Dr Trotter of Bedlington

Bedlington Town Centre has the status of being a conservation area  Bedlington Conservation Area Appraisal  and is managed by Northumberland County Council. Important landmarks in Bedlington are brought to the attention of visitors by way of a blue plaque fixed to the site. A display near the market monument also gives information and a guide to the town's heritage.

Landmarks include the house where the railway engineer and parliamentarian Sir Daniel Gooch lived as a child and a Victorian post box: a Bedlington resident being the recipient of the first ever letter stamped with a penny black.

Another landmark, which sits near the roundabout at the north end of Front Street, is a large monument dedicated to Doctor James Trotter (1843-1899), which was erected by public subscription. Trotter had championed the fight against poor living conditions and fought to improve the general health of the local people, who held him in great affection and esteem. He also became a local and county councillor and helped to secure the election to Parliament of Thomas Burt.

I had read this in a Newcastle Journal article written by Tony Henderson named "Statue of the Week" which stated that Doctor Pit in Bedlington was named after James Trotter. I thought that this was unusual as collieries were usually named after the owners or their family members. Trotter would have no doubt been an adversary of the pit owners? But apparently, the naming of Doctor Pit is a common misconception as Robert Coulson of Hexham pointed out when he wrote a reply to the article and stated:  Doctor Pit was named after a company director, who cut the first sod of the shaft, a Doctor John Moore Bates. This was, in fact, ten years prior to Dr Trotter having moved to Bedlington.

The election to Parliament in 1874 of Thomas Burt, a working man, was an important and well-documented event. The Morpeth Herald of the time quoted a supporter as saying: "Time the Avenger’ (that) can be found is the fact that Morpeth, so long known by the reproachful cognomen of a ‘rotten borough’ will be the first to send a working man – a real undisguised man of the people – to Parliament”. But, I was surprised at myself in never having never heard of Dr Trotter before I made this visit to Bedlington's landmarks.

I then discovered the memoirs of William Adams (1832-1906): Chartist, Republican, supporter of women's suffrage and Editor of the Newcastle Weekly Chronicle from 1862. Adams was himself from a working-class background. The Newcastle Chronicle, under the ownership of the radical Joseph Cowen, was a supporter of the amelioration of the working class. Adams published his memoirs in a series of articles in the Chronicle in 1902. This extract describes Adams' knowledge and involvement in the politics of the area in the lead up to the 1874 election:

THE expectations of the Tea Room party that the hindrances to emancipation contained in Mr. Disraeli's Reform Bill could and would be removed were in due course completely realised.  The credit of removing such of them as related to the residents of colliery villages and the occupants of colliery houses belongs to the miners of Northumberland.  How this came about forms an interesting episode in the history of the borough of Morpeth.  The secretary of the Northumberland Miners' Association, Thomas Burt, soon after his election to that office in 1864, showed so much ability in the management of the society's affairs, and endeared himself so much to his fellow-workmen by reason of his personal qualities, that there arose a strong desire to see him in the House of Commons.  But household suffrage, pure and simple, was not yet the law of the land.  Of the thousands of miners in Northumberland only a few hundreds were numbered among the electors of the county.  As occupiers of colliery houses, and so not paying rates directly to the overseers of the poor, they were considered not entitled to have their names inscribed on the rate-books or on the register of voters.  But some ingenious people in the neighbourhood of Choppington and Bedlington conceived the idea that the occupants of colliery houses, since they stood in respect to rates in about the same position as compound householders in towns, had equal claims with the said householders to the suffrage.  To press this idea upon the authorities the Miners' Franchise Association was formed in the early part of 1872. 

    The inception of the movement, undoubtedly one of the most successful ever set on foot in the North of England, was due, I think, to Thomas Glassey, then a miner at Choppington, but for some years now a leading member of the Parliament of Queensland, and at this date a member of the Senate of the Commonwealth of Australia.  Mr. Glassey, a native of the North of Ireland, had not been long in the district, nor had he always been associated with the Radical party.  Indeed, he had until shortly before been a rampant Orangeman.  When he did take sides with the Radicals, however, he went with them heart and soul.  Being a man of resource, too, he soon made the whole coalfield ring with the claims of the miners.  Associated with Mr. Glassey were two other notable men.  One was Robert Elliott, author of a vernacular poem which created some stir at the time, entitled "A Pitman Gan te Parliament."  It was thought by many of his friends that justice was hardly done to his services and abilities when he failed to secure the nomination for a neighbouring constituency to Morpeth.  The other member of the triumvirate was Dr. James Trotter, one of four or five brothers, natives of Galloway, all pursuing the practice of medicine at the same time in Northumberland.  James was also an Orangeman at the beginning of his public career.  Like Glassey, moreover, he threw himself with ardour and enthusiasm into the Radical movement. 
    The Franchise Association aimed at two things—the extension of the suffrage to all householders in the villages included in the borough of Morpeth, and the return of Thomas Burt as the first working-man member of the House of Commons.  Both objects were achieved, but not before the district had become the scene of exciting events.  Once, when Mr. Walter B. Trevelyan, the revising barrister, sitting at Morpeth, gave a decision hostile to the claims of the association, Mr. Glassey, rising in great wrath, called all his friends outside the court.  It seemed as if a revolution was going to begin there and then.  I recollect assisting to throw oil on the troubled waters, with the result that the standard of rebellion was neither then nor later unfurled.  Greater still was the excitement when a poem entitled "The Morpeth Hubbubboo" made its appearance.  The name of no author was attached to the piece, nor did anybody at the time know whence it had emanated; but it was supposed to represent the feelings of the tradesmen and respectable classes of Morpeth.  As the verses have become historical, I give some of them here:—

