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West Bromwich MP’s election address unopened for 103 years

By dan shaw  |  Posted: May 02, 2013

Alderman John H. Chesshire's endorsement of Dr Hazel in the January 1910 general election

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A RECENT search through some of the items collected at Bugle House over the years turned up a letter that had remained unopened for 103 years.

How we came to have the letter is not known but it was probably donated some 30 years ago or more.

It was addressed to a Mr J. Jones jnr., of 185 Harvills Hawthorne, and had been franked at the West Bromwich post office on 13th January, 1910. Also printed on the front of the envelope was the following: “If undelivered, to be kept (under the special authority of the Postmaster-General) for three days at the Office of Delivery, and handed on demand to the accredited Agent of Dr Hazel, West Bromwich.”

What were we to make of this find and should we open the letter to discover more? A toss of the coin decided the matter.

The envelope opened easily, the glue having dried out, and inside were two pieces of paper, both campaign pamphlets from the general election of January 1910. They were issued on behalf of the sitting Member of Parliament for West Bromwich, Dr Alfred Ernest William Hazel.

The first was a note printed to resemble a handwritten letter.

It read: “31 Victoria St, West Bromwich, Jan. 10. 1910. Parliamentary Election.

“Dear Sir, May I make a final appeal for your vote at the poll on Monday next, Jan 17th. I would like to see every elector personally, but this is impossible.

“During the last four years I have done my best to stand by the Workers, who sent me to Parliament, and in this crisis I stand for the People against the Rich, who would take their food.

“I ask you to do your part towards returning a West Bromwich man to represent West Bromwich.

“I am, your very truly, A.E.W.Hazel.”

The second leaflet was an endorsement of Dr Hazel by the prominent West Bromwich businessman and alderman John Henry Chesshire. It read: “Oakwood, West Bromwich, January 11th, 1910.

“To the Electors of West Bromwich. It has been freely stated all over West Bromwich that I am supporting Lord Lewisham. That is absolutely untrue.

“Remember that Hazel is a staunch and true Protestant, and has proved himself so by voting against the Government in the House of Commons, and has pledged himself to do all in his power to support Protestantism throughout the United Kingdom, and does not support Gladstonian Home Rule.

“I hope every Protestant and every working man friend I have in West Bromwich will not only vote for Dr Hazel but induce others to do the same.

“I remain, your faithfully, John H. Chesshire.”

Dr Alfred Hazel (1869-1944) is best known for his work as a lawyer and an Oxford academic.

He studied at the Wesleyan School in West Bromwich and King Edward’s School, Birmingham, before reading Classics and Law at Jesus College, Oxford, where he gained a first and won the Eldon Law Scholarship.

He was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1898 and was appointed a Fellowship of Law at Jesus College.

At the 1906 general election he stood as the Liberal candidate in West Bromwich and won. Previously, the seat had been held for 20 years by the Conservative Sir James Ernest Spencer, another West Bromwich lawyer, but he stood down in 1906 and West Bromwich was contested by Viscount Lewisham for the Conservatives.

Dr Hazel lost his seat in the January 1910 election but later that year he was appointed Reader in Constitutional Law at the Inns of Court, a position he held until 1926. In 1915 he was appointed University Lecturer on Criminal Law and the Law of Evidence at Oxford University, holding that post until 1922, when he appointed Reader in Law at All Souls College, Oxford. In 1925 he was appointed Principal of Jesus College.

In the First World War he was Deputy Controller in the Priority Department of the Ministry of Munitions, from 1915 to 1919, and he was awarded the CBE in 1918.

Dr Hazel lost the West Bromwich seat to William Legge, Viscount Lewisham (1881-1958), the son of the lord of the manor.

Legge entered politics in 1907 as a London County Councillor.

He won the West Bromwich seat in January 1910 and held it until the general election of 1918, when he lost to Labour’s Frederick Roberts.

From 1928 until the death of George V in 1936 he was Deputy Lord Great Chamberlain.

In 1930 he was appointed High Bailiff of Westminster and four years later he was knighted for his services.

In 1936 he inherited his father’s titles and became the 7th Earl of Dartmouth. In the Second World War he served with the Staffordshire Yeomanry in Egypt and Palestine and his only son, also named William, was killed at the Battle of El Alamein.

John Henry Chesshire was the managing director of Izons and Co., the hollowware manufacturers and ironfounders, and he served two terms as mayor of West Bromwich between 1900 and 1902.

These two election leaflets give a flavour of themes that dominated British politics at the time, the class struggle between the “people” and the “peers” which came to a head in 1910, and the thorny problem of Irish Home Rule, which had dominated politics since the 1880s.

The Liberal Party had won a landslide victory in the 1906 general election but the Conservatives still dominated the House of Lords. They took advantage of this to frustrate and block as much Liberal legislation as they could. This led to a constitutional crisis which triggered the January 1910 election.

By tradition the Lords never blocked a government’s budget but in 1909 that did just that.

On 29th April, 1909, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George, presented what became known as the People’s Budget. It proposed many new taxes on the wealthy to fund the Liberals’ social welfare programmes, such as old age pensions. The House of Lords vetoed the budget on 30th November, 1909. In the ensuing general election the Liberals sought a mandate for their budget but also proposed to limit the powers of the Lords.

The political waters were further muddied by the question of Irish independence. The Liberals had been split on the matter since 1885, when Liberal Prime Minister William Gladstone had proposed Irish Home Rule and a large proportion of his party had split to form the Liberal Unionists, who sided with the Conservatives against it.

The general election was held between 15th January and 10th February, 1910 (then elections were not held on a single day but spread over several weeks).

The result was a hung parliament, with the Conservatives gaining the most votes but the Liberals holding the most seats.

The breakdown of seats was as follows: Liberal Party, led by Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, 274 (down 125), Conservative Party, led by Arthur Balfour, 272 (up 116), Arthur Henderson’s Labour Party 40 (up 11), Irish Parliamentary Party, led by John Redmond, 71 (down 11), All-for-Ireland Party, led by William O’Brien, 8 (up 8), plus there were three Independent Irish Nationalist, one Independent Conservative and one Independent Liberal.

Liberals The Liberals were able to remain in government with the support of the IPP. The budget was passed on 29th April, 1910, but the question of Lords reform still remained. Another general election was held in December 1910 but produced a near identical result.

However, the powers of the House of Lords were eventually limited with the passing of the Parliament Act 1911, which removed the Lords’ right to veto finance bills and limited their right of veto over other bills to a maximum of two years’ delay.

The bill was only passed by the Conservative-dominated House of Lords when George V threatened to create enough Liberal peers to overcome the Tory majority.

And what of J. Jones jnr. of Harvills Hawthorne; can anyone tell us something about him? He did not open the election address from Dr Hazel, so perhaps he didn’t vote for him either.

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