National Records of Scotland

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Across the Divide: A J Balfour and Keir Hardie in 1905

Across the Divide: A J Balfour and Keir Hardie in 1905

Image of AJ Balfour and James Keir Hardie's faces

In Edwardian Britain two prominent Scottish Members of Parliament faced each other across the political divide: Arthur James Balfour, the Conservative Prime Minister, and James Keir Hardie, founder of the Independent Labour Party. Their politics were different and so were their backgrounds and circumstances. Official and private documents in National Records of Scotland illustrate the contrasting social spheres they inhabited, reveal how Keir Hardie received help from an unexpected quarter in becoming a property owner, and throw light on the occasion when he and Balfour’s government worked together across the political divide.

The Prime Minister's estate, 1905 

The Valuation Roll covering the Whittingehame estate in East Lothian provides a snapshot of a sizeable Edwardian country estate. The mansion house of Whittingehame is occupied by its owner, A J Balfour, who is surrounded by his employees living in the estate lodgings and houses. The home farm and other farms on this part of the estate are not tenanted but run directly by grieves (farm overseers) reporting to Balfour's estate factor. Balfour's properties in East Lothian and Berwickshire occupy 235 lines of the rolls, marking him as a considerable landowner.

Valuation roll entry for Whittingehame Mansion house, offices and gardens,1905
National Records of Scotland, VR99/20 p.672

A house in Holmhead

The 1905 Valuation Roll for the County of Ayr shows the property of James Keir Hardie, MP, in the parish of Old Cumnock. The top line records that "Lochnorris and garden" was owned and occupied by the MP and that the yearly rateable value was £25. Some of the other inhabitants of Holmhead at the time were a shoemaker, farmer, wholesale grocer, schoolmaster, chemist, publican and ironmonger. This page also shows a mixture of owner-occupiers and tenants in the community. The only property in the 1905 valuation rolls that Hardie owned was his own home.

Valuation roll entry for Lochnorris and garden 1905
National Records of Scotland, VR90/136 p.383

Arthur James Balfour

AJ Balfour (1848-1930) was born at Whittingehame House, East Lothian, the eldest son of James Maitland Balfour, a landowner and politician. In 1874 with the help of his uncle, Lord Salisbury, he became Conservative MP for Hertford, and served as his private secretary. While MP for Manchester East, 1880-1906, Balfour served briefly as Scottish Secretary before a difficult period as Irish Secretary, 1887-1891, when he successfully implemented the government's policy to block Home Rule. For a decade from 1891 he was leader of the House of Commons, apart from three years as a leader of the opposition there. He was noted for his skill and wit as a debater, and a sunny nature that endeared him to friend and foe.

Studio photograph of A J Balfour, 1905
National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/468/1

All this prepared him to become Prime Minister in 1902, the first Scot to do so in the twentieth century, and one regarded by historians as among the most intellectually gifted of all premiers. Striving to maintain Conservative Party unity despite deep divisions over issues such as trade tariffs, Balfour weathered successive crises, but lost his Party's confidence and resigned the premiership in December 1905.

Coat of Arms of A J Balfour of Whittingehame, recorded 1895
Court of the Lord Lyon, Public Register of
All Arms and Bearings, Volume 13, page 52

The Coat of Arms of Arthur James Balfour of Whittingehame, was recorded in 1895 by the Court of the Lord Lyon, Scotland's heraldic authority. It consists of 'argent on a chevron engrailed between three mullets sable, a seal's head erased of the first, within a bordure of the second' and the crest is a palm tree. The motto 'virtus ad aethera tendit' means 'virtue reaches to heaven'.

The lands and barony of Whittingehame

When James Maitland Balfour died on 23 February 1856, the estate passed to his eldest son. Thus A J Balfour became a landowner at the age of seven. This document describes the property in the typical clauses of a sasine: "all and sundry the lands of Whittingehame with the tower, foralice, manor place, houses, biggings, yards, orchards, mills, mill lands, multures sequels, annexis, connexis, parts, pendicles and whole pertinents thereof whatsoever".

