Life of Sir Joshua Walmsley – Chapter XXVII.

CHAPTER XXVII. This is yet again a very political chapter, with almost nothing about the family. By now Josh and Adeline are grandparents of four granddaughters, – all the daughters of Elizabeth Walmsley and Charles Binns. The girls range in age between seventeen year-old Adeline and eight year-old Emily. Three more granddaughters and one grandson follow in the 1860’s and 1870’s. At the time of the election, Josh is sixty-three.

Leicester Railway Station, 1857

Early in March, 1857, the following requisition, signed by one thousand three hundred and fifty-two electors of Leicester, was presented to Sir Joshua :

” We, the undersigned electors of the borough of Leicester, deem it our duty, under existing circumstances, to assure you of our confidence in your general conduct as our representative. There are points of difference between some of us and yourself, but your devotion to the interests of the constituency, your unflinching advocacy of all measures calculated to promote civil, political, and religious equality in the eye of the law, and your independent parliamentary conduct, so greatly outweigh these points of difference, that we request you will, whenever Parliament shall be dissolved, offer yourself for re-election, when we have the fullest confidence that the constituency of this borough will again triumphantly return you as one of their representatives. ”

” Leicester, 28th February, 1857. ”

The above requisition had been resolved upon at a large and enthusiastic public meeting at the New Hall, where the vast assembly had recorded a unanimous vote of confidence in Sir Joshua Walmsley ; coupling with his name that of Mr. John Biggs, who had succeeded to the representation on the sudden death of Mr. Gardiner, in June.

” This strong expression of feeling, “ says Sir Joshua, ” was called forth by the report that, at the following election, I would be opposed by Mr. Dove Harris, now brought forward by the Whigs and several influential townsmen. I had made enemies for myself by the course I had pursued in Parliament. “

” The warmth with which I had espoused the interests of the stocking-weavers had alienated from me the manufacturers of the town. My earnestness in the cause of Electoral Reform had rendered the Whigs as inimical to me as the Tories. These points of antagonism were, however, limited to certain sets of interests in the boroughs ; outside of them I had fast friends. My advocacy of the claims of the frame- work knitters had also drawn warm hearts to me; and among a liberal constituency the extension of the franchise being held to be a just and necessary measure, I, who had succeeded Joseph Hume in advocating it in Parliament, was consequently popular. “

” It would have taken something more than the banding together of the manufacturing interest and the old Whigs and Tories, to deprive me of the esteem of a constituency whose interests I had devoted myself to and laboured for during five years, whose political battles I had fought, whose political debts I had paid, and towards whom I had redeemed in letter and in spirit every pledge I had taken. “

” One cry there was, however, that had in it potency enough to rouse every sect and interest against me -the cry of the ‘ Desecration of the Sabbath.’ I had moved in Parliament for the opening of the museums on Sundays after church hours. I was president of the Sunday League. The clergy joined their vituperations to those of the manufacturers and Whigs ; and to crown these, the Tories promised to support the candidate brought forward to oppose me. ”

Timid spirits quailed before this rallying cry of the Opposition. The frame-work knitters, unfortunately outside the pale of representation, never swerved from their allegiance to Sir Joshua Walmsley . That much-abused ” Sunday cry “ had in it a ring of sympathy with the overworked multitude ; and they from their hearts wished him to succeed over his rivals.

The Houses of Parliament, 1852

Parliament was dissolved the first week in March [1857]. On receiving the above address, Sir Joshua consented once more to stand for Leicester. Free trade, popular education, liberty of conscience, a wider extension of the suffrage, were still the four cardinal points of his political creed recapitulated in his address to his constituents.

