Scene: Ilkeston in turmoil.
(The Town lighting issue of the 1850’s is now in the past)
There was no Town Hall; the officials running the business of the town were embodied in the Ilkeston Board (i.e. the Local Board) which held some of its early meetings in our parlour in East Street.
Later on, and until the Town Hall was built, all public meetings were held in the Cricket Ground Chapel.
In 1858 the Government passed the Local Government Act, replacing the Public Health Act of 1848.
This new act empowered any district to create a ‘Local Board’ if sufficient ratepayers of the area wanted one.
Members of the Board were to be elected annually by the ratepayers — that is persons rated to the relief of the poor in the district — and owners of property, who were granted multiple (one to six) votes, depending upon the rateable value of their property. Thus members of the Board tended to be the more wealthy or ‘professional’ members of the local populace.
The new Act widened the powers of these Boards to encompass street improvement, cleaning and paving, sewers and public lavatories, pleasure grounds and slaughterhouses, water supply and burials, fire prevention, and safety regulation in several other areas.
While a Civil War raged in the states of America, that conflict was mirrored on a much smaller and far less deadly scale between the ‘North‘ and ‘South‘ of Ilkeston.
In the early 1860’s the issue of replacing the Highway Board with a new Local Board for Ilkeston arose and was accompanied by lengthy, protracted and acrimonious arguments within the old Highway Board and in the town generally.
The controversy divided the town, not along political lines but by geography. Those living south of the bottom of Bath Street were called the ’Up-towners’ and were largely in favour of adopting the 1858 Act and appointing a Local Board. Those in the northern part of town — the ’Down-towners’ and ’Cotmanhayites’ — strongly opposed this.
Of course there had to be exceptions — like Hubert Henri Sugg for example, a solicitor’s clerk living in Market Street but a recognised leader of the ‘down-town’ faction.
He was supported by Alexander Sisson, framework knitter and later butcher of Cotmanhay Road, who turned poet after a criticism of him appeared in the (pro-Local Board) Pioneer. He wrote to the Editor…
‘If any more at me you sneer,
I’ll stop the sale of your ‘Pioneer’,
As I’m the man to do it,
Although I have slender purse,
I have a tongue which shall you curse,
And all my neighbours know it’.
The early months of 1864 were filled with meetings, elections and votes, objections and hearings, claims and counter-claims, ill-tempered squabbling and personal insults flying between the members of these two groups.
On Thursday January 7th 1864 a meeting was convened in the Justice Room at the Cricket Ground Chapel to consider the issue of the Act’s adoption and the formation of a Local Board.
The chairman of the meeting, the Rev. James Horsburgh, Vicar of St Mary’s, proposed the adoption and was supported by Matthew Hobson, Dr. George Blake Norman, Bartholomew Wilson and others, but it appeared that the majority of those present opposed this view.
Dr. Norman therefore demanded a poll and this took place on Tuesday, February 9th, the result being announced the following day…..
in favour of the Act’s adoption, 560, and against, 221.
This result did not please one group.
The poll was followed by objections from the ‘down-towners‘ and demands for an investigation and an inquiry.
And in the meantime several members of the same group were determined that the life of the old Highway Board should be extended as long and with as much power as possible…. all in an effort to thwart the formation of a new Local Board.
Thus, in the Spring months of 1864 a new Highway Board was elected, the majority of whose members were ’Down-towners’ and ‘Cotmanhayites’. Many prominent ‘up-town’ ratepayers within the community objected to the election on the grounds that it was illegal, not having taken place at the correct time.
These arguments were taken into various courts, each one supporting or not opposing the view that the recent election for the Highway Board was indeed illegal.
Thus followed a period of factionalised in-fighting amongst many ‘prominent’ and ‘influential’ members of Ilkeston’s community. The ‘up-towners’ were arguing against the legality of the newly-elected Highway Board while the ‘down-towners’ were fighting against the formation of a new Local Board.
