“At eight o’clock the room was filled, and shortly after that hour the President of the Conservative Club, Dr. Chisholm, followed by Mr. Bradshaw, Mr. Baldock,and a numerous body of friends, entered the room. Dr. Chisholm took the chair, and was supported on his right by Mr. Bradshaw (MP), and on his left by Mr. Baldock.” This was how the journalist at the Kentish Times opened his report on the Grand Conservative Gathering at Canterbury on Thur 19 April 1838.
The evening started in the most civilized way. Guests drank three times to each proposed toast and at each announcement there were shouts of “Hear! hear!”.
As the evening progressed, proceedings became more animated. Some toasts met with outbreaks of ‘tremendous’ applause that could last several minutes. There were ‘immense’ cheers at other proposals.
Flags were suspended from the walls, and waved to the pealing voices, which made the room re-echo at various parts of the evening.
Such were the goings on at the Grand Conservative Gathering, Canterbury, in a tightly packed room where the great and good of the town gathered to review the state of affairs during April 1838.
The room was decked out with the purple and orange banners of the Conservative party, emblazoned with the mottoes of “Church and State,” ” Queen, Lords, and Commons,” ” Bradshaw and Gipps,” ” The Independence of Canterbury,” and various devices.
Mr William Henry Baldock sat at top table. It was obvious that his career now meant he occupied a position of authority and some influence. He was a most respected gentleman of the county and the nation.
But at a gathering like this, you may wonder where all this fine wine had originated.
Perhaps the refreshments had been generously donated by Mr Baldock himself from the family’s St Dunstan brewery or the House on the Hill at Petham.
In dark corners of dimly lit inns others might tell you that it had arrived in the country late at night, following the old roads up to the Turnpike then on to Canterbury. This dark enterprise was pursued by many a gentleman who offered the necessary funding for an adventure involving free trade.
As they toasted the Queen, the country, and critiqued the laziness of the government and its disregard for the financial hardships that the taxes were exerting on the people, perhaps Mr Baldrock took some satisfaction in knowing that here at this dinner, we were sipping fine wine that he had made available through a strange route starting in France.
Seldom has so enthusiastic a display, or so unanimous and convivial a party, been witnessed.
That was how the reporter concluded the atmosphere that night.
“The fact that the party being at the present moment considerably stronger than at the last election, infused a degree of hilarity and light heartedness into honorable Member Mr. Bradshaw’s manner which speedily spread through the immense concourse, and raised their feelings to the highest pitch of enthusiasm and joy.”
Indeed, even the otherwise reticent Mr Baldock became bold in expressing his views:
“W. H. Baldock, Esq. being called upon to propose the next toast, said it was not his intention to give it to her Majesty’s ministers (laughter and cheers) because … The course which her Majesty’s ministers adopted was not, he regretted, such as afforded hope for the future. Their whole policy was stigma on the country; the foreign policy was in the highest degree reprehensible, and their colonial conduct disgraceful.
“A colony was at the present moment in state of open rebellion. Months had passed since the first outbreak, and Ministers had only just commenced tardy and inadequate operations. They were now sending out what, and who? Why, Lord Durham” (Loud laughter and applause)”
“Mr. Baldock would not enter into a review of the course that might be adopted by his Lordship, but this he would observe, that the time which ought to have been devoted to the most active and strenuous exertion had been employed in fitting out vessels with luxuries to conduce to his Lordship’s pleasures!
“The toast he was about to propose was the health of one who stood in a diametrically opposite position to the present Ministers; he had driven from our shores the greatest foreign enemy the country ever contended against. Aided by other statesmen he had preserved, unimpaired, many of the valued and dearly cherished parts of the British Constitution, and for his services as warrior and statesman, he deservedly received the heartfelt gratitude of every true Englishman.
It was therefore with sincere pleasure that he gave the toast to the Duke of Wellington and the House of Lords.” They drank their health three times three and broke into another song of the evening.
Here was a gathering that strenuously supported the principles upon which was based the stability of the Church, the Throne, and the Constitution. (Tremendous cheering).
Finally the room turned its attentions to the one person who appeared to stand out above everyone else. Mr Baldock.
“The Chairman said his next toast wanted no introduction. It was the health of the fine Old English Gentleman, William Henry Baldock, of Petham.” The toast was drank with enthusiasm, which was not exceeded during the evening. Mr. Baldock briefly and with much feeling returned thanks, and was loudly cheered.
The Baldocks were indeed top table at the Grand Conservative Gathering of April 1838.