There are two parts to Kingsley Wood’s first biography under the overall title of ‘Making the Heavens Hum’.
Part 1 covering the years 1881-1924 was published in May 2014 and Part 2 1925-1943 in May 2017.
Part 1 ‘Kingsley Wood and the Art of the Possible’ covers the years 1881-1924, the initial two-thirds of his life. It is the story of an independent, innovative and self-made man who followed his instincts and beliefs.
Born in Hull into a family of Liberal Methodists, Kingsley Wood was a solicitor and poor man’s lawyer committed to individual rights, one-nation politics and applied Christianity. First a local Conservative politician, then a national one, he delivered change, not least social reform, and would now be described as the person to “go to”, the man who got things done.
Wood helped national insurance and the Ministry of Health into being and oversaw the “homes for heroes” housing programme after World War I. He campaigned for allotments, earlier shop closing, the right to jury trial and the rule of law. He was instrumental in the downfall of the first Labour government in 1924.
See www.kent.ac.uk/library/specialcollections/exhibitions/modern-man/index.html for the University of Kent Special Collections exhibition that accompanied the launch of Part 1 in 2014
Part 2 ‘Kingsley Wood: Scenes from a Political Life: 1925 to 1943’ was published in May 2017.
MP for Woolwich West since 1918, Kingsley Wood’s ministerial career took him into the government and then the Cabinet over the next nineteen years.
Wood had helped initiate the Ministry of Health after the First World War and was there in 1925-1929 undertaking a major programme of social reform as Neville Chamberlain’s no.2.
The Government’s Civil Commissioner in Newcastle and the north-east during the 1926 General Strike, he was subsequently Postmaster-General 1931-1935. His performance in that post, when he modernised the Post Office , particularly telephones, and oversaw BBC Charter renewal, led the Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald to bring him into the Cabinet in 1933.
He remained in the Cabinet for the rest of his career.
He was the National Government election supremo in 1935 and as Minister of Health 1935-1938 tackled maternal mortality (introducing among other things a salaried and qualified midwifery service), slum clearance and overcrowding. He was Minister of Air 1938-1940 as Britain re-armed ahead of World War II. As one appreciation noted, “much is owed to him for our victory in the Battle of Britain”.
He was Winston Churchill’s Chancellor of the Exchequer from 1940 to his early death in 1943, with the 1941 budget he and his economic adviser John Maynard Keynes prepared to pay for the war judged a revolution in public finance – as it still is.
Kingsley Wood “was a good party man. By this I mean that he put his party above himself, and his country above his party.”
Winston Churchill 1943 paraphrased by Quintin Hogg (Lord Hailsham) in 1975