History comes home

statiue-1© Redbridge Heritage Centre

Redbridge Museum will open a new permanent exhibition later this year exploring 200,000 years of local history. In the second of a series of articles, Museum Officer Nishat Alam looks at some of the items on show

If you’re a resident of Woodford, you are very likely to have come across this statue before. It’s of one of the most well-known figures in British history, Winston Churchill, who served twice as Prime Minister as well as the Member of Parliament for Woodford. The photo was taken by Fred James, who lived in Woodford Wells from 1948 to 1975. It is now held in the collections at Redbridge Museum & Heritage Centre, where a refreshed display about Churchill is currently in the making.

Churchill remains one of Britain’s longest-serving politicians to this day. He started his political career as a Conservative MP in 1901, but was a controversial figure from the start, disagreeing with many government policies and defecting to the Liberal Party in 1904. He re-joined the Conservatives 20 years later, standing successfully as MP for Epping, which at that time covered the areas of Wanstead and Woodford. Churchill served Epping from 1924 to 1945, and when Woodford was made its own constituency, he held the seat until he retired in 1964.

When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Churchill was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty and in 1940 became Prime Minister, leading the Allied forces to victory. His famous wartime speeches and military skill made him a national hero.

Victory in Europe was declared on 8 May 1945 and Churchill was the guest of honour at Wanstead and Woodford’s official victory celebrations the following year on 1 June 1946. Photographs of the event, held at Redbridge Heritage Centre, show him inspecting a Guard of Honour and addressing the crowd as he opened the gala on Woodford Green.

Churchill was voted out in the 1945 general election. Many voters didn’t think he could match Labour’s promises of post-war reform. But he was back in government in 1951 and remained so until 1955 when he retired as Prime Minister due to ill health. He continued to serve as MP for Woodford and attended local public engagements. In 1959, the statue of Churchill was unveiled on Woodford Green in recognition of his wartime service.

Churchill was well-known for his controversial views, often informed by his imperialist politics. Many of the statements he made about nations that had been colonised by the British are today considered racist, but were not necessarily unique in opinion at the time. Following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations in June 2020, the statue was vandalised in protest of these statements.

Redbridge Museum’s display about Churchill hopes to explore his role as a leader as well as varying public opinion about him.

Redbridge Museum is located on Clements Road, Ilford. Visit swvg.co.uk/rm

To complete a survey on what else should go on display, visit swvg.co.uk/rms