Barbara Castle Cabinet Diaries

Archive reference: CAS

Barbara Castle was a politician who fought all her life for social equality. The influence of her early years in Bradford led her to bequeath the typescripts of her Cabinet Diaries to the University.

The Diaries are Number 9 in our 100 Objects exhibition: Fighting All the Way.

Barbara Castle

Barbara Anne Betts was born in Chesterfield in 1910. Her family later moved to Bradford, where her father, a civil servant, edited the Independent Labour Party journal, "The Bradford Pioneer". Barbara was educated at Bradford Girls' Grammar School and St Hugh's College, Oxford. She married journalist Ted Castle in 1944, and was elected Labour M.P. for Blackburn in the 1945 General Election. She kept the seat for 34 years.

When Labour came to power in 1964, Prime Minister Harold Wilson put her in charge of the newly-created Ministry of Overseas Development. She was made Minister of Transport in 1965, where she was responsible for the introduction of breathalysers, compulsory seat belts and national speed limits. In 1968 Castle became Secretary of State for Employment: she worked on equal pay legislation, redundancy payments, and on prices and incomes policy. However, her 1969 white paper on industrial relations, "In Place of Strife" brought conflict with the trades unions and in the Labour Party.

Labour lost power in the General Election of 1970 but returned to government in 1974. Castle was made Secretary of State for Social Services: she introduced payment of child benefit to mothers and worked on the State Earnings Related Pensions Scheme. Her attempt to equalise services in the National Health Service with abolition of pay beds met with considerable opposition, and legislation was still in process when Harold Wilson resigned as prime minister in 1976. His successor, James Callaghan, dropped Castle from the cabinet, ostensibly on the grounds of age.

Barbara Castle was a Member of the European Parliament from 1979 to 1989. In 1990 she entered the House of Lords as Baroness Castle of Blackburn. She continued to campaign on a range of issues, particularly on pension rights. She died on 3 May 2002.

The Cabinet Diaries

Barbara Castle began to keep political diaries soon after she became a Cabinet minister and continued throughout her periods in office. Later she published the diaries as "The Castle diaries 1974-76" (London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1980) and "The Castle diaries 1964-70" (London : Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1984), and also drew heavily on them for her autobiography "Fighting all the way" (London : Macmillan, 1993).

These diaries, typed by Castle herself very soon after the events described, and later often annotated by her, form an important primary source for history, government and politics in 1960s and 1970s Britain. They give immediate, detailed and candid insight into the many important government actions, often controversial issues, with which she was involved. It should be noted that she cut material for publication, mainly technical detail or subjects she considered not to be mainstream, because there was far more material in the original diaries than could practicably be used in published form.

Castle intended the typescripts to be housed in a University so the omitted material would be available to researchers, and chose Bradford because of her strong links with the city: "I went to school in Bradford, which had a very formative influence on me". Her autobiography describes how she revelled in the city's politics and came to love the moors around the city. In 1966 the University of Bradford had awarded her a honorary doctorate. The bequest includes the typescripts of the diaries, plus various transcriptions and copies made later to assist the publication process.  Barbara Castle's other literary and personal papers were bequeathed to the Bodleian Library.

Barbara Castle Cabinet Diaries catalogue 2013