A Glimpse of the Past

Extracts from the Wandsworth entry in from JamesThorne's ‘Environs of London' from 1876.

"Garrett is a hamlet of Wandsworth, ... The place has little in itself to attract attention; but in the last cent. it acquired notoriety as the scene of a mock election, which appears to have been always exceedingly popular with the London mob, who flocked to it in prodigious crowds, and it obtained general celebrity from Foote having dramatised the incidents of the election in one of the most popular of his comedies, ‘The Mayor of Garrett,' produced at Drury Lane in 1764. Various attempts have been made to explain the origin of the election, but none worth repeating. All that is really known is that the custom had grown up, on the occurrence of a general election, to elect a Mayor of Garrett, who in course of time came also to be constituted Knight and MP The candidates were usually conspicuous by some personal deformity or peculiarity, and a fluent tongue. The electors were the mob, the electoral oath being administered on a brickbat. There were processions from town of the candidates, a hustings and speeches, charing of the elected, tumult and debauchery. "The publicans at Wandsworth, Tooting, Battersea, Clapham, and Vauxhall [the line of the procession], made a purse." writes Surrey Iron Railway Richard Phillips, "to give it character." Its character was at best a bad one. But it is easy to see why the publicans upheld it.

"None but those who have seen a London mob on any great holiday can form a just idea of these elections. On several occasions a hundred thousand persons, half of them in carts, in hackney coaches, and on horse and ass-back, covered the various roads from London, and choked up all the approaches to the place of election. At the two last elections, I was told, that the road within a mile of Wandsworth was so blocked up by vehicles, that none could move backward or forward during many hours; and that the candidates dressed like chimney-sweepers on May-day, or in the mock fashion of the period, were brought to the hustings in the carriages of peers, drawn by six horses, the owners themselves condescending to become their drivers."*

If peers escorted and drove the candidates, Foote, Garrick, and Wilkes, according to the same chronicler, wrote some of their addresses. Becoming at length insufferable, the election was suppressed in 1796. An attempt was made to resuscitate it in 1826, but the authorities intervened, and the election for Garrett belongs as much to the past as an election for Gatton or Old Sarum. The proposed election of 1826 induced Hone to visit Garrett and collect whatever traditional information yet lingered there. He gave the result in his ‘Every-day Book,' (vol. ii., col. 819-866) accompanied with much additional matter, engravings of the last two mayors, Surrey Iron Railway Henry Dimsdale, MP and muffin seller, and Surrey Iron Railway Jeffrey Dunstan, MP and itinerant dealer in old wigs, and some characteristic "reminiscences of Surrey Iron Railway Jeffrey Dunstan," contributed by Charles Lamb."

Back to last item
Go to news index
Go to next item