On Thursday December 3, 1885, the polling stations in the new Derbyshire constituency of High Peak opened to allow those males on a new electoral roll to cast their votes in a most significant national general election.
Since the previous election in 1880 two major political changes had occurred. In 1884 the franchise was extended nationally to rural male householders which trebled the electorate, but provided no clue as to their voting attitudes.
Campaigning was fierce but it was clear that the result would probably be decided by the rival electorates in Buxton and Glossop, the latter having one third of the potential voters.John Crummett, local historian
In June 1885, parliamentary seats had been redistributed - the High Peak division for example had been carved out of Derbyshire North - and the principle of one MP per constituency was established instead of two previously.
The 1885 High Peak candidates were John Frederick Cheetham for the Liberals, a wealthy Stalybridge industrialist, and Captain William Sidebottom of Broadbottom for the Conservatives, the “local” candidate who came from a wealthy Glossop industrial background and with civic experience in that town. Both had stood in 1880 for Derbyshire North, Cheetham a winner with Lord Edward Cavendish, and Sidebottom a loser.
Campaigning was fierce but it was clear that the result would probably be decided by the rival electorates in Buxton and Glossop, the latter having one third of the potential voters.
Local papers took up their respective causes - the Ashton Reporter and the High Peak and Buxton Advertisers for the Liberals, and the Buxton Herald and Glossop Dale Chronicle for the Conservatives. A victory for the Liberals was expected and it was anticipated that the new voters would support them in gratitude for their franchise.
The turnout was 89.4 per cent. The result was announced in heavy rain at Chapel Town Hall early on December 4, with a shock victory for Sidebottom.
The total vote was 8,416 and Sidebottom’s majority was nine! He was the only Conservative to be returned for Derbyshire constituencies in this election and the first time this area had been so represented.
Over-confidence and the failure of the Liberals to recognise the significance of the Glossop vote were given as major excuses and explanations for the Liberal defeat.
Nationally, Gladstone and the Liberals formed a minority government, but a new election would soon follow.
Sidebottom continued to represent the High Peak until retiring in 1900.
n Further details can be found in John Crummett’s book “1885 - The General Election in Derbyshire’s High Peak”, published by New Mills Local History Society and obtainable from New Mills Heritage Centre, priced £3.