Election reflection

Today is election day in the United Kingdom, the third in less than five years. That got me thinking about elections past in the various constituencies of which Springhill has been a part over the years.

Between 1290 and 1832 the land was part of the county constituency of Lancashire which returned two members as 'Knights of the Shire'. Rossendale was subject to Forest Law until 1507 however so was probably essentially unpopulated and unrepresented. Anyway the first recorded member for Lancashire was Matthew de Redman in 1294. Representatives at this time demonstrate a wide range of Lancashire locative surnames: de Towneley, de Pilkington, de Ratcliffe, de Houghton, de Hesketh, de Clyderhowe…and of course the ubiquitous Stanleys. These elections were usually uncontested and divided up amongst the leading families of the county.

The Great Reform Act 1932 led to the creation the Lancashire constituency being split into North and South, with Rossendale being in Lancashire North due to it's being part of the Blackburn Hundred. The first members were John Wilson-Patten (variously a Tory, Conservative, Peelite then back to Conservative) and Hon Edward Stanley (initially Whig, latterly Conservative). This was followed by a number of by-elections as various members were promoted to Cabinet posts or the peerage.

Initially elections were unopposed and the first actual vote was in 1868 when Frederick Stanley and John Wilson-Patten were elected. They were re-elected unopposed in 1874 so the foray into voting didn't last long.

In 11885 the constituency of Rossendale was formed from the sessional division of Rossendale and part of the Borough of Bacup. The first Rossendale MP was Spencer Cavendish (Whig) with a majority of 1832 on a turnout of 89.4%. Cavendish had first been elected as MP for North Lancs in 1857. By 1886 he stood, and was elected, as a Liberal Unionist. Interestingly the Liberal candidate at this election was Thomas Newbigging who later wrote the 'History of the Forest of Rossendale'.

Cavendish was elevated to the peerage in 1892, triggering a by-election which was fought largely on the issue of Irish Home Rule. It was won by a pro-Home Rule Liberal, John Maden, a local businessman and nonconformist, over the Unionist candidate. This result sent ripples through London and was reported as far away as Australia. Maden had a majority of 1724 on an 89% of the vote.

Turnout was generally >85% but fell sharply after WW1 with the 1917 election having a turnout of 5j7.2% (John Maden, Liberal) and 1918 of 63.6% (Robert Waddington, Unionist - the first non-Liberal since Cavendish's elevation). Turnout was back to 85% in 1922 and remained high until recent years.

By this stage Rossendale was emerging as a marginal constituency. The lowest majority was 120, won by Janet Anderson (Lab) in 1992. At the next election, 1997, Janet Anderson was returned with the highest majority the constituency has ever seen - 10,949.

There was a big fall in turnout between the 1997 (73%) and 2001 (58.7%) elections and turnout has been creeping gradually up since then, being 69.2% in 2017.

In 1983 the constituency was incorporated into the new constituency of Rossendale and Darwen. This has continued to date, but with three different boundaries and further changes proposed. The merger of Rossendale and Darwen was controversial as there is no natural connection between the two communities, no shared culture and not even a road connecting them. However it remains, presumably for reasons of franchise equality rather than representative sense.

The 2019 election is being fought between the sitting MP Jake Berry (Cons), the leader of Rossendale Council Alyson Barnes (Lab) and a Lib Dem and Green candidates whose campaigns have been somewhat lacklustre.

Today's current affairs - tomorrow's history?

I love source documents, with their immediacy and relevance. They were created for a specific purpose and their utility says a lot about the processes of daily life in our places.

Whilst I'm looking at the history of Springhill, it is good too to keep an eye on the documents being produced as part of current events here These become the primary sources for tomorrow’s history.

One example recently is the range of documents associated with planning permission. Over the past 12 months or so there has been an application to build on the field across from Springhill Lane, formerly the paddock for the Springhill estate. This of course triggered the usual set of objections from the residents with the too-ing and froo-ing of correspondence, the engagement of consultants to write reports on this and that with counter-arguments from consultants coming from the other side and so on. All of which produces lots of lovely documents to peruse. Even better they are all freely available online.

