A LINCOLNSHIRE POACHER
Contributed by Steve Woods
Sleaford has never been a hotbed of political radicalism. But a postcard in the SMT collection (F075) reminds us of a brief interlude before the First World War when the town found itself with a Member of Parliament who definitely did not fit the patrician mould characteristic of this constituency. The postcard is a cartoon of Arnold Lupton, a mining engineer from Yorkshire, who was selected as the Radical (Liberal) candidate in the 1906 general election. His Unionist (Conservative) opponent in a 2 horse race was Henry Chaplin, the Squire of Blankney Hall, who had represented Sleaford, and previously Mid-Lincolnshire, since 1868. In an all-male, property-dependent electorate, Chaplin was in effect a fixture.
The Sleaford Gazette reported at length a Conservative rally at the Corn Exchange in January 1906. After an enthusiastic audience (infiltrated by a number of 'Radical rioters') had been warmed up by the Sleaford Excelsior Band, the speeches began. Alderman Jessopp, introducing the main speaker, did his best to make his voice heard above the uproar…He strongly condemned 'the action of those who had no vote and consequently no voice in this Election, doing their utmost to prevent those who were voters, who had come there at great inconvenience, from hearing the views of the speakers'.[Loud cheers]. His peroration concluded: 'For 37 years this Division, the welfare of which depended almost entirely upon agriculture, had been splendidly represented in Parliament by Mr H.Chaplin, and were they going to turn away and give their support to a man not interested in agriculture, and who was here to-day and gone to-morrow. Mr Chaplin was the premier champion of the agricultural interest, and it would be a great shame if every man and woman [sic] in the Division did not give him their cordial support'. [Loud cheers].
Chaplin now addressed the meeting and, in a wide-ranging survey, ran through the contemptible views of his opponent. 'The Squire was in fine fighting form and his speech elicited loud and frequent applause' .In due course he came to the question of the franchise. 'His [Chaplin's] opponent was also in favour of the abolition of all laws which deprived women of the right of voting, or any other right possessed by men. [Laughter]. This was nothing but the height of absurdity, and he had nothing more to say on the subject'.
In the wider world, however, political change was afoot. Joseph Chamberlain, who some years earlier had defected from the Liberals to the Conservatives, was advocating Tariff Reform, and this had now become the official policy of the Balfour government. In a nutshell, this was a protectionist measure designed to safeguard British industry and the economic interests of the Empire from 'unfair' cheap foreign competition. The Liberals, with their trademark commitment to Free Trade, were resolutely opposed to any restrictions on imports. More specifically, the Liberals advanced the claim that the working man and his family had been beneficiaries of affordable wheat and other agricultural products from the U.S. and elsewhere outside the Empire. An election poster, displayed all over the country, declared: 'Mr Chamberlain proposes to tax your food. Balfour and Chamberlain are linked together against Free Trade. Don't be deceived by Tory tricks'.This message had a dramatic effect on the electorate and led to the defeat of the Conservative government, and many of its most illustrious members.(Comparisons with 1997 are inevitable). When the count at Sleaford Sessions House was complete, the result was :
Mr Arnold Lupton (R) 4355
The Rt. Hon. H. Chaplin (U) 4062
Chaplin did not have to lick his wounds for very long. He was shortly after selected to fight a by-election at Wimbledon, and proceeded to serve as its MP until 1916, giving him one of the longest parliamentary careers on record. (A picture presents itself of Chaplin and Lupton eyeballing one another across the gangway).
The new member for Sleaford, for all his idiosyncrasies, (he believed that the policy of mass vaccination was causing 100,000 deaths a year in Britain) did subscribe to much of the mainstream non-conformist Liberal thinking on the major issues of the day. For example, this 'pro-Zulu, pro-Kaffir, pro-Coolie' member was opposed to the use of indentured Chinese labour, 'subsisting on bread and syrup' in the gold mines of the Transvaal. The Gazette reported Chaplin's declaration that 'Mr Lupton would vote against cruel and unnecessary military expeditions such as that in South Africa. In other words, he would have counselled a runaway policy and submission to Mr Kruger's insolent proposals. He [Chaplin] knew of no other man who called himself an Englishman who would be prepared to accept a policy of that kind'.
