More about Anthony Armer, Freeman of Lancaster

I was intrigued by the story of Anthony Armer selling his parliamentary vote for £11, then buying a cow and a pound hank with the proceeds. It took a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive and a find in my local Oxfam Bookshop to find out more. It seems that Lancaster in the 1860s was one of the original ‘rotten boroughs’!

Searching on Anthony Armer in the newspaper archive got me this piece, from the Lancaster Gazette, Saturday 25 July 1863:

1863 Richard and Anthony freemen

I’m not a history expert, but, as I understand it, being made a freeman in the 19th century gave you voting rights. One outcome of Earl Grey’s Reform Act of 1832 was that small landowners, tenant farmers and shop keepers could now vote. As ‘husbandmen’, Anthony and Richard would fit this first category.

The way they are listed in the article implies that they are not, in fact, brothers. They are both sons of William Armer, husbandman, but one William is ‘of Cockerham’ and the other is ‘late of Cockerham, and formerly of Forton’.

I re-checked the Lancashire Parish Registers, searching on Armer baptisms 20 years either side of 1825 to parents William and Ann, and found the following 5 children:

William and Anns children

The observant among you will notice the move from Forton to Cockerham that happened between 1816 and 1826. But there’s no mention of Richard Armer here! I re-ran the search, putting  ‘Nancy’ from the Mother’s first name field, and found Richard and his older brother William:

Richard HA and William birth

So they didn’t show in the first search because their mother’s first name was given as Nancy, not Ann! (And the move from Forton to Cockerham is narrowed down to between 1816 and 1823. In fact, there is yet another brother, John (my great great grandfather), the oldest child in the family. He is listed with William and Ann in the 1841 Census, and his marriage certificate from 1839 states that he is the son of William Armer of Cockerham, Labourer. I couldn’t find John’s baptism on the excellent (and free) Online Parish Clerks for the County of Lancashire site that I normally use, nor on The Geneaologist (an excellent subscription site). I finally managed to find the baptism on the Latter Day Saints’ site (free but unwieldy):

John birth 1813

There are two variants of his mother Ann’s name:

Huntington was Ann/Nancy’s maiden name, but it’s not clear why Richard, the third of five sons, was the only child to be given this matronymic.

Having established that Richard and Anthony were brothers, we return to the story of Anthony selling his vote. The Lancaster Guardian of Saturday 29 September 1866, in a page 2 article entitled ‘THE ELECTION COMMISSION’ sheds some light:

vote selling

Report of the Election Commission’s findings from a hearing that took place Saturday 22 September 1866. Many men were interviewed – this is just a small excerpt from two 6-column broadsheet pages of the Lancaster Guardian.

It seems that all five Armer brothers were paid to vote for the Liberals Fenwick and Schneider, through various shady middlemen.

I looked further into the election of 1865, and it seems that Lancaster – along with Totnes, Reigate and Yarmouth – was one of the most corrupt boroughs. So much so that the election result was voided, but, times being what they were, Fenwick and Schneider were found to have been unaware of any such malpractice. You can read about the proceedings in Hansard.

I found a 1970 facsimile of a 1915 book on 19th century electoral reform in the local Oxfam:

1866 electoral reform book cover.png

It seems that in Lancaster almost all the freemen received bribes to vote either Liberal (‘yellow’ in the newspaper piece) or Tory, and some £14000 was spent by the two parties to this end. And the way to a man’s vote was to wine and dine him (plus ça change!):


Funding an election ‘committee’ that met in a beer house was a popular way to secure votes in 19th century Lancaster! (Passage from Charles Seymour’s book on electoral reform, pages 396–7.)

Apparently, the Liberals made use of over 40 beer houses in Lancaster, and employed a network of ‘fuddlers’ who supplied voters with small change for beer. The voters of Lancaster ‘spent the nights in public houses and the days in wandering about, begging from the assistant on either side for a few shillings to continue their debauch’ (page 400).

The Liberal politician Henry Schneider is an interesting character. He was a Barrow man who made his fortune in speculating and dealing in iron. He and a rival Tory politician James Ramsden were among the founders of the Furness Railway, opening 1846. Their iron companies merged to form the Barrow Hematite Steel Company, which in 1859 employed over 5000 men, the largest Bessemer-process steelworks in the world at the time. Apparently Schneider sent his foremen from the steelworks by train to Lancaster with bags of gold sovereigns to hand out to voters!

He lived at Belsfield House, now the Belsfield Hotel in Bowness-on-Windermere (I used to go there for saunas when I first learned to drive). He commuted to work on the steam yacht Esperance down to Lakeside, where he would transfer to his private railway carriage and travel on to Barrow. Apparently Esperance is an exhibit in the soon-to-be-reopened Windermere Steamboat Museum, and was the model for Captain Flint’s houseboat in Swallows and Amazons. All this is from the Henry Schneider Wikipedia entry, which also has a photo of Schneider Square and statue in Barrow, where he was Mayor 1875–8:

Schneider Square

So it seems that a freeman’s selling his parliamentary vote was commonplace, at least in Lancaster. Anthony spent his £11 on a cow and a pound hank at Heysham Fair. A pound hank is a ‘gaudy piece of neck ware’ and I would love to find a picture of one – and, indeed, to find what the other Armer brothers, my great great grandfather included, used their election gains to invest in!


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