Bill Kiddell 1894 - 1987

Nicknamed the Father of the Laindon Labour Party

By Fred Taylor

Photo:Bill Kiddell

Bill Kiddell

Bill originally came from Stratford, where he was born, in 1894. He served in the Royal Navy during the First World War, and after the war worked for the railway (LMS), possibly at Stratford although it might have been Plaistow.

Bill married Emma soon after the war in 1919 and they moved with their young family to a bungalow in Dunton Drive (corner of Topsham Drive), Laindon in 1929. This is where Bill and Emma’s children grew up, that is Hilda, Doris and later Brian. They also had an adopted cousin Vic.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Bill Kiddell 1894 - 1987' page
Bill commuted for a while to Stratford by train to continue his work with the railway. Then after a while he got a job with the Mutual Co-op Society, working locally, collecting credit club money door to door, and at first mostly on foot. He was known to go as far afield as Pitsea. Eventually Hilda convinced him to get a bicycle, which she helped him learn to ride.

Bill and the children moved to Bedford Road (where Hilda still lives) in 1973, Emma having died by this time. Vic had also married.

Bill must have eventually bought a car, as did Hilda which she kept at an address in Buller Road. This was the address of Mrs Andrews wife of Mr Andrews who used to run the Post Office at the corner of Laindon High Road and Denbigh Road.

Photo: Illustrative image for the 'Bill Kiddell 1894 - 1987' page
Bill made a good contribution with his voluntary charitable work in the area. He was vice-chairman of Basildon Council 1952-55 and a County Councillor for Laindon. He was Head Governor of Laindon High Road School and as a member of various other organisations he is well remembered. Bill died at the age of 93.

The following photograph is of two of Bill's children

Photo:Hilda Kiddell and her brother Brian alongside the commemorative plaque at the Laindon Baptist Fellowship.

Hilda Kiddell and her brother Brian alongside the commemorative plaque at the Laindon Baptist Fellowship.

Bill’s daughter Hilda is mentioned quite a bit because of a reference to her in the Archive item about Laindon Baptist Church, with which she has a long standing connection, particularly with the Girls Brigade.

This page was added by Ian Mott on 09/01/2012.
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There is a danger that, if this line is pursued further, the charge might justifiably be made that this website, essentially based on recording historical events, has turned into a political debate! Might this not lead to the cry “Keep party politics out of local history!”?

In response to Alan Davies’s post of 30/3/2015, I can only point out that, in the sense that a review of the present is only valid against the background of the past, so the past must also be reviewed against the background of the present. In other words, Alan is arguing that events in and around 1945 represent some sort of “golden age” created under the aegis of some “political giant”, namely Clement Atlee. I reject this as being the “History is made by Great Man” argument. If that is the case, who does he suggest we should decide is the great man who must be held to account for our community’s history as recorded on this website?  It is society as a whole that devises its own history, so the answers to the points he makes in his contribution are to be found in the present.

Thus, in 1945, the Labour Party, seeking election under the heading “Let Us Face The Future”, and argued for widespread “Nationalization”, mines, railways, road transport, electricity generation, gas manufacture, waterways, iron and steel manufacture, water, British Petroleum and, perhaps above all, charity (or a lot of it, as it applied to the UK). This was based on the Fabien Society’s conception that the process would mean that all these nationalized undertakings would thus henceforth “belong to the people”.

What the Labour Party at the time failed to point out was, because they were doing what most political parties always do, namely create a myth concerning their particular prowess, that the “experiment” of taking most of these industries, services or undertakings into State control had already been attempted earlier in the UK or even done elsewhere. For instance, Gladstone sought unsuccessfully to nationalize the railways in the 1800s and later (in 1922(?), there was a half-hearted attempt which led to so called grouping). In Germany and Italy, the railway systems were under state control. Elsewhere, in Soviet Russia, the state had nationalized almost everything, even attempting to nationalize individual thought by taking religion etc. under state control. Need I go on? In any case, as we now discover, many of the industries that were candidates for state control in the UK were past their sell by date even before they were nationalized.

