George Haley’s Brentford Election Campaigns, 1899-1905
by John Grigg
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 4 (1985)
In 1897 Frederick Nash, with the support of “the extreme section of the Radical Party in the town”, came top of the poll in the Brentford District Council election. Any hopes, however, that Mr Nash would enliven council meetings were soon dashed, and there was little that was radical and nothing that was extreme about his contribution to council debates. Two years went by before the first bearer of the Labour banner appeared in a council election when George Haley stood in 1899 – a year before the Labour Party was officially formed. He was secretary of the local Gas Workers’ Union and, although he lost in 1899, he stood every year until 1905 when he finally won at his eighth attempt, in a by-election.
Brentford looked an ideal place for the Labour Party to establish itself. The docks, the gas works, the soap works, together with several other factories needed a large working class population. Wages were low, families were large, and the workhouse (which is now the West Middlesex Hospital) was full. But old habits died hard and the workhouse population had no vote.
Brentford had a District Council of twelve members, a third of whom retired each year. The district was not divided into wards so the whole of the area elected four councillors each year. In 1899 George Haley, Labourer, was well beaten after campaigning for the council to adopt the Housing of the Working Classes Act. The Middlesex Chronicle reported that it was a very quiet election.
By the 1900 election George had learnt a thing or two about campaigning. He applied to the Council for permission to hold a meeting in the recreation ground, and when this was refused he held it near the Fire Station instead. A procession headed by a brass band marched to the meeting where members of the London Trade Society spoke. Not that this did him any good. His vote was even lower than the previous year. Nevertheless he pressed on. In 1901 his vote rose to 467, still a long way behind the winners but he was becoming well known in the town. George was beginning to be regarded as a menace to the established order and he was shouted down after the count and could not make a speech.
Throughout the times he stood he was the only working class candidate. At each election all his opponents were either shopkeepers, businessmen (a tug owner, a market gardener) or professional people (a doctor, a teacher). The campaign against George Haley grew in intensity as the years went by. By 1902 George had left the gas works and was a builder’s labourer. He was active in the Bricklayers’ Union but was as far away as ever from winning his council seat for Labour. After the 1902 election the Bricklayers’ Union held a rally in Brentford where a banner, bearlng a portrait of George Haley, was presented to the local branch.
For some reason George moved house almost as often as he stood for the council. His first known address is Vine Cottage, Layton Road. After that his addresses on the ballot paper were 69 Latewood Road, 51 Brook Road, 172 Whitestile Road, 17 Latewood Road and 32 Ealing Road. He probably lived at several other Brentford addresses as well. Little is known about his private life but he was probably a bachelor who never got on very well with his landlord. He liked a drink or two most evenings.
In 1903 George was calling for the appointment of a sanitary inspector in Brentford and his vote was up again. During the next two years he was a thorn in the flesh of Brentford Council. He wrote so many letters on housing and health matters that one councillor suggested that an extra clerk be employed to deal with the Haley correspondence.
Before the 1904 election he held a meeting in the Market Place, in front of the Magistrates Court, which drew a good crowd. For the sixth time he lost but 1905 was to be his year. He was now describing himself as a navvy. Reports in the Chiswick Times indicate that George had a disturbing way of addressing public meetings. He attacked his opponents vigorously and loudly. He frequently accused councillors of corruption and jobbery. On the Sunday before the 1905 election he was the sole speaker at a meeting in the morning and in the evening he held another meeting which was also addressed by a Mr Piggott from the Ealing Independent Labour Party, Mr J Osborn of the National Democratic League and Mr F Kennedy of the National. Builders’ Labourers’ Union. The Countess of Warwick sent her good wishes.
George had been even more active in the April 1905 election and had recently been prominent in the South Ealing Relief Committee which had been giving shoes and other essentials to the area’s poor. Institutions such as these were the final barrier between the unemployed and the stigma of the workhouse. George knew that if he lost the election in April he would have another opportunity within a month at a by-election caused by the death of a sitting councillor. There were six men contesting the four vacancies and if he came fifth he might stand a good chance in the by-election.
He concentrated his attack on the weakest candidate, a Mr Hughes, who was an engineer at the Beldam factory. It is not known if Mr Hughes treated his underlings badly – but George said that he did. When the votes were counted and recounted George had failed to gain a seat on the Council by one vote.
