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Spen Valley (UK Parliament constituency)

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Title: Spen Valley (UK Parliament constituency)  
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Subject: Eastern West Riding of Yorkshire (UK Parliament constituency), William Woolley, Spen Valley by-election, 1940, Granville Maynard Sharp, Independent Labour Party election results
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Spen Valley (UK Parliament constituency)

Spen Valley
Former County constituency
for the House of Commons
Number of members one
Created from Eastern West Riding of Yorkshire

Spen Valley was a parliamentary constituency in the valley of the River Spen in West Yorkshire. It returned one Member of Parliament to the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.


  • History 1
  • Boundaries 2
  • Members of Parliament 3
  • Elections 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


The constituency was created by the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885 for the 1885 general election, retained with altered boundaries in 1918, and abolished for the 1950 general election. In the 1901 Census, there were 13,557 inhabited houses in the division; there were 10,960 registered electors, of which 9,396 qualified by virtue of occupying property within the division, 1,490 by virtue of owning property, 67 by virtue of occupying land only within the division, and 7 qualifying as lodgers.[1]

Political historian Henry Pelling noted that the constituency as it existed from 1885 to 1918 was dominated by the woollen industry and carpetmaking, where the vast bulk of the population were nonconformist: the Church of England parish of Birstall was said to have had only four clergymen in the eighteenth century (two of whom were schoolmasters).[2] In 1922, membership of nonconformist circuits in the constituency is estimated at 2,759 for the Congregational Church, 1,065 Wesleyanism, 1,027 United Methodist Church, 698 Primitive Methodism, and 328 Baptists, making it the second largest nonconformist attendance in the West Riding.[3]

The death of the sitting MP in 1919 led to a sensational by-election gain for the Labour Party, which was described by historian Maurice Cowling as the worst result for the Coalition during the 1918-22 Parliament;[4] John Ramsden admitted that Labour's win had a big psychological impact on the Coalition but thought the result was a "freak win" given that Labour had under 40% of the vote.[5] At the ensuing general election, the Manchester Guardian described the constituency as "scattered between the three towns of Leeds, Bradford and Huddersfield", centred on Cleckheaton, and populated by "woollen and wire workers, miners, card manufacturers". A significant presence of Irish voters was also noted.[6] Sir John Simon, a former Home Secretary who had lost his seat in the 1918 election, regained the seat for the Liberals in 1922 and held it until given a Peerage in 1940. During this period Simon moved from declaring his basic sympathy with the Labour Party's objects, to forming the Liberal Nationals who went into alliance with the Conservatives.[7] Simon found his constituency marginal, and had a majority of under 1,000 in his last election, and Labour gained it in the 1945 election landslide.

Boundary changes abolished the constituency in 1950. The bulk of the abolished constituency, including Cleckheaton, Gildersome and Spenborough, formed the eastern half of Brighouse and Spenborough; another large part including Gildersome, Birstall and Drighlington, formed part of Batley and Morley. Heckmondwike and Mirfield transferred to Dewsbury, while Kirkheaton moved to Colne Valley and other parts moved to Huddersfield East.


While originally devised by the Boundary Commissioners in 1885, the division was originally named as 'Birstal', "from the name of a large ancient parish".[8] The naming of the new division led to a small struggle between the two Houses of Parliament during the passage of the Redistribution of Seats Act 1885, when Alfred Illingworth (Liberal MP for Bradford) moved an amendment to replace 'Birstal' with 'Spen Valley'. Illingworth argued that Birstall contained only one-eighth of the population of the division, but Spen Valley was a name which represented several important towns, and his amendment was accepted without dissent by the House of Commons.[9] When the Bill reached the House of Lords, the Conservative peer the Earl of Feversham moved an amendment to reinstate 'Birstal' claiming the support of the people in the area. The Earl contended that the Spen Valley was an unknown description and "was only remarkable for being the receptacle of all the sewage from Birstal", whereas Birstal was a very important parish. He had support from the Earl of Cranbrook and his amendment was also accepted without dissent.[10]

When the Bill returned to the House of Commons, Alfred Illingworth again took up the issue and moved that the Commons disagree with the Lords. He again pointed to the small population of Birstall in comparison with other towns, and noted that the Sanitary district covering the area was known as Spen Valley and that the River Spen ran through the centre of the constituency whereas Birstall was in the extreme north-east corner of it. Conservative MP Edward Stanhope (Mid Lincolnshire) said that he had found feeling in the area to be in favour of 'Birstal', but the President of the Local Government Board Sir Charles Dilke, speaking for the Government, stated that the local boards in Heckmondwike, Liversedge and Cleckheaton (where a majority of the population lived) had sent a memorial in favour of 'Spen Valley'. He agreed that the name had been invented by the Local Government Board, but argued that there were "local jealousies" between the towns and that Birstall was unpopular with the others, and therefore personally supported 'Spen Valley'. After a brief debate, the House voted by 65 to 46 to insist on 'Spen Valley' as the name.[11] The Lords then gave way, but not without further protest from the Earl of Feversham.[12]

