The worship of celebrity is certainly nothing new. Autograph collecting in Britain started to be a craze from the mid Victorian period, possibly due to the cult of personality that grew up around Prince Albert and Alfred Tennyson. If this letter from sometime MP W. S. Shirley is any indication, even the autographed letters of sitting and former members of parliament, however comparatively modest their achievements, became the target of collectors.
It would seem that Shirley’s lawyer friend, Alfred Goodall, was one such autograph-hunter, and so was sent whole letters that Shirley had accumulated while sitting in the Commons as MP for Doncaster. Here’s what Shirley wrote in his undated covering letter:
One or two autographs you can have viz:
S. D. Waddy, Q.C. M.P.
A. G. Kitching ex M.P.
Sir Walter Foster, M.P.
B. Pickard, M.P.
All, except Kitching’s will improve in value as time goes on…
Oh dear! What can Mr Kitching have done to have gone down so low in Mr Shirley’s estimation ? A bit of delving, however, reveals that Shirley was a pretty accurate talent spotter. S.D. Waddy was already a busy QC and went on to establish himself as a respected writer on theological issues. Sir Walter Foster was already a man of substance. But it is with B(enjamin) Pickard that Shirley hit gold.
Having begun his working life as a miner at the age of 12, Pickard rapidly rose, Scargill-like, through the ranks of the Yorkshire miners’ union and in 1885 was chosen in a Liberal/miners pact to represent Normanton in Parliament. Already very active in the International Federation of Mineworkers from 1890, in 1893 he led miners in the biggest industrial dispute the UK had ever known. Pickard died, still MP for Normanton, in 1904.
As for the alleged nonentity Kitching, Shirley turns out to have been right. A stockbroker when he entered Parliament as member for Maldon in 1885, Kitching remained one when he was flung out at the General Election a year later.
Makes you think. How many autographs of our current crop of MPs are or will be collected? [RMH]