By Gareth Evans, February 2022


Henry Marsland stood as a candidate in the first four Stockport elections. Henry failed to win a seat in the first election in 1832 but was returned to parliament in the next three: 1835, 1837 and 1841. He stood down ahead of the 1847 general election.

The Stockport constituency was formed by the 1832 Reform Act. The act established a large number of new constituencies, like Stockport, to provide parliament representation for the growing manufacturing towns and cities. In doing so it removed the historic pocket or rotten boroughs that had few electors and often fell under the control of a single patron. For example, Newton, in South Lancashire, had around 50 electors and was regulated by the Leghs of Lyme to such an extent that it was known as being one of the most controlled boroughs in the country.

Another effect of the act was to regularise the criteria for determining those eligible to vote by establishing uniform property qualifications. In borough constituencies, like Stockport, eligibility was based on the ownership of property worth £10 a year. In most areas, including Stockport, the measures resulted in an increased number of eligible voters, but this was not the case in all areas as some constituencies had wide franchises based on historic precedents. The 1832 act also specifically debarred women from the electorate. Prior to 1832, if women householders met the property requirements of their constituency, they were able to vote.

Before considering the campaigns that Henry fought, it is worth noting some features of mid-19th century elections.

Two MPs, ‘Plumpers’ and ‘Splitters’

In this period parliamentary constituencies returned two MPs. Thus electors had two votes, something which was true for voters in Stockport until 1950. A voter could choose to be a ‘plumper’ who plumped for a single candidate, leaving his second vote unused. A ‘splitter’ used both his votes, selecting two candidates.

Not a secret ballot and a running tally

Secret ballots were not used in British Parliamentary elections until 1872. Before that date, a voter would enter the polling booth and indicate which candidate or candidates he supported. Whilst in the booth, his eligibility to vote might be questioned, especially by supporters of other candidates. A record of voting was kept, so the political choices made by any elector became widely known.

Unlike a secret ballot where votes are counted only after the polls have closed, an open ballot allowed running totals of votes to be kept. Thus, an elector was often aware of the state of the poll at the time he cast his vote. In early Stockport elections the polls were held over two days and the result of the first day’s polling was widely reported, a fact that worked to Henry Marsland’s disadvantage in 1832.

Treating, Bottling and Cooping

Voters were treated to alcoholic drinks and other treats by supporters of the candidates. An elector could not simply accept a treat from one candidate’s supporters and then vote for another candidate without his deception becoming known. Treating and other forms of bribery were widely used in British elections before 1832, but there is evidence to suggest that treating increased after that date.

Treating could cause controversy. In the 1847 Stockport election, the Tory candidate, James Heald, was supported by the Wesleyan Methodists. Some of Heald’s other supporters seem to have been very enthusiastic in treating potential supporters by purchasing alcoholic drinks, not something of which Heald’s Methodist allies approved. After the election newspapers published accounts of the scale of the treating. Because voters’ identities were known, an analysis of those publicans that held the franchise could be undertaken. Of the 44 eligible publicans in Stockport, 41 plumped for Heald, and this was claimed to be evidence for the extent to which Heald’s supporters had treated voters.

If voters were not influenced by treating, ‘bottling’ or ‘cooping’ was an alternative. In this case voters were kidnapped, locked in a building, often a pub, and plied with drink. Bottling could work in two ways. On the morning of the poll the bottled voters would be taken to the booth where they would be expected to vote for their kidnappers’ candidate (the Stockport Whigs employed this tactic in 1841). Alternatively, if the bottled voters were intending to vote for an opponent of their kidnappers, they would be taken away from the town and held until the polling booths were closed.

Hustings and Polling

Before polling took place, usually on the preceding day, a nomination hustings meeting would take place. At Stockport these were held outside the courthouse or in the marketplace. Each candidate would be nominated by his supporters. The candidates then addressed the crowd. Speeches varied in length; most were a few minutes long. However, in 1847 the Chartist candidate, John West, gave a speech of over an hour and a quarter, which was, according to newspaper reports, listened to with interest.

In Stockport, an audience of 10,000 people at the hustings was not unusual. With an electorate of a little over 1,000, it is clear that the vast majority of the audience were not eligible to vote. However, the disenfranchised had a role to play. Following the speeches, the returning officer, usually the mayor, would call for a show of hands to indicate the support for each of the candidates. The returning officer would then identify the two candidates that had the greatest support of the meeting and suggest that they be elected without a poll. At this point, any of the candidates could object and request that a poll of registered voters be taken. The polls were always requested in Stockport.

