Position and Influence in Local Politics
The Feildens and the Sudells were Lords of the Manor of Blackburn and both families moved into cotton and established their fortunes. John Hornby came from Kirkham and founded the Brookhouse cotton mills. Daniel Thwaites established his brewery at Eanam in 1797. As a result of the Reform Act in 1832 Blackburn became a 2 member constituency. In 1851 it became a borough. The richest and most powerful families were not going to relinquish their position by letting anybody else become elected, so MPs and councillors were drawn from the ranks of the industrial elite.
Blackburn's first council comprised 36 councillors and 12 aldermen. Half of them had a cotton background. By 1881 79% of Aldermen on the council had a cotton background. William Feilden was one of the town's first MPs. John Hornby became an MP in 1841. How did these people ensure they were elected?
The secret ballot was not introduced until 1872. Bribing and treating were not uncommon. Beer barrels had been set up in St Mary's churchyard during the 1832 election. The cotton kings also owned the houses their employees lived in, so not voting for the boss could mean you not only lost your job, but your house as well. Coercion was not always necessary; workers developed strong affinities with their mills and became loyal to their owners.
The Conservative party was dominant in Blackburn, although Lancashire generally was Liberal. The Conservatives ensured their dominance by knowing when to be responsive to the demands of their workforces. They embraced the 1833 Factory Act, which limited the working hours of children. They refused to implement the harsher aspects of the Poor Law. They introduced the Standard List in 1853, which established agreed rates of pay throughout all the mills in the town. During the Cotton Famine many mill owners ran their mills on short time at a loss. As a result of this when the franchise was extended in 1867 and more working people got the vote, the Conservatives' hold on the town actually increased.
The Church of England marched hand in hand with the Conservatives. It encouraged workers to accept their position in society and to have respect for the persons and property of their 'betters.' The mill owners approved of their employees being involved with the church and it was seen as a means to promotion.
In Darwen the position was different. Nonconformity in the town dates from the Act of Uniformity passed in 1662. Lower Chapel, the first recognised Non-conformist place of worship in Darwen was founded in 1688. Nonconformity fostered Liberal political affinities. In 1868 in the first election for the new county division of North-East Lancashire there was a majority of 100 for the Liberal cause in Darwen itself. The Division which included a large rural area however, returned 2 Conservatives. In 1880 the Marquis of Hartington and F. W. Grafton won the seat for the Liberals. The Town Council agitated for separate Parliamentary representation for the borough, but this was rejected and when the Boundary Commission did produce a new 'Darwen Division' in 1885 it included a large swathe of rural hinterland from Bamber Bridge to Great Harwood and in subsequent elections Conservatives won narrow victories, by as few as 5 votes in 1885.
In 1892 C. P. Huntington won the seat for the Liberals, but the Conservatives regained it in 1895 and held it until 1910 when the Liberals won it with F. G. Hindle. The seat changed hands a number of times until 1935 when the Conservatives triumphed and it remained a Tory stronghold until the constituency was reorganised and Janet Anderson won the new seat of Rossendale and Darwen for Labour at the second attempt in 1992.