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Thursday, 30 March 2023

Hebden Bridge Local History Society Report

The 1922 General Election and the Calder Valley (with an appearance by the Socialist Cat)

Speaker: Alan Fowler

Alan Fowler's comprehensive knowledge of the Labour movement in the Calder Valley makes him a great teller of history. As he reminded Hebden Bridge Local History Society, the years following the First World War were times of great social change, and the General Election of 1922 took place amid national and international turmoil.


By 1922 the post-war boom had turned to depression, and dreams of 'homes fit for heroes' had faded with lack of funding. For the cotton industry of Lancashire and the Calder Valley, times were particularly hard. The restoration of the gold standard left the pound over-valued, making exports more expensive, and the main market, India, had imposed a high tariff on imported cotton cloth.

Independent Soldiers' Candidate

Both Liberals and Conservatives were split as the General Election campaign started. This seemed to offer opportunities for the Labour party. In the Sowerby constituency of the Calder Valley (Todmorden, Hebden Bridge and Sowerby) 1918 had seen the surprise defeat of the Liberal MP J. S. Higham, by the Independent Soldiers' Candidate Major Robert Hewitt Barker. In 1922 both Barker and Higham stood down, and the Labour candidate, J. W. Ogden seemed to have a chance of taking the seat.

J. W. Ogden

Ogden was a self-taught man, a weaver who had started work at the age of 8 and was president of the Amalgamated Weavers Association. His rivals were Arnold Williams, a classic Liberal, supporting Free Trade, and with a good understanding of the international economic situation. There was a second 'Lloyd George' Liberal candidate, Frank Roebuck. Finally, Algernon Simpson-Hinchliffe, the Conservative who had been forced to withdraw in 1918. He lived in Cragg Hall, and was popular in the constituency, an active member of local societies and a local character, with the 'finest pigeon lofts in the country'.

The Socialist Cat and the pigeon loft

Labour's chief economic policy was to impose a levy on capital to pay off the catastrophic war debt. They were also committed to Free Trade, which would benefit the cotton industry. Williams took an international view, seeing that the problems of the world economy could not be solved at home. Hinchliffe played on his local links, with little reference to the cotton industry which dominated the area. Ogden had to fight the idea that Labour equalled Bolshevism, and that Labour were not fit to govern. Meanwhile, when his renowned pigeon loft was invaded and the prize pigeons killed, Hinchliffe claimed that the villain was a Socialist Cat…. playing on the idea that Labour presented a lawless threat.

Tory win

When Ogden waited for the results on the day after the election, in neighbouring Oldham Rochdale and Elland, the Labour party had already succeeded. But Calder Valley was a different place. The local element trumped economic policies, with Hinchliffe winning the seat with just 39% and Labour and Liberals splitting the rest of the vote. It was not until 1929 that a Labour MP was elected in the constituency.

This was the last of this season's lectures, which will resume in September.

Details of the History Society talks programme, publications and of archive opening times are available on the History website and you can also follow History Society Facebook page.

With thanks to Sheila Graham for this report

See also: the HebWeb History section