Samuel Griffiths and the Water Supply farce
This account is based The Municipal Life of Wolverhampton by W. H. Jones, published by Alexander and Shepheard, London, 1903. Jones is not a 100 per cent reliable source for this period but this account seems reasonably reliable.
In 1854 and 1855 the Borough Council became involved in the farcical affair of the town's water supply. As a result of their unsuccessfully opposing a bill in Parliament to establish a private water supply company and equally unsuccessfully promoting a bill to authorise the council to be the sole provider of the town's water, the council was confronted with a bill for £6,500, with no means in law of paying it and a strong suspicion that the councillors themselves might have to find the sums from their own pockets. The Mayor, Mr. Shipton, decided it would be wise not to stand for another year in office. But "Mr. Shipton was determined to leave the Mayoralty with a good social feeling" so he held a dinner at his house in Dunstall to which all the councillors were invited. A local print, cited in full in Jones, gave an account of the proceedings, which is probably more or less accurate. This print describes some of the guests arriving, including "Councillor Samuel Griffiths, in his gig, driving furiously".
At the dinner many speeches were made and even more toasts drunk. It seems to have been a riotous party, with many of the speakers bursting into song. When a Dr. Wallace was speaking and mentioning that he had retired from his position, Councillor Wallace (a Scot with a notably broad Scottish accent) said "Oh, ay. You have won wealth and, like a gorged leach, dropped off from repletion". At this point Councillor Griffiths is recorded as making a witty intervention: "Sit down, sir, you are drunk or mad". Griffiths replied "Mister Chairman, do you hear what that born devil, Griffiths, calls me?". But, as all the parties were clearly boisterous if not actually hopelessly drunk, not too much store can be put upon this exchange.
But later in the evening Councillor Griffiths re-appears in the proceedings, when councillors are proposing each others health:
One strongly suspects that both Fearncombe and Griffiths himself were being sarcastic and that Fearncombe was making a joke about someone who was a good fellow, but pushy and too clever by half and never likely to be elected mayor. The next thing that happened was that Councillor Wallace said to Griffiths: "Od, maun, gies a wag o' yer loof. I forgie ye freely for a' ye hae dun. I'll gie ye a song on the head o't.' ". Some of this defies translation but it has been suggested to me by a Scot that it may mean "Good man, give us a shake of your hand. I forgive you freely for all you have done. I'll give you a song to prove it".
The four verses of the song are to the effect that it is time to settle differences and elect a mayor and the last verse reads:
which was followed by "Immense Cheering", again suggesting that the idea was an amusing joke. Significantly perhaps at the end of the evening, when even more toasts had been drunk, "a few leading spirits broke out" into another song which suggested that E. Perry should be Mayor. And on the 9th November 1855 Edward Perry was duly elected Mayor, apparently as the only person who could be persuaded to offer himself for the post.
The matter of the water supply continued with one of the town's leading debtors getting judgement for his fees and sending in the bailiffs, who duly seized a lot of furniture from the town hall, the mayor's robe, the mace and, amongst other equipment, the police's handcuffs. The Council met twice, not able to decide what to do. In the second debate, Jones records Griffiths' intervention:
Somewhat later the matter was settled by the Mayor going round the town collecting what was called a "voluntary rate" with which to pay off the debt. And that was pretty much what Griffiths had suggested, even if he had done so without much calm and tact.