Of course, with a majority disenfranchised attendees the hustings crowds’ preferred candidates were often rather different from those of the registered electors. John West’s speech in 1847 was very well received by the hustings crowd and he received almost unanimous support from the meeting. The result of the poll was rather different; West received just 14 votes to finish fourth, 523 votes behind the candidate in third.

Those without the vote could influence the outcome of the election in other ways. Shopkeepers with the franchise had to be careful, if they voted against their customers’ interests, their businesses could be boycotted, an action referred to as ‘exclusive dealing’.

1832 General Election

Henry Marsland first sought election in 1832. It is unclear whether Henry wanted to be an MP. He was nominated by a requisition paper which was signed by a quarter of the registered voters. It is unclear whether the requisition was raised with his knowledge. Henry stood as a Whig with radical leanings. Some modern sources classify Henry as a radical, but most contemporary sources classify him as a Whig. Henry’s opponents were:

  • Major Thomas Marsland (1777-1854) – Thomas was not a relation of the Marslands of Woodbank. Thomas Marsland was often referred to as a Major, though some contemporary newspapers gave his rank in inverted commas, indicating that it was his rank in the local yeomanry rather than the regular army. Thomas Marsland owned the Daw Bank printworks, the largest calico printing factory in Europe, and was in the process of completing the Wellington Mill in 1832. Thomas Marsland was supported by the Tory party.
  • Edward Davies Davenport (1778-1847) – Davenport was a former guards officer and Italian scholar. In 1837 he inherited Capesthorne Hall from his father, Davies Davenport. Davenport served as the MP for Shaftesbury between 1826 and 1830, where he was elected unopposed. Unopposed election was common in the 19th century, even after the passing of the 1832 Reform Act . In 1830, Davenport stood for the Cheshire county constituency, for which his father had represented from 1806-1830. He was unsuccessful. Despite being a well-connected Whig, one contemporary newspaper refers to him as being of the extreme radical party; as evidence Davenport stated he would stand for re-election annually. Another potential candidate, J Newton, a solicitor and JP from Cheadle Heath, who later appears of have dropped out, was described in the same terms.
  • John Horatio Lloyd (1798-1884) – Lloyd was the wildcard in the election. He was the son of John Lloyd the clerk to the Stockport magistrates who was active in supressing Luddites in 1812 and radicals in 1818 and 1819. Due to his father’s success in supporting the establishment, Lloyd’s education was funded by his father’s wealthy admirers. He attended Stockport Grammar School and the University of Oxford and was later called to the bar. It seemed that he was following in his father’s reactionary footsteps in joining the Stockport Loyal Wellington Club. However, he stood for Stockport on a radical platform. Eighteen months before the election he had given a speech to a Tory audience denouncing Tory policies and claimed to have been a radical for eight years.

There are no reports of trouble before the election, although it seems to have been a long process. There are reports of speeches and pamphlets in August, but polls did not take place until mid-December.

There was some friction between Major Thomas Marsland and Lloyd. Major Marsland’s supporters published a pamphlet that referred to Lloyd as a “briefless Quarter session barrister, with as little talent as need be under a Whig and possessing any quality of assurance”. The pamphlet also pointed out Lloyd’s membership of the Loyal Wellington Club and stated that “Mr Lloyd is now a red-hot mob orator, and an out-and-out Radical”. In an article entitled “Amusing Election Speech”, the Morning Chronicle of 27 August 1832 reported Lloyd’s response to Thomas Marsland’s jibes. As to his possessing assurance, Lloyd responded by saying “assurance because I tell the unrepresented the truth”. As to being a mob orator Lloyd responded by saying that he “would tell them the difference between an assembly and a mob: an assembly were those with good broad cloth coats on, and whose hands were rather dirty; and coats of narrow cloth were a mob”. These exchanges were to be forgotten and then remembered, with fatal consequences.

One key element of Henry Marsland’s platform was his support for the repeal of the corn laws. At this time, repeal was a radical position supported by working people. Later in the decade repeal was adopted by the middle-classes, especially millowners and other employers.

In 1832 the nomination meeting was held on the 12 December and polling took place on 13 and 14 December.