During this battle no alteration was made to the boundary. The new division was to consist of:

When redefined by the Boundary Commission in 1917, the county division was defined as consisting of the Urban Districts of Birkenshaw, Birstall, Drighlington, Gildersome, Heckmondwike, Hunsworth, Kirkheaton, Lepton, Mirfield, Spenborough and Whitley Upper.[14]

The effect of the boundary change in 1918 was as shown in the table:

Parish 1911 Population 1885-1918 1918-1950 Notes
Birkenshaw 2,508 Spen Valley Spen Valley Was part of Gomersal Parish in 1885
Birstall 7,116 Spen Valley Spen Valley Was part of Gomersal Parish in 1885
Cleckheaton 12,866 Spen Valley Spen Valley Part of Spenborough Urban District from 1915
Clifton 2,258 Spen Valley Elland
Drighlington 4,126 Pudsey Spen Valley
Gildersome 2,981 Pudsey Spen Valley
Gomersal 3,796 Spen Valley Spen Valley Included Birkenshaw and Birstall in 1885
Hartshead 958 Spen Valley Elland
Heckmondwike 9,016 Spen Valley Spen Valley
Hipperholme (part) 322 Spen Valley Elland Part of Wyke parish in 1885, removed in 1899
Hunsworth 1,326 Pudsey Spen Valley
Kirkheaton 2,621 Holmfirth Spen Valley
Lepton 2,999 Holmfirth Spen Valley
Liversedge 14,658 Spen Valley Spen Valley Part of Spenborough Urban District from 1915
Mirfield 11,712 Morley Spen Valley
Whitley Upper 830 Holmfirth Spen Valley
Wyke 6,145 Spen Valley Bradford South

Of the 59,643 population in Spen Valley before the boundary change, 49,960 (83.8%) remained in the division after it. 6,145 (10.3%) moved to Bradford South while 3,538 (5.9%) moved to Elland. The new constituency was made up primarily of the old Spen Valley (65.3%), with 11,712 (15.3%) from Morley, 8,433 (11.0%) from Pudsey, and 6,450 (8.4%) from Holmfirth.

Members of Parliament

Election Member Party
1885 constituency established
1885 Joseph Woodhead Liberal
1892 Sir Thomas Palmer Whittaker Coalition Liberal
1919 by-election Tom Myers Labour
1922 Sir John Simon Liberal
1931 Liberal National
1940 by-election William Woolley Liberal National
1945 Granville Maynard Sharp Labour
1950 constituency abolished


