THERE IS a local legend that Scarborough was overwhelmingly Conservative during most of the 20th century, whereas previously in the 19th, it had been predominantly Liberal. However, not only do the electoral results deny the latter, but so does Scarborough’s choice of past prime ministers to honour its street names.
The first British prime minister to appear on Scarborough’s street map was Sir Robert Peel. Peel Terrace was finished by 1853, only two years after his death as a result of a riding accident. Sir Robert had been the Queen’s first minister from 1841 until 1846 and is widely regarded as the founder of the modern Conservative party. Others think of him as the creator of our national police force whose members are still called Peelers or Bobbies.
George Hamilton, the fourth earl of Aberdeen (1784-1860), was another Tory. He was an immensely wealthy Scottish landlord who served in a succession of governments under the duke of Wellington and then under Peel until he became prime minister himself in 1852. Aberdeen Walk (formerly Bull Lane) dates from 1841, Aberdeen Terrace from 1842 and Aberdeen Place from 1861, the year after his death.
The third Conservative prime minister to be honoured by Scarborough, though rather belatedly, was the earl of Beaconsfield, better known as Benjamin Disraeli (1804-81).
The Queen’s favourite resident in No 10 Downing Street in 1867-8 and again in 1874-80 had been dead a decade before he was granted a street name in the early 1890s, though previously 67-87 Seamer Road had been called Beaconsfield Terrace. Were those who dared to call 44 Gladstone Street Beaconsfield House aware of their impertinence?
Finally, at the end of the century, Robert Arthur Talbot Gascoyne Cecil, the third marquess of Salisbury (1830-1903), received his recognition in Scarborough. He had succeeded Beaconsfield as Tory leader in 1881 and served two terms as prime minister in 1886-92 and 1895-1902. He is generally acknowledged as Britain’s most able foreign secretary at a time when Britain ruled the world. Salisbury Street also dates from the 1890s and the Salisbury Hotel in Huntriss Row from 1905. Spanning the old moat between Huntriss Row and Bar Street, the Salisbury Arcade continues the name.
Yet there is no doubt that the prime minister most admired in Scarborough, as well as in Britain at large, was William Ewart Gladstone (1809-98): an admiration demonstrated in the number of place-names he inspired. Gladstone was leader of four Liberal governments, 1868-74, 1880-5, 1886 and 1892-4. If Salisbury was the architect of British foreign policy, Gladstone was his own chancellor of the exchequer who invented the annual budget as well as the box to put it in.
Gladstone was a man of upright principle, strong conviction, deep religious faith and unlimited stamina – qualities most likely to appeal to contemporary Victorians. He was known as the Peoples William because he did more than anyone to cheapen the cost of existence for the poor by abolishing taxes on food. Yet he was no populist: his championship of temperance offended millions who sought solace in alcohol, not just brewers and publicans; and his championship of Irish rights outraged deep-seated anti-Irish prejudice and broke the Liberal party.
So in Scarborough Gladstone still has a Lane, a Road and a Street, as well as a school near to them. All four were established before he became prime minister for the fourth time in his 83rd year in 1892. By that time some of the houses in Ewart Street were being built.
When Gladstone finally died in 1898 Scarborough’s house builders had begun to add more Liberals to the ribbon development that was lengthening the town southwards down the Seamer valley. Rosebery, Harcourt and Asquith all had avenues named after them.
Archibald Philip, the fifth earl of Rosebery (1847-1929) was best known nationally for his enormous inherited wealth and his ownership of winning race horses. He had followed Gladstone as prime minister after the Grand Old Man’s retirement, but he had little understanding of politics and none of electioneering and was soon out of office in 1894. His visit to Scarborough the following year to open the new Liberal Club there in Westborough might have reinforced his claim to an Avenue in 1899, but that he had owned two Derby winners in successive years had made him a unique prime minister.
Sir William George Granville Venables Harcourt (1827-1904) was the son of the archbishop of York who previously had given his name to Harcourt Place and Vernon Place and Vernon Road. Known as ‘Jumbo’ because of his physical girth, this Harcourt made himself famous, or infamous, by introducing death duties on estates in his budget of 1894. This was a new direct tax capable of almost unlimited extension which revolutionised land ownership and wealth accumulation during the 20th century.
Herbert Henry Asquith (1852-1928) was another Yorkshireman, a protégé of Gladstone, who was home secretary under him and then Rosebery, chancellor of the exchequer 1905-08, and then prime minister until 1916. Though his later career, like Aberdeen’s, was cut short by war and initial defeat, he will be always remembered as the chancellor who started old age pensions in 1909 (though Lloyd George got the credit), which brought more benefit to the elderly poor than any previous measure. So whatever his subsequent failures, ‘Squiffy’ deserves his Avenue down Seamer Road. Harcourt had taxed the rich and Asquith had kept the elderly poor out of the workhouse.
During the last hundred years, since Asquith, we have had no fewer than 18 more prime ministers, yet only one of them has been rewarded with a Scarborough address and it took until 2004 to acknowledge him! This was the year when Clement Attlee, prime minister from 1945 until 1951, was given a Close of new houses off Seamer Road.
Given such Conservative preponderance in the town’s local and national government and Winston Churchill’s attendance here for the party’s annual conference, it seems astonishing that of the 18 he at least has not been granted a Scarborough accolade.