Election for Assistant Overseer, 1887

Following the contested election for the Board of Guardians in 1886, there was an election for the paid post of Assistant Overseer following the death of Thomas Ray. This was the first time a Liberal candidate (James Spooner) beat a Conservative (T.D. Curtis) in Winslow. Voting was done by ratepayers (which might include unmarried women) in an open (not secret) ballot with votes weighted between 1 and 6 according to the size of the rates paid.

Buckingham Advertiser, 8 Oct
  A vestry was held on Thursday morning, October 6th, to appoint an assistant overseer in the room of the late Mr. Thomas Ray.  The meeting was adjourned to the Yeates’ School, when there were present Mr. H. Monk, in the chair, and Messrs. Sear, Archard, W. Neal, W. S. Neal, Clarke, W. Turnham, J. Ray, A. J. Clear, Hawley, East, Saving, Corket, Gowin, Russell, Dunkley, A. Monk. W. H. French, A. G. Stevens, Dancer, C. Colgrove, J. King, T. P. Willis, R. W. Jones, Whichello, Hathaway, W. Gibbs, W. Matthews, Hillyer, H. Bullock, Thos King, W. H. Stevens, Parrett, Egleton, Vaisey and Dr Newham.
  The Chairman said they were met together to elect an officer in the room of one who had done his duty honestly and fairly for some years.  One who had been a good servant to the parish, and perhaps too considerate to himself for he had often called twice when he need only have done so once.  They regretted his loss, and were now met to appoint some one competent to perform his duties.  He then read applications from Messrs. James Spooner, John Ray and Thomas D. Curtis.  Mr Spooner’s application contained a testimonial from Mr. Clench, of Aylesbury, as to the manner in which he had conducted Messrs. Chaplin and Horne’s carrying business.  Mr. Ray asked to be allowed to withdraw his application…
  [Dr. Newham proposed Thomas D. Curtis for the position, outlining the reasons why he was suitable, and Mr. C. Colgrove seconded this. Mr. T. Saving proposed James Spooner for the position, outlining why he was suitable including his work for Chaplin & Horne the railway carriers, and Mr. S. Jones seconded this. There followed discussion within the meeting regarding the suitability of each candidate for the post, until the Chairman put the names to a vote.]
  21 votes were given for Curtis and 14 for Spooner.
  Mr. Saving said Curtis had got all his friends there, but a good many of Spooner’s friends could not get away until evening.  He then proposed that a poll of the parish should be taken.  Mr. S. Jones seconded.  Mr. Neal said he saw many strange faces there, old faces were present, those who always came when work was to be done, but the others only came when there was something to be got.  Where the carcase was there would the vultures be gathered together.  (Laughter.)- Mr. S. Jones: Who are the vultures- Considerable discussion then ensued as to the date and the hours of the poll.  Ultimately Saturday, the 8th was fixed, the hours being from ten till one and from four till eight so as to give everyone a chance.  The Chairman said even when they had held the poll it rested with the Board of Guardians and the Local Government Board.- Mr. Saving: What is the use of our meeting here if the Board of Guardians can veto it all.- Mr. S. Jones: They can’t do it.- The Chairman: I have sat at the Board this 40 years, and you have been a Guardian about six months, so perhaps you know more about it than I do.- Mr. S. Jones: Only about six months! I was a Guardian 36 years ago.- The Chairman: You only came about once in six months.- Mr. S. Jones: I’ll make up for it now, then.  I’ll come oftener than you want, a great deal- Mr. Saving said he should like to mention one matter that he thought the salary was too much for the work- Mr. Hathaway said Mr. Saving would not like to do it for the money.- Mr. Willis gave the particulars of the salary, amounting to about £30 per year, and the opinion of the meeting seemed to be that they could not expect to get a suitable officer for less; although Mr. Saving said he should like to see it given to whoever would take it for the smallest amount. – The meeting then concluded.

Buckingham Advertiser, 15 Oct

The Assistant Overseer Contest at Winslow.

