Ratepayers in Wrenthorpe – men and women – could vote and stand to be elected as members of the Stanley School Board for three-year terms. The School Board’s area covered almost all of the ancient Stanley-cum-Wrenthorpe Township boundary (from Balne Beck/Forster Ford Beck at Wrenthorpe in the west to Bottom Boat in the east).
Elections were contests between Liberal/nonconformist versus Conservative/Church of England candidates vying for control of the seven-seat Board. As expected, the Liberal/nonconformist candidates won four of the seven seats at the first election on 24 July 1875:
Mr J H Cookman, colliery manager, Stanley (L) 1,096
Mr W R Hall, farmer, Outwood (L) 978
Mr T Boston, woollen draper and farmer, Wrenthorpe (L) 962
Mr C E Charlesworth, colliery proprietor, Moor House, Stanley (C) 957
Mr I G Wallis, hosier, Outwood (L) 911
Rev R Burrell, Vicar of Stanley, (C) 766
Rev J S Gammell, Vicar of Outwood (C) 758
Mr Joseph Thomas, shoemaker, Wrenthorpe (C) 560
Mr George Jaques, market gardener, Wrenthorpe (Ind) 366
Mr Mark Pape, farmer, Lake Lock (Ind) 237
The Herald reports on the victors’ celebrations.
Wakefield and West Riding Herald
Saturday 31 July 1875
THE STANLEY SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION
… About eight o’clock in the evening there was a meeting of the successful Liberals in the open air, by the highway near Newton-lane-end, over which the Rev. C. Bonham, Independent minister, presided. Mr. Cookson was the first to address the assemblage, returning thanks for the general support he had received; Mr. Hall, the next to come forward, reading a couple of pages of an address which he had previously written; and Mr. Wallis followed him, dwelling upon the advantages of securing full religious equality, and saying that he looked upon that battle as having far more important issues than those which might seem more immediately involved. Mr. Boston very briefly returned thanks, and they were succeeded by Mr. J. Warburton, Mr. J. Robinson, a working man of “poetical” aspirations, reading a ditty he had composed for the occasion, the refrain of which was –
Hurrah for the Liberal cause, my boys,
Hurrah for the Liberal cause.
Voting for the Board took place across the entire Stanley/Wrenthorpe area – there were no separate wards. Each voter had seven votes. This made it difficult for political parties to judge how many candidates to field. As hinted at in the Herald, if the Liberals had fielded five candidates, they may have been successful, but if they’d put up six or seven, their vote might have been too thinly spread, which would have handed the Tories a majority instead.
The composition of the Board remained unchanged until Boston’s sudden death in 1877, following which the Liberal/nonconformists coopted the Rev. Charles Bonham of Zion Chapel, Aberford Road, Stanley to serve until the election the following year. By-elections were not required to fill vacancies.
As Wrenthorpe was the smallest and poorest part of the district, its voters felt left out. Boston had owned property in Wrenthorpe (a small farm at Robin Hood Hill) but had never lived there. His unelected replacement was from Stanley. It had been argued that the next candidate on the 1875 ballot paper – Joseph Thomas – should have been cooped but that would have handed control of the Board to its Conservative/Church of England members.
Resentment at Wrenthorpe’s non-representation grew and, by the 1878 election enough local voters had decided to vote tactically to ensure their minority candidate got elected. Under the school board voting rules, a voter could use their seven votes in any way they wished. They could even cast all seven votes for a single candidate – a process known as ‘plumping’.
Through the Newspaper Archive, it’s possible to contrast the news coverage in two local papers which had no love lost between them: the Herald (a diehard Conservative-supporting newspaper) and the Free Press (passionately Liberal). Reading both takes on the School Board election, the Free Press’s anger, frustration and disbelief is pitched against the Herald’s surprise and glee.
The Free Press’s piece paints a farcical picture of the Rev James Stewart Gammell, Vicar of Outwood’s carriage displaying his opponents’ posters out of courtesy – the point at which magnanimity gives way to stupidity. The nonconformists detested the outspoken Tory Vicar and repeatedly criticised him in their newspaper, mocking him as a ‘kind of archbishop in the neighbourhood’.
Wakefield Free Press
Saturday 20 July 1878
STANLEY SCHOOL BOARD ELECTION
It was no doubt the success of the Liberal party at the last election that induced the Conservatives to put forth every effort to secure the victory on this occasion – to secure it, honestly, if possible, but still to secure it. The manoeuvres resorted to in order to gain voters, however creditable they might be to crafty politicians of the Beaconsfield [Tory Prime Minister, Disraeli] school, could scarcely be said to be equally so to the cloth worn by the clerical members of the Board. Neither intimidation nor corruption was scorned, as we shall have occasion to show further on. All the retiring members were renominated along with Mr Joseph Thomas, shoemaker, of Wrenthorpe, and Mr Matthew Hall, colliery manager, of Rook Nest. The latter, however, withdrew from the contest, but used all his powerful influence on behalf of the four denominational candidates (whether rightly or wrongly some of the voters could better say than ourselves).
