There has been a Mayor in Bideford since 1574. Most of them are known to history just by their name; occasionally, however, they have left a greater impression than might have been expected. John Strange who died helping his fellow townspeople during the plague outbreak of 1646 is such an example.
One who left a rather different memory was E.J.Tattersill who was Mayor for the years 1901-04. He was a prominent grocer in the town who appears to have been genuinely liked and respected but, as so common, he had a few long simmering problems with his fellow councillors.
These came to a head in December 1904 when, as was the custom, the outgoing Mayor was guest of honour at a ‘complimentary banquet’ given by the council. All went well until the Mayor rose to return the toast in his honour. He began by thanking the corporation for the meal and their present. He then added, ‘There was, however, a fly in the ointment.’ Bluntly expressed ‘He had found the majority of the Town Council thoroughly disloyal, utterly unreliable, ignorant and obstructive.’ This followed a dispute with the Bideford and Westward Ho! Railway Company where his fellow councillors had not backed him up.
Shocked, the councillors clapped although ‘some dissent’ was recorded. Whether a Mayor had ever before denounced his colleagues so forcefully I do not know – but I doubt it. The councillors decided the best way to deal with Tattersill’s outburst was to ignore it.
For his part Tattersill resigned his seat a few weeks after the meal and died, aged just 49, in May 1905. His obituary tactfully refers to the ‘signs of nervous prostration’ he showed at the banquet reckoning they could have been brought on by the appendicitis that killed him.
Let’s hope I won’t have to repeat his words in May 2005.