Webb, Martha Beatrice, 1858-1943, wife of 1st Baron Passfield, social reformer and historian

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Beatrice and Sidney Webb pooled their respective talents into writing joint works on economic and social issues. They spent 25 years researching and writing their nine-volume English Local Government from the Reformation to the Municipal Corporations Act (Longmans and Co, 1906-1929, and produced other relevant works on the poor law and social relief. For a biographical history of Sidney and Beatrice Webb, see the description for the Passfield personal papers (Ref: Passfield).

From the guide to the Materials on Local Government collated by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, 1906-1930, (British Library of Political and Economic Science)

Beatrice Webb, 1858-1943, was born Martha Beatrice Potter at Standish House near Gloucester, she was the eighth daughter of the railway and industrial magnate Richard Potter (1817-1892). Beatrice was educated privately and became a business associate of her father after her mother's death in 1882. She became interested in reform and began to do social work in London. In January 1885 Beatrice became a rent collector and manager for Katharine Buildings in the East End of London. She worked alongside Ella Pycroft, a physician's daughter from Devon. Pycroft had arrived in London in 1883 and spent 5 years working at Katharine Buildings. The property was owned by the East End Dwelling Company and situated in Aldgate. The tenants were casual labourers, dock-workers, porters, hawkers and coster-mongers. Beatrice's task was to collect rents and choose the tenants, replacing them if she felt it to be necessary.

Beatrice investigated working-class conditions as part of the survey 'Life and Labour of the People in London' (1891-1903), directed by her cousin Charles Booth (1840-1916). In 1892 she married Sidney Webb (1859-1947), later Baron Passfield, a member of the socialist Fabian Society. Sidney and Beatrice Webb served on many royal commissions and wrote widely on economic problems. In 1895 they founded the London School of Economics and Political Science. After a tour of the United States and the Dominions in 1898, they embarked on their massive ten-volume work, 'English Local Government' (1906-1929). Beatrice Webb also served on the Poor Law Commission (1906-1909) and was joint author of its minority report. During World War I Beatrice Webb was a member of the War Cabinet committee on women in industry (1918-1919) and served on the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee for women justices (1919-1920), being a justice of the peace herself from 1919 to 1927.

Sidney Webb became an MP in 1922 and held ministerial office in both the early Labour governments. In 1932, after he had left office, the Webbs visited the Soviet Union. They recorded their views in 'Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation' (1935). The Webbs retired to their home in Hampshire in 1928. Beatrice Webb produced two volumes of autobiography: 'My Apprenticeship' (1926) and 'Our Partnership' (1948), which was published after her death. Her publications include: 'The co-operative movement in Great Britain' (1891); 'The history of trade unionism' (1894) (co-author with Sidney Webb); 'The case for the Factory Acts' (1901); 'English Local Government' (1906) (co-author with Sidney Webb); 'The charter of the poor' (1909); 'The break-up of the Poor Law: being part one of the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission' (1909); 'The coming of a unified county medical service and how it will affect the voluntary hospital' (1910); 'Complete national provision for sickness: how to amend the insurance acts' (1912); 'The abolition of the Poor Law' (1918); 'Wages of men and women-should they be equal?' (1919); 'A constitution for the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain' (1920); 'Decay of capitalist civilisation' (1923) Co-author with Sidney Webb; 'My apprenticeship' (1926); 'Soviet Communism: a new civilisation' (1935); 'Our partnership' (1948).

From the guide to the WEBB, Beatrice, 1858-1943: Aldgate papers, 1885-1890, (British Library of Political and Economic Science)

Beatrice Webb, 1858-1943, was born Martha Beatrice Potter at Standish House near Gloucester, she was the eighth daughter of the railway and industrial magnate Richard Potter (1817-1892). Beatrice was educated privately and became a business associate of her father after her mother's death in 1882. She became interested in reform and began to do social work in London. Beatrice investigated working-class conditions as part of the survey 'Life and Labour of the People in London' (1891-1903), directed by her cousin Charles Booth (1840-1916).

In 1892 she married Sidney Webb (1859-1947), later Baron Passfield, a member of the socialist Fabian Society. Sidney and Beatrice Webb served on many royal commissions and wrote widely on economic problems. In 1895 they founded the London School of Economics and Political Science. After a tour of the United States and the Dominions in 1898, they embarked on their massive ten-volume work, 'English Local Government' (1906-1929). Beatrice Webb also served on the Poor Law Commission (1906-1909) and was joint author of its minority report. During World War I Beatrice Webb was a member of the War Cabinet committee on women in industry (1918-1919) and served on the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee for women justices (1919-1920), being a justice of the peace herself from 1919 to 1927.