At a public meeting on the 16th March, he explained the position he meant in the future to take in relation to the question of opening the museums on Sunday. ” I regard it as an educational movement, and my advocacy of it is based upon my earnest desire to do justice to the working classes in the metropolis. I am not here to enter into the merits or demerits of the question — one upon which many of the most pious, talented, and virtuous ministers of the day do not agree. But I am free to admit that with such an expression of public opinion against me on this question, I should not be justified were I to bring it, under existing circumstances, again before the consideration of Parliament Further, I am bound to say, with all honesty and sincerity. I have not altered my opinion upon it one iota. All that I did believe I continue to believe ; but now that it is taken up adversely by a great body of those who have been my earnest and warmest supporters, men whom I esteem and who are esteemed and beloved by their fellow-townsmen, I should, if it were again brought before the House of Commons, tender my resignation to this constituency; before, I felt in a position to support it, or to bring it before the House.”

This declaration on the Sunday question did not pacify Sir Joshua’s opponents. The struggle began in right earnest ; and, ” for a fortnight, “ to use the words of The Leicester Mercury, ” the town was divided against itself by an election contest approaching in bitterness and violence to an implacable civil war. “ Placards covered the walls denouncing Sir Joshua as an infidel. The clergy held meetings, where resolutions were passed of uncompromising opposition to the candidate favourable to the principles of the Sunday League.

The Whigs united with the Tories against the Reformer, and the manufacturers, resenting the part he had taken in the House of Commons in the frame-rent question, joined the other factions. Regardless of the antagonism and the misrepresentations rife on all sides, Sir Joshua persisted in his canvass. The poor frame-work knitters felt his cause was theirs and as he passed their cottage doors they, at all events, wished him ” God speed. ”

Market Place, Leicester

Friday, 27th March [1857], was the nomination-day, and a multitude filled the market-place. The cup of indignation was full to the brim when Sir Joshua saw how old friends had become enemies, how former political supporters had gone over to his opponents. His speech that morning exposed the inconsistency of those who some years ago had been his allies. ” Those gentlemen brought me to this town, having known me for nearly twenty years ; they then supported me, and glad and proud I am that they have not been able to bring one accusation against me. What did I pledge myself to on that occasion ? That in matters of commercial policy I should be, in the fullest sense, a free-trader ; that in matters of religion and education I should contend for perfect freedom and absolute equality ; and that, as regards the improvement of their representative institutions, I should advocate the scheme of reform embodied in Mr. Hume’s annual motion, which aims at securing the representation of every class of the community. I have fulfilled these pledges. ”  He went on to give a rapid sketch of the course he had followed in Parliament, showing that he had never swerved from the path he had pledged himself to follow. He spoke with great earnestness. Some twelve or fifteen thousand persons were assembled in the market-place, of which the great mass were non-electors, eagerly watching the proceedings of the day, and determined to pronounce their sentence, which they knew on the morrow they would be unable to record. At the close of all the candidates’ speeches, a show of hands being called for, the vast crowd arose, and an immense demonstration of feeling ensued in favour of Sir Joshua Walmsley.

The decision of this meeting was reversed next day in the polling-booths. The extraordinary excitement that had possessed the town for a fortnight reached its climax when the result was declared at four o’clock. The coalition had triumphed. Sir Joshua Walmsley was defeated. The votes were as follows :

1618 for Mr. Dove Harris,

1609 for Mr. Biggs,

1440 for Sir Joshua Walmsley.

Soon after the result was known, a concourse of people assembled in front of the hotel to hear the defeated candidate’s farewell words. An eye-witness described the assemblage as extending nearly the whole length of the street, computing it to have numbered some twenty thousand. This hotel was then the leading one in Leicester — a long, low, straggling building of the reign of Queen Anne. It has since been pulled down to make room for a handsome bank and other buildings. In a few words Sir Joshua — after thanking the assembly for the manner in which they had stood by one who was    opposed, not only by Tories, but by Whigs, who, deserting their colours and their principles, arrayed themselves against a man who, as far as he has been able, has stood forward here and elsewhere, during the whole course of his public life, to maintain, to the best of his ability, the rights and privileges of his fellow- countrymen “ — then urged those present  ” to unite hand and heart to carry out those great principles which secured to every man, who has intelligence enough to value it and exercise it, and who pays his rates and taxes, a right to vote for the man of his choice. ”

“ Yesterday, “ he went on, ” nine out of ten of the men of Leicester held up their hands for me ; and what would have been the result to-day if you, the hard- working, honest-hearted men of Leicester, if your votes had had weight in the balance ? May this be a lesson you will never forget. Remember they have defeated the man of your choice. “ Sir Joshua’s closing words enjoined to ” forget and forgive, “ while strenuously and peacefully striving for a juster state of things.

