How election leaflets used to look: Skipton 1885

As a follow up to my City of London election leaflet from the 1930s, here is a single-sided Conservative general election leaflet from 1885 for the Skipton Parliamentary constituency:

Skipton 1885 Conservative leaflet

The name handwritten in the bottom left corner is that of the voter to whom the leaflet was delivered, the handwriting not so much an attempt at personalisation as a reflection of the lack of alternative ways of individually addressing leaflets at the time. Indeed, overall the letter is far less personal than an equivalent is (or should be) today, with both the “Dear Sir” and the letter being from the agent rather than the candidate.

The lack of strong promotion of the candidate’s name in the literature echoes the 1930s example, and that of other old election leaflets in my collection. Candidate names were not hidden by any means, but they did not get the repeated mentions that are required in the rather different information environments of today.

The Conservative candidate lost in the election to Matthew Wilson, a man who was an MP four times (twice for Clitheroe, once for the West Riding and once for Skipton) and – in a reflection of the very different expectations of MPs then – is only recorded as having spoken in Parliament five times.

For some other historical comparisons between election campaigns then and now see my article Continuity and change in election campaigns: the 1910 and 2010 election campaigns.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • What’s interesting is that, even then, they’re using canvass results to encourage voters out. Do you think that if they could have, they’d have put a graph in with “it’s a two horse race!”

  • Did he win?

  • Nice to see someone using a semicolon.

  • And forget comment number 2, I’d only skim-read the article… sorry!

  • Peter Chegwyn 29th Nov '10 - 12:31pm

    Seems like the Conservative canvass returns were a tad optimistic. You couldn’t trust the Tories even then!

    But as KL says, it’s interesting that the ‘spinning’ of canvass returns to forecast victory is a tactic that’s some 125 years old.

  • Is it just me or does it say

    “The result of this canvas shews…”

    Looking at other “O”s and “E”s in the text, it’s clear that there is a misspelling. Amusing, really.

  • canvass*


  • Ed Thompson 29th Nov '10 - 1:33pm

    spelling then was different guys, as no doubt it will be in the future.

    Glad to know that nothing really changes, or should that be depressed.

  • Anthony Aloysius St 29th Nov '10 - 2:13pm

    Yes, “shews” was a common alternative spelling then.

    Shews how little young people read these days.

  • Ed Maxfield 29th Nov '10 - 2:13pm

    The canvass was a much more significant element of 19th century elections when electorates were small and (until just a few years before this leaflet was published) the ballot was open, not secret. It seems to have been the main focus of local party activism and an essential element of decision making about whether the spend any money on the election campaign itself. I wonder if the expansion of the franchise for the 1885 election led to the Tories deceiving themselves about the likely outcome…

  • I formally apologise for my ignorance on nineteenth century literature.

  • This is not a leaflet, it’s a target letter.

    Tony Greaves

  • Where’s the imprint!

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