December 1830, Radicals take Preston!

Posted on - 19th December, 2021 - 7:00pm | Author - | Posted in - History, Politics, Preston City Centre, Preston News, Walton-le-Dale
ES Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby Pic: Wikimedia
ES Stanley, 14th Earl of Derby Pic: Wikimedia

The taking of Preston by a radical in 1830 was a shock of monumental proportions. Unexpected by the aristocracy, it ended the long standing domination of the Stanley family in local politics.


Additionally, 1830 was a pivotal year nationally. For example, The Liverpool and Manchester Railway opened and the reforming Whig Prime Minister, Earl Grey took office in December.

By this time the Whigs were supported by the new money, industrial reformists in the North. Younger members of the Whig party also supported voting reform.

In 1830, Preston was a growing industrial town, with many mills. Consequently, there was a growing frustration with the lack of representation in Parliament.

Preston Market in 1840 Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Preston Market in 1840 Pic: Preston Digital Archive

The Lords Derby

Since the 15th century, the Lords Derby had been major land owners in Preston. In fact their rental income was £5,000 per year by 1800. The Stanley family also dominated local politics, returning an MP until 1830. Patten House in Church Street was the family home. It was demolished in 1835.

Patten House Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Patten House Pic: Preston Digital Archive

On losing the election, EG Stanley said, in an egotistical huff:

“The rupture of that connection (with Preston) has been your act, I acquiesce In your decision, and shall make no attempt to renew it.”

The family immediately sold Patten House and moved out of Preston! However ES Stanley later had his revenge, and became Prime Minister.

So who was the victor of 1830?

Henry “Orator“ Hunt becomes Preston’s radical MP

Henry Hunt Pic: Preston Digital Archive
Henry Hunt Pic: Preston Digital Archive

Hunt was a progressive and fascinating character. He was an early proponent of women’s suffrage and supporter of the working classes, a term he often used. He also opposed the ruling Whigs and thought that the 1832 Parliamentary Reform Act did not go far enough.

The 1832 Reform Act, the first chink in the aristocratic armour

Until 1983 the Preston constituency was split between North and South. Since then there has always been a single Labour MP. Historically the seat had two member representation.

In the early 19th century only the rich could afford to run for Parliament. Also, only the landed gentry could vote at all. There was no middle class representation, let alone a vote for the working classes.

One of the main issues for reform was ‘rotten boroughs’. These were considered to be rotten or corrupt due to them having a tiny electorate that could easily be bought by the candidate with the most money. Additionally the ballot was not secret, making voters susceptible to intimidation.

Joseph Livesey
Joseph Livesey

In Preston, Joseph Livesey, who was born in Walton-le-Dale, was a prominent businessman and supporter of reform. The reform bill was debated enthusiastically in the large spaces of the town, the Corn Exchange and the Theatre Royal.

Read more: Joseph Livesey – Preston’s greatest social reformer or Preston’s greatest killjoy… or both?

In the lead up to the reform bill, Livesey said:

“Nothing short of the total annihilation of the oligarchy, and the extension of the elective franchise according to the principle of household suffrage, with the protection of the ballot, and short Parliaments, can nor ought to satisfy any man who is not willing to be a slave.”

Political cartoon from 1832 Pic: Almost History
Political cartoon from 1832 Pic: Almost History

Political cartoons were a well-established weapon for the reformers. Here, the caption reads: “Well, here’s the money, as for the votes I leave that to you.”

The reform bill ended most rotten boroughs and became law; the first steps to a modern Parliament had taken place.

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