The man from the ministry

THE life of a Lancaster man who went from humble beginnings to become minister in a pioneering government is now archived at a regional museum.

Documents relating to Maurice Webb, Food Minister in the

government created after the landslide Labour victory in 1945, have recently been donated to the People's History Museum in Manchester by Gareth Webb, the newly-appointed chairman of the Lancaster and Fleetwood Constituency Labour Party.

At some time in the future, Gareth hopes to follow his illustrious

ancestor's footsteps into Parliament.

Gareth's second name is Maurice, after his political forebear, and his own father, Haldane, who has Maurice as his second name.

And it's Haldane who told us the story of his famous cousin.

Maurice Webb was born in Lancaster in 1904 and spent his early life in the city.

Haldane said: "Maurice was a rather sickly child. He had tuberculosis.

He ended up with just one lung and spent some time in the

sanatorium at the end of the Quay.

The family lived in Park Road and Maurice went to Christ Church School but had very little schooling. He was self-taught.

He was also a Methodist preacher. At 14, he used to tour the Methodist churches in the area and was known as 'the boy preacher'.

Through his preaching, Maurice honed his public speaking skills while his political values came from his family.

His grandfather was a Liberal but the Webb family's Socialist

principles sat better with the the young Labour Party as it started to develop.

"Maurice became involved with the Labour League of Youth and I think he was one of the people who set it up throughout the country.

"He became secretary and from that his Socialist principles evolved," said Haldane.

While still in his early 20s, Maurice became agent for Sir Percival Davies, who was standing for parliament in Skipton.

Through this work, Maurice became very well thought of in the Labour Party, and Herbert Morrison, who later became Deputy Prime Minister and is the grandfather of Peter Mandelson, was his mentor.

Around this time, Maurice became a political journalist, working for

several national newspapers and was so successful he was one of the

highest-paid freelances in the country.

But it was in 1945 that Maurice's political ambitions were finally realised when he was elected as MP for Bradford Central.

Haldane has the original election address Maurice gave in 1945 and a copy of this along with other

documents have now been given to the People's History Museum.

1945 was no ordinary General Election. It was the first to be held after World War Two and everyone had expected wartime leader Winston Churchill to romp home.

However, Labour won a landslide victory and Clement Attlee became Prime Minister. His government saw the establishment of the National Health Service, the creation of British Rail, and the nationalisation of

industries such as coal mining and steel.

Maurice rose through the ranks pretty swiftly, being appointed as Food Minister in 1950 – a key job at a time when the country was still living with rationing.

But even though they had a relation in high places, the Webb family didn't receive any special treatment, as Haldane explained.

"My sister was getting married at the time and she had to go to the Food Office in Queen Street in Lancaster to get coupons for a wedding cake.

"The person behind the counter said surely with her cousin being Food Minister there should be no problem getting a cake?

"But my sister explained we had to be treated like everyone else."

Haldane did meet his famous cousin on a couple of occasions when Maurice returned to visit his parents George and Annie Webb, who by that time had moved into a council house in Langdale Road.

Maurice came from a large family. His youngest brother Harold also became a journalist, starting off at the Lancaster Guardian and going on to work for the Daily Herald.

He joined the BBC and eventually became Washington correspondent. He was later replaced by John Humphries.

Unfortunately, Maurice Webb's political career was shortlived.

The boundary of his Bradford constituency was changed to include a traditional Conservative area and he was defeated at the 1955 election.

However, the reputation he had built there meant that the big majority the Tories had previously enjoyed was significantly reduced.

A few years prior to this election, Maurice's health had deteriorated.

A tumour was found on his leg, which was subsequently, amputated but he was unable to have a false leg.

Maurice died on June 10, 1956, but thanks to the family he left behind, the work of this political pioneer will be remembered for generations.

louise.bryning@lancasterguardian.co.uk.