Monday, 2 September 2013

Curious Curio

My Monday Moment is going to roll on into Tuesday and beyond...

Part 1

This badge is one of the curios that I can’t bear to part with, my aunt having kept it for many years so I know it had to have had some meaning in the family. Polishing it up was the easy part – finding out about it has been more problematic. 

At first, it was so blackened I thought it to be made of brass, but when I used a metal polisher it has come up more like silver. Which alloy it is I have no clue, except that the greenish verdigris on the reverse probably indicates copper is a constituent part.

At the top, the GLA was clearly something to do with Glasgow, Scotland - my place of birth, many of my ancestors also having come from the area. 

The words ‘Franchise Demonstration’ set around the date 1884 – were great clues to start researching. It wasn’t too difficult to discover that the Franchise Demonstration in Glasgow 1884 was to do with Third Reform Act, to do with the right to vote, but I wanted to know more than that.

I posed myself some questions…

If one of my ancestors wore the badge during a ‘Franchise Demonstration in Glasgow in 1884’ what were the main aims of the protest demonstration? Who were they trying to enfranchise? Who could vote in 1884 before the Third Reform Act?

I considered myself extremely lucky that on June 18th 1970 I was amongst the first batch of voters who were able to vote at a general election on having reached the age of 18 years - the former age being 21 years. The ‘Representation of the People Act 1969’, which led to me being able vote, is sometimes named the Sixth Reform Act but what of the five Acts that came before that? 

The right to vote in governmental general elections in Great Britain (England, Wales and Scotland) has come in many small stages since 1832. I had a good idea that Scotland would have had its own Reform Act, but I wanted to know what was general across Great Britain, as well.

I vaguely remember covering work on The Reform Acts in my British History classes at school, which dealt with the issues of Universal Suffrage in Great Britain. Prior to 1832, voting in England and Wales was often affected by corruption, the vote taken out in the open air at the hustings.  The hustings were an electioneering platform which was erected for the elections. Nominations were taken for candidates; the candidates addressed the electors and the vote was then taken by a ‘show of hands’. Not at all private or secret, but I had no idea if it was the same situation in Scotland at that time.

The Great Reform Bill (First) of 1831 aimed at enfranchising the middle classes. I remember my enthusiastic History teacher (1963?) emphasising that a ‘BILL’- i.e. a proposal to the British Parliament - had to go through a number of stages before it became an ACT and was written into the constitution. When Lord Grey introduced his Bill in 1831, it was carried through its second reading by a majority of ONE, which generated great excitement at the time. After some amendments (a new election having returned Lord Grey as Prime Minister), the Bill was passed triumphantly in the House of Commons - but was thrown out by The House of Lords who did not like the threat of so many men being able to make decisions in British politics.  

Riots broke out all over Britain, the riots in Scotland so bad that soldiers had to be sent north to quell the angry demonstrating fervour. It took some effort on the part of Lord Grey and his supporters but, in 1832, the Bill passed through all the necessary stages and became the first Representation of the People Act of 1832 (England and Wales). It was only a very first step, though, as it only enfranchised around one man out of twenty-four of the population. Basic benefits from the Act were that in towns (boroughs) a male householder, over the age of 21 years, whose home was worth £10 (per anum), was given the right to vote. In the counties, the requirements were more complex to acquire the franchise (affecting freeholders and leaseholders) but in general, the act gave more of the middle classes the vote. 

Scotland had its own Scottish reform named Representation of the People (Scotland) Act 1832,  passed about the same time as that for England and Wales. What had it achieved in Scotland? The result was quite considerable. Before 1832, about 5,000 adult males could vote. After the Act was passed this number increased to about 60,000- the £10 value qualification even more generous than England andWales. It enfranchised owners of the £10 minimum value in the burghs and property owners of £10, or tenants of £50 rental in the country areas. The number of MPs returned to Parliament in London increased from 45 to 53, changes having been made to boundaries and to how the counties/shires amalgamated for representation. Prior to 1832, MPs had been elected at a meeting of representatives and this remained largely unchanged. The new changes to boundaries for general elections meant that for some local elections the boundaries would be different and voted on according to local requirements.  Like England and Wales, the Scottish Act enfranchised more of the middle classes.

The working classes, who had participated in the riots and demonstrations, were disappointed at not gaining more benefits, but the franchise reform was only one of many types of reforms which were passing through parliament at that time.

Yet, those Scottish demonstrations had clearly had major effects- the general working classes in Scotland were able to publicly declare their opinions for all to see.

More about the lead up to 1884 in Part 2 of this series of blogs!


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