To Ashton Keynes for the funeral of my old friend and constituent, Robin Walker. All funerals are sad occasions, but sometimes they capture the very spirit and character of the person. So it was on this occasion. The hymns, prayers and especially the contributions from Revd Richard Maslen and from Joan Ashcroft recaptured the spirit, humour, determination, loyalty and kindliness of Robin in a very real way.
Robin, who ran the old family printing business in Minety was one of the first people I met when I was elected for North Wiltshire in 1997. He remembered campaigning in the 1950 General Election and chanting “Vote, vote, vote for David Eccles; throw old Drainey in the ditch. For he’s never been in Minety in his life.” Mr Drain was the Labour candidate, David Eccles the MP 1943/1962 when he was a victim of the Night of the Long Knives. His successors Daniel Awdry and Richard Needham will be well remembered by many. Political memories are very long in North Wiltshire.
I had dinner recently with Piers Cazalet, the Deputy Head of the British Mission at NATO. His grandfather, Victor, was the MP for Chippenham from 1924 until his death (in the Sikorski flight at Gibraltar) in 1943. I have his Election card dated 1929. “Your support is asked for Captain V A Cazalet”, it reads. “The Conservative Candidate, The man you know. No wild promises but a record of performance and a policy of steady progress.”
Before that I have an election poster dated 1841, when Sir Joseph Neild and Captain Boldero were elected for Chippenham with respective majorities of 69 and 32 over their Whig opponent; another dated 1832, in which the Conservative candidate Sir J Dugdale Astley Bart “intends himself the honor (sic) of meeting [his constituents] at The Angel Inn, Chippenham on Tuesday 11 December at 5 o’clock.” I hope that all 50 of them turned up!
An Election poster for Mr Murray and Mr Cheesement in Wootton Bassett in 1807, and a picture of their glorious return home after their election, fails to mention that they had borrowed so much money to bribe their electorate that they went bankrupt the following day and escaped by the skin of their teeth into exile in France. The handsome gold sword they donated to the town is still carried ceremoniously on civic occasions. Then there’s a scurrilous cartoon depicting the “antiquities of Malmesbury” around 1750 - when six or so members of the Old Corporation elected their MP largely based on the size of the donation received from him at their “King Athelstan Banquet.”
Viscount Long was in the area for the funeral of his kinsman Major John Bartholomew. I have a portrait of his grandfather Walter Long entitled simply “Wiltshire.” He was the tenth member of the Long family to represent the area at least since the English Civil war.
Political history is a useful reminder of how important democracy is; and how long so many political arguments have run. The EU Referendum campaign is but a ripple in the 700 year history of elections and political debates in North Wiltshire and throughout England. Remembering that may help diffuse tempers over the next few difficult months.