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Women of Liverpool Bessie Braddock

Bessie Braddock a Liverpool Legend

To the working class of Liverpool she was “our Bessie”, but to the media she was “Battling Bessie”. Throughout her life, Elizabeth Braddock campaigned tirelessly, and without restraint, to improve conditions for her home city’s under-privileged. Yet, it is not her work for mental health reforms, the barrow girls or prison conditions for which she is most famously remembered; instead it is her larger-than-life political tactics and frequent clashes with the press. Whilst growing up, she was exposed to the inequality and poverty of the city from an early age. Her mother, Mary Bamber, was committed to social reform and to helping the poor of Liverpool. At three weeks old, Bessie was taken by her mother to her first political meeting; in her autobiography, 'The Braddocks', Bessie recalls helping her mother on the soup lines in Liverpool:

“I remember the faces of the unemployed when the soup ran out. I remember their dull eyes and their thin, blue lips. I remember blank, hopeless stares, day after day, week after week, all through the hard winter of 1906-7, when I was seven years old. I saw the unemployed all over Liverpool".

Bessie Braddock (Bessie Bamber) was born in Liverpool in 1899. Her mother, Mary Bamber, was a left-wing political activist committed to social reform and Bessie followed in her mother’s footsteps. After becoming disillusioned with the Communist Party, she joined the Labour Party in 1926. Her husband John ‘Jack’ Braddock was also a member and later became leader of Liverpool City Council. Bessie herself became a councillor for the St Anne’s Ward in 1930, once famously taking a two foot megaphone into the council chamber to force action over Liverpool’s slums. In 1956, whilst serving as an MP for Liverpool Exchange, Bessie was concerned about the use of air-rifles amongst youths in her constituency. This prompted her, on 3 July 1956, to take three air-rifles, which she had seized from juveniles in Liverpool, into the House of Commons. After firing the unloaded rifles into the air, she crossed the floor of the House and handed them to the Home Secretary. The deputy Chairman expressed his displeasure at her behaviour, to which she replied:
“but you see I have to startle this House before anyone does anything about anything. No one takes any notice about anything unless someone does something out of order or unusual.”

She is often erroneously credited with a celebrated exchange of insults with Winston Churchill, also ascribed to Nancy Astor:

Braddock: "Winston, you are drunk, and what's more you are disgustingly drunk."
Churchill: "Bessie, my dear, you are ugly, and what's more, you are disgustingly ugly. But tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be disgustingly ugly.

Bessie Braddock was elected as a Member of Parliament for Liverpool Exchange in the post-war 1945 election, she was also a member of the Labour Party National Executive Committee and in 1968 was vice-chairman of the Labour Party. She fought for better housing and conditions for the people of Liverpool and when eventually the Council built a new modern block of flats "The Braddocks" they were named in her honour.

The Braddocks

Bessie Braddock also fought for the fashion rights of larger women, with measurements of 50”, 40”, 50” she understood their struggle to find clothes. In 1959 she took part in a London fashion show for larger than average women.
She died in November 1970 seven months after being made a freeman of the city of Liverpool in recognition of her work for her home city. In 2003 Bessie Braddock was voted eighth in a BBC poll of Greatest Merseysiders.

Bessie along with Ken Dodd has now been immortalised in bronze. The statue of Bessie stands alongside the statue of comedian Ken Dodd on the concourse of Lime Street Station. Sculptor Tom Murphy created the sculpture which is called "Chance Meeting".

By Robert F Edwards
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