Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1891-1892. 1898-1899. 1910-1911. 1911-1912.
WARD:- St Paul then St Bamabas.
FIRST ELECTED ALDERMAN:- February 9th 1892.
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Magistrate, Guardian. School Board.
RESIDENCE:- Braemar. St Helen's Parade.
DECEASED:- September 18th 1918 aged 73.
BURIED:- Milton Cemetery.
Four times mayor Scott Foster is one of the big names in the history of Portsmouth's local government. His civic career commenced in 1875 when he became a member of the Burial Board. The following year he was elected to the council. Gates comments:- "In every important advance made in the town's history over nearly half a century Sir Thomas Scott Foster was actively concerned." As chairman of the Finance Committee he inaugurated a better system of control over expenditure and placed the borough finances on a more satisfactory footing. In recognition the Town Council conferred upon him the highest honour in its power by appointing him a Freeman of the Borough in 1906.
It was widely known before the 'Ninth' who the next mayor would be. The Hant's Post of 6th November presaged, 'On Monday next Thomas Scott Foster will be called to the chair. On the 7th November the Portsmouth Times printed Foster's details. It advised that he was a Portsmouth man, educated at the Grammar School becoming apprenticed to a dentist in Elm Grove. Later he went into practice on his own account in Fratton Road and Commercial Road.
At the election the 47 year old Foster was proposed by Alderman Alfred Blake who noted that he had been a Cllr since 1876 had gleaned vast experience of committee work and was thus clearly potential mayoral material. (1) The Hant's Post also reflected, that in an era when party politics were encroaching into council elections, Portsmouth had been extremely fortunate in its choice of mayors. "The reason is not far to seek." the paper reasoned concluding, "It may be said that our chief magistrate is chosen not so much for what he represents but for what he is." Scott Foster was duly elected - the third Nonconformist to fill the chair. Foster's acceptance speech was full of confidence and presidential in style outlining a programme of progressive reform including the demolition of insanitary housing and the acceptance of electric lighting by the building of a power station.
Every mayor hopes to make his mark but Sir William Pink's fifth term was always going to be a hard act to follow. The year got off to a worrying start when on December 14th 1891, the so called 'Black Monday', the Portsea Building Society closed its doors. This Society, trading from 4 Lion Terrace, was established in June 1864. It offered 5% interest rates and attracted some 6,228 depositors, chiefly the thrifty poor, who had nearly 602,424 on deposit while 910 shareholders had 175.849 invested.
The Society was officially wound up in the County Court on the 21st January 1892. The Society still held assets in the form of property which could eventually be realised. The vexed question was distribution, should the shareholders be treated as preferential creditors over the depositors. The case was protracted, necessitating ad hoc legislation. Later mayor Robert Barnes, new MP, Sir John Baker and James Moody also became involved).
Foster got his chance to make a positive mark in January 1892 during the big debate concerning electric lighting of the borough which had been carried over from the previous administration. The mayor chaired a robust council meeting on this topic when pros and cons were hotly discussed. The question was, would Portsmouth have its own power station and generate its own electricity -or would it be left to a private company? When the motion was put the council was evenly divided. It was up to the mayor and he gave his casting vote in favour. Portsmouth would have its own power station and the mayor laid the foundation stone in Gunwharf Road.
There were other duties. On 6th June 1892 another foundation stone was laid that of the North End Recreation Ground. In the July 1892 General Election, as Returning Officer, Foster declared two Liberals - ex mayor John Baker and W.O. Clough - duly elected.
Matters were settled well before the 'Ninth'. Mayor Kimber had declined to accept another term so there had to be a new mayor. Cllr Dr Emmett proposed Scott Foster. There were no other nominations so after a six year absence Thomas Scott Foster took the chair for the second time. In his acceptance speech he outlined a busy programme for the forthcoming year. He intimated that he foresaw the acquisition of the Tramways by the council -but how much would this cost? He also envisaged an extension of the boundaries to encompass Hilsea with a consequent increase in rateable value - but would the county surrender any part of their bailiwick without a fight? However, mayors were no longer directly involved in this minutiae, their prime duties were becoming more ceremonial than administrative - albeit they still occasionally dispensed justice.
The mayor presided when the Honorary Freedom of the Borough was conferred on Field Marshall Earl Roberts (Bobs) V.C. P.C. K.P. In February new blocks at the Royal Hospital were opened by the Duke of York. The mayor's charitable activities in this second term were devoted to raising money for the relief of relatives of British Soldiers & Sailors engaged in South Africa. But perhaps the major social event occurred on August 1st when the hospitality of the borough was accorded to 400 visiting doctors of the British Medical Association (BMA) It was recognised that in this respect Portsmouth was in a unique position. Being the nation's premier naval base Portsmouth would usually be the first to welcome visiting V.I.Ps to these shores. Thus the mayor had to be prepared to dispense hospitality not only on behalf of the town but also on behalf of the nation. The council recognised this and evaluating the BMA's visit as good P.R. Foster was voted an imprest of 1,000 to cover the event. The council was delighted when he came in 37.00 under budget.
In July 1906 Foster was accorded the Freedom of the Borough and was elected mayor again in 1910. There was much more to come. Just prior to the 1911 mayoral election Scott Foster was Knighted by His Majesty. He was at the time the fourth Portsmouth mayor to be so honoured. Thus the council was delighted when Sir Thomas Scott Foster intimated he would be prepared to stand for a second consecutive term. There was some query as to how he should be addressed. The Hant's Post of 13th November 1911 versed:-
"Is our new Knight Sir Thomas or Sir Tom, and If not either, what?
When invested by the King, at Buckingham, he was told to, 'Rise Sir Scott."
These were busy years for any mayor. In December 1910 he presided over the second General Election of that year. Nationally the high spot was the Coronation of King George Vth and Queen Mary. To mark the event the mayor entertained 45,000 school children to a Tea and presented them each with a Souvenir Beaker. The officers and men of the fleets assembled at Spithead were also entertained. The mayor received their Majesties on their arrival at Portsmouth and presented a Coronation Address.
The King and Queen were in Portsmouth again that year embarking for India. The mayor received them and welcomed them home again later in the year when another Address was presented. On the 28th May 1912 the site for Milton Park-was purchased from land owner James Goldsmith. Fund raising played a part when moneys were collected for the families of the crews of Submarines A 3 and B 2. disasters. A further significant event was that in 1911 Scott Foster became the first mayor to be voted an annual salary. It was not denied that this was justified, the only question was the amount. Three annual figures were proposed: 1,000, 800.00 or 600.00. Finally the Council opted for 600.00 by 26 votes to 10. This gave the Hants Post another chance to burst into rhyme:- (2)
"Some members would a thousand fix, others asked eight hundred.
But victory went to the twenty-six with the historic six hundred."
Out of mayoral office Foster kept busy with numerous enterprises. He was a member of the Lunatic Asylum Committee, a director of the Water Works Coy. A brother, F.G. Foster, was also Alderman, Mayor and JP and it was he who actually opened Milton Park during his mayoralty in 1923. F.G. Foster had a deep interest in education being involved in setting up the old Municipal College and the late Teacher Training college at Milton - originally named Foster Hall.
T. S. Foster's health began to fail in the summer of 1918 following a fall in the Town Hall Square. He died at his home in September leaving a widow, four daughters and one son. On his passing Cllr E.N. Davis remarked that Foster had a unique personality and many would remember how he had been almost the idol of the labouring classes.
Norman Gordon
Obituaries:- Evening News 19th September 1918. Portsmouth Times 20th September 1918.
1. Hants Post. 13th November 1891.
2. Hants Post. Friday 20th Nov 1911.