Thomas Ward Blagg and the Abbey Parish Charities Scandal c.1827-1860
St Albans in the early to mid-nineteenth century suffered from endemic levels of corruption. The borough was well known for the bribery that took place at its borough elections and was the subject of three parliamentary enquiries before it was eventually disfranchised in 1852. However, historians have largely focused on the forms that the bribery took without looking below the surface to identify the underlying causes of the corruption, the networks that allowed it to function or the wider repercussions. By concentrating on the activities of the town clerk Thomas Ward Blagg, I will examine the political and other motivations for corruption and look at how Blagg’s embezzlement of several of the Abbey parish endowment charities helped fund his attempts at controlling the borough. Through this study, it will become clear that key pieces of legislation from the Age of Reform such as the Great Reform Act 1832 and The Municipal Corporations Act 1835 increased levels of corruption in the borough rather than reducing them. What followed was a ‘golden age’ of corruption, which saw competing factions trying to fill the vacuum of power that had been created by the ending of aristocratic patronage. In effect Blagg and his contemporaries were participating in a ‘New Corruption’ that would take the best part of two decades to overcome. It took the combined efforts of leading figures within the Abbey parish and the emergence of legislation from Westminster that gave the authorities unprecedented powers of intervention to bring men like Blagg under control.