Sasine relating to A J Balfour inheriting his father's estate, 29 January 1857
National Records of Scotland, RS3/2828, f.88v

The Balfours at home 

A J Balfour and his six brothers and sisters spent happy childhoods at Whittingehame in mid-Victorian days. Here the next generation, probably including his sister Evelyn's children, and other nephews and nieces, pose in front of the house in 1904.

Balfour children at Whittingehame House, 1904
National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/130/28

The Prime Minister's brother Gerald (1853-1945), Gerald's wife Lady Betty, and their sister Evelyn, relax on the terrace at Whittingehame. This image hardly hints at the intellectual, political and social pursuits of the formidable Balfour siblings. Gerald may be reading papers relating to his work as President of the Board of Trade, or his psychical or philosophical interests. He and his wife, Lady Betty, advocated women's suffrage. Evelyn was married to John Strutt, who that year was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics. Eustace, who took the photograph, was the youngest Balfour brother.

'Gerald, Betty, Evelyn on Terrace by Eustace 1904',
National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/130/96

Whittingehame House and Estate

The austere neo-classical mansion of Whittingehame was built in 1817, extended in 1827, and altered in Victorian times. Sold by the family in 1963, it became a school before being subdivided into flats in 1987-8.

Photograph of the entrance front of Whittingehame House, 1897
National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/130/97

The mansion house stands at the centre of the estate, with stables, walled garden and lodges all at a distance. Most of the buildings shown here were inhabited by estate staff, including the old 'castle', where in 1905 Ralph Purves the gamekeeper lived near his kennels (entry no. 14).

Plan of 'Whittingham Demesne' (detail showing house, stables, church and manse), 1871,
National Records of Scotland, RHP2522

Plan of 'Whittingham Demesne' (detail
showing Whittingehame Castle), 1871,
National Records of Scotland, RHP2522

The estate forester was Robert McCutcheon, then aged 57, and this photograph was taken by a relation, Alec McCutcheon. One of the younger foresters is probably Neil Ferguson, listed at Heather Lodge in 1901 (Census entry, no. 1) and in the 1905 valuation roll (VR99/20 p.672).

'Forester's Men at work at Sawmill', 1903
National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/130/89

Entries for Whittingehame Mansion House, Heather Lodge, Carpenter's House,
Stables Lodge, stables and Whittingehame Manse
National Records of Scotland, 1901 Census for Whittingehame parish, 724/3, p.1

Household staff, employees and neighbours, 1901

The Census records provide another view of the estate. The family was not in residence on 31 March 1901, so only three maids are recorded in the big house (entry no. 2) - all from different parts of the British Isles. When the family came home they were looked after by more than twenty staff.

Maids Mary Moore, Jessie Campbell and Jeannie Stephen at Whittingehame House
National Records of Scotland, 1901 Census for Whittingehame parish, 724/3, p1

Many of the estate workers in the 1901 Census also appear in the 1905 Roll. For example William Horsburgh, the estate carpenter listed here at Carpenter's Lodge (entry no. 3) appears in entry no. 9 of the Roll. The parish minister of Whittingehame, James Robertson (entry no. 5) was living at the nearby manse.

The Man in the Cloth Cap

James Keir Hardie (1856-1915) was one of the founding members of the Scottish Labour Party. Born in Lanarkshire, the illegitimate son of a domestic servant, he was raised by his mother and stepfather, David Hardie, in Govan and in Lanarkshire. He worked from boyhood, attending night school and teaching himself short hand. By the age of twenty he was a miner whose associations with the Temperance Movement and the Evangelical Union had turned him into a practised speaker. His involvement with trade unionism took him to Ayrshire and a position as secretary to the Ayshire Miners Union, formed in 1886. Whilst developing his socialist ideas, Hardie also earned money through journalism, founding a monthly journal 'The Miner' and later the 'Labour Leader' newspaper.

