James Henry Lucas

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Date published: 18/11/2014
© Newbury Weekly News

JAMES HENRY LUCAS

 

A VERITABLE CIVIC FATHER

OVER 40 YEARS OF PUBLIC SERVICE

 

By the death of Alderman James Henry Lucas, briefly recorded last week, a notable figure disappears from the public life of Newbury. Although not a native of the borough. He identified himself so closely with its interests, and did so much to further its development and prosperity, that he takes a foremost place in the ranks of citizen worthies of the Victorian era. Alderman Lucas died in his eightieth year and more than half that long life was devoted to the service of the public. Although local tradition does not recognise him as the “Father of the Corporation” his forty-three years consecutive membership of the governing body at any rate entitle him to rank as a veritable civic father. With his departure, another link is snapped to the chain which connects the present with the past, and to review the public career of the late alderman is to take a retrospect of half-a-century's history of the borough.

 

EARLY BUSINESS DAYS

 

James Henry Lucas was the son of a farmer, and was born on January 4th, 1820, at Malmesbury. He was apprenticed to a firm of drapers and clothiers at Bradford-on-Avon, and on concluding his period of apprenticeship he set out with a young man's determination to see the world and seek his fortune. At the age of 18 he came to Newbury and was an assistant for some years at Mr. Norris' drapery establishment in Northbrook-street, where now stands the Technical Institute. He became manager, and subsequently held the same post in Mr. Nay’s business, which was then carried on in the premises now occupied by Mr. Wintle. Later he took to the drapery and outfitting business of Mr. Beckett in Bartholomew-street. Here he remained for many years, working up a successful business, from which he retired a few years since, when advancing years necessitated relaxation from the increasing demands of modern competition.

 

THE BEGINNING OF A CIVIC CAREER

 

Mr. Lucas early showed an inclination for public life, and in 1856 he was approached by Alderman Dredge and Martin with the view of being nominated for the Council in an election just then pending. At first he declined, but yielding to the renewed solicitations of Mr. Dredge that he should write out an address to the electors he did so there and then, and this was, he afterwards declared, the first composition on his own that he ever saw in print. From that time onward he was a frequent contributor to the election literature of the period, and in later years, when the Newbury Weekly News came into existence, he was wont to ventilate his opinions therein upon matters local and national. As an example of the electioneering of the day, Mr. Lucas's address to the Burgesses is here reprinted from the rare copy of the original:-

 

The time is fast approaching when you will be called upon to exercise this privilege vested in you as Burgesses of this Borough of electing four fit and proper persons to represent your interests in the Town Council.

I have been repeatedly and urgently requested by a numerous and influential portion of the rate-payers of this town, to allow myself to be put in nomination for one of the seats, which will shortly be vacant. Feeling that a sense of public duty, as well as the fulfilment of a pledge given on a former occasion, demands that I should accede to such a request, I therefore offer myself as a candidate for your suffrages at the forthcoming election, when, should you think proper to elect me, I shall at all times endeavour to promote the bests interests of the borough.

Having been a rate-payer among you for the last 14 years, I cannot be considered in the light of a stranger to you, and I flatter myself that during that time I may have been instrumental in rendering some little service to the town.

A short time since I drew your attention to the loose and unsatisfactory state of the Board of Health accounts, from which I am induced to think some good result may follow.

More recently when the contemplated purchase of the houses opposite the Church, for an improved entrance to the Market-place, was proposed, considering such a measure to be altogether unnecessary, and calculated to plunge the town into an enormous expense, without producing a corresponding benefit, I opposed it, and am happy to find that I represented the feeling and opinion of the great majority of the inhabitants. The scheme was postponed, and I trust abandoned.

It may reasonably be asked what my views and opinions may be on various public matters. I would just say that while I would cordially support any measure which I may deem to be a real public benefit, I would fearlessly and strenuously oppose any attempt to increase the public expenditure unnecessarily: and while I would pay every regard to the exigencies and requirements requisite for the due administration of the affairs of the borough, I would advocate the strictest economy, and in all public matters, urge the publication of a plain and detailed statement of accounts, considering that the rate-payers who furnish the means, are justly entitled to the fullest information as to the manner in which their money is spent.