Come, all ye jolly freemen,
        And listen to my tale,
How Morpeth served the Howkies,
        And made them turn their tail.
And you, ye Howky beggars,
        We dare you to come down!
And though you come in thousands,
        We'll kick you from the town.
You dirty sneaking cowards,
        Come back to Morpeth, do,
And we'll kick your Burt to blazes,
        And stop your Hubbubboo

The rascals, how they spouted
        On sham gentility,
And swore the dirty Howkies
        Were just as good as we.
They wanted rights of voting,
        The law had ordered so:
What right to Rights have Howkies
        Is what I'd like to know.
We'll let them drink our beer, sir,
        The worst that we can brew,
It's good enough for Howkies
        To raise a Hubbubboo.

Hurrah for Champion Robberts
        That damned the Howky dirt,
The boy that thrashed the traitors
        Who wished to vote for Burt,
That stood up for Sir Georgy,
        And cursed the Howkies well,
And damned them and the Trotters
        To trot right off to hell!
He showed them like a man, sir,
        What brandy schnapps can do,
And soon smashed up the Templars,
        And spoiled the Hubbubboo.

Nine groans for both the Trotters,
        Confound the ugly quacks;
When next they show their faces,
        We'll make them show their backs,
Nine groans for Irish Glassey;
        If he comes here again,
We'll pelt him out with murphies,
        And get the rascal slain.
Nine groans for Poet Elliott
        And his North-Country crew,
Aud ninety for the Howkies
        That raised the Hubbubboo.

Nine groans for Burt the Howky;
        And if he ventures here,
His dry teetotal carcase
        We'll soak in Robberts' beer.
We'll put him in the stocks, too,
        And pelt him well with eggs;
We'll black his Howky eyes, boys,
        And kick his bandy legs.
He would unseat Sir Georgy,
        He would be member, too;
We'll hunt him out of Morpeth,
        And spoil his Hubbubboo.

