Sydney Herbert Smith, Methodist local preacher and Labour politician, was born in London on 27 April 1885 to a family coming from Birmingham via Ipswich. Charles Hedges, his maternal grandfather, had been Disraeli's agent. Smith's cousin in Goole was a newsagent and he became one of his newspaper sellers. By eighteen he had moved to Hull to establish his own newspaper business, subsequently expanded to selling Fabian pamphlets. He joined the Independent Labour Party during the Edwardian age and was in Russia at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution; this left a lasting influence on his politics. Subsequently he went to Ruskin College, Oxford, and then read modern history at St. Catherine's College.
A bachelor, he was elected to Hull City Council in 1923 and served almost continuously until 1942, being Lord Mayor in 1940. From 1945 to 1950 he represented Hull South-West in Parliament. In the early 1970s he made a bequest to Hull University's Department of Economics and Social History for a lecture programme which continued until 1988 and again from 2010. The city's Sydney Smith School, named after him, was opened in 1967. He died on 12 June 1984.