At the end of the first day of polling, the votes were cast as follows:

Thomas Marsland


Henry Marsland


John Horatio Lloyd


Edward Davies Davenport


It seemed that both Marslands were to be elected. However, Thomas Marsland and Lloyd then formed a pact, with Thomas Marsland urging his voters to support Lloyd; a fact that Lloyd acknowledged in his speech following the declaration of the result. By the end of the second day of polling, Lloyd had made up sufficient ground on Henry Marsland to be elected. The final sate of the poll was:


Gain on 2nd Day

Overall Total

Thomas Marsland



John Horatio Lloyd



Henry Marsland



Edward Davies Davenport



Lloyd, although heckled by cries of ‘turncoat’, offered no apology for allying with the Tory Thomas Marsland. Lloyd accused Henry Marsland of ensuring that his supporting committee voted on the first day to make it appear that he would be elected and thus influencing wavering voters to vote for Henry on the second day. Lloyd was open about employing tactics to ensure his election. In his acceptance speech he stated, “the warfare of elections is not always contested without tactics and stratagem, and by stratagem I have won; but no man is more adept in these tactics than that indefatigable and talented conductor of Mr H Marsland’s election”. Speaking directly after Lloyd, Henry Marsland stated “Gentlemen, I would rather remain amongst you honoured and respected than stand on these boards as your Representative dishonoured and disgraced (great cheering). A most unnatural coalition has existed against me for more than a week (cried of ‘it’s false’) (Mr Lloyd – it is false) because they knew I was a staunch supporter of your rights”. After acknowledging the support of Davenport and his supporters, Henry Marsland said “Gentlemen, this coalition between a Tory and a Radical against me is inconsistent and disgraceful”. In response, Lloyd stated he only sought the support of Thomas Marsland “at the last hour” and accused Davenport of hawking his votes.

The alliance between Thomas Marsland and Lloyd was brittle. In the week after the election their supporters engaged in violent clashes. Two men, both employees of Thomas Marsland, were killed in the marketplace and others had life-threatening injuries. A clergyman, a Mr Howell, who tried to intervene was injured. Rumours stated that Thomas Marsland had been killed, but these proved to be untrue, although he was slightly injured.

The overall results of the election were that the Whigs won 441 seats, the Tories 175 seats and the Irish Repeal Party 27 seats. Thomas Marsland was entering a house with his party very much in the minority. However, party allegiances were far less formalised than today, and those classified as Whigs encompassed a wide range of interests and opinions which led to significant instability.

1835 General Election

A general election was held in January 1835, just 26 months after the previous election. Between the elections, there had been four prime ministers, two Whigs, Earl Grey and Viscount Melbourne, and two Tories, the Duke of Wellington and Robert Peel.

If there was considerable flux at Westminster, Stockport was more stable. Just three candidates stood, all veterans of the 1832 election. The sitting MP, the Tory Thomas Marsland, and two Whig opponents, Henry Marsland and Edward Davies Davenport. The other sitting MP, John Horatio Lloyd, decided that parliament was not for him. Citing a weak constitution, he decided not to seek re-election.

Prior to the election, Thomas Marsland was regarded as a certainty to be elected, and, having come third in 1832, Henry Marsland was the favourite for the other seat. Henry stood again as a radical Whig advocating repeal of the corn laws, voting by secret ballot and triennial parliaments.

The build up to the election seems to have been relatively peaceful, but the two days of the election were anything but. The authorities seem to have been prepared for trouble and enrolled sixty special constables for duty on the day.

There seems to have been significant feeling by those without the franchise against Thomas Marsland. Men gathered in various parts of the town before congregating in the marketplace where they verbally abused ‘every person obnoxious to them’, taunted the police force and threw missiles. When the crowd was about 500 strong, the mob attacked the police, beating the constables and stealing their badges. The crowd then moved to Wellington Road, where they attacked the homes of Thomas Marsland’s supporters (Vickers, Bunn and Steel), breaking windows and furniture. They then set off to Marsland’s Wellington mill. Rallied by Vickers, who was a manager at the mill and who had seen his house attacked, the millworkers defended their workplace, and they gained the upper hand in the battle. Defeated, the mob then moved to St Peter’s Square, where they attacked the home of Thomas Marsland’s son, John, breaking all the windows and window frames within reach. The pubs in which Thomas Marsland’s supporters had committee rooms were the next targets. Damage was done to the Shakespeare on Higher Hillgate, the Star, and the Warren Bulkeley Arms. The rioters were tricked at the Rose and Crown, another of Thomas Marsland’s committee rooms, by someone who threw two of Davenport’s green rosettes out of the window and this action spared the pub being damaged.

