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28 February 2007

Exeter Free Library meeting 1869

Exeter Working Papers in British Book Trade History; 12
A history of the book in Devon, by Ian Maxted
65a. Exeter Free Library : public meeting 1869

This page presents an Exeter perspective on the introduction of public libraries and was originally produced on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the Public Libraries Act. It also shows the extremely detailed information that can be gleaned from a key source for local historians: the provincial newspaper.




On the request of the Town Council of Exeter, I, Henry Samuel Ellis, Mayor of the said City and Borough and County of the City of Exeter, do hereby convene a


of the Burgesses of the said City and Borough and County, to be holden at the


of the said City,

on THURSDAY, the 6th day of MAY

next ensuing, at twelve o'Clock at noon,

to determine whether

"The Public Libraries Act, 1855"

shall be adopted for the said City and Borough and County of the City of Exeter

Dated this 23rd day of April, 1869


Mayor of Exeter


The notice summoning the meeting, adapted from the text of the advertisement in the Western Times 30 April 1869, page 4d

Dramatised account of the meeting in Exeter Guildhall
at which the Public Libraries Act was adopted, 6 May 1869

Note: This dramatisation has been based on the very full reports in Trewman's Exeter Flying Post, 12 May 1869, the Western Times, 7 May 1869 p.8 and Devon Weekly News, 7 May 1869

Ian Maxted

Town Clerk (Mr. W. Denis Moore) I wish to confirm that all the provisions of the Act of Parliament with regard to the publication of the notices of this meeting have been duly complied with.

The Mayor (H.S.Ellis, Esq.) I will open the proceedings by making a few observations with reference to the object that has called us together. As the Town Clerk has already informed you, the Town Council unanimously passed a resolution in favour of convening this meeting. For many years it has been under consideration whether or not this city should adopt the Free Library Act. In 1851 a public meeting was convened at the Guildhall, and was largely attended, and the feeling of the meeting was almost unanimously in favour of adopting the Act. But on a poll being taken the Act was rejected.

However since 1851, it must be clear to all of you that the public taste has been greatly educated, and especially in favour of such institutions as Free Libraries. The number of exhibitions that have been held have materially helped to bring that about. Since 1851, arising out of the Great Exhibition, the South Kensington Museum has been formed. It has been ably conducted, and the promoters of it have helped to establish Schools of Art and Science in almost all the principal towns and cities in the kingdom, and in addition to that Museums and Free Libraries have been formed in very many of them as well as in almost every continental city of note. Whether they were formed by private or individual generosity, or by the munificence of the towns in which they were established, great good has resulted from their being handed over to the town and supported by a rate.

In order to form an opinion as to the expediency of adopting the Act in Exeter, I have put myself in communication with the Town Clerks of the twenty-six towns in the kingdom where the Act has been adopted. The replies state that in every case where the Act has been adopted, a library and museum has been carried out successfully, and that the ratepayers have scarcely felt the burthen of the rate at all, as the amount is so very small. At Canterbury and excellent Museum has been founded, and three farthing in the £ is the amount of rate for the support of it. At Winchester there is room for improvement, but the amount of rate is very small. Salisbury has an institution, a Museum similar to the one in this city, but it has no rate.

I will refer to the report of the Free Library Committee, presented to the Town Council of Nottingham, recommending the adoption of the Act. This states that in all places where its action has been unfettered, the Adoption of the Act has given entire satisfaction to the ratepayers, and has more than realised the expectations of the promoters. The committee reported that in America Free Libraries are almost universal, being there considered as of as much importance from an educational point of view as the primary schools themselves. In all cases they are extremely popular, and are much appreciated and frequented. Without such a resource the progressive improvement of the people in knowledge would be checked. The committee further remarks that, as the people have power and are gaining more every day, it is, therefore, highly desirable to add knowledge to that power if we wish them to use it for their mown benefit and the welfare of the community at large. The Free Libraries and Museums obtained under the Act are in the fullest sense the property of the public; all have, therefore, an equal title to free admission and free use.

