Sir Douglas Newton and the Cambridge Conservatives of the 1920s


Cambridge borough was a Conservative seat throughout the 1920s with Sir Douglas Newton as our MP. A time of splits between the Labour and Liberal parties plus partisan press support from the Cambridge Chronicle feature prominently.

Many of the screenshots for this post came from the Cambridgeshire Collection on the 3rd floor of the Central Library, Lion Yard, Cambridge. Have a look at what they have here, or even better, go and visit them. They are open weekdays till 5pm and also are staffed on the 2nd Saturday of every month. Other screengrabs are from the British Newspaper Archive <- click to subscribe. While searchable, they haven’t comprehensively covered Cambridge in the 20th Century. But for 19thC newspapers it is a goldmine.

This blogpost stems from a number of articles I found about Sir Douglas Newton on a recent research stint in their newspaper collection. I’ve not written much so far about Cambridge’s Conservatives as women’s rights and social reform was not at the top of the agenda for the Conservatives in the run up to the First World War. But it was the Conservatives that dominated Cambridge throughout the 1920s as far as the parliamentary elections were concerned.

221115 Newton Front Page

“I wonder who they want us to vote for?!?”

Sir George Douglas Cochrane Newton MP (later Lord Eltisley) succeeded Sir Eric Geddes as MP for Cambridge in 1922 when the latter resigned to take up a directorship with the rubber firm Dunlop. I’m not entirely sure why Geddes chose to stand in Cambridge, nor why he chose to resign in 1922 to go into business. All the papers seem to say is that he at first denied the rumours (which led to Labour beginning candidate selection proceedings) before resigning.

200213 Geddes Denies resignation rumours then resigns

Newton would become the third Conservative MP in a row, succeeding Geddes and Almeric Paget, the latter who had defeated Stanley Buckmaster KC in January 1910, and who saw off the best efforts of Cambridge Hero Eglantyne Jebb to get Buckmaster re-elected in the snap election that December.

One person who regularly crops up in the newspaper archives in Cambridge is Lady Muriel Newton. One of the earliest mentions of her is as a magistrate for Cambridge County (as opposed to the borough). 200723 Magistrates

Lady Newton joined Florence Ada Keynes, Edith Bethune Baker, Jane Harrison, Leah Manning and Clara Rackham as magistrates.

Just reeling off those names – the intellectual and civic campaigning firepower of those women must have been immense. A seriously impressive lineup of women.

A snap election called with Sir Douglas in the middle of the Atlantic. On a ship.

What do you do if you are out of the country and don’t have a plane to get you back? Remember there were no intercontinental flights in 1922. This was only 8 years after Gustav Hamel, the famous pre-war pilot had entertained crowds in a flying sewing machine in Cambridge on a field where my childhood home was later built.

221108 Douglas Muriel Newton Message.jpg

Sir Douglas sent this message aboard the Almanzora

So it was left to their election agent and their daughter, Myra to start the campaign off.

221108 Myra Newton Daughter

Road canvassing – Myra Newton

Interestingly enough, this was around the time the motor car was really beginning to be used as a campaigning machine. Reading Rupert Brooke’s letters in the run up to the 1910 general election, stuck out in a rural seat he complained that his opponents had ten times as many cars to ferry voters to and from polling stations. Which makes me wonder about the fairness of elections give the distances he mentioned that people had to travel. Ferrying voters to and from polling stations is something that still happens today – but the campaigners are not allowed to accompany them into the polling stations. The poet Rupert Brooke, who was a member of the Cambridge University Fabian Society, was one of the best friends of Florence Ada Keynes’ younger son, Geoffrey, who edited the huge volume of letters for publication.

That’s not the end of the Rupert Brooke link either. Sir Douglas’s Labour opponent for the Cambridge by-election was none other than Rupert’s close friend at King’s College, Hugh Dalton. Mr Dalton would go on to become Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1945 under Clement Attlee.

200316 Hugh Dalton Cambridge Labour

Hugh Dalton was a close friend of another Cambridge Hero – Leah Manning, the New Street School teacher who trained at Homerton College under the watchful eye of Mary Allan. Mrs Manning was the President of the Cambridge Labour Party at the time and recalls a campaign involving very little resources but a huge amount of energy and enthusiasm from locals.

200528 Hugh Dalton Morley

One of the things that you’ll notice with the above advert is one of our local primary schools is the venue for the second meeting, while the first one is out doors on Parker’s Piece. 221108 Douglas Newton Advert

Sir Douglas makes use of ***seven*** schools in his campaign – noting that the different fonts give the impression he’ll be there rather than having meetings ‘in support of’ Sir Douglas – still stuck on a ship.

What were the results?

By-election, 1922: Cambridge
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Cons George Newton 10,897 48.69 -26.61
Lab Hugh Dalton 6,954 31.07 N/A
Lib Sydney Cope Morgan 4,529 20.24 -4.46

(Via WikiP)

This was the start of the time the old Liberal Party was beginning to implode, relinquishing their place as one of the top two parties. Many of their activists moved over to the Labour Party – including in Cambridge both Leah Manning and Clara Rackham, both of whom had been Liberals before the First World War but who were firmly Labour after it.


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