National Liberal Club – a home for democracy

In 1882 the National Liberal Club was established by William Ewart Gladstone. It was to be ‘a home for democracy’. In November 1884, O’Connor Power was present when the foundation stone  for the new premises was laid on the Thames Embankment. The club house was opened in 1887 in time for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations.

Earlier the NLC was headquartered in Charing Cross where a radical clique met in the Vespers, a small smoking room. O’Connor Power, Thorold Rogers, Alfred Bennett, Fisher Unwin, and F W Chesson were members of the group and, in December 1884, were founding members of the Johnson Club. Fisher Unwin was married to Richard Cobden’s daughter.

In December 1885, the Manchester Guardian reported that O’Connor Power had successfully introduced weekly discussions on practical politics in the NLC. He continued to be an active member and, in the 1890s, he directed a political committee, organising functions and inviting speakers.

In May 1897, he addressed the Women’s National Liberal Association Conference in London on ‘Colonial Policy’.

In November 1898, he represented the NLC at the funeral of T B Potter, a Radical MP for Rochdale and founder of the Cobden Club.

In March 1909, he was the NLC guest speaker and his topic was ‘The House of Lords’. In May he spoke on ‘Adult Suffrage’.

In January 1912, he chaired a talk given by Tom Kettle to the NLC’s Political and Economic Circle.


Mr Phillips, Davitt and That Irishman

At the end of 1887, the Tory government’s ‘grim savagery … the policy of repression’ provoked a decisive counter-attack from Irish nationalists.

Mr William Phillips, Liberal, humanitarian, author of The Irish Home Rule Catechism for the English People (1886) and vice-chairman of Gladstone Candidates Election Fund, took up residence in the West of Ireland, ‘I am determined, in 1887, to go over and see and judge for myself …’.

At the end of the year, the Manchester Guardian‘s Irish correspondent wrote of a ‘very remarkable letter written by Mr Davitt to Mr Phillips … I should not wonder if new methods were soon to be taken up on lines less likely to suit Mr Balfour’s calculations than those with which he has had hitherto to deal’.

The Irish Liberal alliance, determined to topple the Tory government and bring in Home Rule, was preparing for a confrontation. O’Connor Power travelled to North America to promote the Home Rule agenda and organise its supporters.

See That Irishman, Part Four, Taking a Stand.

In April 1896, William Phillips retired from active political life.  His colleagues in the National Liberal Club presented him with a life size portrait of himself. O’Connor Power gave a vote of thanks. Bristol Mercury, 20 April 1896.