The Northamptonshire Chancellor who forgot his Budget speech

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It was all so theatrical as George Osborne left Number 11 in a storm of flashing cameras and held up the famous red box for all to see.

It’s a ritual that’s become symbolic of an event in history with distinct local connections.

Does this sound all too fanciful? Well let me explain why and how this ‘Red Box Brouhah’ came about.

Back in 1869 one George Ward Hunt served as Chancellor of the Exchequer for six months.

He delivered only one budget…eventually!

His country home was the glorious Wadenhoe House near Oundle, but on Budget Day he left Downing Street with polished shoes and starched collar and turned up at the House of Commons and stood up to address the assembled House with his much-anticipated financial statement.

Disaster! He opened his briefcase and found, to his horror, that he had left his speech at Number 11!

Nowadays a quick call on his mobile would get the speech emailed direct to his iPad and, after a brief but embarrassing delay, all would be well.

Not so in 1869.

I presume there was a bit of ribbing and a lot of name calling, especially from the Opposition.

And George really needed the drop of brandy he doubtless had with him; remembering the Chancellor is the only member allowed to take alcohol into the House.

Poor George, he couldn’t even sprint round to Downing Street, he was all of 21 stone and is reckoned to have been the chunkiest Chancellor to have held the office.

Queen Victoria was reputedly so dubious as to his expertise with the nation’s finances that Disraeli had to reassure her “he has the sagacity of the elephant as well as its form’’.

Now all Chancellors have held up the red box, introduced by Gladstone in 1860, to prove that the financial future of the country is safe, all that is with the exception of James Cameron, who in 1965 and 1966 used a “vulgar brown valise’’. Since 1559 Northamptonshire has provided half-a-dozen other Chancellors of the Exchequer starting with Sir Walter Mildmay of Apethorpe in 1566.

Charles Montagu, 1st Earl of Halifax was born in Horton in 1661 and became Chancellor in 1694.

He is perhaps best remembered as the statesman who proposed and negotiated the Union with Scotland that became a reality on May 1, 1707.

Spencer Perceval was Chancellor in 1807 and Prime Minister from 1809 to 1812.

He was Deputy Recorder for Northampton and MP for Northampton in 1796. He remains, of course, the only Prime Minister to have been assassinated.

As Viscount Althorp, John Charles, third Earl Spencer, was not only Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1830 to 1834, but he doubled as Leader of the House of Commons.

He was architect of the Reform Bill of 1832.

Thomas, 1st Baron Denman whose tired old bones lie here in Stoke Albany churchyard served as Chancellor in 1834.

And in modern times, Nigel Lawson, Chancellor from 1983 to 1989, briefly made his home here in Newnham.