Local Government

Local patronage was an important adjunct to wealth and property in conferring prestige on the various landed interests. To be governor of the county was proof of one’s national position and its recognition by the government. Membership of the grand jury offered many opportunities to gratify what the Edgeworths described as ‘certain little preferences, which those gentlemen who have influence on county grand juries, and who can satisfy their consciences that jobbing is right and necessary, easily manage to gain’, and R. L. Edgeworth (0688) found himself unpopular when ‘he set an example of being scrupulous to the most exact degree as a grand juror, both as to the money required for roads or for any public works, and as to the manner in which it was laid out.’

Local government operating on so slender a basis requires acceptance on the part of the governed and responsibility on the part of the governors; both were largely lacking. Even towards the close of the century the enlightened Edgeworths could deplore the terrible bigotry that forbade the visit of a priest to a condemned man. This fundamental lack of co-operation, evident to a degree on both sides, militated against the growth of an ethical consensus without which informally structured administration could not succeed.