Cambridge Tories and students smash up the Cambridge Reform Club following election win over Liberals – from 1885


And the town and Mayor were appalled. Furthermore, they attacked the offices of the Cambridge Independent Press – a Liberal supporting newspaper from which the following report – again from the British Newspaper Archive, this report is taken from. You can read some of the court reports of those arrested via subscription here.

851128 Tories smash up Cambridge Reform Club postelection_1


“To the majority of the members of both political parties in Cambridge the result of the election on Tuesday must have come as a surprise—to most of the Liberal electors it was, of course, a bitter disappointment. The success which attended the meetings held in support of the candidature of Mr William Fowler was of so unvarying a character that to outsiders his return by large majority appeared almost to be a foregone conclusion; but the last week’s experience of those who took in hand the work of canvassing was not such as to inspire them with the conviction that the contest would terminate in a great and easy Liberal triumph.

“It is not our duty in these columns to speculate as to the probable causes which led to the reversion of the verdict of 1880 — that will be found elsewhere — but it is within the province of report to state the facts; and one fact that made itself very evident during the latter part of the campaign in the borough was that, notwithstanding Mr. Fowler’s distinct pledges and the honest assurances of the leaders of the Liberal party that it would not be discussed with a view to its settlement in the next Parliament, the question of disestablishment, forced upon the country by the Tories for purely party purposes, had the effect of exciting ungrounded fears in the breasts of many so-called Liberal Churchmen, and induced them, unfortunately, perhaps, for the Church herself, to withhold that support from Mr. Fowler which on the last occasion he sought their suffrages they almost to a man gave him.

“Then, again, the election was undoubtedly to some extent influenced by the bribery, one shape or another, by which many of the undergraduates of the University were able to get hold of the lowest and most despicable of the voters — the men who dishonoured their class by the willingness which they showed to sell the great privilege which they possess for a few pints of beer.

“The Tory undergraduates, however, did not confine themselves to the comparatively harmless law-breaking of bribery: but, to their indelible disgrace, it must be said that they instigated and led on unruly mobs to commit upon the property of several of the residents of the borough outrages of the most dastardly description.

“It was on Monday night that the riotous proceedings, which characterised the election, commenced. During the day well-known loafers were noticed patronising, with suspicious frequency, the various public houses in the town, and in the evening, when they had become half-frenzied with drink, they joined a mob of undergraduates, many of whom were in scarcely a better condition, and paraded the town, giving vent ever and anon to cheers for Fitzgerald, “and intimating that they were Good Old Tories.”

“In a brief space of time, the mob assumed considerable proportions it numbered, perhaps, some three or four hundred and, evincing a desire to extend the limits of their perambulations, they proceeded in the direction of Sturton Town, as far as the Hall, in which the Salvation Army were holding, as usual, a meeting. The members of the borough police force, anticipating a breach of the peace, succeeded in turning the rabble back into the town, and, on arriving in Petty-cury, they halted opposite the Conservative Club, gave lusty cheers for the Conservative candidate (Mr. Penrose Fitzgerald), who, happening to be upon the premises, attempted to address the rioters, whom to-day he has the honour of numbering amongst his constituents.

“The roughs and undergraduates — the distinction as subsequent events proved is unnecessary broke up in detachments, and, in spite of the strenuous efforts made by the constabulary to disperse them, they proceeded to various parts of the borough to perform the serious mischief which they eventually committed. considerable number of the mob visited the Reform Club, in Green Street, and rushed up the stairs. Several officials were at work at the time in the committee rooms, and a dancing class was also being held in the assembly hall.

“Of course, the attack caused considerable alarm; but the courageous efforts of those on the premises succeeded in preventing the mob from going further than the staircase, and at last the invaders were repulsed to such an extent that it became possible to close the doors. An attempt was made to burst them open; but, this proving ineffectual, the scoundrels amused themselves by breaking the two plate-glass windows in the doors and doing other damage, with the aid of sticks and stones.

“Things might have assumed a graver aspect had not the police rushed to the spot as soon as they became aware of what was going on. The mob subsequently visited the office of this paper. Under ordinary circumstances, they would not have been able to obtain admission, as the premises are shut off from the street by a door. However, it so happened that some of the employees were working late, and the door being left open, the roughs were able to make their way up the passage into the yard, smashed several panes of glass, and then hastily decamped.

“The residence of Dr. Matthew Robertson (proprietor and editor of the Independent Press), Minver House, Bateman-street. was also attacked. Some difficulty seems to have been experienced by the rioters in finding Dr. Robertson’s house; but they ultimately discovered it, and discharged at it one or two volleys of stones. Happily, the damage done was comparatively trifling, a large square of glass in the study window only being broken. Windows were also broken at the residence of Mr. J. Burford, in Trumpington Street, and a few bell handles and knockers were wrenched from their places. And now we come to what was by far the most serious outrage, and with it, as far as we can learn, the night’s work of violence and destruction was brought to termination.