But all that night the town was excited, and bands of frame-work knitters paraded the streets, shouting Sir Joshua’s name. The Leicester Liberal papers next day teemed with expressions of regret at the defeat of the popular candidate. It was now decided that an address and a testimonial should be presented to Sir Joshua. The working classes especially responded to the movement, throwing their whole hearts into the work, to show honour and affection to the man who had devoted all the energies of his public life to the cause of justice, liberty, and true fraternity. Many were the wives of the stocking weavers who appended their signatures to the address of the women of Leicester, and who subscribed their pence to the testimonial to be presented to Sir Joshua Walmsley on his removal from the representation of the borough of Leicester.

On the 23rd of June [1857], the day fixed for the demonstration, long before noon, some thousands were assembled in front of Danett’s Hall, where Sir Joshua and Lady Walmsley were staying as guests of Dr. Noble. These electors and non-electors were waiting to escort the defeated candidate to the market-place. At half-past twelve the procession fell into rank. With some difficulty it made its way through crowded streets, that wore the aspect of a popular festival. Flowers festooned the houses ; flags and triumphal arches, bearing mottoes and greetings, decked the route. The cheering multitude, the bursts of music, the beauty of the day, made up a spectacle of brightness and cordiality that removed much of the bitterness that was naturally associated with this Leicester episode of Sir Joshua’s life.

A vast throng awaited the procession in the market-place. The Leicester Mercury estimated the numbers present at between twenty and thirty thousand. The testimonial, a centre-piece of massive silver, artistically designed, and two addresses — one signed by six thousand seven hundred and fifty women, and the other by five thousand six hundred and sixty- five electors and non-electors — were then presented.

There was also presented to Sir Joshua the pure white flag the ladies of Leicester had embroidered for him and Mr. Gardiner, on the occasion of the defeat of the petition against their election in 1852.

” I feel ,” said Sir Joshua, in the course of his brief speech of hearty acknowledgments, ” that this demonstration is a complete and ample reply, rebutting the calumnies recently circulated against me. ”

Temperance Hall, Leicester

A public soiree was held that evening in the Temperance Hall. Although the largest hall in the town, yet numbers were unable to obtain admittance.

” It would be impossible,” says the same eyewitness whose words we have already quoted, ” to describe the enthusiasm of the assembly, and the affectionate greeting given to Sir Joshua Walmsley.  “ Perhaps there never was an occasion on which the feelings of the disappointed majority of the population of a large town was more unequivocally expressed. ”

” We venture to say, “ remarks The Leicester Mercury ” that the proceedings of the 23rd June, 1857, will henceforth constitute one of the most interesting chapters in the history of the borough. Certainly no expression of public feeling was ever attended with more imposing circumstances. ”

Thus closed Sir Joshua Walmsley’s public connection with the borough of Leicester. It was also the closing scene of his public life.

Westbourne Terrace, looking south towards Hyde Park. 1843

Some time after the hubbub of that day’s excitement had subsided, a deputation of frame-work knitters waited upon him in his house in Westbourne Terrace. They came to thank him for his efforts in Parliament to alleviate their lot, and for his advocacy there of the right of the working-man to the franchise. They asked to be allowed to present Lady Walmsley with a pair of gloves or mittens they had woven in silk for her.

This humble testimonial was preciously kept by Sir Joshua, side by side with the silver centre-piece and the embossed addresses that had been presented to himself.

Life of Sir Joshua Walmsley – Chapter XVI.

