Rev Dr Charles Leach MP
1 March 1847|
Illingworth, Halifax, Yorkshire, England
|Died||24 November 1919
Cause of death
|Occupation||Shoemaker, Congregational Minister, and politician.|
|Known for||Only MP to lose his seat for being of unsound mind|
Rev. Charles Leach (1 March 1847 – 24 November 1919) was a Congregationalist Minister and Liberal Party politician in the United Kingdom. He is notable as the only Member of Parliament to be deprived of his seat after being declared of unsound mind.
Leach was born in Illingworth, near Halifax, but moved to the town and grew up in a slum called Ratten Row, where his mother died when he was five. He entered a worsted mill at eight which meant that he also had three hours elementary schooling per day. At fourteen he became apprenticed as a clog and patten maker and then trained as a shoe and bootmaker,. At nineteen he set up in that trade and on the strength of that got married to Mary Jane Fox. Moving to Elland near Halifax he built up a successful boot and shoe business, by 1871 employing three men, one woman and two boys.
In Halifax he had become involved with the Methodist New Connexion Church and in Elland became a local preacher for them. Feeling a call to enter the ministry he worked from four to eight in the morning before opening his shop to reach the required educational level. In 1873 the denomination sent him to Sheffield as a 'preacher on trial', with responsibility for Attercliffe chapel, but at the same time he attended Ranmoor Theological College in the city. After two years in Sheffield, he was sent to the Ladywood mission chapel in Birmingham.
In Birmingham he began his Sunday afternoon lectures which were so popular that after a couple of years he was forced to use the Town Hall as the numbers had become so great. They were at time said to have reached 4000 people. He was ordained into the Methodist New Connexion in 1877. After four years at Ladywood the Methodist New Connexion wanted to send him to London, but a committee was set up to use the redundant Highbury chapel in Graham St and he was invited to be the pastor and hence he became an Independent or Congregational minister. He ran a very successful chapel for seven years and also became a regular speaker for, and officer in, the Liberal party. In 1884 he was elected to the Birmingham School Board. However in 1886, when Joseph Chamberlain split the party he sided with Gladstone which left him in a difficult position in Liberal Unionist dominated Birmingham.
The upshot was that he left and went to Queen's Park in London, to a church that was still meeting in a hall. In the next few years he raised all the money and got the proper chapel built. In 1888, Leach, who was living in Brondesbury Road, Kilburn, stood as a Progressive candidate in Chelsea division for the London School Board. He placed ninth, where there were five seats available. In 1889 he went on a preaching tour to Canada and America where he collected an honorary Doctorate of Divinity from Ohio University. Always interested in education he was instrumental in setting up the Queen's Park Institute which used the chapel's school buildings. In 1892 he was elected to Chelsea Vestry. By 1894 he was despairing of the Liberal Party and joined Keir Hardie's recently founded Independent Labour Party. In 1894 after the new act, everyone had to be re-elected to the Vestry and he stood under his new colours. This was too much for his chapel and he was forced to resign and withdraw before the poll.
In 1897 he received a call to go to Cavendish Street where there was a huge chapel just off Oxford Road in Manchester. Here they wanted him because they were seeing declining numbers as their congregation moved to the suburbs. He had built a reputation as being able to attract members of the working classes to his services. In Manchester he was much involved with Passive Resistance the movement protesting about the 1902 Education Act and the requirement for ratepayers to support Anglican and Catholic schools. By 1904 it had all become to much for him and he resigned and took up what he thought would be a less onerous pastorate at Harecourt Chapel, in Islington, London. Here he remained until early 1908.
As an adjunct to his work within the temperance movement he was one of the founding directors of the Abstainers and General Insurance Company and later became its Vice Chairman. After leaving the ministry he became a member of the London Chamber of Commerce.
Over around 30 years he delivery some 500 -600 Sundary afternoon lectures. He also found time to write some 20 books including "Old, Yet Ever New", "Is My Bible True?", "Ten Reasons Why I Believe the Bible is the Word of God" and "Sermons to Working Men". He also edited a paper called the Factory Herald for some years.
