Photo-a-Day (Friday, 25th February, 2022)
Thorley Smith's descendants
Photo: Tom Walsh (.)
I hope viewers find this article of interest.
The family were the nicest people you could ever wish to meet . After the visit to The Town Hall we made our way the Wigan Cemetery to see Thorley Smith's grave . The new headstone was provide by R Banks Funerals as a gift to the campaign , the old Wigan Coat Arms has been carved into the stone .
'He Served his Generation Faithfully'
In the early 1900s Wigan to many particularly in the Metropolis, would be seen as a political backwater ; how very wrong the 'chattering classes' were to make that assumption. The north of England in general was a hotbed of discontent regarding women's suffrage. (1903: Women's Social and Political Union WSPU is formed ,led by Emmeline Pankhurst) Wigan in particular was, to the astonishment of the establishment in the forefront of rebellion regarding women's enfranchisement. The Wigan result in the 1906 general election would prove this in no uncertain manner, and I'm sure would have sent a collective shiver done the backs of the political elite of the time !
Hubert Sweeny had been selected in 1904(1) to stand for Wigan as the parliamentary candidate for next general election on a 'Votes for Women' platform, incidentally Thorley Smith backed his candidature enthusiastically. A specific committee of the North of England Society for Women's Suffrage , The Lancashire and Cheshire Women's Textile and other Workers Representation Committee were a group of mainly working class suffragists who chose to support a Women's Suffrage candidate in Wigan. Much of the work of the organisation and publicising his candidature was undertaken by a group of suffragist working women, particularly the women led, Wigan and District Weaver,Winders, Reelers and Beamers Association. He also received support from the women of the town in general. Encouragement was to come from all corners of the country and from many leaders of the suffrage movement in its many different guises.
Mrs Pankhurst (WSPU) addressed a public meeting on the 27th January 1904, she moved a resolution, extracts from the report reads. She hoped the worthy example being set by the constituency of Wigan would be very soon followed by other constituencies throughout the country, she further went on to say , She wanted the men of Wigan to set such an example to the whole country that when their grandchildren looked back upon the time when women did not have franchise, the men of Wigan would feel proud of what their fathers had done (2) . This was not to be her last visit to the town , later to give support Thorley Smith after he took up the cudgel on the surprise withdrawal of Sweeny in late1905, leaving little time to choose a replacement. Thorley Smith was chosen as the new candidate on 2nd of January 1906 only a few weeks before the poll. He threw himself it to the battle with great commitment and vigour addressing up three meeting each day.
The reason given as to Sweenys late withdrawal from the fray, was he would loose his livelihood as a head teacher if he stood; there's possibly more than a grain of truth in that assertion , remember that most local authorities adopted the policy, on marriage a women teacher must leave the profession; with the now unbelievable dictate , no questions, no debate, no exceptions. It is unlikely that Sweenys employers would have been supporters of women's rights either at the ballot box or the work place , and may have looked unfavourably on his involvement in what many would see as the 'rabble rousers' of the day. The nagging doubt I have with this synopsis is, he must have known the likely consequences that would ensue when he accepted the nomination in the first place. I can't help but wonder if he didn't have the stomach for the fight. Either way more than a century later we are in the realms of supposition and on balance I think it's reasonable to except the motivation given regarding his employment concerns.
Whatever the reason , Thorley Smith was a more than adequate replacement and it can be argued had a better result given his local connections, I subscribe wholeheartedly that conjecture. It may seem very parochial but I think Sweenys southern accent would not have 'cut the mustard' in Wigan ,especially in the days, before the wireless and other mass spoken communications , when accents could vary wildly from from village to village. Many would find his accent bafflingly and bewilderingly; not to mention his problem with the northern 'lingo' which when spoken broadly would seem like a foreign language to the unaccustomed ear ! Not everyone was pleased with his decision to stand on a suffrage ticket including his colleagues in the local Labour Party who refused to back his candidature, whilst they had been happy to support Hubert's Sweeny's 'tilt'. This must have been a hammer blow but the brave man that he was, he determined to carry on without their blessing. Nationally it was a different matter , a few years ago, fortunately and quite by chance I came across a letter from Keir Hardie sent to his agent and published in The Wigan Observer,during the campaign, the next paragraph contains the transcript of the letter verbatim.
Dear Sir- it is now quite certain I shall not be able to get to Wigan before the election,as I shall need to be in my constituency where the election takes place on the 18th. I regret this,as I feel the presence in the House of Commons of a member able to devote his special attention to the claims of women for political enfranchisement would be of great help,and I heartily commend Mr .Thorley Smiths candidature to the electors of a Wigan - Yours faithfully J. Keir Hardie.( 3)
This letter must have more then made up for his disappointment of being abandoned by the party locally and must have acted a great incentive to carry the banner of universal suffrage; knowing that he was far from alone in the labour movement. He was a Labour member of Wigan Council so it must have been difficult for him to work with the local party after ignoring their urging not to stand however he was clearly a man who put conscience before party, a rare commodity in politics !
