The antiquity of new politics…

We all know that there’s rarely anything new under the sun, so it was intriguing to find press cuttings from the General Election of 1918 containing party propaganda, leaflets and articles surrounding the vote which returned a Coalition Liberal and Conservative government to power. Sir Howard Kingsley Wood became the Coalition Conservative candidate for West Woolwich, and remained so until his death in 1943. His scrapbooks, held in the library as the Kingsley Wood Collection, give a fascinating insight into popular culture at the time.

Honesty and Fair Play

The cuttings include a complaint, printed by ‘The Pioneer Press’, by Sir Kingsley Wood’s rival for West Woolwich, Alec Cameron, over alleged leaflets which amounted to slander. Alec Cameron’s defence reads

“The leaflet has disgusted all decent-minded and clean-spirited men and women who value Honesty and Fair play. The leaflet is a weapon which would be used only by a person who has degenerated to the lowest depths of political animosity.”

In conclusion, Mr. Cameron maintained that he

“…is conducting, and will continue to conduct, his Campaign on clean and manly lines…”

The issue of animosity and the ideal of a sense of ‘fair play’ among politicians is clearly far from new. The sign of the times, however, is that the slander against Mr. Cameron includes his ‘pacifist‘ and ‘socialist‘ tendencies, describing his oratory as ‘the fashion of the Bolshevist Leaders of Russia’. At this time, Russia was embroiled in a civil war which fuelled the fears of many in the British establishment, and it the country at large, of the rise of ‘Bolshevism’. Mr. Cameron’s response underlines the work which he carried out for the war effort: this suggests that, to win the Election,  politicians immediately after the First World War had to show that they supported the conflict and the nation.  These accusations were not petty; Alec Cameron’s reaction to fight the election  ‘cleanly’ did not win him the seat in Parliament.

Though fought along ‘manly‘ lines, the election of 1918 was significant as the first British election which allowed universal male and restricted female voting (to those over 30). Sir Kingsley Wood’s scrapbooks also contain flyers calling for ‘Women Voters‘ to attend meetings, presumably tailored to their concerns.

Houses, hats and orange women

Sir Kingsley Wood became an important politician, his background in industrial insurance and the law making him influential in the discussions around the National Insurance Act of 1911, and he later served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in Winston Churchill’s government, from 1940-1943. Among other debates, Kingsley Wood was involved in the discussions about adequate housing for all;

“the best comment he had heard on the suggestion of a parlour with the ludicrous measurement of 10ft. by 8 ft. was made by a young friend of his, who had written an ode dedicated to the Minister of Health…

‘”Will you come into my parlour?”
Said the Spider to the Fly.
“Do you think I’m a blooming acrobat,”
Was her indignant reply.'”

Other concerns of represented in the cuttings were the six-fold increase in imported hats in less than a decade, and the increasing age of the population, due to advances in public sanitation.

There are lots of adverts for Kingsley Wood’s services as a ‘poor man’s’ lawyer in the earlier scrapbooks; this sense of helping those less fortunate than himself was perhaps partly due to his being a committed Methodist. Among the cuttings of legal cases is a claim from an unmarried maid suing the father of her son, on the advice of her employer, using love letters which she claimed the father had sent to her and which he later refuted. Kingsley Wood later took interest in the 1914 attempt to ‘move on’ ‘orange women‘, who sold sweets and fruits to audiences in the theatre districts, including outside Drury Lane and the Lyceum. The backlash against this legislation, which was implemented to assist the London police in crowd control duties led to a debate which Sir Kingsley Wood chaired. In introducing the delegates, the Evening News for January 13th reports, Sir Kingsley Wood commented:

“I am sorry that we have not a Nell Gwynne among us to-day. The women who are here may not be quite so attractive, but I believe they are as honest, if not more so.”

Despite their apparent lack of beauty, the orange women won their right to continue selling to theatregoers in London.

The scrapbooks

The Kingsley Wood scrapbooks offer a varied and intriguing insight into public culture and reporting during the early decades of the twentieth century. It’s striking that some of the concerns were the same as the issues today: some were very far removed, or viewed from a very different angle. Documenting the beginning of the modern era, these scrapbooks are a fascinating reminder that the everyday events of today can be the curiosities of next century, and that the past isn’t as dead as we might think.

All that we need to do now is catalogue the collection!

If you’re interested in  political history, the Weatherill Collection may be of interest to you. For theatre history, have a look at our various collections.

Newly Catalogued Collection

I am pleased to announce that the Jack Johns Darwin Collection is now fully catalogued and available for consultation in Special Collections.

Donated in 2008, Mr. Johns’ Darwin Collection is the result of over 30 years of collecting books by and about Charles Darwin. Following a boyhood fascination with evolutionary theory, Mr. Johns’ interest in Charles Darwin also led him to acquire items relating to members of the Darwin family and members of the scientific community in which Charles Darwin worked. Charles’ paternal grandfather, Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802), published volumes about biology and of poetry, including Zoonomia (1794) and The loves of the plants : a poem, with philosophical notes (1791). Josiah Wedgwood was Charles Darwin’s maternal grandfather, so there are also items relating to the Wedgwood dynasty in this collection.

Items relating to other scientists include various works by Joseph Dalton Hooker and Thomas Huxley, Charles Lyell on elements of geology, and two nineteenth century books of the natural theologian William Paley. In addition, Mr Johns collected a small number of works relating to Alfred Russel Wallace, a naturalist and explorer who arrived at his own theory of evolution by natural selection independent of Darwin. On the Tendency of Species to Form Varieties; and on the Perpetuation of Varieties and Species by Natural Means of Selection (republished in Evolution by Natural Selection, 1958) was the long title by which the two men publically announced their theories jointly in July 1858. Another interesting item in this collection is an 1890 edition of Voyage of the H.M.S. Beagle, published by John Murray, containing the presentation note: ‘H. W. Bates Esq. With the Publishers’ compli[iments] Feb[uary] 1890′. Henry Walter Bates was an explorer and naturalist who joined Alfred Russel Wallace on an expedition to the Amazon in 1848.

Publisher's note to H.W. Bates

Handwritten presentation note to H.W. Bates.

The central section of Mr Johns’ collection is based around his endeavour to acquire every edition of Darwin’s most important works, the vast majority of which were published by John Murray in London. These provide an insight into the editing and corrections of each successive edition, and prove the popularity of Darwin’s works.

For more information about this collection and Mr Jack Johns, see our collections information pages or search the library catalogue.

This collection also compliments the Maddison Collection, which focuses on natural theology and early science of the  seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

If you would like to look at any of the items in these, or any of our collections, please email to make an appointment.

Contact us!

No, really.

The Specialist Collections and Academic Archives are a resource for you: researchers, academic or otherwise. Although we are part of the University of Kent, our collections can be used by anyone with a valid reason to study them. This can range from school or university work, general interest or commercial research. We are here to make sure that the Collections and Archives are a helpful and informative resource, and to preserve the past for the future.

As part of ongoing work since January, we now have even more ways for you to get in touch with us. You can email with general comments or queries, fill in an online request form for specific items or complete a printed form and return it to the Specialist Collections office. If you would like to obtain copies from items, please email us with the details.

There’s just one word of warning: although we aim to help you get the best out of our collections, we can’t offer a research service. To find what you’re looking for, run a search on the website and if you can’t find what you’re after, let us know. Unfortunately, we simply don’t have enough staff to carry out research on your behalf.

So please get in touch with your comments and queries: we are here to help!