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Archive of Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn


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The papers comprise: diaries, 1953-2001 (encompassing political and appointment diaries); family correspondence, 1903-2000; major correspondents; general correspondence, 1930-2002; political papers (encompassing papers relating to the Labour Party, backbench MP subject files, ministerial papers, MEP papers, and House of Lords subject files); speeches and lectures, 1937-2001; literary correspondence and papers, [1940]-2002; financial and legal papers, 1919-2002; personal papers, 1926-2002; miscellaneous papers, 1933-2002; secretaries' papers, 1983-2002; printed papers, 1868-2002; drawings and paintings, 1967-[1995]; photographs, 1905-1998.


  • Creation: 1868-2002


92.18 Linear metres (838 physical shelfmarks; 82 digital shelfmarks)

Language of Materials

  • English

Conditions Governing Access

Some material is closed.

Preferred Citation

Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and folio or page reference, e.g. MS. Castle, 1, fols. 1-2].

Please see our help page for further guidance on citing archives and manuscripts.

Full range of shelfmarks:

MSS. Castle 1-802; MSS. Castle digital 1-82; MSS. Photogr. a. 17; b. 58-9; c. 208-33; d. 38-42; e. 32

Collection ID (for staff)

CMD ID 6106, 6705, 10705, 9716, 11227, 11429


Correspondence and papers of Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn (1910-2002), Labour politician.

Biographical / Historical

Barbara Anne Betts was born in 1910, the second daughter and youngest child of Frank and Annie (née Farand) Betts. After her early years in Chesterfield and Pontefract, the family moved to Bradford where she was educated at Bradford Girls' Grammar School and afterwards at St. Hugh's College, Oxford. Despite her father's career as a tax inspector, civil servants being required to be politically neutral, she was brought up in a family of dedicated Labour Party supporters with strong socialist principles.

After a less than academically distinguished period at Oxford, she returned to Bradford in 1932. She immediately became an active participant of the Bradford Labour political scene which in 1934 brought her into contact with the leading socialist journalist William Mellor. Despite the fact that he was married, with a son, the two entered into an affair that would last until Mellor's death in 1942. It was her relationship with Mellor that brought her into contact with other leading socialist figures, including Sir Stafford Cripps and Aneurin 'Nye' Bevan, and more importantly helped to shape her own political persona.

In 1937 she was elected to the St. Pancras Borough Council, London, and from 1940-3 served on the Metropolitan Water Board. In 1943 she met her future husband, the journalist Edward (Ted) Castle (1907-79), after he placed a report of her speech to the Labour conference on the front page of the Daily Mirror. They were married in 1944.

In 1944, the newly named, Mrs Barbara Castle was adopted as one of the two Labour prospective parliamentary candidates for Blackburn. She entered the House of Commons in 1945 following Labour's landslide General Election victory. She was to hold her Blackburn seat, undefeated, until her retirement as an MP in 1979. From 1945-51 she served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Board of Trade, firstly to Sir Stafford Cripps, and secondly to Harold Wilson.

Throughout the 1950s Castle was a leading member of the left wing group of Labour MPs, known as the Bevanites, which formed around Nye Bevan in opposition to the leadership of Hugh Gaitskell. Castle was both a highly active MP and a journalist, taking a deep interest in a variety of domestic and international issues. She was especially passionate in promoting the independence of Britain's colonies and in her opposition to white minority rule in the former African colonies.

In October 1964 she was appointed to her first ministerial post as the newly created Minister for Overseas Development in Harold Wilson's first Labour government. She was to serve in all four Wilson administrations. After establishing the Ministry of Overseas Development, which was to co-ordinate British aid to the developing world, she was appointed Minister for Transport in December 1965. Despite her initial lack of enthusiasm for the post, and the fact that she could not drive, it was to become her favourite ministerial post. The 1968 Transport Act marked Castle's attempt to introduce a planned and integrated transport network.

In April 1968 she was promoted to First Secretary of State and Secretary of State for Employment and Productivity, charged with overseeing the Government's prices and incomes and industrial relations policies. In January 1969 she introduced her controversial industrial relations reform white paper In Place of Strife. Personally backed by Wilson, the proposals split the Labour Party, the Cabinet, and provoked strong opposition from the Trade Unions. Within a year Castle and Wilson were forced to abandon the proposals. In June 1970 Labour was defeated in the General Election.

During the Labour opposition of 1970-4 Castle served as Shadow Secretary for Employment, leading the opposition to the Conservatives' 1971 Industrial Relations Act, and then as Shadow Secretary for Health and Social Security. In November 1972 Castle returned to the back benches following her deselection in the Parliamentary Labour Party's elections for the Shadow Cabinet.

Following the return of a Labour Government in the February (and October) 1974 General Election, Castle returned to the Cabinet as Secretary of State for Health and Social Security. In 1975 she introduced the State Earnings Related Pension Scheme. Her final term of office, like the previous one, proved to be a difficult one as she was faced with strikes by NHS doctors over pay disputes and her introduction of legislation to separate private practice from NHS hospitals. Following the retirement of Wilson, she was sacked from the Cabinet in April 1976 by the new Prime Minister James Callaghan. She returned to the back benches until her retirement from the Commons in 1979. Her husband Ted (now Lord Castle) died the same year.

In 1979, despite having opposed British entry to the E.E.C., she was among the newly elected MEPs to the first directly elected European Parliament. During her tenure as an MEP she took a deep interest in reform of the Common Agricultural Policy. She retired from the European Parliament in 1989. In 1990 she was created Baroness Castle of Blackburn and took her seat in the House of Lords as a Labour peer. She remained politically active, most notably championing the cause of pensioners, until her death in May 2002.


Each series is arranged chronologically with the exception of the MEP subject files which are arranged alphabetically in the manner as used by Castle. The general correspondence series was originally filed in a chronological and alphabetical system. The alphabetical system was the substantially smaller of the two and would appear to have been a later creation that was never fully implemented. The alphabetical sequence has therefore been merged into the chronological sequence. The sub series 'background documents' in the printed series initially contained original working papers which have now been returned to their original subject files. It would appear that the 'background documents' files were created in the process of Castle's memoir research. Barbara Castle's secretaries also began to use a personal computer in her later years, and the digital records thus created are catalogued here. However, the original digital filing system appears to have been created on a largely ad hoc basis and therefore was logical only to its initial users. For the purposes of this catalogue, the function of the digital records has taken priority over format. Therefore, descriptions of digital records have been integrated with their paper counterparts, and are identified by the shelfmark 'MS. Castle digital'.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Bequeathed by Baroness Castle, 2003, 2006.

Separated Materials

A copy of J. Hartley History of the Westminster Election is Vet. A5 d. 1864.

Catalogue of the archive of Barbara Anne Castle, Baroness Castle of Blackburn, 1868-2002
Finding aid prepared by Matthew Neely
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Bodleian Libraries Repository

Weston Library
Broad Street
Oxford OX1 3BG United Kingdom