Take a fascinating look at past elections in Hastings

Local historian Steve Peak takes a look at elections and campaigning in Hastings in days gone by

He writes: Hastings Labour Party did not do too well in last week’s local election, so perhaps they should have run a special campaigning shop, as the Independent Labour Party (ILP) did in the 1910 general election.

The ILP was affiliated to the Labour Party, but was further to the left. On 3 January 1910 the Hastings branches of the ILP and Church Socialist League opened the ‘Socialist Literature Depot’ at 51 Robertson Street. It is now the Maple Leaf café, specialising in coffee and cinnamon buns.

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In the run-up to the general election on 15 January, the purpose of the Depot was ‘instructing the electorate on the true aims and objects of socialism’. Discussions were held every evening. Unfortunately, there was no Labour or ILP candidate in the election, which was won by sitting Tory MP Arthur Du Cros.

51 Robertson Street when it was the Socialist Literature Depot SUS-221005-094041001

The Socialist Literature Depot in normal life had several occupants. On the left is the entrance to the top-floor Memorial Studios of the town’s leading photographer Mr JH Blomfield, who had ‘Royal, Noble and other Patrons’. Under the Depot sign is the ‘ham and beef’ shop of MR RF Hodgson, with a sign in the window saying ‘The Only Remedy is Socialism’. On the right is ‘umbrella manufacturer’ Mr G Meek.

Arthur Du Cros also won the December 1910 general election, where his only rival was a Liberal. He was the son of Harvey Du Cros, a rich Irish businessman who won the Hastings seat for the Tories in the 1906 election, a shock result, as he had defeated the sitting Liberal MP, despite a national swing to the Liberals.

Harvey Du Cros in 1889 had set up what was to become the Dunlop Rubber Company, which soon became one of the biggest companies in the world tyre trade. He made a huge fortune, and he displayed this in his run-up to the 1906 election, driving round the town in a luxury car and residing in a large house in Dane Road, St Leonards. His campaigning was done Boris Johnson style, visiting many schools and work-places, holding on-street rallies and making lots of promises to the town’s poorer people. And then they voted for him.

This Tory victory played a major role in creating an active socialist and Labour movement in Edwardian Hastings, and probably prompted Robert Tressell to write his highly influential book The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists. As Tressell saw it: the impoverished people had been conned into giving their bosses the power to carry on exploiting them.

51 Robertson Street as it is today SUS-221005-094029001

After the 1910 election Tressell gave up hope for socialism in Hastings and tried to emigrate to Canada. But he had suffered from tuberculosis for many years, and when he arrived in Liverpool to earn the fare for the trip he collapsed, and died in hospital there in early 1911.