 

The contest was keen, and a good deal of personal opposition was manifested, as at that time the Corporation was a somewhat exclusive body, and the intrusion of a member with advanced views and strong individuality was naturally resented. The result was as follows: Martin 216; Lucas 203; Deller 184; Keene 168; Randall 155. The latter, who was Ex-Mayor was the unsuccessful candidate, and Mr. Lucas gained the seat in the Council, which he held without a break till his death.

 

A FIGHTING COUNCILLOR

At this time the affairs of the Corporation were perhaps in the hands of officials more than at present. Mr. Robert Graham was Town Clerk, and being a man of marked ability and commanding influence he had the faculty of directing the business, and members perhaps unconsciously deferred to his opinions His subordinate was Mr. Beckhusen, who, with less diplomacy was even more assertive, between whom and the deceased there was ever the agreement to differ on most public matters. Mr. Lucas, as his addressed showed, entered the Corporation as an economist, and so resolute was he is this direction that it obtained for him the designation of “the Joseph Hume of the Newbury Corporation.” Starting with a determination to fight – fight he had to almost to the close of his public life. Eight times he had to seek re-election, and with two exceptions only was he allowed to be returned unopposed. He had to fight for his Mayoralty, and likewise for his aldermanship. 

While regarding himself as a man of peace, his municipal career was a series of conflicts for the maintenance of his views. He declared on one occasion that when he entered the Council he made up his mind never to speak until he had made himself intimately acquainted with the subject under consideration and a determination to master everything appertaining to civil government. So well did he stick to this resolve that no-one in the Council Chamber had a better grasp of the work of the Council than he. He was accustomed to give expression to his views in a fearless manner, and never hesitated to back them by his vote. At that time ecclesiastical sentiments were allowed to largely enter into the details of government and administration. His contention was that no one on account of his religion ought to suffer disability, and that in their corporate capacity there should be no bias or impartiality shown to either the Established Church or to Nonconformity. With others of his townsmen he fought strenuously the attempt to exclude Non-conformists from participation in the Municipal Charities, and as a result of a two days' hearing in the Vice Chancellor's Court, a new scheme was proposed, which provided for the admission of burgesses, irrespective of religious opinion, as trustees, and their participation of all classes to the benefits.

 

A CHAMPION OF ECONOMY

 

Though extremely useful in his vocation as an economist, it may safely be asserted that his retrenchment would scarcely fit in with present-day ideas. As chairman of the Finance Committee for many years his ambition was to keep down the borough rates, an aim in which he was eminently successful, and one which naturally secured the approbation of his contemporaries. It would however have been better and sounder finance had the past generation been called upon to pay more and so have discharged burdens which present-day ratepayers are still doing their best to get rid of. As guardian for the thirty years, and also an overseer, Mr. Lucas had an intimate connection with the poor rate, which at one time was abnormally high, owing to the large amount of out-relief. The overseers then had to collect the rates themselves, a none too pleasant duty, and in later years assistant overseers were paid to do the work. 

There was one incident in Mr. Lucas' career which testified to his foresight, and good judgment. When the County authorities offered £1,000 towards providing adequate police court accommodation in which the Petty Sessions of the Newbury Division might also be heard, Mr. Lucas in the face of an overwhelming majority opposed the purchase of adjoining property for the enlargement upon the present site. His proposal was to buy the Tuns Hotel (the site of the present Queen's Hotel) which was then on the market, and could be purchased cheaply. The new Town Hall and Municipal Buildings would then be side by side with the Corn Exchange, and thus all the borough property would be placed together. Such was Mr Lucas' scheme, and so persuaded was he at its being the right course that he offered if adopted to contribute £100. This proposal was rejected, and so the new Municipal Buildings and Police Court were added to the present Town Hall. We are inclined to think that if the money then spent, as well as the subsequent outlay in the shambles, and providing retiring rooms and another exit, could be ascertained, it would be found sufficient to have provided buildings that would have been a credit to the town at no greater cost, while the removal of the existing Town Hall would have provided an open space which would have added greatly to the appearance of the centre of the town, and have mitigated the dangers of the drive over Newbury Bridge. 

