RUMOUR has it there’s a General Election pending.

It must be true because the airwaves are full of politicians distributing promises like chaff in the wind knowing full well when it comes to delivering it’s a different story.

However, on the bright side, the hustings invariably throw up a few decent tales and in 1906 Worcester produced a cracker which involved dirty dealings in pub toilets as the city suddenly found itself without an MP and all over the national papers.

In those bygone days political parties had their own special inns and for the Conservatives it was the Duke of York in Angel Place.

The affair began in 1905 when George Allsopp, a wealthy brewer whose brother Percy lived in the city’s most opulent private house Battenhall Mount, decided to retire as Worcester’s MP, a job he had held since 1885.

The great threat to the Conservatives in Worcester were the Liberals and their candidate Henry Harben was playing a blinder.

He had taken up home in the city two years before and was making himself a popular local figure, quietly working the patch.

This obviously caused the local Tories much concern but they reacted by pulling a rabbit out of the hat in the form of George Williamson, the boss of the Providence Works (later Metal Box), one of the city’s largest employers.

A strikingly handsome man of great charm and wit and with much public service under his belt, including a spell as mayor, Williamson proved an ideal choice to win the January 1906 election which he duly did by 129 votes.

However, within a month the defeated Harben, who was a lawyer, filed a petition alleging wholescale bribery although not against Williamson personally.

This resulted in a hearing at the Shirehall before two judges when it turned out the Liberals had long suspected something underhand was afoot.

They had engaged a retired police officer from Peterborough to infiltrate the Worcester election process and what he uncovered sent the fertilizer flying.

Bribery was widespread and blatant, he claimed. Cash for votes was commonplace.

The system he uncovered involved the Conservatives taking potential supporters to the Duke of York where after being wined and dined they would proceed first to the polling booth to cast their vote and then make their way to the pub’s toilets out the back where they would find a sum of money left in appreciation on a wall.

Numerous witnesses at the hearing testified they had been so rewarded.

The evidence was so overwhelming on the third day Williamson threw in his hand and the judges declared Worcester’s 1906 election void.

However, Harben was not declared the winner.

Instead the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, a Liberal who had just won a landslide victory, ordered a commission to investigate “the extensive bribery in Worcester”.

In August that year three judges sat to decide Worcester’s fate.

A procession of prominent local personalities were called to give evidence which included the damning revelation the Conservative agent at the opening of the election campaign could not explain his accounts, while his successor had been convicted for being drunk and disorderly the night before election day.

As a result of the judges’ report the Worcester constituency was disenfranchised for the life of the Parliament.

The city was left without an MP until 1908 when Edward Goulding won a by-election for the Conservatives after Campbell-Bannerman, who was battling ill health, became the only British Prime Minister to die in 10 Downing Street.

At least it wasn’t in the toilets at the Duke of York.