It did not take long after 1945 for the majority of the population of the UK to discover that their relationship with all the industries etc. that the government took under its wing was little changed from what had gone before and that the government were compelled to readopt the old “jam tomorrow” gambit to get things done. They, like all governments who always pretend otherwise, found that world-wide society rules, not them. Much as I admire the admirable efforts of Alan Davies’s father to, as Alan seems to suggest, “Better” himself, I simply point out that getting a salary is essentially the same as getting a wage. He remained a worker, I suspect.

Similarly, when Alan speaks of his friend’s efforts of getting himself from Markham’s Chase to Oxford University via Palmers, admirable, but, alas, it wasn’t, I suggest, solely due to Clement Atlee’s help. There had been ways and means before Atlee of overcoming the restrictions poverty placed on learning for those who were really determined. My mother’s eldest sister (also one of six) overcame a similar background and took up an academic career in Germany, later moving to The Netherlands, post WW1.

As I suggest above, Alan Davies should review the past against the background of the present. I appreciate that many people still cling to the idea that state or government control works (calls for re-nationalizing the railways are heard often, particularly when there is disruption) so why does he think that nationalization is now such a dead duck even in Labour’s eyes? I appreciate much of what has to say about what is called (laughingly?) the NHS, and I, probably as much as he does, appreciate the efforts of those who toil within its multifarious undertakings. But, as an approach is being made towards the election of a further government for the UK, perhaps he might realise what an enormous bed of nails the NHS has become.

By John Bathurst
On 03/04/2015

Thank you, John. Most interesting. You state that, post election, the "situation rapidly degenerated into a hum-drum acceptance of the reality." My sense is somewhat different and I wonder if you would agree with the following few points.

The National Health Service was the most innovative and long lasting of the Labour government achievements. It remains a cornerstone of the British system and (although it been tinkered with) no subsequent Conservative government has advocated or attempted its repeal.

An important part of the Labour programme was nationalization. The coal mines, railways, steel, BOAC and other major industries were nationalized and, unlike the National Health Service, have all long since been reversed and privatized. One comic event was the attempt to nationalize that cornerstone of British industry--- the sugar trade! Tate & Lyle fought a successful campaign to keep sugar out of government hands.

One far reaching and important goal (yet without a great deal of publicity and public awareness) was the government's attempt to break down some of the strictures of the centuries old class system. The aim was to provide entry to better jobs and to education based more on a merit system rather than on the old exclusive closed class system. (It is sometimes said that in the USA everything, at root, comes down to race whereas in the UK everything, at root, comes down to class.)

I know of two such examples. My father was a plasterer. When there was work that is! In the evenings during the war he could be found seated at the dining/living room table working on correspondence school classes related to the building trades. This went on for three or four years. Having completed these courses, under the Labour government, in 1947 he secured a job as a county building inspector working out of Chelmsford. Salaried no less! He was responsible for overseeing ECC building and repair in his area of Essex. Usually this meant schools but could also include libraries and other county buildings. He was even given a car when very few people had cars. Yes, this was due, in part, to his self education and desire to succeed but it was also due to the top down pressure that the central Labour government applied to open up better jobs to qualified individuals "from the wrong side of the tracks."

It was the same top down pressure that helped my friend, Jim Grindle secure a place at St Edmund Hall at Oxford University. Jim was extremely intelligent and hard working and had attended Markhams Chase and Palmers. There is no doubt in my mind, however, that the eldest of six children from a one parent home in muddy Douglas Road would never have managed to get to Oxford without a Labour victory in 1945.

Clement Attlee has improved in the rankings of twentieth century prime ministers and polls now place him at or near the top. This despite the jibes such as Churchill's "a modest little man with much to be modest about." It seems to me that, in some ways,  despite the drabness and austerity of the post war years, in some important aspects they continue to shape us today.

By Alan Davies
On 31/03/2015

The 1945 General Election, in which Bill Kiddell acted as agent for the Labour candidate, was the first since 1935 due to WW2 intervening. Many regarded it as another “khaki election” as they did with that that followed WW1. Special arrangements were allowed to people seeking to be candidates leaving emergency wartime military service in order to stand. The result was that a lot of ex-service personnel chose to stand to get an earlier release than otherwise would have been the case, many thinking it worthwhile losing the £150 deposit if it came to it. As a result, the deposit was later raised to £500.

