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Honour for a champion of Norfolk's farm workers

Edwin Gooch and  Mary Curl on their wedding day in 1960

Edwin Gooch and Mary Curl on their wedding day in 1960

Archant

His life started at the foot of his father's forge, and he worked his way up to become one of Norfolk's most powerful men.

Now Wymondham resident Edwin Gooch, who died in 1964 aged 75, has been included in the latest edition of the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, taking his place among Britain’s leading historical figures.

Mr Gooch was president of the National Union of Agricultural Workers, and Labour MP for North Norfolk from 1945 until his death.

The entry about him was written by Alun Howkins, honorary professor in the school of history at the University of East Anglia.

Prof Howkins, who lives in Winfarthing, said Mr Gooch fought for farm workers’ rights his whole life.

He said: “When Mr Gooch was alive the vast majority of working men in Norfolk were farm workers, and he was very committed to the workers’ cause.

“He fought to get them higher wages, better conditions and for the end of the tied cottage, which was a very pernicious system as it meant if farm workers lost their job they lost their home on the same day.”

Mr Gooch was born a blacksmith’s son and worked at his father’s forge until joining the Norwich Mercury as a printer.

He became a journalist and worked his way up to chief sub-editor before entering politics.

He favoured co-operation between all parties in agriculture, and believed that a prosperous farming industry would lead to a better deal for farm workers.

Prof Howkins described Mr Gooch as an “influential backbencher” who founded the South Norfolk Labour party in Wymondham in 1918.

But he said his lasting contribution was to the union, which he led for 36 years, including during the difficult period of the 1930s.

Prof Howkins said: “He saw it through some very difficult times when wages and union membership was low.”

Mr Gooch was chairman of the Labour Party’s National executive committee from 1955 to 1956.

He was a Norfolk County Council alderman, a fact Prof Howkins said he was “terribly proud of”.

He said: “He was always known as Alderman Gooch.”

“It was something he held on to.”

Mr Gooch became the first chairman of the Wymondham Urban District Council in 1935.

He was also a lay preacher with the Primitive Methodist church.

Prof Howkins said: “He was a very active member of the Primitive Methodists all his life and he was shaped by a kind of religious radicalism which was very common among Norfolk men and women of his generation.

“He believed that the core of Christianity is the Sermon on the Mount, and things should be distributed equally and fairly among all people.”

The entry about Mr Gooch will be available for free online through the Norfolk library service’s website from Saturday.

Do you have a story about an important figure from Norfolk? Email stuart.anderson@archant.co.uk

Ethel Gooch

Perhaps equally well remembered as Mr Gooch in his home town of Wymondham his first wife, Ethel Gooch, nee Banham, who lived from 1887 to 1953.

Mrs Gooch was known as “Wymondham’s first lady” and was a pioneering figure for women who wanted to have a role in public life in Norfolk.

They married in 1914 and had one son.

Mrs Gooch became the first lady member of the Wymondham Urban District Council in 1935 and its first lady chairman in 1951.

Like her husband, she became a justice of the peace and strived to improve the lives of working people across the district.

A road in the town was renamed in memory of her a few years after her death.

In 1960, Mr Gooch remarried, to Mary “Molly” Curl of Norwich.

She had been an active Labour Party member for many years.

She died in 1997.

At Mr Gooch’s funeral, all of the seats in the town’s Methodist church were full and a blessing was read by the Bishop of Norwich, Dr Lancelot Fleming.

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