Your committee are fully aware of the necessity that exists for keeping down the rates of the town (hear, hear) and had considered whether, in advising measures to be taken for the adoption of the Act, the ratepayers will be getting full value for their money, and after mature deliberation they say emphatically (as the rate cannot possibly exceed one penny in the pound per annum), that it would be the best penny's worth they ever had. In looking at the matter in all its bearings, they feel justified in saying that the adoption of the Act would be both beneficial and economical (all the past experience has proved this), and they recommended that the Mayor be requested to convene a public meeting of the ratepayers in accordance with the requirements of this Act, in order to adopt the same in this Borough.

Since this report has been presented in May 1867, Nottingham, I am glad to say, has adopted the Act and it has given universal satisfaction. (Hear, hear) It is now my duty to call upon this meeting to discuss the question before you dispassionately, and with a view to bringing it before you in a regular manner, I will call upon Mr Buckingham to move a resolution embodying the adoption of the Act in Exeter. (Applause)

Mr. W.Buckingham. I rise to undertake a rather arduous task, that of setting before you concisely, and I hope effectually, the grounds and reasons why you should adopt the Free Libraries' Act. First I will read the motion that I have to propose - "That this public meeting of the burgesses of the city, borough and county of the city of Exeter, duly convened by the Right Worshipful the Mayor, pursuant to the Public Libraries' Act 1855, doth, by the votes of more than one-half the persons now present, determine that the said Act ought to be adopted by the said city, borough and county of Exeter."

The Act under which we are now seeking to enrol ourselves is the Free Libraries Act 1855, and the alteration of it passed in 1867. The Libraries' Act of 1855 gives power to any city by the votes of one half of the persons present to adopt it, and, when adopted, to establish a Library that should be open at all times, and be perfectly free to all, and to make a rate upon the city not exceeding one penny in the £ for the establishment, promotion, and continuance of such library. The plain question before the meeting is, will or will you not adopt an Act which gives you power to establish a Free Library open to all citizens alike, rich or poor? (Hear, hear)

With regard to the expenditure of a penny in the £, when the Mayor, in the course of reading an extract, alluded to the desirability of keeping down the rates, there was some little applause by a few persons at the bottom of the Hall. I perfectly sympathise with those gentlemen, but if the applause was given with a view of opposing the passing of the resolution, as I think it was, I wish to tell those gentlemen that they are perfectly mistaken in supposing that any great expenditure will arise from the establishment of the library in the city. A penny in the £ is a very small item, but the sum which might be saved by the diffusion of knowledge might be a very large item. (Hear, hear.) You must not measure the effect by only taking into consideration the expenditure of the penny in the £, you must also take the contra side and see what the gain would be by the establishment of such an institution. (hear, hear)

In my opinion the facilities for the acquisition of knowledge, and the spread of information, open to all, to be acquired by all alike, is an advantage you cannot too highly appreciate. (hear, hear.) Knowledge is an advantage which forms part of your very selves - it remains with you at all times, it is a constant companion, whether in trouble or success, in distress or happiness, - it stands would in good stead whether in solitude or in society - whether you wish to help yourselves or benefit your neighbours it will render you assistance, and at all times is one of the greatest boon that man can enjoy. (Cheers). If that is to be obtained even by a debtor side of a penny in the £, it is cheaply bought, and when it can be obtained in the moderate and inexpensive manner now proposed I do not think there will be a man who will hold up his hand against it. (hear, hear)

England has been very backwards, unfortunately, in providing facilities for the acquisition of knowledge. There have been difficulties thrown in the way, the religious element has been mixed up with the question, and other matters have tended to keep men's minds closed instead of opening them to receive that good which God intended for them. But since that time when this subject was first brought before the city, men's minds have been considerably enlightened. You have had letters in the Journal of the Statistical Society, and the report brought up on the motion of Mr. Ewart in the House of Commons, telling you what has been done, and is doing, in other countries, and what has been the result of the experiment in our own. You find in all those cases that considerable advantage has been derived from the adoption of the Free Library system.

In England at the time of that report, about 1850, there was found to be only 29 institutions that in any way could be called free libraries in this country, whilst in France there were 107. In Canada the Free Library system had been more fully carried out than in any other country, for there it received regular State aid. The town library system has become part and parcel of the system of that country, and it is working a great deal of good. If then, they find by experience that the only objections urged against that system are removed, there is no reason why England should not benefit by it to the fullest extent. If you look at the evils which have resulted from the want of education in this country; if you know, as you must, that ignorance and vice are always mixed up together - for statistics show that one third of our male and one half of our female criminals are unable to read or write - you must admit that it is extremely desirable to put an end to the present state of things.

