BARBARA & BILL MANN by David & Susan Cawley  2010

 

 

 

 

From her father, Robert Malcolm Steele, Barbara acquired the passion for politics  and the unwavering socialist outlook that was her defining characteristic.

After leaving school at 14 (a reflection on family circumstances, not on her intellect), she worked as a residential nanny on Tyneside. Then in the 1920s, the Steele family moved first to Spennymoor, then to West Hartlepool, where in 1930 she met Bill Mann at a YMCA social.

 

He was understandably bowled over by her film-star looks, intellect, and vivacity, and there followed a fraught time for Billy, as she always called him, for she was still working as far afield as Tynemouth and Darlington.

 For some reason, perhaps because Barbara was a nanny and her mother had been in service, his mother, Jane, disapproved of the relationship, so after a two year engagement they had a Registry Office wedding in 1932, and didnít tell his parents till the knot was tied.

 

 

1908 Ė1992

 

'Those eyes were bright blue'

Shortly afterwards Billís work as a Relief Clerk took them to Shiny Row, Penshaw, where James and Barbara Scott and members of the Robson family had also lived for several years in the 1860s. The next years were devoted to the family.

 

For some reason, perhaps because Barbara was a nanny and her mother had been in service, his mother, Jane, disapproved of the relationship, so after a two year engagement they had a Registry Office wedding in 1932, and didnít tell his parents till the knot was tied.

 

 

1907 - 1994

David was born in 1934, Susan in 1936, and Bill in 1939, by which time they had returned to live in West Hartlepool.

In 1942 Bill joined the Royal Navy, and after training as a telegraphist he was posted to Ascension Island in the South Atlantic, like most women of her generation, was left to bring up the children alone. Billís war was rudely interrupted in 1944, when he developed a duodenal ulcer, which caused his return to England. Following an operation and convalescence, he was returned to Ascension with, depending on the audience, a half, a third, or a quarter of a stomach.

 

In 1946 he returned to the LNER, soon to become part of BR, and spent many more years as a relief clerk, until he finally became Chief Clerk at West Hartlepool Station.

Barbara and Bill were active members of the Labour Party from its post‑war heyday until her death. She always maintained that he was a more fervent socialist than her ... perhaps to get up his parentsí noses.

 

They were also devoted members of the Fabian Society, for which Barbara organised local meetings and attended Summer Schools.

 

Her passion for politics grew even stronger, and in 1949, as soon as family commitments allowed, she began to fight local elections, starting in unwinnable wards.

 

It was hard for a woman to break into the closed masculine ranks of the local political hierarchy, but she persevered against the odds, until in 1959, at her eighth attempt, she finally became first a Councillor, then later an Alderman.

 

Her intellect and fierce commitment took her through the ranks to lead the Committees closest to her heart: Education, Libraries & Museums, and Leisure & Amenities.  She turned down a chance to stand for Parliament in favour of family and local commitments.

 

 

 

In 1964 she became Mayor, with her daughter Susan as Mayoress.

Somehow she also made space in her life to become not just a magistrate, but Vice Chairman of the Bench, and Chairman of the Juvenile Bench, and to chair the Community Health Council, serve on the Committees of various Hospitals, the Howard League, and of Beamish Museum, and North Eastern Arts. She also became an authority on the Bronte family and their works, and gave many talks on the subject.

Bill was immensely proud of Barbaraís achievements, and eventually followed her into local politics.

 

 

 

 

He served on many committees,  as a Councillor, then Alderman, and became a major player in his own right. For many years he chaired the vitally important Finance Committee. He also served as Mayor, with Barbara as his Mayoress.

 

Their outstanding contribution to the town and its people was recognised in 1988, when, in recognition of their long service, they were both rewarded with high civic honours.

 

Barbara was made a Freeman of West Hartlepool, the first woman ever to be granted that honour, while Bill was made an Honorary Alderman. At that moment perhaps he finally laid to rest the ghost of his brother Albert, a ghost that had stood at his shoulder for most of his adult life.

 

 

After Barbara's death in 1992, following a long and typically spirited fight against cancer, she was honoured with a Civic funeral, at which a great many people lined the streets in silent tribute. Her family took her ashes out on the Hartlepool Lifeboat and scattered them on the waves ... a fitting resting place for a free spirit.

 

Subsequently, Susan was very proud to choose the design for, and then unveil, a magnificent memorial window in the new Hartlepool Art Gallery, for which Barbara had fought so long and hard ... along with the new Public Library, the Marina, and the Maritime Heritage Centre.

 

Perhaps what she should most be remembered for, however, are the many thousands of small and unsung things she did to help the people she served so hard and selflessly, and whose lives she touched and improved.

 

Bill understandably lost heart for politics after her death and opted for a quiet life. He developed prostate cancer, and succumbed in 1994 only after an equally spirited fight, during which he achieved the rare distinction of being thrown out of the Hartlepool Hospice for staying alive.

  We pushed him away down the street in a wheelchair, dressed in his pyjamas and a borrowed Red Riding Hood dressing gown, while he hid under the hood in case he should meet anyone he knew, grumbling under his breath, giving instructions, cursing quietly if we ignored them, being himself.

 

 

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tom.bint@tiscali.co.uk