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Friday, 18 May 2012

Early Civil Registration - registrars at last for Huddersfield


Huddersfield was one of the places most actively hostile to the imposition of the New Poor Law in 1834, and this in turn delayed the implementation of civil registration there. By 1837 Huddersfield had already held out for three years, and it was not until early in 1838 that a Clerk to the Guardians was finally appointed and the business of the Union and the Registration District could begin at last. The delaying tactics of the Huddersfield guardians did not take the form of mere passive resistance. Time and time again the guardians met and adjourned their meetings without electing a clerk, but the participants did not merely shuffle their papers and file out, the meetings ended in uproar.

At the meeting in June 1937 when a Clerk to the Guardians was due to be elected, a large hostile crowd assembled outside the Druid's Arms. Fearing a riot, the High Constable had applied to the magistrates for the military to be called in, but the application was refused. The protesters were addressed by Richard Oastler, a leading figure among the opponents of the new law. Another speaker, Mr Buchanan, suggested that they all march to the workhouse, where the meeting was being held, to confront the Poor Law Commissioner who was due to attend, then return to the Druid's Arms. This did not turn out well. The crowd forced open the workhouse gates, missiles and abuse were thrown, and some of them tried to force the chairman of the Guardians into the river. Others searched part of the house, looking in vain for the Commissioner, and when they were unsuccessful removed a quantity of food instead.
Mr Oastler tried to restore order and get them to return to the Druid's Arms, without success.

Meanwhile inside the meeting, the Guardians again voted not to elect a clerk, which news elicited a cheer from the crowd. They also agreed to adjourn yet again, to ask the Poor Law Commissioners if they could elect a clerk and divide the Union into districts for registration purposes only. Eventually the crowd dispersed, reconvened in the Market Place, and brought the day to a conclusion by burning an effigy of the chairman of the Guardians, Mr Swaine.

In the event the Clerk to the Guardians, who was also Superintendent Registrar, was not appointed until the following year. This was not by any means the end of all opposition to the New Poor Law, as testified by the Clerk, Cookson Stephenson Floyd, in his long and detailed account to the Poor Law Commissioners of the meeting held in May 1838. One man tried to pull the chair out from under the chairman, and the minute book was pulled from the clerk's grasp, and at the time of his writing was in the custody of the Constable of Huddersfield. Mr Floyd wrote
'My situation as Clerk is anything but a Bed of roses as you must be aware for in addition to a heap of round abuse I am now charged by the opposition of gross partiality, and consequent unfitness for the office'           
The account of the first meeting appeared in the Leeds Mercury of 10 June 1837, and Cookson Stephenson Floyd's letter is part of the second volume of Poor Law Union Correspondence for Huddersfield (MH 12/15064), which also contains the poster above.

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