to speak knowledgeably on the advantages of encouraging railway construction in India, in order to cut the costs of transporting cotton from that country, 17 July 1857. His final contribution, 10 Aug. 1857, reflected his long-standing interest in the provision of public parks in northern towns.

Memorial cross to James Platt at Ashway Gap

Memorial cross to James Platt at Ashway Gap

Platt’s death left Oldham to mourn the loss of ‘a kind friend, a good neighbour, a beneficent townsman, an honest representative’. His seat was filled by his former running-mate, William Fox, but the Platt family’s parliamentary connection with Oldham was renewed in 1865 when John Platt was elected, serving as MP until his death from typhoid in 1872.

Further reading

  • D. Farnie, ‘Platt family’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
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A rather pale copy of the original: John Morgan Cobbett (1800-1877)

As we continue our research on the 1832-68 Commons project, one theme we are exploring is the importance of family connections in an MP’s parliamentary career. Long-standing family ties to an area could assist a candidate in securing election for a particular constituency. Family networks could also be significant within Parliament, providing bonds with fellow MPs or links to members of the Lords. We have already blogged about MPs who were brothers and about the six members of the Fitzwilliam dynasty who sat in our period. John Morgan Cobbett, our MP of the Month, was influenced not only by his famous father, the Radical journalist and MP, William Cobbett, but also by his future wife’s father, John Fielden.

William Cobbett (c) Museum of Farnham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

William Cobbett (c) Museum of Farnham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Cobbett’s political reputation has been overshadowed by that of his father: one of William Cobbett’s biographers describes his sons as ‘rather pale copies of the original’. William Cobbett was elected for Oldham in 1832 and sat until his death in 1835. His fellow Radical MP for Oldham was John Fielden, renowned for his unceasing efforts to secure a ten hour working day for women and young people in textile factories. In 1851 John Cobbett married Fielden’s daughter, Mary, although he was known to be Fielden’s prospective son-in-law for several years beforehand.

William Cobbett exerted a major influence on John’s early political career. Asked in 1833 to recommend a candidate for a by-election at Coventry, William suggested his son, apparently without consulting him first. However, John was taken ill en route to the constituency, and, nominated in his absence, polled only 89 votes. In 1835 Chichester’s Radicals asked William’s advice on a candidate. Seizing this opportunity to stand, John was endorsed by William in glowing terms. Describing himself as a Radical Reformer, he advocated a very similar political platform to his father, wishing to repeal the poor law, malt duty and newspaper stamp duty; abolish the standing army; revise the pension list; remove church rates; and introduce the secret ballot, triennial Parliaments and an extended franchise. He polled a distant third.

John Morgan Cobbett; copyright Parliamentary Archives

John Morgan Cobbett; copyright Parliamentary Archives

Following William’s death in June 1835, John attempted to fill his shoes at Oldham. Making a clear bid for his father’s political inheritance, John’s election address declared that ‘there are no political principles on which I differ from him’. He was backed by Fielden, who became ‘something of a surrogate father’, but there were grumbles among Oldham’s Radicals about ‘hereditary succession’ deciding the representation. John’s staunch Anglicanism lost him support from disillusioned Nonconformists, who rallied behind Feargus O’Connor (the future Chartist leader). Although O’Connor withdrew from the poll early on, these divisions allowed a narrow Conservative victory.

After another unsuccessful contest at Chichester, Cobbett in 1847 became Fielden’s running-mate at Oldham, where the latter’s insistence that ‘unless Mr. Cobbett is elected with me, I will not sit’ provoked charges of dictation. Cobbett’s lack of support for Dissenting demands such as disestablishment prompted two rival Radicals to enter the field, although only William Johnson Fox went to the poll. Fox and the lone Conservative, John Duncuft, defeated Cobbett and ousted Fielden after 15 years as Oldham’s MP. These events provoked bitter recriminations among Oldham’s Radicals, and one local observer remembered Cobbett as ‘that terrible “incubus” … who darkened the prospects of real Reformers for a long period’.

At the 1852 election, Cobbett stood again for Oldham, advocating universal suffrage, annual parliaments and the ballot, and arguing for restrictions on the hours during which factory machinery could operate, to safeguard the ten hour day for which Fielden had fought so hard. He topped the poll in a tacit although unofficial alliance with the Conservative Duncuft, defeating Fox, and was re-elected in 1857 and 1859.

John Fielden, by George Hayter (c) Gallery Oldham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

John Fielden, by George Hayter (c) Gallery Oldham; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Fielden had died in 1849, and Cobbett assumed his mantle at Westminster, where the factory question occupied much of his attention. He was keen to pass legislation to prevent evasion of the ten hour day (by means such as using two shifts of child labour). He wished to extend limitations on working hours to other industries such as bleaching and dyeing, and sat on several committees relating to working-class employment conditions. His personal legislative achievement was an Act passed in 1860 to pay salaries rather than fees to coroners, which would prevent cost-cutting local magistrates from discouraging the holding of inquests.

In other respects, Cobbett abandoned the political legacy of his father and father-in-law, gradually drifting away from Liberalism to the Conservative party. His vote for the limited measure of parliamentary reform proposed by the Derby ministry in 1859 led to him being declared ‘utterly unfit to represent radical Oldham’. Like his father, he opposed the malt duty, defending the working-man’s right to his beer, which by the 1860s put him closer to many Conservatives than to the Liberals. The Preston Chronicle described him in 1865 as ‘a sort of hybrid politician’. At that year’s election, when he was defeated, he campaigned jointly with the Conservative candidate, although he did not officially adopt the Conservative label until 1868. He was lauded by Disraeli in 1872 as an ‘invaluable’ parliamentarian. Re-elected for Oldham at a by-election that June, he sat until his death in 1877. In contrast with his father’s vociferous Radicalism, John Cobbett’s shifting political stance led his opponents to depict him as a political chameleon.

The full biography of John Morgan Cobbett can be found on our preview site.

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Congratulations to Martin Spychal, Pollard prize runner-up

We would like to congratulate Martin Spychal, who holds an AHRC collaborative doctoral award with the Institute of Historical Research and the History of Parliament, on being runner up in the Pollard Prize for the best paper given at an IHR seminar by a postgraduate student or  researcher within one year of completing the PhD. His doctoral research is on ‘Parliamentary boundaries and reform in England, 1830–1868’.

He gave his paper, ‘One of the best men of business we had ever met’: Thomas Drummond, the boundary commission and the 1832 Reform Act, to the ‘Parliaments, Politics and People’ seminar. It will be published in Historical Research, but in the meantime, you can read a summary on the History of Parliament blog.

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