Mayor Foster slammed the Tories for being “Naughty, naughty…very naughty!” Cambridge Market Hill 1823

His name? Ebenezer.

Some of you might get the musical reference. Some of you might wonder what Cambridge Mayor Ebenezer Foster has got to do with a chart-topping song about narcotics. Growing up in South Cambridge in the 1980s & 1990s, and being a frightened-of-authority type, I was completely oblivious to the references in the song (Explained over two decades later by one of the group here) because Conservative ministers and The Church were of the view that if you didn’t teach children about the bad stuff that was happening in the world, they wouldn’t go out and do it. Hence producing songs like Just Say No! for Grange Hill in the late 1980s, which involved not showing teenagers what they were supposed to say “No!” to. I also assumed that the authorities would not let a song go on sale about drugs. I assumed that politicians were supposed to be honourable folk like other people in civic society. As we went through the 1990s I found that this was to be a very strong assumption, and by the time I left Cambridge for university down in Brighton, I was fed up with the lot of them. Had I read about the history of what local Conservatives had been getting up to in the early 1800s, while I was still at school, I might have taken a more sceptical view about politics and politicians in general. But you live and learn!

Ebenezer Foster – the banker from the family which left Cambridge with one of its finest civic masterpieces.

The Trumpington Local History Group has written a nice summary about the family, including photographs of the buildings that the Foster Family built. Further additions were made to it in the mid-1930s, a time when much of Central Cambridge was being rebuilt for a new consumer age.

Above – From the Cambridgeshire Collection. The clock tower behind is for me one of Cambridge’s most iconic civic landmarks. Anyone heading into the town centre from south Cambridge on foot, by cycle or on public transport will see that tower as they approach down Regent Street. Inside is even more grand.

Above – the interior of the old Foster’s Bank, now Lloyds Bank, St Andrew’s Street, Cambridge. Taken with kind permission of the bank staff.

John Mortlock – the scoundrel who did the opposite, squandering the town’s wealth for his corrupt cronies

Mortlock has his own blue plaque and his conduct is recorded by Cambridge Past Present & Future:

“As Mayor, he engineered the changes to Corporation by-laws and practice that enabled him to stay in power, and he used the corporation assets to reward his followers.”

John Mortlock by CambridgePPF

After so many years of corruption and cronyism, there was only so much that people could take. Prof George Pryme MP, one of the people who broke the Rutland interest of which Mortlock represented, was one of the people who took action. Ebenezer Foster was another – you can read a summary of his life here. In 1823 a large gathering on Market Hill took place to try and thrash out the case for Reform. The devoutly Tory-supporting Cambridge Chronicle wrote up a very partisan report of that meeting, and Mr Foster wrote into the paper to contest their report. I’ve transcribed it from the British Newspaper Archive as follows:

“To the Editor of the Cambridge Chronicle.

Cambridge, February 21, 1823.

SIR,

“THE statement given in your paper this day the proceedings our County Meeting, on Friday the 14th inst. requires some comment.

“It has been a subject of great regret to the peaceable inhabitants of this town, that at two or three of our late County Meetings, constitutionally convened the Sheriff, the proceedings have been interrupted by the interference of the junior members of the university.

“As Editor of a Paper, your reading or natural intelligence might have suggested that young men in their nonage, minors alike in years and intellect, cannot consistently assume any other character at a County Meeting but that of patient simple auditors.

“You, however, evidently wish to raise the courage and inflame the passions of those you stile [style?] “young aristocrats,” in a paragraph as injudicious its spirit it incorrect its facts. You also state, in your leading article, that the proceedings of the day “resembled bear-baiting, rather than deliberative assembly.” This is quite incorrect: the order of the meeting was only disturbed at its close the noise and turbulence of your “young aristocrats,” who attended from no fixed principle, except the love of riot and fighting, and whose ill conduct the authority and discipline of their Tutors and preceptors ought restrain.

“A most serious responsibility attaches to the Heads and Seniors of the university, which they could scarce Justify, should any fatal accident occur public meeting, to these young boys, from their languid discipline or wilful inertness.

