There was a disappointing attendance for the first meeting of Belford and District Local History Society’s new season, although we were delighted to attract four new members.
After a short AGM, one of these new members, Mike Fraser, gave a most interesting talk on Sir William Beveridge, his report, and his short-lived career as Member of Parliament for the Berwick Division.
Mike brought the complex character of Sir William vividly to life, and outlined his important and varied career before and during the Second World War.
Particularly interesting was the brief excerpt from a Pathe newsreel which allowed us to actually see and hear the man himself.
His report, which proposed a minimum standard of living below which no one should be allowed to fall, paid for by national insurance, was produced in 1942, when Sir William was Master of University College, Oxford.
We found the idea that his Government report was a ‘best-seller’ a little unusual, but it was the enthusiasm with which his report was received which helped sweep Beveridge into Parliament when the serving Berwick MP was killed in Normandy.
With his wife, he settled at Tughall Hall.
His time in parliament, however, was brief, as he lost to the Conservatives in the 1945 election when, for the first time since the outbreak of war, party politics once more played a significant part in elections.
At this time the perception of Beveridge as an outsider, as well as his own lack of charisma, allowed the local man, Lieut Col Thorpe to take the seat.
Beveridge did not abandon the North East, however, playing a significant part in the post war development of Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee, before finally returning to Oxford, where he spent the rest of his life.
Although it fell to the post war Labour Government to implement Beveridge’s plans, few men in the 20th century were responsible for such a radical change in the lives of their countrymen, as Beveridge was.