Nicholas Hall Freeman (25 July 1939 - 11 November 1989), OBE (1985)
was the Conservative Party leader of the London Royal Borough of
Kensington and Chelsea Council in the
United Kingdom from 1977 until
1989; he was also its mayor in 1988.
He was educated at Stoneygate School, Leicester, and King's School,
Canterbury, and admitted a solicitor in 1962. In 1968 he was called to
the Bar by the Middle Temple, and practised thereafter at the Criminal
Bar. He was appointed a Recorder in 1985.
Living in Harrington Gardens, South Kensington, he became Chairman of
the Courtfield Ward Committee of the Chelsea Conservative Association,
which gave him a position on the association's Executive Committee. A
fine speaker with a powerful personality and strong political
ambitions, Freeman was elected to Chelsea Borough Council in 1968. He
became Chairman of the Borough Planning Committee shortly after being
elected to the council, and made a particular effort to clear up what
he called "the sore thumb in the Royal Borough", the sometimes seedy
Earls Court Underground Station.
He stood as the Conservative Party candidate for
Hartlepool in both
the February 1974 and October 1974 general elections, and when Sir
Brandon Rhys Williams, Conservative Member of Parliament for
Kensington, died suddenly in 1988, Freeman had high hopes of
succeeding him. He failed to secure a nomination, which was no doubt
partly explained by a number of previous controversies: the Old Town
Hall crisis, his virulent opposition to the Community Charge (also
called the "poll tax"), and by dubious rumours of his involvement in a
plot to unseat the late incumbent.
Nicholas Freeman had long been a controversial figure: in 1982 he had
provoked a storm of opposition amongst people of all political
persuasions by using his powers as council leader, without consulting
colleagues, to order the overnight destruction of Kensington's fine
Italianate Town Hall on Kensington High Street. The
building was due to be given special Listed Status on the Monday, but
at 3 a.m. on the day before the façade was smashed to pieces by
demolition experts. The
Royal Fine Art Commission
Royal Fine Art Commission condemned the action
as "official vandalism... decided upon covertly, implemented without
warning and timed deliberately to thwart known opposition".
At constituency level also he met outspoken opposition, particularly
Conservative Monday Club
Conservative Monday Club activist Gregory Lauder-Frost, his Ward
Committee Secretary and also a member of the Chelsea Association's
Executive. Lauder-Frost left the Ward Committee, and when he was
nominated to stand as a local councillor for the North Stanley Ward,
Freeman spoke strongly against him at the selection meeting.
Lauder-Frost was, as a result, not selected.
Freeman remained unrepentant, arguing that by selling off the old town
hall site for development the council would be able to build a more
efficient and economically run town hall around the corner. Freeman
was particularly criticised for failing to find an alternative use for
the building. He survived the storm, doubtless helped by the fact that
he dominated the council to a degree unusual among municipal leaders,
but there was little comfort for the ratepayers: the cost of the new
town hall far exceeded his original estimates.
Freeman had also came under a lot of criticism for taking little real
interest in North Kensington, where poverty and racial tension
contrasted uneasily with areas of immense wealth. He vigorously
implemented the Conservative government's curbs on local authority
spending and was able to claim that his council had the smallest staff
per head of population of any British borough. It was also the first
London borough to hand over some of the responsibility for rubbish
collection to private enterprise.
In addition, Freeman was a member of the influential Conservative
Central Office Policy Group for London which paved the way for the
abolition of the Labour-controlled Greater London Council.
His rejection in 1988 as Conservative Party candidate for Kensington
was a bitter disappointment which, he felt, ended his hopes of ever
reaching Westminster. Freeman was elected
Mayor of the Royal Borough
of Kensington and Chelsea in 1988, resigned as Leader of the council
the next year, and announced his intention of retiring from the
council altogether in 1990. Colleagues were surprised at his decision,
for the borough seemed to be Freeman's whole life. He spent almost
every evening at the town hall either doing council business or
entertaining in his room. He never married.
Massingberd, Hugh, (editor) The Daily Telegraph Fourth Book of
Obituaries - Rogues, Macmillan Publishers Ltd., London, 1998, pps: