Forest Gate's 12 MPs

Friday 13 February 2015

As an precursor to the forthcoming general election, this blog offers a pen portrait of the 12 MP's who have represented the Forest Gate area over the last 130 years.

Following a significant extension of the franchise in 1884, and the rapid growth of the West Ham area over the previous 30 years, the district became a Parliamentary borough for the first time, in 1885, with two seats: North and South. Forest Gate was firmly within the northern seat.

Edward Cook - MP, 1885 - 1886 (Liberal)

The victor in North West Ham in the 1885 election, and thus Forest Gate's first real MP, was the Liberal, Edward Rider Cook (1836 - 1898). He lost the seat in another election, a year later.

He was a soap manufacturer, who was a senior partner in his father's Bow based soap and chemical manufacturers, Edward Cook and Co.

Prior to becoming the area's MP he had been a member of the Metropolitan Board of Works (a predecessor of the GLC/GLA), was a JP and was described as a radical/progressive Liberal.

J Forrest Fulton - MP, 1886 - 1892 (Conservative)

Fulton had been the unsuccessful Conservative candidate in 1885, but took the seat in the following year's snap election.  He was a senior barrister, prior to entering Parliament.

He has been described as having "made no particular mark" in his six years in Parliament (not the only one of the area's MP's to have failed to impress), and was defeated after only one term.

Forrest Fulton (Cons) -
local MP 1886 - 1892
He returned to the legal profession, as a judge and was knighted after his narrow defeat in the 1892 election.

TN Archibald Grove - MP 1892 - 1895 (Liberal)

Although Grove won the election in North West Ham, the more historically important result, locally, that year,  was in West Ham South, which was won by James Kier Hardie. He became Britain's first Labour MP and leader (although the party had yet to be formed at this time).

Before entering Parliament, Thomas Newcomen Archibald Grove (1855 - 1920) launched and became the magazine editor of a low price "literary" publication (The New Review). He was defeated at the election three years after he was first returned to Parliament.

Archibald Grove (Lib) -
local MP 1892 - 1895
He tried to re-enter Parliament elsewhere and was successful in Northamptonshire in 1906, but stood down, and retired from politics four years later, due to ill health.

Ernest Gray - MP, 1895 - 1906 (Conservative)

Sir Ernest Gray (1856 –1932) was an educational reformer, one-time president of the National Union of Teachers and author of a number of education handbooks.

After an assortment of almost zero impact, one-term, local MPs, Grey became the first local MP to hold his seat for more than one election, serving 11 years, in total.

Ernest Gray (Cons) -
local MP 1895 - 1906
He lost the Parliamentary seat in 1906, tried and was unsuccessful once more in the first election of 1910. He eventually re-entered Parliament in 1918, for Accrington.  In the meantime he was elected to the newly formed London County Council and was for a while a councillor in Brixton (two positions he shared with a successor, a century later - Tony Banks).

He lost his Accrington parliamentary seat to Labour in 1922, and retired from politics soon after, being knighted in 1925.

CFG Masterman - MP, 1906 - 1910 (Liberal)

Charles Frederick Gurney Masterman PC ( 1873 –  1927) was  distantly related to the Gurney family, who were significant local land owners in the Forest Gate area in the nineteenth century.

He was a social reformer, and like his Liberal predecessor in the seat, Archibald Grove, a journalist (The English Review). In 1909 he published The Condition of England, a survey of contemporary society with particular focus on the state of the working class.

Charles Masterman (Lib) -
local MP 1906 - 1910
Masterman worked closely with Winston Churchill and Lloyd George on The People's Budget of 1909 and was responsible for the passage through parliament of the National Insurance Act of 1911, which introduced Old Age Pensions to Britain.

He was re-elected to the seat in both the general elections of 1910, but the second election was declared null and void, and he was returned to Parliament in Bethnal Green, in a by-election, the following year. He lost that seat in 1914, and dropped out of Parliamentary politics for almost a decade, as a result.

During World War 1 he was head of the British War propaganda Bureau (WPB), in the course of which he recruited authors such as Arthur Conan Doyle, John Buchan and Rudyard Kipling to add their literary talents to the propaganda war on the home front, and in an effort to get the USA to join the war on the British side.

He re-entered Parliament, briefly, in 1923, as a Manchester MP, but lost his seat in the election the following year. His health declined rapidly, hastened by drug and alcohol abuse. He died in 1927, possibly having committed suicide.

Baron De Forest - MP, 1911 - 1918 (Liberal)

Maurice Arnold de Forest (1879 –  1968) was the son of a one-time circus performer. He was an early motor racing driver and aviator. His title was Austro-Hungarian, and so it did not disqualify him from membership of the British House of Commons.

He was immensely rich, and Winston Churchill spent much time on his yacht (including his honeymoon). He was, however, politically progressive and favoured Irish Home Rule, land nationalisation female suffrage and equality of religion, in education.