Mr. Lucas took an active part in inducing the Corporation to the purchase of Gas Works, but he was wont to complain subsequently that the Corporation was made to pay too much for the property. In regard to the Water Company he was perhaps the only member who questioned at the time the inadequacy of the terms then offered, but which Mr. Beckhusen, who was then virtually Town Clerk, succeeded in inducing the Corporation to accept. As for the sewerage scheme his policy was that of masterly inactivity. Anything indeed to postpone the evil day. In the endless discussions which extended over a long series of years he was ever like the sword of Richard Coeur de Lion, in the thickest of the fight. It was our deceased friend who was responsible for the joke which became historic, that if a hogshead of gin were turned into the Kennet at Newbury Bridge, all traces would be lost by the time it reached Bull's Lock, thereby meaning that it was ridiculous to argue that Newbury sewage was traceable seventeen miles away, although the county town was doing its utmost to urge the L.G.B. to take action on this account.

 

MAYOR AND ALDERMAN

 

In 1863 Mr. Lucas, as the senior Councillor, was nominated for the Mayoralty, but the election was opposed, and it was only after a sharp division that he received the appointment to the civic chair. He filled the post with satisfaction to his supporters in the Council, and credit to himself. In 1877 a keenly contested election took place consequent upon an agitation that the “Bull and Dog,” then the property of the Corporation, should not be let as a public house. This was the period when the electioneering squib was in vogue, and printers flourished by the lavish publications of addresses and appeals to the electors, rejoinders and retaliations more or less polite. Mr. Lucas was always ready with his pen to take part in this paper warfare. 

The result of this election was the defeat of the Mayor, the late Alderman Absalom, followed by the retirement of Alderman Cave, and the election of Mr. Absalom to fill the vacancy. As Mr. Lucas was the senior councillor his friends were indignant that he had been passed over, and to show unabated confidence they organised a public dinner in his honour, when they presented to him a handsome silver tea and coffee service, purchased at a cost of £60, “In token of the energetic and faithful service rendered to the town of Newbury as Councillor of the Borough during a period of 21 years.” A year later (1878), on an increase in the Corporation, consequent on the extension of the borough, Mr. Lucas and the late Mr. W.G. Adey were elevated to the office of Aldermen. Henceforth Mr. Lucas' civic career was of a more peaceful character, although on occasions he still exhibited that sturdy independence which was a characteristic of his early days. In the election of Mayor he always took a prominent part, and could boast of having seen over forty Mayors elected. In later years he generally proposed or seconded the nomination of the chief magistrate, and assisted in the little ceremony of investment.

 

A VOTE OF CENSURE

 

Alderman Lucas earned the unique distinction of having a vote of censure passed upon him by his colleagues in the Council. In 1875 the Corporation were discussing the scheme for disestablishing the Borough police in favour of the county constabulary, and also were considering plans for a new Town Hall. At one meeting the Council went into Committee in order to get rid of the reporters. Mr. Lucas considered that the ratepayers ought to be made acquainted with the business, as it appeared to him to be of far-reaching influence, and he therefore constituted himself a reporter of the discussion, which he forwarded to the Newbury Weekly News in the form of a signed letter. The publications very much upset the Council, and at the next meeting the following resolution was passed:

That Mr. Councillor Lucas having written in the public press giving an account of the business discussed in committee previous to its being laid before the Council, this body considers such conduct as a breach of privilege, a reflection on the Mayor's judgment and discretion, and also as being very injurious and highly censurable.”

