Nottingham

Sniping, satire and song: The weird world of Victorian election posters

an ass Image copyright Nottinghamshire Archives

Victorian politicians had to fight for votes just like modern candidates but the methods - and the words - they used were quite different.

Today, prospective MPs have a plethora of media at their disposal from mass mail drops to social media memes.

Politicians of the past had to rely on posters and leaflets.

Like in modern politics. insults were thrown between candidates, but documents held in the Nottinghamshire Archives, dating back to the 1790s, show they could be highly personal.

"There's a lot of talk in these documents of 'madness' and being an 'ass' - you couldn't get away with that nowadays," said archivist Ruth Imeson,

"Today, you might insult them for not remembering their figures in an interview, but in the US, politicians do still snipe at each other a lot."

Image copyright Nottinghamshire Archives
Image caption It would have been clear to voters at the time who the poster was referring to

The documents reflect a tumultuous period of British history when Nottinghamshire was at the centre of political events.

In 1831, rising tensions reached a head when the Reform Riots saw Nottingham Castle burned down by a public furious at a lack of democracy.

The following year, future Prime Minister, William Gladstone became the Tory MP for the nearby Newark seat, thanks largely to his patron, the Duke of Newcastle, who lived at the castle.

Some 40 years before secret ballots, Mrs Imeson said there was evidence the duke had evicted tenants for voting the wrong way.

Image copyright Getty Images / Edward Gooch
Image caption William Gladstone was elected Prime Minister four times

Politicians can be seen responding to criticism just as they do today.

In the poster below, Gladstone explained why he didn't agree with the abolition of slavery amid the growing emancipation movement.

"His family were big slave owners, he would've perhaps been responding to an accusation over the movement to abolish slavery at the time," Mrs Imeson said.

Image copyright Nottinghamshire Archives
Image caption Campaign posters were a lot more wordy than today

One way to spread a political message to the people, many of whom were illiterate, was song.

This one was in support of Gladstone's "Red Conservatives".

Red, a colour we associate with the Labour Party today, was used because it was the Duke of Newcastle's family colour.

Image copyright Nottinghamshire Archives
Image copyright Nottinghamshire Archives

"In our age of Twitter and Facebook and YouTube it's hard to think of a time when you couldn't get that information so easily," said Mrs Imeson.

"You couldn't watch leaders being interviewed and comment on Twitter. A lot of people couldn't read and singing songs was a way of getting your point across."

And it still is - Theresa May is the subject of a song branding her "a liar" - which is currently climbing the charts.

Compared to modern campaign literature, like these South Nottingham posters from the early 1990s, there is quite a lot more to read.

"I think in those days the only other way of getting the word out would have been a newspaper," said Mrs Imeson.

"Nowadays there's a lot of media battling for your attention. People just expect quicker answers."

Image copyright Nottinghamshire Archives
Image copyright Nottinghamshire Archives

And the political campaign poster shows no sign of going away.

Here is a selection of a few of the more controversial recent efforts.

Image copyright Jack Taylor/Getty Images
Image copyright Johnny Green/PA
Image copyright Stefan Rousseau/PA
Image copyright PA
Image copyright Jack Taylor/Getty Images