One share certificate from the War Stock Combination
printed in 1918. This historic document entitled the Bearer to One Share and one chance in the draw for such share. This item has the printed signature of the manager, Horatio Bottomley and is over 95 years old.
Literary Digest - 1922
Horatio Bottomley is in jail but his methods, as the London Economist observes. are “an interesting, if revolting. study." Leaving aside Bottomley's eloquence and his appeal to British patriotism, it is worth while noting his actual financial dealings as described by the London weekly. His method may be called the “snowball" method:
He starts one concern. when that begins to go wrong. he merges it with another. Shares in the first. together with a fresh cash payment, may be exchanged for shares in the second. and so on. And all the time the new money coming in suffices to pay off such of the subscribers to the earlier concern or concerns who demand repayment with inconvenient insistence.
From the wealth of evidence which Truth has unearthed, this method may be briefly illustrated. In 1918 Bottomley started the War Stock Combination. The avowed idea was to raise a. fund of £77,500 in 153 6d subscriptions, and purchase £100.000 in War Savings Certificates. He got the money and more. and it is a marvelous tribute to the prestige that he had achieved that the public forgot that the largest holding of Savings Certificates that any one holder could purchase was £500. The original proposal was to pledge the certificates for £10,000 with a banker. and draw for that amount in prizes, instead of waiting five years for repayment. Owing to the restriction mentioned. National War Bonds were purchased and an announcement (readily swallowed) was made that a proper prize drawing had taken place.
The flotation of the Victory Loan gave Bottomley a. wonderful opportunity. Ho appealed on patriotic grounds for subscript-ions to a Victory Bond Club. (Incidentally. subscribers to the War Stock Combination
were offered exchange into the Club on payment of a. cash consideration.) Shares were of £1 each, and unlimited in number; the proceeds were to be invested in Victory Bonds; interest was to be pooled as a. fund for prize drawings. In spite of glaring errors in the prospectus, the public subscribed nearly £500,000. Shortly afterwards Bottomley. operating from Paris, formed the Thrift Prize Bond Club—a. scheme similar to the Victory Bond Club, except that subscriptions were to be invested in French Credit National 5 per cent. bonds. In 1920 Bottomley announced that the Victory Bond Club had been “merged" into the Thrift Prize Bond Club, in spite of the fact, which should have been obvious. that the French lottery laws made the latter club illegal. Faced with this illegality, Bottomley found yet another opportunity for raising money. In exchange for their shares in the Thrift Club he offered subscribers Credit National Bonds at £15. In spite of the fact; that. these bonds could be bought for £9, much money came in this way.
Horatio William Bottomley (23 March 1860 – 26 May 1933) was a British financier, swindler, journalist, newspaper proprietor, populist politician and Member of Parliament (MP).
Horatio Bottomley was born in Bethnal Green, London on 23 March 1860. He was orphaned at the age of four and spent 14 years growing up in an orphanage. His uncle George Holyoake arranged for him to join a firm of legal shorthand writers where he learned something about the court system. His first experience of the courts was in 1885 where he defended a printing and publishing firm of his from bankruptcy and the fact that substantial funds were missing from its accounts.
He then moved on to promoting Western Australian gold mining projects, some genuine but others based on misrepresentation and fraud. He then moved on to British stocks. He developed a considerable talent for persuading members of the public to part with their money in order to invest in his various schemes. In 1888, he founded the Financial Times and was its first Chairman as a means of puffing his projects. In 1908 he was charged with conspiracy to defraud but the chaos of his record systems produced a hung jury and instead he was forced into bankruptcy in 1912, forcing him out of Parliament.
He stood for Parliament in 1887 for the Hornsey division of Middlesex but was defeated by wealthy ink magnate Henry Charles Stephens who lived in Finchley, part of the constituency. Later he successfully entered Parliament as the Liberal MP for Hackney South in 1906, was re-elected in 1910, and thrown out for bankruptcy in 1912.
In 1906 he established the patriotic journal John Bull. John Bull was originally strongly anti-Serbian but by 15 August 1914 Bottomley had reversed its position and supported the war effort. Bottomley argued that Germany "must be wiped off the map of Europe", with her colonies and navy divided between Britain and France. He also attacked the Kaiser and Germans (called "Germhuns") generally and those living in Britain: "As I have said elsewhere you cannot naturalize an unnatural beast—a human abortion—a hellish fiend. But you can exterminate it". Bottomley advocated the confiscation of all German property, the internment of all Germans and the requirement of naturalized Germans to wear a distinctive badge. Bottomley also campaigned to get the Kaiser's banner removed from St. George's Chapel at Windsor Castle.
