Chambers Leslie

Leslie Chambers

Known as `Tec’ Chambers, he was a very well-known Communist Party member in Biggleswade, Bedfordshire, for a decade from the mid-1930s. He lived, long term, in Banks Road, from where he had helped re-establish the Labour Party in 1930. There had been a LP branch in 1923, when Robert Leonard Wigzell was Labour Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Mid-Beds and secretary.

It is likely that Chambers was part of a United Front move amongst Labour members to  join the Communist Party in 1935, at any rate a very active CP branch operated in Biggleswade, a town with a population of only around 6,000 people, from at least November 1935. Chambers was key in establishing a local branch of the National Unemployed Workers Movement and organising marches and delegation of unemployed to meet the town council. A march of 350 agricultural workers to the local council demanded unemployment benefit during their period of seasonal unemployment. The Party also helped establish Biggleswade United Working Men’s Club in Crab Lane, with three Party members as trustees, and was also active in the Aid to Spain Movement

Amongst speakers he invited to local events was Maurice Cornforth in 1936 and 1941 and R W Robson in 1936. That year, in September, also saw a clash between local Communists and out of town fascists who tried to hold a meeting in the Market Place. Other speakers included Harry Pollitt in July 1939, Glasgow Communist, Peter Kerrigan, in 1942, impressively at the Regal Cinema, Ralf Grey of Peterborough on Aid to Russia in 1941, and H Hinchcliffe on transport. Regular speakers included Bedfordshire communists Betty Matthews (South East Midlands District Communist Party organiser) and her husband, George Matthews (who was Labour perspective candidate for the area until December 1939 when he joined the Communist Party)

Many CP members were active in Biggleswade Trades Council, which was dominated by seasonal agricultural and market gardening. “There is no industry in the town of Biggleswade to speak of, yet the working people are surprising class conscious” according to an article in `Party Organiser’ in May 1939. By this time, the Biggleswade branch had 25 members “all of them natives of the town”.

The Party proudly noted that “(t)he Communists of Biggleswade … are held in high esteem by all the townspeople. Any problem from filling in a form for relief to getting a divorce is brought to the Party.” Chambers secured 700 votes in the 1938 council elections in Biggleswade, narrowly  failing to get elected. “Naturally, our comrades are most popular with the working people, simply because they are known as decent, ordinary folk, all of them skilled in their jobs”

From February 1927 to February 1931 Chambers had served in the Territorial Army s a signaller gunner. In 1937, Chambers had been beaten to the role of councillor by Admiral Lionel Halsey. In 1937, he had failed by five votes to win the seat, but  polling 759 votes,  and when a similar resignation circumstance had then arisen and the fastest loser, at 35 votes, had been co-opted on the grounds of party label had been co-opted, Chambers had protested but the Urban District Council had ignored him. Now, presumably, the embarrassment was too great.   Almost uniquely, he was co-opted as a Communist councillor for Biggleswade Town Council to replace Arthur Camp in June 1942.

After re-joining Labour, at least by 1946, Leslie Chambers went on to regularly top the poll as an Alderman and then Chair of the council, becoming an incredibly well-respected member of the Biggleswade community. The governor of Rose Lane school, he later campaigned to utilise the school for a community centre. A nearby road, Chambers Way, was named after him.  Chambers was photographed (below) in 1964 when he was still a serving councillor on the Urban District Council and died on 1 March 1997.

B F Thomson stood in the town council elections in 1958, “the first Communist contest for many years” in 1958, gaining 325 votes.

Sources: Bedfordshire Times and Independent 09 April 1937, Biggleswade Chronicle 25 March 1938; 19 June 1942 (thanks to Michael Walker for the reference, 3 May 1946, 16 May 1958;  Biggleswade Today (various issues), World News 24th May 1958;

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