From the Darlington & Stockton Times of April 5, 1924: The last of the Battie-Wrightson family’s land in the Northallerton area was auctioned 100 years ago this week in the Golden Lion Hotel. It included 11 lots of 1.5 acres to 7.5 acres, each with a cow house.

“How comes it that there are so many small lots and a cow house on each?” asked the D&S Times. “The answer is to make votes.”

A wonderful article delves back to the days of 1832 when the Great Reform Act swept away the electoral corruption of Northallerton which for more than 100 years had only elected members of the Lascelles or Peirse landowning families. The Act gave the vote to any man occupying a house or land worth £10.

Darlington and Stockton Times: DEMAND: A Galloway cow with Blue Grey calf

The village of Brompton, to the north of Northallerton, once nicknamed “Scorptown”, had a thriving linen industry where the workers backed radical politics. On the day the Reform Act came into law, June 24, 1832, on the village green a fat ox was roasted and six cannon were acquired from somewhere, arranged in a half moon shape, and set off. They “roared out to the sky the common joy for the extended franchise”, said the D&S, and 1,000 people marched into Northallerton carrying “an enormous large broom symbolising the sweeping clean of the borough from corrupt influences”.

Darlington and Stockton Times: The headline from the D&S Times 100 years ago

At the head of the march was Captain John George Boss, of Otterington Hall, who had made his name in the Caribbean capturing American and Spanish privateers. He had accepted the radicals’ request to be their candidate in the election.

But then William Battie-Wrightson rode into town. He was the MP for Hull who was married to the grand-daughter of Henry Peirse of Bedale. He was determined to claim Northallerton for the Liberals.

“He bought a great deal of land – over 1,500 acres – and divided it into small lots,” said the D&S. “He built a cowhouse on each, as was required by law to get a vote, and let them out at £10 or over. That’s why there are so many cow houses in this part of the country.”

So the scene was set for a battle royal, between the radical captain cheered on by the Scorptown linen workers, and Mr Battie-Wrightson backed by all those who had suddenly come into possession of a cow house.

The election was on December 10, 1832, so until polling day there was “six months of excitement, with each side using its utmost exertion, persuasion, eloquence and intimidation”, said the D&S in 1924, something we in 2024 are also enjoying.

Capt Boss was victorious by 108 votes to 97, and he was chaired round the constituency – around the Market Cross before being taken to Romanby, Brompton and then back to Northallerton for feasting – carrying “a huge gold gilt key, a symbol of opening up of the borough to the free and independent voters, free from corruption and bribery”.

However, two months before polling day, the captain’s wife, Charlotte, had died in Otterington Hall, and his heart seems not to have been in radical politics. He retired at the 1835 election, leaving the way clear for Mr Battie-Wrightson to be MP for the next 30 years.

Not that the radicals of Brompton were happy about this, and vented their displeasure whenever Mr Battie-Wrightson’s agent, Mr T Fowle, entered their village seeking support.

“At Brompton water end they have a lot of ducks to this day, and the radical zealots used to save up their rotten eggs for political expression of opinion,” said the D&S in 1924. “When it was known that political enemy chiefs were in their midst, the enemy came out with their rotten eggs and plastered Mr Fowle’s hat and coat and so he beat a hasty retreat.

“Brompton has a nickname ‘Scorptown’, ‘scorp’ is Yorkshire for ‘head’, ‘to scorp a man’ is to hit him over the head, and our rude forefathers sometimes did not hesitate about that in heated political debate.”

Mr Battie-Wrightson’s team responded by indulging in “burking” – an 1820s word meaning “to stifle or quietly but effectively suppress”. It apparently derives from the actions of graverobber William Burke who, with accomplice William Hare, in 1828 was found guilty of quietly suffocating victims and selling their bodies for anatomical dissection.

Not that Mr Battie-Wrightson murdered anyone. In the political sense, “burking” meant to get an opposition voter helplessly drunk and then drive him out of town in a carriage so that he missed the poll.

The 1924 D&S article said: “The writer knew a man who was thus taken right up Arkengarthdale on the day of the Northallerton election and brought back after the voting was concluded.”

So Mr Battie-Wrightson’s electoral success came through burking which countered the scorping of his enemies, and then milking the cow house vote.

Is it too much to hope that there are any curious cow houses still standing in the Northallerton area? Please email