James Henry John Matthews was born in 1887, the eldest of the nine children of a bricklayer and his wife. He became an apprentice in Portsmouth Dockyard and later a shipwright and naval architect. During the First World War he worked as an Admiralty overseer on the Clyde, and later in Whitehall.

In 1910 he started a four-year course at the Workers' Educational Association. He was offered a scholarship to Cambridge University in 1913, but did not take it. From 1921 he was the first secretary of the Southern District WEA, and from 1924 this was his full-time job. He started the Anglo-German Summer School in 1924 and was later involved in restarting it in 1951 after the Second World War.

He moved to Southampton in 1929 and became a co-opted member of the Southampton Borough Education Committee in 1930. He stood as a Labour candidate in the local elections unsuccessfully five times before being elected in 1934. He remained a councillor until 1945, when he became an Alderman.

He was active on the Education Committee and also in Town Planning from 1945 to 1967, and influential in the post-war rebuilding of Southampton. He helped to get the city permission to build the Itchen Bridge.

Matthews was also the chair of the Art Gallery Committee (later including Museums) from 1953 to 1967. He was involved with the Open University from 1969, and also on Southampton University committees. He was knighted in 1966. Lectures at Southampton University in his memory began in 1983, but were discontinued some time after 2011. The Sir James Matthews building, part of Southampton Solent University, is named after him. He died in 1981.

Matthews, Sir James

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Campaign literature, probably 1932, reproduced in WEA Journal, 1981, vol 8

Matthews, Sir James

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Photograph from the Southern Evening Echo, 11/05/1984


Ald. J. H. Matthews to be an Honorary Freeman - (Southern Daily Echo 22/05/1958)
Ald. Matthews receives Southampton's Freedom - (Southern Evening Echo 18/11/1958)
Southampton's Ald. Matthews becomes "Sir Jim" - (Southern Evening Echo 01/01/1966)
Arise, Sir James, and Soton says "Aye" - (Southern Evening Echo 02/03/1966)
WEA Southern District Journal: Memorial Edition for Sir James Matthews - (Autumn 1981, vol 8)
Papers of Sir James Matthews - (Southampton City Record Office, no date)


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