Messrs Allden, Barron and Elstone were three of the most influential men of property in the village. Reuben Attfield was another man at the centre of local governance, now of independent means having sold much of his property.
All had been active as leading members of the Parish Vestry for many years.
Co-incidentally, the three were almost exactly the same age, in their mid-fifties. Richard Allden had been baptised in September 1800, James Elstone in January 1801 and Reuben Attfield in August 1801. James’ father had first bought property in the village in 1822. They had therefore grown up as young men in the village, the sons of farmers, their families long-time neighbours.
Charles Barron might have recalled that he had first enjoyed their company when out shooting, as far back as the late 1830s; the four of them were then the only ones in the village to have been issued with game licences, save that Barron had also obtained one for his former keeper, George Robinson.
Charles Barron first made an appearance in the minute book of the Vestry in March 1843. He was subsequently appointed as a churchwarden alongside James Elstone (Senior). James Elstone Senior died in January 1846, his estate passing to his son James, then just turned 46 years old.
Charles Barron had assumed the role of chairman of the Vestry for the ten years previous to 1853, stepping down in April but remaining as one of the churchwardens alongside Captain George Newcome who now took over the role as chairman. Many years back that role at the Vestry had been played by the parish curate. The Reverend Henry Carey had now moved on and it seemed unlikely that the young Reverend James Dennett would be invited to assume that part.
Richard Allden had been named as one of the churchwardens as far back as 1835, a year before his father died.
Reuben Attfield was over 50 years old and unmarried, living with his widowed mother Ann and his sister Jane. He had benefitted from early inheritance of properties all across Aldershot by 1829 and then again on his father’s death in 1843. He had first served as an overseer in 1836 when aged 32 and again during 1852/53.Now in a role as Assistant Overseer, he was responsible for ensuring the collection of rates from the households in the parish. As such he could be reckoned to be in touch with the mood of the smallholders and having first-hand contact with several of the non-resident owners of property.
These men had shared experience of leadership and the local governance. They were also among the few from the village who were on the Electoral Roll for the Constituency of North Hampshire. Politics and taxation were closely linked.
During the period of change between 1843 and 1846 in there had been intense conflict surrounding the repeal of the Corn Laws which since 1815 had set tariffs and quotas on the import of cereals. Designed to protect domestic agriculture from such imports, this led to higher prices of bread and the like.
There had been a good harvest in 1844, however, members of the Vestry will have been mindful of the reports in newspapers during the previous autumn and winter of outbreaks of unrest and incendiary actions. These were said to be associated with protests against high prices and the arguments of the Anti-Corn Law League.
The Vestry meeting had reconvened on 11th November 1844 to confirm and enact the plan which was subsequently renewed for a further month from 8th January 1845. The six-point plan included “sharing out the young men amongst the Proprietors and occupiers of the Parish”, employing “surplus Labourers” on roads and footpaths and repairing fences, and setting aside 5 ½ acres of parish land for potatoes.
Richard and James were both farmers, two of the most important amongst the eighteen in the parish. They had become close friends over the years, to the extent, for example, of sharing a subscription to the newspaper sent daily via Farnham. That had enabled them to have a source of intelligence about matters national and international.
Farmers did not favour the Free Trade politics of the new Government of 1853. Referred to as the ‘Ministry of Talents’, this was a coalition of Peelite Tories and the Whigs. The abolition of the Corn Laws, which had afforded farmers protection from imported wheat, was a topic that still rankled.
James Elstone had spoken on the topic at a meeting in Farnham in 1845, calling upon farmers to unite and do their utmost to elect representatives “who would really attend to the interests of agriculture”. Another at the meeting had argued that should the Corn Laws be abolished then there should be total repeal of the malt tax and duty upon all articles of consumption, and that the poor should be maintained out of revenue raised by Income Tax instead of the parish rates: the burden should be “put upon the shoulders of the iron-masters, the spinning-jennies and people of that sort”.
Whilst the Corn Laws had been scrapped during the Ministry of Prime Minister Robert Peel in 1846, the malt tax had remained in force.
- Those who opposed the repeal of the Corn Laws later won a succession of by-elections including that of North Hampshire. It was won by the Conservatives, first by Sir William Heathcote in 1847 and then, following Heathcote’s resignation, again by Melville Portal. Melville Portal had been re-elected unopposed in the 1852 General Election, then appointed as a Deputy Lieutenant of Hampshire in December.
Charles Barron would doubtless have his own take on that as a land proprietor in London combined with business in the liquor trade.
The Tories had lost their grip on Government with the failure of the Budget proposed by their Chancellor of the Exchequer, the up and coming Benjamin Disraeli in December 1852. That had included the reduction by half of the tax on malt and on hops. However, in May 1853, the Budget of the new Chancellor, William Gladstone, had maintained the duty at the same level, preferring instead to cut the duty on tea, soap and other articles of consumption and cut Income Tax, pledging to eradicate it over a seven year period.
What would undoubtedly been applauded by Charles Barron was the decision by Gladstone not to go ahead with the housing tax which Disraeli had earlier proposed. Opinion might have been divided on the merits of the new legacy duty on inherited wealth.