Cllr Henry Thomas Hall of the Cambridge Liberals gets into trouble with pro-Royalist councillors. 1871/72.

The British Newspaper Archive has recently uploaded many of the back issues of the old Reynolds’s Newspaper. The only thing that the name reminds me of were the widely-lampooned Reynolds Girls from the late 1980s which I remember from when I was at primary school.

“I’d Rather Jack” by the Reynolds Girls – I think they got a bit of a raw deal given the other things that were around at the time. Also their second verse was decades ahead of its time. Have a listen.

The newspaper however, was one of the leading radical newspapers of its day. It was founded by George Reynolds and bought out in the interwar era of the 20thC by the Co-operative Society, only to decline and close in the 1950s.

Keyword-searching national newspapers of old often reveals local news stories from across the country syndicated from the many local newspapers around at the time.

Doing a key word search I found out about a local working class man with six daughters who won £1,000 in 1924. (About £60,000 in 2020).

This was Mr Thomas Day of 31 Rathmore Road, Cambridge. As well as being in my childhood neighbourhood, that part of town in Mr Day’s day also had the Cambridgeshire High School for Boys, where after WW2 a British Intelligence Officer called Brinley Newton-John would return to civvy street as its headmaster.

Mr Thomas Day and family.

Being a national newspaper, there were a surprising number of Cambridge town stories – mainly ones that look like they were syndicated from local newspapers, such as court reports and council meetings. Having not sorted the results by date, one article normally outside my search parameters appeared.

Bristol Republican Club praises Cambridge Councillor

I spotted this article citing a Cambridge councillor that I had not heard of before.

This was followed by the same club writing to the Irish Post praising the Chairman of the Belfast Waterworks Commission for speaking out against similar motions despite “an atmosphere of servility and flunkeyism”

There’s a very important historical and political context here. After the death of Prince Albert in 1861, Queen Victoria went into lifelong mourning and was a semi-recluse for until the 1880s. At the same time, the behaviour of the Prince of Wales (later Edward VII) scandalised society. The involvement of the Prince of Wales in the Harriet Mordaunt divorce case (a time when divorces were heard as public court cases) happened in 1870, which only helped to ferment anti-monarchist sentiment. This at a time when France had overthrown its own and last monarch Emperor Napoleon III following his capture in the Franco-Prussian War that created modern-day Germany.

Cllr Henry Hall speaks out against a motion praising divine provenance for the recovery of the Prince of Wales from illness.

Art UK has this image of Henry Thomas Hall sourced from the Cambridge Central Library.

Above – Henry Thomas Hall – detail from a damaged portrait (here) in the Cambridge Central Library.

In what sounded like one of the most bizarre of council meetings (and I’ve been to more than a few in my own times!), at a meeting of the Cambridge Borough Council on 08 Feb 1872, Cllr Hall began asking to put on record that someone accused him of belonging to a secret society, and he was having none of it – effectively considering such an accusation slanderous.

There then followed the motion praising the almighty for helping the Prince of Wales get better. It was drafted in the flowery language that was the norm of civic society of those days.

The motion above reads:

“We, your Majesty’s faithful and attached subjects, the Mayor, Aldermen, and Burgesses of the Borough of Cambridge, in Council assembled, desire to express our devout gratitude to Almighty God for the merciful answer vouchsafed to a nation’s prayers at a time of great anxiety, and to offer to your Majesty our heartfelt congratulations on the recovery of his Royal Highness the Prince of Wales from his recent dangerous and protracted illness and it is our earnest prayer that his valuable life may be spared for many years, to add to the happiness of your Majesty, of H.R.H. the Princess of Wales, and of a united, loyal, and devoted people”

Cambridge Chronicle, Sat 10 Feb 1872, in British Newspaper Archive.

It was too much for Cllr Hall who rose to speak.

Cllr Hall said he was fine with being glad that the Prince of Wales had survived, but didn’t like the bit attributing the cause of the Prince’s recovery to The Almighty.

“He could not say the address proposed started with the true cause of that recovery. The disease had been controlled by human power, and was to be kept in check by a close observance to sanitary matters. He considered the recovery to be due to the high scientific knowledge of the Prince’s medical advisers, and the excellent nursing procured him. He was sorry that the subject of Divine Providence had been introduced, because he believed it to be disadvantageous to true religion [[“oh, oh,”] – heckled councillors] and detrimental to the progress of humanity, for it must necessarily engender superstition [dissension], which had proved the confusion of many states because it introduced a new primary power which ravished the sphere of government.”

Cambridge Chronicle, Sat 10 Feb 1872, in British Newspaper Archive.

In the end, only Cllr Hall voted against the motion.

This wasn’t a one off – the previous month councillors had voted to censure Cllr Hall over the latter’s republican sentiments which councillors felt was incompatible with the office he held.

The motion condemned Cllr Hall’s conduct.

“That this Council takes the first opportunity of expressing its indignation at the conduct of Councillor H.T. Hall at the Council meeting held on the 21st Inst on the vote of sympathy with her Majesty the Queen, the Princess of Wales, and the Royal Family, in their recent deep affliction and anxiety through the serious illness of H.R.H. the Prince of Wales; and declares the disloyal expressions uttered by him on that occasion deserve the disapprobation and censure of the Council.”

Cambridge Chronicle, Sat 06 Jan 1872, in British Newspaper Archive.

This stems from a remark Cllr Hall made at a previous council meeting on 21 December 1871, which was republished in 1894 after the death of Cllr Hall.

“The Prince of Wales had been ill from a fever, which was a natural complaint; it had proceeded in its natural course, and he was glad to find he was getting better, not for the country – for he had never been and never would be any use to it, – but for himself and his widowed mother.”

Cambridge Chronicle, Sat 24 Aug 1894, in British Newspaper Archive.

The article goes onto quote Cllr Hall’s extended defence of his republican views:

“He asked them—What Republican doctrine had he advocated What Republican principle had he – laid down? He had not sought to disturb the equanimity of the Council by the propagation of any Republican principle. But he would tell them he was a Republican, being of opinion that that was the only true form of government. But he would add that the establishment of Republican form of government in England just then would not be advantageous to its interest, because they were not prepared for it—the people of the country were not intelligent or moral enough to understand the principles of a Republic, which was government of the people by the people and for the people, and it was necessary for that high standard of government that the intellect and moral power of the people should be developed.”

Cambridge Chronicle, Sat 24 Aug 1894, in British Newspaper Archive.

The other significant point to remember was that at the time Cllr Hall was making that speech, it was only two years after the passing of the Education Act 1870 by Parliament – bringing in compulsory elementary schooling for the first time. This piece of legislation caused more than a fair amount of disquiet within the churches as up until then, the Church of England held a dominant position in the running of schools. What it didn’t have was the capacity or the political support to expand church schools to meet the demand for school spaces. As a result the first council-run schools were established.

Cllr Hall continued with an impassioned defence of free speech

“Speech should be as free as the wind – men should be free individually to think, and speak, and act. He claimed the right to think and act for himself.”

In the end, only one councillor voted in support of Cllr Hall, and he was censured and, by the looks of it, barred from sitting on any of the council committees for that civic year.

But there is far more to Cllr Hall than his anti-monarchist views. This will follow in a separate blogpost.


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