Date of Award
Bachelor of Arts
Dr. John L Gordon
When the new Parliament first met on 13 February 1906 there were a lot of new black top hats at Westminster. The Liberal success in the election the previous month had not only brought the Liberals to power with a resounding majority, but it also brought in 310 new Members of Parliament, 220 of them Liberals, who had never before held national office. The new MPs roamed and mingled through the corridors of Westminster with their new tops hats perched lightly on their heads, the brims tilted down towards their noses. The black hats had been polished to a shine the night before, by the MPs or, in the case of the more wealthy, their servants, using a bit of stout on a cloth. According to the custom at the time it was proper for MPs to wear their top hats into the debating chamber during the session, taking them off and placing them on their seats only when they rose to speak. It was a common joke, and certainly for some a legitimate fear, that when one of the new members removed his hat to speak he would forget about it and crush it when he sat back down.
Among these new hats was Horatio William Bottomley, the newly elected MP for South Hackney, a somewhat mixed-class London constituency that had begun to take on a more working class character since the tum of the century. It was nothing new for a scoundrel to sit in Parliament but few excelled to the degree of Bottomley. He was born on 23 March 1860 in the house of his father William King Bottomley in Bethnal Green, a working class neighborhood in the poor London East End. However, there is reason to question his legitimacy. Later in his life he claimed that he was in fact the son of Charles Bradlaugh, a well-known nineteenth century republican radical and advocate of religious free thought to whom he bore a striking resemblance. Before the age of five Bottomley lost both ofhis parents and was placed in the care of his uncle G.J. Holyoake who in tum placed him in the Sir Josiah Mason Orphanage in Erdington. He spent almost ten years in the orphanage before running away at the age of fourteen. For two years he worked as an errand boy before finding employment in a London solicitor's office where he worked for five years. Bottomley spent the next three years working as a shorthand writer in the Supreme Court of Judicature, completing what could be called his "education."
Rosenberger, Michael, "The new top hats at Westminster : a longitudinal study of the effects of the British general election of 1906 on the Liberal Party" (2003). Honors Theses. 700.