Election Political result Candidate Party Votes % ±%
1885 General Election
Electorate: 9,645
Turnout: 89.2%
Liberal win
Majority: 3,044 (35.4%)
Joseph Woodhead Liberal 5,826 67.7
John Evelyn Gladstone Conservative 2,782 32.3
1886 General Election
Electorate: 9,645
Turnout: 69.9% (-19.3)
Liberal hold
Majority: 2,342 (34.8%)
Joseph Woodhead Liberal 4,542 67.4 –0.3
Stanley Carr Boulter Conservative 2,200 32.6 +0.3
1892 General Election
Electorate: 11,038
Turnout: 76.3% (+6.4)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,478 (17.6%)
Thomas Palmer Whittaker Liberal 4,952 58.8 –8.6
Frederick Ellis Conservative 3,474 41.2 +8.6
1895 General Election
Electorate: 10,492
Turnout: 81.8% (+5.5)
Liberal hold
Majority: 821 (9.6%)
Thomas Palmer Whittaker Liberal 4,700 54.8 –4.0
Frederick Ellis Conservative 3,879 45.2 +4.0
1900 General Election
Electorate: 10,858
Turnout: 80.3% (–1.5)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,415 (16.2%)
Thomas Palmer Whittaker Liberal 5,068 58.1 +3.3
William Glossop Conservative 3,653 41.9 –3.3
1906 General Election
Electorate: 11,300
Turnout: 80.1% (–0.2)
Liberal hold
Majority: 2,864 (31.6%)
Thomas Palmer Whittaker Liberal 5,956 65.8 +7.7
Richard Johnson Conservative 3,092 34.2 –7.7
January 1910 General Election
Electorate: 11,631
Turnout: 92.6% (+12.5)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,378 (12.9%)
Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Palmer Whittaker Liberal 4,817 44.8 –21.0
Frederic Arthur Kelley Conservative 3,439 31.9 –2.3
Thomas Russell Williams Labour 2,514 23.3
December 1910 General Election
Electorate: 11,631
Turnout: 82.4% (–10.2)
Liberal hold
Majority: 496 (5.2%)
Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Palmer Whittaker Liberal 5,041 52.6 +7.8
Frederic Arthur Kelley Conservative 4,545 47.4 +15.5
Election Political result Candidate Party Votes % ±%
1918 General Election
Electorate: 38,327
Turnout: 49.4%
Coalition Liberal win
Majority: 2,156 (11.2%)
Rt. Hon. Sir Thomas Palmer Whittaker Coalition Liberal 10,664 55.6
Thomas Myers Labour 8,508 44.4
By-election, 20 December 1919[15]
Electorate: 39,667
Turnout: 76.5% (+27.1)
Labour gain from Coalition Liberal
Majority: 1,718 (5.6%)
Thomas Myers Labour 11,962 39.4 –5.0
Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Simon Liberal 10,244 33.8
Colonel Bryan Charles Fairfax Coalition Liberal 8,134 26.8 –28.8
1922 General Election
Electorate: 40,107
Turnout: 84.6% (+35.2)
Liberal gain from Coalition Liberal
Majority: 787 (2.3%)
Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Simon Liberal 13,306 39.2
Thomas Myers Labour 12,519 36.9 –7.5
William Orlando Rhodes Holton Conservative 8,104 23.9
1923 General Election
Electorate: 40,678
Turnout: 82.7% (–1.9)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,075 (3.2%)
Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Simon Liberal 13,672 40.6 +1.4
Thomas Myers Labour 12,597 37.4 +0.5
Eugene Joseph Squire Hargreaves Ramsden Conservative 7,390 22.0 –1.9
1924 General Election
Electorate: 40,978
Turnout: 79.2% (–3.5)
Liberal hold
Majority: 4,475 (13.8%)
Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Simon Liberal 18,474 56.9 +16.3
Thomas Myers Labour 13,999 43.1 +5.7
1929 General Election
Electorate: 53,480
Turnout: 79.6% (+0.4)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,739 (4.0%)
Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Simon Liberal 22,039 51.7 –5.2
Herbert Henry Elvin Labour 20,300 47.7 +4.6
Shaukat Usmani Communist 242 0.6
1931 General Election
Electorate: 54,097
Turnout: 82.0% (+2.4)
Liberal National hold
Majority: 12,956 (29.2%)
Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Simon Liberal National 28,647 64.6 +12.9
Herbert Henry Elvin Labour 15,691 35.4 –12.3
1935 General Election
Electorate: 55,358
Turnout: 77.1% (–4.9)
Liberal National hold
Majority: 642 (1.6%)
Rt. Hon. Sir John Allsebrook Simon Liberal National 21,671 50.8 –13.8
Ivor Thomas Labour 21,029 49.2 +13.8
1 June 1940 by-election[16] Liberal National hold William Edward Woolley Liberal National unopposed
1945 General Election
Electorate: 55,218
Turnout: 82.1% (+5.0)
Labour gain from Liberal National
Majority: 6,077 (13.4%)
Granville Maynard Sharp Labour 25,698 56.7 +7.5
William Edward Woolley Liberal National 19,621 43.3 –7.5

See also


  1. ^ "Parliamentary Constituencies (Electors, &c.) (United Kingdom)", House of Commons Paper no. 85 of session 1901, p. 7.
  2. ^ Henry Pelling, "Social Geography of British Elections 1885-1910", Macmillan, 1967, p. 302.
  3. ^ Michael Kinnear, "The British Voter" 2nd edition, Batsford Academic, 1981, p. 128.
  4. ^ Maurice Cowling, "The Impact of Labour, 1920–1924", Cambridge University Press, 1971, p. 112.
  5. ^ John Ramsden, "Newport and the fall of the Coalition" in "By-Elections in British Politics", Macmillan Press, 1973, p. 18.
  6. ^ "The Second Round in Spen Valley: Sir John Simon and Mr. Tom Myers", Manchester Guardian, 9 November 1922, p. 12.
  7. ^ David Dutton, "Liberals in Schism: A history of the National Liberal Party", Tauris Academic Studies, 2008, p. 42.
  8. ^ "County of York (Eastern Division of the West Riding)" in "Report of the Boundary Commissioners for England Wales, 1885" (C.-4287), vol I p. 185-7.
  9. ^ Hansard 3ser vol 296 col 1937.
  10. ^ Hansard 3ser vol 298 col 1394.
  11. ^ Hansard, 3ser vol 298 cols 1581-2.
  12. ^ Hansard 3ser vol 298 cols 1610-11.
  13. ^ Redistribution of Seats Act 1885
  14. ^ "46. County of York, West Riding" in "Report of the Boundary Commission (England and Wales)", Cd. 8757, vol II.
  15. ^ Thomas Whittaker died on 9 November 1919.
  16. ^ Sir John Simon was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain on 20 May 1940.
  • Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "S" (part 4)
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Birmingham Edgbaston
Constituency represented by the Chancellor of the Exchequer
Succeeded by
Woolwich West
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