By Harold Heys, local historian

IT WAS Darwen Football Club’s biggest crowd of the inter-war years. More than 12,000 packed the Anchor Ground to see the Welsh Wizard turning on the style. He had everyone in raptures with a dazzling performance that was cheered to the echo.

It was a super spectacle and even the hard-bitten reporters were impressed. “Memorable” said the Darwen News chap. “Impressive,” said the Northern Daily Telegraph man. Praise indeed, considering that the star of the show was 66 years old.

However, the vast crowd that turned up wasn’t there to watch a Lancashire Combination football match, but to listen to David Lloyd-George, former Prime Minister, supporting the Liberal candidate for the 1929 General Election, Sir Herbert Samuel.

Lloyd-George became Prime Minister at the height of the Great War and served till 1923. By the mid-20s the Liberal flag was fluttering more gently although in Darwen there was still a fierce loyalty to the party and during the next few years the Liberals and Unionists battled for supremacy locally.

The Welsh warrior told the large crowd, to a tremendous cheer, that their opponents were “rattled”.

No doubt the appearance of such a renowned figure as Lloyd-George at the Anchor ground swelled support, but it was also due to the determination of Liberal agent George Willie Snape.

These days a turn-out of around 60 per cent for a General Election is surprising. George Willie and his team helped to record a turnout of over 90 per cent for five consecutive elections.

Sir Herbert won the seat and retained it two years later but he was the last Liberal to represent the constituency.

I was reminded of George Willie’s amazing polling figures recently when the Lib-Dems won the Chesham and Amersham by-election. The major parties threw everything at it and there was a lot of publicity in the weeks running up to voting. But the turnout was a rather miserable 52 per cent.

Darwen became a parliamentary constituency in 1885 and swung between Liberal and Conservative members till the mid-30s when Stuart Russell took the seat for the Tories who have held it ever since, except for when Janet Anderson took a chunk of the action from 1992 to 2010, by which time it had become Rossendale and Darwen.

George Willie served in the Great War and was badly injured. He had always been interested in politics and in 1921 he was appointed chief agent of the Darwen Liberal Association. The next year Frederick Hindle lost narrowly to Unionist Frederick Sanderson, a result that switched over the next two years of voting.

In 1928 he was a sub-agent for the Lancaster by-election victory and the following year he organised the visit of Lloyd-George to Darwen and took Samuel – later Viscount – to victory.

George Willie was a prominent Primitive Methodist and a supporter of the Temperance movement and the Rechabite Society. He became a member of Darwen Town Council and was Mayor of Darwen in 1963-64. His wife was Nancy and he was a chirpy and popular little chap. He died in 1967 aged 78.