Charles Ward: Forest Gate designer, printer and politician

Friday 21 November 2014

Newham Council's archives host a collection of original drawings, samples and commercial artwork of Charles Henry Ward, a local designer, printer - and later politician. They constitute the samples book and folio of a fine Forest Gate art-nouveau craftsman.

Self-portrait cartoon of Ward,
perhaps reflecting how he saw
himself, as a leader/Leo
Some of his splendid work would have added considerable panache to the promotional material of many a local and national business, in an era when all artwork was hand crafted - before computer software made us all instant (and usually poor) designers.

Charles was, additionally, a local politician of some significance, eventually becoming a Freeman of the Borough of West Ham. What follows is a brief account of his work and public service, pieced together from a number of sources.  We would be delighted to hear from any of his descendants, with whom it would be great to share more information about him.

Charles was born in Walworth, South London in 1874, the son of Frederick, a print machine manager, whom he followed into "the print". He was indentured as a compositor's apprentice to T Scott, in South East London in the late 1880s.

By the end of his apprenticeship - the quality of his work was being recognised by the professional press, for its "excellent workmanship".

Attracting favourable attention
from printing trade press, 1890's
Ward later moved to Forest Gate, and by the time of the 1901 census  was living in Thompson Road, West Ham, where he was described as an overseer print compositor.

It would appear that he became a business partner of a Mr Whiteway and they established a printing company at 98 Woodgrange Road, which designed and produced work, of a high standard for local and national businesses and organisations.

Letterhead, of the Ward, Whiteway partnership
 and the local papers  they produced, dated 1890s

Well-designed promotional literature,
when still in partnership with Whiteway
Ward later became the sole proprietor of the company. Those premises are now the Jamia Darussunah mosque(see photographs, below).

Poor reproduction of photo
of Ward's business premises
at 98 Woodgrange Road (undated)

The business premises today
- a local mosque
In addition to the jobbing printing work, as the letterhead indicates, the company produced a couple of local newspapers, the Forest Gate Gazette and West Ham Herald. They also had a branch office at 190 Fleet Street, which presumably was used for copy gathering from agencies.  Unfortunately, the only publicly available copies of these publications is in the National Library of Australia!

What follows is a selection of some of Ward's artwork held in Newham archives - to whom thanks are given for being able to access the material.

Much of it consisted of what would normally be mundane work for a local jobbing printer - business cards and stationery, letterheads, invitation cards, adverts etc for local traders - but incorporated unusually high design standards of design for such a press.

Local advertising literature - better
than a bog standard leaflet! (1)
Local advertising literature - better
than a bog standard leaflet! (2)
 He also did some high quality programme-type work for local entertainment venues, including the Forest Gate School of Music  in Earlham Grove (see here for full details of this innovative organisation).

Forest Gate School of
Music party programme
School of Music social soiree
programme, 1899

Well designed tickets for small local event

Programme, for similar event
One of Ward's less successful designs,
 perhaps.  Suggesting he was promoting
 the activities of a Raper and Lothier!
Ward's reputation and quality of work was such that, although operating a relatively small local printers' business, he was commissioned to produce material for a far wider range of clients, in London and elsewhere in the country - some for high profile and high status organisations, as the following selection indicates:

Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (1)
Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (2)

Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (3)
Reputation and work beyond Forest Gate (4)

The innovative company not only produced materials for others, but was an early developer of greetings cards, which it published under its own imprint.

The medium is the message,
some years before Marshall McLuhan!
Assorted Christmas cards - 6 a penny!
Early producers of greetings cards
And blotting paper!
Possibly the Victorian world's
most stylish jam jar cover labels
The materials, unfortunately, are undated, so it is difficult to track the progress of his artistic development.

By 1911 he had moved, with his family, to 26 Clova Road - one of the more salubrious roads in Forest Gate (see photo of the house, today - below), and the company was  transformed into a limited company, the Woodgrange Press, in 1913.
26 Clova Road, Ward's
house, post 1911
It is unclear when it moved a little further up Woodgrange Road to the rather splendid Art Deco building, next to Wanstead Park station - but presumably in the 1930's. The company continued trading there until 1991, when it was dissolved. The lovely building (see below) was knocked down in 2008 to make way for Raymond Chadburn House, which clumsily attempts to incorporate elements of the former Eagle and Child pub into a block of flats.

Art deco print works on Woodgrange
Road, into which Ward and Co moved,
probably in 1930s. Demolished in 2002.
Thanks to Carol Price, for the photo.
We do not know what kind of World War 1 Charles Ward had, but he turned to local politics at the onset of peace and was elected, briefly, as a West Ham Councillor in 1919.  He was re-elected in 1925, for at least a further 20 years.

