The untimely death of Cambridge Labour’s Arthur Leslie Symonds MP

The first Labour candidate to be elected to Parliament died in 1960 at the untimely age of 49

Cambridgeshire & Fenland historian Mike Petty found and digitised this article from the Cambridgeshire Collection’s newspaper archive that was started by Cambridge’s first borough librarian John Pink. Between them, Messrs Pink & Petty have got over a century’s worth of local history and librarianship covered. If you’re interested in Mike’s work and would like to commission him for a local history talk (on Fenland villages as well as Cambridge the town), see

Above – Alderman Leslie Symonds (Lab – Romsey) shortly before his death. Via Mike Petty/Cambs Collection.

*Note that between 1835-1972, local councils across England had Councillors & Aldermen. Both had voting rights. Councillors could elect a set number of their existing councillors to ‘The Aldermanic Bench” which meant they could stay on the council but no longer needed to stand for election. So it was sort of like a local ‘House of Lords’ in every council. Edward Heath’s Government abolished the role via the Local Government Act 1972.

Politicians dying untimely deaths

Former Labour minister Tom Watson spoke about his personal insights into how the UK deals with obesity as a public policy issue. One of the things he mentioned was reading about Labour politicians who died untimely deaths. The first two Labour MPs to represent Cambridge were in that number – Mr Symonds and Robert Davies, who served for less than two years. Both were also to serve on Cambridge City Council during their lifetimes.

The news article in the Cambridge News of 27 February 1960 reporting his death reads as follows:

“Alderman Arthur Leslie Symonds, a former City Labour MP died suddenly at his home, 66 St Barnabas Road, Cambridge this morning. He was 49.

“Ald. Symonds was one of the most popular members of the City Council and was greatly interested in all facets of the educational services. [Note Cambridge City Council was responsible for schools until they were transferred to county councils under an Act of Parliament later in the 1960s]. He was a leadning member of the City Committee for Education and took a prominent part in the school tuck shops debate only two days ago. He was also for several years an enthusiastic member of the Cambs Education Committee.

Youngest MP

“Ald. Symonds, who represented the then Borough of Cambridge at Westminster from 1945 until 1950 was at the age of 34 the youngest and first locally born MP in the present century. As Member he took a great personal interest in service and ex-service questions.

“From his early days at Jesus College, Ald. Symonds took a profound interest in Labour politics. At one time he was Chairman of the University Labour Club and next Saturday he was to have taken the chair at an open air meeting on Parker’s Piece sponsored by local and University bodies protesting against the recently proposed South African Boycott.

Brilliant Speaker

“Ald. Symonds had a distinguished war record serving with the 8th Army in the desert and in Italy and rose to the rank of Major. He was awarded the MBE some years ago and was “promoted” to an OBE in the New Year’s Honour’s List.

“Always a brilliant speaker, Ald. Symonds always took a leading part in City Council debates and was unofficially regarded as the Labour Party’s official spokesman in City Council discussions.

“In private life, Ald. Symonds was a member of staff of the John Hilton Bureau. He leaves a wife and five children. Ald Symonds should have sat on the City Magistrates Bench this morning, but his place was taken by Mrs. A. Tweed. At the end of this morning’s court, Mr E.F. Andrews (in the chair) said they were greatly shocked to hear of Ald. Symonds’ sudden death.”

Above and below – via Mike Petty MBE.

Above – Shortly after, city councillors on the Conservative-led Cambridge City Council paid tribute to Major Symonds.

“We can ill-afford to lose members of his ability” said the Mayor of Cambridge (Cllr Wallace Cole – Cons, Coleridge)

“It will be a long time before we have another man of his pleasantness & ability in local government affairs”. Ald. W.G. James, Leader of Cambridge City Council Conservatives.

Below – via Rural Labour here.

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