 

Mr. Lucas justified the course he had taken, and asserted he should do the same again if he felt the necessity to be as urgent. On the resolution being passed he remarked:”I am very much obliged to you gentlemen. I don't think it is worth the paper it is written on.” Most of the burgesses were of the opinion that the Council suffered more than the Councillor. In connection with this incident it may be remarked that the Alderman fought for several years for the admission of the Press to the meetings of the Board of Guardians, but was always in a minority when he made the proposition. It was not until the passing of the Local Government Act of 1895 that the Guardians realised that the ratepayers were entitled to know of their discussions, and the Press were admitted, but it was no doubt largely owing to the pegging-away policy of Mr. Lucas that a more enlightened system was adopted.

 

AS AN ODDFELLOW

 

The late Alderman was a prominent member of the Manchester Unity of Oddfellows, joining the “Loyal Britons Pride Lodge” in 1814, a year after its establishment. In 1845 he was appointed Lodge Secretary, a post which he held until 1870, and also held the post in the Newbury District for 22 years. On his retirement he was entertained at dinner and presented with a silver cup, value fourteen guineas, “In acknowledgement of his long and faithful service extending over a period of 25 years.” Mr. Lucas filled all the offices, and at celebration of the jubilee of the “Britons' Pride” Lodge, he and Mr. Henry White were accorded positions of honour as the oldest Oddfellows in the District.

 

AS A CITIZEN

 

Mr. Lucas took a fair share of public work, outside the duties involved by membership of the Town Council. He was a trustee of the Municipal Charities for 36 years, was one of the directors and first trustee of the Newbury Permanent Building Society, a manager of the Newbury Savings Bank, and connected with the management of the Literary Institution and the Dispensary. He took up a strong position with regard to the absorption of the Kendrick's Charity in the Grammar School, being a strong believer in the good results which had been derived from the clothing and apprenticeship system. A poem, published at the time, the authorship which he was never known to deny, contained the verse:

To keep up the trades, apprentice the lads,

That they in their turn may grow,

Into workmen well-skilled, to comfort their dads,

Don't rob the poor boy of his clothes.”

He also made a strong fight against the first attempt of the Charity Commissioners to alienate the benefits of West's Charity from the Founder's Kin. Alderman Lucas was for some years chairman of the Shaw Brick-kilns Company.

For nearly half a century Mr. Lucas was a member of the Congregational Church Choir, and was always interested in musical affairs.

In national politics he was a Liberal, and took an active part in advocating principles which he considered most calculated to promote the prosperity of the people.

Although a progressivist he was most conservative in his personal attire, and the cut-away coat which he favoured to the last was a reminder of a long departed fashion.

The late Alderman was left a widower in 1881, and about that time he had a severe attack of typhoid fever, from this personal and domestic affliction he never recovered his previous good health, or intellectual vigour. Gradually he withdrew from active participation in public affairs, and in recent years his health completely failed him, and for some time he has not been seen at the Council meetings. He passed away on the morning of Wednesday, the 19th of July. There were three sons and one daughter of the marriage, all of whom survive. Mr. Charles Lucas, solicitor, who was Mayor in 1880, and is now senior councillor in the Newbury Corporation; Mr. H.J. Lucas, who was associated with his father in the out-fitting business; and Mr. James V. Lucas, draper of Devizes.

 

THE FUNERAL

 

took place on Monday, the body being conveyed in an open car to the Congregational Church, the coffin of polished oak being covered with several beautiful floral tributes of affection and respect. Three mourning carriages followed in which his three sons, Messrs. Harry, Charles and James Lucas, the daughter Mrs. Linton; Mrs. H. Lucas, and Mrs. J. Lucas (daughters-in-law), his grandsons, Messrs Hubert and Alan Lucas, Mr. Charles Russell Hopkins, Mr. George Wintle, and Miss May.

Respect was also paid by the Mayor and Corporation to their late colleague. The maces draped with crape, were carried by the mace bearers, then followed the Mayor (Mr. Councillor Edmonds), wearing the chain of office, with an attachment of crape; then the Aldermen, T. Fidler, W. Hasell; Councillors B. Smith, H.J. Midwinter, R. Long, S. Knight, A. Jackson, H.S. Hanington, H. Davis, J. Rankin, J.N. Day, W.E. Lewendon, F.H. Adnams, F.C. Hopson, Mr. F. Q. Louch, Town Clerk; Mr. E. Jones, Borough Treasurer; Mr. S.J. Les Vincent, Borough Surveyor, Mr. H. Pratt, Corn Exchange Manager, etc.

