It may come as a surprise to younger Liverpudlians, but there once was a time when the city had Conservative Members of Parliament. Indeed, at the 1959 General Election the Tories won 6 of the city’s 9 seats. If that is surprising it may come as even more of a shock that the Toxteth constituency was held by a Liverpool-born Conservative, Reginald Bevins, from 1950 to 1964.
Bevins was not your typical Tory, his family roots were in Toxteth, his grandfather was a ship’s joiner who lived in Moses Street and his father a travelling salesman dealing in toys. No silver spoon here then. He was educated at Dovedale Road primary school and the Liverpool Collegiate and upon leaving school worked as an insurance clerk dealing with workmen’s compensation. Interested in politics he joined the Labour Party and in 1935 was elected to the city council.
At the beginning of the war he enlisted as a gunner and served in the Middle East and Europe, leaving the forces as a Major in the Royal Army Service Corps (their role being to supply the army with everything they needed other than arms and ammunition). Whilst the experience of the Second World War caused many servicemen to take a left turn in politics it had the opposite effect on Bevins and he left Labour for the Conservatives, choosing to remain on the council under his new colours. Seeking a parliamentary seat he stood unsuccessfully in West Toxteth in 1945 and in Edge Hill in a 1947 by-election. In the 1950 election he was chosen to stand for the Tories in the new Toxteth constituency. The previous incumbent of East Toxteth, Patrick Buchan-Hepburn did not fancy trying to retain the revised seat and high-tailed it to Beckenham. (He subsequently became the Governor General of the ill-fated West Indies Federation and received a peerage). Bevins won Toxteth and held it until 1964.
He held a variety of junior government appointments, mostly associated with local authority housing, before being appointed Postmaster General by Harold Macmillan in 1959. At this time he was also made a Privy Councillor. His period of tenure was not without its problems. He was blamed for the poor security which allowed the Great Train Robbery to take place in 1963.
Bevins believed that the Conservative Party could only move forward if the ‘old guard’ of public school grandees were replaced and he was accordingly aghast when the party chose Alec-Douglas Home to succeed Macmillan, After losing his seat in the 1964 election he said he would not return to politics until the upper-class establishment had been purged from the Tory party leadership. He would no doubt have been encouraged by the choice of grammar school old boy Edward Heath as leader, but equally saddened if he had known that in the 21st century the party would once again be in the hands of Old Etonians.
He did not return to politics and wrote a book entitled The Greasy Pole in which he vented his anger at the machinations of the Tory Party. He died in Liverpool on 16th November 1996 aged 88.
His son, Anthony, became an outstanding political journalist.
Reginald Bevins had many Liverpool homes. At the time of his birth his family lived at 20 Barndale Road L18, later moving the short distance to 56 Penny Lane L18. This was address when he married Mary Leonora 'Nora' Jones at All Hallows church on 22nd July 1933. Their first home was 28 Glenfield Road L15, and when their son Anthony was born in 1942 they were living at 2 Rutherford Road L15. In the 1950’s and 60’s he lived at 108 Queens Drive L18, later moving to 37 Queens Drive L18.
The Bevins' family home when he was born in 1908.
Bevins' first home after his marriage to Mary Jones.
The Bevins home at the time of their son Anthony's birth in 1942
Bevins' home throughout the 1950's.
Bevins' home from the 1970's onwards.
© Liverpool Footprints