Monday, 1 August 2016

Another story from Tony Goulding .......... CHORLTONS "POLITICAL" CLUBS

What follows is an investigation into the changing fortunes of Chorlton-cum-Hardy's "political" associations and how these reflect changes in the social structure and the political life of the locality. 

The Conservative Club
Ignoring the recent rise of the "fringe" parties U.K.I.P. and the Green Party one only needs to look at the presence of the three main historic parties. Of these the first to make an appearance were the Conservatives who opened their club

 The “Manchester Courier-------" of 2nd May carries a report of the laying of this club's foundation stone, on 25th April, which is very revealing of the social make up of both the Conservative Party and the prominent citizenry of the township.

It tells how the land was donated by Lord Egerton and the ceremony was carried out by Sir William and Lady Cunliffe Brooks preceded by a procession of carriages from their home at Barlow Hall.

Almost a year to the day later on the 23rd April, 1892 amid even greater pomp, the building, complete with an 800 seat capacity Public Hall on the first floor, was opened by Lady Egerton.  Lord Cross, a one-time M.P. for South-West Lancashire and former Home Secretary under both Disraeli and Lord Salisbury, was also present. The Conservative Party supporting "--- Courier --- " again carried

The Manchester Courier, 23 April 1892
An enthusiastic report which included a pencil sketch of the new structure as well as a detailed breakdown of all its rooms.

The next decade witnessed a considerable growth in the number and influence of the professional middle classes as well as a number  of merchants who were more inclined towards Liberalism than the Conservative party backing landed aristocracy.

Hence, by 1901 the Liberals had also opened a club, all be it on a smaller, less ostentatious, scale also on Manchester Road.

This club is still open, now known as “The Lauriston” seemingly from the original name of the building as revealed on its gatepost. (1)

Turning now to The Labour Party's organisation in Chorlton-cum-Hardy, there were Socialists active in Chorlton-cum-Hardy as early as the opening decade of the 20th. Century. (2)

The Lauriston Club, 
In these early days they tended to make what use they could of existing meeting places.

It was not until the advent of an enlarged Independent Labour Party after the First World War, which coincided with a rapid rise in the number of working class residents with the building of a number of council housing estates, that a Labour Hall in Chorlton-cum-Hardy became feasible.

Indeed the 1933, street directory records that the Labour Party occupied premises in Manchester Road, at No. 21A.  As this picture of 1959

(A. E. Landers – M 18059)
shows it was certainly large enough to host meetings and social events However, the Labour Party also made use of a building on Barlow Moor Road opposite where the side entrance to the precinct is now.(3)

I suspect that some use was also made of Co- Operative Society buildings for Labour gatherings in the area.
The future fortunes of these clubs very largely reflect the changing patterns of local and more especially national politics.

The hay-days for the Liberal Club came in the early to mid 1920's  when the local prominent Liberals Ernest (4) and Sheena Simon served as Lord Mayor and Mayoress of Manchester for 1921-2 and in the following years became respectively, twice briefly M.P. for Withington and Chorlton Ward's first Liberal councillor.

The decline in support for the Liberals in the middle of the last century led to the ending of its link with the premises on Manchester Road.

The club, however, continued to be known as "The Liberal Club”, with the addendum “non-political" into the 1980's before being given its present name on its re-opening following a fire.

The Conservative Club lasted much longer, unsurprisingly since from its opening until 1974, (5) with the exception of Labour's 1945 landslide victory, Chorlton consistently returned a Conservative member to parliament. Despite losing most of its local and national representatives (6) over the next two decades, no doubt aided by the party's national profile during the Thatcher years, the club remained open.

Following the Labour Party's 1997 election success allied to a total wipe-out of Conservative representation on Manchester City Council the closure of such a large Conservative Club became inevitable.

©Tony Goulding, 2016

Pictures. The Conservative Club and Lauriston Club from the collection of Tony Goulding and no 21a Manchester Road, 1959, A. E. Landers – m18059, courtesy of Manchester Libraries, Information and Archives, Manchester City Council,

1)  Quite likely named in honour of the initial owner, Henry C. Lloyd's late wife and first child both named Laura.

2) These early Socialists though no doubt small in number obviously enjoyed some success in what they saw as their main rolls in this overwhelmingly Conservative area  that of bearing witness to and spreading the Socialist message. They were sufficiently well organised to attract some influential speakers to their meetings. On 11th October 1907 Sir John Gorst, a former Conservative minister who had defected to the Liberals was invited to give a speech on “Obstacles to Social Reform”. The following March Victor Grayson, the maverick Socialist M.P. for Colne, Lancashire, gave an oration at a somewhat turbulent meeting, in what must have been a bit of a coup for the local socialists, at the Public Hall attached to the Conservative Club. This is the same Victor Grayson who was to mysteriously vanish in London in September, 1920.

4) Ernest's full name was the impressive Ernest Emil Darwin. He was the son of Henry a German born engineer and industrialist and lost three younger brothers (2 majors and a captain) killed on the Western Front during World War 1.  Among many other things he is known as the man who purchased Wythenshawe Park from Lord Tatton and donated it to the City of Manchester in 1926.

5) The two elections of 1974 were won for Labour by Frank Hatton  After his death in 1978 the seat was held for Labour in a by-election and a General Election the following year by George Morton;  both these latter elections were also contested by the famous actress Vanessa Redgrave on behalf of The Workers Revolutionary Party.

6) One of the area's last Conservative M.P.'s was none other than the grandson of war time leader Winston Churchill also Winston Spencer who served as M.P. for Stretford 1970-83 then Davyhulme from 1983-97.

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