Friday, 18 July 2014

Durham's ‘Edwardian Golden Summer’ of 1914?

This week we have a guest post by David Butler on what the country was like in the run up to the war.

National Unrest

From 1906 the Liberal government, which had been elected after a long period of Conservative rule, introduced many social reforms.  However by 1914 it was dependant on Irish Nationalist support, the price being Irish Home Rule.  By late July Ireland was on the brink of civil war the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers were planning armed opposition and a number of army officers in Ireland were not prepared to follow orders to enforce the legislation.

The leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested by Superintendant Rolfe outside Buckingham Palace, London while trying to present a petition to HM King George V in May 1914.  This image was created and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence
The leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, 
Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested by 
Superintendant Rolfe outside Buckingham Palace
London while trying to present a petition to HM 
King George V in May 1914.  This image was 
created and released by the Imperial War 
Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence
From 1905 the Women’s Social and Political Union began a confrontational campaign for electoral reform.  This included disrupting political meetings, breaking windows and setting fire to empty houses, which resulted in arrests and inhumane treatment in prison.

Between 1910 and 1914 there were widespread industrial problems, with strikes in the coal, engineering, building, transport, and iron & steel industries.  Some of the strikes led to riots, with troops being deployed to support the police.  All was building up to the strong likelihood of a General Strike occurring in September 1914.

Local View

How far the citizens of Durham were aware of the international situation is difficult to assess.  One window into the concerns of Durham’s inhabitants in the summer of 1914 is to examine the Durham Advertiser for the weeks before the outbreak of war.   Interestingly, there are only two references to the international situation:

On 3 July the paper carried a brief account of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at the bottom of page 7, although the report of prices paid for cattle and sheep at Lanchester occupied more space.

At the end of the month a short piece entitled ‘The Outbreak of War’ referred to Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia.  The paper claimed that diplomacy ‘is straining every nerve to preserve peace’ and that ‘the situation of extreme gravity will continue for weeks’, but re-assured its readers that the Royal Navy and British Army were ‘in a state almost equivalent to mobilisation’.

The Irish crisis did get more coverage in the paper, usually in editorials, and on 24 July there was a report of the attempt by George V to settle the Irish crisis peacefully, however, although there was some progress, events were overtaken by the worsening international situation.

What else was concerning the inhabitants of Durham in July 1914?

There is very little in the Advertiser about the women’s suffrage agitation.  However there was a letter from Maurice Drummond of Lanchester which stated that he was ‘astonished and filled with indignation to think … that any Government should be so unfortunate in a country like ours … to hesitate giving the franchise … to women …  No matter about [her] standing, education, intelligence, health, money, land, property, profession, income, she is doomed to be kept out, defied and ill-treated, as if she was a mere tramp, vagabond and out-lawed.  … But Jack, Tom, Dick, Bob and Harry, can have all the pleasure of life as he likes, and a vote into the bargain, simply because he is a man.’

However, the Big Meeting (the 43rd Durham Miners Gala) which took place on 25 July 1914, did provide a platform (literally) for the suffragettes.  The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was allowed to hold a non-militant meeting following the main meeting, at which the speakers were Dr. Ethel Williams, Muriel Matters and Margaret Robinson.  The paper reported that the majority of the crowd remained to listen, and few interruptions took place.

Photograph of a Royal Flying Corps officer seated in the cockpit of a biplane, n.d. [1917] (D/DLI 7/880/1(61))
D/DLI 7/880/1(61) Photograph of a Royal Flying Corps officer seated in the cockpit of a biplane, n.d. [1917]

On Saturday 18 July Major Charles Burke of the Royal Flying Corps landed his biplane in a field at Easington following a petrol stoppage.  He continued his journey to Scotland on the following Monday, in the presence of a large crowd which had assembled early in the morning, but owing to fog he did not take-off until 4.00 p.m.  However, after two miles the fog forced him to land near Haswell.  He left the next morning, again with a large crowd, and was ‘last seen proceeding northwards’.

Since this was the height of summer, it is not surprising that there was an advertisement for the Canvastown Holiday Camp, Whitley Bay, where you could have a tent with a wooden floor, and use of a pavilion with a dining room, lounge and billiard room, for £1 per week, including four meal a day.

Copy photograph, from a postcard, of the rocky beach at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, looking south-east, n.d. [ c.1920] Clayport Library reference 138A; Durham Record no. DR 02299 (D/CL 27/277/370)
D/CL 27/277/370 Copy photograph, from a postcard, of the rocky beach at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, looking south-east, n.d. [ c.1920] Clayport Library reference 138A; Durham Record no. DR 02299

The beginning of August was a Bank Holiday weekend (Friday 31 July - Monday 3 August), and events in Durham included the 12th Annual Northern Cyclists August Meet, with participants arriving in the city from Newcastle on Saturday, and attending a service at the cathedral on Sunday afternoon; the annual gala of the United Irish Land League of Great Britain at Wharton Park on Monday addressed by Joseph Devlin MP; a swimming gala in the Wear by the Racecourse organised by the city swimming club; and the North Eastern Railway’s Saturday excursion trains from Durham to destinations including York, Scarborough, Barrow, Windermere, and London.

One  reflection of the international situation can be seen at the Durham County Agricultural Show held at Dryburn Park in Durham on Wednesday 29 July which had special classes for hunters suitable for cavalry purposes and foals likely to be suitable for artillery purposes.

I will finish with a surprisingly accurate prediction published in July 1914 for 100 years in the future:

"[Houses] … will be without chimneys, will have an elevator in the centre instead of a staircase, will be heated electrically from strips put in during building construction, lighted from hidden strips around the walls, and will have simplified electric cookers and other utensils.   The gardener will not only use electricity for stimulating his plants but as a source of power for pumping and cutting the grass, and the … garage will use it for charging automobiles, driving small repair tools, inflating and vulcanising tires, and probably for compressed air cleaning.   As all coal will be burned at the pit’s mouth to generate electricity, towns will be practically dustless and smokeless.   All transportation will be by electricity, factories and business places will depend upon … electrical appliances, the telephone will be universal, wireless telegraphy will play a great part in communication, and electricity will serve in medicine and surgery …, for sterilising food, for purifying and ionising the air … making the world healthier and speeding it up marvellously."

No comments:

Post a Comment