THE polls suggest that there may be an electoral rout when the British people come to vote on Thursday and two remarkable political posters have been discovered that take us back to when there was an election riot in south Durham.

Chris Lines, in Sedgefield, was alerted by a friend to the posters coming up for sale in Chesterfield when the collection of a late Liberal peer was broken up, and Chris has now brought them home.

They are the election addresses of two candidates who stood during an ill-tempered campaign in 1841.

Since the South Durham seat had been created in 1832, the Whigs – who later became known as Liberals – had had it all their own way, with Joseph Pease, of Darlington, and John Bowes, of Streatlam Castle elected unopposed as the constituency’s two MPs.

John Bowes, founder of the Bowes Museum who defended his seat in the 1841 election 

In 1841, the Whig government, led by Lord Melbourne, was becoming increasingly unpopular, with even some of his own MPs voting against his Budget and then failing to back him in a confidence motion, which he lost by one vote, triggering the election.

Joseph Pease: he stood down in 1841

In South Durham, Mr Pease – whose statue stands in Darlington’s High Row – stood down and the Whigs decided that Lord Harry Vane, the eldest son of the Duke of Cleveland of Raby Castle, should take his place alongside Mr Bowes, the founder of the Bowes Museum.


But then, for the first time and much to the Whigs’ surprise, the local Conservatives had raised £4,000 to enable their candidate to enter the fray. He was James Farrer, whose super-wealthy family had built Ingleborough Hall at Clapham, near Giggleswick, on the west side of the Yorkshire Dales.

John Bowes's 1841 election poster, courtesy of Chris Lines

Mr Bowes’s election poster, printed on June 21, 1841, shows how his plans had been thrown into disarray by the sudden appearance of the Tory. On the poster, he complains how he is running out of time to visit each of the 4,820 registered voters to ask for their support.

He says on the poster: “Should I fail in seeing you all, I trust you will attribute the apparent neglect to the shortness of the time allotted, and not to any feeling of disrespect towards yourselves.”

William Makepeace Thackeray, who witnessed the 1841 events in south Durham

On June 25, Mr Bowes’ friend, William Makepeace Thackeray, the author of Vanity Fair, arrived at Streatlam Castle, between Staindrop and Barnard Castle, to assist in the campaign and also to gather material for a satirical pamphlet.

Streatlam Castle, between Staindrop and Barnard Castle, was the home of John  Bowes

Mr Bowes was out every day from 6am, riding around his huge constituency – it spread from Barney to Darlington and Stockton. His supporters were dressed in blue and white and cheered his carriage as it sped through the streets, but Mr Farrer was actively handing out red handkerchiefs, ribbons and even gowns to every woman he came across so that his supporters started wearing his colours.

Indeed, Mr Farrer was said to have made a “triumphal entry” into Barnard Castle, with his carriage being pulled through the streets by his enthusiastic voters.

The Whigs later put it around that these voters’ enthusiasm had been bought, at the rate of 3s 6d for the day’s work, and if they had been given an extra shilling, they would have been just as happy to dump Mr Farrer in the Tees.

On June 28, Mr Bowes came campaigning in Darlington, entering the town in a grand carriage led by two horsemen and a band playing See The Conquering Hero Comes. Behind him were 300 horsemen, four abreast, from Weardale. Then there was a procession of carriages filled with his supporters and then another 200 voters on horseback, all covered in blue and white rosettes, and flying banners.

“A more imposing spectacle has seldom been witnessed,” said the Darlington historian, William Longstaffe.

The Sun Inn, on the corner of Northgate, Bondgate and High Row. The HSBC is on this spot where Mr Pease and Mr Bowes were drowned out by the Tory mob in 1841

Outside Mr Bowes’s campaign headquarters in the Sun Inn in Prospect Place (where HSBC is today in the shadow of Mr Pease’s statue), a platform had been built from which he intended to address the crowd.

At 2pm, he was introduced to the masses by Mr Pease.

“The scene which ensued baffles all description,” said Mr Longstaffe. “Stationed below the platform were a few persons who commenced hooting, roaring and bellowing in such a manner as totally to prevent any below the platform hearing a single word delivered by Mr Pease.”

After 20 minutes, Mr Pease gave up, and Mr Bowes rose to speak. But he, too, was drowned out by the hooting, roaring and bellowing, and after 30 minutes he sat down, no one having heard a word he said.