By this time, polls had closed for the first day of polling. It seems that Thomas Marsland’s supporters were deterred by the disturbances as the state of the poll was given as:

Thomas Marsland


Henry Marsland


Edward Davies Davenport


Following the established practice at election time, the local garrison of infantry had been sent outside the town. The mayor recalled these troops and requested cavalry from Manchester. At around 7pm, the infantry met the rioters. The Riot Act was read, and the mob dispersed. By 10pm the cavalry had arrived, and the streets were quiet. The rioters were not totally idle, however, at midnight they burnt a haystack in Edgeley belonging to one of Thomas Marsland’s supporters.

Thomas Marsland decided to take advantage of the situation by printing a handbill:

Electors of Stockport – Your town has been disgraced, the property of your neighbours destroyed, and set on fire by a hired mob, encouraged by sedition from the hustings! Evince your detestation of such proceedings by immediately giving your votes to Major Marsland”.

The second day of polling started peacefully and briskly, with newspapers reporting collaboration between Henry Marsland and Davenport, an alliance justified by that between Lloyd and Thomas Marsland at the previous election.

Peace was not to last, however. A mob gathered in the marketplace and a further riot was feared. The cavalry was recalled from Manchester, but they arrived too late to save the Millstone in Portwood, another of Thomas Marsland’s committee houses, and the windows and furniture of the house of Mr W Howard, a Thomas Marsland supporter. With the military back in the town and a further 206 special constables sworn in, the authorities took charge. Several rioters were captured taken to the New Bailey in Manchester.

Over the course of the riot, several other properties had been damaged including several pubs (the Jolly Hatters, the Union Tavern and the Rose and Crown).

The magistrates issued a proclamation at 2pm:

… that in the event of any riot, tumult or breach of the peace taking place, they will vigorously put in force all the powers of the law for supressing the same, and bringing the offenders to punishment. And they caution that all persons whomsoever to keep within doors, to prevent their being identified with any mob or illegal assembly”.

The rioting seemed to strengthen Henry Marsland as he went on to convincingly win the election. Thomas Marsland’s vote held up sufficiently for him to be elected.


2nd Day


Henry Marsland



Thomas Marsland



Edward Davies Davenport



What is surprising is that the alleged pact between Henry Marsland and Edward Davies Davenport did not result in Davenport performing better. In their speeches after the vote was declared, Davenport and Henry Marsland used “very severe language toward each other”. Davenport accused Henry Marsland of encouraging his supporters not to vote for Davenport. Henry Marsland denied this and said that he had no control over his supporters’ votes.

After the election, the Chester Courant analysed the results. The number of plumpers (voters for a single candidate) and splitters (those that voted for two candidates) was presented.




Henry & Thomas Marsland

Henry Marsland and Davenport

Thomas Marsland and Davenport

Henry Marsland





Thomas Marsland





Edward Davies Davenport





Davenport was perhaps being disingenuous in his speech, almost two thirds of his votes came from those who also voted for Henry Marsland. Of course, if the 128 that had plumped for Henry Marsland had also voted for Davenport, Davenport would have been elected. However, it simply seems Davenport was the least popular candidate. Both Marslands were large employers who lived in the town; Davenport, as a wealthy country gentleman, did not have this connection. This seems to have overridden the fact that Henry Marsland and Davenport both stood as Whigs on similar political platforms. However, pollical parties were far less cohesive entities than they became by the start of the 20th century.

In 1835 Henry Marsland joined a parliament with a Whig majority (385 seats to the Tories’ 273). The Whig, Viscount Melbourne, led the government.

1837 General Election

In this period a general election was called when a monarch died. Following William IV’s death and Victoria’s accession, a general election was held, just over 30 months after the last.

The two sitting MPs, Henry and Thomas Marsland stood for re-election. No other Tory candidate put himself forward. Urban constituencies tended to return reformist Whig candidates. Thomas Marsland was an exception to this, but he was well known in the town and a major employer. Another radical Whig candidate was thought to stand a good chance, certainly by the radical newspapers. Two possible candidates emerged: Richard Cobden (1804-1865) and Samuel Stocks (c1786-1863). Stocks was local, hailing from Heaton Mersey, and the senior partner in the bleachworks Stocks and Tait. Cobden, originally from Sussex, had settled in Manchester in 1832 and quickly became eminent in the political life of the city, writing letters to the local papers on political and economic issues. Between 1835 and 1837 he travelled widely, visiting the USA, Russia, Spain Turkey and Egypt. Whilst Cobden did not have the national political reputation that he later enjoyed, he was certainly a well-known political figure partly due to his well-received 1836 book, ‘Russia’, which he wrote to counter the then prevalent Russophobia.