Sidney Webb became an MP in 1922 and held ministerial office in both the early Labour governments. In 1932, after he had left office, the Webbs visited the Soviet Union. They recorded their views in 'Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation' (1935). The Webbs retired to their home in Hampshire in 1928. Beatrice Webb produced two volumes of autobiography: 'My Apprenticeship' (1926) and 'Our Partnership' (1948), which was published after her death. Her publications include: 'The co-operative movement in Great Britain' (1891); 'The history of trade unionism' (1894) (co-author with Sidney Webb); 'The case for the Factory Acts' (1901); 'English Local Government' (1906) (co-author with Sidney Webb); 'The charter of the poor' (1909); 'The break-up of the Poor Law: being part one of the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission' (1909); 'The coming of a unified county medical service and how it will affect the voluntary hospital' (1910); 'Complete national provision for sickness: how to amend the insurance acts' (1912); 'The abolition of the Poor Law' (1918); 'Wages of men and women-should they be equal?' (1919); 'A constitution for the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain' (1920); 'Decay of capitalist civilisation' (1923) Co-author with Sidney Webb; 'My apprenticeship' (1926); 'Soviet Communism: a new civilisation' (1935); 'Our partnership' (1948).

From the guide to the WEBB, Beatrice, 1858-1943: Board of Trade papers, 1911-1943, (British Library of Political and Economic Science)

Sidney Webb, 1859-1947, the son of an accountant, was born in London on 13 July, 1859. At the age of sixteen Webb became an office clerk but he continued to attend evening classes at the University of London until he acquired the qualifications needed to enter the Civil Service. Webb also contributed to the 'Christian Socialist' and taught at the London Working Men's College. In 1885 he joined the Fabian Society. In 1892 Webb married Beatrice Potter (1958-1943), the social reformer. In the same year he stood as the Fabian Society candidate for Deptford in the London County Council elections. Webb won the seat and he retained it for the next eighteen years. Webb was appointed as Chairman of the Technical Instruction Committee and as a result was known as the Minister of Public Education for London. In 1894 Henry Hutchinson, a wealthy solicitor from Derby, left the Fabian Society £10,000. Sidney and Beatrice Webb suggested that the money should be used to develop a new university in London. The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE) was founded in 1895.

When the Conservative Party won the 1900 General Election, the Webbs drafted what later became the 1902 Education Act. In 1915 Sidney Webb was appointed to the Labour Party National Executive. By 1922 he was Chairman of the National Executive and the following year, in the 1923 General Election, was chosen to represent the Labour Party in the Seaham constituency. Webb won the seat, and when Ramsay MacDonald (1866-1937) became Britain's first Labour Prime Minister in 1924, he appointed Webb as his President of the Board of Trade. Webb left the House of Commons in 1929 when he was granted the title Baron Passfield. Now in the House of Lords, Webb served as Secretary of State for the Colonies in MacDonald's second Labour Government. His publications include: 'The case for an eight hours bill' (1891); 'The History of Trade Unionism' (1894) Co-written with Beatrice Webb; 'Industrial Democracy' (1897) Co-written with Beatrice Webb; 'Facts for Socialists' (1887); 'Facts for Londoners' (1888); 'The Eight Hour Day' (1891); 'English local government' (1906); 'The decline in the birth-rate' (1907); 'The basis & policy of socialism' (1908); 'The Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission' (1909); 'Conscience and the conscientious objector' (1917); 'A constitution for the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain' (1920); 'The decay of capitalist civilisation' (1923); 'English poor law history' (1927); 'Soviet communism: dictatorship or democracy?' (1936).

Beatrice Webb, 1858-1943, was born Martha Beatrice Potter at Standish House near Gloucester, she was the eighth daughter of the railway and industrial magnate Richard Potter (1817-1892). Beatrice was educated privately and became a business associate of her father after her mother's death in 1882. She became interested in reform and began to do social work in London.

Beatrice investigated working-class conditions as part of the survey 'Life and Labour of the People in London' (1891-1903), directed by her cousin Charles Booth (1840-1916). In 1892 she married Sidney Webb (1859-1947), later Baron Passfield, a member of the socialist Fabian Society. Sidney and Beatrice Webb served on many royal commissions and wrote widely on economic problems. In 1895 they founded the London School of Economics and Political Science. After a tour of the United States and the Dominions in 1898, they embarked on their massive ten-volume work, 'English Local Government' (1906-1929). Beatrice Webb also served on the Poor Law Commission (1906-1909) and was joint author of its minority report. During World War I Beatrice Webb was a member of the War Cabinet committee on women in industry (1918-1919) and served on the Lord Chancellor's advisory committee for women justices (1919-1920), being a justice of the peace herself from 1919 to 1927.