George had plenty of support outside the Town Hall and his speech after the April result was effectively his first in the imminent by-election campaign. He thanked his supporters for putting him so close to victory:
“In a month’s time there will be another election and I shall be there. If I fail at that attempt I shall be here again next year. I am prepared to fight as long as there is breath in my body and will win. I believe the public have sufficient confidence in me. I have fed hundreds of children. I have found shoes for 200 children and stopped several people from starving. Until you get a Labour representative on your council you will always live like dogs.” (This remark was greeted with applause, uproar and imitations of dogs barking.) “Let me tell you that I am proud to think I have stopped the sweater from the Beldam Foundry from getting in. That to me is a victory.”
This remark ensured that Mr Hughes was greeted with boos and hisses when he tried to speak. After a minute or two he realised that it would be hopeless to attempt to get a hearing. He retired from the platform and from local politics for ever.
The by-election was held on Monday May 15th 1905. George campaigned for jobs for the unemployed, for workmen’s houses, and against the Tramway Company for neglecting tram line maintenance which damaged the roads and caused accidents. The only other candidate was a Dr Deane who had not been in the town for long. The doctor had declined to be adopted by the Brentford Tradesmen and Ratepayers’ Association, preferring to run as an Independent, but he was undoubtedly the Association’s favourite candidate.
George won by 617 votes to 586 – a majority of 31. In his victory speech he said that he was more than pleased that they had made him fight for seven years in order to test his courage. After dealing with a remark from the crowd which suggested that a drop of whiskey was an equally effective way of gaining courage, he said he was a representative of the working class to which he belonged. He also said that he would show that a navvy was a man even if he was no bigger than a bottle – whether that referred to his height or his drinking habits is not recorded. The balding Dr. Deane was fairly well received although there were suggestions from the crowd that he should use hair restorer. He was a person who had gained some respect during the short time he had lived in Brentford. The crowd quickly dispersed though for some time afterwards little gatherings of people were to be observed in various parts of the town, excitedly discussing the merits of the elected councillor.
|BRENTFORD URBAN DISTRICT COUNCIL ELECTION RESULTS 1899-1905
Electorate approximately 3,000. Successful candidates marked *
|27 March 1899
James Clements (tug owner) 812*
George Bond (parchment manufacturer) 616*
Joseph Thomas Taylor (market gardener) 592*
Charles James Cross (JP) 501*
John George Liversidge (dyer) 422
Henry James Newens (baker) 402
George Haley (labourer) 377
Albert Thomas Furness (estate agent) 307
|4 April 1903
George Arthur Griffith 715*
Edwin Underwood (merchant) 647*
Isaac Ward (brewers’ manager 592*
William George Chovil (wine merchant) 479*
William George Gomm (brewer) 468
George Haley (labourer) 464
William John Dawes (manufacturer) 132
Joseph Dyer (insurance agent) 67
|2 April 1900
Frederick Nash 590*
William John Gomm (brewer) 551*
Isaac Ward (brewer’s manager) 529*
William George Chovil (wine merchant) 513*
George Pearce (waterman) 390
George Haley (labourer) 343
Edward Underwood (JP) 320
|19 April 1904
William John Noy (market gardener) 865*
John Reeder (salesman) 845*
William Bradley (manager) 835*
George Charles Collier (lighterman, barge and tug owner) 788*
George Haley (labourer) 415
William John Dawes (basket manufacturer) 109
Joseph Dyson (manager) 49
|29 March 1901
John Reeder (salesman) 802*
George Charles Collier (barge and
tug owner) 742*
William Bradley (manager) 703*
James Dorey 703*
George Haley (labourer) 467
|4 April 1905
James Clements (lighterman) 784*
Joseph Thomas Taylor (market gardener) 701*
Evan Phillips (schoolmaster 604*
George Pearce (waterman) 546*
George Haley (navvy) 545
John Rees Hughes (engineer) 360
|4 April 1902
James Clements 940*
Joseph Thomas Taylor 848*
Joseph Stanislaus Gubbins 741*
William Lee 553*
James Harvey 485
George Haley 389
John Sprang 181
William Pescud 170
|16 May 1905
George Haley (navvy) 617*
Arthur Dorman Deane (doctor) 586