It has been well expressed that "ignorance is the prolific mother of vice," and therefore a blow aimed at the destruction of ignorance, is also a blow that will help to destroy vice. Let us strike such a blow today, by adopting the Act and thus opening a free channel for the distribution of information to the people at large. If the penny in the £ spent by a man, who could perhaps barely afford it, puts something into his hands which will prevent him from going to the pothouse and spending a shilling, that is a direct benefit for which you can not be too thankful.

I have been reminded that, although I have spoken only of a Free Library, the Act also empowers you to establish, if you so please, a School of Art and Science and a Museum, though the expenditure can not exceed the sum I have indicated, namely 1d. in the £. I must also say that in Liverpool, where the institution is flourishing perhaps more than in any other place in the kingdom, and where the weekly issue of volumes is something like 2,000, they also issue musical works, and it is surprising to see the number of persons who take an interest in them. Borrowers are allowed to copy the music before returning the books, and the damage done to them is very little. This speaks very creditably for the people of Liverpool. It certainly shows what benefit might be accomplished by the Free Library system, and what an interest it might acquire for persons for whom it might scarcely be thought such an institution is designed. With all these advantages I can scarcely say much more to induce you to accept the resolution. I only hope that the general adoption of this free channel for the distribution of information to the people will be hereafter the means of raising the country's greatness, both in its literary character, placing it in the high position among nations which it has ever been the desire of Englishmen that it should occupy. (Applause, cheers).

I move the following resolution: That this public meeting of the Burgesses of the City and Borough and County of the City of Exeter, duly convened by the Right Worshipful the Mayor, pursuant to the Public Libraries Act 1855, doth by the votes of more than one half of the persons now present at this meeting, determine that the said Act ought to be adopted for the said City and Borough and County of the said City.

Mr. Norrington. I feel it a great honour to be called upon to second the resolution so ably proposed. You have been told that in 1851 the inhabitants were called together to express an opinion upon the subject which today occupies your attention and that the vote given in favour of adopting the Free Libraries Act was reversed at that poll. But I need not tell you that with respect to this and other matters there has in the seventeen or eighteen years since that time been great changes of opinion. And I hope that the decision come to in 1851 not to adopt one of the most beneficial and economical Acts ever introduced will be reversed. (hear hear) Exeter need not be ashamed of being taunted with the sudden change - when she sees such examples everywhere of it, she can do the like. When a man changes from bad to good and from good to better, instead of blaming him for his inconsistency they ought to praise him for his courage and prudence. (hear hear)

There are a great many who object to the opening of free libraries, and there are many who object altogether to the diffusion of education amongst what they call the lower classes. I am quite aware that the objection is not now so frequently urged in words, it manifests itself more in act and deed. But when you consider how strong the prejudice against education was forty, fifty, or sixty years ago, you need not wonder that some of it still lingers in some men's minds. Sixty years ago a Member of Parliament was not ashamed to declare from his seat in the House of Commons, that, if they educated the people, they would ruin the country, a Bishop sitting in the House of Lords said he knew not what the people had to do with the laws, except to obey them. According to Lord Cockburn, in his Life of Jeffery, forty years ago it was a common opinion that the ignorance of the people was quite necessary for their obedience to the law, and that if they were educated there would be no such thing as subordination in society. You may remember that in past years one objection was that if the people were taught to write forgery would be more abundant. That kind of feeling, though not now expressed, I believe to be retained in the minds of a great number of people, and it is expressed by their opposition to the general diffusion of knowledge.

A few days ago I was talking to an old gentleman, in common with a great number of persons of sixty or seventy years of age, who lamented his own defective education and said that he had taken care that his children should not complain of the same thing. He had had them well trained and he was proud to say that they had risen in the world - one of them to considerable eminence in the parliament of the county to which he had gone. Yet, strange perversity of thought, in less than five minutes afterwards he objected in toto to the education of the lower classes, arguing that if they were they would not work.

