The Returning Officer


Charles Royle was briefly (1923-24) Liberal MP for Stockport, winning one of the two seats by edging out the National Liberal candidate Henry Fildes. As a child he had helped his mother clean the house of Sir Joseph Leigh, MP for the town (1892-95/1900-06).

Royle was a butcher by profession and had started work aged 12, first for an uncle and then for a nearby shopkeeper - "a good practical tradesman, but he was a whisky drinker", as he said in his autobiography, Opened Doors, published by the Meat Trades Journal Company in 1949. His son, also Charles, was Labour MP for Salford West (1945-64), having made a living in the same trade.

Ford Madox Brown's picture Work features a procession carrying placards saying "Bobus for Middlesex - Vote for Bobus". Bobus Higgins was a character in Thomas Carlyle's novel Past and Present (1843) - a butcher who made his sausages from horse meat. Carlyle is to the right of
the picture, with F D Maurice, founder of Christian socialism.

This article first appeared in the 07 March 2011 issue of the New Statesman, The great property swindle