Not content with that he became a guide for Thomas Cook and Son leading parties to the Holy Land. He was to visit the country some eleven times and the trips were always timed to bring the groups to Jerusalem in time for Easter.
He had not been so fortunate in his private life, and he lost his two sons, Herbert and Harry, in infancy, and two of his four daughters, Ada and Dora, to TB, both at the age of 24. Only the first born, Elizabeth, and the last, Mabel, survived him.
Member of Parliament
In May 1908 Leach was invited to contest the Colne Valley constituency as a Liberal Party candidate. A former member of the Independent Labour Party, he described himself as an "evolutionary socialist". He was described by The Times as a weak candidate, but one who stood to inherit the strong Colne Valley Liberal vote, and at the January 1910 general election, he defeated the Independent MP Victor Grayson.
He made his maiden speech on 11 April 1910 supporting one of the resolutions that led up to the Parliament Act. He was re-elected in December 1910, when he only faced a Conservative opponent. Leach supported women's suffrage, but registered his opposition to the actions of the suffragettes. He also supported the Government in passing the National Insurance Act. In February 1911 he introduced his private members Trade Union Bill  to try to overcome the problems caused by the Osborne judgment, but it was to disappear into the parliamentary timetable. Despite this he was a very active backbencher asking numerous questions of ministers.
Leach continued to preach occasionally while a Member of Parliament; he also travelled widely including to the near East, Canada and the USA.
Appointed as a Chaplain to the Armed Forces, 4th class, during the First World War, his duty was to visit the wounded in the London Military Hospitals. In 1915 the strain of this and his parliamentary duties became too much and he dropped out of public life. It was reported that he had suffered a nervous breakdown, and had to move to a nursing home in London. In reality it was much starker and he had been committed to Northumberland House, Green Lanes, a private lunatic asylum. He was declared to be suffering from an unsound mind, brain deterioration and loss of memory. This would appear to have some physical cause and may well have been vascular dementia cause by small strokes or similar. Some eight months later he was found still to be of unsound mind and his seat was declared vacant under the Lunacy (Vacating of Seats) Act — the only MP ever disqualified under that Act. Probably this was due to Parliament having already been prolonged and it being impossible to hold a general election while the war persisted. Normally MPs are just allowed to retire quietly at the next election. At the resulting by-election on 25 August 1916, the Liberal Frederick Mallalieu was elected unopposed to succeed him.
Leach died in 1919, aged 72.
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.11"
- "The Popular Guide to the House of Commons", Pall Mall Gazette Extra, January 1911, p. 173.
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.32"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.29"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.39"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.47"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.71"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.57"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.67"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.85"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.100"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.122"
- "London School Board election", The Times, 3 November 1888.
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.121"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.124"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.128"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.135"
- "The Parochial Elections", The Times, 7 December 1894.
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.145"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.179"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.193"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.84"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.288"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.234"
- "Worsted to Westminster", pp.29, 56, 145, 171"
- "Election Intelligence", The Times, 1 June 1908.
- "Yorkshire County Pollings", The Times, 20 January 1910.
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.226"
- "Woman Suffrage. Members' Protest Against Organized Rowdyism.", The Times, 14 December 1911.
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.228"
- "New Writ for Colne Valley", The Times, 18 August 1916.
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.263"
- "Worsted to Westminster", p.270"
- Causes of Byelections since the Reform Act
- Leigh Rayment's Historical List of MPs – Constituencies beginning with "C" (part 5)[self-published source][better source needed]
- M. Stenton and S. Lees, "Who's Who of British MPs" Vol. II (Harvester Press, 1978)
- J. B. Williams, "Worsted to Westminster: The Extraordinary Life of the Rev Dr Charles Leach MP" (Darcy Press, 2009) ISBN 978-0-9562523-0-2
- Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Charles Leach
|Parliament of the United Kingdom|
|Member of Parliament for Colne Valley