The Newport men who returned home to Wolverhampton to swing a by-election
The 1908 Wolverhampton East by-election was expected to be close. It was traditionally a strong Liberal seat but sentiment was against them. The two candidates were Thorne (Liberal) and Amery (Unionist). The constituency was typically Liberal including many non-conformist and Baptist voters.
One of reasons it was such a narrow margin was the policy of the Suffragists at this time to oppose the candidates of the Liberal government because they would not bring in a Bill to provide votes for women. This was despite the individual views of the candidates, many of whom, like Thorne, were pro-women’s suffrage. In his election meetings and literature he declared himself a supporter of free trade, the proposed Bill on Old Age Pensions, restricting to eight the hours that miners could be made to work daily, women’s suffrage, Irish Home Rule and any necessary reform of the House of Lords. He was also strongly in favour of temperance and a supporter of the disestablishment of the Church of England.
The day of the election was notable as a woman managed to vote despite the law of the day preventing it. A Mrs Lois Dawson, who had incorrectly been placed on the electoral register as Louis Dawson, was allowed to vote by a surprised polling station presiding officer in the Redcross street district, as she was clearly on the electoral roll. Her vote was allowed to stand, although had there been a court scrutiny of the election result it would almost certainly have been rejected. A newspaper reported "She was sought out by the suffragettes arid conveyed, in triumph to the poll. Who she voted for has not transpired. Although it was obvious that an error had been made, the poll clerks had no option but to accept the vote. "
Given the expected closeness of the result every attempt was made to maximise votes including the amazing story of Newport men who were transported to Wolverhampton by car. They had left Wolverhampton to work in Newport at the Lysaghts steelworks but were still on the electoral register in Wolverhampton and therefore had the right to vote. A journey of 125 miles was a major undertaking in those days but four men (three of whom are pictured above) made it to cast their vote for the Liberals.
The Evening Express reported on May 8 1908 "The cards and numbers of seven men were sent to Newport last week, and Mr. Nutt. who holds a responsible position at Messrs. Lysaght's works, and Mr. E. A. Charles, the MR. J. HUMPHREYS (Organiser). I Liberal agent for South Monmouthshire, set to work to find the men and make the necessary arrangements. They were successful in finding four of the men. Mr. Jonathan Humphreys, who is an energetic temperance reformer and a furnaceman at the works, and is himself on the voters' list for Wolverhampton, canvassed the men and secured the promise of three (including Messrs. Henry and Page, whose photos are given herewith) to make the journey. Having secured the services of a motor-car belonging to Mr. D. A. Thomas, M.P., the little party set out from Newport a few minutes after sevn on Tuesday morning in a heavy shower of ram. They proceeded via Oaerleon, Usk, Raglan, Ross, Ledbury, Malvern, Worcester, Kidderminster, Stourbridge, and them into Wolverhampton. They reached their destination at 11.30-125 miles in a trifle over four hours! Passing through Litchfield-street they were staggered by the mass of red, which is the Conservative colour in the division, on all sides. At they reached Horsley Fields, whence the men came to Newport at the latter end of. last snmmer, some of the occupants of the car were recognised, and the cry went up "Good old Newport," and "Good old Lysaght's." The men were taken to the polling-station, and afterwards they went to friends to get MR. CHARLES HENRY and had some dinner. During this short interval the chauffeur, who in his way appears to be quite as enthusiastic a. politician as his employer, went off electioneering. The four men left Wolverhampton about 3.20 p.m. On leaving the Midland town they got a rousing cheer and many hearty shakes of the hand to the remark "You are bricks." Practically the same route was taken on the return journey, and Newport was reached at 7.55 p.m., after a stay in Malvern of about fifteen minutes. Mr. Humphreys on Wednesday was beaming with smiles. He said he enjoyed the trip no end."
The result came through from Wolverhampton "Polling took place on Tuesday at East Wolverhampton to fill the vacancy caused by the elevation of Sir Henry Fowler to the Peerage, resulting in the success of the Liberal candidate by the narrow margin of eight votes. The figures are: Mr. G. R. Thorne (L.) 4.514 Mr. L. S. Amery (L.) 4,506 Liberal majority 8." There was much acrimony and several recounts but the Liberals had held on and the votes of the Newport men were vital to their victory.
On reaching home Mr. Humphreys went to work, and waited anxiously for the result. The newspaper states "Some of his friends of the opposition came to him during the night and said the Conservative was in by 300, which damped his spirits, but shortly after midnight the actual result was made known to him, and he said 'I then went on light-hearted to the finish, but I expected a bigger majority.' "