“When the inhabitants of the town, young or old, attend the elections, or any other public proceedings of the university, they behave with order and decorum and surely we ought to expect equal, if not superior, propriety of conduct from young men who are educated and should behave as gentlemen.

“You endeavour also, Mr. Editor, to underrate both the numbers and respectability of the meeting. The former might be safely estimated at upwards of 3,000, and you could scarcely be so very short-sighted as to overlook, on the left of hustings, 1,000 to 2,000 respectable farmers and yeomanry of the county (their “country’s pride,”) who evinced the most peaceable demeanour and disposition, whilst on the right, the low canaille of the meeting, and your ” young aristocrats,” were displaying, pugilistic encounters, their pretensions to personal prowess and gentility. can truly accord your expressions of regret that Lord F. Osborne did not deliver his sentiments earlier in the day, by which some the resolutions might have been expunged, and their general tone amended.

You are well aware that his Lordship’s approbation was fully expressed on the points of Reform of Parliament, and the necessity of economy and retrenchment our public expenditure; and you also well know that to resolutions confined to those points scarcely a dissenting hand would have been held up the meeting.

“The principle of apportioning more equitably the income of the Church amongst its efficient and resident clergy, and devoting any excess of its immense revenues to the exigencies of the State, is a sentiment which, believe, has excited the attention of Ministers—is publicly approved some of the warmest supporters of the Establishment—and accords with the soundest principles of moral justice. I can also see no propriety in an exclusive exemption of Funded Property from some species taxation, whilst a land-tax subsists, and every other branch of property in the kingdom contributes largely to the support of the State.

“Without reducing the interest of the national debt, our Ministers might fairly lay a slight percentage on every transfer of public Stock. Such a measure would repress that infamous spirit of gambling which pervades all public securities, and would give our Government additional resources for relieving the landed interest from its most insupportable burdens. But I still think with you, Mr. Editor, that it was manifestly inexpedient to press resolutions on County Meeting, which were calculated to destroy its unanimity and paralyze its proceedings. The temper with which the promoters and abettors of those resolutions conducted themselves, has my entire disapprobation, both its violence and its inconsistency.

“Mr. Wells, whilst he bespattered all the Whigs with the foulest efflux of his spleen, seconded the vote of thanks to the Duke of Bedford, who is one of the staunchest of the party; and even the worthy mover the same vote of thanks was loud his vituperations against the same class, and would scarcely allow Lord Osborne calm or patient bearing.

“What infatuation can possess these gentlemen? It Is lamentable to suppose that they are so besotted and hoodwinked by the perusal of Cobbett’s writings [William Cobbett – later MP for Oldham], as to be unconscious of what constitutes consistency of conduct, or that reason should supersede passion all public proceedings? That writer’s well-known principles and conduct, both private and public life, ought to disgust every sincere friend of freedom.

“But rejoice, Mr. Editor, that there still left a firm and tried phalanx of supporters to constitutional liberty, both in this county and every part of the kingdom, which will be neither overawed the arbitrary acts of corrupt Ministers, nor seduced into violence by artful and profligate demagogues.

“My hopes rest with this body, to whose standard numbers arc daily flocking, influenced solely sense of public duty and common honesty. Agricultural distress may cease to aggravate the feelings the nation, and unprincipled writers may, as heretofore, be bought over by Ministers, or sink into merited contempt; yet we shall always find large and increasing class of political associates in this county, who will brave alike the tempest of Ministerial wrath and popular clamour; who will still advocate the gradual yet complete reformation of the House Commons, and descry every corrupt practice of our executive Government.”

I remain, Sir,

Your obedient servant,

FOSTER.

/Ends

Above – From the British Newspaper Archive.

The final paragraph of Ebenezer Foster’s letter is one I find particularly powerful and applicable to today.

“…yet we shall always find large and increasing class of political associates in this county, who will brave alike the tempest of Ministerial wrath and popular clamour; who will still advocate the gradual yet complete reformation of the House Commons, and descry every corrupt practice of our executive Government.”

The actual article that Mr Foster complains about is a significant one that will require closer, more detailed analysis.

But for well over a century, the Cambridge Chronicle provided Conservative interests in Cambridge with solid, consistent, and unwavering support until it finally closed/merged with the Cambridge Independent in 1934.


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