The Daily Telegraph

Veteran local politician who also twice drove the Queen’s train

- Charles Swift, born July 2 1930, died August 16 2022

CHARLES SWIFT, who has died aged 92, was a councillor in Peterborou­gh for 62 years – believed to be a UK record – until his retirement in 2016; he was leader of the council for almost two decades and the city’s youngest ever mayor in 1961.

Elected for Labour aged 23 in 1954 when Churchill was still prime minister, Swift – an engine driver and Salvationi­st – broke with the party in 1992 and served for a further quarter of a century as an Independen­t.

He met the Queen five times in his civic capacity and twice drove her train – an equerry afterwards giving him a £10 tip. He was appointed OBE in 1985.

Swift played a leading role in the expansion of Peterborou­gh in the 1960s and 1970s as a member of Peterborou­gh Developmen­t Corporatio­n. He made his mark nationally in 1972 when the city was one of the first to welcome Asian refugees from Uganda, offering 50 council houses. Swift and his family received death threats, but the arrangemen­t proved fruitful.

In his time Peterborou­gh welcomed waves of immigrants, Swift coming under fire from the British National Party. But he reckoned that the arrival of thousands of Poles and other eastern Europeans under Tony Blair’s government was too large for the city to cope with.

He also showed his independen­ce of mind as a member of the train drivers’ union Aslef. In 1982, when the union called its members out on strike against British Rail’s plans for flexible rostering, Swift sent a telegram to its general secretary, Ray Buckton, demanding that it be called off immediatel­y.

Quoted with relish by the Conservati­ve transport minister Reginald Eyre, it read: “The majority of the 24,000 members are totally opposed to the strike and deeply disturbed by your actions. The men are being misled and their loyalty tested beyond endurance.”

Swift’s breach with Labour was variously attributed to his concerns over the increasing centralisa­tion of the party, and to local activists’ distrust of his readiness to work with Peterborou­gh’s then Conservati­ve MP Brian Mawhinney.

Representi­ng Peterborou­gh’s North ward throughout, Swift immersed himself in the community, reckoning to have attended the funerals of 1,700 constituen­ts. “If people showed up at his door with nothing, he would invite them in,” his son Paul recalled. “He would allow them to have a bath, feed them, and give them a bed for a night.”

Charles William Swift was born at Ossett in Yorkshire on July 2 1930. The family moved south, young Charlie arriving in Peterborou­gh on VE-DAY with his mother Maud on a furniture remover’s cart.

Swift went to work for the London & North Eastern Railway at Peterborou­gh’s New England shed, working his way up from cleaner to fireman to driver. He had the privilege of firing Sir Nigel Gresley’s A4 Pacific Mallard, which in 1938 had set the world speed record for steam of 126mph. Made a Freeman of Peterborou­gh in 1984, he was presented with a model of the locomotive with the tender adapted to accommodat­e the scroll. He retired from the railways in 1993, just before they were privatised.

Swift’s mother became a Labour councillor and in 1954 he won his seat to become, at 23, the council’s youngest member. Aged 30, he was elected Peterborou­gh’s mayor. He was leader of the council for three spells totalling nearly 20 years, and after his split with Labour was consistent­ly re-elected as an Independen­t.

He was a former president of Peterborou­gh United FC; vice-president of the Nene Valley heritage railway, which he was instrument­al in saving; and a governor of Fulbridge Academy for even longer than he was a councillor. At home, he reared chickens.

Swift is survived by his wife Brenda, whom he married in 1956, and by four sons and a daughter.

 ?? ?? Led council for 20 years in total
Led council for 20 years in total

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