Cobden enjoyed the support of local radical newspapers and was also personally disparaging of Stocks. Stocks appears to have pulled out of contention in the face of the support for Cobden. Stocks eventually emigrated to the colony of South Australia. His son, Samuel Stocks junior, had moved to South Australia in 1842 and made a fortune in mining, although the riches led to excess and an early death.

Whilst candidates could be classified as Tory and Whig and/or Radical, politics was far more about the individual candidate’s views and merits than alignment with a centrally produced manifesto. This is highlighted by a meeting held 10 July 1837, sixteen days before the polls, which was attended by 450 people to decide on the “mode of returning two reform candidates for the borough”. The question was whether those interested in reform should support both Henry Marsland and Richard Cobden.

Henry Marsland positioned himself above the issue. He said that he did not approve of pacts, and it was for the elector to decide. It was perhaps a good position for a sitting MP to adopt as it allowed him to appeal to voters who would support both the local candidates, himself and Thomas Marsland, irrespective of politics. Moreover, he may have been bitter about his experience in 1832 when Thomas Marsland and Lloyd combined against his interest.

There was much support for Cobden, although some argued that he was a foreigner who was known only for his writings. The meeting overwhelmingly supported the two candidates. Arrowsmith, in ‘Stockport, A History’ (1997), notes that Cobden agreed to stand for Stockport on the understanding that he would be free to pursue his wider political aims and not act as a constituency MP.

In his nomination speech, Henry Marsland reiterated his reforming platform of 1835 and, whilst he did criticise the Tory party, he refrained from mentioning his fellow MP Thomas Marsland. Cobden was far more combative. He stated that Thomas Marsland, despite being supported by Tories, had, in previous campaigns, advocated reformist ideas during the election only to vote against these principles in parliament. Cobden was not alone in making this point. Cobden’s platform was for the repeal of the corn laws and for free trade more generally.

Prior to the election, there was much discussion about how the electorate should vote. That someone should be a plumper for Thomas Marsland or be a splitter for both Henry Marsland and Richard Cobden was said to be understandable and up to the conscience of the voter. Strong language (‘blockhead’ and ‘knave’) was directed by Cobden at those who split for him and Thomas Marsland or split for both Marslands.

Unlike the previous elections, the 1837 poll was to take place on a single day. Polling booths were erected in the marketplace on the day of the hustings, the day before the poll was due. At 10am the candidates were nominated. A large crowd gathered, estimated to be between 12,000 and 15,000. Of course, most of the audience did not have a vote, there were only 1,192 registered electors.

Henry Marsland was first to speak. The crowd was well disposed to him, and it was several minutes before the applause died sufficiently to let him speak. His speech mentioned that there was only one candidate advocating Tory policies and he wondered why two could not be found. He then appealed to voters to vote according to their own conscience (thus not explicitly endorsing Cobden as a fellow reformer) and appealed for calm.

Thomas Marsland received a mixed reception, cheering and booing was heard. His speech was directed at Cobden, suggesting that his proposed reforms to the House of Lords would be unconstitutional and that, should Cobden’s reforms be passed, Victoria would be presented with acts of parliament to which she could not give assent.

Cobden’s speech concerned free trade and how the lack of it impacted on the prosperity of manufacturing towns and the workers. One of his examples was sugar, which was given preferential tax treatment if it came from British colonies. Cobden advocated that working people should be able to buy untaxed sugar from any country. He also attacked Thomas Marsland stating that he “had sought in all parts of the borough for opportunities of hearing the slightest reason given for Major Marsland being returned, and he had met with none yet”.

Following the speeches the mayor asked for a show of hands. Henry Marsland received almost unanimous support. Thomas Marsland attracted about 100 raised hands, as did Richard Cobden. Thomas Marsland demanded a poll, and this was granted by the mayor and the poll clerks were sworn in. The poll began at 8am the next day, a Thursday.

The result of the election was announced on the Friday morning to a large crowd. The result was

Henry Marsland


Thomas Marsland


Richard Cobden


This led to both sitting MPs being returned. After the result was called by the mayor, Thomas Marsland stood on his chair to speak. His feeling was as the senior member that he had the right to speak first. Instead the mayor called Henry Marsland to speak first. Thomas Marsland “became violently excited” and pushed his way through the crowd “his retirement greeted by the loudest hootings”. Henry Marsland’s speech was broadly conciliatory, and he made no mention of Cobden’s failure to be elected.

