Political Biographies of the Mayors of Portsmouth (1836-1900)

MAYORALTY:- November 9th 1897-1898.
PROFESSION:- Boot manufacturer.
FIRST ELECTED TO COUNCIL:- 1st November 1888.
WARD:- St Mark
OTHER CIVIC POSITIONS HELD:- Magistrate 10th December 1900. Guardian.
RESIDENCE:- Rowlands Castle.
DECEASED:- 25th December 1922. Aged 75
BURIED:- Kingston Cemetery.
Gates writes, 'Throughout his public career . . . . he was an unobtrusive worker, assiduous and faithful, as a magistrate his leaning was to mercy's side; as a Guardian he displayed sound sympathy, with deserving and innovate charity he was never asked in vain." In common with previous mayor, George Couzens, Kimber was also Congregationalist and both at one time lived in Kingston Crescent.
Born in Portsmouth in 1847 Kimber was one of eighteen children. (1) His career in the leather trade commenced when he went to work for Mr Watkins, a tanner and carrier of Portsea & Titchfield, whose daughter he married. He next went into partnership with his late father William Kimber (also a councillor, All Saints 1881) trading as Kimber & Son from Commercial Road. His public life commenced in 1888 at the age of 41 when he became an Overseerer and later a Guardian. In 1892 he was Chairman of the Guardians when they bought the ground at the back of the Union House for recreational purposes - this eventually became Copnor Recreation ground.
At the council committee session in October 1897 Harry Kimber, albeit with some reluctance, allowed his name to go forward for next mayor. Perhaps the reason for this was that as mayor designate knew he had a ward election to face on the 1st November. But there was no difficulty, Kimber's winning margin was a comfortable 534 votes.
By now mayor makings had become social affairs. Alderman Tom Scott Foster did the honours noting Kimber had been a good committee man plus he had a wife and two daughters to help him. Thus the fifty year old Kimber was duly elected unanimously. In 1897 Portsmouth was experiencing a problem with its privately owned water supply and due to contamination in the Bedhampton works area the population was reporting numerous cases diarrhoea. In his acceptance speech Kimber outlined his ambitions for the forthcoming year. Inter alia he said he hoped something would be done to improve the quality of the water. But still the council declined to municipalise the undertaking.
On the 12th February the cruiser HMS St George returned having given outstanding service in West Africa. To mark the occasion the mayor hosted a banquet in the Town Hall. On February 22nd the new Workhouse Infirmary was opened and on May 14th a new Drill Hall for the 2nd Hants Artillery Volunteers was opened by General Sir George Willis in St Paul's Road. The big event for the summer in Portsmouth was the Royal Counties Agricultural Show. He supported extensions of technical education and scholarships were established.
Kimber also supported ambitions to municipalise Portsmouth's dilapidated and fragmented tramways. A committee had been set up in 1896 and lot of work was put into promoting a private Bill under the 1870 Tramways Act. In February the mayor led a deputation to Parliament to negotiate with agents who specialised in drafting such Bills. If passed the Act would give the Corporation the power to purchase the lines, at an agreed price, from the private owners. The wisdom of this proposal was doubted in some circles. Would the Borough be saddled with crippling debt burden for a number of years? There was some talk of a lease back deal being the preferred option whereby the current owners would sell to the corporation but continue to run the undertaking and pay a rent to the council. In March the Bill reached the House of Lords and agreement seemed close. (3) In the event no immediate consensus was reached. The effort was fruitless thus by comparison Kimber's was perhaps a disappointing year. The Corporation had to wait until 1900 before the Tramways became Borough property.
Kimber, who had not enjoyed the best of health throughout his tenure, was seen as a competent rather than brilliant mayor. At the conclusion, both he and his wife, were duly thanked for their services. He declined to accept the offer of a further term. In common with other mayors he was a noted Freemason. In politics he was a Liberal. In private life he was married (wife pre deceased him on 2nd July 1909) with two sons and several daughters.
Norman Gordon
Obituaries Evening News 27th December 1922. Portsmouth Times 29th December 1922.
1. Portsmouth Times 16th October 1897.
2. Portsmouth Times November 13th 1897.
3. Portsmouth Times 26th March 1898.