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Was Churchill a great orator?

Source 2

Part of a newspaper report in the Bath Daily Chronicle of Churchill’s first political speech made to a meeting of the Primrose League in Bath.


CHAR 2/21/1

We've highlighted the parts of the document which appear in the transcription below.

Simplified Transcript


Mr Winston Churchill, son of the late Lord Randolph Churchill, gave his first political speech to the Bath Primrose League last night.

Mr Churchill, who was well received, apologized for being unaccustomed to public speaking and also for his enthusiasm at being asked to speak. He said it was hard to find anything to say which was as interesting as the recent Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria (sixty years on the throne). This was met with laughter.

He spoke about an important measure going through Parliament, the Workmen’s Compensation Bill (a proposal to compensate those injured at work). When some Radical MPs put the measure forward they wanted to call it the Employers’ Liability Bill but the Conservatives changed this to Workmen’s Compensation which made it a more positive measure to help workers rather than a measure to hurt employers. This was met with cheers.

The Bill was a great measure. It was calculated that 6,000 died and 250,000 were injured every year in accidents at work. These were higher casualties than any battle (the audience agreed). He did not say that there were no employers who treated workmen well but that now all workmen would be protected by law rather than by whether or not they were lucky enough to have a good employer or could find help from charity.

Radicals wanted more, but this was not the Conservative way. Radicals would smash all the windows if they were told that ventilation was a good thing (this was met with laughter). Tories took a more careful, look before you leap approach. And this Bill showed that the Conservatives intended to bring in more measures to help working men and that working men had more to gain from Conservative rule than the dried up ideas of Radicals (this was met with cheers).

Original Transcript


Mr. Winston Churchill, son of the late Lord Randolph Churchill, made his first political speech at the meeting of the Bath Primrose League, held last evening at Claverton Manor, near Bath, the residence of Mr H.D. Skrine. Colonel Bingham Wright, Ruling Councillor, presided and introduced Mr Churchill.

Mr. CHURCHILL, who was well received, said if it were pardonable in any speaker to begin with the apology 'unaccustomed as I am to public speaking', it would be pardonable in his case, for the honour he was enjoying of addressing an audience of his fellow-countrymen and women was the first honour of the kind he had received. (Cheers.) But it had its drawbacks, and one of them was that just after the Diamond Jubilee it was very difficult to find anything to talk about. (Laughter.)...

Though Parliament was dull, it was by no means idle. (Hear, hear.) A measure was before them of the greatest importance to the working men of this country...

The measure was designed to protect workmen in dangerous trades from poverty if they should be injured in the service of their employers. (Hear, hear.) When the Radicals brought in their Bill and failed, they called it an Employers’ Liability Bill. Observe how much better the Tories did these things. (Hear, hear.) They called this Bill the Workmen’s Compensation Bill, and that was a much nicer name. (Laughter and hear, hear.) This Bill was a great measure of reform. It grappled with evils that were so great that only those who were intimately connected with them were able to form any idea of them. (Cheers.) It was calculated that every year 6,000 persons were killed and 250,000 injured in trades in this country. That was a greater total of casualties than the greatest battle ever fought could show. (Hear, hear.) He did not say that workmen had not been treated well in the past by the kindness and consideration of their employers, but this measure removed the question from the shifting sands of charity and placed it on the firm bedrock of law. (Cheers.) So far it was only applied to dangerous trades. Radicals, who were never satisfied, and Liberals, always liberal with other people’s money–(laughter)–asked why it was not applied to all trades. That was just like a Radical, just the slapdash, wholesale, harumscarum policy of the Radical. It reminded him of the man who, on being told that ventilation was an excellent thing, went and smashed every window in his house. (Laughter and cheers.) That was not Conservative policy. Conservative policy was essentially a tentative policy, a look-before-you-leap policy, and it was a policy of don’t leap at all if there is a ladder. (Laughter.) It was because the Conservative policy was slow that it was sure and constant–(hear, hear)–but this Bill might be taken as indicating the forward tendency of Tory legislation, and as showing to thousands of our countrymen engaged in industrial pursuits that the Tories were willing to help them, and besides having the inclination had the power–(hear, hear)–and that the British workmen had more to hope for from the rising tide of Tory Democracy than from the dried up drain-pipe of Radicalism. (Laughter and cheers.)

What is this source?

This source comes from a local newspaper report on Churchill’s speech to the Primrose League of Bath, which he made in 1897.

Background to this source

Before he became an MP, Churchill made his first political speech to the Primrose League of Bath. Unlike his later speeches, Churchill delivered this speech from memory: later on, he had detailed notes for his speeches.

The speech was recorded by a reporter present at the meeting of the Primrose League and then written up for the local newspaper, the Bath Daily Chronicle.

Additional information

The Primrose League was a political organization, set up by Churchill’s father Lord Randolph Churchill, for promoting Conservatism and mainly had an aristocratic membership of both men and women. It would seem likely that Churchill was given the opportunity to make this speech based on the audience’s admiration for of his father, Lord Randolph Churchill, rather than his own credentials.

How can we use this source in the investigation?

Remember we are hoping this source can be useful to us in whether Churchill was a good orator. Sources usually help historians in two ways:

Surface level

  1. Why did Churchill start with an apology?
  2. What measure/parliamentary Bill was Churchill talking about? Who was it designed to protect? Do you think Churchill would have had much direct experience of the people who would be affected by the Bill? Why do you think he decided to speak about it?
  3. How would you describe his attitude towards ‘Radicals’? What words or phrases does he use?
  4. According to Churchill, what is the Conservative approach to making new laws?

Deeper level

Which of the following areas of Churchill’s key features of public speaking can be investigated by using this source?


Tick if this is present

If you have put a tick, what makes you think this?

On a scale of 0-5 (0 being absent and 5 being strongly represented), indicate how important this attribute is to the speech.

Correctness of Diction

Is it clear what Churchill means even if some words are unfamiliar?



Does his speech seem like blank verse poetry?


Accumulation of Argument

Does he build his argument?



Does he use examples from the past or from people’s knowledge to illustrate his point?


Emotions of the speaker and the audience aroused

Do the audience know Churchill’s final point before he gets there?


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Need help interpreting the source?

  • Think about the audience. This speech was made to a group of Conservative activists. Churchill is praising the Conservatives and so would this speech have been well received?
  • These activists would have known Churchill’s father, Lord Randolph Churchill, and so would probably have been sympathetic to Winston Churchill as this was his first public speech.
  • This extract is from the first part of Churchill’s speech and covers the Workmen’s Compensation Bill - after he finished talking about the Bill he went on to subjects which would have resonated well with his audience (the British Empire and the increasing strength of the Conservative Party). When he prepared this speech, why do you think he chose this order for the topics he wanted to cover?
  • This is a newspaper report and so, while it does note the noises made by the audience when reacting to the speech (e.g. cheers), do you think this would be a good indication of how everyone in the audience responded?

Source 3

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