Cobden’s speech was initially gracious. He thanked Henry Marsland for his “cordial and enthusiastic” cooperation. He viewed his campaign as a success having only been in the town for three weeks to stand against a man who was a major employer. He then attacked Thomas Marsland and other Tory millowners. He suggested that one cause of his defeat was that at least 30, probably 50 to 60, Tory voters had been incorrectly registered, and he pledged to take the case to court. Some sources suggest the bribery was alleged.

In August Cobden articulated a further reason for his failure to win election, which was the preaching of Charles Kenrick Prescot, the Rector of Stockport. Before the election, Prescot preached a sermon that advised his congregation against allying themselves with the Edomites. In the Bible, the Edomites are said to be descended from Esau and were enemies of the people of Israel. Cobden took this as an instruction from the pulpit for churchgoers not to vote for reformist candidates and stated this in his final election address.

Prescot wrote to Cobden, asking Cobden to prove that Prescot had made the reference in the way that Cobden implied or else to publicly withdraw the charge. Cobden responded by stating that Prescot had canvassed as a Tory and that no one could mistake the intention of his sermon. Prescot then wrote a letter to the Stockport Advertiser denying the charge that he had canvassed for the Tories. Cobden responded by writing to Prescot, criticising him, and many Church of England priests like him, for preaching in favour of the Tories and creating a “Parsons’ Parliament”. Cobden released the letters that he and Prescot had exchanged to the press. He also wrote to the Stockport Advertiser in response to Prescot’s letter, further accusing Prescot of supporting a political party in strong language “for one who in private life is nothing better than the emissary of political factions, for one who, in public, officiates at the high priest of Bacchus at the reeking orgies of operative conservatives”. The ‘operative conservatives’ refers to the Society of Operative Conservatives, i.e. millworkers who supported conservative aims; there was a corresponding reformist society. Unlike many reformers, such as the Unitarian Henry Marsland, Cobden was member of the Church of England.

Cobden continued to be associated with Stockport. In November 1837, the Irish Nationalist MP Daniel O’Connell was invited to a dinner at Stockport. A crowd of around 6,000 gathered in the marketplace to listen to O’Connell and Cobden. After the marketplace speeches, Henry Marshland took O’Connell and Cobden to Woodbank. Later they attended a dinner, which was held in a large tent near Orrell’s mill at Brinksway. The tent had to be large, 2,150 attended the dinner to listen to speeches by O’Connell, Cobden and Henry Marsland.

The reformers were not having it all their own way, however. Council elections held in November 1837, surprised many, including the Tories, by the success of Tory candidates. Thomas Marsland had his own dinner to celebrate his election at the National School on 1 January 1838. His main guests were: Sir Francis Burdett (a one-time radical MP for Westminster, he became a Tory by the time he stood down from Parliament in 1837); Sir George Sinclair (MP for Caithness from 1811-1841, most famous for declining to dine with William IV on a Sunday); W Tatton Egerton (MP for Cheshire North 1832-1858); and Thomas Grimsditch (MP for Macclesfield 1837-1847).

1841 General Election

With support for Melbourne’s Whig government failing in the face of Robert Peel’s Tory opposition, an election was called for June and July 1841.

In Stockport, the Whigs were represented by one of the sitting MPs, Henry Marsland, and by Richard Cobden. Cobden’s national reputation had grown since the 1837 election. The Anti-Corn Law League had been formed in 1838 and Cobden was its chief organiser and main speaker. He campaigned against the corn laws, challenged aristocratic landlords and battled against Chartists. Such was his reputation that at least two other constituencies, Bolton and Halifax, wished him to stand. However, a petition signed by 600 of Stockport’s registered electors persuaded him to stand again in Stockport. Given that there were 1,238 registered electors at this date a petition of this size almost guaranteed his election.

Another Whig, Edward Stanley (1802-1869), wished to stand, with Henry Marsland or Cobden standing aside. Stanley was the sitting MP for North Cheshire. Influenced perhaps by the knowledge that rural areas were moving towards the Conservatives he became interested in Stockport. However, he had to satisfy himself with standing for North Cheshire and losing his seat. He also became mired in controversy. The Tory-supporting Stockport Advertiser analysed the registered electors for Stockport who had the county vote, i.e. could vote in the North Cheshire election, and found that several registrations were fraudulent. People outside the area were registered as owning property in the town without their knowledge and were impersonated by others at the polling booth. The scandal did not harm Stanley in the long term. Elected again in 1847, he was created Baron Eddisbury of Winnington in 1848 and inherited the title of 2nd Baron Stanley of Alderley in 1850. Serving the government in the Lords, he was President of the Board of Trade between 1855 and 1858 and was Postmaster General between 1860 and 1868. His most significant contribution to public life was probably the establishment of the Post Office Savings Bank in 1861.

