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Reminiscences and Reflections of an Octogenarian Highlander Chapter LXXV. - Keighley Parties and Politics

FROM the Revolution of 1688 to the passing of the Reform Bill of 1832, the freeholders of Keighley followed the lead of their Cavendish Lords, who belonged to the old Whig and Protestant Reformation aristocracy, and had been enriched directly by Catholic Church spoils in the sixteenth century, and succeeded to more of it by intermarriages in subsequent ages. The passing of the Reform Bill had no weakening effect on the allegiance of the Keighley voters; but new parties complaining of grievances and calling for enfranchisement appeared on the scene, and the coming of the borough household franchise, in 1867, modified without revolutionising the traditional political situation. I think the Duke of Devonshire, who died in 1858, either through his own fault, or the altered state of things through the growth of local industries, must have held the reins loosely, and lost much of the dominating influence exercised by his predecessors. He was succeeded by his cousin, William Cavendish, Earl of Burlington, a distinguished Cambridge scholar, who, before his succession to his grandfather's peerage, represented that University in Parliament. He was also one of the earliest Chancellors of the University of London. Although a Whig magnate by birth and training, and an adherent of the Manchester School of political economists by conviction, he had no ambition for taking the leading part he could have done in public life, and no liking for city life and society. He loved rural life, and cultivated a studious life as far as the conscientious management of his large and largely separated estates gave him leisure to do so. He was deeply interested in agricultural and horticultural affairs, and dealt with rent-roll more as a revenue for carrying out improvements than as an income which he had a right to spend with individual irresponsibility. He left active politics to his two elder sons, Spencer Compton, Marquis of Hartington, his heir and successor, who refused to follow Gladstone in his plunge into the bog of Irish Home Rule and disunion, and later on, as Duke of Devonshire, refused to look with favour, or tolerance, at Tariff Reform for safeguarding British trade and consolidating the British Empire. His second son, Lord Frederick Cavendish, was a rising politician, when his career was cut short by being assassinated along with Mr Burke in the Phoenix Park, Dublin. The third son, whose son is now Duke of Devonshire, took small part in political life.

If the Cavendish influence waned to some extent between 1832 and 1858, it waxed again under Duke William, and was not much shaken by household suffrage given to boroughs in 1867, and extended to the counties in 1885. Until Mr Gladstone betook himself to inspirational plungings, there was, for twenty years after the repeal of the Corn Laws, a sort of transitional period in party politics, during which almost all the inhabitants of this district, with the exception of a few uncompromising and inconvincible Tories like Mr Ferrand, were ardent Free-traders, and thought they had got free trade in free imports, which for a pretty long time improved trade, as well as cheapened food. Mr Ferrand made himself the headsman of the Eldon School Tories, not only in his native parish of Bingley, where he was the chief landowner, but in the whole district from Bradford to the upper end of Craven. His thorough Tory followers, however, were numerically few, and his prophecies of coming tariff wars and rural depopulation were disregarded as the heated fancies of an intemperate man. On the other hand, this extreme Tory of loud voice, strong personality, thorough knowledge of the people of his district, with kindly interest in their welfare from the standpoint of feudal relationship with them, had, by the prominent part he had taken in passing the Factory Acts, earned the respect and gratitude of the working classes in spite of his Toryism and their Radicalism, which, indeed, was greater in supposition than in reality, as future events brought to light. Duke William was not a resident proprietor, but merely an annual visitor in the shooting season to Bolton Abbey, but he was a kindly and improving landlord, a Whig Freetrader, and a man who admirably managed his large scattered estates, on the improvement of which he spent much of his princely revenue for the benefit of the inhabitants more than for the return the outlays were ever likely to yield to himself and his successors. In knowledge of agricultural affairs, and in sympathy with farmers and working people, he was not much inferior to Mr Ferrand himself.