CHAPTER XVI. This chapter is taking us back into politics. The frame-work knitters referred to in the chapter were producing knitted cloth, and lace. It was very much a cottage industry working from home doing piece-work. Basically they had a pretty appalling life. The tiny stitches in the fabric they were producing ruined people’s eyesight quite quickly. The frames used were rented from middlemen, so were expensive to use, and the knitters were working for poverty wages. Sir Henry Halford was the Tory M.P. for Southern Leicestershire, so Josh supporting his Bill to reduce the influence of middlemen was a cross-party effort. Petitioning against the elected M.P.’s was an almost standard procedure at the time, and was sometimes successful, sometimes not. Finally to the briefest mention of family – ” Death had been busy, too, in his own family. ” This one sentence covers the deaths of probably two daughters.  Adeline – Josh’s fourth child, born in 1824 had died at Ranton Abbey in 1842 aged 18, and another daughter Mary born in 1832 died the same year. It’s a curiously cold sentence from Hugh about two younger sisters. There is even the intriguing possibility that it could refer to Josh’s mother as well; she gets the briefest of mentions in chapter one ” Mrs. Walmsley is described as a woman of energy and ability.” and ” but trouble…….. the husband and wife separated. ” It is entirely possible that she could have died in her late seventies around this time. But almost nothing is known about her, and she doesn’t seem to have been part of his life since his very early childhood.


Some time previous to Mr. Stephenson’s death, Sir Joshua had left Ranton Abbey. Death had been busy, too, in his own family. Country pursuits began to pall on him, and so when in the spring of 1847 a numerously-signed requisition was forwarded to him from the inhabitants of Leicester, he finally made up his mind to contest that borough. He was no stranger to the town, for the extensive collieries of Snibstone and Whitwick adjoined and supplied it. In June, 1847, Parliament died a natural death. The condition of the frame-work knitters had long excited his warm interest. These people worked from twelve to sixteen hours a day, not un-frequently losing their eyesight after some years of this labour, after earning on an average about six shillings a week, all charges deducted. Sir Henry Halford had brought this state of things before Parliament, but with no result. The words of one of these poor fellows, before a Parliamentary committee, will sum up their case better than any description that we can give of it : “ There is no race of people under the sun,” he said, “ so oppressed as we are, who work the hours we do for the pay we get.” During Sir Joshua’s connection with Leicester he was continually battling against their wrongs. The extortions of the middlemen, who hired out the frames at arbitrary prices, and who had the giving out of the work, ground the unfortunate labourers to the dust. These middlemen had virtually become their masters, and it was asserted loudly that, besides charging a percentage on the work they gave, they actually paid a lower price for it than that which they themselves received from the manufacturers.

Bell Hotel, Leicester. It was originally a Georgian coaching inn.

Sir Joshua’s address to the electors was in substance, much the same as that issued to the electors of Liverpool years before. The two candidates were introduced to the constituency. A crowd had assembled before Bell’s Hotel, from the balcony of which the candidates spoke. Somewhat apart hung a group of careworn-looking men, gathered around a cart, in which stood one man, evidently the leader of the opposition. These were the frame-workers, and their leader was George Buckby, who had stated his determination to contest the borough, should he not be satisfied with the Liberal candidates. At the close of Sir Joshua’s speech he rose, and drew a vivid picture of the frame-workers’ wrongs, to which the knitters listened eagerly.

Referring to Sir Henry Halford’s Bill, Mr. Buckby asked Sir Joshua if he could pledge himself to vote for a similar bill, should one be brought forward in the next Parliament. Sir Joshua’s answer was direct and to the point. He would not pledge himself to vote for any bill before he knew whether its provisions would be really beneficial. ” I tell you,” he said, ” that we never can either directly or indirectly legislate on the question of the rate of wages. “ As the crowd cheered this sentiment the knitters muttered “Shame ! ” “The rights of labour, “ continued Sir Joshua, ” are sacred to the poor man, and I shall be the last to interfere with those rights. But if it is shown to me that injustice is done to you, I shall receive any information you are willing to give me, and then see what can be done to remove the injustice. But you must first make your minds up clearly upon the subject, discuss it fairly and calmly, and let us know the result. I shall not pledge myself to any particular measure ; but this I assure you, that not this measure alone, but every bill that comes before me which promises really to benefit the working classes, that is my bill, and that shall have my support. In benefiting the working-man I benefit the whole community, for I know the rich and powerful are able to take care of themselves.”

