Conservative banquet flops – the Liberal-supporting Cambridge Independent reported with glee! 1860

The use of words and language is in a different league to today, from a time when the local newspapers were much more politically partisan.

This from the Cambridge Independent Press of 04 Feb 1860, via the British Newspaper Archive

“This long talked of banquet, given by the Conservative Club, came off at the Lion [hotel on Petty Cury – hence the shopping centre named after the open patch of land behind it] on Wednesday, at which the Borough Members [the Conservative MPs – Cambridge had two, plus the University seat!] attended. The tickets were 3s.6d [three shillings and thruppence]; but it was discovered that so little interest was taken in the proceedings that few persons could be found to buy, although pressed to do so, and tickets were given away freely; many received them also who did not think it worth their while to attend.

“We are assured, even by several Tories who were present, that it was a “very sorry affair; dull, stale, and flat.” The very flags, which were supposed to enliven the appearance of the room dropped their heads in melancholy dulness; the gas refused to burn, and shed a miserable lustre; the band played the dullest of music – mere paltry, worn-out tunes which have become tiresome to listen to. “God save the Queen” was sung in three different keys by three professionals, the band accompanying them in a different key to anyone essayed by the vocalists.

“Mr Macaulay made a long, trashy speech, wholly devoid of argument; but it is only fair to say that he was less abusive than usual. Mr Steuart was prosy in the extreme; and when the Chairman vacated his seat at about 11 o’clock, people rushed off glad to escape from the anything but “Festive scene.” The Conservative Club have certainly nothing to compliment themselves upon in this their “great dinner;” on what occasion or for what purpose held, we know not. Several of their more respectable adherents, it will be perceived from our report, refused to mix themselves up in the affair; and the hon. members who were present must pretty well see that so soon as the Franchise is extended [This became the Second Reform Act 1867], which it never will be if they can prevent it, their connection with Cambridge so far as representation is concerned, is irrevocably doomed.


Newspaper wars in Cambridge

As I alluded to at the top, the context of all of this was the bitter struggle between the Tories and Whigs, later the Conservatives and Liberals for political power in the 1800s, a time of huge economic and social change. The struggle was played out in towns and cities across the country, with newspapers taking the side of whoever their proprietors and editors chose. In the case of Cambridge it was the Tory-supporting Cambridge Chronicle vs the Liberal Supporting Cambridge Independent.

The scale of the partisan headlines reached new peaks/depths in the 1920s as Conservatives panicked at the prospect of a Labour-led government. The advert below-left from the Cambridge Chronicle via the Cambs Collection was an advert in response to Labour’s programme as outlined in this speaking guide for candidates from 1923. The contrast could not be greater between what is an alarming set of slogans – especially with what we know with hindsight in the decades that followed.

In the case of Sir Douglas Newton, who in the grand scheme of things achieved very little (see his wiki page here), I’ve struggled to find anything of significance that he achieved for the Borough of Cambridge during his decade or so as MP. His wife however, has always struck me as a much more formidable figure. (Below-right from 1931 in the Cambridgeshire Collection).

Above – an election advert for Sir Douglas Newton Bt MP (Cambridge Borough), and his wife Lady Muriel Newton

Above-left – Muriel Newton from 1922, and above-right, with her daughter Myra in the foreground with a look that says: “Please vote for my daddy…because if you don’t, that puppy of yours? Yes, next season’s accessory for The Season!”

Actually, there is a research project waiting for someone to carry out on the impact of Muriel Newton in interwar Cambridge. She is far more prominent a figure in election campaigning in the early-mid 1920s compared to her husband who, in the photographs at least comes across as a feeble man in her shadow. I sometimes wonder whether Muriel would have made for the better MP for Cambridge – something that would have made her one of the first women MPs in the House of Commons shortly after the ban on women voting and standing for Parliament was partially lifted in 1918. I wrote an introduction to Sir Douglas Newton back in 2017 here. Chances are there is more to him than the barbs I’ve thrown at his legacy, but I’ve not found much about what he achieved, and no one seems to have written a substantive biography of him – in contrast to his Labour opponent at the 1922 by-election in Cambridge, Dr Hugh Dalton which was written by Ben Pimlott.

And finally on the newspaper wars…

The story up to the mid-1800s is told by Michael Lynch in his book from 1977 (Second hand copies can be found here). There are further volumes of research waiting to be undertaken by someone for the decades and the 170 or so years that followed. Lynch’s book also covers some of the radical newspapers which really went for the Conservatives at the time when revolutions against absolute monarchies were breaking out across Europe (and being brutally suppressed as well.) It’s worth a read if you want to get into some of the fun and games – and violence, that was happening at the time.

Supporting my future research on the story of Cambridge the town

If you enjoyed this article and are interested in the history of Cambridge the town and the people who made our modern city, please support my research in bringing their records of achievement to wider audiences. Click here if you would like to make a donation to support my ongoing work.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s