The election for assistant overseer for the parish of Winslow, which terminated on Saturday evening last, in favour of Mr. James Spooner, the working-man candidate was carried on quite briskly, house to house canvassing being the order of the day, and a bill being issued by Spooner’s side, impressing the fact that women householders had a vote.  The poling place was the Infant School, which was open from 10 to 1 in the morning and then again from 6 to 8 in the evening.  In the evening another bill was issued from the same source as the first calling upon those who sympathised with purity and freedom of election, to meet on the Market Square, and support Mr. Spooner’s candidature.  About 6-30, accordingly, a meeting was held under the large lamp in the Square, when about 60 or 70 persons were present.  Mr. Thomas Saving was chosen Chairman, and called on Mr. W.H. French to address the meeting.

Mr. French after remarking on the circumstances which called for the meeting said the principal objection to their candidate was that he was a poor man, but Thomas Ray was a poor man also, and he found the money very useful, and their friend Spooner would find it very useful too.  He had not a word to say against Mr. Curtis, who was a very respectable man and very well off, and who occupied a position that gave him a great deal of power over people, but he was not afraid that Mr. Curtis would use it unfairly, he would not do the things that had been said against him.  It had been told him that Mr. Curtis would raise the taxes on those who voted against him, but he (the speaker) did not believe but what he would look higher than that, he would never lower himself by such conduct.  With regard to the trustworthiness of Spooner, he had frequently had as much as £100 in his hands at a time, and it had given him (Mr. French) great pleasure to introduce Spooner to the Rock Building Society, whose agent he now was, and he had every belief in his perfect integrity.  Now as to his guarantees, as many as four substantial men of Winslow would put down their names as guarantees for Spooner’s good faith.  What did Winslow want beyond that?  Now with regard to poor Ray’s guarantees, he was a poor man, and the office was given to him because he was a poor Tory…

… Now going from open voting, the day would come when not only would they have one man one vote, but also vote by ballot – (cheers) – and that was what was wanted.   Suppose a man had promised to vote for Curtis, and said, “Well, I daren’t do any other for fear of taking the bread out of my mouth.”  Such a promise amounted to nothing, and under the ballot, he could safely use his own judgment (cheers.)  Another point was that this should not be a party question, - not a question of a poor man against a rich man – but one of the fitness of the candidates.  He should have been quite agreeable to that, but a gentleman who stood up the other morning reminded them that Mr. Curtis was grandson to Mr. Daniel Grace, the grinder of the poor (a slight interruption here ensued, one person remarking that it was a shame to bring him up now that he was dead, others that he was an old villain, while another said that he was a good master).  Because Daniel Grace had been assaulted while in the execution of his duty – and serve him right to [sic] – it was lucky for him that he was not sent to the churchyard as he had sent so many of their grandfathers, instead of living to a green old age.  They would be addressed that night by a gentleman, who, while a poor law guardian, was yet a real friend to the poor, and he would ask them to give three cheers for Mr. Jones, and three groans for Daniel Grace.  They know nothing of the grinding tyranny of this man, but their grandfathers did, and he would ask them to vote against Daniel Grace’s grandson.  For Mr. Curtis personally he had the utmost respect, but he came before them as the representative of the Tory policy of his grandfather, the iron-hearted administrator of the Poor Law.  It was certainly a most unfortunate reference for Mr. Neal to make.  Mr. French then moved a resolution “That the meeting approved the candidature of James Spooner, and pledged itself to return him at the head of the poll.” …

… Mr. S. Jones was next called upon, and said he would only take their attention for a little while.  Nothing gave him more pleasure than to agree with what had been said about poor Ray, who had well fulfilled his duty and was now gone to a better place, and whose post they must now fill up.  The question was causing a great deal of party feeling, and it was not to be surprised at when they saw how a party was trying to tread them down.  They were advised to educate their children so that they could be fitted for posts like this, and a few years ago it would have been impossible for the children of a labourer to take this …

… The Chairman said if they were licked, they would take it without  grumbling, and it they won, they should consider it a great triumph.  Either way he was very pleased with the way in which the poorer classes of Winslow had acted that day (cheers) ….