Laindon and Langdon Hills then were included in the Essex South East constituency, which extended as far as the Southend-on-Sea boundary. The previous MP for Essex SE was Victor Raikes, a conservative who did not stand for re-election again in 1945, choosing instead, to stand for Liverpool Wavertree where he was again elected, continuing as an MP until 1957. The new Tory candidate for Essex SE in 1945 was A Jones (whose first name I have forgotten).

The Labour Party chose as their 1945 candidate Captain Raymond Gunter who was serving in the Royal Engineers. Before call-up, Gunter had been a Booking Clerk on the Great Western (he was born in Wales). He was backed by the Transport Salaried Staff Association of which union he later became president; still serving as such when the Beeching Report was issued.

In 1945 he won Essex SE with a three and a half thousand majority. He only served as an Essex MP for one term because the boundaries of Essex SE were altered and he was then, subsequently, elected as MP for Doncaster in 1950.  In the election held in 1951 he managed to lose Doncaster, not only considered to be a “safe” Labour seat, but also a “Railway Constituency”.!  In Harold Wilson’s government, having become MP for Southwark, Gunter became Transport Minister until being transferred to Power and replaced at Transport by Barbara Castle.

The 1945 General Election engendered a considerable amount of enthusiasm at the outset, mainly because, as the defeat of Germany became more and more apparent, there developed a remarkably relaxed atmosphere, particularly among the lower ranks of the forces still on the European continent. A ballot had been introduced which allowed for many personnel to take home leave. In fact Signalman Stanley Bathurst (2388753) Royal Signals, was in Laindon on leave for VE Day before returning to Italy to await “demob”. As he has said, the late William Diment, although he missed VE Day, did get home leave (it was called LEAP) from Trieste where he was serving with Armoured Brigade, but later, trying to return back to his unit, spent several weeks in different transit camps waiting for transport becoming available to chase after his ever moving compatriots.

While waiting for their “demob” a lot of the forces (male and female) were able to enjoy, at the expense of the British Government, a whole variety of both educational and intellectual courses, including organised visits to local beauty spots, to art museums, opera, ballet and matters of like ilk. Many began to express themselves as being in a Citizens’ Army which was almost democratic in the way in which it was being run, a sort of no-more-bullshit atmosphere, justified, it was felt, because  since 1939 everybody had “done their bit” to bring the conflicts of the past to a satisfactory conclusion. The atmosphere this engendered, having led to a lot of free debate, flowed over into the General Election, from which emerged a Labour Government with a sizeable working majority.  This was despite the fact that Winston Churchill had, at the end of the war, been the recipient of countless accolades for his wartime efforts. Confronted with their apparent ingratitude for those efforts, the general feeling amongst the seemingly ungrateful majority was often expressed as “now it’s OUR turn”.

Electioneering on behalf of Gunter, as I recall, meant a lot of volunteering one way or another. This meant a lot of trips to the Election Agent’s HQ which been set up in Sid’s Café (aka The Cosy Café) on the A127 just east of the “New Fortune of War”. While hours were spent writing constituents' addresses on envelopes (one free delivery per candidate by GPO) for the candidates' personal message, we young Turks were mostly engaged in painting posters, taking them out and sticking them wherever a suitable surface could be found. The general shortage of the availability of paper meant that a lot of rolls of wall paper were purloined for the purpose, and, to save time, templates were created in order to transfer the message into type.  I eventually got tired of daubing the slogan “Land of Hope and Glory, NOT Land of Dope and Tory.” The late Lord “Charlie” Leatherland from Dunton would load his car up with us bill-stickers, our posters and pots of paste to take us around the district.

On the night of the count, which was done at Craylands School Pitsea, a lot of us were recruited as invigilators, the count including renewal of County and Local Council Reps as well as the choice of MP. Given the time and circumstance this was an experience that is hard to forget, particularly as I for one did not get the opportunity to vote until several years later. The general euphoria that the result brought in its wake, as is well known, did not last all that long, given the circumstances of the time. What had appeared to many in authority as being a potential revolutionary situation rapidly degenerated into a hum-drum acceptance of the reality.

By John Bathurst
On 31/03/2015

Congratulations, John. A most interesting submission. I was particularly interested in the comments regarding the local political scene and would like to hear more.

