Saturday, 16 April 2016

That bye-election and a defeat for the Government, ....... Farnworth January 1938

Rally for George Tomlinson on the day of the election on Bridgewater Street
Now I wasn’t going to feature another story on Worktown for a while but have been drawn back for a pack of reasons.

They are after all a wonderful collection of images of life in Bolton in the 1930s.

Secondly I have found my copy of the photographs that Humphrey Spender took* and finally because they feed my own interest in all things to do with elections.

The entire collection can be viewed at BOLTON WORKTOWN, PHOTOGRAPHY AND ARCHIVES FROM MASS OBSERVATION and range from people on trams, out shopping and relaxing in pubs to children paying in the park and just images of street life.

For me though it is those pictures which cover the Farnworth by-election which I find fascinating.  They include photographs of the election posters, the public meetings as well as campaigning on the streets and voting day.

It was an industrial seat dominated by coal mining, textiles and the railway works and from 1922 with the exception of 1931 had returned Labour MPs.

The sudden death of Guy Rowson who had represented Farnworth since 1935 occasioned the by-election.**

It was a contest between George Tomlinson for Labour and Herbert Ryan standing as a National Government candidate.

Mr Tomlinson had started work at the age of 11 as a half-timer in a weaving shed, and “when he stood for election his job was selling home brewed beer.  He used to go round Farnworth with a cart and everybody loved him.  He wasn’t a very well-educated fellow, but crikey, when he spoke he was the best speaker I heard of all the lot.”

The issues ranged from the economy to the prospects for peace and the threat of another European war, so while posters for the National Government emphasised the low levels of unemployment in Farnworth, Labour ran the slogan LABOUR AND PEACE which echoed its General Election poster of three years earlier.

In the event, George Tomlinson defeated the National Government candidate, Herbert Ryan by 24,298 votes to 16,835.

This was an old fashioned election campaign with well attended public meetings, Heath Robinson style posters on horse drawn carts, and legions of children dressed out with hand held banners and paper hats processing around the constituency.

And at the heart of it all were Humphrey Spender’s photographs.

At a National Government election meeting at the Co-op Hall
Some capture the intense concentration of the audience listening to the political points being made at meetings, the gaggle of children following the novelty of the speaker car or the election conversation over the garden gate between party activist and voter.

All of them are vivid and immediate and have a directness which belies the fact that this election was held seventy-five years ago and the style of electioneering he recorded has all but vanished.

So I recommend the election photographs at the Bolton site

*Worktown People, Humphrey Spender, Falling Wall Press, 1982

**Local Elections Archive,

Election cart on Mount Street on the day of the election
***Harry Gordon, quoted from Worktown People.  Before his election George Tomlinson had been a local councillor and went on to be Minister of Education in the Labour Government after the war.

Pictures; courtesy of Bolton Library Museum Services, from the collections 1993.83.26.27, 1993.83.16.31, 1993.83.29.17, and poster from the 1935 General Election, from Labour Party Archives

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