by James Wisdom
Brentford & Chiswick Local History Journal 2 (1981)
On Wednesday 23 July 1980 Eric Kenward died. He was at that time the Vice-Chairman of the Brentford & Chiswick Local History Society, having recently re-joined the Committee. Eric was one of the people who had formed the Society in 1957 and he was the Chairman from 1961 to 1964.
At the time of his death Malcolm Richards, the Editor of The Brentford & Chiswick Times, wrote that
he was a dedicated democrat with a quiet wisdom and a genuinely radical outlook. Mr Kenward was a good person – an unselfish man who devoted himself in trying to improve the world through the political system – not motivated by anger against the existing order but with a genuine concern for improving social justice.
In this country we are currently losing many of those whose thoughts and actions were shaped by experiences of the Second World War. Eric Kenward was a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp – and yet returned home not embittered by his terrible experiences but full of drive to try and better conditions for those around him. Mr Kenward was an English gentleman in the truest sense – and his life was full and rewarding.
The Leader of Hounslow Council, Cllr Alf King, spoke of his long friendship with Eric at the funeral and other tributes to him were published in The Brentford & Chiswick Times, particularly from the Labour Party and Chiswick Polytechnic.
Eric moved to this area when he was a schoolboy and finished his education at Chiswick Grammar School, where he was particularly influenced by the history and economics masters. He started work with the Gas Light and Coke Company in 1933. His own description of how he joined the Labour Party was through collecting for an ambulance to assist the Spanish Government against Franco’s rebellion.
He served with the RAOC during the War and at the age of 25 was captured by the Japanese in Java, in 1942. He spent three and a half years in a prisoner of war camp. When he returned he attended Chiswick Polytechnic for qualifications in accountancy and resumed his political work. He had been a candidate for the Grove Park Ward before the War; in 1947 he contested the Bedford Park Ward. He was elected in 1954 to the Brentford & Chiswick Borough Council and served, with a short break in 1960, until 1971.
He was at one time or another on most of the Committees of the Council, but particularly on the Finance & General Purposes Committee, the Establishment Committee, the Housing Committee and the Libraries Committee. He also chaired the Brentford Market Committee in the late 1950s and the Public Health Committee directly after the merger with the Borough of Heston & Isleworth to form the London Borough of Hounslow in 1965. Having become knowledgeable about urban public health he suddenly found he had to learn about the farmers’ problems with brucellosis and foot and mouth!
One Committee on which his service gave him great pleasure was the Gunnersbury Park Joint Comittee, though he often regretted that through the merger of the boroughs he lost his opportunity to become Chairman and to plant “his tree” in the Park. Eric was also a Governor of Chiswick Polytechnic and on the Committees of the Chiswick Parochial Charities, the Poor People’s Fund and the Chiswick War Memorial Homes Committee.
In 1976 Eric retired from the North Thames Gas Board after suffering a heart attack. The next year his mother died and he moved from the house in Brackley Road to a flat in Watchfield Court which he was establishing as a base for what was clearly going to be a very active retirement.
Bob Kenward and his wife Eva, Eric’s brother and sister-in-law, knew the affection Eric felt for Gunnersbury Park Museum and after his death they very generously donated to the Museum many of the papers Eric had collected over his lifetime. A list of this material has been made and it shows the breadth of his interests in local matters. There are 45 folders of papers and documents, 9 books and a collection of pamphlets and photographs.
The largest quantity of material in the collection is about the history of the Labour Party in this area. Some years ago when it was moving from its headquarters Eric found and rescued from destruction two minute books of the Party’s meetings between 1922 and 1928. At various times since 1939 the Party has published a newspaper or journal – enthusiasm usually kept it running for a year or two – and Eric had retained copies of these. Over the years Eric had held most of the offices of the Party’s management, particularly that of Treasurer, and many of the books and folders relate to the Party’s accounts and financial affairs.
There is also a large amount of material collected ion the process of contesting elections – canvass returns, printed propaganda, election statistics etc. Clearly some of this material, particularly the more recent, is politically sensitive and so access to it has been restricted for a number of years. One of the most important topics in the history of any area is the way that local politics operated – the issues, the workings of the parties, the nature of their supporters, the voters, and so on. It is important to realise that the material for such a study often just does not survive and there are very few organisations that are actively collecting it. So in Brentford and Chiswick we are extremely fortunate that Eric had the foresight to make this collection.
Eric’s interests were wider than the Labour Party and they too have resulted in an equally fascinating and valuable archive. He did a great deal of research on the history of the Gas Board, particularly in London, and also rescued and conserved material that was due for destruction through carelessness or ignorance. One aspect of his active retirement which he clearly enjoyed was the researching and writing of illustrated articles for the educational publications of the Gas Board. His interest in gas also led him into the history of ballooning. All of this material is now at Gunnersbury.
His involvement in local affairs also set Eric off into historical research. He was Chairman of the Brentford Market Committee at the time when they were deciding on its closure and a move to a new site. So of course he became interested in the history of Brentford’s market and its fair and compiled many research notes and photocopies. At the time of his death he had collected photographs of all the charters granting or confirming the grant of the market. He had a similar interest in Boston Manor House, the Thomas Layton Collection, Lady Fauconberg, Band & Company and Chiswick Polytechnic. His work on the Chiswick Parochial Charities Committee was at the time that Whittingham Court was built and he was also involved in the controversy over the future of the Hopkins-Morris Almshouses on Strand on the Green. All of these topics produced material which is now at Gunnersbury though, again, material which should be private will remain so for some years.
When he was a schoolboy Eric Kenward attended the celebrations when Brentford and Chiswick was granted its Charter of Incorporation. Over his political lifetime he saw the area become part of the London Borough of Hounslow. He was a very methodical man and it was clear from the way he had arranged his filing cabinet full of papers and from the material he had kept that he knew it was going to be of value one day. It will be through collections like these that future historians will be able to tell the story of the people and the area that Eric loved and served so well.