NORTHALLERTON was a “pocket borough”. It needed cleaning up. A new broom was required to sweep away centuries of rottenness and open the town up to the new age of democracy.

How was it done?

A splendid, 190-year-old silver tureen, one of the great treasures of the town, tells the story.

The inscription on the tureen, which is topped by a hand clasping a key, says it was presented to Captain John George Boss by the friends of “reform and liberty of conscience”.

The inscriptions says it was presented to him “as a token of esteem for his unwearied exertions in an arduous contest of six months, making every sacrifice even when visited with deep domestic affliction for the liberation of that borough which had been held in thraldom upwards of 60 years and which he gloriously accomplished in defiance of art and stratagem”.

What a guy!

Since 1640, Northallerton had sent two MPs to Parliament. From 1660, one of those was a member of the Lascelles family, who started out at nearby Kirby Sigston but amassed a huge fortune through slavery and moved to Harewood House near Leeds, and the other was usually from the Peirse family of Bedale Hall.

To vote in Northallerton, you had to own a plot of land called a “burgage”. Most of the burgages were owned by the two major landowners: the Lascelles and Peirse families.

So the election of MPs was said to be in their pockets, and so tight a hold did they keep on their pockets that there were no contested elections in the town for the first 30 years of the 19th Century.

The Great Reform Act of 1832 was seized upon by their radical opponents as a chance to change all that. The Act meant Northallerton, a town with a population of 3,004, was only allocated one MP but he was to be elected in more democratic way.

All the radicals needed to topple the old order was a suitable candidate…

In Otterington Hall, to the south of the town, lived Capt Boss, a naval hero. He was born in Beverley, but his wife was a Pennyman from Ormesby Hall in Middlesbrough.

He went to sea as a 14-year-old midshipman and fought bravely in the Caribbean in the Napoleonic Wars. He was briefly captured by the enemy, but turned the tables in 1804 when he led the way in capturing one of France’s leading ships, Le Curieux. He then commanded The Curieux into battle against the French.

His next ship was the Rhodian, with which in 1812 he captured and destroyed two French privateers. His admirers were so impressed by his “zeal and valour” that they presented him with an inscribed silver trophy which sold for £42,500 at auction in 2017.

However, the following year, the Rhodian was wrecked off Jamaica, but due to the captain’s bravery none of the crew was lost and all of the cargo, which included 500,000 dollars, was saved.

Soon after the shipwreck, the captain retired to landlocked Otterington and thought no more of battles, until he was approached by the radicals of Northallerton and asked to take on William Battie Wrightson, a former MP for Hull, whose nomination was backed by the old landowners.

Boss adopted two symbols: a gilded key, to show how he was going to open up the borough to democracy, and a giant broom, to show how he was going to sweep things clean.

It was a terrific campaign. On June 25, 1832, an open air party began at 11am in Brompton in support of Boss. About 1,000 of his supporters, with yellow sashes across their chests, marched into Northallerton and back again in time for lunch: a fat ox was roasted on Brompton green and 500 men dined on three enormous trestle tables.

Then the Boss himself arrived, greeted by a battery of guns, a volley of cheers and much toasting. The Bromptonians removed the horses from his carriage and personally pulled him and his wife, Charlotte, into Northallerton.

While they were away, the 300 women who had done all the cooking sat down for tea and plum cake.

But, as the inscription on the tureen suggests, it was not all plain sailing for Boss. On September 11, he was struck by “deep domestic affliction” – Charlotte died, just two-and-half months after the chairing, in Otterington Hall. She was 56.

The captain, though, sailed on. Polling day was December 10. A large wooden hustings was erected outside the town hall between the two hotels which were the headquarters for the rival parties: the Black Bull was the base for Boss’ radicals and Liberals; the Golden Lion was the centre for Wrightson’s conservatives.

After speeches from the hustings, a show of hands seemed to elect Boss but, as was his right, Wrightson asked for a written ballot. But that, too, by 108 votes to 97, elected Boss.

He made his victory speech from an upper window of the Black Bull, and then his victorious supporters chaired him around his constituency. Three times they whipped him around the Market Cross before carrying him to Romanby and then, of course, back to Brompton. Bands, bells and even cannons accompanied his triumphant tour, as well as 4,000 people.

Some of them even subscribed to create the fabulous tureen, which is now kept in a locked case in town hall, as a memento of the historic occasion.

But for all the rejoicing, Capt Boss did not turn out to be an especially good MP. He had a habit of dozing off on the backbenches when listening to debates, and when the 1835 election was called, he decided not to stand. Indeed, he died two years later at Otterington Hall, aged 56. One biography says he was “remembered as a hearty, coarse, good-humoured jolly tar”.

And returned unopposed at the 1835 election was his old foe, William Wrightson, who held the seat for 30 years.

So the gleaming silver tureen represents the moment when hope was in the hearts of the Northallerton voters that a new dawn of democracy was breaking, but Capt Boss’ broom did not sweep clean and he only unlocked the door to more of the same.

l With thanks to Jennifer Allison and also the staff at Northallerton Town Hall. Much information taken from Michael Riordan’s History of Northallerton which was published in 2002.

JUST as there is a Cummings side of a story, there is always a Hancock side of the story – two very different ways of looking at the same story.

And so it was 150 years ago this week when the Dowager Marchioness of Normanby, of Mulgrave Castle, cut the first sod of the Whitby, Redcar and Middlesbrough Railway.

The Northern Echo, ever sober and responsible, noted: “The ceremony took place in a wooden erection, thatched with evergreens, placed over the lime kilns at Sandsend.”

It reported that the weather had been “exceedingly fine” early on, but rain began just as the ceremony started. It said that was a “liberal supply of champagne and sandwiches” for the dignitaries but that they prayed heartily for the success of the railway and finished the proceedings by singing the 100th Psalm.

The Darlington & Stockton Times, the Echo’s weekly and sometimes more colourful sister paper, had a completely different take on the proceedings.

“The day being beautifully warm and sunny, with a delicious breeze playing over the waves of the slightly ruffled sea, a large number of gaily dressed people were tempted out for a holiday, and dispersed themselves about the sands, the cliff sides and the hill overlooking the scene of the operations in groups of the most picturesque and attractive character,” it said.

“The line undoubtedly completes a much desired link in the coast communication of the district, and as it also afford exquisite prospects of lappering waves and rugged headlands, of verdant pastures and well wooded dells, and is also rich in floral and other treasures, it cannot fail to prove an attractive route to tourists and excursionists from all parts,” hymned the D&S.

For her sod cutting, her ladyship was presented with a “beautiful boxwood barrow” and a solid silver spade.

“With these delicate implements she gracefully removed a square piece of turf on which had been scattered daisies and forget-me-nots, and wheeled it to the first tip heap amid the plaudits of the delighted assembly and the roaring of cannon from the heights above.”

Perhaps the Echo’s more sober approach was the most appropriate. The 16-mile line hugged the clifftop, with a couple of tunnels and several spindly but spectacular viaducts to overcome the biggest obstacles. Construction wasn’t completed until 17 years after the Marchioness – whose husband had been briefly Home Secretary in the 1830s – had wielded her solid silver spade.

The line finally opened in 1886, but it’s working life was fairly brief, as it closed in 1958.