Election campaign

What Cameron, Clegg and Miliband’s constituencies looked like 100 years ago today

All three of the main party leaders will be attending events over the next 24 hours to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Britain entering the first world war.

As you’d expect, there’ll be a lot of what-Britain-was-like-in-1914 in evidence today on TV, radio and online. By way of a lowly contribution, I’ve taken a look to see who the constituencies represented currently by David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband had as their member of parliament on 4 August 1914.

David Cameron

The prime minister’s seat of Witney did not exist in 1914. The area covered by the present seat was instead part of a larger constituency called Woodstock, sometimes also known by the unimaginative title Oxfordshire Mid.

This largely rural seat existed from 1832 until 1918, and its MP on 4 August 1914 was a Conservative: Alfred St George Hamersley.

Hamersley had won the seat from the Liberals in the general election of January 1910. He was a man who “retired into politics”, as was so often the fashion of the times. Before becoming an MP he had a long legal career, lived in a number of corners of the British empire, and enjoyed a spell as captain of the England rugby team.

He was 66 years old when war broke out. Still holding the rank of colonel from his stint as a youth at the Woolwich military academy, Hamersley was asked to oversee the creation in Oxford of the army’s first dedicated heavy battery unit.

Four Oxfordshire Batteries went on to fight in Europe, seeing action at Somme, Arras and Ypres. A memorial tablet to their endeavours, commissioned by Hamersley, was unveiled at Oxford town hall in 1926.

Hamersley’s political career was very much a muted coda to his eventful life. It ended abruptly when his seat was abolished in 1918 and divided between Banbury and Henley. He died in 1929.

Nick Clegg

Unlike David Cameron’s seat of Witney, Nick Clegg’s constituency of Sheffield Hallam did exist in 1914. It was created in 1885 following the Redistribution of Seats Act, which split Sheffield into five divisions, each represented by a single MP.

On 4 August 1914 the seat’s MP was 62-year-old Charles Stuart-Wortley: the man who had represented Sheffield Hallam ever since it came into existence. A Conservative, he had been an under-secretary of state in the late 19th century in the the Tory administrations of Lord Salisbury.

He seems to have moved in distinctly cultured circles. His first wife was the niece of Anthony Trollope, later John Major’s favourite author, while his second wife was the daughter of the artist John Everett Millais and a friend of Edward Elgar.

Stuart-Wortley did not see any war service. He resigned from the Commons in 1916 to join the Lords in 1917 as the 1st Baron Stuart of Wortley. The title expired at the same time as he did, in 1926.

His successor as an MP in 1916 was a Liberal, H.A.L. Fisher, who promptly lost the seat to the Tories two years later. A rather gentrified constituency even then, Sheffield Hallam would not see another an MP from any other party until the election of the Lib Dems’ Richard Allan in 1997.

Ed Miliband

Unearthing the Labour leader’s 1914 equivalent in the constituency of Doncaster North is not straightforward. Miliband’s seat was only created in 1983. It was formed out of chunks of Don Valley and Goole, parts of which were themselves carved from slices of the historic seat of Doncaster, first created in 1885.

The area covered by this seat is now mostly within Doncaster Central and Doncaster North, so its MP on 4 August 1914 is as close as we’re going to get to a Miliband forerunner. And that man was a Liberal: Charles Norris Nicholson, who had been MP for Doncaster since 1906.

Nicholson was a London-based lawyer with a philanthropic streak. He was chairman of both the Shoreditch Board of Guardians and Poor Law Schools Committee. He also supported votes for women, but didn’t live to see a universal franchise become law. He died from pneumonia just days after the end of the first world war in November 1918.

Nicholson’s brother stood in the subsequent election, holding the seat for the Liberals until 1922 when Doncaster was won for the first time by Labour. The seat shuttled between Labour and the Tories for much of the remainder of its existence, though there hasn’t been a Tory MP in the city since Anthony Barber was defeated by Harold Walker in 1964.


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