James Keir Hardie, photgraphed by John Furley Lewis in 1902 © National Portrait Gallery, London (used under Creative Commons license)

Although courted by the Liberal Party, in 1892 Hardie was elected Member of Parliament for West Ham South as an 'independent labour candiate', serving until 1895. In 1893 Hardie founded the Independent Labour Party. From 1900 he was the first chairman of the Labour Representation Committee, which from 1906 became known as the Labour Party.

In 1900, Hardie became one of the first two Labour MPs along with Richard Bell, MP for Derby. Representing Merthyr Tydfil, a mining community in Wales, from 1900 until his death in 1915, he became known as 'the man in the cloth cap', in stark contrast to the top hats worn by MPs from the privileged classes.

A house called Lochnorris 

In 1891 Hardie obtained a loan of £500 to build a home for himself and his family in Old Cumnock, Ayrshire. At a time when the Liberals wanted Hardie to stand for their Party, the funds were provided by Adam Birkmyre, a wealthy Glasgow businessman, whose brother William Birkmyre became Liberal MP for Ayr in 1892. The Bond for this amount was recorded in the Register of Sasines on 10 April 1891 and describes the piece of land as "one rood... in the parish of Auchinleck... bounded by... the high road leading from Auchinleck to Cumnock on the north". This document is evidence of Hardie's agreement to repay the loan as well as fire insurance premiums on any buildings erected on the land.  

Bond by James Keir Hardie to Adam Birkmyre, recorded in the Register of Sasines (detail), date
National Records of Scotland, RS91/634/6.

Following Adam Birkmyre's death in 1906, the inventory of his estate shows that Hardie had £290 left to repay. Lochnorris is now a category B listed building for its assocation with Keir Hardie.

Detail of the Inventory of Adam Birkmyre, 1906
National Records of Scotland, SC51/41/14 p.148 

Plot number 692

Lochnorris stood on the plot marked 692 on this map - situated west of the U.F.C. Manse on the south side of Auchinleck Road. Ordnance Survey maps were marked up like this by the Valuation Office (Scotland) as part of the Inland Revenue's valuation of every property in the country, following the Finance Act of 1910. The purpose of this survey was to inform the levels of duty to be paid on future property sales.

Valuation Office (Scotland) map including Lochnorris (no. 692), 1910-1915
National Records of Scotland, IRS104/458

The corresponding field book identifies the owner and occupier as "James Keir Hardie MP". The inspection notes record that this two storey villa was built of stone with a slated roof and brick washhouse. There were two public rooms, one kitchen, one scullery, one basement, four bedrooms, one boxroom and a bathroom with nickel plated fittings. The description includes a large garden to the front of the plot enclosed by iron railings. The property is described as "all in good order" and given a market value of £1000.

Lochnorris recorded in Valuation Office (Scotland) Field Book for Ayrshire:
Old Cumnock Burgh: entry 692, [1910-1920]

National Records of Scotland, IRS55/502

Who lives in a house like this?

Whereas the valuation rolls only mention the owners, tenants, and occupiers, the census shows the other people residing in a property. This extract from the 1901 Census shows that there were five people living in Lochnorris - the Hardie family. Keir Hardie, head of the household, is listed as a "newspaper proprietor and editor and MP", aged 44. The Census entry includes his wife Lilias, a housewife (38), their grown up son James, an apprentice millwright engineer (20), and two children of school age, Agnes (15) and Duncan (14).

The Hardie family in Holmhead, 1901,
National Records of Scotland, 1901 Census for Old Cumnock parish, 610A/1, p.2

Agnes, known as Nan, went on to marry Emrys Hughes on 8 August 1924 at the house itself. Hughes, a Welsh teacher and writer, became Labour MP for South Ayrshire 1946-1969. Nan and her husband were also active in municipal politics and interested in improving local housing, welfare and leisure provision. Nan Hardie Hughes was elected to Cumnock Town Council in 1933 and succeeded her husband as Provost of Cumnock in 1935. She was also joint chair of the Cumnock Red Cross and War Work Party during the Second World War. The couple lived at Lochnorris.