Sidney Webb became an MP in 1922 and held ministerial office in both the early Labour governments. In 1932, after he had left office, the Webbs visited the Soviet Union. They recorded their views in 'Soviet Communism: A New Civilisation' (1935). The Webbs retired to their home in Hampshire in 1928. Beatrice Webb produced two volumes of autobiography: 'My Apprenticeship' (1926) and 'Our Partnership' (1948), which was published after her death. Her publications include: 'The co-operative movement in Great Britain' (1891); 'The history of trade unionism' (1894) (co-author with Sidney Webb); 'The case for the Factory Acts' (1901); 'English Local Government' (1906) (co-author with Sidney Webb); 'The charter of the poor' (1909); 'The break-up of the Poor Law: being part one of the Minority Report of the Poor Law Commission' (1909); 'The coming of a unified county medical service and how it will affect the voluntary hospital' (1910); 'Complete national provision for sickness: how to amend the insurance acts' (1912); 'The abolition of the Poor Law' (1918); 'Wages of men and women-should they be equal?' (1919); 'A constitution for the socialist commonwealth of Great Britain' (1920); 'Decay of capitalist civilisation' (1923) Co-author with Sidney Webb; 'My apprenticeship' (1926); 'Soviet Communism: a new civilisation' (1935); 'Our partnership' (1948).

From the guide to the WEBB: First World War Poverty Relief papers, 1914-1915, (British Library of Political and Economic Science)

Beatrice and Sidney Webb were pioneering social economists, early members of the Fabian Society and co-founders of the London School of Economic and Political Science, and had a profound effect on English social thought and institutions.

Beatrice Potter Webb was born in 1858, the eighth daughter of Richard Potter, a wealthy businessman, and Lawrencina Heyworth. Surrounded from an early age by her parents' intellectual and worldly friends and visitors, notably the philosopher Herbert Spencer, she was largely self-educated through copious reading, and frequently a partner for her father during business trips abroad.

Following a tempestuous relationship with Joseph Chamberlain, which began in 1883 and lasted several years, Beatrice took up social work in London, acting as a rent collector for the Charity Organisation Society, and becoming steadily disillusioned by the inability of charitable organisations to tackle the basic causes of poverty. During 1886, she participated in research for Charles Booth's investigations into London labour conditions, eventually contributing to Volume I of Life and Labour of the People of London (1889). During this period she continued to write articles on social subjects, most of which were printed in The nineteenth century , and published The co-operative movement in Great Britain (1891).

She met Sidney Webb in 1890 during research into economic conditions and labour unions. Sidney Webb was born in London in 1859. Educated in the local academy, he left school at sixteen to work as a clerk in a colonial brokers. By attending evening classes, he passed the civil service exams in 1881 and was appointed a clerk in the Inland Revenue. The following year, he took the Civil Service upper division examination and was appointed to the Colonial Office in 1883. He also began lecturing on political economy at the Working Men's College. Webb was a close friend of George Bernard Shaw, who induced him to join the socialist Fabian Society in 1885, where both men became leading members: Webb was responsible for putting forward the first concise expression of Fabian convictions in Facts for Socialists (Fabian Tract 5, 1887). As a member of the Fabian executive, Webb continued to write and lecture extensively on economic and social issues, and took a leading role in Fabian policy-making.

For the year following their first meeting in 1890, Sidney Webb pressed Beatrice to marry him, and she finally agreed in May 1891. They were married in 1892, after the death of Richard Potter, and set up home in London. Sidney left his post in the Civil Service, and the couple lived on Beatrice's inheritance and income derived from books and journalism, in order to dedicate time to social research and political work, though Sidney retained his position on the London County Council (elected for Deptford in 1892, Chairman of the Technical Education Board) and both kept up their association with the Fabian Society, which Beatrice had joined in 1891. They formed a close personal and working relationship.

The Webbs pooled their respective talents into writing joint works on economic and social issues. This partnership produced books such as The history of Trade Unionism, 1666-1920 (1894), Industrial democracy (1897), Problems of Modern Industry (1898), and their great nine-volume English Local Government from the Reformation to the Municipal Corporations Act (Longmans and Co, 1906-1929), which was produced over 25 years. Their work spread into areas such as historical and social research, educational and political reform and journalism, and much of what they produced altered the perceptions of economists and social historians, who had previously ignored the working classes.

Sidney Webb's work on the London County Council (1892-1910) was equally impressive, as he was a prime mover in the reorganisation of the University of London into a federation of teaching institutions, and was closely involved in the drafting of the Conservative Educational Acts of 1902 and 1903.

