I was having a pint of Nutty Slack with Michael Braham at the Beer Festival on Saturday, well actually it was a half, when talk turned to elections in Birkdale in the time before it merged with Southport. (You may wish to check out the context in more detail than this posting will allow so please consult the online version of Michael's History of Southport Liberals which can be found on the Birkdale Lib Dem website.)
Michael maintains that these may be the oldest council election leaflets in existence from this constituency. They come from the second set of County Council elections. The Councils were set up by Gladstone to be 'Parliaments for the Provinces' in 1888. If you click on the leaflets you should get an enlarged and readable version.The first set of elections were known as the 'Allotment Election' as they were fought chiefly on the provision of allotment sites by Councils.
These leaflets date from the second elections and are quite fascinating. Firstly voting was on a Saturday which produce a high turnout. In fact the last council election held on a Saturday in these parts, 1947, produced the highest turn out of any post war local election except when they coincided with General Election as in 1979 and 2010.
It is worth examining the list of nominations, you will see Rev Wellbeloved a Unitarian Minister, given what has been written about the importance of Unitarianism to Liberalism in the last few day since Cyril's death especially over on Liberal England and in Jonathan Calder's article in the new edition of the Liberal History Journal I thought it was worthy of note. George Chamberlain JP is another Unitarian and also Chairman of the Cheshire Lines Railway Company-now the name of a fine Real Ale pub in Southport!
Women (as long as they were married) got the vote in 1894 for local elections, so the long list of women who couldn't vote supporting the Liberal Mr Hodge was impressive. ( can't remember whether single women with property got it earlier) One name stands out Eleanor Ryley-was she the mother of Kate the first women to hold elected office in Birkdale when she was elected to the Birkdale School Board in 1889? There is a suggestion that the family were Unitarians
The second letter from a 'Workingman' tackles the scare tactics used to keep the Catholic vote with the Tories. I should explain that Southport was predominately a non conformist town but there was a significant catholic population and in this part of Lancashire that meant they were English Catholics who tended to vote as the local Catholic squirearchy decreed-ie Tory, unlike the immigrant Irish Catholic voters who tended to vote Liberal after Gladstone's attempt at Home Rule. On this occasion the suggestion is being put about by the Tories that the Liberals would make life difficult for catholic education.
The final leaflet take up the issue raise in the first letter to the Guardian namely the lack of a polling station in Ainsdale which had clearly been promised by the Tory and not delivered.(Ainsdale was part of the Birkdale division before being annexed by Southport in 1912. It was quite an imposition to have to go to vote several miles away in Formby and of course the 1883 Corrupt and Illegal Practices Act meant that you couldn't pay for 'conveyances or animals usually let for hire ', hence the reference to nobody being allowed to pay your railway fare.
Well after a fine scrap Mr Clinning was returned and has a Birkdale road named after him. Interestingly all the roads in Birkdale Common referred to in the letter over the workhouse, field hospital and isolation cottages have all been renamed-probably to try and remove the stigma attached to their former use
After all that I could just fancy a visit to the Cheshire Lines for the 'other half ' of that Nutty Slack.