The tale of Churchill’s time as Wanstead and Woodford MP 50 years on
- Credit: PA Archive/Press Association Ima
A nation mourned on a cold winter’s day in 1965 as a true lion of England took his final bow.
Sir Winston Churchill, 90, died on January 24 after suffering a stroke two weeks previously, surrounded by his family at his Hyde Park Gate home.
He lay in state in Westminster Hall, the first politician awarded the honour since prime minister William Gladstone in 1898, and thousands of well-wishers lined the streets on January 30 for his St Paul’s Cathedral funeral.
And while the world watched the end of an era pass, the people of Wanstead and Woodford remembered the man who had served them for four decades.
Churchill was elected as Epping Division’s MP in 1924, which incorporated both areas, and served Woodford Division from 1945.
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But before this journey began, his career was at an impasse.
Churchill had been a Liberal MP for more than 20 years and had held five cabinet posts.
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But the public’s opinion of him had been damaged by events such as the disastrous First World War campaign in Dardanelles, Turkey, which happened under his watch as First Lord of the Admiralty.
Churchill, 48, re-stood for Dundee in 1922 and was then a candidate for elections in West Leicester and Westminster, but he lost.
However, in 1924, Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin agreed Churchill, who had broken with the Liberals, could stand as an Independent Constitutionalist in Epping, with Conservative support.
Churchill was aided by Woodford Urban District Council chairman Alfred James Hawkey, the namesake of Sir James Hawkey Hall, in Broomhill Road, Woodford Green, which Churchill opened in 1955.
In his book Churchill: The Member for Woodford, David A. Thomas said Churchill described Hawkey in his war memoirs as “my ever faithful and tireless champion”.
Churchill won the seat with 19,843 votes and the Conservative victory led to him being appointed as chancellor of the exchequer.
The politician’s representation of the Woodford area remained a constant through the highs and lows of his extraordinary career.
In May 1936, he spoke in approval of the Wanstead and Woodford District Council’s application to become a borough.
It was a success and he presented the new borough with a mace, which is owned by Redbridge today.
The MP suffered dissent the next year following his House of Commons speech on the Munich Agreement, which gave Adolf Hitler the Sudetenland in Czechoslovakia.
But after predictions he made came true, including fears Czechoslovakia would be “engulfed in the Nazi regime,” local opinion began to turn back in his favour.
Following the end of the war, a general election was held, but a desire for reform swept the country.
Mr Thomas quoted a journalist as saying, “They wanted Churchill – but voted Labour.”
The prime minister lost, but took on the role again from 1951 until 1955, when he resigned.
He served his constituency until 1964 – when he was 89.
A quote in Mr Thomas’ book sums up the community’s affinity with its MP.
John E. Harvey, chairman of the Woodford Division of the Conservatives, said in 1954: “If anyone should chronicle the history of Woodford it must be among its proudest boasts that it was closely linked with so great a man.”
The war years
In his new role as wartime PM, Churchill was unable to visit his constituency
But his wife Clementine did and Hawkey served as mayor of Wanstead and Woodford from 1943 to 1945
Chigwell held a War Weapons Week in June 1941, with Churchill as the president, and it raised more than £900,000
Later events, including a Churchill Week in Woodford, made thousands more for the war effort. A Churchill Tank Week collected £265,108; the cost of 13 tanks
The constituency took part in national Salute the Soldier Week in 1944, as the Allies’ momentum increased. Wanstead and Woodford joined with five other districts
In a message to Hawkey, printed in Mr Thomas’ book, Churchill urged the public to dig deep. He added: “The loyal support of my constituents has meant much to me throughout these years.”