Lupton was also an advocate of state pensions for the elderly, and in 1908 the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, David Lloyd George introduced an Old Age Pensions Act. This provided a (means tested) 5s a week for individuals over 70 and of good character. Couples received 7s 6d. Not surprisingly, the price of this and other progressive reforms was an increase in income tax and certain property taxes. In a low wage economy like that of Sleaford, a number of voters now found themselves paying income tax for the first time, at 9d in the pound.
The local unpopularity of these new costs was astutely manipulated by Edmund Royds, the new Conservative candidate, when another general election was announced for January 1910. He would strongly oppose any measure which would increase the cost of living of the working classes. Nevertheless, he was in favour of pensions for the elderly, and indeed he was also 'desirous of extending the benefit of the Old Age Pension to aged persons in receipt of outdoor relief'. And he was, of course, pledged to maintain the constitution of King, Lords and Commons. In the first of 2 general elections that year, normal service was resumed in Sleaford, and Arnold Lupton's parliamentary career came to an end. Even so, his maverick reputation was to endure for several years, and land him in hot water more than once.
To reiterate the point made earlier, Sleaford's political default setting in this era was always conservative, and even deferential. But looking at the local press coverage of events on the hustings in the decades before the First World War, the reader gets a strong sense of an earlier, almost Hogarthian, style of electioneering. In 1889 the Marquess of Salisbury appointed Chaplin as President of the Board of Agriculture. The law at that time required the appointee to resign his seat and offer himself to his constituency in a by-election. The convention in these cases was that the candidate would be unopposed.
On this occasion, however, the Liberals decided to contest the seat. Much animosity was generated by this decision, and several election meetings in the constituency ended in uproar. 'Disorderly roughs' from both camps invaded opposition meetings, determined to put a stop to the lies of their opponents. A Liberal meeting in Metheringham (at this time, virtually an estate village of the Chaplins) was overrun, according to a correspondent for the Yorkshire Post, by 'a band of Tories, chiefly farmers' sons. When the Liberal candidate, Mr Otter, and Mrs Otter arrived they were received with every form of execration by the Tories outside, and were violently jostled. The Tories rushed into the room after the speakers, and, taking up a position near the platform, hooted continuously so that not one word could be heard.
After an hour of continuous noise, Mr Otter had to leave for another meeting. He was allowed to go unmolested. Then the Tory roughs broke from the control of the organisers of the disturbance and stormed the platform, seized the Chairman and thrust him from the room. Mr Fox was struck across the head with a stick as he was being hustled from the room.'… 'Addressing a meeting at Harmston on Saturday night, Mr Chaplin said he regretted what had taken place at Metheringham. He believed that the real cause of the disturbance was the very great irritation which had been aroused amongst many of his own supporters by the assault that was committed on him at the close of the meeting on the previous evening in Dunston. On that occasion he and his friends were assaulted by a volley of stones.' The upshot of these frank exchanges of views was a victory for Chaplin.20 years later, Edwardian Sleaford could still provide its electorate with a lively illustration of the franchise in action. As the campaign for the first 1910 election entered its final stages, Arnold Lupton was due to address a meeting in Silk Willoughby. Perhaps sensing that he might not be entirely among friends, he arrived accompanied by some 'minders'. According to the Gazette, certain farmers in the audience told him plainly that they would not be intimidated by any strong-arm tactics. The meeting came to an early close. Sleaford's four year infatuation with a parvenu was drawing to an end.
Afterword: During the 1910 campaigns, Morton the printer was advertising 'splendid postcards of E.Royds, Esq, price 1d', as well as large photographs. Have any of these, or postcards of Henry Chaplin survived, perhaps now gathering dust in a local loft? They would be valuable additions to the SMT collection. I have not had an opportunity to look at our copy (J051) of the Chaplin Memoir.