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Act 1, Scene 3: The 1869 Election Crisis

Scene: Ilkeston in crisis.

(The Local Board’s formation provides new challenges)

Each year a third of Board members was chosen to resign but could seek re-election together with other qualified candidates.
Old Resident
recalled that voting papers were left at the homes of ratepayers, many of whom weren’t really concerned about filling them in. There were however some ‘expert electioneerers’ who would visit the voters’ homes and ‘help’ with the process, completing the papers practically to their own liking’.

During the 1869 Election process, — after the votes had been cast but before they had been counted, — the Chairman of the Board, George Blake Norman, fell ill. Constitutionally he was overseer of the ballot and of the vote-counting and so, supported by the staunch Conservative Board Clerk John Wombell, the Chairman decided to adjourn the count until after the weekend when he might be well enough to resume his duties.

Several, mainly Liberal members of the Board, not up for re-election, thought this the wrong course of action and attended a meeting as originally planned, elected William Ball as acting Chairman and arranged to count the votes on the following day, Friday.
This was done and the returns were published that weekend.

John the Clerk was outraged and there followed a flurry of letters between him, the authorities at Whitehall in London and William Ball.
John disputed the validity of the election and stated that it had been rendered ‘absolutely void’, at the same time arguing that the insulting behaviour of some of the supporters of certain Board members during the election had caused the onset of George Blake Norman’s illness.

Just over two weeks later, at the Board’s meeting, a motion was passed to dismiss John as Clerk with 14 days notice, as he had forfeited the confidence of the Board’.
But John didn’t need 14 days.
His immediate reply was that he had “the greatest possible pleasure in anticipating the motion by an instant resignation. Since the election, the Liberals had most persistently infused politics into all their proceedings on the Board; he therefore could not comfortably retain his position as their Clerk any longer. The release to him was a happy one”.
The meeting immediately broke up, — though that was not the end of the ‘warfare‘ between the Pioneer and certain members of the Board.

There was now clear friction between the majority Liberal members of the Board and the Conservatives such that the latter temporarily ceased attending the Board meetings.
And now letters started to appear regularly in the correspondence columns of the Pioneer criticising Liberal members of the Board, its new Clerk and the way it was conducting its affairs. Their various authors were all anonymous —  ‘An Ilkestonian’, ‘A Ratepayer’, ‘A Working Man’, ‘Pimlico’, ‘A Resident’, ‘A P’, ‘Another Ratepayer’, ‘Veritas’, ‘A Tradesman’.
There seemed no end to the number of people now unhappy with the work of the Board although they seemed happy to express their concerns, not only about the Board but about other potential ‘misdemeanours’ associated with the Liberals.
In their line of fire were John Carrier and the size of his salary paid by the Ilkeston Building Society, Wright Lissett and the accounts of the British School, Matthew Hobson and the Ilkeston Joint Stock Cemetery, night-soil being allowed to lie in the streets, the pig-styes down Burr Lane, the Town Surveyor, William Ball and the nuisances on his premises.

For example, at the end of 1869, “Won as mesured is length’ enquired of ‘Mester Hedditur’….. ‘I wunder if ar surveor iver goes down Park rode, becos if he doos I think he mun be ether blind or else he wunner see, for they’s bin too lode a sinders reet on’t footrode at frunt of sum nue hauses for abuv a munth, an I think if Jim as hones em had bin different kulur, he’d had horder to shift em sum time sin”.

Working for the Pioneer John Wombell was allowed to attend Board meetings as an observing reporter and one can imagine the accounts he would now prepare for his newspaper. There were extended reports of the divisions and arguments and seeming inadequacies of the Board’s affairs. It wasn’t long before the Board was complaining of ‘many inaccuracies’ in the reports of its meetings appearing in the local newspapers. The Pioneer was singled out for particular criticism and its reporter was warned that he faced a ban from Board meetings if his ‘inaccurate’ reports continued.

 

From 1875 Local Board elections were held in April, and not in July, the anniversary of its founding. (1874 Sanitary Board Amendment Act : Section 26)

(The Local Board vs. the Gas Company)