Maurice Arnold de Forest (Lib)
- local MP 1911 - 1918
Following the conclusion of World War 1, Parliamentary boundaries were redrawn and the two former West Ham seats became four (Stratford and Upton in North, Plaistow and Silvertown in south). Forest Gate was in the Stratford constituency.

CE Leonard Lyle - MP, 1918 - 1922 (Conservative and Unionist)

(Charles Ernest) Leonard Lyle, later 1st Baron Lyle of Westbourne ( 1882 –1954), was an industrialist whose family were major ship-owners who had diversified into sugar refining, and Leonard joined the firm in 1903, and became a director when his father retired in 1909.

When Abram Lyle & Sons merged with Henry Tate and Sons in 1921 to form Tate and Lyle, he became a director of the new company, then its chairman in 1928, and president in 1937.

His tenure as Stratford MP was short. Following his defeat in Stratford in 1922, he was elected MP for Epping the following year, only to stand down a year later to make the seat available for Winston Churchill. He was elected to parliament again in a bye-election, for Bournemouth, in 1940, where he remained MP until 1945.

In addition to his parliamentary career he was a significant British golfer and tennis player, but was perhaps best known for running the anti-sugar nationalisation campaign, following the election of the 1945 Labour government.

Tom Groves - MP, 1922 - 1945 (Labour)

Thomas Edward Groves (1884 – 1958) was the constituency's first Labour, and one of its longest serving, MPs. But he made little impact, and in a fate to be experienced by another long-serving successor (see below). was unceremoniously de-selected by the Labour Party, for his inactivity.

He successfully contested the division in the elections of: 1923, 1924, 1929, 1931, 1935 and 1939.

He wanted to stand again in the post-war election of 1945, but was deselected by the Labour Party as its candidate. Groves stood as an independent, and was both electorally humiliated and expelled from the Labour party for his troubles.

Henry Nicholls - MP, 1945 - 1950 (Labour)

Henry Richard Nicholls (1893 – 1962) was selected in place of Groves, but he was a one term MP, as the constituency was abolished, following  population decline during and post World War 11, and a subsequent boundary review.

West Ham reverted to having two MPs -one for the North (including Forest Gate) and the other for the south. Nicholls lost out in the selection to the other, former MP for the north of the then borough, Arthur Lewis, who had represented Upton since 1945.

Arthur Lewis - MP, 1950 - 1983 (Labour)

Arthur William John Lewis (1917 - 1998) was an official of the National Union of General and Municipal Workers when he was elected as MP for Upton, in 1945. He beat Nicholls for selection as Labour candidate for the now united North West Ham seat, which he represented until a further boundary review, and the formation of the Newham North West seat, in 1974, which he represented until 1983.

He was won the local seat at the elections of 1950, 1951, 1955, 1959, 1964, 1966, 1970, 1974 (x2) and 1979.

Arthur Lewis (Lab)
- local MP 1950 - 1979
(photo taken 1947)
In 1983, after 38 years as an MP, Lewis was deselected as Labour candidate by his local constituency Labour Party, which he said had become "100 per cent Trotskyist, Militancy Tendency, Communist and IRA supporters". By this time he was refusing to attend local party meetings or hold "advice surgeries" for his constituents.

He was replaced as Labour candidate by Tony Banks. Lewis stood as an Independent Labour candidate at the 1983 election and was humiliated, coming fourth with 11% of the vote behind the winner, Banks.

Tony Banks - MP, 1983 - 2005 (Labour)

We have already given Tony Bank's parliamentary career a cheerful nod (here), but a little more formally, we'll recognise his time as MP here. Anthony Louis Banks, Baron Stratford ( 1942 – 2006) was an MP from 1983 to 2005, before being created a member of the House of Lords.

He was elected as the local MP at the general elections of 1983, 1987, 1992, 1997 and 2001.

Tony Banks (Lab)-
local MP 1983 - 2005
He was a trade union official and local councillor on both Lambeth and the Greater London Councils before being selected as Labour candidate, to replace the out-of-touch Arthur Lewis. Following a 1995 boundary review, Newham North West was expanded and renamed West Ham for the 1997 election and Banks represented that seat until 2005.

He was Minister for Sport from 1997-9, and then Tony Blair's unsuccessful "envoy" for England to host the 2006 World Cup for another couple of years. He gradually became disillusioned with life as an MP and retired in 2005.

Having been enobled after the general election of that year, he suffered a massive heart attack a few months later, and died in January 2006.

Lyn Brown - MP, 2005 - to date (Labour)

Lyn Carol Brown was born in Newham in 1960, and following university became a social worker. She was elected to Newham Council in 1988 and stood, unsuccessfully as the Labour candidate for the Wanstead and Woodford parliamentary seat in 1992.

She was elected as MP for West Ham in 2005, which she retained with an increased majority at the 2010 election.

Lyn Brown (Lab) -
local MP 2005 - to date
Following her election, as MP for West Ham, in 2005, Lyn Brown held a number of minor government positions, until Labour's defeat at the 2010 general election. She has had a number of "shadow" posts while Labour has been in opposition and at the time of the dissolution for the 2024 general election was "shadow" minister for Africa.

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