Sunday, 5 April 2015

Earlston Welcomes Prime Minister Asquith - 1908

With a general election looming in the UK, here is a topical issue from the past with a visit  by Liberal Prime Minister Asquith to Earlston in October 1908.  It  features on several postcards in the  collection of "Auld Earlston",   and old local newspapers, held  at the Heritage Hub in Hawick,  give a colourful account of the event.   

"The Jedburgh Advertiser" of October 3rd described the plans  for the visit.  These included  the erection of a tent, measuring 220 feet by 60 feet  with seating accommodation for about 4000 people - this when the population  of Earlston in the 1911 census was only 1677!   How many political meetings in the Borders attract that kind of number today?  

Special trains were laid on from Jedburgh, Kelso and Edinburgh;  a large number of M.Ps. had intimated  their intentions to be present, and it was noted that presiding over the event would be Mr H. J. Tennant, M.P. for Berwickshire.   

It proved to be a notable  occasion,  disrupted by the late arrival of reporters and M.Ps on a delayed Edinburgh train which took three hours to reach Earlston; crowds spilling out of from the crowded hot  marquee, the intervention of a woman suffragette,  and noise from the "shunt, snort and whistles" of a railway engine threatening  to drown out the speakers.  

When Mr Asquith stood to speak "He got  a warm greeting.  Mary of the people rose to their feet and waved hats and handkerchiefs and cheered with great cordiality".

However he had only said a few words when,  at the remark  "My primary purpose in coming here this afternoon is...., a woman startled her neighbours by exclaiming " Give votes to women!".  The interrupter was a young woman of graceful figure and pleasant features.  Stewards made their way to the fair  suffragette  and quickly bore the woman out,  calm and unresisting but with her sailor hat somewhat awry". 

The newspaper reporter clearly found this incident far more  interesting than Mr Asquith's speech which he described as "Unimpassioned with no striking phrases." 

But what had prompted this meeting to be held in a Berwickshire village in the rural Scottish Borders?   Mr Asquith was M.P. for East Fife and had Border connections.  His second wife was socialite Margot  Tennant, daughter of the prominent Tennant family  of the Glen, Innerleithen, whilst his brother-in-law  Mr H. J. Tennant was the local Berwickshire MP.

No general election was looming.  For Mr Asquith had assumed office  only a few months before, on the resignation of Mr Campbell Bannerman due to illness.  A turbulent political situation faced him, with issues of House of Lords reform,  home rule for Ireland, industrial strife, an increasingly militant women suffragette movement and worsening international relations with Germany, culminating in the First World War.  

But on a brief Saturday afternoon in October, Earlston was on the national stage politically.

Official photograph taken by Walter Swanston, an Earlston-born photographer
 who set up a studio on Leith Walk, Edinburgh. 



  1. Great old photographs - Earlston's High Street hasn't changed all that much in over 100 years.

  2. An entertaining post and I particularly enjoyed the story about the suffragette intervention. tI sounded much more interesting than the Prime Minister's speech.


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