1897 Walthamstow by-election

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1897 Walthamstow by-election

← 1895 3 February 1897 1900 →
  1897 Sam Woods.jpg Thomasdewar.jpg
Candidate Sam Woods Thomas Dewar
Party Lib-Lab Conservative
Popular vote 6,518 6,239
Percentage 51.1 48.9

MP before election

Edmund Byrne

Subsequent MP

Sam Woods

Walthamstow in Essex

The Walthamstow by-election, 1897 was a parliamentary by-election held in England on 3 February 1897 for the House of Commons constituency of Walthamstow. The area was then a division of Essex, and is now part of Greater London.

The election was won by the Liberal-Labour candidate, after the seat had been held by the Conservative Party for 11 years.


The seat became vacant when Walthamstow's Conservative Member of Parliament (MP) Edmund Byrne QC was appointed as a judge of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice.[1] This appointment disqualified him from sitting in parliament, triggering a by-election in Walthamstow.[2]

Electoral history[edit]

The first Walthamstow constituency election in 1885 was won by the Liberals. In 1886 the seat was gained by the Conservatives and remained in their hands to 1897. Byrne had held the seat since the 1892 general election.[3] The result at the previous general election was a comfortable victory for the Conservatives;

General election 1895: Walthamstow [4][5][6]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Edmund Byrne 6,876 60.3 +5.1
Liberal Arthur Pollen 4,423 39.7 -5.1
Majority 2,353 20.6 +10.2
Turnout 11,399 64.2 -8.1
Registered electors 17,747
Conservative hold Swing +5.1


Byrne's appointment was reported in The Times newspaper on 15 January,[7] and on the same day the paper reported that the Scotch whisky magnate Thomas Dewar had "kept himself in touch with the constituency" and might put his name forward as a possible Conservative candidate.[8] The Walthamstow Central Liberal and Radical Association were initially undecided as to whether to contest the election, but were reported to be considering Arthur Pollen, who had been their candidate at the last general election, in 1895.[2]

On Monday 18 January, each of the parties held a meeting to consider their approach to the election.[9] As expected, the Conservatives selected the 33-year-old Dewar, who had built his family business John Dewar & Sons into a global brand.[10] The Liberals had not chosen a candidate, but it was reported to be almost certain that they would contest the election.[10]

With the writ not expected until 22 January, the Liberals were holding nightly consultations on a choice of candidate and Dewar said that he wanted a contested election.[11] Rumours circulated that the Liberals would ask the conservationist Edward Buxton, who had held the seat from 1885 to 1886, to stand again.[11]

Arnold Hills, who planned to stand as a temperance candidate

Meanwhile, Arnold Hills, chairman of the Thames Ironworks shipbuilding company at Leamouth, announced that he would stand as a Unionist and temperance candidate in opposition to Dewar.[11]

Hills was a sportsman, philanthropist, and promoter of vegetarianism as well as a successful businessman. On 22 January he said that would definitely stand unless the Liberals fielded a candidate, in which case he would withdraw to avoid splitting the Conservative vote and risk handing the seat to the opposition.[12]

The High Sheriff of Essex announced on the 22nd that nominations would be taken on Thursday 28 January, and that polling would take place on 3 February.[12] The next day, 23 January, the Executive of the Liberal Three Hundred met and selected Sam Woods as their candidate.[13] Woods was a coal miner from St Helens in Lancashire, and a prominent trade unionist who had been President of the Miners' Federation of Great Britain since its foundation in 1891. He had been elected in 1892 as the MP for the Ince division of Lancashire, but lost his seat in 1895.[14] The Times newspaper reported that Woods was the best possible candidate for the Liberals, because he would have the support of the labour as well as all factions of the Liberals.[13]

Hills then stopped his election agent from setting up committee rooms for the campaign, which was taken as a sign that he would indeed stand aside.[15] The selection of Woods was confirmed at a general meeting of the Liberal Three Hundred on 25 January,[15] and Hill's withdrawal was formally announced the following day.[16]


Woods said he was an "ardent radical", but not a socialist, and that he supported extending the general principles of Sir William Harcourt's 1894 budget. Woods wanted no direct or indirect tax for anyone earning under £100 per year, and graduated taxes on higher incomes. He also supported the payment of a salary to MPs,[15] who received no payment until 1911. His taxation proposals were scorned by The Times, whose editorial on 26 January said that his proposal "should be worth a good many votes to his opponent".[17]

In a speech at Leyton town hall on the 26th, Dewar spoke in favour of trade with the colonies, and excluding alien paupers.[16] He returned to the latter theme on the Friday 29th, when he told a meeting at the Barclay Hall in Leytonstone that "Europe should be told that the East End of London was not the place for the refuse of the continent".[18]

