To the Inhabitants of that Portion of the
Parish of Hungerford, proposed to be Publicly Lighted.
I cannot boast of having been an Inhabitant of your Town all my life, or even of having lived long among you, but, as a Resident here for two years and upwards, I am surprised to find that one whom most of you have known for at least 30 years, and one too, who has had some experience, should not have put forth a more able address to the Inhabitants of Hungerford, respecting the lighting of your Town, than he has done; and whatever may be Mr. Hall's ambition to show himself in Print, I fear that the Twaddle he has published will for ever debar his chance of the Laurels.
I should not have considered it requisite to notice this enlightened production, had not the Gentleman from whom it emanated, whilst venting his spleen, adopted the unmanly and despicable course of misrepresenting facts and making assertions which he does not prove, or attempt to substantiate, for the best of all reasons no doubt, that he cannot. It would have been much more becoming in Mr. Hall, had he, instead of making the abusive insinuations of "fallacious representations of some and the Intimidations of others" exposed to public view such representations or Intimidations, if they ever existed, otherwise than in his heated imagination; and it would have been much more straightforward in him, had he, instead of representing that the adoption of the Act of Parliament alluded to, would fix a Tax upon yourselves in "perpetuity," confined himself to the fact that the Act expressly declares that at any time after the expiration of three years from the period of adopting its Provisions, the Inhabitants may, if they think fit, determine that such Provisions shall, on a day to be fixed by them, cease to be acted upon, from which time the Act is no longer in force in the Parish, except for the purpose of collecting and recovering any Rate previously made: moreover, that the Rate-payers may in any year virtually abandon the Act by the vote of so small a sum that it would be impossible to carry out its Provisions.
But this is not the only misrepresentation of the Act, made by Mr. Hall; he states elsewhere, "The sum wanted each year is to be agreed on," true, but ho does not distinctly tell you that the Rate-payers themselves are the persons who fix the amount; then he says, "Inspectors are to be appointed, these Inspectors when appointed have sole power to erect Works;" now what Works do you suppose these Inspectors can erect? Gas Works, you naturally reply ; no such thing, - they have merely the power of putting up Lamps, Lamp Posts, and Lamp Irons; again he says, "To carry out their plans, they," (the Inspectors,) "can appoint Officers under them, Treasurer, Secretary, &c. hire Offices for their monthly Meetings, and levy rates for their purposes; they have also power, 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;" and further on, he adds, "that there is nothing in the Act to prevent these Inspectors fixing upon you, not as you are told, 6d. in the £, but SIX SHILLINGS if they choose." Now I most distinctly assert that the Act gives the Inspectors no power whatever either to levy, increase, or in any manner interfere with the Rates; the Overseers of the Poor are the only persons authorized by the Act to levy such Rates as are necessary to meet the demand made on them by the Inspectors, which demand cannot exceed the sum annually voted by a majority of the Rate-payers, and this, not a simple majority, but a Majority of two thirds. You will recollect also, that these Inspectors, whose powers Mr. Hall has so greatly exaggerated, are chosen from amongst yourselves; one third of them retire annually and others appointed; their Accounts are under your inspection and revision ; and, in short, they are merely ministerial officers under you.
These, I maintain, are facts that Mr. Hall well understands, or at least ought to as a Lawyer of so many years standing ; and facts that you can satisfy yourselves of, by an inspection of the Act, should they not already have been brought home to you, by what transpired at the Town-hall, on the 29th ult. notwithstanding that Mr. Hall gives you so little credit for penetration or judgment, when he tells you that he should not have taken the step he has done "had he 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."
No proposition has been made to you to adopt the Provisions of the Act relative to "Watching," nor do I believe such a step is in contemplation; but this I plainly tell you, that the Inspectors, of themselves, have no power whatever without your consent to adopt such Provisions; and you may therefore rest perfectly satisfied that the imaginary horrors depicted by Mr. Hall, of Watchmen, Weapons, Offenders, and Prosecutions will not arise in your Town, without your previous knowledge, sanction, and approval of the Provisions for Watching.
Burthens I grant you have, in the shape of Church and other Rates, and what Parish, I will ask, is without them ? According, however, to Mr. Hall's belief, "the Town has never more in prosperity than at the present moment," if so, certainly never more able to pay the small Rate of 6d. in the £ which is required of them for lighting. But even on the subject of your Rates, Mr. Hall cannot confine himself to facts, - he tells you your Highway Rate is now ls. 3d.; why, the whole amount of the Highway Rated for the last three years together does not exceed 1s. 3d. in the £.
