One hundred years ago on July 25 a rather auspicious occasion took place in Morley when the freedom of the town was conveyed upon none other than the Prime Minister Lord Asquith.
Of course, Mr Asquith (September 12, 1852-February 15, 1928) had been born in the town and so the occasion was something of a homecoming for him. It was an eventful day and it was one which Morley folk of ‘all ranks and all shades of political and religious opinion’ had long looked forward to.
Mr Asquith served as Liberal Prime Minister from 1908 to 1916.
A report in the Leeds Mercury said of the day: “T[It was] the highest honour in the gift of a municipality is often conferred upon distinguished public men but in Morley’s case the significance of the event was enhanced beyond calculation by the fact that in honouring Mr Asquith, Morley was honouring one of its own sons, whose relatives still dwell within the borders of the town and whose ancestors have lived there for hundreds of years pursuing their peaceful industrial avocations and occasionally taking a prominent local part in defending those popular liberties which lie at the root of English greatness.”
It added: “Not even Scotsman are more clannish than people native to the soil of the West Riding of Yorkshire. Civic patriotism becomes almost a religion in some of the West Riding towns and wherever Morley is known, it is recognised that in the opinion of Morley folk at least, Morley is the very centre and hub of the universe.”
It was in this spirit that the townsfolk of Morley welcomed and celebrated the arrival of Mr Asquith.
There was just one incident which, in the view of people at the time, marred the day - there was in the town a large presence of suffragettes and these were watched closely by an equally large contingent of police and plain clothes detectives.
Indeed, three of the women were arrested on suspicion of causing a public nuisance. The newspaper report reads: “Three of these ‘ladies’ were arrested on suspicion, their names given as Miss K Jones of Doncaster, Miss Hughes and Mrs Johnson of Woodlesford. While Mr Asquith was passing through the streets on his arrival, Miss Jones tried to throw a bundle of papers into his motorcar but naturally she failed in the attempt and was promptly arrested.”
A ceremony conferring the freedom of the town was conducted at Morley Town Hall and ‘despite the presence of a number of ladies’ (Leeds Mercury), the occasion went off without a hitch.
During his acceptance speech, Mr Asquith made a passing reference to plans at the time by councillors in Leeds to incorporate Morley into the bounds of their city. He referred to Leeds as “an aggressive neighbour” and said towns like Morley would do well to remain independent of larger cities.
On this subject, he said: “The tendency of absorption by greater of smaller industries, while it no doubt followed in the main economic necessity, yet brought evils in its train.”
The front of the town hall was said to be ‘gay with bunting’, along with an illuminated motto which said ‘Welcome to the Prime Minister’, while inside, over a platform at the far end of the hall, other banners read ‘Welcome to Morley’s famous son’ and ‘Honour to Whom Honour’.
As he entered the town he was met by around 4,000 schoolchildren and boy scouts, who were stood so as to form the letters H H A, referring to his name Herbert Henry Asquith.
Mr Asquith said it had been 18 years since he opened the town hall and in that time he had seen his home town grow and ‘cloth itself in municipal institutions’.
Later Mr Asquith was entertained by the Mayor and Mayoress of Morley at Morley Grange.