Stoke-on-Trent Local History





Federation of the six towns
31st March 1910 saw the federation of the
six towns to form the County Borough of Stoke-on-Trent



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Federation article by local historian - Fred Hughes

People who made the Potteries
Parliamentary Elections - Pt 1

Britain’s two-party adversarial system began with the Whigs and the Tories in 1783. It also meant that the party with the most parliamentary seats held power irrespective of the number of votes it obtained. 

The Whigs evolved into the Liberal Party and the Tories became Conservatives. By 1900 the influence of trade unions and extensions of the franchise gave birth to the Labour Party replacing the Liberals as the party of choice for the working classes. 

Throughout the 20th century factional wings of these three political forces spawned splinter groups, the most prominent being the Liberal Democrats. And there you have it – a crude history of British politics in a nutshell.

In 1832 Stoke-on-Trent elected its first MPs, both pottery manufacturers. Josiah Wedgwood II was a Liberal and John Davenport a Conservative. It was the Liberals, though, who set the model of electing MPs associated with industry even though few were locally born. 

Two Liberals in 1868 were George Melly, a Liverpool ship owner, and Wolverhampton-born William Roden, the managing-director of Shelton Steel works. Two subsequent MPs, William Woodall, a Salopian, and Henry Broadhurst from Oxford, were also elected as Liberal MPs in 1880. William Leatham Bright came from Rochdale, while Douglas Harry Coghill – MP for both Newcastle and Stoke-on-Trent on separate occasions – was brought up in Cheltenham.

When Melly retired in 1874 Stoke-on-Trent elected the weirdest MP in its parliamentary history. He was an Irish barrister named Edward Kenealy who unsuccessfully defended ‘Palmer the Poisoner’ the prolific Rugeley murderer. Kenealy himself was disbarred from office while defending his client in the notorious Tichborne fraud case, making a bad career move by accusing the judge of incompetence. 

For some reason his bizarre background charmed the citizens of Hanley when, standing as an independent, he implausibly beat the Liberal candidate, the Sentinel’s editor, Thomas Andrews Potter. Kenealy was so disliked by his fellow MPs that no one would introduce him to take his seat in the House, and it was left to an unenthusiastic Prime Minister, Disraeli, to personally admit him. 

Kenealy was seen as a troublemaker whose only contribution to the parliamentary process was to call for a Royal Commission to re-examine the Tichborne case so he could overturn his expulsion from the bar. He lost by 433 to 3 votes – his own and his teller’s vote and another MP who, it was said, was too drunk to understand the motion. 

The 1906 election moulded the features of present-day politics. With more than 5.5million people then able to vote the Liberals clung to power with less than fifty-percent of the turnout. It was this election that saw the birth of the Labour Party with 29 MPs led by Kier Hardie. 

There were then five North Staffordshire constituencies – two county divisions, Leek and North Western; and the boroughs of Stoke-on-Trent, Hanley and Newcastle. All five returned Liberal members of whom the most notable was, another Josiah Wedgwood, the first Baron Wedgwood and great-great grandson of the iconic potter Josiah. 

Becoming a single North Staffordshire unitary authority was a preference of most local manufacturers and the Wedgwood’s were known to support its projection. Cecil Wedgwood, Stoke-on-Trent’s first mayor in 1910, was the driver behind the city federation and his cousin, Josiah Clement, popularly known as Jos, wanted it extended to include Newcastle-under-Lyme. In 1929/30, though, he changed his mind and campaigned passionately against a proposed Stoke-on-Trent and Newcastle merger. To the cynical it seemed to be an act of disingenuous politicking. Nevertheless he was rewarded with the mayoralty of Newcastle in 1931. 

Jos was Newcastle’s Liberal MP from 1906 until in 1919 when it was said that he signed up to Labour under pressure from North Staffordshire miners who advised him they would put up their own Labour candidate if he didn’t. 

A darker corner of his life was revealed in 1913 when his wife and first cousin, Ethel Kate Bowen, left him. Divorce at that time required a guilty party so it was arranged for Jos to be caught in the company of an accommodating female confessing to adultery and desertion of his wife and seven children. 

The scandal led to serious denunciation, not so much for his matrimonial indiscretion than for the stage-managed performance of his infidelity. Soon afterwards he married his real love Florence Willatt; too soon perhaps to prevent further judgmental comment. 

Jos inaccurately saw himself as a radical. He desperately sought political elevation but never quite made it; his best shot was as cabinet minister as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. In a letter to his daughter Camilla in 1942, he tellingly wrote – ‘I have been everywhere, seen everything, known everybody; done everything – but achieved nothing.’ 

You could say it is a sentiment that may be echoed by the majority of the retiring 646 MPs of the current parliament. 

next: Parliamentary Elections Pt 2
previous: Stoke-on-Trent MP's
contents: Index page for Federation