“The law’s uncertainties led to the expenditure of large sums of money, and to some curious proceedings. William Rose (who was the rate-collector) mysteriously disappeared for months, in order to avoid the serving upon him of a mandamus ordering him to deliver up his books to the Cotmanhayites”. (Old Resident, IP 1900)
Eventually an inquiry followed by an appeal hearing decided in favour of the ‘up-towners’. A Local Board was to be set up and almost immediately there was serious jockeying for position, as potential candidates lined up to serve on the new body, including many men who had vehemently opposed its establishment.
On June 20th 1864 the Local Government Act came into lawful operation in Ilkeston. On that very day a letter, written by a leading ‘up-towner’, George Blake Norman, and concerning the future composition of the Local Board, appeared in the Pioneer.
He dismissed Hubert Henri Sugg as ‘a lawyer’s clerk’, an opportunist and Janus, and asked,…..
“if it were thought desirous to promote sobriety, temperance, and tea-totalism, and a committee were to be appointed for that purpose, would the object be best secured by appointing on that Committee none but confirmed drunkards?”
‘Obviously not’ was his own reply.
Therefore, he went on to ask, would it be sensible to elect onto the new Local Board those who had vehemently opposed its adoption in the past?
Again he suggested his own answer but trusted the ratepayers of Ilkeston would select “men of honour, men of probity, men of reputation, and I venture to predict that they will never regret the adoption of the Local Government Act”.
Now serious electioneering for the prospective members of the new Local Board began.
Three days after Dr. Norman’s letter was published the ‘down-towners’ organised a meeting at the club-room of the Needlemakers’ Arms in Kensington to bring their ‘gospel’ to the people of that area. The ‘usual Cotmanhay suspects’ led the meeting, to press their case to be elected onto the new Local Board. They were faced however with a hostile audience of locals, crying ‘We don’t want you at Kensington’, ‘Go home’, ‘We can vote and chose our members without Cotmanhay dictation’,’ You are regular parish disturbers’ … and ‘the most uncomplimentary epithets’ were exchanged.
It was indicated by needle manufacturer and Kensington resident Benjamin Tatham that the ratepayers of Kensington could think for themselves and resented the interference of this Cotmanhay faction.
Suddenly all those present in the club-room were convulsed with fits of sneezing, coughing and spitting, and rushed outside into the fresh air. Some mischief-maker had ignited a noxious irritant in the stable under the meeting room, the fumes had leaked through the floorboards and the result was a premature end to the gathering.
To paraphrase Otto von Bismarck… “Local Board decisions are like sausages. It’s better not to see them being made”
Four days after the stink at the Needlemaker’s Arms and another meeting was held. But this one was called under the provisions of the Local Government Act, at the old Justice Room to decide on the composition of the new Local Board…… a packed gathering at which the two factions, still very unhappy with each other, were fully represented.
Thomas Shaw, property owner of Pigsty Park, North Street, and a leading opponent of the Local Board, was initially chairman of what rapidly degenerated into a very fractious occasion. The details and events of this meeting were vaguely described, contested and contradicted in various organs of the press and elsewhere, but it seems to have begun with an almost farcical argument over procedure. Thus….
George Small proposed that the new Board should have 13 members…. proposal not seconded.
Samuel Carrier then proposed that the Board have 15 members… proposal seconded by his brother Joseph.
Hubert Henri Sugg then proposed an amendment to adjourn the meeting for six months…. but he forgot to get this proposal seconded.
John Wombell then proposed as an amendment to Samuel Carrier’s motion that the Board should have 18 members ….. proposal seconded.
Chairman Thomas Shaw refused this latter amendment, as Mr. Sugg’s suggestion had priority.
It was then pointed out that the Sugg’s amendment was not valid as it was not seconded.
Luke Wright then intervened to second Sugg’s amendment.
Up chimed John Wombell once more, to say that his amendment had been seconded before that of Hubert Henri… he therefore had priority. So there!!
However the chairman put the Sugg amendment to the meeting, when it was voted upon and passed by a large majority.
Now what was already a confused situation became even more chaotic and boisterous. There was a tussle over the minute book, and it was reported that Mr. Sugg became very animated and called Dr. Norman a liar.
Old Resident recalls that “to impugn Dr Norman’s veracity was an offence he could not allow to go unpunished, and he accordingly landed his traducer a violent blow on the nose, which (to use a sporting phrase) ‘tapped his claret’”.