It was also in this period that the Webbs played a vital part in the founding of the London School of Economics. The LSE owed its existence to the will of Henry Hunt Hutchinson, a provincial member of the Fabian Society, who had left a significant sum of money in trust for 'propaganda and other purposes of the said [Fabian] Society and its Socialism and towards advancing its objects in any way they [the trustees] deem advisable'. The Chairman of the five trustees named in the will was Sidney Webb, who believed the money should be used to encourage research and study of economics. His proposal to establish a Central School of Economic and Political Science in London was accepted by the Trustees in February 1895. Sidney Webb was the driving and organising force in the establishment and early years of the School, providing funding through his connection with the LCC, acting as Chairman of the Hutchinson Trust, the School Trustees and Governors, the Administrative Committee and the Library Committee, as well as being Treasurer and Acting Librarian, and making most of the decisions concerning the choice of Director of the LSE. He was also appointed as Lecturer in Public Administration at LSE, 1895-1912, and Professor of Public Administration in the University of London, 1912-1927. Beatrice undertook the unpaid job of Honorary Visitor from 1895.

Beatrice Webb was appointed as a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Law from 1905 to 1909, and, failing to turn the Commission to her way of thinking, produced a comprehensive policy on pauperism in the form of a minority report, which advocated universal social insurance and outlined a fledgling welfare state. This report was published in 1909 and the Webbs launched a national campaign for the break up of the Poor Law, publishing The prevention of destitution in 1911.

In 1912, Beatrice joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP), and was elected to the Fabian executive, where she set up the Fabian Research Department and promoted joint campaigns of the Fabians and the ILP.

In 1917, Beatrice was appointed to the government Reconstruction Committee, to consider post-war social problems, and sat on the Committee on Women in Industry, producing a minority report in favour of equal pay.

In 1913, the Webbs planned and launched the New Statesman , a political and weekly magazine, funded by themselves and subscribers from the Fabian Society. The journal quickly became a politically independent socialist forum for serious intellectual discussion, political commentary, and criticism, and was soon influential, especially within parliamentary circles. Sidney Webb acted as Director of the Statesman Publishing Company until 1922, and resigned from the Board altogether in 1924.

By 1914, both Webbs were involved with the Labour Party: Sidney became a member of the executive in 1916, and drafted Labour's first policy statement, Labour and the new social order (1918), and stood unsuccessfully as a candidate for London University. He was also nominated by the Miner's Federation to serve on the Sankey Commission on the Coal Mines (1919), which led to his nomination and election as parliamentary candidate for Seaham Harbour, County Durham, in 1922. Sidney Webb held office in both Labour governments, as President of the Board of Trade in 1924 and as Colonial Secretary in 1929, when he was created Lord Passfield. Beatrice published My apprenticeship in 1926.

After a visit to the USSR in 1932, where they were impressed with the Communist system, the Webbs devoted three years to the writing of Soviet Communism: a new civilisation (Longmans and Co, London, 1935). By this time they had retired to Passfield Corner in Hampshire: though Beatrice continued to write, Sidney was incapacitated by a stroke in 1938. Beatrice Webb died in 1943, Sidney Webb in 1947. Both are buried in Westminster Abbey.