The meeting broke up. Those responsible for the hooting, roaring and bellowing – who the Whigs alleged had been paid by the Conservatives – went into the pubs to spend their earnings, and the hundreds of outsiders who had accompanied Mr Bowes also sought refreshment.

As the afternoon wore on, bust-ups broke out on High Row until, at 7.30pm in the Market Place, a full blown fight began.

Looking from High Row down Tubwell Row with the Market Place on the right hand side in 1843. The town hall building on the right has a policeman in white trousers standing outside his lock-up. It was in this office that the police were beseiged by the angry crowd 

In those days, the police were stationed in the Tubwell Row side of the town hall, which was where the town clock and covered market is today.

They came out of their office into the Market Place and tried to restore order. The mob began to jostle them, so they drew their truncheons and struck out.

“One man, well known as a quiet inoffensive character of the name of Robson, a butcher in Skinnergate, was struck by a police truncheon and for some time, it was thought he was killed,” says Longstaffe. "A general attack was then made on the police who were obliged to fly in all directions, with the loss of hats, truncheons etc.”

Some of them made it back into the town hall, which the mob attacked, breaking every window.


The town hall in the centre of Darlington that stood from 1808 to 1862 and was the scene of the riot in 1841For nearly four hours, the police were besieged inside their own lock-up, and then, shortly after 11pm, the mob charged, and smashed down the north door of the town hall in a bid to get their hands on the peelers.

The police, though, had changed out of their uniforms and, heavily disguised, smuggled themselves out of the south door and melted anonymously into the chaos.

The mob smashed up everything they could lay their hands on before returning to the far-flung corners of the constituency to sober up.

Lord Harry Vane, the eldest son of the Duke of Cleveland, who topped the poll for the Whigs in South Durham in 1841

On Tuesday, June 6, 1841, the three candidates were back in Darlington for Nomination Day. Lord Harry had his headquarters in the King’s Head Hotel and Mr Farrer was ensconced in The Fleece Hotel, where Boyes is today. Mr Bowes emerged from the Sun Inn to join them on the makeshift hustings outside the town hall and, in the presence of the High Sheriff of Durham, William Russell of Brancepeth Castle, all three delivered their speeches without interruption.

There was fear, though, that electoral violence could break out at any moment, as Darlington, and presumably all the other towns in the constituency, were plastered with posters from the candidates.

James Farrer's polling day poster from 1841, courtesy of Chris Lines

One of Mr Farrer’s survives. It was slapped up on polling day – July 9.

In other parts of the country, polling had begun as early as June 29, and the results showed that Whig MPs were losing their seats because of their unpopular government.

On his poster, Mr Farrer draws attention to this, and to Mr Bowes’s record of voting against his own government. Mr Farrer wrote: “Can, then, a man serve you who not only voted against the Government on the great question now at issue, but whose frequent absence from his duties was notorious? Vote, then, for Farrer!!!”

Huge crowds gathered outside the town hall on Monday, July 12, to hear Mr Russell read out the result:

Lord Harry Vane (Whig) 2,547
John Bowes (Whig) 2,483
James Farrer (Conservative) 1,739

The two Whigs were returned to Parliament. There was much hissing and booing as they made their victory speeches, and then they were chaired through the streets.

Fortunately, an unusually severe thunderstorm brought proceedings to an abrupt end and cleared the streets, “dampening the ardour of any would-be disturbers of the peace”.

In seeing off Mr Farrer, Mr Bowes had amassed debts of nearly £5,000.

Fortunately, at his stud at Streatlam Castle, he had a very promising racehorse called Cotherstone which he entered into the 1843 Derby. He placed such a huge bet on it that when it won, he collected £21,000 (£2.2m in today’s values) from the bookies – more than enough to pay off all his election debts.

However, in echoes of today, other gamblers alleged that there was something underhand in Mr Bowes betting on his own horse, and he was forced to flee to France for a year to avoid arrest.

At the next election in 1847, he decided not to stand, and Mr Farrer was returned alongside Lord Harry as South Durham’s first ever Conservative MP.

  • With many thanks to Chris Lines, and to Ed Fordham, of Brockwell Books of Chesterfield, who found the posters. What should become of them? Chris is keen to find a museum or archive that would be interested in them, so if you have any suggestions, please email