… Shortly after 8 the poll was declared from the Infant School, (where Mr. James King had been recording the votes,) and was received with loud cheering by Spooner’s friends.  The strains of the Drum and Fife Band were not long before they were heard and about 8-30 Mr. Spooner accompanied by Mr. W. H. French made their appearances on the Market Square.  Mr. French in introducing the successful candidate said the voters of Winslow had gained a great victory that day against the forces of unfairness, of money, of obstructing.  Their victory was equal to a majority of 60 or 70 under the principle of one man, one vote.  He was not animadverting on the great body of the Tory party in these remarks, but on the contrary nothing gave him greater pleasure than to meet them in a fair stand-up fight.  But he need not remind them now on the occasion of the School Board meeting at Winslow, bullies in broadcloth, primed with drink came bellowing and blaspheming, in the attempt to break up a lawful meeting of free-born Englishmen.  He would now give way to Spooner who would express thanks to the electors.

Mr. Spooner said the kindness he had that day received was greater than he had conceived himself worthy of, he had no idea he had so many, and such good friends.  He thanked them all for his victorious return and assured them that his best services would be given to the ratepayers of Winslow without distinction of creed or party.

The actual voting in the election of the assistant overseer for Winslow, was Spooner 184, Curtis 159 – majority 26.  We are informed that the votes as given were Spooner 1 five, 2 fours, 2 threes, 5 twos, and the remainder single.  For Curtis 9 sixes, 1 five, 5 threes, 11 twos, and the remainder single.

The losing side apparently appealed:

Buckingham Advertiser, 29 Oct 1887
  Winslow assistant overseership still hangs in suspense.  The Local Government Board are being appealed to on the subject.

The Advertiser then reported (14 Jan 1888) that the LGB referred the decision back to the Guardians, who decided in favour of Curtis.

Buckingham Advertiser, 15 Oct

Mr. W. H. French and the Late Mr. Daniel Grace.
(To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser and North Bucks Free Press.)

Dear Sir, - As grandson of the late Daniel Grace, I feel it is to be my duty to deny the accusations of Mr. W. H French.  I find upon making enquiries my grandfather was quite as much respected as was Mr. French’s grandfather;  and I think all respectable people will bear me out when I say much more respected  than the said W. H. French ever was or is ever likely to be.

It would be much more to the credit of Mr. French if he would use his glib tongue to a better purpose than that of misguiding poor ignorant men.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant,
                                                                        THOS. D. CURTIS.

            Winslow, October 18, 1887.

The correspondence dragged on. Here are some further extracts:

French, 29 Oct: …Mr Curtis goes on to twit the men who voted against him being “poor and ignorant.”  Their poverty, wherever it exists, is their misfortune, they never having had the opportunity like some people’s “grandfathers” of enriching themselves out of the harsh administration of a cruel and iniquitous Poor Law.  For the ignorance of the men of the present generation who can be held so responsible as the instructors of that preceding it ?  Now, the late Daniel Grace was for many years the sole educational light of poor benighted Winslow.  It is surely the irony of fate that his grandson should point the moral of this fact by denouncing the “ignorance” of his own contemporaries.  This Tory talk of ignorance as the natural heritage of the poor is simple trash.  The poor are shrewd, and frequently well informed.  If they had been so misguided as to vote for the grandson and the socio-political successor of Daniel Grace, Mr. Curtis would not have troubled a disgusted public with “enquiries,” designed either to blacken my forelders or to whiten the reputation of his own …

Curtis, 5 Nov: …Now about my remark, “poor and ignorant men.”  We are all poor and ignorant, but not all misguided by such short-sighted ignorant spouters as William Henry French…

French, 12 Nov:…I have here to acknowledge the receipt by post and otherwise of sundry missives such as frequently emanate from the party now zealously supporting Mr. Curtis.  I do hope that some of them have not been indicted on his behalf, because they consist of such horrible filth.  The more decent effusions ae amusing from their grotesque illiteracy, and are not in the least annoying.  They bear marks of a scholarship contemporary with that of Mr. Curtis, who I nevertheless admit to be, in education, far above the least of the ignorami at present employed upon what they fondly conceive to be his interest.  What a pity he did not advise his friend who aspires to the character of the “Old Mortality” of the party (?) to “invest” in a new post card which would not bear the marks of his touching up.  Fancy an epitaph drifting helplessly into the present tense…

The editor closed the correspondence after this.

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Copyright 29 April, 2021