 

Among those also present at the service were Messrs. J., Eatwell, J. Wareham, J. Flint, G.J. Cosburn, G. Ashdown, T. Guyer, E.L. Staples, J.T. Nash, H. Flint, T.W. Turner, Percy Noakes, G. Wright, Huntley, Misses Burrough, Misses Pratt, Mrs. Forster, Mrs. Midwinter, Miss Taylor, etc. etc.

The coffin was met at the church doors by Mr. W. Penford, and the Rev. E.H. Titchmarsh, who conducted the service and delivered the address.

In those ancient Scriptures (said the rev. gentleman), which came very near to our modern life, in those touches of nature which 'made the whole world kin,’ they read that Abraham died an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. And in those verses there was just that mingled note of triumph and of sadness which was always sounding in their minds when they stood by the graveside of one who has lived beyond the allotted span of human life, and to whom there had been granted many years of full and vigorous activity. There was triumph, because to have lived out to the full the human life was no small thing, no mean gift of God. There was sadness, because they were reminded of the inevitable close of human life, that the end came at last, the strength of the strongest failing and all human victory ending so far as earth was concerned. There was sadness in the mystery, the darkness of death, and yet this was softened down so that there was no revolt against the will of God. 

"This death was as it should be, coming gently at the close of a long life, as a release from toil at the end of a day's work. The life of their departed friend lay so much in the past that to many it should be known only by the report of others. But they know that it was a life of activity, a life of public and social service, the life of a man who lived amongst his fellow citizens as one who strove according to his light and insight to serve the city in which he lived. And they were there to affirm that such service was very honourable service, and that it was not merely secular work but sacred, so it be done from high and holy motive. They knew how easy it was for men in public office to lay themselves open to criticism of their fellows, and how hard it was so to do their work that there should be no stain upon their motives. It was hard to call any man's work perfect, but every man who lent his hand to public service, who tried in some measure to live not for himself alone but for the town in which he found himself, was worthy of honour. 

"Though there was a time for criticism, and a time to discriminate between what was unwise, and what was right and what was wrong, that time had passed, and they must remember that there was a diviner criticism which would be passed on all human activities when they stood before the judgment seat of Christ and because of that fact everything was hushed in their thoughts. Let them be reminded that divine judgment. Though it was a most searching judgment, was at the same time kind and considerate, and one that would never root out the wheat with the tares, but discover to save that which was good. They might also learn to see how swiftly even the longest years came to an end, and remember how certainly even the greatest strength failed. Happy were they who, when the swift-coming night darkened upon their path, could look back upon the work they had done, and amidst their human activity they had treasured up treasure in heaven. Happy were they even if all their work had perished and all the causes for which they had fought had failed, that yet in the oncoming night they had seen the face of God”.

 

The hymns “Our God, our help in ages past” and “Now the labourers work is o'er” were sung by the choir and whilst the “Dead March in Saul” was being played by the organist (Mr. W.J. Blackett) the body was removed, and the cortège proceeded to the Cemetery, where the interment took place.

Other friends gathering around the open grave were Rev. J. Atkins, Mr. Southby, Mr. Hopson, Mr. D.H. Jones, Mr. J.B. Stone, Mr. A. Bailey, Mrs. Glover, Mrs. Frampton, etc.

Blinds were drawn and shutters raised en route and fitting respect was paid to the memory of the deceased.

The arrangements were in the hands of Mr. George Wintle, undertaker of Northbrook-street. The coffin bore the inscription:

ALDERMAN JAMES HENRY LUCAS,

Born January 4 1820

Died July 19 1899

 

[There follows a list of the inscriptions on the numerous wreaths].

 

Newbury Weekly News 27 July 1899

Buried 24 July 1899 aged 79

Not in Mrs. P.

 

Mayor 1863


 

Sources:Newbury Weekly News 27 July 1899

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