Read all about it! 1772 Marlborough Journal given for Merchant's House Museum - an election, scandals, crimes, readers' letters
The copy of The Marlborough Journal is dated Saturday, 29 August 1772 - its type is clear although the printers were still using 'f' for 's', making long reports a bit of a challenge. It was given to the new and yet to be opened museum by the Marlborough History Society - among a bundle of old books and documents.
When Marlborough council bought the Merchant's House in 1991 from W.H.Smith, the intention was to make it into a museum for the town. However, when they started renovating the building they realised that the historical value rested with the house itself and its uniquely preserved decoration.
So the plans for a museum at the House took a back seat. Now that so much detailed renovation and restoration work has been done, the museum is taking shape in two rooms on the upper floor and one on the middle floor. It is scheduled to open in April 2018 - in time for the new tourist season.
Among the news this four page issue of the Marlborough Journal contains is a gruesome case of a man with English names who lived in Saxe-Gotha (now part of Germany.) He was a goatherd who had "killed several young lads" because of "his unnatural and inhuman passion for eating human flesh." He confessed and was executed.
Then there is a 'News in Brief': "An elderly gentleman of an opulent fortune was tried at these [Bury St Edmunds] assizes for enticing a girl into his garden, and attempting to injure her; he was found guilty and fined 400l."
That's a story with a current ring to it. But quite what abuse that rather general and imprecise word 'injure' covered is unclear. His £400 fine equates to about £60,000 at current values.
This newspaper may well have been kept because of its reporting of the election for a Member of Parliament to represent Wiltshire. Contesting the seat were Henry Herbert, who had resigned his Wilton seat (at the time counties and towns often both had MPs), and Ambrose Goddard - member of a well known Wiltshire family who won by 1,870 votes to 1,055. The details are fascinating.
The poll was held over several days and tallies of votes published daily. When Goddard was "running ahead on the second day, his antagonist in order to stop his career, thought proper to require all the freeholders [who could vote] to be sworn, which greatly retarded the poll." This "...was looked upon as an excellent stroke of jockyship by the candidate..."
It also reports the generosity of Goddard's supporter William Langham Jones of Ramsbury Manor "...who breakfasted 300 freeholders..." It details the extensive menu which included "two hogsheads of strong beer, and provided them carriages etc and then proceeded to the place of polling, where they gave their voices for Mr. Goddard. The fragments were afterwards distributed to the poor inhabitants of Ramsbury by Mrs Jones."
The election is reported by the Marlborough Journal to have cost £20,000 - which inflation brings to the present day sum of £2,800,000. In December the defeated Mr Herbert was voted back safely to his Wilton seat. Goddard served in Parliament until 1806 - though for his last few years there he was said to be stone deaf.
During the polling period Mrs Mortimer's house in Marlborough was broken into and two cheeses were stolen. And "Mrs Harris' house in the Green was broke open, supposed by the same gang, but luckily they met with nothing that answered their purpose." Perhaps Mrs Harris was not a cheese eater.
Letters to the editor were very different in those days. One in this issue opens with a Latin quotation from Virgil and is signed "CONVIVA" - which means a companion at table.
The meaning of his letter is not very clear, but he (or she?) does in passing say that the election "...has not been the contest of Gentlemen, it has been much more like the quarrel of bargemen or porters; low illiberal abuse, ill-natured insinuations, and scandalous aspersions, have been made use of on this occasion. The business is now happily over..."
Before the election Goddard had been working as a commercial agent in Lisbon. We hope this short letter to the editor has no double meaning: "To a late aspiring CANDIDATE, Good Sir! what, laid upon your back By a Lisbon pedlar - good lack! good lack! Ah! Poor Hal! Yours, Bob Short."
We would distance ourselves completely from the following hint at the state of journalistic standards in 1772 and accusations of 'fake news': "Several of our customers [sic] having complained of a false and spurious account of what happened at the late meeting at Devizes, inserted in the left page of our last week's Journal, we think it necessary to inform them that the paragraphs complained of were no compilations of our's, but were copied from other papers, and inserted, like other election squibs, at the particular request of some of our correspondents."
This 'Readers Complaints' response ends by saying that the paragraphs were "...nothing more than the common occurrences in our business." Which reminds one of the excuses used by some of the phone-hacking scandal culprits: everyone was doing it, so it's OK.
This copy of the Marlborough was printed in Marlborough - very probably in the print works right behind the Merchant's House: "Printed by J.Smith and E. Harold - Of whom may be had all sorts of BOOKS and STATIONARY [sic] WARES, as cheap as in London; and by whom Printing is executed in the most correct Manner, and on reasonable Terms." So runs this forerunner of the pop-up advert!
On Friday (October 27) the Merchant's House is holding its end of season candle-lit gathering - with tours of the House. Details of times and tickets here