Barbara Castle (1910 - 2002) was the first female cabinet minister. Her most notable contributions were in the following posts:
Minister of Transport (1965 - 1966)
Responsible for the introduction of the 70 mph speed limit; seatbelts made compulsory for cars; breathalysers for enforcing the drink-driving limit
Secretary of State for Employment (1968 - 1972)
Equal pay laws
Secretary of State for Social Services (1974 - 1976)
Earnings-related pensions; changes in child benefits
7th June - 12th July 2003
The exhibition commemorated the remarkable life of one of the best-known politicians of the Twentieth Century. M.P. for Blackburn from 1945 - 1979, Barbara Castle blazed a trail for women in politics.
Illustrations of the fascinating personal and political life of the "Red Queen" were displayed from items borrowed from members of Baroness Castle's family, the National Portrait Gallery, the National Museum of Labour History and the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television.
The exhibition was supported by the Lancashire Partnership for Road Safety, the campaign to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on our roads. The Partnership aims to prevent road deaths and injuries through intensive publicity and education initiatives supported by high profile enforcement.
Sixty years ago on July 5th 1945 the voters of Blackburn elected Barbara Castle to represent them in parliament. Barbara Castle was born Barbara Betts on October 6th 1911 in Chesterfield. Her father was a tax inspector and his job required the family to move, first to Hull, then Pontefract and then Bradford. Barbara attended Bradford Girls' Grammar School and became Head Girl. From there she won a scholarship to St Hugh's College, Oxford.
After college Barbara went into journalism, contributing to the Daily Mirror, where she met Ted Castle, whom she later married. The wedding took place in Paddington as the V1 rockets were falling. They spent their honeymoon in Cornwall. The couple were united by their passion for socialism.
Barbara Castle was the Member of Parliament for Blackburn from 1945 - 1979. Often described as 'radical' and 'outspoken', she paved the way for women in politics.
Barbara Anne Betts was born in Yorkshire in 1910. Her father was a tax-inspector with strong socialist ideals. From an early age Barbara and her older siblings (Marjorie and Jimmie) were taught to have opinions on every subject. Their house was full of books and visitors. During the depression of the 1920s Barbara's mother opened a soup kitchen for out-of-work miners and their families. So it was from a true socialist background that she came.
She studied at Oxford, graduating with a 3rd class degree at the beginning of the 1930s. After this she took several jobs in shops, becoming involved in politics through trade unions and the local Labour Party. She then moved to London to pursue a career as a journalist.
She was a member of the Women's Voluntary Service in London during the war. Her first public political role was as a councillor for St. Pancras ward.
By Rebecca Hill
In 1945 Barbara Castle stood for election in Blackburn.
When she was elected Member of Parliament for Blackburn one of the first things she did was to spend two weeks learning about the cotton industry. She spent the first week at a technical college in Manchester, where she learnt weaving, spinning and other skills used daily in Blackburn.
The second week was spent living with a family near Preston. She accompanied the family to work each day, and undertook all the tasks that were required of her. She felt that this helped her to have a better understanding of her constituents' needs.
Having grown up in industrial towns in the north, Barbara always felt at home in Blackburn, despite the fact she never actually lived here. During her time in the constituency she stayed in hotels in Blackburn.
She became a well-known figure around the town. She was the first M.P. to introduce the idea of 'surgeries' with her constituents. This practice is widespread today.
Her time as M.P. for Blackburn ended in 1979, when she decided not to stand for re-election. In 1990 she took the title Baroness Castle of Blackburn after the constituency she represented for 34 years.
By Rebecca Hill
Careers in politics beckoned them both: Ted served on the GLC and Barbara was elected MP for Blackburn. The election was a landslide victory for Labour, sweeping away Churchill and the Conservative majority in Parliament. Barbara built a reputation for herself as a conscientious, hard-working, tenacious back-bencher. It wasn't until Harold Wilson was elected in 1964 that she gained ministerial responsibility, first at Overseas Development, then Transport, and later Employment and Productivity.
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In April 1977 Barbara announced her intention not to stand again for parliament. Jack Straw was selected to replace her. In 1979 Barbara was elected Member of European Parliament for Greater Manchester North and served for the next ten years. In 1990 she took a seat in the House of Lords.. At the beginning of 2002 Barbara suffered a fall at her home. She died on May 3rd 2002.
When Barbara was born in 1910 women did not have the vote, yet by the end of the 1960s she was one of the four most powerful people in the country.
She had always held a strong belief in her right to take her place in the male-dominated world of politics. Whilst she was a councillor for St. Pancras council the leader of the council referred to her repeatedly as 'the charming young lady'. She lost her temper and retorted "Mr. Mayor, can questions of sex attraction or no sex attraction be left out of considerations of this Council?" This led to her first national newspaper headline, 'She Bans Flattery', in The Daily Mail on May 27, 1938.
She never saw the fact that she was a woman as being important in her decisions to promote women's rights. It was her belief that everybody deserved an equal chance, regardless of gender or race which inspired her to fight for reforms in the law.
She was rarely described as a 'female politician' but as a 'politician' who happened to be a woman. Despite this, she would never allow anyone to take her photograph until she had done her hair and her make-up!
By Rebecca Hill
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This was the title (suggested by Mrs. Castle's husband Ted) of the White Paper which nearly ruined Barbara Castle's career, and almost brought down the Wilson government. It proposed reforms to the trade unions which would have curbed workers' rights to strike.
The government was having a great deal of trouble with workers holding unofficial strikes. The proposed legislation recommended enforcing fines on trade unions which refused to hold strike ballots or to agree to a 28 day 'cooling off' period before strikes.
This added to the continuing disputes between the government and the trade unions. It was another example of Barbara's insistence on doing what she believed was the right thing, rather than the easy thing. The continuing trouble caused by the publication of this paper is one of the reasons often cited for Labour's defeat in the 1970 General Election.
By Rebecca Hill
Barbara Castle was responsible for the introduction of major road safety laws that we take for granted today. However, if she the choice had been hers, she would never have been Minister of Transport.
When Harold Wilson appointed Barbara to the post she was less than enthusiastic. She loved her job at the Ministry of Overseas Development, and felt she was making a real difference there. Her only hope of remaining in the department was to point out to Harold Wilson that she couldn't drive. When she told him this, his response was "I think that is a good thing. We cannot have Ministers of Transport knocking down people on pedestrian crossings."
Her three most important contributions to this department were:
• The introduction of the 70 mph speed limit.
• Passing laws to make it illegal to drive with more than 80 mg blood alcohol limit (2 units) and compulsory breathalysing to enforce this.
• Making it compulsory for cars to be fitted with seatbelts. She was not able to pass laws to make it necessary for people to wear them.
Her most controversial act at the Ministry of Transport was the launch of the Breathalyser. Despite a good deal of opposition it was used from 1967 onwards. The institute of alcohol estimates that Barbara Castle's laws may have saved up to 62 000 lives.