After the guns fell silent on 11 November 1918 the job started in earnest to ‘win the peace’; key to this was the battle for public health and better living conditions. The country had been shocked at the physical health of the population as men were increasingly called up and then conscripted to the Forces. Poor living conditions, disease and malnourished had taken their toll, and men had to be built up to fighting fitness during their initial training – some never made it passed this stage and have their own commemorations on war memorials.
On 16th December 1918, less than a month after the Armistice, the country held a General Election. This was the first election that many of the fighting men over 21 could actually vote in, as well as the first for women at all. The victory went to a coalition of Lloyd George’s Liberals and the Conservative & Unionist Party. One of their very key messages was to make Britain a Home for Heroes – literally. As quoted in an editorial from the Birmingham Post 9 December 1918.
“These men have saved the Empire, and it is but just that they should inherit it. We at home have to see that it is worthy for them to come back to. In this women have a direct interest. They have kept the home firest burning for their loved ones to return to – often by sacrifices and hardships almost as great as the men have endured away. Many of those homes were not fit for habitation for such men; they must be replaced by worthy ones.”
At the top of the new Government’s list for NATIONAL RECONSTRUCTION PRIORITIES was
- “TO SWEEP AWAY THE SLUMS – THEY MUST BE COMPULSORILY DESTROYED AND NEW DWELLINGS ERRECTED”
- SUPPORT FOR THE REVIVAL OF FARMING – JOBS, FOOD, LAND REFORM
So what did Guiseley do? The organizing of the response by public and private sector fell to Guiseley Urban District Council in conjunction with West Riding Council Council. GUDC was served by prominent local figures on various committees including philanthropist Jonathan Peate. There was a case made in the early 1920’s for Leeds and Bradford to both expand and take over the area in order to provide better public services. This would have split Guiseley down the railway line. But, Guiseley, Yeadon, Rawdon and Horsforth fought this hard, and maintained independence until 1974. (The move to an Aireborough Council in 1937 was to strengthen the common resistance to being subsumed, and maintain independence to better serve the unique requirements of this semi-urban area.)
During our research on Parkinson’s Park we uncovered a lot of the perhaps forgotten story of how and why Guiseley developed as a Home for Heroes between 1919 and 1929 in leaving us with the legacy we have today. Parkinson’s Park itself was part of that legacy. In our exhibition we tell some of that story; we will be supported by a display from Guiseley Art Club.