Sir (John) William Bowen (8 May 1876 - 1 April 1965) was a postal worker, trade unionist and Labour Party politician.

Born in a small village near Swansea, he was the son of a railway signalman. He left school at the age of 11 to work as a telegraph messenger for the Post Office. He was promoted to be a telegraphist at the age of 15, shortly thereafter becoming a postman. When his father died he was aged 17 and he became the sole wage earner for a family of eight. He improved his education by attending night classes.

In 1891 he joined the Postmen's Federation, becoming chairman of the union in 1914. He became active in the Labour Party, and stood unsuccessfully at Newport, Monmouthshire at the 1918 general election. In 1919 he became General Treasurer of the Postmen's Federation and secretary of the union's friendly society. This involved him moving to London.

Bowen successfully advocated the amalgamation of the unions of workers in the postal service, and when, later in 1919 a single Union of Post Office Workers was formed he became its General Secretary.

He again attempted to gain a parliamentary seat at Newport on four occasions between 1922 and 1924 but was rejected by the electorate each time. At the 1929 general election he instead contested the Cheshire seat of Crewe and was elected to the House of Commons. He was defeated at next election in 1931 and failed to regain the seat in 1935. He was awarded the CBE in 1939 "for services to the Air Ministry".[1]

He entered local politics when he was selected to fill a war-time vacancy in the representation of Wandsworth Central in February 1940. He held the seat when the next county council was held in 1946 but was defeated by a Conservative Party opponent in 1949. He remained a member of the council however, when the Labour Party, who had lost their overall majority, used the power to appoint a chairman from outside the council. He served as Chairman of the County Council from 1949-52. In 1951 the Labour Party regained its majority of council seats and Bowen was made an alderman. He was knighted in 1953,[2] and retired from the county council in 1961.

Outside of local government he was a member of a number of government committees, chairman of the North East Metropolitan Regional Hospital Board of the National Health Service and a founder and chairman of the Workers Travel Association.

He was an enthusiastic supporter of Ruskin College, Oxford, joining its governing council in 1923 and serving as chairman from 1948 until his death. The Workers Travel Association endowed the "Sir William Bowen Scholarship" to enable an overseas student to study at Ruskin and for a Ruskin student to study abroad in alternating years.


  • "Obituary: Sir William Bowen". The Times: p. 18. 2 April 1965. 
  • "Sir William Bowen". 7 April 1965. p. 14. 

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