A pioneering figure in the development of trade unionism amongst municipal workers, Herbert Blain was eventually knighted for his services as principal agent of the Conservative Party.
Herbert Edward Blain was born at 341 Upper Parliament Street L7 on 14th May 1870 the son of Arbuthnot Harrison Blain, a chemist and druggist, and his wife Elizabeth (née Stalker). After attending the Liverpool Technical School, in 1886 he started work as a clerk with Liverpool corporation. On 26th October 1892 he married Clara Louisa (1869-1940), the daughter of a barraitser, John Betterville Brake. The couple made their home at 24 Lesseps Road L8.
In 1896 Blain was one of the main founders of the Liverpool Municipal Officers’ Guild. It was the first organisation of its kind outside London, providing social and educational benefits for its members and their families. Herbert Blain was the Guild’s first secretary. His particular skill was shorthand and in his time in Liverpool he became a prominent figure in the National Federation of Shorthand Writers Associations, serving as secretary, treasurer and president in the 1890’s.
He left Liverpool in 1903 to take up a position in London as tramways manager for West Ham corporation. He continued his work in organising clerical and local government workers and was a key figure in the 1905 conference which led to the founding of the National Association of Local Government Officers (NALGO). Blain served as NALGO’s first chairman. In 1913 he moved to the London Underground Railways and London General Omnibus Company, becoming operating manager in 1914.
It was in this role that Blain became increasingly involved in road safety matters, organising the London Safety First Council and becoming its honorary secretary. Awarded a CBE in 1921, he was instrumental in the founding of the National Safety First Association (NSFA). In 1941, when the NSFA was granted a royal charter, it was Blain who proposed that the association change its name to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
Notwithstanding his trade union background, in 1924 he too up post as principal agent of the Conservative Party, charged with the task of modernising the party’s organisation. The Conservatives had lost office to Labour in the 1923 election and their success in the October 1925 general election was in some part due to Blain’s innovations. He was knighted in 1925 for public and political service. He left the Conservative party job at the end of 1926, subsequently holding positions on the boards of a number of companies and continuing his work in the safety movement.
His first wife died in April 1940 and he was remarried a month later to Carol Louise McDowell. He died, aged 72, at his home in Burgess Hill on 16th December 1942.
Blain's home until his move to London in 1905.
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