    The effect of the publication was instantaneous.  Not only did the pitmen round about refuse to enter a public-house where "Robberts' beer" was sold, but the pitmen's wives drove back home the tradesmen's carts that travelled round the pit villages laden with provisions.  Dr. Trotter himself described the state of affairs in a letter I received from him a few days after the appearance of the "Hubbubboo."  It will be seen that the letter was partly in reply to a suggestion of mine that nothing foolish or indiscreet should be done to bring discredit upon the movement.  Here, then, is Dr. Trotter's account of matters :— 
    My dear Sir,—The whole district is in a blaze.  The tradesmen of Morpeth are like to be ruined.
    A great meeting was held at Morpeth, on Tuesday night, to take the crisis into serious consideration.  A reward of £150 is offered by the tradesmen for the publishers and authors of the squibs which are setting the miners into so desperate a state of excitement.
    All the inns and beer-shops in the district have orders to receive no more ale or spirits from Morpeth on pain of instant extinction, and all here have complied with the demand.  The pitmen made an entrance into every public-house, took down all the Morpeth spirit advertisements framed on the walls, trampled them under foot, and sent the fragments to the owners carefully packed and labelled.
    You can have no idea of the sensation here at present.  It is to be proposed, and has every likelihood of being carried unanimously, that Choppington pits be at once laid idle should a single tubful of coals be sent to the town of Morpeth, and every colliery in the county is to be invited to join issue to the same effect.  So you see that Morpeth people will not only be starved as regards food, but as respects fuel also, if things go on at this rate much longer.
    I believe we could have 10,000 men into Morpeth at a week's notice.  However, I will follow your advice in the matter and keep things as quiet as possible; but if the men get determined, the devil himself will hardly be able to prevent them making an inroad.
    I will excuse our deputation to the collieries to which we were invited as you suggest.  Besides, Mr. Burt will as surely be M.P. for the borough of Morpeth as that I am                                                           Very sincerely yours,                                                                                 JAMES TROTTER. 
    The shopkeepers of Morpeth were indeed in serious straits.  In this extremity they got up a meeting to repudiate the "Hubbubboo."  Peace, however, was not restored till the Franchise Association was invited to hold a conference in the sacred precincts of the borough itself.  It was suspected at the time, though it was not positively known till long afterwards, that the poem which set the district on fire was the production, not of an enemy, but of a friend.  Things were getting dull, it was thought, and so it was deemed advisable to invent something that would fan the embers of the agitation into a blaze.  And the blaze produced then has certainly never in the same district been equalled since.  Dr. Trotter was fond of practical jokes, and the "Hubbubboo" was one of them—quite of a piece with another which set the inhabitants of his own town of Dalry by the ears.  The "Clachan Fair," a long descriptive poem, satirising everybody in the place, including the author's father, was printed and posted to persons concerned.  And then the incorrigible joker took a holiday, and went back to his old home to enjoy the fun!
   The franchise movement never flagged after the excitement about the "Hubbubboo."  It even attracted attention in distant parts of the country.  Archibald Forbes, in an interval of his war reporting, was sent down to describe for the Daily News the position of matters in the North.  Writing of a "Miners' Monstre Demonstration," held at Morpeth on Sept. 28th, 1872, he fell into a curious confusion in respect to a leading spirit of the movement, assigning to him the name of the colliery village in which he resided.  One of the speakers at the meeting, said Mr. Forbes, was "an Irish pitman, Thomas Glassey, known to fame as the Choppington Guide Post"—"a fine, ardent young fellow, with yellow hair, and a brogue broader than the platform.  And then," he added, "Mr. Glassey lapsed into revolutionary utterances, and began to talk about tyrants and despots and other matters of a like sort, which seemed to indicate him as rather an unsafe guide post for Choppington or any other loyal community."  But the upshot of the whole business was that the revising barrister, when he came his rounds in 1873, admitted the whole of the pitman claimants to the franchise, thus increasing the constituency of Morpeth at one bound from 2,661 to 4,916. 
    The rest was easy.  Sir George Grey, the Home Secretary in many successive Whig Ministries, who had represented Morpeth since 1852, retired into private life.  Mr. Cowen presided over a great meeting at Bedlington Cross on Oct. 18th, 1873, at which a requisition was presented to Mr. Burt inviting him to stand as a candidate for the borough.  The invitation was of course accepted.  A committee constituted as follows was chosen to conduct the election:—Robert Elliott, chairman; Thomas Glassey, vice-chairman; James Archbold, treasurer; James Trotter, secretary; general members—Joseph Cowen, M.P., the Rev. Dr. Rutherford, George Howard (now Earl of Carlisle), W. E. Adams, Matthew Pletts, and Ralph Young.  Although the return of Mr. Burt by an overwhelming majority was absolutely certain, a rival candidate was found in Captain Francis Duncan, who, as Colonel Duncan, the author of a "History of the Royal Artillery," rose to distinction both in Parliament and in the military service, and died later while serving his country in Egypt.  The contest which followed was unique. 
    Captain Duncan was everywhere respectfully received by the miners.  When he addressed a meeting at Choppington, not a murmur of opposition was heard from the crowded audience; but when a vote of approval of his candidature was proposed, every hand was held up against it.  And the proceedings closed with a vote of thanks to Captain Duncan for his lecture!  Both candidates on the day of the polling visited the different towns and villages comprising the constituency of Morpeth.  Mr. Burt's tour was a triumphal procession.  The arrival of the candidate and his friends at Bedlington, I recollect, led to an extraordinary scene.  The main street of the town was crowded, for of course the pits were all idle.  First there was much cheering; then arose an irrepressible desire to do something unusual.  The horses were taken out of the conveyance, dozens of stalwart miners seized the shafts, and the electoral party was rushed up and down the thoroughfare at a furious and hazardous pace amidst the wildest excitement.  It was even proposed to run the carriage all the way to Morpeth: nor was it without some difficulty that the jubilant crowd was dissuaded from its purpose.  Not less astonishing was the reception accorded to Mr. Burt at Morpeth itself, where both candidates—such was the friendly character of the contest—addressed the multitude, which literally filled the Market Place, from the same platform and from the windows of each other's committee rooms!
   The ballot box revealed the fact, or rather emphasised the fact, that the old order had indeed changed.  The miners' candidate had received 3,332 votes as against his opponent's 585.  So was Thomas Burt returned the first veritable working man that had ever entered the House of Commons. 
 So... Possible dirty dealings going on? Was Trotter a hero or a villain?