Southend Timeline

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The Day Southend Voted Liberal

Since 1885 Southend was always a Conservative styled town; but a change was in the air during the 1906 General Election held in January; and for one single time in the history of the town ever, the electorate decided to change colour. 

Representing the South East Essex Constituency covering a large area of land with Southend at its centre a certain Mr Rowland Whitehead (left) charged into parliament with a landslide of just over 2,000 votes representing the Liberal party, although his candidate poster listed him as 'Liberal and Free Fooder'.  So significant was this change the town celebrated with a torchlight procession through the streets.  All subsequent elections however, would return into the Conservative fold right up until today.  

Significantly in 1906 a Liberal MP in the South East Essex constituency needed to get in to assist the national trend which also elected a Liberal Prime Minster, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (Right), for the second time.  The key issue for the country would be around affordable food, therefore a common statement being used by the politicians nationally was 'Big Loaf, Little Loaf'.  Southend's major industry at the time was fishing and making this an affordable commodity was paramount, a large number of the men in the town worked on the fleet around the coastline from Leigh to Shoebury so had a major influence on the balance of power in the town.  The Liberal policies under a 'Free Fooder' manifesto worked well for the fishermen, and it would be a brave fellow that voted in the traditional way for the Conservatives.  However, to the west of the town in Leigh a strong vote was cast in favour of the Blues,  which was provided by the many City Workers.  The stage was set for one of the toughest electoral battles in the town.

The Election - In 1906 the method of gathering votes from Southend was not as arduous as it is today.  Southend then had a mere three polling stations, the East Ward was served by the Technical School; West Ward, Leigh Road School; North Road, Brewery Road Schools.  The shift for the pollsters was long and they laboured until 8pm some seemingly very tired when the polls did close.  Mr and Mrs Whitehead toured the polling stations and where ever they went they received a rousing reception, even in Leigh.  The western part of the town notorious in previous elections for voting blue were trying hard all day to stem the flow of the orange vote, and the polls needed to wait for the returning workers from London to complete the count.  The fishermen of the town invariably voted Liberal and throughout the day had maintain a 2-1 vote for Liberal it was thought once the City men had arrived back the swing would go back to the Tories, alas a mixture of votes were returned and mixed in with the late flow of fishing votes too ensured Capt Newman the Tory candidate would not be standing for the South East Essex Ward.

Declaration - Crowds, estimated at 5,000, thronged into Clarence Road, and Clarence Street outside the Institute to hear the declaration by the returning officer.  Police formed a suitable human barrier at the base of the steps, led by Superintendent Pryke (right). The buildings opposite the Municipal Offices and the Liberal Club had the balconies loaded by people eager to find out the result, on one stood the ladies of the Liberal Club including Mrs Ethel Whitehead who acknowledged the crowd with a smile whenever the cheer was directed in favour of her husband.  The waiting for the result took a very long time, 12.45 pm was promised but this came and went, when 2pm arrived Liberal Officers appeared at the windows of the council offices with big smiles giving the crowd an early indication of which way the result would go. Soon however, with the waving of a red handkerchief it became apparent the result was looming, a Liberal supporter hung out from a window waving orange ribbons and the crowd started to cheer, with some supporting the opponents hooting.  The crowd's expectations were borne out by the actual result.  The two candidates, with the Sheriff (Mr TFV Buxton) and the Under Sheriff (Mr CBO Gepp), made their appearance on the steps, and their arrival was welcomed with another loud cheer and applause.  The Sheriff appealed for silence, but his words had little or no effect, and he had to declare the result amid a roar of voices; only those in the immediate vicinity, and very few of that number being able to hear the result.  The mere mention of Mr Whitehead's name was the signal for the renewal of the display of enthusiasm and figures at that time did not concern the crowd.  They only wished to know definitely that their champion had won.  The actual result stood as follows:

Whitehead (Lib) 9,230

Newman (Con) 7,170

Majority: 2,060

Torchlight Procession - The Liberal's that had brought a new champion to represent the town would spend the night celebrating the victory.  The first item in the programme was a torchlight procession.  The starting point for that was the Tram Terminus, Leigh.  Preparations commenced before 7pm and motor cars, carriages, bicycles, and pedestrians began to arrive in force.  the Southend Town Band were ready to lead, and so they went off down the hill to fetch the victor.  They paraded the lower town, going along the streets on both sides of the line.  Mr Whitehead arrived by the 7.28pm  train and accorded a hearty welcome.  A procession was formed, headed by the band and large crowd, including a number of torchbearers, marched to the top of the hill; the band meanwhile playing "See the conquering hero comes".  On their arrival there was an outburst of enthusiasm and the roadway was densely crowded.  The band made their way to the brake they were to occupy and preparations for the starting of the procession were soon made.  The motorcars, carriages and pedestrians were now present in force and it says much for the arrangements made by the organisers and police that everybody was got into a line without much confusion.  An advance guard of cyclists some of these decorated with balls and yellow ribbons, led the way, the road being lit by a small detachment of torchbearers.  Then came Mr S Mutton on horseback as Chief Marshal.  The band followed.  They rode in a brake and played selections on route.  On the front was seated a worker holding aloft an illuminated device bearing the words "Whitehead This Time".  During the journey some stones were thrown at it and it became very tattered and torn, while the light inside was put out.  Carriages, motor cars and pedestrians followed; the length of the procession, it was stated, being over three quarters of a mile.  Mr and Mrs Whitehead and their children rode round in a carriage and pair, and had as body guard a stalwart band of Leighmen, some of whom carried torches.  They were greeted with loud cheers at various points, and at others there was some hooting, but on the whole the proceedings, though lively were orderly.  The route was as follows:  Leigh Broadway, Leigh Road, Hamlet Court Road, Westcliff Parade, Devereux Terrace, Alexandra Street, High Street, Southchurch Road, Southchurch Avenue, York Road and Old Southend Road, to the Kursaal.  A large crowd had assembled outside the building in advance of the procession and when the meeting commenced it was crowded to excess. 

Biography - Sir Rowland Whitehead - Born: 1st September 1863, Died: 9th October 1942

In 1893, Whitehead married Ethel M. L. Rathbone, a daughter of Philip H. Rathbone, and they had two sons and two daughters.

Sir Rowland Whitehead by trade was a Barrister educated at Clifton College and University College, Oxford where he took a First Class degree in History.  He ventured into politics in 1906 standing against a strong Conservative seat in the constituency of South East Essex and won, he remained in the seat for the period of the elected parliament under the Premiership of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman.  During his political footing within the Houses of Parliament Sir Rowland was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Herbert Samuel MP, followed by a short spell as PPS to the Attorney-General. 

Hansard records Whitehead's engagements in the house; and frequently he would defend the fishermen who supported him in the General Election of 1906, by fighting for their fishing rights around the Shoebury coast line, increasingly being used for military purposes.

He inherited the baronetcy from his elder brother, Sir George Whitehead, 2nd Baronet, when his brother died on 21 May 1931. On his own death, the title went to his son Major Philip Henry Rathbone Whitehead.




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