|The Swindon Party office in the early 1960s|
Gradwell was born 18th October 1906 to “highly skilled artisan parents”; his mother, Lizzie Irving was a dressmaker and his father Septimus (`Sep’) Gradwell a joiner. Ike was the second of three sons all of whom became joiners and member of the Amalgamated Society of Woodworkers, in their father’s branch, he was secretary in Ulverstone, near the Furness fells.
Ike had won a scholarship to the local grammar school but, due to the recession, in 1921 took apprenticeship to a local builder, coming out of `his time’ in 1929 and then being laid off. His friend and later brother in law was however able to go to OxfordUniversity and brought back to Ulverstone copies of the Sunday Worker and the new Daily Worker.
Ike was lucky to then be taken on as a professional with HullKingston Rovers Rugby League football team. He used his signing on fee, after assisting his family, to pay his way through night school and qualified as a handicrafts teacher. In 1932, he obtained employment in Suffolk and then Swindon, where he would be based for the rest of his life. He brought his girlfriend, Ethel, there and they married and raised a family.
He became active in the NUT and would later become President of the Swindon Teachers Association; in 1948 and 1966, he was the only person ever to hold the office twice. In 1936, a year after he had moved to the town, he joined the Swindon Communist Party and he was to become its towering leader for a generation.
Using his own craft, he was involved with the project to fit motor cycle ambulances for Spain carried out by Swindon railway workshops activists. The works became a focal point for Communist propaganda activity. The local Party established Unity Bookshops in Corporation Street, named `Ethel Stevens House’ after a legendary local activist; this was relocated in 1942 to Bridge Street.
He was seconded to Short’s aircraft factory during the war when it was relocated in Swindon as a tool room fitter for three and a half years, becoming an AEU shop steward and secretary of the shop stewards committee. Then at the experimental department of Marine Mountings (later Lister’s)
In the Cold War, like so many Communists, Ike was heavily involved in campaigning activities against war, especially as a key figure in the Swindon Peace Council.
As the Swindon Communist Party branch secretary for many years, he was also its Parliamentary candidate. In the 1950s, he also acted as secretary to the Swindon Rail group, the party organisation in the workshops, producing their journal `North Star’ from March 1951 for eleven years. The early death of his wife in 1957, severely curtailed his time for such activity, given that he had three young children to care for.
Nonetheless, within these constraints, Ike continued to campaign, leafleting factories at odd times.
He married Angela Tuckett, a labour movement historian of some note in 1962. As his personal circumstances improved, he stood in the 1964 and 1966 general elections. His daughter, Judith, took over the mantle in the 1970 election. Despite ill-health, he had a second coronary attack in 1973, he was still as visible as ever out in the streets of Swindon in support of the miners and the UCS occupation. He was even able to became the secretary of the united labour movement Star Club, a once again relocated Edith Stevens House.
He died in 1977, on the evening of the last day of the West of England District Communist Party Congress, after he had delivered a typically positive contribution, a conjunction he widow noted: “How fitting that was.”
Source: Angela Tuckett “Ike Gradwell 1906-1979, Man of the People; a memoir” cyclostyled pamphlet
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