Sunday, 12 March 2017

With Alice McIlwrick, fighting elections in the 1920s in Chorlton and Didsbury

Alice McIlwrick should be remembered.

She was the first Labour candidate to contest a local election here in Chorlton in the November of 1928 and she did very well gaining 14% of the vote.*

But beyond some brief details of her role in the election campaign there was little I could find out about her.

Not that I ever forgot Alice, and I always told myself that at some point something new would turn up and of course it did.  In this case from her grandson who posted a comment on my orginal story.

Tony McIlwrick lives in Scotland and he wrote

“Alice McIlwrick (1881-1964) was my grandmother. She married in 1919 and had two children. She was a graduate and a strong believer in the value of education - both her children went to Manchester University, her son becoming an electrical engineer and her daughter becoming a GP. 

As well as education she was also an ardent feminist and held strong left wing views. Her husband's parents had emigrated to Kansas from Manchester in the 1880's but following the premature death of his mother Frederick McIlwrick and his two young siblings were brought to Manchester and raised by a maternal aunt. Frederick, Alice and their two children lived in Parrs Wood Road in the early 1920's but in 1926 moved to Barlow Moor Road where they stayed until 1945 when they moved to Bowdon, Altrincham. 

In 1961 Frederick & Alice moved to Davenham, near Northwich to live with their daughter and it was there that she died.”

This was all I needed to reignite the search and sure enough in the course of the morning I came across a reference to their marriage and the celebration of their daughter’s coming of age in 1943 and some tantalizing hints of a concert career as a contralto in the early 1920s.

Along the way I uncovered Frederick’s 1911 census return.

And then I was drawn back to the politics.

She was the first and for many years the only Labour candidate to have fought the Didsbury ward in a municipal election which accordng to the Labour historian Rhys Davies was a real challenge “in that forsaken quarter, knowing what our fate must be.”  Neverthess “after much thought and doubt, Mrs McIlwrick, B.A., an ardent Labourite, a very forcible speaker, well versed in municipal affairs decided to don our colours, in a by-election there on May 17th 1927.”**

The result was not really in question, with the Conservative candidate gaining 55% of the vote, the Liberal 34% and Alice garnering 11%.

But this was a significant achievement for the Labour party given “that our cause was so weak that there was hardly any help forthcoming even on the day of the poll.”

And rereading the accounts of the two elections she fought here in Chorlton in the November and December of 1928 there is no doubting that she was a formidable politican.

The Manchester Guardian had reported that she was a serious candidate who would do well in the contest, a view endorsed by the Labour Party who sent its M.P., R J Davies and the Councillor Wright Robinson to speak on the same platform.

And the record shows that she gained 14% of the vote in the November election and despite a much lower turn out in the following month lost only 2% at the December by-election.

The years either side of that election saw the Labour Party strengthen it postion.  In 1923 it formed its first ever government and  became the largest party in the House of Commons six years later.

And these were the years when Alice was particularly active here in south Manchester.

The posters from the 1924 General Election at the beginning of the story would have been familiar enough to her and would have been the first Labour posters supporting a parliamentary candidate to be posted up in Chorlton.

The years after the Great War had seen unemployment increase particularly in the old traditional heavy industries and touched on that feeling that the country had not become a  place “fit for heroes.”

Nor had that basic problem of unemployment gone away.  Only once did the figure of those out of work drop below 8% during the decade and so Labour’s call for the country to turn out the Conservatives coupled with an appeal to woman to vote Labour “for the children’s sake did not go unheeded.

Nationally Labour gained 287 seats while in Withington which included Chorlton Labour took 16% of the vote which was an increase of 7% five years earlier.

I would love to know Alice’s part in all of this and I rather think it will not be long before it is revealed.

Pictures; Labour Party campaign posters from 1924 and 1929

*When all eyes were on Chorlton, the local elections of 1928,

** Socialism in Surburbia, Rhys Davies, 1930

See also Posters from the 20th century,

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