Standing against the Whigs, Henry Marsland and Cobden, was the other sitting MP, the Conservative Thomas Marsland. Thomas Marsland faced a difficult problem. Nationally, there was a swing toward the Conservative party which should have benefitted him. In rural areas, part of the swing was due to the Conservative stand against the corn laws. However, in an urban constituency, opposition to corn laws had become a very significant issue. Thomas Marsland tried to address this by writing in the local press that he supported reform of the corn laws to the extent of advocating that tariffs on imported grain were reduced, but he stopped short of advocating repeal.

In 1832, when Henry Marsland had campaigned on a platform of repealing the corn laws, the issue was one of supporting working people for whom bread was a staple of their diet. By 1841, the repeal of the corn laws had become an issue of interest to millowners. Indeed, Cobden stated that in 1837 he had been opposed by millowners, in 1841 he was supported by them. Part of the issue was that the high price of bread had an impact on the wages that workers had to be paid. A reduction in the price of bread, could allow wages to be reduced or at least stabilised. Moreover, the issue of the corn laws had become totemic in two respects. Firstly, it represented a battle for power between new money and old, between businessmen and landed aristocracy. Secondly, opposition to the corn laws also implied support for free trade, another cause with which millowners and other manufacturers had sympathy.

There was to be a fourth candidate in this election, Jonathan Bairstow (1822?-1853?), who despite his youth, was a rising figure in the Chartists. Bairstow, a wool comber, was not a native of Stockport and at the time of the election was probably living at Queenshead near Bradford. Chartism had a significant following in Stockport and Bairstow would have been a popular candidate for those without the vote. Strangely, Thomas Marsland and the Conservatives were not unhappy to see Bairstow stand for election because there was considerable animus between the Chartists and Henry Marsland and particularly Cobden. Both Henry Marsland and Cobden had dismissed the Chartist demands in the years before the election. Chartists had been suppressed in the late 1830s in Stockport, with sixteen being jailed for receiving arms and rioting. A large rally of Chartists in Stevenson Square in Manchester in 1839, singled out the Whigs of Stockport for approbation. A speaker claimed that the Whigs of 1839 were like the Tories of 1832 in opposing reform.

Whilst both Henry Marsland and Cobden and most, but not all, Chartists were on favour of repealing the corn laws, there were significant differences in approach. For the Chartists, the corn laws should only be abolished when the six points of their charter had come into effect. Because the charter advocated universal household suffrage, it would be up to the new, more representative parliament to decide. Whilst Cobden and Henry Marsland had some policies in common with the Chartists, they far from embraced all of the charter’s demands. To be fair to Cobden, his opposition to the corn laws was not mercenary; the time that he gave to the cause significantly reduced his income. Moreover, he believed that free trade would encourage peaceful coexistence between nations reducing the incidence of war. Cobden’s later record shows his pacificism, he vigorously opposed the Crimean War and the Second Opium War whilst in parliament.

Cobden was certainly a target for the Chartists. His national profile and outspoken opposition to them was one factor. Another was that Cobden was blamed by the chartists in the ‘Stevenson Square Butchery’. Stevenson Square had been used for many years as a venue for Chartist meetings, and from 1841 onwards it was also used by the Anti Corn Law League (ACLL). The reference to ‘butchery’ probably refers to an incident on 2 June 1841. The Operative Anti Corn Law Association attempted to hold a large public meeting at Stevenson Square on that date. Ahead of the meeting, the Chartists had pasted a large number of placards criticising the league. Some press reports suggest that funding for these had come from Tory donations. The Chartists placed themselves in front of the platform, with their banners unfurled, including one which said ‘Down with the Whigs’. The ACLL supporters attacked the Chartists, who, expecting a fight, were armed with walking sticks. The ACLL supporters overwhelmed the Chartists. The Manchester Times 5 June 1841 reported that ‘… the Anti-Corn Law party, among whom were some spirited Irishmen, soon made up for want of weapons by seizing their antagonists’ flag staffs, which breaking into short lengths were converted into shillelahs [sic]. There was now no resisting them!’.

Because of the strong anti-Whig and anti-Cobden rhetoric, some newspapers referred to Bairstow as a tory-Chartist, believing that in taking votes from the Whigs, he would benefit the Tories.