Together they give a good summary of the process:
  • exactly where the proposed dwelling is to be built and what changes will be needed to facilitate this
  • what materials will be used with their rationale. These give insight into the construction of other buildings in the area and an indication of their date of construction.
  • the discussions regarding highways focus on the heritage of retaining two stone gateposts and repairing vaccary walling whilst undertaking any widening.
  • a summary of the objections of the residents and others.

There are some surprises however:
  • the document from the Land Registry used as a basis for the plans has one of the properties in the wrong place. What is even more surprising is that the Land Registry entry for the house in question is correct.
  • the application refers to the lane being the front access to two houses and rear access to two more. In fact it is the front access to all four.
  • there is a reference to police involvement which would make a juicy story in 20 years time but might not actually have occurred
  • there is discrepancy between the two expert ecologists on the species of trees in the field

So even official documents can get it wrong and need to be crossed-checked.

These documents in turn refer to others. The ‘urban boundary’ makes an appearance (*check files* yes, got that one) as does the ‘conservation area’ (yes, got that one too) together with the ‘landscape report’ and ‘housing strategy’ amongst others. These help set the proposed changes in the wider context but also are primary documents in their own right, arising out of the need to define what should or not be conserved or built upon. So what questions and influences drove those decisions?

In the 1930s Edmund Crompston redeveloped much of Springhill, with houses being subdivided and outbuildings converted into dwellings etc. This coincided with a period of major road widening which doubtless was associated with highways reports etc.. Most of all I would love to know the grounds for objection by the residents at the time and how these were answered. I have spend many a happy hour in the library going through the Council minutes for the time which are models of brevity and raise more questions than they answer. Collecting these documents now leads to preservation of the arguments and forms the basis for research and telling of the story in the future.

'All the nice girls love a tar'

I was browsing the Discovery catalogue this afternoon in a quiet half hour (as you do) and was struck by 5 entries in the Royal Navy Registers of Seamen's Services from 1907-1917. All were for young men from the local area who had signed up for the Navy. None were from the immediate Springhill area but all gave their birthplace as 'Cloughfold', the village of which Springhill is part.

There were three things in particular which struck me:

Firstly, this area is approx 40 miles from the sea and I wonder what induced them to join the navy. Was it the excitement of the unknown? Did they have any idea what they were letting themselves in for? Had any of them ever actually seen the sea?

Secondly, 3 of the five joined up before the start of WW1 so it was presumably a conscious career choice for them rather than an attempt to avoid a less palatable option in the trenches. There was plenty of employment locally and the area was a net importer of labour so it is not likely to be desperation to find work.

Thirdly two of the lads (Fred Taylor - good luck researching that name round here- and Charles Wright - attested at the same time and have registration numbers which are not quite consecutive but separated by one digit. Were they friends who signed up together? They both registered in 1914 - did they see which way the wind was blowing and opted for the navy rather than the army?

I haven't sent off for the records yet. In that parallel universe with plenty of time…

'Waingate worthy of a song'

My father always used to say that there was a hymn tune named after Waingate, a hamlet about 400 yards along the hillside from Springhill. He couldn't remember it, had never sung it to his knowledge and didn't have a copy.

This was substantiated however by a line in a poem which referred to various parts of Rossendale and concluded 'Waingate worthy of a song'. I was no nearer finding the tune but had some external evidence that it existed.

My family had a number of hymnbooks of various ages including my great-grandfather's from 1896. Nope, it wasn't in any of them. However an online friend implied it was 'readily available' so keep looking…

Some time later I began to volunteer at the local museum (The Whitaker) and their collection included music which was played by the Deign Layrocks, a C18-19 choir and band who played in the Water and Goodshaw areas of Rossendale. Some of their instruments and original music is on display in the local history section but this reproduced copy of the music was in the store.

And there it was!

Waingate score book copy

Waingate score copy 2

I haven't tried playing it yet…need to get my clarinet out…

For good measure, the original Layrocks' instruments.

dean layrocks instruments 600

In memoriam

In memoriam:
Harry Dawson
James Driver
George Caygill
Harold Hart
Joseph Taylor

Springhill residents or neighbours who died in WW1. Rest in peace, gentlemen.

peace poppy