- Killerton, Camborne and Westminster. The Political Correspondence of Sir Francis and Lady Acland, 1910-29
Sir Francis Acland (1874-1939) first entered parliament as one of the 400 Liberal M.P.s returned in the 1906 landslide. His last contest in 1935 left him as one of just 21 opposition Liberal M.P.s. The Liberal party's changing electoral fortunes provide the backdrop to this edition of the correspondence of Acland and his wife Eleanor (1879-1933). Acland came from a prominent political family: his December 1910 election address, reproduced in this collection, declared that 'in each of the last three centuries members of my family have had the honour of representing Cornish seats' (p. 53). However, as Tregidga notes in his preface, Francis and Eleanor represent a neglected generation in terms of historical study. Unlike his father Arthur (Liberal M.P. and educational reformer) and his son Richard (a founder of the Common Wealth party in 1942), Francis Acland is absent form the Dictionary of National Biography. Yet as Tregida demonstrates, he played an important role in Liberal party [End Page 426] politics during this crucial period. This edition of his correspondence, covering the period November 1910 to June 1929, is therefore a welcome resource for historians wishing to re-assess the 'age of alignment'.
The majority of this material comes from the Acland family papers held in the Devon Record Office, but Tregidga has supplemented this with items from other sources, including the Asquith papers, papers relating to the Bodmin Liberal Association, election addresses form the National Liberal Club collection, and correspondence to local newspapers such as the Cornubian. This provides a useful addition to the collection, enabling comparisons to be drawn between Acland's private observations to his wife - among them several less than flattering comments on his Cornish constituents, whom he considered 'such selfish souls . . . an odd lot' (p. 102) - and his public pronouncements. The pre-1920 material is written largely by Francis, while Eleanor's contributions come mainly from the 1920s. The key exception to the latter is correspondence concerning Eleanor's involvement with the women's suffrage campaign.
As the title Killerton, Camborne and Westminster indicates, this correspondence spans high and low politics, Killerton being Acland's family estate in Devon, situated within the Tiverton constituency he represented from 1923-4, while Camborne was the Cornish mining seat where he was M.P. for much of this period (1910-22). Tregidga's useful and wide-ranging introduction locates Acland within these different contexts, considering him as the scion of a prominent landed family, as a Cornish constituency M.P., as a junior minister, and as a post-war Liberal responding to the Labour challenge. Tregidga effectively analyses the tensions caused for Acland by the conflicting demands of Westminster and of his constituency. The correspondence shows Acland to have been a dutiful constituency M.P. Despite working long days as Grey's deputy at the foreign office, he found time in August 1914 to pen a letter to the Cornubian explaining the reasons for Britains's entry into the First World War. His reflections on the international situation are a significant theme in his letters for 1914-18. However, as noted above, Acland often showed disdain for his Cornish constituents, and Tregidga highlights Acland's 'relative indifference to provincial politics' (p. 38), which was particulary clear when it came to the redistribution of seats in 1918. Here Acland eschewed the opportunity to court personal popularity through the anti-redistribution campaign; instead he urged Liberals to accept the reduction of Cornwall's representation from seven M.P.s to five.
For the post-war period, the shifting electoral positions of the Liberal and Labour parties form the dominant theme in the correspondence. Already in 1917, Acland was telling his wife that 'I really think the Liberal party is dead & that one will simply have to think of men & policies...