“A large number of desperate scamps, apparently not satisfied with the amount of destruction they had already accomplished, proceeded to Castle End, and, after smashing windows the residence of Mr. A. W. W. Dale, M.A., and Mr. Collin—principally those of the front bedrooms with stones, they continued their journey to the house of Mr. M. I. Whibley, the Huntingdon Road, where they committed damage of the most wanton description. They broke the long wooden fence in front of Mr. Whibley’s residence. They then, with these pieces of wood and stones, smashed most of the front windows of the house, and so great was the violence of the attack, that not only was the glass broken, but the lead casements were greatly battered.

“Having reduced the place into quite wreck, the infuriated roughs made hasty retreat, and appear to have relinquished for the night their villainous work. In the course of the riotous proceedings, P.C. Rayment was, we regret to learn, considerably injured. We have been informed that the windows of a public house in Norfolk-street, belonging to Mr. G. Bullock, and other houses were also broken.

“The polling on Tuesday passed off quietly enough, (and the orderly manner in which the legitimate work of the election was carried out bore testimony to the immense amount of good effected the Corrupt Practices Act. The Tories displayed almost every available corner flaming posters, full of sensational and unfounded statements. Pink and white flags floated from several windows, while across some of the streets bunting of the same colours was suspended. Tory rosettes decorated all sorts of coats. They were, of course, worn by the busy supporters of Mr. Fitzgerald’s candidature, but it was surprising to find the number of dirty urchins who had, by some means or other, become possessed of these dainty party favours.

The little ragamuffin and the inebriated vagabond reeling about the streets and setting at defiance the Vagrancy Act by begging for money from undergraduates and others, for the purpose of making himself a greater beast than he had already proved himself to be, alike decked themselves with pink and white rosettes, the latter a splendid specimen of that political enigma—-the Conservative working man.

“The polls opened at eight am, and, thanks to the late Liberal Government, closed at eight at night, four hours later than was the case at the last election, boon after the closing of the poll, crowd assembled on the Market Hill. There was a large number of undergraduates present, and all the evening there was a good deal of shouting and rushing about. However, everybody appeared to be good tempered, and the police (who were augmented by a number of special constables and some of the county force) had no difficulty in maintaining fair order. The result was declared by the Mayor (Mr. W. B. Redfern) about midnight, as follows:

  • Fitzgerald 2,846 (Cons)
  • Fowler 2,739 (Lib)

“…showing a majority of 107 in favour of the Conservative candidate.

“The cheering was tremendous. When the new member for the borough presented himself at the window, the shouts of the crowd became louder and hats and handkerchiefs were waved in the air. Mr Fitzgerald addressed a few words to the assembly, congratulating them on their great victory, and upon the “orderly conduct of the citizens (but he must have forgotten. In the moment of his excitement, the dastardly acts of the previous night). He referred to Mr Hough one of the winners of the fight, expressed hope that the electors would go quietly home, and concluded by proposing a vote of thanks to the Mayor. During the evening a mob paid a second visit to the residence of Dr Robertson and broke another window.

“On Wednesday, the Conservatives were still excited with their unexpected victory, and the rougher element amused themselves during the day with discharging small cannons and crackers about the streets, demanding money from almost everyone with a decent coat to his back, and spending it in the nearest public house.

“About half-past seven, procession was formed, and, headed by a cab, whose occupant—we regret to say, a tradesman delighted his followers by letting off various kinds of fireworks en route, the mob marched towards Chesterton. Another procession was formed by some of the horse-dealing and cab-driving fraternities, and accompanied in a vehicle by two cornet players, followed by a number of undergraduates. These “horsey” individuals perambulated several of the streets of the town, creating a most horrid noise. Subsequently, a third procession, consisting chiefly of undergraduates was arranged on the Market Hill, and marched down Petty Cury bearing an effigy labelled Doctor Robertson.

“A halt was made opposite the Junior Conservative Club, and the effigy was burned, amidst barbaric yells. A bonfire of inflammable materials was afterwards got together and lighted on the Market Hill, and with this, a crowd was entertained until past midnight. Thus was brought to a close the riotous proceedings which, unhappily for the credit of Cambridge, signalised the part which the borough played in the General Election of 1885.

“The successful candidate, Mr. Robert Uniacke Penrose Fitzgerald, of Cork Beg Island, Whitegate, county Cork, is the eldest son of the late Mr. Robt. Uniacke Penrose Fitzgerald, J.P.. and D.L., by bis marriage with Frances Matilda, eldest daughter of the late Rev. Robert Austen, D.D., Rector of Middleton, county Cork. He was born 1839, and was educated at Westminster and Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He is a magistrate and deputy-lieutenant for the county of Cork, and was some time Government member of the Cork Marine Board. He married, in 1867, Jane Emily, eldest daughter of the late General Sir Wm. Codrington, G.C.B.

“Mr. William Fowler, the late member for the borough, is a son of Mr. John Fowler, of Chapel Nap. near Melksham, Wilts, by Rebecca, daughter of Mr. William Hull, of Uxbridge, and was born in 1828. He was educated at University College, London, of which he is a fellow, and graduated at the University of London in classical and mathematical honours in 1818, and was University Law Scholar in 1850. He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1852, and read in the chambers of the late Earl Cairns. He is a magistrate for Essex, and was formerly partner in the banking firm of Alexanders, Cunliffes, and Co. Mr. Fowler represented Cambridge from 1868 to 1874, and again from 1880 till the dissolution.”

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