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Wood, Sir Howard Kingsley, MP
1881-1943

He was born on 19 August 1881 at West Sculcoates, Hull, the son and grandson of WM ministers. His father, Arthur Wood (1853-1919; e.m. 1875), was stationed at Wesley's Chapel in the London (City Road) Circuit from 1891 to 1899, from where Kingsley attended the Central Foundation Boys' School nearby. With the encouragement and support of John Bamford Slack, to whom he was articled, he qualified as a solicitor in 1903, earning the reputation of 'poor man's lawyer' through his charitable work at the Bermondsey and Hoxton Missions. He was committed to such causes as individual rights and applied Christianity. He practised until elected to the London County Council in 1911 as a Municipal Reform member.

He was knighted in the 1918 new year honours and elected Conservative MP for Woolwich West later that year. Though no orator he had an effective political career, playing a significant part in social reforms and campaigning for the post-war 'Homes for Heroes' housing programme earlier shop closing and the right to jury trial. He was appointed Privy Counsellor in 1928 and Lord Privy Seal in 1940. As Postmaster General 1931-1935, he reformed the Post Office, saving it from privatization. Earlier experience of health insurance contributed to his service as Minister of Health, 1935-1938 and in 1938 he succeeded Baldwin as Grand Master of the Primrose League. As Secretary of State for Air (1938-1940) he dramatically accelerated aircraft production and in 1940 he played a key role in Chamberlain's resignation. PAYE was introduced during his term as Chancellor of the Exchequer (1940-1944), as was the War Damage Act, in which the interests of the Churches received sympathetic treatment.

He was secretary of the Poplar and Bow Mission and acted as poor man's lawyer at the Bermondsey Setlement and the Hoxton Mission. For many years he served as Treasurer at Wesley\'s Chapel, and instigated the restoration of the Chapel and Wesley's house and tomb in 1922. His portrait was painted by Arthur T. Nowell to mark his appointment to the Privy Council. He died in Westminster on 21 September 1943.

Quotations

'Sir Kingsley Wood was, to all outward appearances, the cherub of British politics… He was, indeed, an experienced and astute politician, but he possessed a freshness and gaiety which made him many friends. .. He was a staunch Methodist. His father was in the Wesleyan ministry and Kingsley kept the faith to the end... He had a gift for detail and rose to distinction at Westminster by his mastery of the intricacies of health insurance and, subsequently, housing… He was, in fact, a most industrious and efficient minister, and adept at conciliating opposing points of view… He was a prodigious worker. I remember meeting him in a conference first thing one morning when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, during the earlier part of the Second World War, and when he was occupied in piloting war damage legislation through the House of Commons. I learned quite casually from one of his staff that he had been hard at work until an unconscionably late hour the previous night, an even earlier conference had preceded ours, and yet he was alert and keen and his mind was as fresh as his cherubic face. But the strain told upon him in the end, and he died suddenly, another victim to be claimed by the burden of high office.'

Harold Bellman, Cornish Cockney,Reminiscences and Reflections (1947) pp.212-13

Sources

  • Times, 22 & 23 Sept 1943
  • Methodist Recorder, 23 Sept 1943; 5 July 2013
  • M. Stenton & S. Lees (eds.), Who's Who of British MPs, vol. 3 (1979)
  • Hugh Gault, Making the Heavens Hum: Kingsley Wood and the Art of the Possible 1881-1924 (2014)
  • Oxford DNB

Entry written by: JAV
Category: Person

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