Friday, 29 August 2014

On the night of 24th January 1889 ...

On the night of 24th January 1889, the people of Felsham, Gedding, Rattlesden and Woolpit were involved in an event that created such as “stir” that even the oldest inhabitants of the area could remember nothing like it.  A local newspaper reported that at nine o’clock “the parish bells sent forth a merry peal, and the excitement which had been showing itself during the day became intense.” 

The village was Rattlesden and the event that created such a “stir” was the election of a County Councillor for the Rattlesden Division in the newly formed West Suffolk Council. 

The Local Government Act of 1888 set up the County Councils of West Suffolk and East Suffolk. Prior to 1888, apart from the borough corporations, Suffolk had been administered by magistrates meeting in quarter sessions, one in the east at Ipswich and one in the west at Bury. From 1889 County administration passed from appointed magistrates to elected councillors.

The Rattlesden Division was contested by two members of the local Conservative Association: one was Mr Duncan Parker, JP, living at The Grange, Woolpit Green and the other was Mr John Anderson, a retired barrister, who resided at Yewlands in Felsham.  The Parkers were a well-established family with roots in both Woolpit and Rattlesden; while the Anderson family were well-known for their good works in both Felsham and Gedding over many decades.  Their respective supporters tended to align themselves according to whether they lived in one or other of the two sets of villages.

The election campaign began in earnest in December 1888 when a meeting of electors was held at Rattlesden School where both candidates addressed the audience which contained a large and unruly group from Felsham.  The Bury & Norwich Post reported what happened:
“Unfortunately the rough element preponderated in the audience, and as it seemed friendly disposed towards Mr Anderson, that gentleman obtained a good hearing.  On Mr Parker rising, however, the hitherto placid state of the meeting was displaced in favour of a most riotous scene.  Hooting and braying was indulged in while Mr Parker was endeavouring to speak, and he ultimately had to desist…”

The ringleader of the “rough element” may well have been a Felsham farmer named Samuel Scott from Brook Hall Farm.  There are two pieces of evidence from local newspaper accounts that support this conjecture. Firstly, Samuel Scott was John Anderson’s main supporter having nominated him for election.  Secondly, this same farmer had been involved in a fracas on Felsham Upper Green during an election rally three years earlier when he and other young farmers had fought with labourers from Rattlesden.

John Anderson appears to have been the favourite candidate.  Certainly, his supporters worked hard to secure his success in the weeks leading up to the election.  The Ipswich Journal (1st February 1889) reported that:
“Mr Anderson’s agents have been assiduously busy in the four parishes in spotting and counting voters, at one time even declaring they could command 150 in Rattlesden alone out of its 214, the largest of the four.  In the distant parts of the parish people were called up at night even, and some in a semi-frightened state suggested the “Jack the Ripper” had made his appearance.”  [It needs to be remembered that reports of the horrific killings in London were in all the newspapers at this time.]

Who was Jack the Ripper?

The election took place on Thursday 24th January and the results were:
Parker               270
Anderson          197
            Majority  73

Despite the concerted barracking of their opponent at public meetings and despite their energetic canvassing of the neighbourhood electors, the Felsham faction was left licking its wounds.  

The Ipswich Journal reported that John Anderson was magnanimous in defeat.  He “thanked his supporters, and was sure they would find in Mr Parker a worthy gentleman as County Councillor, and hoped that no ill-feeling would be shown between the people of the different parishes.”  

As the evening progressed, “the Felsham people began to draw off, evidently downcast at the result, while some of Mr Parker’s supporters were enjoying the ditty of ‘O dear, what can the matter be?’ 

Between ten and eleven o’clock the parish bells ceased ringing, and the usual quietude of the village was apparent, but never in the remembrance of the oldest inhabitant had there been such a “stir” as in the election of the first County Councillor for the Rattlesden Division.”

Note on the Conservatives:
The politics of the Conservative Party at this time was coloured by its opposition to Irish Home Rule and its coalition with the Liberal Unionists.  Much of the rhetoric was similar to that currently taking place concerning an independent Scotland.  In October 1887 Duncan Parker addressed the audience at the Annual Dinner of the Woolpit Working Mens' Conservative Association:

Bury & Norwich Post, 4 Oct 1887

Note on the social composition of the new West Suffolk Council:
The new Council was dominated by Justices of the Peace.  JPs had previously had an important role in administering local affairs at the Quarter Sessions so it was hardly surprising that they retained their interest within the new arrangements.  Farmers in the village divisions also predominated while tradespeople such as ironmongers, wine merchants and hotel proprietors held sway in the town divisions such as Bury St Edmunds.

Note on John Thomas Anderson
Thomas Anderson’s eldest son, John Thomas Anderson, had returned from Canada soon after the death of his father.  He lived in Bury St Edmunds for a while and then moved to Yewlands [Felsham House] after the death of his sister, Mary.  He carried on living at Yewlands with his wife, Mary Montgomerie, for twelve years until his death, at the age of 72, in April 1894.  Apparently, their initials appear on the dining room mantle-piece with the date 1883, when four large rooms were added to the house.  His tragic death was reported in the Bury & Norwich Post:

3rd April 1894