IF we think modern day elections, such as this month's council polls, can be venomous, local historian David Hughes account of the 'particularly violent' 1868 campaign in Blackburn makes them look like tame.

He reveals that the contest was spiced with religious sectarianism spilling over from Ireland and claims by opponents of the Conservative and Unionist Party that workers who voted for the Liberals (in the days before a secret ballot) faced 'the Tory screw' and were put out of work with their families by their bosses.

With several violent clashes taking place a Conservative leaflet claimed their candidates were under threat of assassination by 'the radicals' - complaint the Liberals put out another leaflet to deny.

Mr Hughes research recalls how the Conservatives and Orangemen held a Great Protestant Demonstration to kick off the election season on July 11, the same day as the Liberals held a counter-rally.

He records: "This could be considered to be the first outbreak of electoral violence in Blackburn during the 1868 campaign. Further fighting broke out on the evening of the demonstrations. There was a riot on Penny Street, near an Irish quarter."

The open flaunting of party colours was adjudged a breach of the peace during the Liberal demonstration in October when a young man led a parade holding broom with orange and blue ribbons.

The open display of these colours in front of Irish and Liberal crowd-members proved provocative.

During the Parliamentary election campaign, clashes sparked by the wearing party colours were reported and several prosecutions for violence were made. Dragoons and police armed with cutlasses were deployed outside polling stations on election day.

The later council elections in November saw the first death of the year's political campaigning.

Mr Hughes records: "The threat to assassinate Conservatives was a response to the death of Patrick Gallagher after being struck over the head by PC Ramsbottom during a riot near the Market Cross during the municipal elections on November 2. The Liberals believed the threats were bogus, put about by the Conservatives to discredit the Liberals."

He also tells how on one November evening later in the campaign 'Thomas Whittaker, while intoxicated, walked down a street in an Irish quarter shouting a slogan in support of one of the Tory candidates. He was attacked and killed. '

Mr Hughes drily notes: "The following morning 'yet another riot ensued."