When new machinery and steam power superseded the old handicraft industries which used to be carried on in towns, villages, and isolated homes, in conjunction with agricultural and pastoral pursuits, the richer class of natives of Keighley built mills and set up ir D works, and workshops for collective industries. More exclusively than, I think, in any other part of the West Riding, the heads of Keigliley tirms of all kinds were, between 1860 and 1880, the descendants of inhabitants of the place, whose names were to be found in the muster roll for Flodden and in the local records and documents of the reign of Queen Elizabeth Under the monks of Bolton, and the Cliffords and Cavendishes, a middle class of yeoman gentry had arisen and taken hereditary root in the soil, who led the lower class of feudal vassals and labourers, and in peace and war served as henchmen of their over-lords. In Keighley the hereditary loyalty of the newly- enriched and thoroughly independent captains of the new order of things survived the abolition of the feudal system and the industrial and political revolution.

The visit of Burns to Inverary chanced to be ill- timed, for it happened when the place was crowded by important county visitors, who had gathered to give Field-Marshal John Duke of Argyll a "ceud mile failt" on his home-coming after a long absence. The neglected poet vented his spleen in a couple of angry verses, the first of which runs:

Who e'er is he that sojourns here,
I pity much his case,
Unless he comes to wait upon
The lord, their god, his Grace.

Radicals of republican views, who wished to get rid of kings and nobles, spoke much in the same strain of the welcome given by Keighley to the Duke of Devonshire when he came to the agricultural show, and to his sons when they came to make speeches at political meetings. But the men who felt so indignant at what they called the servility of the Keighley people were not of the native stock, but outsiders who had no share in the history of the parish and the hereditary ties and sympathies between the over-lords and people. Of the native stock Radicals, James Leach was the most picturesque and outspoken specimen that could be found, but catch James, with in other matters almost unbounded freedom of speech, butting his hard head against a sentiment which had its root deep in ancient history, and the continuance of which was justified by the existing relations between the Duke of Devonshire and the Keighley community.

I feel I must here break the thread of discourse to give James Leach the recognition for which, whether good or bad, his frank egotism craved, and which his peculiar character and position in the community earned for him. When I became acquainted with him he was a sturdy man over sixty, who was assisted by his second wife and a niece. He never had children of his own; kept a flourishing greengrocer's shop in Low Street, and owned some house property, with other investments. By way of endearment, he often called his wife by a foul and inappropriate epithet, which she received in the spirit in which it was given. But, although he could swear on small provocation, like Uncle Toby's army in Flanders, he was really a good-hearted man of generous disposition. For years he liberally supported a childless and husbandless sister of his, who was slowly dying by an incurable disease, and, strange to say for he was the vainest of self-made men claimed no merit or public notice for doing so. He had been a miner in his early days, and had never "got religion" to curb the licence of speech he had thus acquired. Between his mining and green-grocery employments he had tried his hand at many things, and apparently never failed to secure enough for his wants, and slowly to pile up a little fortune against the rainy day. His Radicalism, so bound- less, if so confused in theory, was conditioned in practice by contempt for loafers and belief in strenuous self-efforts. There were a few Secularists and Socialists, mostly outsiders, among the Keighley folk, and likewise extreme Trade-unionists, whose revolutionary ideas, besides being less confused, went far ahead of the Radicalism of Leach. But until they afterwards learned to hook themselves on to Liberationists, who wanted to disestablish and disendow the Church of England, and who drifted in pursuance of that object into reluctant acceptance of irreligious, State-aided, and controlled education, the followers of George Holyoake and Charles Bradlaugh, the admirers of United States institutions, and the would-be despoilers of capitalists and of individual freedom, were of small account com- pared with James Leach, whose self-assertiveness, command of the dialect in its raciest form, and thorough knowledge of local affairs, had always to be taken into account by the Liberal managers of Keighley at political and municipal meetings. When he rose to speak, he took the attitude of a man that could not be put down, and had to be listened to. He could, by turns, speak as buffoon and sage, and had invariably the backing of those of the audience who enjoyed the fun of seeing him "riled," and giving straight blows and backhanders to those who wished to silence him. So he worked himself up into a kind of power, and was placed on district arid municipal boards, where he did occasionally good service as a man of independent mind and experience. His inordinate vanity was so inflated by the distinction he thus obtained, that he set up a monument in the public cemetery recording his services, and leaving a blank meanwhile for the date of his death. His first wife's name, age, and date of death were all filled in. His second wife, on being buried, received her equal rights. Then, when bordering on eighty, he married a third time, and on that occasion Keighley gave the newly-married pair a reception which flattered, but unnerved, the aged bridegroom.

