By Derek Fraser

City Politics in Victorian England: The constitution of Politics in Victorian towns

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N The main opposition to Cobden at the vestry meeting came not from Tories but from the two radicals James Wroe and Elijah Dixon. This was most significant, for both had previously been active at vestries in alliance with Liberal Dissenters against Tory Anglican nominations. Now the incorporation question had turned them against their former friends. Equally significantly, neither referred to church questions in opposing Cobden's list. Wroe reiterated his familiar theme that the charter was a back-door method of introducing the new Poor Law, while Dixon, veteran of Peterloo, saw this as part of a move to establish a Liberal middle-class oligarchy: They are in possession of place or rather they want to be in possession and the moment they secure it there will be no more liberality for the poor cottager at £1 a year....

F. Hook. Hook's appointment enthused the right-wing Tories and produced in the 1887 Easter vestry one of the most turbulent vestry meetings ever held in the town. A near riot broke out when Edward Baines junior disputed the curate's right to nominate the vicar's churchwarden, pending Hook's arrival from Coventry. Liberal wardens were elected, but not before the curate had been subjected to two hours' verbal abuse for refusing to accept a motion condemning his own action in appointing John Garland as vicar's warden, a post he had occupied since 1882.

91 In this atmosphere of heightened emotion the St Mary's churchwarden's election of 1887 took on the extra significance of a symbolic test case. The Tory nomination was John Hicklin, proprietor and editor of the Journal, who had for several months been championing the Anglican cause in his paper Dissenters viewed the election as a vote for or against church rates but Hicklin argued otherwise. Given that his opponent John Rogers was a radical dissenter the question was whether a Churchman shall be allowed to administer the internal government of the Church or whether a Dissenter is to be forced into a situation which compels him to do what savours very strongly of perjury - namely make a solemn declaration to fulfil the duties of an office which he never intends faithfully to discharge.

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