Oldham I

John Morgan Cobbett was the son of William Cobbett, author of Rural Rides and a Liberal MP for Oldham (1832-35). John also became Liberal MP for the seat (1852-65) but when he stood again in 1868, it was as a Tory.

He and his running mate, Frederick Spinks, were narrowly defeated – Cobbett by only six votes – and “prayed the seat on a scrutiny” (petitioned the result in court). Many votes were disputed: it was stated that a Mr Whatmough had been given a coffin by the parish to bury one of his children in. This was judged a form of poor relief and his votes were struck off.

Joshua Smith was luckier. He had buried his wife on the parish but as he had paid the money back just after the election, his votes were held good.

A Mr Madden had been attended by a “county” doctor following an assault but the judge ruled that this was not parish relief but “police relief” and his votes were allowed. The arguments continued.

This article first appeared in the 15 October 2012 issue of the New Statesman, India special