Monday, November 01, 2010

Cheltenham Labour Chutney and Florence Widdowson

A good result in Cheltenham for Kevin Harriss the Labour candidate in Springbank Ward, Cheltenham 28th October 2010.

LD hold. LD 722 (66.4%, -2.8), Con 188 (17.3%, -13.5), Lab 142 (13.1%, +13.1), Green 35 (3.2%, +3.2). Swing of 5.4%

But, Cheltenham has a long and distinguished history of Labour activism, with pioneering women like
Florence Beatrice Paton nee Widdowson (1 June 1891 – 12 October 1976),

Widdowson was born in Taunton, Somerset, where her father was a railway guard. The family moved to Wolverhampton, where she later became a schoolteacher.

A Methodist lay preacher, she was initially a Liberal, but joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1917. Under her maiden name of Florence Widdowson, She was a teacher and lecturer, in the Labour and co-operative movement, a member of the National Union of Teachers.

She first stood for Parliament at the Cheltenham by election 26th September 1928, as the first Labour candidate for the constituency she secured 19% of the vote, and she fought Cheltenham again at the 1929 general election. Widdowson was a popular candidate and worked closely with the active Cheltenham ILP branch. Florence contested the Rushcliffe constituency in Nottinghamshire. After her marriage in 1930 to the future Norwich North Labour MP John Paton,

John Paton MP (8 Aug 1886-14 Dec 1976)was a Hertfordshire Labour County Councillor, Aberdeen Town councillor, who had ben General Secretary of the Independent Labour Party and one time editor of the ILP's New Leader, also author of "Proletarian Pilgrimage" and "Left turn"

Widdowson stood again in Rushcliffe in 1931.

When the ILP split from Labour in 1932, John and Florence Paton stayed with the ILP. They left the following year, and rejoined the Labour Party,

During the War, Widdowson was a lecturer in the Committee for adult Education HM Forces. Florence Widdowson won the Rushcliffe seat at the 1945 general election with a majority of 6,795,

Widdowson was the first women to preside over the House of Commons in committee in 1948, first women to be appointed to the speakers panel of chairmen of the committee es of the House of Commons. Widdowson lost her seat after boundary changes in 1950, she stood at the 1950 general election in the new Carlton constituency and lost by only 395 votes.

Florence Widdowson was chair of Welwyn Garden City Women's section in Hertfordshire

Florence Widdowson died 12th October 1976

History of Cheltenham Labour Party

Creation and early days of the local party

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In 1901 the Cheltenham and District Trade and Labour Council, which was formed 7 years earlier, held a meeting calling for the creation of a local Labour Party with the purpose of electing onto the Town Council direct representatives of Labour.


In March 1918, nearly 18 years later, over 80 people attended a meeting called by the Cheltenham and District Trade and Labour Council and passed a resolution that created a Labour Party here in Cheltenham.


By August 1918 the fledgling local party had adopted the constitution and rules of the national Labour Party and elected a Provisional Working Committee of 13 men and 5 women to organise the work of the new Cheltenham Labour Party.

The first Labour Candidate in Cheltenham

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September 1928 saw Cheltenham Labour Party stand its first candidate, Florence Widdowson, in a Parliamentary by-election, caused by the death of the sitting MP.

The by-election came just 2 months after the Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act had received Royal Assent in July of that year giving women the equal right to vote with men at 21 for the first time.

Florence became a Labour MP in 1945 and the first woman to chair a parliamentary debate in the House of Commons.

Cheltenham Labour Hall and Institute

Cheltenham Chutney publication circa 1940s