A liberal share of Reformation Church spoils to begin with, and to end with the union in his person by right of inheritance of what had formerly been large separate estates, made William Cavendish, Duke of Devonshire, the patron of over forty Church of England livings. In the exercise of his patronial rights, he took the utmost care to select good men, giving the preference to evangelicals and reformers. His appointments suited the views and wishes of North of England congregations so well, that few complaints were made by churchmen, and the complaint of Liberationists was that they gave no rise to clerical scandals, or afforded chances for the scientific picking of quarrels with pig-headed incumbents. On the rectory of Keighley falling vacant, the Duke selected for it an energetic and altogether worthy gentleman, whom he knew to be a good worker in the vineyard, and a good Liberal in politics, but who, when instituted, developed moderate tendencies towards the High Church ritualism, which gave offence to those who had been accustomed to the evangelical preaching, which best suited the people, not only of Keighley, but of the whole district. When the Duke heard of this, by him, unexpected cause of discontent, he seized, on Buxton falling vacant, on the opportunity for transferring the gentleman who caused discontent from Keighley to that place.

I heard, and believed, that in 1832 the parishioners of Keighley, Churchmen and Dissenters, masters and men, were, with the fewest possible exceptions, all ardent supporters of the Reform Bill. They were nearly as unanimous in regard to the abolition of the Corn Laws. But there was no such unanimity about the Factory Acts, which liberated women and children from what almost amounted to slavery. Tories and Chartists co-operated in bringing about that much needed emancipation, which was resisted on economic grounds by Cobden and Bright, and was anathema maranatha to manufacturing employers, who plumed themselves on being great reformers, but would fain, if possible, keep far away from their profit-making establishments the searchlight investigations and purgatorial reforms to which they were so willing to subject despotic landowners and arrogant parsons of the Established Church, whose follies operators of the Liberation Societies knew well how to bring into light and exaggerate. It was by the friction of classes, and reforms brought about by mutual retaliation, that a splice was being made between the old and the new order of things; but at the time I am writing about, the slumbering subterranean powers of Trade Unionist and Socialistic Utopianism were little understood by either of the two great political parties or the working classes themselves, who, in England, at least, are fundamentally more Conservative than they are themselves at all times aware of.

In many parts of England traditional feudal allegiance long survived changes of law and conditions with a sentimental tenacity similar to High- land clannishness. In Keighley the Cavendish influence, never obtrusively or oppressively asserted, had a moderating effect on the acerbities of party politics, especially before the Congregationalists and Wesleyans, and other Dissenters, assisted by Secularists and various extreme factions, took advantage of the School Board system to try to build out and starve out the Church of England schools, which had, with old endowed schools, been carrying on the main part of the educational work of the town and district before, of which the Wesleyans also had been doing their fair share. Notwithstanding many grievances, amounting at times to persecution, inflicted on them in rural districts by despotic landlords and inimical incumbents, the Wesleyans inherited deep sympathies with the Church of England, and had they been recognised as such in the eighteenth century, might have remained long as a missionary organisation in union and communion with it, which was what their founder intended. They looked for a long time askance at the disestablishing and disendowing projects of the Congregationalists, but finally their ruling bodies for they had been divided among themselves in a generation after John Wesley's death joined* the Liberation Society and brought to it not only the greater part of its numerical strength, but an accession of religious force that it much needed.

