In November 1923 the country was plunged into the frenzy of a General Election on the issue of tariff reform and against the background of rising unemployment.
Although the Banbury constituency had been well-served by a dedicated member of Parliament and company director Major Edmondson, the decision by the Liberal Party to select Charles Burgess Fry as their candidate presented a substantial challenge.
Fry was a talented all-round sportsman who was best known as an England cricketer and footballer but he was also a supreme athlete.
He held the world long jump record (28ft 5ins) for 21 years. Fry was educated at Repton and Wadham College, Oxford where he obtained a first class degree in classical honour moderations.
Edmondson (Conservative) started the election campaign with the huge advantage of a clear understanding of the needs of people across the constituency. During the time he had been an MP he had developed a track record for resolving key issues.
By contrast Fry came to Banbury on the back of his substantial sporting reputation but also through his command of the training ship Mercury on the Hamble.
These aspects of his life are well covered in a 1937 autobiography ‘Life Worth Living’. Curiously his narrative omits any reference to his venture into politics. However the Banbury Guardian for 1923 reveals the remarkable story of how Fry posed a considerable threat to the sitting member.
Charles Burgess Fry was chosen at a crowded Liberal meeting. In support of Fry’s candidature Harold Early of Witney blankets fame told the meeting ‘Fry would get many votes because of his sporting prowess especially in cricket’. Also it seems likely that his selection was strongly influenced by an earlier brush with politics at Brighton where he had attracted a record Liberal vote in a noted Tory constituency.
In his address to the gathering Fry commented ‘the whole thing was a rush and he must ask them to be allowed till the middle of the following day before he actually signed the pledge’.
This cautious response was mounted despite the fact that no less than Lord Gladstone had wanted him in Parliament. Probably a stronger reason stemmed from his desire for a seat arising from his support of the League of Nations. Fry also stood for administrative savings in education and reform in India. The latter had been inspired by his friendship with the famous cricketer Ranjitsinhji.
The Liberals set up central committee rooms in the Market Place, Banbury. From here Fry spent most daytime hours paying flying visits to as many villages as possible. For instance he was able to embrace Bourton, Cropredy, Claydon, Wroxton, Horley and Hornton within the same trip.
Fry espoused the Liberal cause because in his words this party at that time represented the only complete political faith. It stood for freedom and brotherhood.
In the face of this dedication Edmondson chose his first encounter with Fry to wish him an honourable defeat.
One fascinating aspect of their rivalry was manufactured by their choice of hotels at which to base themselves. The Edmonsons resided at the Red Lion whilst the Frys stayed at the White Lion.
The Labour Party candidate Captain Bennett depended heavily on support from Oxford University Labour Club, Ruskin College and Banbury Unitarian Minister Rev R.V. Holt. On the day of the election, December 6, Edmondson and Fry toured the Division.
Sadly for him the strain of the election caught up with Fry and he aborted his tour. Despite this anti-climax the election result reflected his earlier endeavours.
Edmondson (Cons) 12,490 Fry (Lib) 12,271 Bennett (Lab) 2,500.
Nationally the Conservative vote shrank to 257 seats but the surprise was the rapid rise of the Labour party who overtook the Liberals (158) winning 191 seats.
Thus the first Labour Government took office supported by their fellow free-trade Liberals.
In Banbury the two horse race was a damn close thing but the earlier newspaper headline ‘Commander Fry for Banbury’ could not quite become ‘Fry takes Banbury’.
l I am grateful to Michael House for alerting me to C.B. Fry ‘s candidature.