Greatly do I admire the depth and acuteness of Mr. Hall's very consistent reasoning, where, in one passage, he questions the necessity of lighting your streets, and, in the very next, proposes to raise the necessary fund for so doing so by a Public Subscription ; a Public Subscription forsooth! where the niggard profits by the liberality of his neighbour. Besides, this voluntary system of public lighting has already been tried in the Town, and with what success you all well know. But this I would ask, why, if Mr. Hall thinks his proposition sustainable, does he not set about carrying it into effect, instead of talking about it.
Twice, are you asked, whether any accident has happened for want of Light? yes, I reply, there has: in proof of which I need only recall to your recollection the fact of more than one Body having been taken out of the Canal by my House, and that too, considerably within 30 years ; again, should further proofs be wanting, I will instance the case of Mr. B. Alexander, who at the present moment is suffering from an accident, caused by being run against in the Public Streets, and also the case of Mr. Geo. Martin, who bears evident marks of a recent injury he received from running against a Wagon standing in the High-Street. These, however, are not perhaps, "important accidents," to Mr. Hall, even had they terminated fatally, tho' I should say highly important, and decidedly unpleasant to the sufferers, and clearly demonstrate the necessity of public Lights to see, instead of obliging us to feel our way about the Streets.
I would appeal to you whether Public Lights will not afford very considerable protection to your Persons and Property, and enhance materially the value of the latter, particularly House Property; in support of which, I may mention the fact, a fact well known to many of you, that, parties have come to this Town with the intention of making it their Residence, but have left because your Streets were not lighted, and resorted to neighbouring Towns, where that accommodation is offered ; then, what Lady, I would ask, can venture to pass an Evening at her Neighbour's without dreading the return home through your dark Streets? Well then you are expecting that one at least of the Railways, will 'ere long, be opened to your Town, and will you be told, and therefore believe, that the increased traffic consequent thereon will not demand your lighting the Streets? You are told "that not one single Shilling more will be spent in your Town in consequence of the Gas Lights," Many Shillings may, many Pounds have already been spent in your Town during the erection of the Works, and your surplus Labor fully employed. The contribution from these Works towards your General Rates will be at least one fifth of what is required of you for Public Lights, and the general impression is that your Trade will be considerably benefitted by the introduction of' them, however absurd it may appear to Mr. Hall.
Surely these are arguments, and sound ones too, in favor of Public Lights, and I feel assured that the Inhabitants of Hungerford will avail themselves of the opportunity now offered for improving and benefiting their Town, and will act with that unison and good feeling in the mutter that has always characterised them, without noticing Mr. Hall's "incendiary sentiments."
I will pass over the observations against Mr. Culyer, merely remarking that Mr. Hall is under a mistake in supposing that that Gentleman came to this Town encouraged by the Gas Company, seeing that no Gas Company was then in existence; but Mr. Hall is himself an accomplice in encouraging this perfect Stranger, after his arrival, inasmuch as he countenanced, nay, took an active part. in the proposed Gas Company, and signed the Provisional Share List, for 5 Shares, tho' his vacillation would not allow of his afterwards taking up such Shares: then as to Mr. Culyer being the Contractor and being paid £1300 of the Inhabitants Money, here Mr. Hall makes another mistake: for Mr. Atkins is the Contractor, and little more than one half of the £1300 has been subscribed by the Inhabitants: supposing, however, the whole to have been subscribed by them, I presume Mr, Hall is not the Curator of their purses, tho' he takes upon himself to be their General Adviser.
And now a word or two with you, the Promoters of this scheme for lighting the Public Streets ; see what an egregious error you have fallen into! How " badly your scheme is got up!" How "many weighty objections " to the plan! How " many Legal deficiencies" in the course you have taken, and how fatal the result will be if you pursue that course! Why did you not, before running into this Abyss of danger and difficulty consult this would be Oracle of Legal Perfection, who advises you " to be wise enough" not to prosecute them further? Know you not that your plan "cannot be legally supported?" Pshaw!
The only weighty objection, the only legal deficiency in the proceeding (unless a quibble can be termed so) is that your Churchwardens, contrary to the duty incumbent upon them to give notice to the Rate-payers of a defined District to poll, have given notice to the Rate-payers of the Parish generally, notwithstanding I had sent a Notice to Mr. Barnes, one of the Churchwardens, properly drawn up. This, however, you need not be alarmed at, for the matter can be easily rectified.
And now, in conclusion, let me request you all to be unanimous, as you ever have been, and strive together in that spirited manner which has always shown itself in this Town, to carry out a measure which must certainly be beneficial to you all.
This Town is too small to hold your " Montagues and Capulets," so that again I beseech you to be united.
I have reluctantly come forward on this occasion, but having done so, shall not again intrude myself upon you, or notice any observations from the opponents of the Public Lights, and beg to subscribe myself,
Yours most respectfully,
H. E. Astley
Hungerford, 12th Jan. 1846