On this Day 27th March 1980

Pink and Blue - Penwith Politics 1880

Charles Reed MP by A & E Taylor, Illustrated London News 2 April 1881It’s the last weekend before the election. In the St Ives and Western Divisions, the contest is becoming heated. The contestants have already published lengthy election addresses in the newspapers, and displayed them in any suitable space that has presented itself. Liberal Sir Charles Reed, his colour blue, writes from Cannes that he is campaigning on a platform of reform of the archaic Game Laws. Tory Charles Ross, the mayor of Penzance, argues for stable government.

In St Ives, the campaign is already taking on a bilious cast. There has been an accusation that the Liberal rate-collector has disenfranchised up to 100 Conservative voters. What’s more – or so the Conservatives, in the pink corner, complain - “the Liberal bill-sticker posted Sir Charles Reed’s address over that of Mr Ross”. The Conservatives, of course, are not about to take that lying down - and have “sought revenge and torn down the blue poster”. There is a counter-suggestion that in some places the cavalier fly-poster has been “got at” before glue was spilt, and the Liberal addresses have altogether failed to appear on display.

Elsewhere, a “really artistic poster” from the blue team, with “several striking portraits of the leaders of the Liberal Party”, has offended a young lady who is, the Cornish Telegraph points out, the daughter of a magistrate. The woman in question is “Tory to the pink ribbons of her necktie and jaunty hat”, a political stance which this particular newspaper does not share. Imagining herself unobserved she has – allegedly – been seen to scratch out Gladstone’s eyes and then turn her attentions to the noses and beards of the other portraits, imagining herself unobserved.

Today the candidates and their managers are out in force, touring the area and holding forth for the benefit of followers and sceptics alike. Mr Ross appears at Nancledra, with his wife and sisters in pink beside him. He takes up position on the school steps, while 150 supporters wearing his colours listen from the playground. He accuses his Liberal opponent of having “sown dissension and discord… the usual Radical tactics”. He insists that he is not flattering his listeners when he tells them that they are “capable, probably on account of working in danger and in the habit of taking bargains and speculative contracts, of quicker appreciation of matters than any other class of working man”. And given such wisdom the voters will, of course, not be fooled for a minute by Liberal talk of iniquitous laws keeping them from their pheasants. Neither will they have any truck with the “monstrous absurdity” of the suggestion from Sir Charles that a landlord should not let his tenant know his views. Mr Ross explains that it is the responsibility of a squire to offer guidance. At this point, a dog fight (possibly spontaneous, possibly not) breaks out and interrupts his oration.

Later Mr Ross will put in an appearance at Wheal Sisters where he will stay in his carriage, “having observed that the audience was not altogether a friendly one”. His day will end at Penzance Quay, where a procession of youths with torches will encourage him to ramp up his rhetoric, casting himself as a pink David about to slay the blue Goliath. He promises that after the election Charles Reed’s head will be displayed – metaphorically, of course – on a spike at the Guildhall.

And the result? Watch out for a forthcoming Penwith Papers account of election day itself…


Cornish Telegraph 31st March 1880 pp 4, 5, 7

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