The Right Honourable William Edward Forster, M.P.

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Bradpole’s most famous son is probably William Edward Forster. In 1861 he was elected MP for Bradford and entered Government in 1865. He was responsible for carrying the Education Act of 1870 through the House of Commons and was committed to universal education.

William Edward Forster, a typical nineteenth century Radical, was born in Bradpole on 11 July 1818, the only son of William Forster and Anna Buxton. A serious child, who was reputed to have talked politics with his parents before he learnt to play with children of his own age.

He eventually settled in Burley-in-Wharfedale, Yorkshire, and became the Liberal MP for Bradford in 1861 a seat which he held until his death in 1886.

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Memorial tablet to W.E. Forster at Burley-in-Wharfedale

His great achievement was the successful creation of the framework for a state education system, which is still recognisable today. Until the Forster Act, education was not provided systematically but through a mixture of private enterprise, voluntary organisations, charitable foundations and the churches. Forster’s solution accepted the role of the church schools but provided for the establishment of schools run by directly elected school boards, funded from the rates.

He was also the Chief Secretary for Ireland in Gladstone’s Government of the early 1880’s. This was a difficult period in Anglo/Irish affairs which led to several assassination attempts on his life which he was fortunate to escape. He resigned the post on May 2nd 1882 and his successor, Lord Frederick Cavendish, was murdered in Phoenix Park Dublin on May 6th 1882 just days after taking up the post.

In 1889, the Forster Memorial Institute in Bradpole old village was built by public subscription and opened the following year.

There are a number of other memorials to W.E. Forster including on the wall of the north choir aisle of Westminster Abbey where there is a white marble tablet, with a portrait relief.

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The inscription reads:”The Right Honourable William Edward Forster, M.P. Born July 11 1818. Died April 5 1886. To his wisdom and courage England owes the establishment throughout the land of a national system of elementary education”

Forster’s life was recorded in 1882 by T Wemyss Reid in a two volume work entitled

“The life of The Right Honorable William Edward Forster”

A copy of this work is to be found in the library of Forde Abbey. A few sentences relating to Forster’s early life in Bradpole were read at the July 2018 Bradpole Parish Council meeting in commemoration of the bicentenary of his birth.