He was Prime Minister, a citizen of Southampton and the founder of a local newspaper
HE was the Prime Minister, a citizen of Southampton and the founder of a local newspaper. Henry John Temple, born 1784, became a Tory MP in 1807 before serving as Secretary at War between 1809 to 1828 Henry defected to the Whigs in 1830, and served as Foreign Secretary for most of the years between 1830 and 1851.
In 1852 he took the office of Home Secretary, became Prime Minister in 1855, and the first Prime Minister from the newly-formed Liberal Party in 1859. His approach was highly pragmatic, and always aimed at fitting in with public opinion.
His jingoistic approach to foreign relations, while it partially explains his popularity with the British public, is sometimes known as “gunboat diplomacy”. That, and his support for the British Empire, means that his reputation is still a matter for heated debate. He led the nation’s crusade against the slave trade.
However, in the American Civil War, his sympathies were with the Confederacy. Henry believed that once independent of the United States, they would be a valuable trading partner in cotton, tobacco, tea, and whisky. In home affairs, he is best remembered as a reformer.
He gained and sustained the favour of the press and the populace, from whom he received the affectionate sobriquet “Pam”. His reputation as a womaniser certainly did him no harm and may even have added to his popularity.
He was the MP for South Hampshire, his family’s Country Estate was Broadlands, and a statue to him stands in Romsey town centre. However, Southampton was the largest town in the largest town in the area he represented, and vigorously promoted its cause in Parliament. He became a burgher of the town, supported the formation of a local newspaper, and was regularly invited to speak and hand out prizes.
He was acclaimed by the town’s middle classes for supporting The Great Reform Act 1832, which extended voting to at least some of the new commercial middle-class. Henry opposed extending the franchise to the working man, but he was still popular among the working people in the town, because of his support for a number of social advances, including:
o the Factory Act 1853, which outlawed all labour by young persons between 6pm and 6am; o the Truck Act, which stopped the practice of employers forcing workmen to purchase goods from shops they owned; o the Smoke Abatement Act, to combat smog;
o the Vaccination Act 1853, which made vaccination of children compulsory for the first time; o The Penal Servitude Act 1853, which reduced the maximum sentences for most offences, ended transportation to Tasmania, and reduced the period for which prisoners could be held in solitary confinement, from eighteen to nine months; o the Reformatory Schools Act 1854, which gave the Home Secretary powers to send juvenile prisoners to a reformatory school, instead of to prison;
o the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857, which removed divorce from the jurisdiction of the ecclesiastical courts to the Civil Courts. He also attempted to pass a bill to confirm the rights of workers to combine – to essentially form unions. The extent of his popularity in Southampton was demonstrated on October 15, 1862, when The Hartley Institution – the predecessor of the University of Southampton – was opened by him.
It was built to be a museum, library, and the venue for concerts, public meetings, debates and exhibitions, and was open to people of all classes. The Inauguration was a great civic event. Henry was cheered into the city by enthusiastic crowds so great that some climbed the tower of Holyrood Church to see him.
They even disturbed masonry which fell into the crowd but miraculously caused no injuries. A small metal cross, set into the paving stones outside the Church was installed to commemorate this miraculous escape and still survives.
After his death in 1865, he was so revered in Southampton that the town not only erected his statue but renamed the park where it stands and the road that runs past it.
His semi-official correspondence and papers, totalling some 40,000 items, form part of University of Southampton Library as the “Broadlands archives”.
Jack Wilson is a tour guide with SeeSouthampton.co.uk .
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