The Right Honourable Gentlemen 

Although Balfour and Keir Hardie moved in different social circles, their lives intersected in the political sphere. In the summer of 1905 parliament was considering the Unemployed Workmen Bill, which provided for local Distress Committees to assist unemployed workers with handouts or temporary work. Hardie spoke in the House of Commons many times in support of unemployed workmen. The following exchange with Balfour on 18 May 1905 illustrates the different style of the two politicians (Hansard, House of Commons, 1905, vol. 146, cc774-6).

"Mr Keir Hardie: I beg to ask the First Lord of the Treasury whether he is aware that arrangements have been made for 700 unemployed workmen in Leicester to begin a march to London on Sunday next, to demand work from the Government; and that arrangements are in progress for similar demonstrations from Glasgow, Newcastle, Leeds, Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham; and whether, in view of the hardship which these men and their wives and children are enduring, he will take the Second Reading and the remaining stages of the Unemployed Bill on an early date so as to ensure that the measure shall become law this session.

Mr AJ Balfour: I have heard of the report to which the Honourable Member refers, but I am of opinion that the arrangements of this House in regard to its own business ought not to be modified in one way or another by any external demonstrations."

A letter that Keir Hardie wrote five weeks later on 23 June reveals him working behind the scenes in order to help the passage of the Bill. He requested a private meeting with the Prime Minister's brother, Gerald Balfour, Conservative MP for Leeds Central, who that year became President of the Local Government Board. Hardie hoped that if the government agreed to the opposition’s amendments, consideration of the Bill at the committee stage would be speeded up and it could be passed before the summer recess. He warned Balfour that some labour leaders were more interested in “wrecking the measure than securing its passage”.

Letter from James Keir Hardie to Gerald Balfour, 23 June 1905
National Records of Scotland, GD433/2/121/6

The letter demonstrates the pragmatic co-operation between Keir Hardie in opposition and the Balfour brothers in government to ensure that the Unemployed Workmen Act became law. In the debate on 18 May A J Balfour had reassured Hardie “that I have every desire and expectation of seeing this Bill passed into law this session, and I should regard it as a great misfortune if it were not passed.” The Act turned out to be one of the lasting achievements of his government, which only survived a few more months before he resigned in December 1905.

In January 1906 Balfour lost his parliamentary seat when the Liberals swept into power. Having retired from the party leadership in 1911, he joined the wartime coalition government, serving as First Lord of the Admiralty, 1915-1916, and Foreign Secretary, 1916-1919. In 1917 the ‘Balfour Declaration’ cemented Britain’s first commitment to securing a Jewish homeland in Palestine. He was created an earl in 1922, and on his death in 1930 his brother Gerald succeeded to the title.

At the general election of 1906 Keir Hardie was one of 29 Labour MPs returned to Parliament, and for a personally unhappy period until 1907 acted as the first chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party. Kenneth Morgan described him as its “supreme prophet and evangelist” (Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004). Better suited to the passionate pursuit of radical causes outside Parliament, he vigorously supported women’s suffrage and internationalist opposition to the Anglo-German arms race. After August 1914 Keir Hardie led anti-war demonstrations, but was heavily criticised for his stance. His health suffered, and on 26 September 1915 he died from pneumonia in a private nursing home in Hillhead, Glasgow.

A note on sources:

NRS holds a collection of personal, political and estate papers of the family of Balfour of Whittingehame (GD433) purchased for the nation in 2022. This collection can be explored further on the NRS Online Catalogue. Other Balfour papers are held in the British Library. Keir Hardie’s life is documented in various archives, including the Baird Institute, Cumnock, and the Independent Labour Party archive in the London School of Economics.

To discover more stories from our collections, begin your research with our research guides: private records, sasines, bonds,  maps and plans, estate records, buildingsInland Revenue survey, coats of arms, wills and testamentscensus records and valuation rolls. You can also access select valuation rolls, census records and wills and testaments online at ScotlandsPeople