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1826 General Election


The Duke of Northumberland’s domination on the electoral seats of Launceston and Newport were seldom challenged. However the winds of change were beginning to surface in the 1820’s and there was some disquiet among those that had possession of suffrage. This came to bear in the 1826 General Election at Newport. Although in the Launceston Borough things remained as per the status quo with Brogden and Pellew being re-elected, there dwelt in Newport many wanted a change. One such person was a tanner of St. Stephens Hill, James Snell. He, knowing that Nicholas Burt, Vaughan Ridgman, Samuel Holman, and other independent electors were longing for an opportunity to oppose the Duke’s nominees, essayed a somewhat perilous adventure in order to secure a contest.
At the end of 1824, having heard that a London banker, named Stevenson, was desirous of fighting a borough upon Whig principles, he wrote to him in the name of Nicholas Burt, the leader of the anti-Percy section, telling him there was a good chance at Newport. Acting upon the implied invitation, Stevenson sent to the borough an agent, who called on Nicholas Burt. The letter was immediately shown to be a forgery but despite this, Burt began negotiations with the banker, and, when Parliament was dissolved in 1826, Stevenson intimated to him that he should at once leave London for Newport, and appointed Lifton Down as the spot where he would like to be met by his supporters.

A procession of men on horseback, to the number of thirty or forty, was subsequently formed at Newport and accompanied by hundreds of pedestrians, all wearing laurel leaves and shouting “Stevenson for ever,” with Nicholas Burt and Vaughan Ridgman at the head, marched through Launceston to Lifton Down, where, while waiting outside the local inn, beer was freely given to the horses to drink. In about half-an-hour, and amid loud cheers, a carraige-and-four drove up with Stevenson aboard and the procession then headed back to Newport. Nicholas Burt, who was a currier, had cleared out his drying loft which stood upon the site of the Newport round house, and there Stevenson addressed the electors, who, in the fashion of the time, were afterwards regaled with several hogsheads of beer, inhabitants of St. Thomas and St. Stephens hastening to the spot with pitchers so that they might share in the feast. On the following day another procession was formed under Burt’s directions in Newport Square, and this, consisting of representitive’s of all ages and both sexes – the men leading, followed by the youths, and then by women and children – wended its way at great length up St. Thomas Hill, and through the Northgate to the King’s Arms, where Stevenson and his friends were dining, and from the windows of which was thrown, in order to amuse the crowd, a quantity of silver and copper coin, previously raised nearly to red heat in a frying-pan. One of Stevenson’s most ardent supporters was Thomas John Phillips (grand-nephew of Sir Jonathan Phillips and who had opposed the Duke some eight years previous) whose hospitality at Newport House was unbounded throughout the contest, and at Brimble Park, a portion of his property, a fete was held to keep up the excitement. Beer was again distributed in plenty, prizes were offered for cricketing, running, grinning through a horse-collar, eating penny loaves and treacle, races between women for dresses, and other amusements. However, when the poll was cast, Stevenson’s supporters had melted away and he was overwhelmingly defeated in what was to be the last ever elections held for Newport, and the Duke’s nominee’s of Raine and Percy were duly re-elected. It may have been this result that persuaded Thomas Phillips to sell his property at Newport to the Duke of Northumberland, who for that moment was now more than ever master of the borough.
It has to be stated that the Duke of Northumberland at this time was subscribing a considerable amount of money to the borough, and during the six years between 1825 and 1831, he contributed a total of £5,233 to various schemes, including the Dunheved Green storage reservoir. It is more than likely that this was the deciding factor in the result no doubt with a few strained consciences.

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