Spen Valley (UK Parliament constituency)


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:

Parish1911 Population1885–19181918–1950Notes
Birkenshaw2,508Spen ValleySpen ValleyWas part of Gomersal Parish in 1885
Birstall7,116Spen ValleySpen ValleyWas part of Gomersal Parish in 1885
Cleckheaton12,866Spen ValleySpen ValleyPart of Spenborough Urban District from 1915
Clifton2,258Spen ValleyElland
Drighlington4,126PudseySpen Valley
Gildersome2,981PudseySpen Valley
Gomersal3,796Spen ValleySpen ValleyIncluded Birkenshaw and Birstall in 1885
Hartshead958Spen ValleyElland
Heckmondwike9,016Spen ValleySpen Valley
Hipperholme (part)322Spen ValleyEllandPart of Wyke parish in 1885, removed in 1899
Hunsworth1,326PudseySpen Valley
Kirkheaton2,621HolmfirthSpen Valley
Lepton2,999HolmfirthSpen Valley
Liversedge14,658Spen ValleySpen ValleyPart of Spenborough Urban District from 1915
Mirfield11,712MorleySpen Valley
Whitley Upper830HolmfirthSpen Valley
Wyke6,145Spen ValleyBradford 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

1885 constituency established
1885 Joseph Woodhead Liberal
1892 Thomas 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 WoodheadLiberal5,82667.7
John Gladstone Conservative2,78232.3
1886 general election
Electorate: 9,645
Turnout: 6,742 (69.9%) -19.3
Liberal hold
Majority: 2,342 (34.8%)
Joseph WoodheadLiberal4,54267.4–0.3
Stanley Boulter Liberal Unionist2,20032.6+0.3
1892 general election
Electorate: 11,038
Turnout: 8,426 (76.3%) +6.4
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,478 (17.6%)
Thomas WhittakerLiberal4,95258.8–8.6
Frederick Ellis Conservative3,47441.2+8.6
1895 general election
Electorate: 10,492
Turnout: 8,579 (81.8%) +5.5
Liberal hold
Majority: 821 (9.6%)
Thomas WhittakerLiberal4,70054.8–4.0
Frederick Ellis Conservative3,87945.2+4.0
1900 general election
Electorate: 10,858
Turnout: 8,721 (80.3%) –1.5
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,415 (16.2%)
Thomas WhittakerLiberal5,06858.1+3.3
William Glossop Conservative3,65341.9–3.3
1906 general election
Electorate: 11,300
Turnout: 9,048 (80.1%) –0.2
Liberal hold
Majority: 2,864 (31.6%)
Thomas WhittakerLiberal5,95665.8+7.7
Richard Johnson Conservative3,09234.2–7.7
January 1910 general election
Electorate: 11,631
Turnout: 92.6% (+12.5)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,378 (12.9%)
Thomas WhittakerLiberal4,81744.8–21.0
Frederic Kelley Conservative3,43931.9–2.3
T. Russell Williams Labour2,51423.3
December 1910 general election
Electorate: 11,631
Turnout: 9,586 (82.4%) –10.2
Liberal hold
Majority: 496 (5.2%)
Thomas WhittakerLiberal5,04152.6+7.8
Frederic Kelley Conservative4,54547.4+15.5

Note: Another General Election was required to take place before the end of 1915. The political parties had been making preparations for an election to take place and by the July 1914, the following candidates had been selected:

Election Political result Candidate Party Votes % ±%
1918 general election
Electorate: 38,327
Turnout: 49.4%
Coalition Liberal win
Majority: 2,156 (11.2%)
Thomas WhittakerCoalition Liberal10,66455.6
Tom Myers Labour8,50844.4
By-election, 20 December 1919[15]
Electorate: 39,667
Turnout: 76.5% (+27.1)
Labour gain from Coalition Liberal
Majority: 1,718 (5.6%)
Tom MyersLabour11,96239.4–5.0
John Simon Liberal10,24433.8
Bryan Charles Fairfax[16] Coalition Liberal8,13426.8–28.8
1922 general election
Electorate: 40,107
Turnout: 84.6% (+35.2)
Liberal gain from Coalition Liberal
Majority: 787 (2.3%)
John SimonLiberal13,30639.2
Tom Myers Labour12,51936.9–7.5
William Orlando Rhodes Holton Conservative8,10423.9
1923 general election
Electorate: 40,678
Turnout: 82.7% (–1.9)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,075 (3.2%)
John SimonLiberal13,67240.6+1.4
Tom Myers Labour12,59737.4+0.5
Eugene Ramsden Conservative7,39022.0–1.9
1924 general election
Electorate: 40,978
Turnout: 79.2% (–3.5)
Liberal hold
Majority: 4,475 (13.8%)
John SimonLiberal18,47456.9+16.3
Tom Myers Labour13,99943.1+5.7
1929 general election
Electorate: 53,480
Turnout: 79.6% (+0.4)
Liberal hold
Majority: 1,739 (4.0%)
John SimonLiberal22,03951.7–5.2
Herbert Elvin Labour20,30047.7+4.6
Shaukat Usmani Communist2420.6
1931 general election
Electorate: 54,097
Turnout: 82.0% (+2.4)
Liberal National hold
Majority: 12,956 (29.2%)
John SimonLiberal National28,64764.6+12.9
Herbert Elvin Labour15,69135.4–12.3
1935 general election
Electorate: 55,358
Turnout: 77.1% (–4.9)
Liberal National hold
Majority: 642 (1.6%)
John SimonLiberal National21,67150.8–13.8
Ivor Thomas Labour21,02949.2+13.8
1 June 1940 by-election[17]Liberal National hold William WoolleyLiberal Nationalunopposed
1945 general election
Electorate: 55,218
Turnout: 82.1% (+5.0)
Labour gain from Liberal National
Majority: 6,077 (13.4%)
Granville SharpLabour25,69856.7+7.5
William Woolley Liberal National19,62143.3–7.5

Note: Another General Election was required to take place before the end of 1940. The political parties had been making preparations for an election to take place and by the Autumn of 1939, the following candidates had been selected:

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. ‘FAIRFAX, Col Bryan Charles’, Who Was Who, A & C Black, an imprint of Bloomsbury Publishing plc, 1920–2016; online edn, Oxford University Press, 2014 ; online edn, April 2014 accessed 20 Sept 2017
  17. Sir John Simon was appointed Lord High Chancellor of Great Britain on 20 May 1940.
  18. Report of the Annual Conference of the Labour Party, 1939
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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