“Frailty! thy name is Lancashire!”

Primrose League badges

How to explain the continued electoral success of the Conservative party in Lancashire in the second half of the 19th century despite a widening franchise that gave working-class men the vote? The results prompted one Liberal commentator to complain, “Frailty! thy name is Lancashire!” One possible explanation is the superior organisation of the Conservatives at grass roots level when throughout Lancashire and the rest of the country the party’s mobilising force was the now almost forgotten Primrose League. The league recognised that the working-class defiance of earlier in the century had given way to a deference to their betters that could bring the working class into the Tory fold. The focus here is on the league’s operation in Preston (consistently loyal to the Tories from 1865 to 1906) and nationally, but it operated successfully in all corners of the county.

Preston and the Primrose League

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