Meeting Report: The 1884 Reform agitation in Dumfriesshire and Galloway
Mark Nixon, an independent historian from Blackford, Perthshire, was invited to give a lecture on the 1884 Reform Marches and subsequent results with particular relation to Dumfriesshire and Galloway. This was held at a well attended meeting in the Baptist Church Centre in Dumfries.
Mark started the lecture by handing out medallions, mostly with the portrait of Gladstone, which were sold for fund raising as mementoes of the demonstrations.
The background to the demonstrations was a demand that the voting rights gained in the Reform Act 1867 be extended to the county male population. In the 1867 Act adult males from the burghs/boroughs with land valued at £10 or paying rental of £10 gained the vote while adult males of the county area had to be paying or own the equivalent of £20.
This inequality produced the largest political demonstrations in the history of the United Kingdom. The House of Lords, however, had up to then resisted the mainly Liberal-led legislation. In Scotland the first demonstration occurred in Edinburgh with the largest held in Glasgow.
In Dumfriesshire and Galloway all the major towns held demonstrations with Dumfries holding theirs on 20 October. This took on the pattern of the other demonstrations with trades and organisations being represented with banners and objects, many surviving in the collections of our museums, being paraded along with bands and bunting being displayed along the route.
Special trains were laid on to bring in the crowds and an estimate of the demonstration is about 2700. The parade started and ended at the Dock Park where speeches were held before the crowd finally dispersed.
On 21 October, however, a meeting was held by the Young Conservatives in the Kings Arms Hotel with guest speaker Lord Salisbury accompanied by his daughter. This was a ticketed event and was barricaded for security. There was an initial small amount of disorder which escalated into a crowd forming, stones being thrown and windows smashed. A decision to evacuate Lord Salisbury and his daughter was made and an escape in a carriage put into action. The carriage was intercepted by the crowd before it reached the station and was attacked with sticks and stones. An armed guard was required to get the couple safely to the railway station and away to London.
Not long after Lord Salisbury gave his backing to the Reform Act 1884 and the lecturer surmises the experience of Lord Salisbury in Dumfries and the fear of revolt may have influenced this change of perspective. The audience showed their appreciation for this excellent lecture on an important but relatively forgotten piece of local history.