My earliest political memories surround the elections of 1945. Ray Gunter was the Labour candidate. Was he a local? What was his background? Was he successful? Memory says that he lost to Bernard (later to be Sir Bernard) Braine, the Conservative candidate. Somehow I have always associated Bernard Braine as coming from Billericay. My father was a staunch Labourite so it was natural that I (as a young lad and knowing nothing about it) should also support Ray Gunter. I can remember the posters liberally distributed along Berry Lane, all in support of Ray Gunter.

A few years later John Tanswell lived six doors down from us. He was a Labour councilor and very well thought of as I remember.Tanswell's wife and my mother were good friends. Unfortunately, John Tanswell had a short life and succumbed to, I think, tuberculosis.

By Alan Davies
On 30/03/2015

A belated tribute is due to the Kiddell family. The Kiddell family’s initial bungalow home in Laindon was named “Glengariff” which was in Topsham Road and not Dunton Drive as has been stated, although being at the junction of the road and the drive, it didn’t matter very much.

Years ago when motor vehicles were few and far between, it was said that it was always possible to recognise two classes of people; insurance agents and tallymen; they never took their cycle clips off! To my memory, this certainly seemed to be the case with Bill Kiddell who, as is told, took to his bicycle in pursuit of his job as a collector for the Co-operative Mutual Society. As the population of  Laindon in the 1930s was composed of so many residents who were constantly required to watch every penny (my own family included), Bill offered an excellent service. Because of this he became widely known and recognised throughout the whole district.

For the frugal, Bill could provide a voucher (worth, say, £10) available to be spent on those important things like school clothes and shoes for the kids or, perhaps, a new bicycle or new-fangled “wireless” or radio; things that were difficult to budget for on a low weekly wage or, worse still, the “dole” if the breadwinner was having to attend the labour exchange weekly. Using the Mutual Society’s vouchers was better than using the “never-never” because Bill would seek repayment at 6d or even less a week and, if it was spent at the Co-op, it, in turn, earned “divi” , a return which almost refunded the worth of the actual additional fee paid for the privilege of buying the voucher in the first place.

Because both my parents were members of the Cooperative Movement (Dad with the London Coop- membership no. 414415, Mum, the Grays Co-op whose shop it was in Laindon High Road, membership no. 23613) Bill was a regular caller at our house. Many was the time that one of his vouchers helped out our budget, providing me or my brother with, perhaps, a new school shirt (cost one shilling and 11 pence three farthings; change given for a florin proffered as either a packet of pins or one farthing.)

Bill as an employee of the Co-op very quickly found there was an obvious common interest in the movement’s wider activities shared by both the senior Kiddells and the Bathursts. Both Mrs Emma Kiddell and Mrs Lilian Bathurst were stalwarts of the Grays Coop Women’s Guild (and both were also enthusiastic members of its choir) meeting regularly in halls like St Peter’s on the corner of St Nicholas Lane and High Road. (Unlike at Vange and Gale Street, Becontree, there was no Coop Hall attached to the Grays Cooperative Society’s branch shop at Laindon). Similarly, Bill Kiddell and Stan Bathurst were members of the Grays Coop Men’s Guild, they and other members like Wilf Sorrell, Horace Francis  and Alf Mancey met regularly at one and other’s homes, although I do not remember that meetings were ever held at “Glengarriff” because it was so far off the High Road. If, when at these meetings, Bill took off his cycle clips, I’m afraid I can no longer recall.

It's obvious that Bill Kiddell’s interest with the Co-operative Movement should extend to involve him with both the local Labour Party and local politics.  As it was, these two political groups, the Co-op and Labour, tended to be at rather a low ebb until the middle years of 1930s. This was because of the way that local administration was organised. As I have explained elsewhere, as long as the area was under the control of Billericay Rural District Council, local opinion, although vociferous at times, it remained rather divided due to public meetings being based on the old parish boundaries. As a result, the local council at Billericay seemed remote to many Laindoners and was considered to be dominated by the wealthier citizens, those with business interests and with names like Toomey, Land and Cottis.

