William Ewart Gladstone was born on December 29th 1809 in Liverpool, the son of a merchant. He was educated at Eton and Oxford where he won a double first. He was elected MP for Newark in 1832, the year of the Reform Act. He became a junior Lord of the Teasury in the short-lived Peel administration of 1835. In 1841 when Sir Robert Peel was again in power, he became Vice-President and then President of the Board of Trade. His instincts were becoming increasing Liberal however and in 1846 he left his Tory seat in Newark and became a Liberal MP for the University of Oxford.
When Lord Palmerston, the Liberal leader, became Prime Minister in June, 1859, he offered Gladstone the post of Chancellor of the Exchequer. Gladstone first became Prime Minister in 1868. He was to become Prime Minister again in 1880, 1886 and 1892. Extension of the franchise is ever associated with Gladstone’s name, although it was Disraeli’s 1867 Reform Act which had given the vote to every male householder. Gladstone though was a keen advocate for votes for working men, and it was this perception of him which established him as the champion of the people.
Gladstone’s other great cause was Home Rule for Ireland, but Tory and House of Lords opposition frustrated all his attempts. Gladstone saw further than any of his contemporaries. He correctly forecast the consequences of the arms race that was a feature of the late Victorian age in Europe, but his warnings went unheeded and his own grandson was to die in the Great War that followed. He was an inspired speaker and his oratory attracted thousands to his open-air meetings. He was particular popular in the industrial areas of the North. His words went to the hearts of men and women who knew they hadn’t much to expect from those in power. They knew he was different – a man of the people. He died in 1898, aged 88 and was buried at Westminster Abbey.
The Gladstone’s View Townscape Heritage Project title is inspired by a grand statue of William Gladstone that stands on the axis of Northgate, Blakey Moor and New Market Street. From here, Gladstone enjoys a panoramic vista of the area, but this wasn’t always the case.
The statue by sculptor Adams Acton was unveiled by the Earl of Aberdeen on November 4th 1899 and was originally sited on the Boulevard. At a cost of £3,000 paid for by public subscription, the Gladstone memorial is thought to be the first statue of its kind which is quite surprising since the town does not have an obvious link with the legendary figure. He was however well known as a ‘champion for the people’ with a strong empathy for the working classes in the North which was probably the appeal, and fitting for the Northgate area where he was moved to in the 1950s, particularly with its strong weaver and mill worker routes. Gladstone was moved once more around 1980 from the front of the old technical college to his current location.
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