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Archive of the month

Archive of the month

Buckinghamshire county election ‘racecard’

Our collection of election ephemera (covering the 17th to the 20th centuries) includes many fascinating examples of the nature of campaigning over the years.

Racecard

In the 19th century, most take the form of addresses to the electors, stressing the candidate’s links to the area, rebutting slurs and advocating themselves as the best defenders of the independence of the electors. Details of the policies to be followed are decidedly thin on the ground. This piece of ephemera from the 1852 Buckinghamshire election is somewhat different however. It takes the form of a satirical racecard for the upcoming elections, as four candidates contested three seats. Some of the jokes in the card are opaque at this distance in time (the significance of Charles Cavendish’s Wide Awake is unclear), though others are rather more straight forward. Benjamin Disraeli, elected MP for Bucks in 1847, had just been appointed as Chancellor of the Exchequer for the first time, whilst Du Pre’s Wilton Park estate in Beaconsfield accounts for his sobriquet. The final candidate, Dr John Lee of Hartwell, was a noted astronomer hence the lunar reference.

Political references are spread throughout the rest of the card. ‘Mr Tindal’s Lord of the Borough’ refers to Acton Tindal, who held the office of Clerk of the Peace and had purchased the title of Lord of the Manor of Aylesbury from the Duke of Buckingham in 1848. The rider in this case refers to his father in law, the Liberal vicar of Dinton Rev John Harrison who is presumed to influence Tindal’s politics. ‘Dr Lee’s Female Woman’ takes aim at Lee’s much derided support for the cause of female suffrage. Even his Times obituary in 1866 describes him as having ‘caused much amusement by his advocacy of the right of women to vote for members of Parliament’.

The result of the poll was a convincing defeat for Dr Lee, the fifth of six such defeats he would experience in his career. Du Pre won 2000 votes, Disraeli 1973, Cavendish 1403 and Lee lagging with 656. Disraeli had supported Lee’s position on women’s suffrage on the hustings, telling his supporters to give Lee their second votes and promising to adopt the plan of Dr Lee ‘if there are to be any alteration in the suffrage’ (though he did not fulfil this promise in his 1867 Reform Act). Lee was regarded as something of an eccentric ‘singular in his mode of living and general habits’. He was also teetotal, opposed the use of tobacco and strongly religious; virtues that did not necessarily appeal to the entire electorate. He refused to engage in the kind of tricks common to electioneering at this time as being an anathema. With a relatively small electorate and no secret ballot, each elector was subject to much more influence from candidates than today. Outright payments to electors had reached their height in the scandalous 1802 Aylesbury election, and many landowners demanded loyalty from their tenants. Where Lord Carrington and the Duke of Buckingham evicted tenants who failed to vote as instructed, Lee deliberately obscured his intentions such that even tenants looking to follow his lead would have difficulty in doing so. The main parties had intended the election to be uncontested, Lee disobeying the party and standing as a radical free trader and alienating many of the main Liberal supporters. A combination of these factors were likely responsible for his defeat.

The original is on display in the Archives searchroom.