Saturday, 22 January 2011

Halcyon Days?

From the LSHG Newsletter # 41 (Spring 2011)
In 1910, Hucknall, in Nottinghamshire, had been represented by the Liberal MP, John E. Ellis, a local colliery owner, since 1885. With an election looming, the prospective candidate for the Conservative Party, Coningsby Disraeli, son of Benjamin, was to speak at a meeting in Hucknall on 18th January 1910. It never happened. The following is from the Hucknall Dispatch, 20th January 1910

Monday - Conservative Canvassers Followed and Hooted
Tuesday - Mr. Disraeli’s Meeting Abandoned and his Workers Assaulted
Wednesday- Destruction of Windows at Conservative Committee Rooms

Such, in brief, is the story to be told this week when scenes have been witnessed which leading citizens of both parties describe as disgraceful. One would have to go far back into history to find a time to equal the events of this week. Certainly the last three Parliamentary contests have furnished no such episodes for it has been possible to hold Conservative meetings up to the eve of the poll, and as for destruction of property that was never attempted during the period mentioned. Really, never was feeling so high as at the present time, and in order to place before our readers a correct statement of affairs, we have, in addition to our own observation, interviewed several persons of both sides.

As the headlines indicate, the first signs of disturbance were noted on Monday night, when a crowd of youths acted as a bodyguard of the Conservative Committee rooms in the Market place, and every person who entered was subjected to derisive shouts, and those who left the premises were followed about the streets and occasionally received tangible evidence that their best plan was to reach a place of safety as soon as possible. Hence, some of them sought refuge in the Half Moon Hotel. However, nothing of a serious nature has to be chronicled for this evening. The rumour was afloat that Mr. Disraeli was in the Committee rooms – which was not true; he had been there, along with Mrs. Disraeli, in the afternoon, nevertheless.

Coming to Tuesday, matters were peaceful enough until the shades of evening began to fall. As is wellknown, a meeting was announced to be held in the Cooperative Hall, to be addressed by Mr. Disraeli. This was not billed to commence until eight o’clock, but in good time there were huge crowds in the neighbourhood of the Market place, and, as on Monday night, the Conservative canvassers were singled out for hostile demonstrations.

It was intended that stewards should be present at the hall door in Ogle street by 7.15, and aided by the police (an extra batch of whom was drafted into the town), it was hoped that as far as possible boys and non-voters would be kept outside. However, by 6.30, there was a crowd of good dimensions round the main entrance in Annesley road (the doors of which were kept fastened), and also in Ogle street. Somehow or other, the door in Ogle street was discovered undone, and by 6.45, the staircase was packed with solid humanity (and "womanity," too as an inventor of phrases remarked). These folk had the advantage of being out of the drizzling rain (the descent of which damped not enthusiasm), but many of them would rather have been in the open air.

Once on the staircase, it was impossible to escape, and for more than two hours some of them remained there packed like sardines in a tin. One or two of the ladies showed signs of fainting, and the windows were opened to give a breathing tonic of fresh air. Upon others, it had the opposite effect, as their stiff necks bear evidence. In addition to those on the staircase, there was a huge number of people in the street, watching and pitying the prisoners on the stairs, and waiting for them to "move on" – which they never did, as we shall presently relate.

At the main entrance in Annesley road, there was a bigger crowd than ever. There was a cordon of police at the doors, but still the crowd surged forward, and those who were first in the hope of obtaining a front seat, found they were prisoners, and unable to escape owing to the pressure from behind. Mr. Bradwell, Conservative agent, and the local workers were unable to reach the doors, and had to telephone to the Cooperative offices and to the police as to the best course to adopt under the circumstances.

The suggestion was made by the latter that, in the interests of public safety, it would be the wisest plan to abandon the meeting. Mr. Bradwell did not like to yield, but after a long consultation, that course was decided upon, as the police could not undertake the responsibility of subsequent events if the meeting was held. Accordingly the light in the hall were turned out. Those outside, however, regarded that as a hoax, but when those on the staircase were turned out, the crowd gradually melted away.

When Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli passed through the town at 6.45 on their way to Newstead, the shouts indicated what was to follow. At Newstead, the candidate found a good meeting awaiting him, and generally speaking, he was accorded a good hearing. Nevertheless, he was frequently informed, "They are waiting for you at Hucknall."

