On Saturday 5th December 1885, following the declaration of the poll results for the parliamentary election for West Wilts, a group of farm workers threw stones at the homes of some of the village farmers, smashing windows and frightening the occupants. The story was reported in the Monday, 14th December 1885, edition of the Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, pictured right. The quality of the reproduction is poor, so here is a transcription of the text:
Election Riots At Chitterne
At the Police Court on Saturday, George Alford, John Poolman, Thomas Moody, Frank Cooper, Abdon Poolman and Joseph Grant, labourers, of Chitterne, were charged, under the Malicious Damages to Property Act, with doing damage to the property of Mr. R. Blake, Mr. C. Burbidge, Mr. W. S. Cleverley, and Mr. Geo. Blake, farmers of the same place, on Saturday, the 5th inst., on the occasion of the declaration of the poll for West Wilts. The evidence showed that the prisoners and a number of other men left the public house at ten o’clock, and it was then suggested that they should go down to Mr. Burbidge’s. With stones almost as large as their heads they proceeded to smash the windows. The attack on the premises caused great terror among the females, who were all in bed, and while Mr. Burbidge went to calm his children, who were shrieking with fright, a stone came through his bedroom window and fell within a foot of the bed on which lay his wife and child. Alford and John Poolman then proceeded to Mr. R. Blake’s and commenced smashing his windows. Mr. Blake, however, had heard the disturbance at Mr. Burbidge’s and was watching in the porch, and when the stones were thrown he rushed out and collared Poolman, whom he took into the house. Alford ran away, but in a few minutes time returned with a number of his associates. They entered Mr. Blake’s house and demanded the release of Poolman, who was allowed to go away with the rest, not, however, before Alford had challenged to fight Mr. Blake, and threatened to kill his housekeeper. It was a very dark night, but the visit of the men to his house enabled Mr. Blake to identify them. From there they proceeded to Mr. Cleverley’s, were they broke several windows, a shutter, and a door, and then paid Mr. George Blake a visit, contenting themselves here with breaking one window. The most serious damage was done at Mr. R. Blake’s and was estimated at £10. Three of the rioters were called in evidence against their companions. A strong Radical element prevails in Chitterne, and during the late election strenuous efforts were made by the farmers to induce the men to support the Conservative candidate. Mr. Ponting, who appeared for the prosecution, said it was intended to proceed against the prisoners under the 12th section of the Act, which would have rendered them liable to penal servitude, or two years imprisonment but the farmers had no wish to be unduly severe on them. There was a notion abroad that at election times men could do as they pleased, and commit any damage with impunity, but he asked the bench to show by their sentences that this was not the case. Alford was sentenced to two months imprisonment, to be followed by a further term of six weeks; Abdon Poolman, and Frank Cooper to two terms of six weeks each, and the other prisoners to six weeks each. Capt. Sterne, the Chief Constable, who was in court, said he wished to thank Mr. R. Blake, on behalf of the county, for the plucky manner in which he acted.
From the Bristol Mercury and Daily Post, Monday, December 14, 1885 via the National Newspaper Archive website. Thanks to Mick Halliday for sending it to me and to Rose Rogers for the transcription.
The Characters involved:
George Alford, born 1860, was the youngest son of Robert Alford and Rosanna (Carter). Rosanna died that same year 1885. George remained single.
John Poolman has not yet been positively identified as there were several John Poolmans.
Thomas Moody, born 1864, was the son of Joseph John Moody and Mary (Hinwood).
Frank Cooper, 1854 - 1925, was the son of George Cooper and Maria (Grant). George died 1876, Maria died 1886.
Abdon Poolman, 1860 - 1928, was the son of Thomas Poolman and Mary (Thring), and grandson of Elizabeth Carter. Abdon married Martha Annie Cooper in 1887.
Joseph Grant 1860 - 1932 was the son of William Grant and Eunice (Mead).
George Blake, born 1850, and Robert Blake, born 1853, were the two eldest sons of farmer Alfred Blake. George farmed 1400 acres at Chitterne Lodge. Robert farmed 175 acres, location not known.
Charles Burbidge, born 1841, farmed 490 acres at Clump Farm.
William Samuel Cleverley, born c1863, farmed at Manor Farm.