In that interesting book Boswell's Life of Johnson it would seem that as far back as 1762 the same objection was made. A gentleman stated that he was about to establish a school on his estate for the education of the workpeople, but it had been suggested to him that it must have a tendency to make them less industrious - and objection that was in everybody's mouth. Dr Johnson's manful reply was: "No, sir; while learning to read and write is a distinction, the few who have that distinction may be less inclined to work, but when everybody learns to read and write, it is no longer a distinction. (hear, hear) That man who has a lace waistcoat is too fine to work, but if everybody has lace waistcoats, then we should have people working with them on. There are no persons whatever more industrious, none who work more, than our manufacturers, yet they have all learned to read and write. You must not neglect doing a thing immediately good from a fear of remote evil. (Hear, hear.) The argument used so many years ago by Dr. Johnson equally applies now, and I do not know a more complete answer to the purpose. (Hear, hear)

Another objection is that a free library is not wanted. I contend that they are wanted in the country generally and that one is extremely wanted in Exeter. (Applause and "No, no") In the first place there is no good library in Exeter for common reference. All the existing libraries belong to classes. There are of course libraries connected with the Institution, the Literary Society, the Young Men's Christian Association, and the Working Men's Society and the Public Select Library, but all these belong simply to particular classes of people - they do not belong to the people at large. The formation of a good library is a most expensive matter. It is now proposed to establish one on the co-operative principle, and consent to a rate, say of a half-penny in the £1, for the formation of a library that will be an honour to the city, and open to every inhabitant. (hear, hear) Young men progressing in life often want to consult books; I want to place the same advantages in the hands of the poor as in the hands of the rich. (Applause) If the inhabitants of Exeter wish to keep pace with the progress of other towns, they must vote for the establishment of a free library, and willingly consent to the small imposition being laid upon them for that purpose. (hear, hear)

It is said by some: "we cannot afford it, we are very much overtaxed already". (Hear, hear.) I sympathise with those who said "hear, hear", but I will ask you, what are you to do without taxation? You are taxed for physical light; but would it do for you to say that there should be no lamps at night, and that Exeter should go back to its pristine darkness? Again, you have to pay for water, the most necessary thing that was ever brought into a city. You pay also for protection from crime, for the prevention and punishment of crime, for the maintenance of the poor - and no man with any generosity or benevolence in his nature, or any sense of social duty, will say that the poor ought not to be maintained at the public expense.

I contend that the proposed imposition of a penny in the £ will have a tendency to lessen the rates in most other directions (Hear, hear). When you consider how much vice, crime and poverty arises from ignorance, you must know that Exeter cannot possibly make a better investment than establishing that which would be a means of preventing some of the evils that now exist to such an enormous extent. Then comes the question, what will the amount of the rate be? Estimating the population at 30,000, which is a great deal under the real figure, and the annual outlay at £600, which was excessive, the cost of maintaining the library would be less than 5d a head. What cheaper plan could be adopted for placing the benefits of education within the reach of all?

If a poor man joins an Institution offering advantages similar to those of a Free Library - I won't take the Working |men's Society which is supported by voluntary subscriptions, but the Literary Society, which I believe is self-supporting - supposing that four members of his family were connected with that society, the cost would be 40s a year. Now that man might be rated at £1-0 a year, and for the sum of 10d he would possess all the advantages, and a great deal more than he could secure in any other way and at an immensely larger expenditure. When you consider how much in times gone by the poor have been taxed for the benefit of the rich - it is only a fair retaliation, a retaliation which the rich will gladly submit to, that the rich and competent should now be taxed for the sake of the poor.

Some say that the support ought to be voluntary. I do not - a thing for the good of all should be supported by all. I do not see why the burden of doing good to society at large in this manner should fall simply on the benevolent and it might be that those who were most benevolent are the least capable of sparing the money they give. (Hear, hear) There is no stronger advocate than I for the voluntary principle in supporting matters of luxury, speculation, or dogma, where people have their own fancies to carry but, in matters of necessity, and things that are for the general good, the general public ought to be called upon to contribute towards their support. (Hear, hear) It seems to me that the formation of Free Libraries is the natural and inevitable result of the great educational movement going on. In the next few years this question will be paramount not only in the minds of the British people, but in the minds of British statesmen, I and I have no doubt that some general system will be carried out. People in nearly all ranks of life are now able to read and write, and it is only fair, having given them that ability, that we should provide them with what is useful to exercise their power upon. It is quite a mistake to suppose that being able to read and write constitutes learning; those acquirements are no advantage per se, unless they are rightly applied. Like all good things they may be abused, and it is a well known fact that the best things, when abused, are the worst.