Bottomley also strongly attacked that section of the Labour Party which opposed the war, and argued that Keir Hardie and Ramsay MacDonald should be court-martialled for high treason. MacDonald responded to these attacks by claiming Bottomley to be of "doubtful parentage, who had lived all his life on the threshold of jail". Bottomley retaliated by producing a facsimile of MacDonald's birth certificate which showed he was illegitimate.
Although it is illegal for servicemen to send complaints to the press, Bottomley set up a column in John Bull where servicemen were encouraged to send an account of their grievances, upon which a company which advertised in the paper would send a parcel to them. The government thought about prosecuting Bottomley for this but they did not bring proceedings against him because they saw the usefulness of such a "safety valve". Within six months of the start of the Great War one serious journalist wrote that "next to Kitchener the most influential man today is Mr. Horatio Bottomley".
In 1915 Bottomley wrote articles for the Sunday Pictorial, with their success making him "the most famous journalist in Britain" through a mixture of "down-to-earth religiosity, patriotism and Radicalism".
He spoke on many recruiting platforms (sometimes taking a large fee for doing so and at other times without payment). He displayed on these occasions a ready wit, and a considerable talent for popular oratory. His first recruiting speech was made six weeks after the beginning of the War at the London Opera House. The official recruiting function held there a few weeks earlier yielded fewer results than Bottomley's. 25,000 people went to the Opera House, with 5,000 being admitted. After making a recruiting speech at Hull 1,000 men enlisted, his greatest success. His patriotic lecture tour speeches had a higher tone than his newspaper articles and the more money he was paid for a speech the higher the tone Bottomley would employ.
He pressed for a more aggressive prosecution of the War by Great Britain and attacked anybody he deemed less patriotic than himself. He advocated the unconditional surrender of Germany and a march on Berlin.
In the United Kingdom general election, 1918 he returned to Parliament as an Independent MP for Hackney South (with almost 80 percent of the vote). In May 1919 Bottomley founded The People's League hoping it would be 'a great Third Party' that would represent 'the People' against organised labour and organised capital. He supported General Dyer after the Amritsar massacre. Bottomley became a famous and popular figure for his patriotic and political activities. He was also well known for numerous Court appearances in libel and other cases, in which he frequently acted for himself, often with success. He was on one occasion described by Mr Justice Henry Hawkins as the ablest advocate Hawkins had ever listened to, as a result of which the judge offered Bottomley his wig.
Bottomley created the "John Bull Victory Bond Club" (a forerunner of Premium Bonds), purportedly as a mechanism for small savers to lend money to the Government, receiving prizes rather than interest; again a combination of fraud and mismanagement sank the scheme in 1921. He was charged with fraud, perjury and false accounting. Jeremiah Lynch (1888–1953), an Irish-born detective who had already earned a reputation for trapping wartime German spies, was instrumental in building up the case against Bottomley, and went on to become a founder member of the original Flying Squad. (The Times, Obituary, 15 July 1953). In 1922, Bottomley was convicted of fraudulent conversion of shareholders' funds, sentenced to seven years jail and expelled from Parliament.
A famous story says that the prison chaplain of Wormwood Scrubs found him making mail sacks and asked him "Bottomley! Sewing?" to which he replied "No, reaping". He also became again bankrupt. On one occasion when he attended the Bankruptcy Court from Wormwood Scrubs but dressed in his civilian clothes, a friend remarked on the creases in his coat. Bottomley replied, "Never mind. When I get back, I change for dinner." He was released from gaol in 1927 and, after parading himself around seedy music-halls in a mawkish one-man show, died in penury on 26 May 1933, aged seventy-three, from a stroke after an operation at the Middlesex Hospital, London. He was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium and his ashes later scattered, according to his will, at Lower Dicker, near Alfriston, Sussex.
Bottomley's papers are housed at the Lloyd Sealy Library Special Collections, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, New York City. The Horatio Bottomley Papers include correspondence by and about Bottomley and are part of the Fraud and Swindles Collection.
In May 1931, whilst directing his latest play Cavalcade at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, the English actor, playwright and composer of popular music Noël Coward, lost a black leather wallet. In February 1981 during pre-production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, American actor Henderson Forsythe found Noël Coward's missing wallet stuffed inside of a broken tuba that had fallen upon him whilst he had been rummaging in a storage cupboard. Curiously, Coward's wallet also contained a small studio photograph of Bottomley. The discovery of the wallet provoked speculation that Coward had been planning a dramatic performance about Bottomley's strange life. This speculation arose because at the time that Cavalcade was playing at the Theatre Royal, Bottomley was appearing in a music hall nearby, performing the above mentioned one-man show about himself. Horatio Bottomley died in May 1933 and no record of a Coward penned musical about his life has ever been discovered.
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