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Popular Politics and Popular Culture in the Age of the Masses

Studies in Lancashire and the North West of England, 1880s to 1930s


Jeffrey Hill

The book is a selection of essays from the author’s work since the early 1980s. It presents an analysis of political and cultural trends based upon a series of case studies drawn from the North West of England, covering mainly the years between the Third Reform Act (1884) and the outbreak of the Second World War. The region was a heavily industrialized one, seen by many as in the vanguard of changes that gave rise to what is often referred to as ‘modern’ society. In politics the emergence in North West England of a new labour consciousness is plainly evident, but so too is the survival and adaptation of older political allegiances, notably popular Toryism. The region is also renowned in cultural terms for the emergence of modern sport, examined here in relation to both association football and cricket. Keenly aware of the general political, social and cultural developments in Britain and elsewhere during these years, the author is also alert to their impact in particular localities. The theme of locality has been a recurring one in the author’s research, and the composition of this book reflects his changing approaches to it and to other, related issues of identity.
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Chapter Five: Lib-Labism, Socialism and Labour in Burnley, c. 1890–1918


← 110 | 111 → CHAPTER FIVE

In the general election of December 1918 the Labour Party won the parliamentary seat of Burnley for the first time. Those people who had gathered in the Co-op Rooms to celebrate the victory were told by James Eastham, the President of the local Trades Council: ‘… a working-class constituency like Burnley ought to have been in their present position years ago. (Hear, hear)’.1 Eastham’s audience was well aware of Burnley’s anomalous place in Lancashire politics. Though one of the main centres of cotton weaving, with a well-organised trade unionism, Burnley had not figured in the landmark event of early Labour politics: the general election of 1906, when twenty-nine Labour Representation Committee (LRC) candidates were returned to Parliament, thirteen of them from constituencies in the North-West of England.2 In the region that formed the new Labour Party’s stronghold, Burnley went against the grain by returning a Lib-Lab who had been run close by a Conservative and a Socialist. In terms of the ‘forward march of labour’, therefore, Burnley seemed unpromising territory. This partly explains its neglect by historians of the pre-1914 ← 111 | 112 → Labour movement. Moreover, the active role played in Burnley by the Social-Democratic Federation (SDF), a body often regarded as inimical to Labour development and marginal in working-class politics, has further acted as a deterrent to the study of Burnley by ‘orthodox’ labour historians.3

The present essay seeks to reassess Burnley politics in the thirty or so years before 1918. It...

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