There was a period when the learning of the times only tended to keep the people in ignorance. Take the middle ages, when the libraries were filled with the lives of saints, and books relating to witchcraft and necromancy, the belief in which was then general. You can quite understand that when the mind of the people became filled with rubbish of that sort, in other words "learning" , the more dense would be the ignorance that prevailed. It follows then, that if the mass of the population were able to read and write, and to enjoy the advantages of education and intellectual pursuits, that it is the duty of the public or the Government to provide them with that which should be solid and useful food for the mind and invigorating to the intellect.

There is not a single instance in which the adoption of the Free Libraries Act has not been acknowledged to be a great blessing and a public boon. Visit the libraries in Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, those great centres of the manufacturing population, and other large towns, and you will find them filled with diligent and intelligent readers, the greater portion of them horny-handed hard-working men. (Hear, hear) No question can equal the importance of this to the working classes. If you oppose the motion , it must be simply because you have been misled; for, wherever the act his been adopted, it has proved a blessing to all, and to none more than the industrial classes (Hear, hear). I impress upon you as citizens that it is your policy and duty as well to adopt the Free Libraries and Museums Act, and I hope the resolution recommending that course will be carried unanimously (Cheers).

Sir John Bowring. I cordially support the motion and would like to observe that time was when it was stated that there was not a gentleman who had wandered through these western regions but must be convinced that wise men came from the East. (Laughter) Ere long we shall have an influx of philosophers and of knowledge. I hope that Exonians will on this occasion show that they are moving with this movement, that they are doing part to advance this great cause upon which the public prosperity, the national strength, and the universal reputation of a country depends.

Looking back to the past, as my excellent friend Mr. Norrington has done, I am reminded that there existed the catalogue of the library of a distinguished and learned man in this part of the country, which consisted of from seventy to eighty volumes, written with few exceptions in Latin and utterly inaccessible to the people; others were mainly missals and the lives of saints; some were written in Anglo-Saxon and some in the dead languages. The owner of this library - a bishop - was considered to be a prodigy. Such had been the progress of thought, intelligence and civilization that any half-penny newspaper now published will give not only to the learned but the unlearned more information than was to be found in an hundred of such libraries. (Applause and laughter)

Exeter is following the example of not only the greatest of English cities, but the greatest of all cities in the world. In the great metropolis I have again and again seen the working classes crowd in thousands to listen to words of wisdom and kindness offered to them. In one of the great manufacturing cities of France - Lyons - where attention is paid to the subject of popular education with reference to manufacturing industry - I have seen in the collections works brought down from a period of 4,000 years ago, from the time of the early Egyptians to the present day; men were allowed to study those collections in order to improve their taste and skill. France sends out the fashions to the world. The whole world respects la mode, as it is called, from Paris and this is solely owing to the cultivated intelligence of the working classes.

Wisdom is not only a blessing and benefit, but a pecuniary profit to those who possess it. Knowledge is power and it must be acknowledged that in this country ignorance is also power, and behind ignorance there is a mass of poverty, ignorance and crime. How are the ignorant to be elevated but by the possession of knowledge? How is the criminal to be dragged away from temptation surrounding him but by better, wise and holier instruction! Time was when the Government gave not a penny for the instruction of the people, when the whole of England was left to the voluntary system which, although good in some instances, allowed the miserable, the avaricious, and the careless to escape from the additional duty imposed upon the beneficent - a state of things which ought jot to be. (Hear, hear.) Books, after all, are the true representatives of civilization; they are what good men of all days have left behind them. I once hears an expression from Robert Hall which touched me much - I never go into a library without remembering how many of the memorable dead are represented there. It is the gathering up of all ages, the concoction of all knowledge: there out of the past you may study the past and provide for the future. Books are the links which connect us with the past. I fervently hope that this beneficent measure, which it is now proposed to adopt will be cordially approved. (Applause)

Mr. Courtenay. I oppose the motion. We have not been called here to hear an essay on literature; our object is business - to say whether we will adopt the Act or not. (No, no). I do not think there have been any reasons shown that it is necessary to have a Free Library. (Hear, hear) There are a number of libraries in the city accessible to every person that feels disposed to visit them. (Hear, hear) There is scarcely a Sunday school without its library. Is it necessary to be taxed a penny in the pound for the sake of the boon just brought before them (Applause, and "certainly not")

Voice from audience. Let them pay that go.