Stratford Railway works

The two parties chose different approaches to electioneering. The Conservatives decided to concentrate on canvassing rather than public meetings, but the Liberals planned 28 meetings. Dewar set out canvassing in his coach and speaking in committee rooms, while the Liberals mounted a higher profile campaign.[16] On Saturday 30th Woods took part in a joint meeting at Stratford Railway Works with Herbert Raphael, the Liberal candidate in the Romford by-election which was being held at the same time. Large numbers of workers from both constituencies were employed at Stratford.[19]

Woods had been chosen as a strong candidate. Several thousand Labour supporters in the constituency were believed never to have voted, a point which the Liberals had used to encourage him to stand.[16] Sensing the opportunity, many prominent trade union and labour leaders came to Walthamstow to support Woods, including Joseph Havelock Wilson of the National Sailors' & Firemen's Union, as well as leaders of the General Labouers, the Carpenters and Joiner, the Gas Workers, Barge Builders and Marine Engineers unions.[20]

Woods opposed what he called the "Government's reactionary legislation", such as the Agricultural Rating Act, its proposals for education, and asking India to contribute to cost of Kitchener's expedition to the Sudan. He supported a range of what were then radical ideas; the abolition of the House of Lords power to veto legislation, one man, one vote in elections, the Irish people to control their own domestic affairs, site value taxation, radical reform of land laws, reform of secondary education, and improved housing.[16] On the temperance issue, which divided Liberals, Woods supported local control over licensing, but objected to tied houses.[16] Fearing constraints on their business, the Essex Licence Holders association decided to support Dewar, and to send a representative into the area to try to organise the licensed trade.[13]

No big controversy developed between the candidates. Irish Home Rule, which had split the Liberals in the 1880s, was only a secondary issue in the election addresses.[16]


Arrangements had been made to count the votes on polling night,[21] rather than wait until the next day. The counting took place in Walthamstow town hall, where the results announced shortly after midnight:[22] Woods won,[23] with a majority of 279 votes.[22] His victory came as a surprise, because the Liberals had never expected to win the seat.[22]

Walthamstow by-election, 1897 [4][5][6]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Lib-Lab Sam Woods 6,518 51.1 +11.4
Conservative Thomas Dewar 6,239 48.9 -11.4
Majority 279 2.2 N/A
Turnout 12,757 64.3 +0.1
Registered electors 19,845
Lib-Lab gain from Conservative Swing +11.4


Woods held the seat until the next general election, in October 1900, when he was defeated by the Conservative David Morgan.[3] His health failed in 1904, and he died in 1915.

General election 1900: Walthamstow [4][5][6]
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative David Morgan 9,807 57.2 -3.1
Lib-Lab Sam Woods 7,342 42.8 +3.1
Majority 2,465 14.4 -6.2
Turnout 17,149 70.9 +6.7
Registered electors 24,187
Conservative hold Swing -3.1

Dewar was elected in 1900 as the MP for St George, Tower Hamlets, and knighted in 1902. He stood down at the 1906 election. He expanded his business to form the Distillers Company, was ennobled in 1919 as Baron Dewar, and died in 1930.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "No. 26815". The London Gazette. 19 January 1897. p. 338.
  2. ^ a b "Election Intelligence. Walthamstow". The Times. 16 January 1897. p. 10. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  3. ^ a b Craig, F. W. S. (1983) [1989]. British parliamentary election results 1885–1918 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 282. ISBN 0-900178-27-2.
  4. ^ a b c British Parliamentary Election Results 1885-1918, FWS Craig
  5. ^ a b c The Liberal Year Book, 1907
  6. ^ a b c Debrett's House of Commons & Judicial Bench, 1901
  7. ^ "New Judge". The Times. 15 January 1897. p. 9. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  8. ^ "Election Intelligence. Essex (Walthamstow division)". The Times. 15 January 1897. p. 8. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  9. ^ "Election Intelligence. Walthamstow". The Times. 18 January 1897. p. 8. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  10. ^ a b "Election Intelligence". The Times. 20 January 1897. p. 8. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  11. ^ a b c "Election Intelligence". The Times. 21 January 1897. p. 7. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  12. ^ a b "Election Intelligence". The Times. 23 January 1897. p. 12. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  13. ^ a b c "Election Intelligence". The Times. 25 January 1897. p. 10. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  14. ^ Craig, page 319
  15. ^ a b c "Election Intelligence". The Times. 26 January 1897. p. 10. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  16. ^ a b c d e f g "Election Intelligence". The Times. 27 January 1897. p. 10. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  17. ^ "The discussion upon the amendment". The Times. 26 January 1897. p. 9. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  18. ^ "Election Intelligence". The Times. 30 January 1897. p. 12. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  19. ^ "Election Intelligence". The Times. 29 January 1897. p. 8. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  20. ^ "Election Intelligence". The Times. 2 February 1897. p. 11. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  21. ^ "Election Intelligence". The Times. 28 January 1897. p. 10. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  22. ^ a b c "Election Intelligence. Essex (Walthamstow Division)". The Times. 4 February 1897. p. 6. Retrieved 3 September 2012.(subscription required)
  23. ^ "No. 26820". The London Gazette. 5 February 1897. p. 692.