1938 Bridgwater by-election

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The Bridgwater by-election, 1938 was a parliamentary by-election for the British House of Commons constituency of Bridgwater, Somerset held on 17 November 1938.


The by-election was triggered when Reginald Croom-Johnson, the sitting Conservative member was appointed a High Court Judge in October 1938 which required him to resign his seat in parliament. He had been MP here since holding the seat in 1929.

Election history[edit]

Ever since the constituency was created in 1885, the Conservatives had won the seat, with the exception of the Liberal landslide of 1906 and the General Election of 1923, when the Liberals had won. The Labour party had always polled poorly and always coming last, except in 1923 when the Liberals won. At the last General Election, the Liberal challenge was not as strong as it had been;

General election 1935: Bridgwater Electorate 43,367
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Conservative Reginald Croom-Johnson 17,939 56.9 -20.6
Liberal N D Blake 7,370 23.4 n/a
Labour Arthur W Loveys 6,240 19.8 -2.7
Majority 10,569 33.5 -21.5
Turnout 31,549 72.7 -1.1
Conservative hold Swing n/a


On 29 September 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had signed the Munich Agreement, handing over the Sudetenland to German control. This issue polarised British politics at the time, with many Labour supporters, Liberals, and some Conservatives strongly opposed to this policy of appeasement.[1] Many by-elections in the autumn of 1938 were fought around this issue, notably the Oxford by-election, where Liberals and Labour united in support of an Independent anti-appeasement candidate.


The Conservative Party selected 26-year-old lawyer and former Territorial Army officer Patrick Gerald Heathcoat-Amory of Tiverton as its candidate. He was thought to be assured of a sizeable agricultural vote, half of the electorate lived in rural areas at this time.[2]

Vernon Bartlett was a journalist and broadcaster with extensive experience of foreign affairs. He was approached by Richard Acland, Liberal MP for Barnstaple, a seat bordering Bridgwater, about standing as an anti-appeasement candidate in the by-election.[3] Bartlett agreed to do so providing he had the support of the Liberal and Labour parties. The Bridgwater Liberal Party unanimously backed Bartlett's candidature.[4]

Before the by-election vacancy was known, the local Labour Party had already re-adopted Arthur Loveys their previous candidate, to contest a General Election expected to occur in 1939. Loveys withdrew and Labour generally supported Bartlett, although many in the Labour Party were unenthusiastic about co-operation with the Liberals.[5]


The campaign was intense and focused almost entirely on foreign affairs. Heathcoat-Amory supported Chamberlain's appeasement policy.[6] Bartlett opposed appeasement and was a very persuasive speaker on the subject.[7] His voice was already well known due to his radio broadcasts. His experience of foreign affairs and erudite speeches were very effective at a time when public meetings were a vital part of electioneering.

Many Liberal personalities came to support Bartlett, including Megan Lloyd George, Lady Violet Bonham Carter and Sir Charles Hobhouse. Some Labour voters were reluctant to support Bartlett, believing he was really a Liberal candidate.[8] However, he did receive a letter of support from 39 Labour MPs just before polling day.


The intensive campaign caused turnout to increase from 72.7% at the last election to 82.3%. Bartlett won the seat with a majority of 2,332 or 6.3%. He hailed the result as a defeat for Chamberlain, saying that it showed people understood the dangers of the Government's foreign policy.[9]

Bridgwater by-election, 17th November 1938[10] Electorate 44,653
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Independent Progressive Vernon Bartlett 19,540 53.2 n/a
Conservative Patrick Heathcoat-Amory 17,208 46.8 -10.1
Majority 2,332 6.3 39.8
Turnout 36,748 82.3 +9.6
Independent Progressive gain from Conservative Swing n/a


At the following General Election, Bartlett, retaining support from the Liberals, but now opposed by the Labour party, managed to hang onto the seat;

General election 1945: Bridgwater Electorate: 53,896
Party Candidate Votes % ±
Independent Progressive Vernon Bartlett 17,937 45.8 -7.4
Conservative Gerald Wills 15,625 39.9 -6.9
Labour N Corkhill 5,613 14.3 n/a
Majority 2,312 5.9 -0.4
Turnout 39,175 72.7 -9.6
Independent Progressive hold Swing -0.2

In popular culture[edit]

A Monty Python skit called "The North Minehead By-Election" was influenced by this event, whereby Minehead, another town in Somerset, is having a by-election. One of the candidates, played by John Cleese, is an Adolf Hitler looking man who calls himself "Mr Hilter" and who espouses a philosophy called "National Bocialism".[11]

External links[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Times 4 October 1938
  2. ^ Estimate based on 1931 Census
  3. ^ Spartacus Educational Archived 9 July 2009 at the Wayback Machine
  4. ^ The Times 26 October 1938
  5. ^ The Times 9 November 1938
  6. ^ The Times 9 November 1938
  7. ^ The Times 19 November 1938
  8. ^ The Times 17 November 1938
  9. ^ The Times 19 November 1938
  10. ^ F W S Craig, British Parliamentary Election Results 1918-1949; Political Reference Publications, Glasgow 1949
  11. ^ Larsen, Darl (2008). Monty Python's Flying Circus: An Utterly Complete, Thoroughly Unillustrated, Absolutely Unauthorized Guide to Possibly All the References. Scarecrow Press. p. 172. ISBN 9781461669708.