On the opening of the poll the respective partisans began busily to bring up the voters, and great excitement prevailed throughout the day on both sides. It was manifest that a determined struggle was to take place between the two parties for supremacy on the new Board. Conveyances of all descriptions were plying to and fro, though, as usual, the denominationalists had taken time by the forelock in engaging the greater number.
The arrangements in the Outwood and Stanley districts on the Liberal side were admirably planned and carried out, the only hitch being at Wrenthorpe, where the ratepayers seemed to have “Thomas on the brain” and disregarded political considerations in favour of a local man who professed independence of both parties. This profession there is no doubt contributed very materially to his success, and secured him a large preponderance of Liberal votes in that district. Time will show how for his professions will be verified and the confidence of the ratepayers justified. Many of them are determined to exercise a close scrutiny as to his future conduct. Another weakness at Wrenthorpe was the insufficiency of good workers and the refusal of many of the ratepayers to enter the Liberal Committee room, for what reason it is difficult to say, though several have been alleged. On account of this refusal no idea could be formed as to the progress of the election. […] A rather amusing incident occurred at Outwood during the morning. Two Liberal canvassers were despatched to Newton to await the arrival of one of the waggonettes engaged by the Liberal party, but by mistake they got hold of a conveyance engaged by Mr Gammell. No wonder they made this mistake, for Mr Gammell’s conveyances, with that consideration that he always manifests for the opposite party, displayed yellow placards, and this incident may be a lesson to him to retain his own colour in any future election; for out of the fifteen occupants of the waggonette thirteen were said to have voted against the reverend gentleman. There appeared to be no lull in the voting during the day, each party working vigorously and bringing up the voters by ones, twos, and threes, and larger bands, the men employed at the Leeds and Yorkshire Coal Company’s Works being brought down in waggon loads, like sheep to the slaughter, from the Robin Hood and other pits. All the candidates were present in the district and exhibited due interest in the proceedings. At five o’clock the polling closed, and the counting up of the votes was commenced at the Lake Lock National School, the next morning at ten o’clock.
Wakefield and West Riding Herald
Saturday 31 July 1878
The polling station for the district of Wrenthorpe was provided at the Board School, Mr. George Roberts of Wakefield, who was assisted by Mr. Mason, of Wrenthorpe and Mr. Robert Wilson, of Alverthorpe, bring the presiding officer. The only agent appointed by either party attended at this polling station, namely, Mr. J. W. R. Mellor, of Albion Street, who represented the interests of Mr. Thomas, one of the Conservative candidates. The number of persons who had to record their votes at this station is much smaller than at the two other polling stations, and consequently the proceedings were not so brisk as at Lake Lock and Outwood. During the day a number of conveyances were engaged in bringing up the voters, and the votes were recorded in a steady, though comparatively slow manner. Of the 371 votes upon the register 268 exercised the right of voting, and we understand that a number of voters “plumped” for Thomas, by giving him the seven votes to which they were entitled.
Like today’s elections in the United States, during the count, regular updates of how the votes were stacking up, are reported. The Free Press even included a table of how the count progressed. It became clear there was a close fight for seventh place between Charlesworth and the Board’s chairman Wallis. The Herald continues.
…it was now evident that one of these gentlemen would have to suffer defeat, and upon the election of either of them depended the settlement of the question whether the Conservatives or the Radicals would have a majority on the newly constituted Board. About quarter to seven o’clock all doubt upon this point was set to rest, when the unofficial statement showing the result of the poll to be a grand victory for the Conservatives… Mr Gammell remarked that so close was the struggle between Mr Charlesworth and Mr Wallis that there was a tie between them until the [last] voting paper came to be turned up, which showed a plumper for Mr Charlesworth, and he had thus beaten his opponent by seven votes.
Rev J S Gammell, Vicar of Outwood (C) 1,634
Mr Joseph Thomas, shoemaker, Wrenthorpe (C) 1,434
Mr W R Hall farmer, Outwood (L) 1,352
Rev R Burrell, Vicar of Stanley, (C) 1,257
Mr J H Cookson, colliery manager, Stanley (L) 1,130
Rev C Bonham, independent, Stanley (L) 1,096
Mr C E Charlesworth, colliery proprietor, Moor House, Stanley (C) 1,060
Mr I G Wallis, hosier, Outwood (L) 1,053
Thanks to ‘plumping’, Thomas came a ridiculously high second place in the poll (although as few as 205 voters could have voted to give him 1,434 votes); and to everyone’s surprise – especially the Tory-supporting Herald, which had regarded the area as a dead loss for them politically – the Liberal/nonconformists lost control of the Board.