Elections: The Bowyer Period

The Verney family held almost hereditary rights to the Buckingham seat until 1918. The seat then went to the Conservatives in the person of George Bowyer. He was a QC, Eton and Oxford educated, married to one of the Mitford daughters, and very much the stereotype of the class-based MP of those days. Nevertheless he held the Buckingham seat from 1918 to 1937 and politically survived those turbulent years. Buckingham voters (for this read North Bucks) remained stable in their preferences. Bowyer was commemorated in the Bowyer Hall, a Conservative meeting hall in Bletchley. I don’t know whether or not it is still there.
This was a turbulent period in British politics – although I suppose it was ever thus – rather, a period which saw the demise of the Liberal Party and the rise of the Labour Party. In 1918 the Labour Party had increased the number of seats held to 57; by 1929  they held numbers in the 200s although they suffered setbacks in the 1930s.. The Liberal Party was fragmenting during this period into competing groups and after the 1945 General Election were down to 12 seats. They remained in the political doldrums until they were reconstituted as the Liberal Democrats and perhaps we are now witnessing a reversal of fortune.
During this period the strength of the Labour Party grew in the Buckingham seat. At the by-election of 1937, when George Bowyer was elevated to the Lords, the Conservative candidate held on with a majority of 5,000 over the Labour candidate, although you can see their vote growing. A lot of the Labour votes, as I have remarked before, came from Wolverton and New Bradwell. As an interesting side note for Wolvertonians, the Liberal candidate in 1937 was E J Boyce, the redoubtable headmaster of Wolverton County School. He came third.

Election 1832

The Reform Act stripped away the so-called “rotten broroughs” i.e. places where nobody lived who were still returning members. I suppose the outstanding example was Dunwich which had fallen into the North sea a hundred years or so earlier. The Act also extended the franchise to men who had property of a rateable value of £10 and above. Thus the franchise was extended from 13 voters to a whopping 360!  It was not much of an improvement but it was a start and it did open up a tiny chink of light of democracy to our system of representation.
The 1832 election brought a Whig or Liberal into the new parliament in the person of Sir Harry Verney. He and his descendants held the seat for about 60 years.

Election 1831

If you think our parliamentary system is fairly corrupt and undemocratic now, you will be even more astonished if you look back to the election of 1831 – the last election before the Reform Act of 1832 was implemented.
Buckingham was entitled them to two members of parliament, and indeed was for many years after, but you will be surprised to learn that there were only 13, yes 13, eligible voters. Each of these voters were aldermen who were appointees of the Duke of Buckingham. The two members returned for Buckingham from this tiny electorate were both nominees of the Duke of Buckingham – General Sir George Nugent (his cousin) and Sir Thomas Freemantle.
One of the consequences of this parliamentary stitch-up was that Wolverton became a railway town. The Duke of Buckingham had enough parliamentary votes in his pocket to veto the originally planned line through Buckingham and Stephenson had to develop an alternative – hence the route through Wolverton.

Election 1951

It’s General Election time. Since this blog is about Wolverton’s past before 1960 I have no need to comment about which bunch of scoundrels I might vote for.
I was between 8 and 9 years old when the 1951 General Election came around so this was probably the first one of which I had any consciousness.
The two candidates were Frank Markham and Aidan Crawley and they had both been candidates the year before when the Labour Government had been to the polls. Crawley won on that occasion, retaining the seat he had won in 1945.
The backgrounds of the two candidates were strongly contrasted. Crawley came from a well-to-do family with lots of connections to the aristocracy. Markham was the son of a Stony Stratford Prudential Insurance Agent. Crawley went to Harrow and Oxford and effortlessly moved into the ranks of the governing classes. He was also a good cricketer, playing for Oxford University and later for Kent. I remember Donald Morgan, Headmaster of Wolverton Grammar School, once telling the story of how Aidan Crawley, playing in some sort of charity match, hit a six through one of the school windows. Frank Markham started work at McCorquodale’s as an office boy for 5s per week. He subsequently studied at night school and won a scholarship to Oxford Univerity. My Aunt told me that he worked on the famous “Tutankhamun” archaeological site in the 1920s. I haven’t been able to verify that. Both men did war service.
Markham campaigned as Major Markham. In those days people liked to advertise their war service and military rank was frequently carried into civilian life.
Wolverton and New Bradwell were solidly Labour in those days. Both towns were in the literal sense of the word “working class”. That is, they had skilled tradesmen’s jobs and drew a weekly wage. They were not oppressed but they had a firm sense of their own identity and where there interests lay. Unemployment was non-existent in Wolverton in 1951, but those in the professional classes were few in number and the so-called upper classes were non-existent. Clement Attlee came to Wolverton during the campaign and spoke on a soapbox outside the Wolverton Building Society – on the corner of Church Street and Radcliffe Street – to the assembly of cloth-capped workers one lunchtime. I wasn’t there, but I was told that he couldn’t be heard. There were no microphones back then.
Markham won the contest in 1951 by a mere 54 votes. He probably didn’t draw many votes from Wolverton and New Bradwell, but made them up in the rest of the Buckingham constituency. He went on to retain the seat in subsequent elections until he retired in 1964, when the seat went back to Labour in the person of that egregious chancer, Robert Maxwell.
The careers of Markham and Crawley continued to draw contrasts. Whereas Markham had begun his political career as a Labour MP for Nottinghamshire and ended it as a Conservative MP; Crawley started as a Labour MP and, after a career with ITV news, became a Labour MP for a Derbyshire constituency.