During the fortnight Women's Suffrage campaign over 80 meeting were held in Wigan (4 ) Due to lack of funds the campaign was fought on a shoestring with most political meeting held in the open (5) Thorley Smiths 'doughty henchwomen' i e Wigan working weavers addressed four meeting each day at factory gates on street corners at the gas works and tram sheds anywhere they could find a male voter. Thorley Smith supported by visiting women speakers held two or three open-air meeting each evening ; this remember in the depths of winter . His election campaign reflected his Labour leanings ,he promised to support and campaign for all current organised labour platforms whilst at the same time giving Women's Suffrage his first priority. Thorley Smith claimed to be the first to stand on a purely Women's Suffrage platform. to date I found nothing to contradict that assertion; Mrs Pankhurst remarks mentioned earlier also seem to lend credence to his claim; whether he was first or not he was certainly in the vanguard.
On election day,Thorley Smith was seen accompanied by six political 'Amazons ' who 'amazed the natives ', as they drove through Wigan in a carriage pulled by four horses with two women out riders, the leaders and individuals of various women's groups active in Wigan .In the carriage were Mrs Pankhurst, Eva Gore-Booth, Esther Roper,Selina Cooper, Sarah Reddish and Dora Monetfiore. (6) What a stare this must have caused and I'm sure did no harm to his candidature.quite the opposite I would have thought.
The result of the election was - Sir Francis Sharp Powell Cons. 3,573 votes Thorley Smith Women's Suffrage 2,205 votes William Woods Liberal 1,900 votes.
Thorley Smith secured almost 29% of the vote pushing the liberal into third place . The result was all the more remarkable when viewed in context of the national result. The Liberals, led by Prime Minister Henry Campbell-Bannerman, won a landslide majority at the election. The Conservatives led by Arthur Balfour, lost more than half their seats, including party leader Balfour's own seat in Manchester East, leaving them with their lowest ever number of seats.
The election saw a 5.4% swing from the Conservative Party to the Liberal Party, the largest ever seen at the time ,however, if only looking at seats contested in both 1900 and 1906, the Conservative vote fell by 11.6%). This has resulted in the 1906 general election being dubbed the "Liberal landslide", and is now ranked alongside the 1931, 1945, 1983 and 1997 General Elections as one of the largest landslide election victories . On these figures ,without Thorley Smith the Liberals could have reasonably expected to take Wigan. The Wigan result must have sent shock waves through the establishment, and I sure give them food for thought at the very least ! The astonishment didn't stop at London The Wigan Examiner pronounced ' We cannot believe there are 2,205 suffragists among Wigan voters" (8)
I recently located his grave in Wigan Cemetery, to my chagrin the headstone was in an appalling condition after highlighting it in The Wigan Observer, a local business has offered to fund a replacement. Wigan Council have also indicated that they are minded to celebrate his life by placing a plaque to his memory on The Town Hall. To be erected in 2018, a year with special significance, the centenary of first giant step along the way to universal suffrage finally achieved in 1928. I am proud that Wigan, Thorley Smith and my forebears played no small part in achieving that much overdue validity.
His life can be summed up by those who knew him best ,his family ,on his gravestone they choose the epitaph ' He Served his Generation Faithfully '. What a wonderful tribute to a brave and principled man !
1 Wigan Observer 6th Jan.1904.
2 Wigan Observer 27th Jan. 1904.
3 Wigan Observer Jan 1906.
4 Jill Liddleton and Jill Norris, One Hand Tied behind us.
5 Appeal Esther Roper Working Class Movement Library,Salford.
6 Wigan Examiner 20th Jan 1906.
7 BBC NEWS - Programmes- BBC Parliament- 1906:' The Liberal landslide '
8 Wigan Examiner 20th Jan. 1906.
A special thank you to Alex Miller, Yvonne Eckersley and Rita Fell, Museum of Wigan Life.
You can see it in their faces that they are all related
Is that the front of what was the Wigan Mining college ?
Lovely photo, Tom. You're looking well!
Who was Thorley Smiths?
They must be very proud of their ancestry. Good for you Tom in meeting them after all the research you have done.
From approx 1992, one of the regular deliveries for my lorries was
deliveries of up to 800 burial gowns per week from Thorley Smiths
factory on Clayton Street. They were for delivery to Co-operative
Funeral Service at Bogmoor Place in Glasgow. It worked well for the
next 15 years because of regular weekly deliveries we did to Remploy
factories at Clydebank, Stirling, Cowdenbeath, Leven, & Dundee.
nice entrance tom must see to my front door
"Ahhhhhh., Thorley Smith"?
"Never heard of him"!
A very interesting read Tom, thank you.Lovey photo of the family too.
Thanks for a lovely day out and insight of my partners ancestry. It was very kind of you to meet up with us. We all enjoyed the visit and kept Alf who is now 86 , in the picture of his great uncle Thorley Smith