Mr Courtenay. If certain gentlemen in their wisdom see it is necessary to expend money, the sooner they leave the Council the better! (laughter and hisses) I think that the time of the Town Council, instead of being taken up with seeing how they could expend money, should be devoted to seeing how they could lessen taxation. I contend that the boon they propose to give the city is not worth the penny in the pound.

Mr C.Wescomb. I am about to take a strange view of the case. I think the meeting premature. I do not think the meeting should be held yet, and I do not believe it would have been held on account of the free Library and Museum, had it not been forced on the Town Council by the offer of copies of patents by the Government. In order to receive them an outlay of some £600 is required, and that outlay would be saved to the Council if they had got the money from this source. The gentlemen who have interested themselves in obtaining subscriptions to the amount of not much less than £15,000, and who have worked voluntarily up to the present time in energy, skill, and ability, should complete the building and try the experiment for twelve months, in order to see whether the income from voluntary sources will be sufficient for the purposes of the Museum, Free Library, and School of Art. I am bound to say that, although for the first year or two it might be sufficient, they will then be obliged to come eventually to the citizens to adopt the Act. Then it would be ungracious of the citizens not to comply with the request. Hear, hear)

It should be recollected, however, that your vote of to-day will not cause immediate action as to rating. I hope that the vote will be carried, and I shall support the motion. I will put off the adoption of it until the last moment allowed by law, for the reason that I have stated, that it is desirable that the present subscribers and committee should complete the building and finish their work. Mr. Norrington has, I think, admitted that all parties in the city are provided for.

Mr Norrington. Not a bit of it!

Mr Wescombe. I agree that there will be inequality in raising the money by means of a rate - it will fall on those who possess rateable property, and not on those who derived their income from other sources, but still they cannot afford the risk of allowing the splendid building which was now nearly completed to be without the means of being kept up. I shall therefore support the motion.

Mr Carter. I would like to assure Mr. Wescomb that it is not a fact that if we adopt the Act to-day £600 must necessarily be spent in receiving the patents. This is in any cose no portion of the present proceedings. The simple question is that of the adoption of the Act (hear, hear)

Mr. Pyne. I strongly oppose the motion. I believe that the burthen of the rate will fall more heavily on some people than on others. Many tradesmen like myself are already very heavily taxed while others will escape almost "Scot free". I hope that I shall not live long enough to see the Act adopted. Sir John Bowring told you that some years ago a gentleman had in his library some seventy or eighty books on necromancy, and that their contents were unknown to the working classes, but that the Bishop was a prodigy of learning. If more knowledge can be found, as Sir John has said was the case, in Mr. Latimer's Western Times daily and the gazette telegram which are a half-penny each, pray why adopt the Act at a cost of a penny in the pound? (Hear, applause and laughter) The Museum will entail a larger expense than a penny in the pound, and the library will not be circulating.

Mr Norrington. I wish to correct Mr. Pyne on both these points.

Mr. Pyne. I call the proposal a robbing of the respectable and industrious classes to support the idle man!

Mr. R. T. Head. I agree that this is not a convenient period at which to call the meeting, but inasmuch as it has been called I hope the motion will be carried, and that there will be no necessity of calling a second meeting, if the vote is passed. I agree with the high Sheriff that it is not absolutely necessary, if the vote is passed, that any expenditure should be immediately incurred. The operation of the Act might be deferred until the building is handed over to the Town Council.

Mr. J. Fryer. I oppose the motion. I feel that the meeting should have been called in the evening; the working classes cannot attend at this hour of the day, and before we pass a resolution to take from them a penny in the pound on their rental, we ought to give them a proper opportunity of being present.

Mr. Rex. I am stongly in favour of educating the working classes, and, while I am strogly opposed to excessive or unnecessary expenditure, I cannot see that the adoption of the Act will entail either. I believe the establishment of a Free Library is a step in the right direction and I therefore urge the working classes to support it for your own and your children's benfit.

The Mayor. I have to remind you that the sole purpose of this meeting is to determine by a vote of those present whether the Public libraries Act of 1855 should be adopted by the City of Exeter. I proceed then to put the motion ...

