Estimated at £500-800 but bid to £9600 at Thomson Roddick (18% buyer’s premium) in Carlisle on December 15 was was what was billed as an exceptional example of electoral and printing history.
Comprising a four-volume collection of ‘Addresses, Squibs, Periodicals, Songs, Speeches, etc’ originally collected by a Thomas Wilson, Fell House, Low Fell, it related to a notorious bitter, costly and protracted four-way 1826 contest to elect representatives for the County of Northumberland.
This was its first contested election since 1774 as previous representation had been decided by negotiations between the major local landowners.
Two of those volumes comprised documents, broadsheets, advertisements etc, along with prose works, while a third focused on periodical publications and a fourth presented what was described as a remarkably thick volume of verses.
John Thomson of Thomson Roddick told ATG: “This lot was from the collection of the late Mr Maurice Cole of Morpeth.
“His enormous library of books on topography, local and northern history and genealogy is being sold by us in our monthly book auctions over some 10 separate sales.”
It sold to a north of England buyer.
According to the Palace Green Library (Durham University), the “bitterly fought election in Northumberland took place before the Reform Act of 1832 which makes it a very interesting study of pre-reform politics.
“At the time, Northumberland returned two members of Parliament voted for by the 40 shilling freeholders (Newcastle, Morpeth and Berwick boroughs also each elected two MPs). It was unusual for the county seats to be so fiercely contested.
“Campaigning was so expensive that there was usually an agreement that the Whigs would return one candidate and the Tories would return another, but this agreement broke down in 1826.”
In February 1826 the sitting Tory MP, Charles John Brandling, died and a by-election held. Four candidates then stood in the June general election: Thomas Wentworth Beaumont – the sitting Whig MP; Matthew Bell – the newly elected Tory MP; Henry Liddell – the Tory candidate defeated in the February by-election; Henry George, Lord Viscount Howick – Whig candidate defeated in February and elder son of 2nd Earl Grey.
The Palace Green Library adds: “Polling began on June 20 and continued for the full 15 days [with count results announced each day]. Voters were only allowed to cast their votes at Alnwick and the election agents had to arrange transport and accommodation for all their supporters. This cost a huge amount of money.”
The election expenses were colossal. It has been estimated that £250,000, nearly £20m today, was spent, including flags, printing, transport, bands and providing voters and supporters with refreshment: £33 on wine at a single public dinner in Newcastle, for example.
One poster advertised steamships and horse-drawn carts to convey voters from the south of the county to Alnwick.
Howick resigned on the 12th day of the poll and advised his supporters to vote for the Tory Bell. Beaumont lost by just 45 votes, and the Tories took both seats.
Much ill feeling had been generated – even including a (bloodless) duel on the beach below Bamburgh Castle between Beaumont and Howick supporter John George Lambton.
Thomas Wilson (1773-1858) himself added interest to this lot. A poet, he was born into a very poor family and began his working life down the mines aged about eight.
However, he became a teacher and then a wealthy man after going into commerce and joining the Losh, Lubbin counting house.
His most famous work The Pitman’s Pay, written in the Geordie dialect, was originally published between 1826-30.
In August last year Newcastle saleroom Anderson & Garland sold for a hammer price of £220, within estimate, a 5in (12.5cm) high Sunderland lustre Bell and Victory political tankard relating to the election, decorated with a portrait of the victorious Matthew Bell and related text.
The same saleroom in 2019 had offered a collection of handbills, posters, engravings and propaganda ceramics related to the 1826 election, which had become a private passion of leading Newcastle dealer, local auctioneer and six-times mayor of Alnwick Ian Robertson (1929-2009).
Entered from the estate of his late widow, Ena, they comprised a 54-lot section of a September sale (see ATG No 2411).
Top-seller then at £880 was a 5in (13cm) tall pink lustre mug with a coloured print of the Tories Bell and Liddell – who loathed each other – in a two-horse race at Newcastle Racecourse inscribed A heat between Bell & Liddell.