From the guide to the Papers of Beatrice and Sidney Webb, including Beatrice Webb's diaries and correspondence, 1835-[1985], (British Library of Political and Economic Science)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf WEBB, Beatrice, 1858-1943: Board of Trade papers, 1911-1943 British Library of Political and Economic Science
creatorOf Papers of Beatrice and Sidney Webb, including Beatrice Webb's diaries and correspondence, 1835-[1985] British Library of Political and Economic Science
creatorOf WEBB: First World War Poverty Relief papers, 1914-1915 British Library of Political and Economic Science
creatorOf Materials on Local Government collated by Sidney and Beatrice Webb, 1906-1930 British Library of Political and Economic Science
creatorOf WEBB, Beatrice, 1858-1943: Aldgate papers, 1885-1890 British Library of Political and Economic Science
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Addison, Christopher, 1869-1951, 1st Viscount Addison, statesman person
associatedWith Argosy Society corporateBody
associatedWith Beveridge, William Henry, 1879-1963, 1st Baron Beveridge of Tuggall, economist person
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associatedWith Board of Education corporateBody
associatedWith Board of Trade corporateBody
associatedWith Booth, Charles, 1840-1916 person
associatedWith Booth, Mary Catherine, 1847-1939 person
associatedWith Chamberlain, Joseph, 1836-1914 person
associatedWith City of London College corporateBody
associatedWith Courtney, Lady, Catherine, 1847-1929, neé Potter, wife of 1st Baron Courtney of Penwith person
associatedWith Cripps, Sir, Richard Stafford, 1889-1952 person
associatedWith Department of Justice corporateBody
associatedWith East End Dwelling Co Ltd corporateBody
associatedWith Fabian Society, Fabian Colonial Bureau corporateBody
associatedWith Fabian Society, Fabian Research Department corporateBody
associatedWith Fabian Society, Fabian Summer School corporateBody
associatedWith Fabian Society, Fabian Women's Group corporateBody
associatedWith Fabian Society, New Fabian Research Bureau corporateBody
associatedWith George, David Lloyd, 1863-1945, 1st Earl Lloyd George of Dwyfor, statesman person
associatedWith Great Britain Board of Trade corporateBody
associatedWith Grigg, Edward William Macleay, 1879-1955, 1st Baron Altrincham, administrator and politician person
associatedWith Haldane, Richard Burdon, 1856-1928, 1st Viscount Haldane of Cloan, politician, lawyer and philosopher person
associatedWith Half-Circle Club, social club for the wives of Labour MPs corporateBody
associatedWith Hall, Hubert, 1857-1944 person
associatedWith Herbert, Auberon Edward William Molyneux, 1838-1906 person
associatedWith Hewins, William Albert Samuel, 1865-1931 person
associatedWith Holt, Sir, Richard Durning, 1868-1941, 1st Baronet, shipowner and politician person
associatedWith Home Office corporateBody
associatedWith ILP, Independent Labour Party corporateBody
associatedWith Inter-Allied Labour and Socialist Conference, 1918 corporateBody
associatedWith International Socialist Congress of Vienna, 1914 corporateBody
associatedWith Labour Party corporateBody
associatedWith Labour Research Department corporateBody
associatedWith LCC, London County Council corporateBody
associatedWith Lloyd, Charles Mostyn, 1878-1946 person
associatedWith LSE, London School of Economics and Political Science corporateBody
associatedWith Mackenzie, Norman, fl 1939-1986 person
associatedWith Marshall, Alfred, 1842-1924 person
associatedWith Martin, Basil Kingsley, 1897-1969 person
associatedWith Mosley, Sir, Oswald Ernald, 1896-1980, 6th Baronet, politician and fascist leader person
associatedWith National Committee for the Prevention of Destitution corporateBody
associatedWith National Poor Law Reform Association corporateBody
associatedWith New Statesman, political journal corporateBody
associatedWith Pease, Edward Reynolds, 1857-1955 person
associatedWith Potter, Lawrencina, 1821-1882 person
associatedWith Potter, Richard, 1817-1892 person
associatedWith Prince of Wales's Fund corporateBody
associatedWith Pycroft, Ella, fl 1885-1890 person
associatedWith Reconstruction Committee, 1916-1918, Control of Industry and Commerce Panel corporateBody
associatedWith Reconstruction Committee, 1916-1918, Machinery of Government Committee corporateBody
associatedWith Reconstruction Committee, 1916-1918, Sub-Committee on Functions of Government Departments corporateBody
associatedWith Reeves, William Pember, 1857-1932 person
associatedWith Robson, William Alexander, 1895-1980 person
associatedWith Royal Commission on the Poor Law corporateBody
associatedWith Saunders, Sir, Alexander Morris, Carr-, 1886-1966 person
associatedWith Sharp, Clifford Dyce, 1883-1935 person
associatedWith Shaw, Charlotte, 1857-1943 person
associatedWith Shaw, George Bernard, 1856-1950 person
associatedWith Simon, Ernest Darwin, 1879-1960, 1st Baron Simon of Wythenshawe, politician person
associatedWith South Place Institute corporateBody
associatedWith Spencer, Herbert, 1820-1903 person
associatedWith Statesman Publishing Company corporateBody
associatedWith Sunday Lecture Society corporateBody
associatedWith Turin, Lucia, fl 1890 person
associatedWith University of London corporateBody
associatedWith Wallas, Graham, 1858-1932 person
associatedWith Webb Martha Beatrice 1858-1943 person
associatedWith Webb, Sidney James, 1859-1947, 1st Baron Passfield, social reformer and historian person
associatedWith Wells, Herbert George, 1866-1946 person
associatedWith Working Men's College, London corporateBody
Place Name Admin Code Country
Aldgate City of London London England
Kenya East Africa
London England
USSR
Passfield Corner Hampshire England
Seaham Harbour County Durham England
Soviet Union
Subject
Cooperatives
Employment
Government
Income and wealth
Cultural conditions
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1858

Death 1943

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