Timothy Falvey was at the heart of the Liberal party in Southampton for forty years: town councillor, vice-president (twice) of the Board of Guardians, vice-president of the Hartley Council, deputy chairman of the Free Libraries Committee, vice-president of the Polytechnic Institution, governor of both Southampton Grammar School and Taunton's School. As editor of the Hampshire Independent between 1848 and 1869, Falvey set the tone for a generation of Liberal politicians. He is immortalized as Timothy Turbot in George Meredith's political novel Beauchamp's Choice, published in 1876.

Timothy Falvey was by birth an Irish Catholic, born to an impoverished agricultural family in County Kerry on 1 April 1813. The Falvey family were part of the mass economic exodus from rural Ireland in the early 1820s. Settling in Macclesfield, Timothy worked in the cotton and silk factories of that town. He was politically promiscuous, making his first pro-Reform speech at the age of 18. He crossed political swords with the socialist Robert Owen in personal debate, argued for church disestablishment and became an outspoken advocate of that brand of Irish nationalism championed by Daniel O'Connell. 'The Liberator' was Timothy's political idol. He became secretary of the Macclesfield branch of the Loyal National Repeal Organisation, organising his fellow dissident silk weavers to such effect that he was honoured, in June 1841, as a 'Volunteer of '82' [1782 - the year of the short-lived Irish parliament].

As many Irish nationalists, Falvey embraced the anti-Corn Law movement in the late 1830s and 1840s. Sponsored by Richard Cobden himself, Falvey became a full-time lecturer for the Anti-Corn-Law League in March 1842. He lectured on behalf of the cause for four tumultuous years, sent to the most testing battlegrounds: Chartist towns in the north and the midlands, agricultural villages in the south and the seething political cauldron of London. He had the reputation as one of the League's most effective and uncompromising orators. His talents were particularly suited to the phrenetic turmoil of election campaigns, supporting John Bright at Durham in 1843. On the abandonment of the League, Falvey became a collector for the Cobden National Testimonial Fund. He later campaigned for the British Anti-State Church Association, a largely nonconformist pressure group dedicated to the disestablishment of the Church of England: an alliance that suggests he had now lapsed from active membership of the Catholic church.

It was probably Thomas Leader Harman who plucked Falvey from Lancashire to become editor of the Hampshire Independent, a replacement for Thomas Lawrence Behan. Despite a shared Irish Catholic background, the two editors lay at different ends of the editorial spectrum. Behan was a lawyer, a political leader-writer for leading metropolitan papers, a key member of the Reform Club and friends with many of the London literati. Falvey was a product of the Lancashire manufacturing towns - with a brother Daniel who never escaped that environment -, a blood and guts orator who had flirted with revolutionary politics, and an adept political infighter. This more than compensated for his lack of newspaper experience. He became a pivotal figure in the political circle that revolved around the formidable Richard Andrews.

In Southampton, Falvey was involved with setting up the library service, was a town councillor, Guardian, school governor and on the Hartley Council. Sir Frederick Perkins bought Falvey's books after his death and presented them to the library. Falvey also wrote addresses to important visitors to Southampton, such as Garibaldi. He was the sub-distributor and later distributor of stamps for Southampton in the 1850s and 1860s. The Local Studies Library holds papers relating to this.

An obituary published by F A Edwards of the Hampshire Independent in 1889 (In memoriam. Timothy Falvey) - based largely on Falvey's own version of his life - emphasises this Liberal strand, avoiding his more turbulent Irish nationalist past. Falvey was a politician even beyond the grave.

He died on 8 October 1889 at his residence in Windsor Terrace, aged 76 years. He succumbed after a short illness, having been engaged on political business only a week before. Corporation flags were flown at half mast and many shopkeepers closed early as marks of respect. He was buried on 12 October in the family grave in Southampton cemetery.

Timothy Falvey

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Photograph from the Southern Reformer 7 August 1880.

Memorial Bust of Timothy Falvey

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By James Milo Griffith, 1890

Newspaper clippings (available at the Local Studies Library):

  • "Library Pioneer a fluent writer" - (Southern Evening Echo 10/12/1982). Recounts Falvey's life and notes that thousands lined the route of his funeral.

See also

Further reading:

‘Timothy Falvey (1813-89): his early career in politics’, by Richard Preston in Southampton Local History Forum Journal, no. 21, Autumn 2013, p 19-26.
'The memorial bust of Timothy Falvey in Southampton Central Library’, by Richard Preston (Southampton Occasional Papers, no. 5)


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