Worcester’s MP Robin Walker who today attended Scottish Questions and a session of Prime Minister’s Questions in which a colleague called for a new British Bill of Rights, has called for more to be done to commemorate John Somers, a former MP for Worcester who played a central role in forming Britain’s unwritten constitution, drafting both the original 1689 bill of rights and the 1707 Act of Union.
Both as a politician and a lawyer this Worcester man reached the pinnacle of achievement serving as both Lord Chancellor and Solicitor General as well as being an eminent President of the Royal Society. Despite his remarkable achievements Somers, who was elected MP for Worcester in 1689, 1690 and does not have a portrait or a statue in Worcester’s Guildhall nor is he well known for his local connections and despite having studied Eighteenth Century English History at both school and University, Robin only became aware of his coming from Worcester very recently. Two weeks ago on April 26th was the four hundredth anniversary of his death and four hundred and twenty seven years ago today Parliament was debating the Bill of Rights which he had drafted.
Somers, who was born in Claines six months before the Battle of Worcester was a lawyer and jurist, son of another local lawyer who had fought for Parliament in the English Civil War. He became one of the founding fathers of the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century Whig party. He played an instrumental role in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 which helped to create a balance between Parliament and Monarchy and was one of the key supporters of the 1689 Bill of Rights which has formed the basis of much UK constitutional law since. In 1695 when King William III left England to campaign on the continent he was appointed one of seven Lords Justices to whom the administration of the Kingdom was entrusted. After a period in Government both in the Commons and the lords as the first Baron of Evesham he retired from public life only to be called back again to help draft the 1707 Act of Union which brought together England and Scotland.
He is commemorated by the name of a road in Worcester and an obelisk on the Malvern Hills but Worcester’s current MP has speculated that the lack of portraits or statues of so important an historical figure in Worcester might derive from the fact that after his time Worcestershire became a stronghold of Tory opposition to the Whigs and therefore the big local houses which commissioned the portraits now hanging in Worcester’s Guildhall would not have welcomed pictures of the one of the partisans of the Government they opposed.
Visitors to Parliament pass a statue of John Somers on their way into Central Lobby from Westminster Hall where he faces Robert Walpole, the man widely credit with being Britain’s first Prime Minister. Robin was reminded of his central importance to British history by a tweet from the House of Commons information service today which said “On this day in Parliament in 11 May 1689: House of Lords discussed the drafting of the #1689BillofRights” by attending Scottish Questions where Scottish MPs asked questions about the union and by the question of a Conservative Colleague about the case for a new British Bill of Rights, something Robin strongly supports.
Commenting Robin said:
“I am proud to represent a constituency that has a played a crucial role in forming the British constitution and whether it is through being the burial place of King John who put his seal to the Magna Carta, as the site of the Battle of Worcester or as the birthplace of such a great jurist as John Somers, Worcester has a powerful claim to be a true city of liberty – birthplace of our unique Parliamentary democracy. Having studied eighteenth century history both at A level and for my degree I was aware of the historical importance of John Somers both as a driving force behind key constitutional laws and as one of the founders of the Whig party, however I only became aware recently that he was also my predecessor as MP for Worcester and a local lad from Claines.”
“Sitting in a House of Commons today which discussed the case for a British Bill of Rights and debated the union between England and Scotland was a reminder that over four hundred years on from his death, the legacy of John Somers lives on. For such a towering historical figure I have been surprised that there is no trace of him in Worcester’s Guildhall or other public buildings in the city but he is well commemorated in Parliament. Whenever I bring guests from Worcester into Parliament I am always proud to show them his statue.”
“I can only imagine that the eighteenth century “rage of party” that set Tories against Whigs for decade after decade led to the neglect of Somers in the local area and at a time when my constituents want to see different parties working together, I hope we can set such prejudices aside. I am delighted that the next edition of Berrow’s Worcester Journal, itself a publication which has been continuously in print since the Glorious Revolution, contains in its quarterly Worcester Revealed supplement, a lively account of Somers’ life and I would encourage more local people to research and explore it. We should do more to celebrate Worcester’s best kept political secret.”
Notes to editors
For more information on the life of John Somers see:
For the Twitter link and for more information from the Parliamentary Archives see:
For information on the Berrow’s Worcester Journal see:
For information on today’s debates in Parliament see: