HAHG Lecture: The General Election of 1906

by Baron Adolf de Meyer, platinum print, 1912

Members of the Henley Archaeological and Historical Group enjoyed another talk by Michael Redley about Victorian and Edwardian Henley on 5th February, this time about the General Election of 1906 in which the Liberal candidate was successful.

The 1906 election was contested in the aftermath of the South African war, which had made the Conservative government unpopular. The Conservatives fought their campaign supporting the use of tariffs to protect UK producers against cheap foreign imports. The Liberals encouraged free trade, pointing out that this would keep food prices down for working people; the Conservatives countered that it was better for workers to keep their jobs, even if it meant higher prices. A further cause for resentment was the Education Act making funding for primary schools subject to the influence of the Anglican Church and requiring ‘faith tests’ for school teachers to ensure adherence to Anglican doctrine – angering the many non-conformist voters in the constituency.

The Liberal candidate in Henley was Philip Morrell, of the Oxford brewing family, and his rival was Robert Hermon-Hodge, of Wyfold Court. Hermon-Hodge received support from influential local people, notably Frederick Smith, Viscount Hambleden, but Morrell was helped by his wife, the society lady, Ottoline Morrell (pictured), who proved popular during the campaign. The Liberal party won a landslide victory nationally, but locally Lady Ottoline’s influence may have played a key part, particularly in the outlying villages where agricultural labourers had to be persuaded to defy their employers and vote Liberal.

The success of the Liberals in Henley was short-lived – the next election in January 1910 was won by Valentine Fleming, the Conservative candidate, of Joyce Grove, Nettlebed, with an 11.3% swing. And Conservative candidates have held Henley ever since.

Next month’s talk will be on 5 March and given by Janet Hurst, entitled ‘Bridging the Gap’, about the roles of Goring and Streatley in road, river and rail communications.