In 1936, it was announced that the following year Billericay Rural District would become Billericay Urban District and that Laindon would be divided into “Wards”, the old Parish Councils disappearing. Local elections were called in order to establish a new district council. As I have suggested elsewhere on this website, local opinions about this, particularly the apparent reduction in the manner in which local opinion could be no longer voiced with the loss of the forum that the parish councils had represented, became more hardened and the semi-dormant local branch of the Labour Party was revitalised. In the face of the coming elections, the vice chairman of the branch, Bill Kiddell became election agent for the two Labour candidates standing for election in Laindon, committee rooms being established at “Barrington”, New Century Road and “Fairview”, Berry Lane. The rising enthusiasm of the Labour Party was a red rag to the longer standing locals already serving on the Rural District Council, most of who were seeking re-election to the new council.  Councillor John Toomey, in particular, campaigned under the slogan “No Party Politics” despite the fact that many of the old representatives had deliberately declared themselves united as The Ratepayers’ Association.  The cry “keep politics out of local government” still resounds now and again even today. In 1936 it led to quite heated debate in the local press.

In the autumn of 1938 this writer failed to qualify well enough to go to Palmer’s Endowed School for Boys at Grays, having sat what was called the ”11- plus”. Nothing daunted, my mother sought a re-trial as she was particularly impressed by my friend, John Clark, nephew of Charles Clark, founder of the Ebenezer Chapel in Elizabeth Drive, Lee Chapel. John was a near neighbour and has already started at Palmer’s.  A re-examination having been granted by the Essex Education Committee, Bill Kiddell gave me an intensive coaching in mathematics, the subject in which I had not been up to standard at the initial exam. In the spring of 1939, I had to go to Brentwood for the re-sit and, much to my dismay, found that not only was I the sole candidate, but that the test was being held in a small room in The Brentwood High School for Girls!

At the end of the examination, the papers upon which I had done my best, were taken away by whoever it was had been adjudicating my efforts, and I was told to wait until it was OK for me to go home. Unfortunately, the test had taken most of the morning and whoever was responsible for my welfare while at the High School had been rather neglectful of a ten year old boy’s needs, when one of those needs became urgent: a full bladder that really needed emptying! Where does a boy, alone in a girls’ school find somewhere to do a pee particularly as all morning, it had been bought home to me that it was an essentially feminine environment since every so often girlish chatter had been heard passing the closed door of my examination room as the pupils changed classrooms, the whole punctuated against a background of female voices somewhere  singing in unison.

In desperation, when there was no audible noise in the corridor outside, I went to the examination room door and peered out and by the greatest of all coincidences found that the corridor was not completely empty as I thought  but contained just two big girls, Hilda and Doris Kiddell, one of if not both being prefects. My two saviours, having enquired if I was alright and discovered my need, showed me quickly to a staff member’s toilet nearby and stood guard outside while I used it.

Following my successful resit and admission to Palmers, my younger and late brother, Michael, had more success when it came his time to follow me. He had more success initially than I had had. I am not sure to which school that Bill Kiddell’s son, Brian, went but being of like age, brother Michael and Brian were friends and on this community website entry “The New Repertory Drama  Club” posted by Ken Porter on 5/8/2011 their photograph (and signatures) appear when they both took part in “Sailor Beware”.

By John Bathurst
On 30/03/2015

I remember Hilda Kiddell when I used to go to the Girls Brigade at the Laindon Baptist Church. Hilda was the Captain. We went away on camps etc. I went to the Girls Brigade from somewhere around 1960-1967. My name was then Judith Ranson.

By judy webb
On 24/01/2013

This article casts my memory back to the days when the councillors had a public profile much greater than present day. The old labour firebrands of Bill Kiddell, Alf Dove and Wally Card with the equally vociferous conservative Vic York received a far greater press coverage than their contemporaries of today. 

Incidentally is Vic York still with us as his comments in the "Echo" have not recently appeared?

By W.H.Diment
On 24/01/2013

I remember Bill Kiddell very well from the early fifties. I was a young child then and he regularly rode his bike along the unmade road to our bungalow ‘Spion Kop’ to collect my mum’s Co-op payments (sometimes in very muddy conditions). I believe she ordered our coal supply through the Co-op. I remember he was a real gentleman, always smartly dressed and wore cycle clips to keep his trouser legs from flapping. I recognised him straight away from the photo.

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 23/01/2013

I was so pleased to read this item, as I lived opposite Mr.and Mrs. Kiddell in Dunton Drive, at Malvern. I remember Hilda and sometimes went over to play with her little brother when he was quite young, although I moved out of Dunton Drive when I married I still live in Essex.

By Mary Hawkins nee Pratte
On 22/01/2012
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