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The Ephemera of John Smith
by Adam McNaughton

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Laissez-Passer from City of Glasgow 1820

An official travel permit issued by the Lord Provost and magistrates in a time of unrest. It is made out by hand to Archibald Cunningham and signed by Baillie James Hunter. A considerable portion is torn from the left edge without loss of text.

Such was the state of apprehension throughout Britain in 1820, after the previous year's mishandling of the Radical meeting in Manchester, that legitimate travellers had to be issued with permits, particularly when going from Glasgow to Belfast, both towns with a radical reputation.

It was in April that year that the violence spread to the West of Scotland with troops firing on a crowd in Greenock and the skirmish at Bonnymuir leading to the execution of John Baird and Andrew Hardie.


Polling card

Undated polling card for John Smith in Glasgow. The elector's name is entered in ink in the blank provided.

This is a polling card for one of the first post-Reform elections. All voters were given the title "Mr" in print before the blank left for the written name, since women had not been given the franchise.

The polling place was the session house of St George's Church, built under the patronage of the City Council in 1809, William Stark, architect. Voting was by open registration. The secret ballot was not introduced until 1872.

The seventh district, from Hutcheson Street to Queen Street, and from Argyll St/Trongate to Ingram Street included John Smith's Bookshop in Virginia Street, not his home address.


Circular election appeal

A lithographed two-leaf circular appeal on behalf of D.Stow, candidate in the Fourth District for the Glasgow City Council election, 1833. The printed message is on page 1 of 4.

Llithography made possible the use of a continuous cursive script which is used to give this election leaflet the appearance of a personal letter. James Miller, the Trongate lithographer who produced this card, was an influential printer.

This is no more than an intimation that D. Stow is standing for election. There is no mention of issues, policies nor party. Stow was nominated as a non-party candidate. He was not elected.

David Stow needed no introduction to the electors of Glasgow. A prominent merchant, his contributions to educational development and training were already known throughout Britain.


Poster calling for order at the illuminations in celebration of Reform, Glasgow, 1831

Poster, well-printed in black on white, to be displayed at demonstration.

There was delight among its many supporters in Glasgow at the passage of the Reform Bill through the Commons in March, 1831. The Council decided to forestall any unruly demonstrations by proclaiming a public illumination and official bonfires.

The Council had intimated that unruly behaviour and unofficial pyrotechnics would be punished. This poster puts the importance of orderly conduct in a political perspective, while recognising that delight was not universal.

The celebrations were in fact premature. The House of Lords voted against the Bill and Grey resigned.


Radical party election ballad, Glasgow, 1837

Single slip ballad headed by engraving of French "Peace and Liberty" medallion of 1830, by P. Fyfe.

In the 1830s, since voting was still far from secret, electors could still be swayed by the influence of a shouting, singing crowd. Election ballads were important for that reason. They also amused supporters and often provided slogans for them, when the full song was less than memorable.

Lord William Cavendish Bentinck had long been a respected Governor of India. He returned to Britain in 1835 and was selected as Whig candidiate for Glasgow in the 1836 election. He was successful then and in the following year. He died in 1839.

John Taylor was a leading radical, later Chartist, for many years.


Election ballad for John Dennistoun, Glasgow, 1837

Single slip broadside with woodcut portrait at head.

The 1837 bye-election came about when James Oswald, after five years in the Commons, took the Chiltern Hundreds. It was a two-way contest between Dennistoun, the Reform candidate, and Robert Monteith, a young Conservative.

The Reform campaign concentrated on attacking the Conservative party, since all they could object to Menteith was that he was young and a Cambridge man, though in fact Glasgow-born; the Tories attacked the candidate, pointing out that he was a slave-owner and accusing him of having burnt the Holy Bible.

The song is a typical broadside piece, on coarse paper and hurriedly printed. It invokes the name of the Radical icon, William Wallace, and reminds listeners that he was betrayed by a Menteith. Dennistoun won by fifty votes.


Election poster in form of mock playbill, Glasgow, 1837

Mock playbill which closely follows a real playbill of the mid-nineteenth century in physical form and in lay-out. The lower left edge has been trimmed for binding.

In its layout of main play and farce with interspersed comic songs, this election poster is a close imitation of a contemporary playbill. Its target is Glasgow's Liberal establishment, "the Clique", and their candidates in the 1837 general election, occasioned by the change of monarch.

The candidates were the sitting members, John Dennistoun (Mr Deanston) a leading Glasgow merchant with interests in the West Indies, and Lord William Bentinck (Lord Bedtick), who had been elected in a bye-election the previous year, after a distinguished career as Governor-General of India.

Other members of the Clique who are targeted include Colin Dunlop (Mr Tolcross), James Lumsden (Mr Lonsdale) and Charles Tennant (Mr Stinkie). Dennistoun and Bentinck were elected.


Ground plan of pavilion for Peel Banquet, Glasgow, 1837

Detailed seating plan for ground floor of pavilion. The lower left edge has been trimmed; there are also tears on the left edge and splits at some folds.

When the students of Glasgow elected Sir Robert Peel Lord Rector in 1836, the Glasgow Conservatives decided to use the occasion of his Rectorial to hold the largest Tory celebration ever seen in Scotland. A temporary banqueting hall to seat over three thousand was erected across Buchanan Street.

This plan shows the position of the pavilion, facing Gordon of Aikenhead's house (now Border Books). This was the plan issued to stewards to allow them to direct guests to the seat number indicated on the ticket. John Smith, the bookseller, was a steward at the banquet

The pavilion was sumptuously decorated, with imitation siena marble pillars supporting the gallery and roof, and over three thousand gas jets supplying the lighting. The imagery of the decoration was unmistakably conservative, with the wall behind the chief guests representing King, Lords and Commons.


Broadside against Glasgow's proposed Poor Rate Bill, 1838

Single sheet pamphlet. Two centimetres have been trimmed from the lower half of the left edge from binding in a collection.

This is one of many pamphlets published in the 1830s against changes in the mode of assessing for the maintenance of the city's poor. Since the first assessment at the behest of the directors of the Town's Hospital in 1773, the levy had been assessed on the "means and substance" of the citizens.

Many non-citizens, who derived their wealth from businesses within Glasgow, escaped taxation under that system. So the Council, particularly after the Reform Act, pushed for assessment on rentals.

The opponent in this pamphlet claims that the change will be hardest on small businesses, that the rich landowners will collect feus but not pay the tax on buildings, that local parishes, such as St John's under Thomas Chalmers, could support their poor on voluntary contributions.


Circular reminding prospective voters to pay taxes

A two-leaf circular letter form with lithographed message on page 1 and hand-written address to be folded outside on page 4.

This reminder was sent by the chairman of the support group for the election of Monteith and Campbell reminding voters to make sure they were eligible. It is a reminder to us that the Reform Act had enfranchised householders, and if they did not pay taxes, they did not vote.

The election of 1837 returned John Dennistoun and Lord William Bentinck as Glasgow's representatives.

By 1837, Allen and Ferguson had become one of the leading lithographic firms in the country. A lithographed representation of hand-writing had become the favoured mode of print for circulars. Here even Michael Rowand's signature is printed.

Use the toolbar below to see more of Smith's ephemera, following the themed links

Introduction Transport Political Church Trade Entertainment Crime Education Medical CityAffairs


Text by Adam McNaughton and web editing by Julie Gardham September 2004

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