Charles Ward, 1926
He was a member of the Municipal Alliance, the name under which Conservatives stood in local elections in West Ham, at the time - perhaps not surprising for a small businessman seeking election to an overwhelmingly Labour local authority in East London.

One of the issues that seriously divided the Labour Party and Municipal Alliance on the local council was their attitude to poor relief (over which local authorities had a large say).

The early 1920s saw a great deal of local distress and unemployment in East London, which councils were charged with addressing. This put huge pressure on their budgets, because the rates' yield was low and the demand for poor relief high.

There was a requirement on councils, from the central government, to 'balance the books' a near -impossible task, without punishing the poor, by reducing council staff wages and cutting the dole to local unemployed people.

Some councils, most notably Poplar, under George Lansbury, fiercely resisted these demands, and were indeed jailed for their civil disobedience in doing so.

There were pressures to resist in a similar fashion in adjacent West Ham.

In 1921, for example, the Minister of Health, Sir William Joynson-Hicks said, while struggling with the Poplar Council rebellion that:  "Poplarism is an infectious disease. The infection is already obvious in London Unions, such as Bermondsey and West Ham".

The Municipal Alliance, representing the interest of business ratepayers and the more prosperous of West Ham was fiercely opposed to the kind of civil disobedience being undertaken by Poplar Council, and by implication and spread of it to West Ham.

Charles Ward was very explicit in this opposition, when in an election meeting in 1922 he said "The Municipal Alliance does not believe in doles, and if the candidates were returned, they would do their best to stop this out-going of public funds".
Reactionary attitudes like this almost sounded the death knoll for the Alliance in West Ham, and Labour almost obliterated it at the election (Labour 18 seats, Municipal Alliance 6). Ward, however, survived, representing the Forest Gate ward, the most prosperous in borough, for many years.

In 1925 West Ham councillors and Poor Law Guardians were summoned to the Ministry of Health, to account for the £1.8m deficit they had run up on the borough's poor relief account. Ward was a member of the delegation that met the then Minister of Health, Neville Chamberlain.

Ward, second right, at the delegation
to the Ministry of Health, 1925
An Evening News cartoon,
lampooning the Municipal Alliance
attitude to relieving poverty in West Ham
It is unclear what his role, or contribution at the meeting, was as he was opposed to the existence of the deficit - as shown in the quote from his 1922 speech, above.

One consequence of the meeting was, however, that the Board of Guardians was removed from office by Chamberlain, the following year, for having defied his edict to move towards the elimination of the deficit. We will return to this affair in a later post.

No money for poverty relief,
but some for a silver spade
presented to Ward in 1931,
when flood relief work started
on the River Lea
Charles Ward, despite his contrary opinion, remained on the Council at least until 1945, when he was granted Freedom of the Borough, "in recognition of his distinguished local public service". We have almost no further details of Ward and his work, unfortunately.

Certificate commemorating
Charles Ward's Freedom
of the borough of West Ham, 1945
We do know, however, that he published a book on West Ham around the year 1923, of which we have been unable to obtain a copy from any library, or on-line source. According to an oral history interview, long-time Newham councillor Arthur Edwards gave to Eastside Community Heritage a decade or so ago, this book was regarded for many a year as the definitive book on the area, being "historically and socially accurate".

And finally .. probably Charles Ward's longest lasting tribute to the area he did business in and represented on West Ham Council:

We would love to hear from anyone who may have access to Ward's book or any more details of the life of the fascinating local character and gifted graphic artist.


  1. Hi there. I have a number of very old publications. On the front "London 1905, "Gazette" Publishing works, office, 98 Woodgrange Road G. Exeter Publishing Co, 2
    Exeter Street strand WC. They are called "Talks to Toilers" and are of a socialist/christian theme. The author, William Ward, Late member of West Ham Town Council, Labour candidate Gorton Division of Lance. 1900 - cant be found on a Google Search. Do you think there is a connection with William and Charles Ward, one an author and the other a publisher, or just a coincidence? I am reluctant to throw them out. If you are interested, and would send me a direct email address, I could scan some of the pages for you. I am in Australia. Roslyn West

  2. Roslyn, you have not left contact details. I have more information about William, which I can send. Would appreciate the docs you mention. Please send them to, and I'll furnish you with more info re Wm.

  3. Hi Charles was my Great Great Granddad, It was so great to find this piece whilst googling my family thank you so much

  4. I did leave comment with an email but has not registered for some reason.


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