Obituary: Lord Leatherland

Charles Edward Leatherland, journalist and political campaigner, born Birmingham 18 April 1898, Deputy Chairman Epping Magistrates Bench (Essex) 1944-70, Chairman Eastern Counties Regional Council of the Labour Party 1950-66, OBE 1951, Chairman Essex County Council 1960-61, DL Essex 1963, created 1964 Baron Leatherland, married 1922 Mary Morgan (died 1987; one son, one daughter), died Eppping 18 December 1992.

Charles Leatherland was part of Labour's history and heritage and a hero to boot. His small stature belied the dynamic energy which drove him on with a passion to see that he left this world a better place than when he entered it. Born in the Birmingham of Queen Victoria, he was, in the words of his daughter Irene, self-taught and -educated and proud of it. It was not until he became a founder member of Essex University some 60 years later that he tasted university life. He became a life member of the university court and was awarded an honorary doctorate of the university in 1973.

Leatherland was not an original Essex man. He moved to Buckhurst Hill in 1948 and became Chairman of Essex County Council in 1960. It was a time of major change in local government. At the time I was leader of Enfield council. Not for the first time, the Tories laid plans to wrest control of London from the grip of the LCC by creating the GLC. This involved adding chunks of Surrey, Kent, Hertfordshire - and Essex. It was due in no small measure to Leatherland's influence - and political guile - that Buckhurst Hill was kept out of the GLC to remain in his beloved Essex. His house looked out into Epping Forest and he enjoyed walking in the forest whenever he could.

Leatherland was one of the first of the breed of newspaper men - and women - to get to the House of Lords, as he did on the nomination of Harold Wilson in 1964. He had just retired as assistant editor of the recently closed Daily Herald, having first entered the newspaper world with the Macclesfield Courier. He was a prolific pamphleteer and played a significant part between the wars in the battle of ideas, being a head-office man and right in the thick of things - in the lobby of the House of Commons.

This was the period when he gained four gold medals awarded by the Prince of Wales for essays on sociological and economic subjects. He wrote extensively on local government matters and was proud of the fact that he was made a member of the Royal Economic Society. He went on to become a member of the Basildon New Town Corporation and the Monopolies Commission.

Leatherland must have been one of the few remaining peers to have served in the Great War. Giving a false age, he enrolled in the Warwickshire regiment when he was only 16. By 1916, at the age of 18, he was a Company Sergeant Major in a machine-gun battalion seeing service in France, Belgium and Germany. As a result of wounds, he had a limp for the rest of his life. During a meeting of Labour peers he reminded us all that his limp was as a result of action. 'Don't forget, I saw service on the Somme.' Up rose a colleague whose stature was as diminutive as his own, Douglas Houghton, Lord Houghton of Sowerby, Civil Service Rifles. 'Ah yes, Charlie,' he said, 'you may have been at the Somme, but you were not at Passchendale as I was.' Here were two of the smallest peers who had each earned glory on the battlefield and then gone on to outstanding public service, yet who could recall those awful days of carnage some 70 years later. It was an unforgettable moment.

Leatherland told me that he never lost his sense of frustration at not having had a better education. 'Long before I left school at 14, I had worked in all sorts of jobs. As a boot-boy for a JP; before I went to school I had delivered newspapers and cleaned, polished and swept. I swept snow; did golf caddying; worked in a chemist shop scrubbing floors. It was suggested that I would benefit from higher education, but family circumstances did not allow. However, before I left school at 14 I had taught myself shorthand and typing, and this led to my first real job with the Birmingham council, and eventually into a life in journalism.'

His daughter Irene (who worked at Transport House with Morgan Phillips) told me that her father considered the part he played in creating Essex University one of his most satisfactory achievements. 'As leader of Essex County Council he moved the resolution to create the university. He passionately believed that education was the key to a fuller life. Having missed out himself he wanted it for others.' I smiled, for when I once asked Harold Wilson how he would like to be remembered, he unhesitatingly said, for helping to create the Open University. Essex was Charlie Leatherland's Open University.

The day after he was demobbed at the age of 20 he joined the Labour Party. I suspect his membership of 74 years is something of a record. It led him to work in the Labour Party press office, the Commons, and eventually to become assistant editor of the Daily Herald. He told me that in 1945 there had been opportunities to enter parliament. Torn between his twin loves of politics and journalism he chose the latter. 'That's why the invitation to go to the House of Lords came as such a bonus,' he said, 'for which I was always grateful.' Until the present session, Charlie Leatherland was a regular attender. His speechmaking days were behind him but he was always good for a supplementary question or a perceptive intervention. He was something of a legend in his own time, loved by his fellow peers all round the House.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine