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Pivotal election in 1906

By Spalding Today Columnist


The 1906 general election is regarded by political historians as one of the pivotal elections of the 20th century.

A reforming Liberal Party swept to power, ousting a divided and unpopular Conservative government, thanks partly to an electoral pact with the fledgling Labour Party, which was thus able for the first time to establish a significant foothold in the House of Commons.

The incoming government is often considered to have sown the seeds of the subsequent Welfare State. It was nevertheless to be the last time that a general election resulted in a majority Liberal government.

In 1906, the electoral landscape looked very different from today. The House of Commons had 670 seats, largely because the United Kingdom still incorporated the whole of Ireland.

As we are only too well aware, in this year in which we celebrate the achievements of the Suffragist movement, prior to 1918 all women were denied the right to take part in elections.

The outcome in 1906 produced some remarkable anomalies in terms of the representation of the different parties: the Conservative Party gained 43.4 per cent of the popular vote but won only 156 seats, still to this day their worst election result; whereas from 48.9 per cent of the vote, the Liberals won 397 seats. The Irish Parliamentary Party, which was mostly unopposed, won 82 seats with just 33,231 votes, 0.6 per cent of the total.

In the days before TV, radio and social media, elections were much more up-front and personal. Election communications took the form of posters and leaflets and even at that time, the parties were accused of distributing 'fake news' against each other.

But if you wanted to know what policies your local candidates stood for, you had to make the effort to go and listen to them. These two remarkable photographs from the collections of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society show a packed 1906 open-air election rally in front of the old Corn Exchange, which would give way many years later to the South Holland Centre.


It is presumably on behalf of the Liberal candidate, Horace Mansfield - one hand-drawn poster shows the words 'The Passing of [a] Great Shadow'. The size of the crowd is impressive enough, but it is also notable that, although they do not have the vote, a number of women have still been motivated to turn out.

It is tempting to imagine that within a few years they would become supporters of the Suffragists, and on finally achieving the vote, would have exercised it proudly. Horace Mansfield won the seat of Spalding in 1906.

The museum of the Spalding Gentlemen’s Society in Broad Street, Spalding, contains many fascinating reminders of past life, both from the local area and from further afield.

If you would like to know more about us, or even better to become a member of the society, why not come along to one of our open days? Details can be found on our website, sgsoc.org, our Facebook page or in the pages of the Free Press and Guardian. Alternatively, e-mail us at info@sgsoc.org for more information.


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