Few people know who Sir Howard Kingsley Wood was, or what he did. A century, after all, is a long time in which to forget. But recent work by historian Hugh Gault, researching for a biography on Wood, has brought this little known and unassuming man into the light. To celebrate the new biography, Special Collections & Archives is curating an exploring the early part of his life: ‘A Thoroughly Modern Man? Sir Howard Kingsley Wood, 1881-1924’.
Born in 1881, Wood’s lifetime saw a huge number of changes; from the First World War to the successful provision of Votes for Women, and this exhibition charts the formative influences on his life.
Wood was a politician, lawyer and a Methodist: all of these aspects of his life combined to make him a key player in significant political and social changes happening in Britain one hundred years ago. In fact, many of the issues which the turn of the century government was dealing with were not so different to those of today; health, tax, welfare and housing to name but a few.
With his background in insurance, Wood was key in setting up National Insurance; working as a Poor Man’s lawyer, he successfully prosecuted a number of employers for death and injuries at work. Standing up for the weakest in society was one of his core values: he championed pensions and other benefits for widows, orphans and relatives of soldiers fighting in the First World War. He also saw first-hand the appalling conditions in which many lived and was determined to improve them. In proposing a Ministry of Health in 1918, Wood set in motion the best of the welfare state, aiming to provide good homes, prevent disease and support the disabled. Many of his proposals are still with us today in the guise of the National Health Service and laws protecting employees from exploitation.
Later, Wood would continue his mission as Postmaster General, Minister for Health, Secretary of State for Air during the Second World War and finally Chancellor of the Exchequer.
This exhibition focusses on Wood’s formative years from his training as a solicitor, his experience of elections and insurance, and his role as a London County Councillor during the First World War. Come along to the Templeman Gallery (next to the Library Café) from 22 May to the 20 June to find out why this man is worthy of remembrance.
For more information about the materials in the Kingsley Wood Archive at Kent, take at look at our Collections pages. For a flavour of some of the items in the collection, see previous blog posts ‘The antiquity of new politics‘ and ‘Flu a hundred years hence‘.
The exhibition coincides with the publication of Hugh Gault’s book, the first part of a new biography of Kingsley Wood, Making the Heavens Hum: Kingsley Wood and the Art of the
Possible, 1881-1924 (Gretton Books, 2014).