Mr. Buckby declared that the drift of Sir Joshua’s answer was that no legislative interference would be of any use to the frame-work knitters, and accordingly he announced his intention of going to the poll and opening houses in different parts of the town.

Two nights after, Sir Joshua again met the electors at the New Hall. The building was crowded ; several knitters had succeeded in securing places. ” The quietness of their demeanour, “ he says, ” and the attention with which they followed my speech were noticeable throughout, and contrasted with the aggressiveness with which they had met me on the previous evening. ”

The day following this meeting there appeared a handbill, signed by a number of frame-work knitters, amongst which figured conspicuously the signature of Mr. Buckby, calling upon the working classes to vote for Sir Joshua Walmsley and Mr. Gardiner; Mr. Buckby, satisfied with the Liberal candidates’ views, had renounced his intention of endeavouring to enter Parliament.

The election took place on the 31st July. Before five o’clock in the morning, the streets were full of bustle. It was an anxious day for the knitters, who crowded the market-place before the polling hour. Sir Joshua’s name headed the first return, Mr. Gardiner came after him, and to the end of the contest the two Liberals kept their places. At four o’clock the mayor proclaimed their election.

Sir Joshua now set himself to inquire into the cause of the great misery of the frame- work knitters.

” Before the opening of Parliament, “ he says, ” I spent much time in Leicester, personally visiting and receiving visits from the workmen. It was with the determination to advocate their cause, and if possible to obtain some amelioration of their lot, that I took my seat in the House. ”

When Sir Henry Halford again brought forward his bill. Sir Joshua strenuously supported the proposed inquiry. ” In the midland counties,” he said, in the course of his speech, ” there are thirty-six thousand frames, each supporting on an average three or four individuals, so that the population employed in frame- work knitting amounts to one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty thousand souls.”  He drew a vivid picture of the destitution which he had himself witnessed.

On the occasion of Sir Joshua’s first speech in Parliament, Mr. Hume and he took opposite views of the question at issue. The former, opposing all interference between workmen and masters, voted against Sir Henry Halford’s Bill. It is one of the few instances in which, during the period they worked together in Parliament, Sir Joshua’s and Mr. Hume’s votes were opposed.

” The career which I was now eagerly entering upon, “ says Sir Joshua, ” was suddenly cut short.  A petition against the member for Leicester, on the plea of bribery, was sent up to Parliament by the Tories. No sooner was the petition presented, than the leading Liberals in Leicester subscribed a fund more than sufficient at the very outset to cover all expenses, and engaged the services of eminent counsel to defend their representatives. “

” It was some time before a Parliamentary inquiry was granted. Most of the frivolous charges against Mr. Gardiner and myself melted before the cross examination of our counsel. One charge, however, our opponents were able to substantiate. Some bills at two public-houses that were wont to hang out the Liberal colours had been left unsettled at a previous election by the Liberal candidates. These bills our agents had paid. The committee, clearing us of all connivance in the matter, reported the result of the inquiry to the Houses, and towards the end of August a new writ was issued for the borough of Leicester. “

” I was deeply hurt by the slur cast upon my election. I was disheartened also at being interrupted in the work I had so far gone into connected with the cause of the frame-work knitters. On the news reaching Leicester of the issuing of a new writ, a meeting was called in the town. Its purpose was, first, to deplore the loss of their representatives; secondly, to clear the borough from the charge of corruption, by determinedly acting upon the principle of purity of election. Mr. Ellis and Mr. Harris, who had been our zealous supporters, came forward as candidates, and their nomination and election were uncontested. ”

Sir Joshua pledged himself to his late constituents to stand for Leicester the first opportunity that presented itself. He was to redeem his pledge a few years later, and that also of calling the attention of Parliament to the condition of the knitters.