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Peter Rylands, Burnley's second MP

Peter Rylands

Resulting from the premature death of Richard Shaw, Burnley's first elected member of parliament, in early 1876 a by-election was called for mid February. The nominations for the candidates took place on Wednesday 9 February 1876 for the election 6 days later. Two were nominated, Mr Peter Rylands (Liberal) from Thelwall Cheshire and Mr William Lindsay (Conservative) from South Kensington, London.

Peter Rylands won by a majority 443 votes. (The total number of eligible votes at that time was 7,127).

He was born in Warrington in 1820 and served as that borough's MP from 1868 to 1874. He was Burnley's MP for 21 years until his death in 1887 at the age of 67.

Immediately after the by-election the Burnley Gazette (later incorporated into the Burnley Express) ran two interesting articles. The local paper, very liberal, was full of support for Rylands, but in the same edition they also printed a copy of how the London Standard (Tory) reported it.


The Gazette's view:
In this by-election the Tories had had two principal instruments: they have held the Bible in one hand and thrown all the dirt they could with the other. They have defended religion (so they termed it) by slander, by misrepresentation, and language of the foulest kind. The have made the walls of the town blue with their venom, and their slanders, many of them so scurrilous that neither author nor printer had cheek to own them, and this is saying a great deal for the Tories. Instead of arguing they have vilified; instead of replying to Mr Rylands they have grossly misrepresented him. Indeed, one reply might have been given to nearly all their emanations by writing at the bottom UNTRUE.

It was well said that Mr Gladstone (previous Liberal Prime Minister) was "lied out of office," and the Tories of Burnley have been making a desperate attempt in that direction with a view of keeping Mr Rylands out of Parliament. Happily, the Burnley Liberals have been well trained in this kind of thing, and they know how much or, rather, how little value to attach to anonymous placards. Tories might be "gulled" by that sort of thing, but Liberals have more sense they proved that they have by their votes. If the Liberals had believed that the Tories were telling a fractional part of the truth, M Rylands would not have stood the ghost of a chance. And what fools the Tories must feel themselves to be, now that they have been told through the polling booths that they were. We will not write the word, or we shall be imitating Mr Lindsay; whilst on the hand, how consoling it must be to Mr Rylands to have had such an unmistakable declaration of confidence from a large majority of the Burnley electors.

The Tories said it would a disgrace to return Mr Rylands to the House of Commons, but Gladstone, Bright and Plimsoll bore testimony to his high character, and the Liberal electors of Burnley preferred to believe them. The Tories tried to divide the Liberal party and because they could not they were vexed. They cried, if Rylands were returned, the Bible would be banished from the schools. Rylands is returned, and we believe the schools are conducted just as usual and there is little likelihood of any change. They seem to have lost faith in Conservative working men, and the "big wigs" came out to canvass, and to shake hands with the ladies, as if that would have a charm on the day of election.

Greater praise cannot be given to the intelligent working men of Burnley, who so generously and indefatigably conducted the canvass on behalf of Mr Rylands, and the success of the election is no doubt due to a very considerable extent to their efforts. Still, all have worked, and to all the praise is due.

In the same edition the Burnley Gazette also printed an except from the London Standard.

The Standard, unable to find anything else to say in face of the stubborn fact that the Tory candidate was handsomely beaten, sneers at Mr Rylands peculiarities. Say the antiquated and petulant "old lady":

"Mr Rylands resumes his place in Parliament after two years retirement from public life. It is to be hoped that he has employed the interval in correcting the little peculiarities which marked his career as member for Warrington. Amongst these we may cite one of the qualities commended by Mr Gladstone in the testimonial which we have quoted; the assiduity which he forced himself upon the attention of the House. With a comparatively low order of debating power a limited capacity for grasping large questions, Mr Rylands thought it his duty to enlighten the House upon every possible occasion: no question, Imperial, colonial, provincial, local or parochial was too large or two small to engage his attention and justify him in demanding to ear of the House. He affected to know everything, and to have fathomed the depths of the most intricate questions; and, spurred on by the consciousness of his superior knowledge, he was constantly wearying the House with disquisitions upon subject of which it was quite apparent, he had not even mastered the alphabet.

It would be more appropriate to say that he stood up in the House than that he sat in it. In fact, he was a perpetual "Jack-in-the-box" springing up and down with monotonous rapidity. We shall not grudge him his seat so much if, for the future, he will occupy it for longer intervals. The House of commons has much work in hand, and now more than ever inveterate talkers must be regarded as mischievous obstuctives".

Three more elections

Rylands won the next two general elections, in 1880 and again in 1885 each time with a comfortable majority. In the latter year Mr Gladstone asked the electors of the United Kingdom to give him a majority large enough to be independent of the Irish party. The appeal was not responded to and in the following spring the great Liberal leader executed his celebrated volte face by the introduction of the first Home Rule Bill. Seventy of his own party, among them Mr Rylands, entered the Opposition lobby, and the Government found itself in a minority. Gladstone dissolved parliament and call another election in in 1886.

Rylands had to fight hard against an able, local, Burnley man Alderman Greenwood a Home Rule candidate. Although Rylands won, his majority was cut to just 43. Possibly the strain of this election, the bitter attacks of former friends, and the severance of old friendships, told on his health and he died on 7 February 1887.

At the bi-election held just 12 days later John Slagg was elected with a majority of 545.