There have been comparatively few Conservative MPs for Halifax. Amongst those who did serve in this capacity was Henry Edwards,who lived at Pye Nest, between Halifax and Sowerby Bridge. He was one of Halifax’s great 19th Centurymen, and being an MP was only one aspect of his life.
Henry came from a textile family, mostly operating in the Ryburn Valley,being the third son of Henry Lees Edwards of Pye Nest, whose family originated in Birmingham. The Edwards father was brother to Mary Edwards who married John Walker of Crow Nest,Lightcliffe. This relationship resulted in Mr Edwards senior eventually being appointed a joint trustee for Ann Walker, the partner of Anne Lister.The younger Henry Edwards was born in 1812, and given a private education. His family was wealthy enough for him to go on a Grand Tour of the continent in his late teens, accompanying a young nobleman, the Marquess of Winchester. In Paris, the young man from Pye Nest heard of a familiar lady then staying in the French capital; you may have guessed that her name was Anne Lister.
On 30th November 1830, Anne entered in her diary: “Mr. Henry Edwards, jun., of Pye Nest, called, and stayed about an hour. I hoped to see him some evening; received him very civilly.” Having explored Paris, Henry proceeded through France to Italy and the Mediterranean with his aristocratic companion, returning to England in December 1831. Seven years earlier, Anne Lister makes more than one mention in her diaries of visiting Mrs. Henry Lees Edwards at Pye Nest and of meeting young“Master Henry”-aged eleven-there. On Friday, 10th January 1823, she recorded:“At 11.0, my Aunt and I were off in the gig to Pye Nest. … Sat half-an-hour with Mrs.Edwards and her daughter Delia, and sons, Charles, Henry, and Thomas. A sad, vulgar set. I said nothing, but my aunt exclaimed about it as soon as we were out of the house. I thought she would. The servant came in with his linen jacket & apron on.”
Horrors! Henry really wanted to join the army, however his father insisted that he join the family business instead. By the early 1840 this had been rehoused at the newly-built Canal Mills, near Sowerby Bridge. Henry was an expert horseman, and he did eventually achieve his desire of leading a group of ‘military’ men, the reserves known as the West York Yeomanry Cavalry, of which he was a joint founder. By this means he was to achieve the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, and he looked a fine figure in uniform. The reason for the raising of the Yeomanry Cavalry was connected with unrest during Chartist and Plug Plot times, in which Henry’s own property at Canal Mills would suffer. He was involved with suppression of the 1848 demonstration in Bradford, where he led his men into action, and many citizens were injured. It was as a belated reward for his upholding of law and order during the 1840s that he was awarded a baronetcy in 1866, by Queen Victoria, on the advice of the Earl of Derby, then Prime Minister.
Halifax was enfranchised as a parliamentary borough in 1832, with two members of Parliament. Most of the early MPs were Liberals. The election of 1847 came at a critical time, when there were two Liberal candidates, and one Radical. This split the vote of the progressives, and allowed Henry Edwards, the Conservative candidate, to top the poll, something the Conservatives never again did in 19th Century Halifax. He was elected, and served till 1852, when the Liberals retook the seat. Later he would serve as an MP for Beverley. He died in 1886 and lies buried in the churchyard at All Saints’, Salterhebble.
Much more might be said about this complex but interesting man. Many will know of his bitter feud with J E Wainhouse, which darkened the later years of his life.
If you’d like to learn more, please come along to my illustrated lecture at Square Chapel in November.
David C Glover
President of the Halifax Antiquarian Society
Chairman of the Friends of Lister Lane Cemetery
Vice-Chairman of the Halifax Civic Trust