On Friday 18 June, 12 days before election day, an anti-Corn Law meeting was held in Stockport. It was being addressed by a Mr Easby when a number of Chartists interrupted the speech. The Chartists were immediately attacked and badly beaten by Irishmen armed with bludgeons. The Irishmen proceeded to the marketplace, where they broke stalls and damaged the produce of the greengrocers. There was a large number of Irish workmen in the town at the time because the railway viaduct and associated train line was being built, which added to the already quite substantial Irish community.

On the following Monday, the Chartists held a meeting addressed by Bairstow. Fearing further attack, they were armed. Attacked again by Irishmen, the Chartists had the numbers and weapons to beat them off. The Chartists the sought revenge and moved to the Irish area of the town where they broke windows. A number of people were injured in the riots, the most serious injury was to a boy who was stabbed by a fork.

Newspaper reports claimed that the Irishmen involved had also been present at the attacks at Stevenson Square and that they had been paid four shillings a day to attack Chartists at Stockport. It is not clear who paid the men to break up the Chartist meeting and to prevent the anti-Corn Law meeting being disturbed. Naturally suspicion fell on the Whigs.

Despite Bairstow’s campaigning, he failed to make the ballot. On 25 June, 5 days before the hustings were to take place, William Andrew, the mayor, wrote to Bairstow stating that unless he paid £50 election expenses, he would not be issued tickets for the hustings. If Bairstow were unable to attend the hustings, he would be unable to be nominated and thus electors could not vote for him. Bairstow consulted the Chartist leader Feargus O’Connor to get legal opinion. The opinion stated that Bairstow should not pay. On the day of the hustings, the mayor wrote to Bairstow offering the tickets for £10. Bairstow didn’t pay and was denied the chance to be nominated.

It is unlikely that Bairstow would have made much of a difference to the result. At the next election , in 1847, a Chartist, John West, did manage to get on the ballot and received an overwhelmingly positive reception from those gathered to hear the speeches at the hustings. West gained just 14 votes, 523 behind the 3rd placed candidate.

Cobden’s speech at the hustings was badly received by the audience who were largely supporters of Bairstow. Thomas Marsland, whose speeches at previous hustings had been badly received, was given a good reception. The reception for Henry Marsland’s speech is not recorded. Thomas Marsland called for the ballot to be held the next day. Cobden immediately left by rail. Several Whig supporters were given drinks and taken away by coach to spend the night before the polls under supervision, an example of bottling.

The poll took place in the marketplace. As usual a running tally of support was kept. By 12:30pm the state of the poll was:

Henry Marsland


Richard Cobden


Thomas Marsland


It was clear to Thomas Marsland that even if all the outstanding votes fell to him, he could not win. He then withdrew from the election and the poll was closed.

Henry Marsland and Cobden entered a parliament on the opposition benches as Peel’s Conservatives had won a majority. In 1846, it was Peel and his Conservative government that repealed the corn laws.

1847 Election and Beyond

Henry Marsland did not stand in the 1847 election.

Richard Cobden stood again and headed the poll. However, he had also been nominated for the West Riding of Yorkshire where he was elected unopposed. He could not sit for two constituencies simultaneously and he decided to sever his connection with Stockport and sit for the other constituency. The West Riding of Yorkshire was a far bigger constituency with over 30,000 registered electors, 30 times that of Stockport. Cobden continued to serve as an influential MP, for the West Riding of Yorkshire until 1857 and for Rochdale from 1859 until his death in 1865.

Cobden faced three new candidates in 1847

  • James Heald (1796-1873) – Conservative, who won the second seat. Heald lived at Parr’s Wood house. Heald served until 1852, but he stood down as he began to favour the Whiggish ideas of free trade.
  • James Kershaw (1795-1864) – Liberal, associated with the anti-Corn Law League. He had previously twice stood in Warrington. By 1847 he owned the Mersey Mills in Stockport, which later became the India Mills.
  • John West (1812-1887) – Chartist, who polled just 14 votes. He was imprisoned between 1848-49 for attending an illegal Chartist meeting.

With Cobden relinquishing his Stockport seat, a byelection was called for December 1847. Kershaw, unsuccessful earlier in the year, stood against Thomas Marsland. This was a bitter fight, which led to a battle between supporters of the two candidates who attacked each other’s committee rooms. At least one person died in the battle.

Kershaw won the election and kept the seat, winning three general elections until his death in 1864. The 1847 byelection was Thomas Marsland’s last foray into politics and he spent his retirement at Henbury Hall near Macclesfield which he had purchased in 1812.