The Isle of Wight Observer of 26th March, 1853 carries a number of articles about a poll held to decide whether to introduce the Public Health Act to Ryde.
The proposal was heavily defeated with 376 votes against, 163 in favour and 75 ‘neutral’. The newspaper praised how the poll was carried out ‘upon as heated a question as ever entered into a general election’ but ‘strange to say there have been no mobs, no broken heads, no special constables or large gatherings of police, no broken windows, or disturbance of any kind’. However, the meeting at which the result was announced was not so peaceful. A ‘long and noisy discussion’ took place, during which Mr. Soloman said he believed the vote was illegal and ‘Mr. Thurlow demanded a scrutiny, as he knew voting cards had been left to parties who were not ratepayers’. After another row the meeting decided not on a scrutiny, but a re-count, but then they argued over who should oversee it!
However the main focus for the IW Observer editor’s ire, was Ryde’s unelected commissioners, whose actions he considered responsible for losing the vote.
Twenty-five years ago Ryde was a village of some fifteen hundred persons, whose habitations were generally detached and spread over a large area; its streets were neither paved or lighted; it was without sanitary laws or regulations; and entirely destitute of protection from police, except that afforded by the constables appointed by the Court Leet of the Manor of Ashey and Ryde. Application for an Act was made to Parliament, and obtained in 1829, for to remedy these things; but, unfortunately, instead of the Commissioners to carry the Act into effect being elected by the ratepayers, they were self-elected, the qualification being £1,000 worth of real or personal property in the boundary of the town. The evil effects of this self-election soon became manifest, for within three years of the Act being obtained these irresponsible Commissioners spent £12,000, in addition to £1,600, the cost of the Act!! They purchased property to the amount of £5,000, which was raised on the security of the rates, and they then borrowed £4,000 more on the mortgage of the ground so purchased. The market-house alone cost £7,000! What security have the ratepayers against the recurrence of such an extravagant fit? None, whatever! And yet this is the system placed in the balance against the Public Health Act, which gives the ratepayers a CHECK by electing the Commissioners; and ignorance, prejudice and cunning will kick the beam, and make irresponsibility triumphant.