In Keighley, before the disestablishment of the Irish Church and the passing of the English Elementary School Act, of which the member for Bradford, Mr Forster, was sponser, the relations between Church and Dissent were more friendly, or less unfriendly, than was the case in other places. Dissenters had, in truth, no grievance of a practical kind, except Church rates, of which they made the most, and of which Churchmen were tired and very willing to see abolished. It might almost be said that all the inhabitants of the parish, voters and non-voters, were reformers between 1832 and 1846, and between the last date and 1868 reformers plus free-traders. With a preponderance for Dissent, the heads of firms and employers of mill and workshop hands were divided between Church and Dissent, and they were usually the leading men in their respective congregations. Leadership in churches and chapels, accompanied by liberal donations, in- creased their influence over the working classes, with whom they were thus religiously as well as industrially closely associated, and made trade union disputes fewer and less bitter than they would otherwise have been. At bottom the native in- habitants of the parish, while professedly Liberals, or Radicals, were in reality Conservatives, although at election times they, as a rule, acted like partisans who obeyed orders from the Liberal headquarters, and echoed the party cries which then were popular and supposed to be catching.

The unwieldy West Riding, with its two seats in the House of Commons, was divided into three electoral districts by the Disraeli Reform Bill of 1867, and these divisions were further subdivided by the Gladstone Reform Bill of 1885. Keighley formed an important part of the Northern Division between 1867 and 1885. Now it chanced that a vacancy occurred in the Northern Division in 1872, when unexpectedly a strong Conservative and strenuous defender of the Church of England, Mr Francis Sharpe Powell, was returned. Two years later, at the General Election of 1874, the Liberals recovered their previous predominance, and Mr Sharpe Powell had to find another seat in Lancashire. The Conservatives of Keighley and neighbourhood found themselves strong enough to establish a club and weekly newspaper. The Liberals called them Tories by way of reproach. When one thinks of what William Pitt and the Tories of his time did for their country, it is difficult to understand why the word "Tory" should be, down to the twentieth century, used by any sensible person, as a contumacious epithet. Among the Keighley Conservatives, who were labelled "Tories," there was scarcely anyone who was not a free-trader as free-trade was then understood and a moderate Liberal, who would in 1832 have been classed an advanced reformer.

The aggressive policy of the Liberation Society alienated Churchmen everywhere, and it in Keighley hastened political severance and gave Conservatism a backbone of organisation. Between 1868 and 1874 other causes for political division came into operation. David Urquhart from Cromarty the apologist of the Turks, the knower and foe of Russia, and the writer of many able publications about the Western Asia races, had been prophesying evils to come in the House of Commons as long as he had a seat there, and when out of Parliament remained a force still, through the Foreign Affairs Committees his followers had formed in many places. We had one of these Committees at Keighley, and now and then a visit from Urquhart himself, who was a man of picturesque personality, as well as of wide knowledge and singular ability, albeit not what could be called an eloquent platform orator. Russia lost no time in taking- advantage of the prostration of France in the war with Germany to get rid of the restrictions imposed on her by the Treaty of Paris in regard to the Black Sea. I do not see how the Gladstone Government, with France for the moment effaced, and Germany and Austria not disposed to dispute Russia's demands, could have offered efficient opposition to the cancellation of the Black Sea clauses of the Treaty of Paris. But Urquhart and his followers rightly understood the purpose behind the cancellation, and were true prophets who loudly foretold the Russian invasion which was to follow the cancellation.

