A historian working on early 19th century electoral culture has brought a series of historic election songs ‘back to life’.
Dr Richard Gaunt from the Department of History at The University of Nottingham has discovered an election songbook, containing a dozen songs composed for social and political events held at the ‘Red Club’ in Newark in Nottinghamshire between 1832 and 1833.
The songs date from a period of political turbulence in Newark. The 1832 Reform Act (the Great Reform Act) had diminished the size of Newark’s electorate, by depriving some of its constituents of the right to vote.
The seat, which was heavily influenced by the backing of the local Tory aristocrat, the 4th Duke of Newcastle under Lyne (of Clumber Park), had been a focus for violent and turbulent contests throughout the preceding decade.
The town’s Conservative supporters formed a Red Club in 1831 (named after the local electoral colour of the Duke of Newcastle), to campaign for a Conservative victory at the 1832 General Election. The club was a focal point for social and political activity and diaries of the period prove that many evenings were spent in drinking and revelling to the sounds of the songs.
The songs have additional interest because the constituency was being contested at the time, by William Ewart Gladstone, then a 22 year old Conservative, who went on to become a Liberal Prime Minister four times between 1868 and 1894. The song lyrics make frequent reference to him and express hopes for his success. Gladstone went on to win the election and serve as MP for Newark from 1832-46.
“The songs provide a fascinating insight into the political and social climate of Newark at a formative period in its political history,” Dr Gaunt said.
“At the time nobody could imagine that Gladstone would go on to become the major political figure of the nineteenth century. It’s an important reminder that great political careers can start with humble origins, but the songs also recall a way of life – and campaigning – which we have now lost in our 24/7 media frenzy world”.
Newark Town Hall, completed in 1776 by John Carr of York, was a central focus for political life in Newark. Dr Gaunt will be playing recordings of the songs – which will be heard in Newark for the first time in over 180 years. Though the songs were originally intended for largely male voices, Sempre has recorded them to suit their all-female singers.
Dr Gaunt will be premiering the songs, which have been recorded by Sempre, a local singing group, at an event at Newark Town Hall at 7pm on Wednesday 12 February, hosted by the Friends of the Newark Town Hall Museum.
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