Family History Society, North Northumberland branch

William Beveridge
William Beveridge

The North Northumberland branch of the Family History Society met in Belford, with 22 people present, some for the first time.

The chairman paid tribute to and invited members to remember Donald McIlhagga (former chairman), who had died since the last meeting He had represented the Society at Donald’s funeral service in Norham Church and contact had been made with the family.

The talk was by Mike Fraser onWilliam Beveridge – the Man, the Report and the Berwick Division.

Few former civil servants and parliamentarians have had as much effect on most people’s lives in this country as William Beveridge.

Mike started researching his life three years ago and as a result of consulting archive material, re-reading his books and talking with family members and those who knew him, has come to a fresh appreciation of his character and achievement.

Beveridge was born in Rangpur, India (1879) but educated in England.

Personal influences in early life led him to be interested in social reform and in better use of man power through creating labour exchanges.

His First World War contribution to the Civil Service in the shaping of man power policies so impressed, that he was knighted at the end of the conflict.

In 1919, he became director of the London School of Economics and in 1937, was elected Master of University College, Oxford.

Once the Second World War began, the Ministry of Health, looking forward to peace-time and trying to avoid the failures of the post-war depression of the means-tested 1920s and 30s, created a committee to explore issues of social insurance and related matters and invited Beveridge to chair it.

Beveridge felt that this would be a distraction from his other work, but his wife (he married Janet Mair in 1942) persuaded him to do it.

The report on Social Insurance and Allied Services was published and submitted to Parliament in 1942, and at 2/- a copy, sold widely.

The Press (British, French and American) were enthusiastic, the mood of the country post - El Alamein was upbeat, but the National Government under Churchill still had other prior concerns.

It was the landslide Labour Government led by Atlee who implemented the proposals. The essence of the proposals were: That all should be in a scheme of national insurance, providing cash benefits for security in return for a simple weekly contribution; to introduce a scheme for children’s allowances for earners and non-earners, and to provide an all-in scheme of medical treatment of all kinds, for all citizens.

Beveridge reported on Pathé News that no-one would fall below a certain standard and that people would be free to spend above that as they choose and that this would bring maximum personal freedom and responsibility. Seventy years on, all can see how this has shaped our life as a nation.

Beveridge’s initial contacts with Northumberland were through his wife’s family, who lived near Hexham.

He was persuaded to stand as a Liberal for Berwick upon Tweed in the 1944 General Election and campaigned on the basis of Social Security for all, jobs for all and the defence of rural life.

He was elected on a large majority and he and his wife made Tughall, near Beadnell, their main home.

The General Election in the following year brought a serious reverse for Beveridge, with a Conservative nominee who won with 43.9 per cent of the vote.

He was offered a peerage (becoming Baron Beveridge of Tughall) and became leader of the Liberal peers in the House of Lords.

His wife served in local politics on Belford Rural District Council and in 1947 he was made chairman of the Newton Aycliffe and Peterlee Development Corporations.

Throughout the talk, our speaker commented how various people experienced Beveridge’s personality. Some found him delightful, friendly and helpful whilst to others he seemed autocratic, distant and elitist.

Dying in 1963, his last words were ‘I have a thousand things to do.’ He was buried in Northumberland beside his wife in Thockrington churchyard.

At the next meeting, on Saturday, March 15, at Bell View, Belford, Derek Cutts will talk on A predilection for Steep Banks: The Morpeth to Coldstream Turnpike Road, c1750-1850.