This year we’ve been looking into the holiday habits of parliamentarians throughout history. In our latest blog Emme Ledgerwood has been listening through our Oral History project archive, to find out how MPs spent their summer holidays long before they stepped foot in the chambers of Parliament.
When searching the History of Parliament’s oral history collection for MPs’ memories of summer holidays, descriptions of the seaside or long car journeys proved relatively hard to find. This partly reflects the reality that the childhoods of many former MPs interviewed for the project were dominated by the Second World War. For example, Eric Deakins was aged seven when war broke out:
I can remember very little of before the war but my memories really came into focus with the outbreak of war on September 3rd . The family was on holiday in Margate, the sirens went at 11 o’ clock in the morning and we then found ourselves unable to return home, we were kept there for another week or two until we came back to London.BL C1503/80, Track 1, 00:00:30‒ 0:01:03
Teddy Taylor grew up in Glasgow during the war and remembered feeling lucky to be able to go on holiday once a year when his mother helped in the boarding house run by ‘Aunt Effie’ in Whiting Bay on the Isle of Arran. [C1503/3, Track 1 00:09:23‒00:09:58]
In this clip, Bob Hughes describes how he made his way from Aberdeen to spend time in the summer with his grandmother in Whitehills:
Helen Jackson, born in 1939, commented ‘I didn’t know “abroad” very well, we mainly had holidays in England.’ Holidays in Europe in the immediate post-war period meant encountering its very recent history, as Bruce Grocott reflected on a family trip to France aged 12:
Donald Anderson also went to France during the summers of the 1950s:
At the age of 17 I worked on a farm in France and hitchhiked my way around the Loire valley with a friend. I’d become in the sixth form and through university what is called a monitor in a French holiday colonie de vacances [summer camp] where I would have 12 French kids under my charge.C1503/5, Track 1, 00:11:40‒00:12:02
He was one of many interviewees for whom the summer holidays meant summer jobs. Vacation work at the local cigarette factory made Rosie Barnes appreciate the prospect of going to university:
Player’s was a very paternalistic firm and there were four big factories in Nottingham and you worked in No. 2 or whatever it was, all in a cluster together. To get a job there in the holidays as a school girl or a student, you had to have to have someone to speak for you, so your relatives would go and say, my daughter’s looking for work. … I remember when I started when I was 16, I started with another girl [but] when I arrived the following year she looked like a middle aged lady, she had aged so much in that year of work and that was her life mapped out for her forever. I realised how lucky I was that I was at school and going to university, not consigned to do this kind of manual work for all of my life.C1503/132, Track 1, 00:12:22‒00:14:00
Jonathan Aitken’s summer job also came through family connections, albeit leading to a very different experience. His godfather Selwyn Lloyd, who served as Chancellor of the Exchequer in the early 1960s, offered him ‘a summer in the Treasury’ and to stay in the Chancellor’s official residence. ‘My father died while I was at Oxford, died of a heart attack in his sleep, and Selwyn I think said to himself, “I’m a godfather, this boy is interested in politics, I quite like him, I’m really going to be a bit of a ‘in loco parentis and I might as well try and train him.”’ [C1503/129 Track 3, 00:02:06‒00:02:27]
For many aspiring politicians, the summer proved to be a time for self-improvement and political activity. At the age of 16 Richard Body spent three weeks helping the Conservative candidate in the August 1943 Chippenham by-election campaign. ‘David Eccles got in with a majority of 190, he was good enough to say that it was my efforts that gave him the majority.’ [C1503/31, Track 1, 00:22:12‒00:12:22].
A number of interviewees mention organising or attending summer schools, and a 1936 article commented that ‘credit for originating the political summer school in Great Britain belongs to the Fabian Society.’ David Owen can trace the beginnings of his career as an MP to such an event:
I went to a Fabian Society Summer school, which I think was held on the NHS and I think it was in the West Country, Devon or Somerset, and quite a few women particularly from Torrington constituency were there and I had written a pamphlet with somebody, so I was probably in my fifth year as medical student, on the pharmaceutical industry, so as a result of that suddenly out of the blue in about July 1962 I was written and asked if I would put my name forward for a selection conference for the Labour party in Torrington. … I thought it would be fun, I didn’t think of it in any way seriously. […] I drove down. … I was selected that afternoon, much to my surprise.C1503/15 Track 1, 00:25:38‒00:27:43
Eric Moonman explained the importance of having the opportunity to participate in the stimulating, intellectual environment promised by attending a summer school.
The summer was therefore as much a time for making political progress and experiencing a range of working environments that informed political views as it was for taking time to relax with family in Britain or travel abroad.
Ysenda Maxtone Graham, British Summer Time Begins: The School Summer Holidays 1930-1980, (Hachette 2021)
Joseph R. Starr, ‘Foreign Governments and Politics: The Summer Schools and Other Educational Activities of British Socialist Groups’, The American Political Science Review, 30, no. 5 (1936)
For more blogs about the History of Parliament Oral History Project click here.