Postmaster controversy, 1877

This minor scandal led to a question in the House of Commons, but Mr Wilford kept the job for 20 years.

Oxfordshire Telegraph, 25 July

WINSLOW POSTMASTERSHIP is thus referred to in the Aylesbury News:- “In three or four lines we last week announced a transfer of the Winslow Post-office from Mr. French to Mr. Wilford.  We may now supplement that information by a statement which shall give to the transaction an importance that a week ago was unsuspected.  During the whole of the six years that Mr. French was postmaster, a Mr. Edward Francis was his assistant, and when Mr. Francis made application for appointment as successor to Mr. French, his application was supported by a memorial from the inhabitants of Winslow.  The application and memorial were, however, unsuccessful, and acknowledged “experience and fitness for the post” were deliberately set aside, and the appointment was made on a consideration the chief of which being that it was a reward for political support.  Last autumn the Hon. T. F. Fremantle was a candidate for the representation of the county in succession to Mr. Disraeli, and he succeeded only by a narrow majority [see 1876 election].  Mr. Fremantle’s residence is in close neighbourhood to Winslow, and the action of the Winslow tradesmen in that contest was doubtless carefully observed at Swanbourne.  It is evident, indeed, from what we have to reveal, that these tradesmen were kept under close observation, and that note was made of their political action.  The elect of the county says as much in plain terms.  In a letter received by Mr. Francis, and which bears the signature of the Hon. T. F. Fremantle, he is told- ‘As Mr. Wilford is a resident tradesman of the town, with premises on the Market-square, and as he has supported the present Government at the late election, I have felt that (though fully conscious of your own experience and fitness for the post) I could not pass over his claims, but was bound to give him the preference.”  There are no administrative appointments so obnoxious to political patronage as postmasterships in rural districts and small towns; for in the almost perfect security against discovery that may be contrived, the temptations to breach of duty may be irresistible to a person of strong political sympathies.  And even if a postmaster of known strong political sympathy with a political party is yet of immaculate virtue as to the duties of his office, suspicion will inevitably attach to him in the minds of men of political antipathies, which unjust suspicion may be not without unpleasantness to himself and to others, and trouble to the Department.  The setting aside of recognised experience and fitness in order to reward an inexperienced political partisan with a public appointment, is in itself an offence against the commonwealth, recognised as such now by the best men of all parties; and the confession of it openly by the Hon. T. F. Fremantle, M.P., in this matter of the Winslow Postmastership must be to his political friends a disagreeable annoyance - the more annoying because it comes just when the political committees are gathering up their strength in the Registration List for a not distant decisive contest at the poll.  A few more such blunders by Mr. Fremantle, and the next county election will be fought by the Liberals in a spirit of confidence rather than of hope.  As it is, the honourable gentleman has given them such a subject for declamation at the next election as shall unloose the tongues of every honest man in the county.”

Buckingham Advertiser, 4 Aug

To the Editor of the Buckingham Advertiser

  SIR,- Will you indulge me with a small space in your valuable journal just to say that much surprise and astonishment still exists in this town and neighbourhood at the strange appointment of the new postmaster.  That the resignation of Mr. French was perfectly voluntary, and his own act and deed, is quite certain, and was no doubt caused by the conviction that official and commercial transactions could not nor did not work well together under the same roof; nor was the appointment of Mr. Wilford at all unacceptable to the public generally, his known respectability having been long ago established.  But how was it that when a separation of Mr. Francis (an indefatiguable and zealous co-operator with Mr. French during his administration - and who would have removed to premises on the Market Square, strictly private and unassociated with trade transactions of any kind) - I say how was it that his memorial, signed by numerous and influential conservatives, and nearly the whole parish besides, was utterly scouted by the existing authorities, and the sterling merit of an active and experienced officer made to bow down to a mean and contemptible partisanship.  Who gave Mr. Fremantle the power to make the appointment? Was he known to possess it, was he ever solicited for it?  This is not asked for information - good old Tory tactics and party jobbery having been patent to the writer long ago - but simply to know how he dare say as he did in his letter to Mr. Francis, “I could not pass over his claims, and was bound to give him the preference, &c.” Was he deputed to make a visible display of his autocratic powers, and commissioned to throw dirt in the faces of his ablest and most substantial supporters?  If so he has succeeded.  His paltry vanity has offended many here, and perhaps he may be convinced of this at the next contest for the County representation; in all events his declination is roundly prophesied, and certainly will not be stayed in the smallest degree by
                                                                        A WINSLOW ELECTOR.
   Winslow, August 1, 1877.

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Copyright 29 November, 2020