Working class men get the vote

The 1885 general election was the first in which a large proportion of working class men could vote. Wrenthorpe now formed part of a new constituency – Normanton – and leading mining trade unionist Ben Pickard successfully fought the new seat as a ‘Lib-Lab’ (Liberal) candidate, remaining its MP until his death in 1904. The seat was seen as a shoo-in for the Liberals, and Free Press believed the Potovens district was overwhelmingly supportive. Alderman Milthorp was a ‘local boy made good’ character – an industrialist who’d served as Mayor of Wakefield in 1881.

Wakefield Free Press
Saturday 21 November 1885


Continuing his successful tour of the Normanton Division, Mr B. Pickard, the Liberal candidate, visited Wrenthorpe (Potovens), on Wednesday evening, arriving from Durham shortly before the time of the meeting, which took place in the Board School [later Wrenthorpe Council School]. There was a large attendance of working men, and we believe that in this part of the Division the voting for the Liberal candidate will be three to one for his opponent. The Rev. W. Field, M.A., of Silcoates School, presided, and in opening the proceedings delivered a brief but appropriate address. He described the Tories as the Jumbo party, seeing that they would not get out of the way of the approaching express train, thus acting like the well-known elephant when it met with its death.* Mr Edward Cowey moved the usual resolution approving of Mr Pickard’s candidature and pledging the meeting to support him by all legitimate means. This was seconded by Alderman Milthorp, of Wakefield, who met with a flattering reception, he being a native of the district. He said that it gave him great pleasure to be present on that occasion in his native place, although he must say that at one time he never expected to be able to stand there and congratulate them on having a vote. For the first time in English history working men throughout the country could be called citizens of their country, and he proceeded to point out the manner in which the Liberal party had worked in order to secure the people their rights. Mr Gladstone, he said, had done more for the country than any man, living or dead, and he was prepared to work for the future. As for the Tory party they never initiated or carried a measure in favour of the people (hear, hear, and applause). Mr Pickard, on rising, was received with loud applause, and he spoke at some length in explanation of his views and the position be took. Very telling were his remarks when, on speaking of free education, he referred to the fact that he and others in a similar position in life, had not when young the chance of acquiring a good education. They had had to pick up their knowledge in after years as best they could, and he remembered with gratitude the kindness of a schoolmaster who used to come from Castleford to Kippax in the evenings to instruct another young man and him. That young man was now a Wesleyan minister, and he (Mr Pickard) was where he was. The resolution on being put to the meeting was adopted amid great enthusiasm with only one dissentient, and the proceedings closed with a vote of thanks to the chairman.

* An odd contemporary reference to a Barnum circus elephant who had been struck by a locomotive in Ontario a couple of months before.

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