Electing Oswestry's MP, 1901

John Biffen reflects on the by-election campaign that elected one of his predecessors from Shropshire to the House of Commons.

The North Shropshire Conservative Association possess a magnificent leather-bound volume detailing the 1901 Oswestry (West Shropshire) by-election. It contains letters, telegrams, and copious newspaper cuttings. Altogether they provide a fascinating insight into turn-of-the-century British politics.

The Oswestry seat had been created in 1885 and from its inception had remained Conservative with Major Leighton, a Tory squire as its Member until his death in 1901 which occasioned the by-election. It occupied rural north-west Shropshire, but Oswestry town had a strong railway tradition as well as being a major agricultural market. The proximity to Wales meant there was a Liberal Tradition, and in the campaign the Liberal MP for Montgomery, Mr A.C. Humphreys-Owen, took an active part.

Contemporary selection procedures provide no echo in the method whereby George Ormsby Gore was chosen to be the Conservative standard bearer. Brogyntyn, near Oswestry, was the seat of Lord Harlech, but his eldest son, George, resided at The Lodge, Malpas, in neighbouring Cheshire. Here he received a telegram... 'You were unanimously selected. If you cannot see your way to accept, which we all trust that you will, Bridgeman second choice. Please wire reply'.

How refreshing that the candidate was not interviewed, let alone his wife. George Ormsby Gore was the son and heir to Lord Harlech, then eighty-two, who urged him to accept, writing 'I will bear the expense, so don't let that stand in the way'. The authority of the big country houses did not proceed entirely unchallenged. A number of farmers tried to persuade the Chairman of the Shropshire 'County Council, Bowen Jones, to stand as an Agriculturalist, but he declined to split the Tory vote. The Liberals chose Allan Bright, a Liverpool shipbroker.

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