The results are in:Birmingham’s first council election,1838

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The Birmingham ratepayers elected their first town council on Wednesday, 26th December 1839.  There was a limited electorate because of legislation passed in 1835 which restricted voting to ratepayers of three years standing. Anyone who, for some reason, had not paid their rates during the course of  the previous three years was excluded from taking part in the election. As may be guessed, women were not permitted a vote even if they were long-standing ratepayers.

Shown below are the results of Birmingham’s first council election. The candidates were divided between ‘Radicals’ and ‘Tories’. This might appear odd; when I voted today there was a choice of five candidates from very different political parties. In fact, the choice presented in 1838 as controversial then too. In the run up to the election there were some candidates who were not Tories, but equally did not consider themselves to be Radical. In the list below you’ll see that some candidates are presented as ‘placed upon both lists’.  This was a form of protest. In the end, the Radicals won every seat and on first sight this does appear something of a rout, however the outcome was closer in some districts than others. By my quick calculation, the Radicals took 66% of the total votes.

One interesting name on the list is that of Richard Tapper Cadbury, father of John (who perhaps needs no introduction here).  He was a stalwart of the Street Commissioners, Birmingham’s self-elected administration which held responsibility for managing the town’s infrastructure. In 1851 the council usurped the commissioners, but from the first election until that date there was an uneasy relationship between the two. This is perhaps why Cadbury (and a few other commissioners) made the decision to take part in the election.

The report reveals the returning officer for the elections to be William Scholefield. He was the son of Joshua Scholefield who, along with Thomas Attwood became one of Birmingham’s first MPs. William Scholefield was a known Radical and was elected councillor for St. Peter’s ward, so it might seem a bit off that he was in charge of ensuring fair vote counting. However, at the time of the election, he also held the office of High Bailiff and it was acting in this capacity. He holds the distinction of being Birmingham’s first mayor.

The following is taken from the Birmingham Journal,  December 29th 1838. This newspaper is available to read online, by subscription to the British Newspaper Archive and free of charge (appointment advised) at the Library of Birmingham.

Corporate Elections in Birmingham

Each ward in the town was contested by Tory candidates, every one of whom were defeated. Elections commenced in the different wards precisely at nine o’clock in the morning under the superintendence of deputy returning officers, and the poll was kept open until four o’clock when the boxes were conveyed to the committee room of the Town Hall and their contents examined by W. Scholefield esq., the returning officer, and the following were declared the result of the elections.

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©The British Library Board

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©The British Library Board 


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©The British Library Board

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©The British Library Board



2 thoughts on “The results are in:Birmingham’s first council election,1838

  1. A few reactions to Birmingham Council elections,1838, from the Press….

    “And certainly a more decided expression of popular opinion never was evinced.”

    ‘We cannot deny our mortification at the result of yesterday’s proceedings in the elections for town councillors of this borough, but to say it was unexpected would be untrue. The weak and vacillitating conduct of the soi disant leaders of the Conservative party, has filled us with scarcely repressible disgust….

    “…not the slightest unpleasantness or interruption took place. The fact was, the whole proceeding was commenced and carried on with a species of religious decorum, which reflects the highest credit upon the inhabitants…”

    Liked by 1 person

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