The passing to and from the Conservative Committee rooms of Mr. Bradwell and Mr. Disraeli’s supporters produced ironical cheering, whilst some of them were pelted with stones and lumps of clay, whilst mud was also brought into requisition.

At length the situation became so acute that the local police telephoned to Nottingham for reinforcements, and several constables and an inspector arrived by the train due at Hucknall at 7.41. Still, the noise, crushing, and mud-slinging continued and it was at this stage that it was resolved to abandon the meeting.

Fears were entertained for the personal safety of the candidate, and, seeing that he was accompanied by Mrs. Disraeli, it was deemed a necessary precaution to intercept him, and advise him to keep away from Hucknall. Accordingly Mr. A. Cherry and Mr. I. Rhodes set out on this errand, and happened to meet the candidate on the Wighay, and matters were fully explained. The candidate was very unwilling to adopt this course, but yielding to the pressure of his supporters, and being reminded of the warning of the police, he reluctantly agreed to proceed to Nottingham by
another route, taking Mr. Cherry with them in the car.

A few minutes before eight, Colonel Rolleston, who was to have been chairman, arrived in his motor. On being noticed, the active soldier was cheered by the Conservatives in the crowd, whilst the Liberals saluted him in a different style, as will be imagined. The Colonel left his car, and proceeded up to the doors of the hall, and endeavoured to speak in the neighbourhood. This being out of the question, and recognising that the meeting was also impossible, he proceeded up Annesley road, and afterwards to Watnall Hall.

For fully an hour after the meeting had been abandoned, the greatest excitement prevailed. The police, however, had merely to look on, but their presence acted as a check to [the] destruction of property. Several free fights took place in Annesley road, and some of the people sustained bruises from stones and other missiles. In due course, the singing and shouting ceased, and by 10 o’clock the town had resumed its normal aspect.

As already mentioned, Mr. Cherry proceeded with Mr. and Mrs. Disraeli to Nottingham and returned to Hucknall by a late train. He made a call at the Committee rooms, and then took the course through the Half Moon yard to his home in Derbyshire lane. He had not gone far ere he was the subject of a cruel attack. Against the big doors leading to the back premises, and under the cover of darkness, stood some person unknown, who struck Mr. Cherry across the nose and leg with a weighty stick, and rendered him
almost unconscious. However, he managed to reach his home, his assailant meanwhile having departed from his hiding place. Mr. Cherry is now confined to his house, and under the care of Dr. Coates. No bones were broken, but Mr. Cherry is suffering from shock.

Last night there were further tumultuous scenes at Hucknall, as a result of which all the front windows of the Conservative Committee rooms in the Market place were shattered, and injuries, happily only slight, were inflicted upon two young men.

About 6.30 preparations for the display of lantern views were made from the upper window of the committee rooms, and very soon a crowd commenced to assemble.Two young men from Nottingham were in charge of this item on the programme, and whilst one of them was arranging the canvas, the other threw a picture of Papplewick Chapel on the screen. Notwithstanding that it
was not of a political nature, there was soon a fusilade of stones, brick-ends, and other missiles.

The situation at once assumed an alarming aspect, and one of the lanternists was struck with a stone on his arm, and the other on his neck. Probably thinking they might be quietened in a simple way one of them syringed water on the boys below with a little apparatus for sprinkling the street. It is asserted that not more than a pint of water was thrown down.

It is doubtful if this was a wise course to adopt in the present exciting stages, for in this case a thimbleful was as harmful as a bucketful. Anyway, the effect was opposite to what was contemplated, for there was a cannonade of missiles, and not until every window had been shattered by the boys was anything like peace restored. At each crash of glass there were roars of laughter, which acted as a stimulus to further
misdeeds. It must be stated that Mr. W.J. Calladine, a prominent Liberal, did his best to make peace among the youths. He went among them and advised them not to damage anything but his advice was not heeded.

As soon as possible the police appeared upon the scene. It is asserted, however, that the rowdyism was premeditated, for where had the boys obtained the stones so speedily? Eventually peace reigned but still knots of people lingered long gazing upon the disgraceful spectacle, and discussing the situation generally. At this rate of progress, there is no account what Hucknall will be like before next Wednesday, the polling day.

[Disraeli was defeated by the Liberal candidate, Leif Jones, an ardent temperance campaigner. Such was Hucknall's aversion to Conservative politicians at that time.]

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