Mr. J. Fryer. I wish to speak ... (order, order)

Mr Pyne. I wish to move an amendment ... (order, order)

Mr. Norrington. I call upon the meeting to support the Mayor. Everyone has had a fair opportunity of speaking, and according to the rules of public meetings, a gentleman having spoke once, has no right to speak again, (Hear, hear.)

The Mayor. I proceed therefore to put the motion "That this public meeting of the burgesses of the city, borough and county of the city of Exeter, duly convened by the Right Worshipful the Mayor, pursuant to the Public Libraries' Act 1855, doth, by the votes of more than one-half the persons now present, determine that the said Act ought to be adopted by the said city, borough and county of Exeter."

The Town Clerk. Those in favour ... Those against ... I declare the motion carried by a large majority of about four to one. (Applause and a few hisses)

Mr Courtenay. I demand a poll of the ratepayers.

The Town Clerk. I regret that that is not in order. The Mayor has no power to grant such an application.

Mr Courtenay. I still feel that the meeting should have been held in the evening. (hear hear)

Mr. Kendall. I would like to pass a vote of thanks to his Worshipful the Mayor for chairing this public meeting.

Sir John Bowring. I second that most cordially. (Applause)

The Mayor. Thank you. I now declare this public meeting to be concluded.

Those present at the meeting

This list is derived from the partial lists of names in the three newspapers. It was reported that the Guildhall was about half full. Tentative identifications of some of those present have been given but this section has to be developed



Birkett, [W. Clarence Hotel, Cathedral Yard]

Bowring, Sir John (1792-1872), diplomat, linguist, and writer. An extraordinarily versatile linguist, familiar with some 200 languages, translated poetry from many European and Asian languages. He was a friend of Jeremy Bentham, whose works he and edited and was editor of Bentham’s Westminster Review. He was a member of Parliament (1835-37, 1841-49) and went on various missions to Europe, the Middle East, and East Asia, serving as consul at Guangzhou. In 1854 was knighted. As governor of Hong Kong he precipitated a war with China in 1856. He was instrumental in introducing the florin as a first step towards a decimal currency. See his Autobiographical Recollections (London: King, 1877), Sir John Bowring 1792-1872: aspects of his life and career (Exeter: Devonshire Association, 1993), Bartle, George F. An old radical and his brood (London: Janus 1994).

Buckingham, Mr. Alderman

Campion, R.T.

Carter, W.

Clapp, [W., boot and shoe maker, 30 High Street]

Courtenay, Capt. [G.H. St. David's Hill]

Cuthbertson, [W., confectioner, 57 South Street]

Davey, S. [draper, 9-10 South Street]


Dipstale, [Edward, painter, Upper Paul Street, Councillor]

Down, G.

Drayton, J[ohn, stationer, 201, High Street]

Drayton, W[illiam, stationer, 201, High Street]


Force, R..S

Fox, R.W. [Esq., 12 Lower Mount radford Terrace]

Fryer, John

Geachsias, W.H. Esq. [woollen draper, 85-6 Fore Streeet]



Head, Esq., R.W.

Hewitt, Rev. David

Hooper, H.W.




Jones, Rev. John

Kendall, Mr. Alderman

Kingdon, Kent

Knapman, J.

Lawless, [H., wine & spirit merchant, 64 South Street]

Linton, [G., watchamker, 132, Sidwell Street]

Lloyd, H.

Luke, A.F.

Mortimer, W. [sharebroker, Sec. Western Provident, 14, Bedford Circus]



Pyne, [brushmaker, 148-9 Fore Street Hill]

Rex, W[illiam] Temperance Hotel, Lower Market]

Richards, W.J.

Saunders, R., Esq.

Stephens, J.

Thomas, [J.L., oil merchant, 163 Fore Street]

Trehane, W.

Tucker, J.L.


Wescomb, Charles. Esq., High Sheriff. Proprietor of the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette and several other newspapers. A wheeler-dealer, he died of a heart attack a few days after the meeting and his affairs proved to be highly irregular. The resulting scandal is dealt with by W.G.Hoskins in Two thousand years in Exeter (1960 etc) and by R.S.Lambert in The Cobbett of the West (1939).

Weston, C


This page last updated 28 Feb 2007
Copyright © Ian Maxted, 2000