This blow seems to have been the signal for everyone to join in.
Even the Vicar of St. Mary’s was not to be left out and he went sprawling across the floor, losing his vestry book in the process.
Chairman Shaw was forced to vacate his position when he suddenly discovered that he no longer had a chair to sit upon!
The Pioneer describes hats flying in all directions and ‘several parties were seen clutching their opponents by the hair of their head’.
Both Mr Shaw and Mr Sugg now thought it judicious to leave the room but finding their way to the door blocked, improvised, and left via an open window.
Eventually the meeting somehow continued, now chaired by Dr Norman, but it did not last long.
However one decision was reached; the new Board was to have 18 members!!
Old Resident was a lad of about 13 at the time and was waiting outside the room when the meeting broke up.
He remembers seeing George Tooth, currier of Bath Street, emerging with coat off, shirt torn, hatless and hair dishevelled. George was followed by Luke Wright, grocer and draper of Cotmanhay Road, and now of matching black eyes, donated by Thomas Anthony, stocking maker of Anchor Row, ‘a tall raw-boned man who knew how to use his fists’.
Luke’s son, Luke junior, a young man of 22 and barely five feet tall, demanded retribution for the hurt his father had suffered and rushed off into Bath Street, shouting ‘Show me the man who struck my father !’ His search was fruitless, perhaps fortunately.
The Pioneer concluded its account of the meeting…. “over the most disgraceful scenes enacted at this meeting we wish to draw a veil, and hope, for the credit and interest of the parish, that all parties will at once make an effort to approach each other in a friendly spirit. Let there be an armistice to the strife..”
Some hope ! And not one which the newspaper helped to fulfil with subsequent articles.
The ‘down-towners’ would not accept defeat gracefully, and arguments and objections continued, lawyers were engaged and courts were visited. For a while Ilkeston was blessed with both a new Local Board and the old Highway Board, which struggled to continue through the efforts of Messrs Shaw, Sugg, Wright, Sisson and other ‘down-towners. At one time it seemed as though the ‘Cotmanhayites’ had prevailed in their argument such that one of their number, Henry Clay, keeper of the Mundy Arms, distributed 36 celebratory gallons of free ale.
Sadly for Henry there was nothing to celebrate; the courts had decided that a Local Board was legal.
In the meantime a Local Board had been elected on July 11th 1864 and consisting of 18 members…..
Aaron and Joseph Aldred junior, (victuallers of Bath Street?), Henry Ash, retired army adjutant and land owner of Cotmanhay, William Attenborough, farmer of Cotmanhay, William Ball, lace manufacturer of Dodson House, Joseph Carrier, draper of Bath Street, Isaac Gregory, grocer of Bath Street, Matthew Hobson, farmer of Field House, Dr. George Blake Norman of Dalby House, Samuel Richards, grocer of Cotmanhay Road, Edward Severn, farmer of Little Hallam, Robert Skeavington, farmer of Cotmanhay, William Sudbury, butcher of South Street, Amos Tatham, needlemaker of Nottingham Road, John Taylor, farmer of the Manor House, Isaac Warner, builder of South Street, Edwin Smith Whitehouse, iron master and farmer of Little Hallam, Bartholomew Wilson, gas company agent of Nottingham Road.
The Board held its first meeting on Tuesday, July 12th 1864.
Dr. Norman was unanimously elected chairman by its members. Treasurer was John Taylor. John Wombell, editor of the Pioneer which had so staunchly supported the ‘up-town’ cause, was employed as clerk to the Board.
At a later meeting Samuel Pounder was appointed as Surveyor, Inspector of Nuisances, and Collector of Rates.
By the end of 1864 several of the Board’s opponents were beginning to admit defeat, and almost a year after the mêlée in the old Ilkeston Justice room, Justices at the Court of Queen’s Bench decided in favour of the supporters of the Local Board.
Interestingly, a year later Hubert Henri Sugg applied to become clerk to the Board and then entered the election of Board Committee members in 1866; he was unsuccessful.
George Blake Norman was Chairman of the Board until, in 1867 he was one of those chosen to resign. However at the subsequent election he topped the poll and was re-appointed as Chairman.
He was still in that post two years later when he was faced with an election crisis.