TO THE INHABITANTS OF HUNGERFORD
My fellow parishioners,
I have been an Inhabitant of this Town all my life, and, from the Public Position in which I have necessarily been placed, most of you must have known me well for at least Thirty years, I can therefore appeal to you with confidence whether you have ever discerned in me a Disposition to press myself into Public Notice - I need scarcely say I think upon the Present Occasion, that I have no Ambition to shew myself in Print, but my opinion is that the Time has arrived when it has become absolutely necessary for some one amongst us, who has had some experience, to come forward, and offer you, at least, his advice with a view of preventing your being led astray by the fallacious representations of some, and the Intimidations of others - I refer to the proposed plan of Lighting the Town of Hungerford with Public Gas Lights, by adopting an Act of Parliament which will fix a heavy Tax upon yourselves in Perpetuity.
I should not have taken this step had I seen that you had all understood what you were going to do, and also that you had thoroughly considered the Position in which you are now about to place yourselves by adopting this Act, because if I felt satisfied that you and each of you, as Rate-payers, were as anxious as some few of the Inhabitants seem to be about it, and that you well knew what you are about to do, I should be acting very unwisely in attempting to thwart your Intentions, but when I observe that, in common language, "Heaven and Earth are raising" by a few persons to carry the Measure, by setting up a Board of Inspectors, and fixing a Rate, against the wishes of a great portion of the Inhabitants, then I think I am wanting in Duty not to warn you as far as I am able of the impropriety of the Cause you are requested to confirm.
Let us see therefore what the present commotion amongst us is about. It appears that a private Company has been formed for Lighting the houses in this Town with Gas, (this is independent of us as Rate-payers) it will or will not pay this Company; the Promoters of this Scheme now wish to extend the Measure to the Lighting of the Public Streets and Lanes, and in order to effect this, recourse is to be had to a recent Act of Parliament for the Levying of Rates for the purpose. Now what does this Act require? It enacts that a Meeting of the Rate-payers is to be called, and their opinion is to be taken whether the Act shall be adopted or not, if the Rate-payers say that it shall be adopted, then the Plan is to be carried out; The Sum wanted each year is to be agreed on, Inspectors are to be appointed - these Inspectors when appointed have sole Power to Erect the Works, and to carry out their Plans, they can appoint Officers under them - Treasurer, Secretary, &c. &c., Hire Offices for their Monthly Meetings, and levy Rates for their Purposes - they have Power also from year to year to extend their works, to increase their Rates, and the Rate-payers have no redress except at their Annual Meetings, or, by an Appeal to the Quarter Sessions. This may be extended at like annual meetings to a further adoption of the Act by Watching—this Plan is also to lie carried out by these Inspectors, they can appoint what number they please of Watchmen, or Police, and pay them what Wages they fix, give them Clothing, Weapons, &c., pay all Expences of Prosecuting Offenders, and all this out of the Rates. There are other powers also which they will possess by your adoption of this Act: I ask you therefore if you understand all this? if you do, and you are willing to place these Burthens upon your own Shoulders I can have no objection to it. But I think I have often heard it said "how heavily this Parish is rated," not so much so perhaps of late years, for we have been getting a little relieved from them, I have however heard heavy complaints made of Poor Rates, that they used to be 9s. in the £, Church Rates of two sorts, about 2s., Highway, now 1s. 3d., Police Rates happily in Berkshire we do not yet feel - it has been remarked by some that we were just extricating ourselves from some of these obnoxious Imposts, now we seem thoughtlessly hurrying ourselves into a like state, adding Gas Rates and Watch Rates; the latter may be equal to the Police Burthens of the adjoining County.
I tell you, that there is nothing in the Act to prevent these Inspectors fixing upon you, not as you are told 6d. in the £, but 6s. if they choose. Now why all at once is there the necessity for all this? Is there disorder in the Town to require Watching, or likely to be? Has any accident happened for want of light? I declare that never within my recollection has this Parish been more free from Disorder, and never more peaceable, consequently I believe more in prosperity than at the present moment; have you not also an excellent Magistracy always ready to act, even at your very doors? again I ask has there been any accident happen of any consequence for the last Thirty years for want of Public Lights? the utmost that can be said in favor of it is, that it would be an Improvement to the appearance of the Town by Night, and a Convenience to those who live in it - not one single argument in favor of it can be urged, with reason, more than these, and not one single Shilling more will be spent in the Town in consequence of the Gas Lights - It is an absurdity to say so, depend upon it.
My Proposition is to raise the necessary Fund by a Public Subscription, and to try the lighting first by such means, before we think of rating ourselves. By the former Plan we can withdraw, if we do not think it so advantageous to the Town, or should we find difficulties arise, and I am certain they will, by the latter, we shall be compelled against our wishes, to continue it. These things may not be thought of by many of you until too late. I think therefore that you ought to consider thoroughly of it, before you vote for the adoption of the Act.
I have been induced in some measure to take this step, having had delivered at my house, and having seen industriously circulated among you, since our Meeting at the Hall, on Monday-week last, a Printed Hand-bill, signed "John O. Culyer" and having since conversed thereon with some of my neighbours, and they, one and all agree with me that a more scandalous and disgusting publication, and one more likely to create an ill feeling amongst the Inhabitants, could not have been disseminated: I think it right therefore to notice it, especially, as it is said, that it is the joint production of the person whose name it bears, and some of the promoters of this Measure; Whether it be so or not I cannot say, it has been partially denied, if it be so, never was a step taken more illjudged in every respect than that – As far as it professes to be the single Production of one Person, for that person as a perfect stranger to come into this Town, encouraged by the Gas Company, by their allowing him to have the Contract, and paying him £l,300 of the Inhabitants money for it, and then to abuse two of the most respectable inhabitants, Mr. Barnes and Mr W. Alexander, and all other persons who are not in favor of this Measure, and attempt to set the Inhabitants at variance with each other I think is more than I for one, am prepared to submit to, without an Expression of the strongest censure.
I hope however that the more sensible part of the Inhabitants of this place will shew their disgust at such conduct ; and I trust, if there are any Persons, Inhabitants of this Town, who can entertain such feelings as those expressed in the Publication alluded to that they will yet consider before they venture further to disseminate such Incendiary Sentiments as are contained therein, whether it be in print or otherwise.
I have only a word more to say, and that is, I advise you one and all to give your Votes against the Adoption of the Act, for the Scheme is badly got up, I believe that this is the best course you can at the present time pursue. There are other reasons why the present proceedings should be put an end to, which may be given at a fitting opportunity. I should hope that the promoters will be wise enough not to prosecute them further, for, from Inquiry I have made since the Meeting, I find that, amongst other Weighty Objections, the present Plan cannot be legally supported, in consequence of several legal Deficiencies in the Coarse already taken, and we all know every step taken founded upon an illegal Commencement must be illegal also, and liable to be set aside by any one Rate-payer,
I shall ever remain,
Your well wisher,
W. R. Hall.
January 8th, 1846.
P. S. Since my sending the above to the Press I am told that an abandonment of the present Movement is contemplated - I fear a further mistake will be made in this.