Kathleen Hilton-Foord (1903-1998): Politics, Protest & Class

Source: ‘Eve of Dover Poll.’ The Times. 11 January 1921: p.10
Source: ‘Eve of Dover Poll.’ The Times. 11 January 1921: p.10

As Kathleen only talks about her childhood there is little opportunity for her to express any kind of political opinions or describe any protests she took part in. However, in her handwritten memoir she mentions a general by-election between Lord Astor and Colonel Sir Thomas Polson. She says ‘as soon as school ended, we moved […] into the street chanting, vote, vote, vote, for Mr Polson, chuck […] Astor out the door’ (p.1).

Sir Thomas Polson of an Independent Parliamentary Group won the Dover by-election Kathleen refers to and was a Member of Parliament for Dover from 12 January 1921 until 15 November 1922; he was succeeded by the Conservative John Astor until 26 July 1945[1]. Polson had held rank as a Colonel and would have attracted votes from the ex-servicemen of Dover, who according to an article in The Times formed 7000 of Dover’s 36,374 registered voters[2]. Polson represented an ‘Anti-Waste Movement’ pledging to cut the unnecessary expenditure of the government and a reduction of taxes. For this reason Polson also gained many women voters who The Times claimed ‘feel the consequences of heavy taxation far more acutely than the men’[3]. It seemed residents of Dover held strong views for this election as 24,394 people voted, a figure which The Times states ‘considering the weather, was remarkably large’[4]. It is therefore not surprising that this interest was passed onto the children of the town such as Kathleen, who engaged in their own debates in a playful way.

Although Dover was considered ‘as a safe Conservative seat’[5] it could have been expected that people would begin to turn their backs on the Conservatives who were opposed to universal secondary education[6], at a time when more children were entering into compulsory education.  As I have noted in my post ‘Education and Schooling’ Kathleen was an eager pupil who seemed to enjoy her schooling, it seems unlikely that had she been old enough she would have voted for a party that held such restricted views with regard to access to education.

In my post ‘Life and Labour’ I suggested that Kathleen exhibits definite class awareness of other children and families, which may have been formed by her appreciation of the fact that her father owned his own business. There are occasions throughout her writing that Kathleen acknowledges how poor her grandmother was. In her handwritten memoir she says ‘I was very happy with my grandmother who often starved herself for me, but despite hardships […]’ (p.5). In ‘Our Parish’ Kathleen recalls how in St. James Church ‘Names, including Grannies was read; For there was a very old custom – The giving of loaves of bread’ (Grannie’s Girl). In her memoir The Survivor she reveals this as “Charity Bread”, which she and her friends would collect for their ‘grannies’ (p.2).  This act of charity on behalf of the church demonstrates the lack of state intervention into providing for the elderly, particularly from the working class. Although the 1908 Pensions Act was the first stage of social welfare reform, the pension age was set at 70 years[7]. Kathleen’s grandmother received this pension but she had lived off savings and used them in caring for Kathleen, so she ‘wept for joy’ when she learnt about the 5 shillings a week she would be receiving (The Survivor, p.2).

Through her own experience of hardship Kathleen is considerate of other people who are denied even the small privileges she receives. She writes ‘when the mackerel shoals came ashore dozens of children would flock to the beach […] but hungry as often we were we never [ate] them as we called them scavenger fish and would give them to needy people who did not have these scruples’ (handwritten memoir, p.6). Although she seems to have the best intention, her comment is somewhat disparaging and further reveals a class awareness which was possibly impressed on her by her father’s occupation.

 

For video footage of Sir Thomas Polson after winning the election visit: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/dover-anti-waste

For other footage of the election between Polson and Astor see: http://www.britishpathe.com/video/dover-exciting-bye-election/query/22622


Works Cited

[1] Information from http://www.dover.uk.com/politics/members-of-parliament/ [accessed 12/04/13].

[2] ‘Eve of Dover Poll.’ The Times. 11 January 1921: 10

[3] ‘Dover.’ The Times. 14 January 1921: 11

[4] ‘Dover.’ The Times. 14 January 1921:

[5] ‘Eve of Dover Poll.’ The Times. 11 January 1921: 10

[6] Dean, D.W. ‘Conservatism and the National Education System 1922-40’. Journal of Contemporary History 6.2 (1971): 150-165 (156).

[7] ‘Pension Trends. Chapter 1: Pensions Legislation: an Overview’. ons.gov.uk. 2005. Web. Accessed 12 April 2013: 3  

Featured image source: ‘Eve of Dover Poll.’ The Times. 11 January 1921: 10

‘Hilton-Foord, Kathleen’. Grannie’s Girl in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Vol 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987 (2.398a)

‘Hilton-Foord, Kathleen’. The Survivor: The Memoirs of a little Dover girl – Born 1903 in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Vol 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987 (2.398b)

‘Hilton-Foord, Kathleen’. No title (handwritten memoir) in John Burnett, David Mayall and David Vincent eds The Autobiography of the Working Class: An Annotated, Critical Bibliography Vol 2. Brighton: Harvester, 1987 (2.398c)

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