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Political pioneer and Little Hadham resident Shirley Williams dies aged 90



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Ground-breaking politician Baroness Shirley Williams, who lived in Little Hadham and Furneux Pelham, has died at the age of 90, it was announced on Monday (April 12).

She was best known as one of the 'Gang of Four' Labour rebels who founded the Social Democratic Party in 1981.

She served as Labour MP for Hitchin after winning the seat in the 1964 General Election and moved to a cottage in Furneux Pelham.

Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishops Stortford. Baroness Shirley Williams giving short talk before film screening as part of the centres WW1 events. Baroness Williams with Sarah Meader from Rhodes. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (46092918)
Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishops Stortford. Baroness Shirley Williams giving short talk before film screening as part of the centres WW1 events. Baroness Williams with Sarah Meader from Rhodes. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (46092918)

Later she was to give the property to her daughter Rebecca, her child with first husband Bernard Williams, while she moved to a flat in the former Hadham Hall school buildings at Little Hadham.

After rising through the ranks to hold a clutch of top Government jobs, including that of Education Secretary, she lost her seat, renamed Hertford and Stevenage, in 1979 to Conservative Bowen Wells, when Margaret Thatcher swept to power.

When the seat was abolished at the 1983 General Election, he went on to become the member for Hertford and Stortford.

Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishops Stortford. Baroness Shirley Williams giving short talk before film screening as part of the centres WW1 events. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (46092915)
Rhodes Arts Complex, Bishops Stortford. Baroness Shirley Williams giving short talk before film screening as part of the centres WW1 events. .Pic: Vikki Lince. (46092915)

Meanwhile, Mrs Williams won the Crosby by-election in 1981, becoming the SDP's first MP, but lost the seat in 1983. Her efforts to win a seat for the party in Cambridge failed in 1987.

A Harvard professor, she became a Liberal Democrat peer in 1993 as Baroness Williams of Crosby, of Stevenage in Herts and was the party's leader in the House of Lords from 2001 to 2004. Her second husband, fellow Harvard professor and presidential historian Richard Neustadt, died in 2003.

Baronesss Williams retired from Parliament in 2016. However, she remained an activist and was a regular speaker and fundraiser for the Lib Dems locally, with close links to the Saffron Walden constituency, where she supported General Election campaigns.

She was also a familiar face in Bishop's Stortford, for example speaking to students at Bishop's Stortford College in 2017 and visiting the then Rhodes Arts Complex in October 2018 to introduce a screening of Testament of Youth, an adaptation of a novel written by her mother Vera Brittain.

Shirley Williams with Liberal Democrat General Election candidate Mike Hibbs (46093409)
Shirley Williams with Liberal Democrat General Election candidate Mike Hibbs (46093409)

It reflected the author's experiences of the First World War, when she postponed her studies at Oxford University to serve as a Voluntary Aid Detachment nurse in London and abroad.

Baroness Williams's father was the political scientist Sir George Catlin.



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