Mr Urquhart accordingly gauged Russia's ambition to obtain predominant power in Europe and Asia, and understood her methods of advancement by preliminary intrigues, fraudful diplomacy, and fine pretences, which were crowned by ruthless force when things were ripe for its application. He looked upon Turkey as the mainstay of the balance of power in Europe against Russian extension to the Mediterranian, and upon the Turks as inherently the noblest of the Oriental races, while he admitted their faults as rulers, and hoped they would reform themselves. His committees, wherever they were set up, did much to widen people's knowledge on international affairs in general as well as on what was called the Eastern Question. In Keighley as everywhere else the followers of Mr Urquhart, although they could not be silenced were overwhelmed and next thing to ostracised during the Bulgarian atrocity agitation, into which Mr Gladstone flung himself with all the intensity of his sympathy with the Eastern Church Christians and his hatred to the Disraeli Government, and its chief. But when Russia sent her hosts into Roumania, and across the Danube, Urquhart's Keighley followers raised their heads and voices, and found a response to their doctrines among the masses, many of whom yet continued to obey the instructions from the Liberal headquarters, and managed, on some occasions, with some difficulty, to get public meetings to pass the stereotyped Liberal party resolutions. The Bulgarian atrocity agitation, which preceded the Russian invasion and gave a sort of Cross versus Crescent sanction to it, broke down party barriers for a short time in this country. The Turks, under great provocation, had undoubtedly committed savage atrocities on Christian victims. So they were, with hot indignation, denounced, and Conservative Church of England clergymen, and the ministers of the Dissenting communions, fraternised on platforms and vied with one another in the vigour of their denunciations. It was a genuine but most hysterical agitation, not a dishonest political dodge like the cry raised about Chinese chains and slavery in the Transvaal at the 1905-6 General Election.

When the British people saw how bravely the Turks fought in the hopeless war with the over- whelming Russian forces, they, according to their generous nature, turned to sympathise with and admire the weaker side. So Radicals nudged one another with satisfaction, or openly praised the Disraeli Government when the British fleet was sent up the Hellespont, and the menace of war with Great Britain made the Russians halt when they were almost at the gates of Constantinople, and when further south they had reached Gallipoli. This bold and successful move appealed to the underlying instincts and pride of the British people for approval, and received it. Its consequence was that Lord Beaconsfield brought home "peace with honour" from Berlin, and that Turkey got with diminished territory an opportunity for reforming itself of which as yet it has not till just lately made the best possible use and that Russian advances to the Mediterranean was meanwhile barred. It was of no party use for Sir William Harcourt and our much respected local M.P., Mr Forster, to head agitations against the purchase of the Khedive's Suez Canal shares and the acquisition of Cyprus, for the current of opinion in the rank and file of their own party, although it might not be frankly avowed, ran strongly in favour of these two ventures of the Conservative Government. Beaconsfield's prediction that Cyprus, in British hands, would be made into an important Mediterranean place of arms has not yet been fulfilled, but who knows what the future may bring forth. It is there ready to our hands should there be need for it. As for the Suez Canal shares, the purchase of them turned out to be a most profitable investment as well as a stroke of timely political sagacity.

Trade - Unionists are liable to imperil their class interests, and damage national interests, by acting, in their contests with employers, on contracted views, or in complete ignorance of the Gordian knot subtle interfacings by which capital and labour are bound to one another and inseparably tied together with individual freedom, thrift, and morality, public and private. But they are not wholesale revolutionists, like the Socialists, whose theory is that a regenerated order of things could be established on universal plunder and regimented despotism. The Irish Nationalists work for separation and the uprooting of landlords, but having obtained these objects they propose to establish their Irish Republic on old principles of law and individual rights. Nonconformist policy, as shaped by the Liberation Society and its allies, would willingly stop short at the smashing up and plundering of the old National Churches of England and Scotland. But while seeking their different ends, all those parties work together, and all the concessions which co-operation brings about tend to strengthen wild Socialism and to undermine the foundations of free and civilised Society. The drag upon the progress to the brink of the precipice which overlooks the cauldron of chaos exists, how- ever, in the underlying conservatism of the British people as a whole, and of the English part of that people in particular. Deep down in the most of the English people is the conviction that safety lies in giving political parties turn about in office. In Scotland allegiance to party, or to party names, which have no longer their old meanings, brings dishonour on Scottish patriotism, intelligence, and education ; and yet that degrading allegiance is a curious form of inverted Conservatism.

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