A Mayor of the Masses
Archie Scarr was born on May 3rd1827 in Burnley, Lancashire the son of Thomas and Sarah Scarr, grocers and tea dealers. Thomas was a Wesleyan Local Preacher. Archie attended Burnley National School at 1d a week.
When he was about 13 the business failed and the family moved first to Addingham and then to Leeds living in ‘dark and dingy rooms’ in Myrtle Street in the Leylands. Thomas took a small piece of land on Vicar’s Croft and sold vegetables from a portable stand. Archie became a general ‘utility youth’ in a warehouse in Basinghall Street helping his parents in the evenings and Saturday afternoons.
Some years later he joined them in the trade. On Market Gardener’s mornings he got up at 2am in order to get the choicest produce. Thomas died in 1855 and Archie took a permanent wooden stall. A resourceful and determined trader he expanded into dried fruit specializing in figs ‘t’scripter frewt’-a new line for Leeds markets. He expanded into first 4 and then 9 shops in the market selling first confectionary then groceries, hardware and crockery. By the time of his death in February 1904 he had 29 shops across Yorkshire and Lancashire, the last of which did not close until 1974.They were known as ‘The popular cosmopolitan stores Messrs A.W.Scarr and Sons. Sometimes, in the interests of trade he would provide musical evenings for his customers.
As a dedicated follower of the Temperance movement Archie was a successful speaker at temperance meetings addressing the crowds at the Feasts in Wortley, Armley, Bramley and Woodhouse and crusading among the labourers at Witham’s Ironworks. He believed that perseverance, total abstinence and thrift were the route to success, a follower of Samuel Smiles he was said to have read Smiles ‘Self Help’ six times.
The Morley Times published an article in 1883 which included the following lines by Archie:
“Rely upon prudence and plodding and will,
Upon effort and right, upon patience and skill,
You will find in a life so engaging as this,
A perennial source of comfort and bliss.
If I’ve stirred you to rise, though not very far,
It will gladden the heart of Alderman Scarr”.
At an open air meeting in Victoria Square Mr Scarr, wearing his official chain as Lord Mayor, said he had been temperate in all things except language – (laughter!) As Mayor he never used the wine cellar and did not allow wine to his guests –including the circuit judges.
He failed in his first two attempts to enter the council in 1870 and 1871– partially because he did no electioneering in public houses.
In 1872 he was elected to the North-East ward promising to support improvements in water and gas, the paving and lighting of streets and improvements to the sewage system at much less cost thus lowering taxation on tradesmen, shop keepers and working men. Mr Scarr spoke freely at council meetings. A fellow councillor commented that if everyone spoke as frequently and at such length as Mr Scarr it would take seven days to conclude each Council meeting!
Archie was re-elected three years later and continued to object to any scheme he regarded as extravagant – including maintaining the Judges Lodgings and the purchase for the Mayor’s rooms of a supply of earthen ware, electro-plate, china, cutlery, linen and glass for 84 at a cost of £750.( he was defeated on both proposals.) He later objected to the Schools Board buying expensive sites and building magnificent schools.
Mr Scarr failed to become an Alderman in 1877 but was elected in 1880.
Having been a councillor for 15 years, eight as councillor seven as Alderman he was elected Mayor in November 1887.
Some regarded him as an unsuitable person to represent the burgesses of Leeds as mayor and chief magistrate; his background in trade and lack of education being held against him. Councillor Thomas Ambler believed he had wasted the time of the council, had ignored all state occasions and when they had been visited by royalty had not thought it worthwhile to ‘don the gown.’(Had he even bought one?) If he were elected he might not even think it worthwhile putting on the mayoral chain and Mr Ambler suggested it should be locked up for twelve months! However he was elected with only seven against and on entering the chamber the mayoral chain was placed round his shoulders and, amidst laughter, he was given the keys to the wine cellar.
As mayor he proved tactful, energetic and most generous, supporting many charities.
Some of the highlights of his year in office were:
December 7th Conversazione and reception at the Town Hall for 800 – 900 people. Mr Josef Cantor’s Opera group performed, there was dancing to the band of the Leeds Constabulary, smokers had a separate room and the ‘lights were a trifle fitful’ during the dancing.
January 7th 1000 small tradesmen and working people were entertained to tea.
February 12th Assize Sunday he accompanied Mr Justice Charles and the Council to the parish Church. He wore the chain but no robe!
March 10th Objected to the price asked for the purchase of the Coloured Cloth Hall.
March 22nd 1,100 representatives of 57 educational, temperance, friendly and trade and philanthropic societies were entertained.
October 3rdOpened the Public Art gallery commending the Art Gallery Committee for their hard work. Colonel Harding had had his coat off and worked himself. ‘He was rather partial to people who took their coats off. He was not an Art Critic but he knew when he was pleased and looking round the Gallery he was satisfied he had seen no exhibition in the Borough during the last forty years which in his view was so calculated to draw the sympathies of the masses of the people. A conversazione was held in the Art gallery for 1,500 people.
November 5th A ball for 800 was held in the Town Hall to celebrate the coming of age of his son Reginald C Scarr.
July 7th 1888 Mr Scarr’s Free Gala. A monster gala for 50,000 in Roundhay Park –military display, athletics, six brass bands and orchestras, a military tournament including the Charge of the Light Brigade (with 6 men instead of 600), bicycles and tricycle races, football and the sun shone! Mr Scarr had made a tactful, hospitable and dignified mayor and the members of the council told him so and thanked him. Returning to his role as Alderman He continued to speak out against anything he regarded as extravagant.
In the General Election of 1892 Mr Scarr contested the Barkston Ash Division. Although not elected he cut the Conservative majority by over 400 votes
In 1898 his career as Alderman ended when the Conservatives gained a majority. He remained an active member of the Leeds Working Men’s Parliamentary Reform Association, The Reform League, The Leeds Radical Association, The Leeds Liberal Registration Society and a member of the executive committee of the Leeds Liberal Six hundred.
Mr Scarr travelled abroad over thirty times and as a result of his travels was an early advocate of an overhead system of electric tramways and urged the council, in 1896 to adopt it in preference to an underground system.
In 1899 he was attacked by three young men outside the market and never fully recovered although he continued to make daily visits to the market until ten days before his death aged 76. He was buried in Lawnswood Cemetery after a service in Woodhouse Moor Wesleyan Chapel. The business he had founded was continued by his three sons.
Archibald Witham Scarr
By Jane Luxton
Leeds City Reference Library:
A Mayor of the Masses
History and Anecdotes of Archibald Witham Scarr by H Yorke 1904
Brochure: Scarrs Stores 6,8,10,12,14,16 New York Street and 24 Kirkgate Leeds
Programme: Mr and Mrs Scarr’s Operatic Concert to commemorate his fifty years residence in Leeds – 6th February 1890
Addresses 1841- Myrtle Street
1861- Greystone Street Headingley
1871- 4 Grove Terrace Leeds North West
1881 -9 Springfield Mount
1891 -21 Springfield Mount
1901- 54 Clarendon Road
Mc Corquodale & Co directory 1849-50
Charlton and Archdeacon Directory of Leeds 1876
Kelly’s directory of Leeds 1899 and 1901
Leeds Mercury Supplement November 1891 (microfiche)- Ball to celebrate Alderman and Mrs Scarr’s Silver Wedding
A History of Modern Leeds Derek Fraser
Discovering Leeds; the Markets Leeds City Council
The Victorian City: Images and Reality 1973 –Areas of Urban Politics Leeds 1830-1880 Derek Fraser.