Beatrice and Sidney Webb and the Bournemouth Fabians
Founded in 1884, the Fabian Society was part of the coalition that formed the Labour Party. Fabians promoted research and campaigned for the welfare state, independence for British colonies and democratic socialism. Bournemouth was one of the first towns to have a Fabian Society and the most famous early members – Beatrice and Sidney Webb – became associated with the south coast resort.
Beatrice Potter was born in Standish House near Gloucester and attended school in Bournemouth. She was the grand-daughter of the radical MP Richard Potter. In 1886 her father settled in a house near the Royal Bath Hotel in Bournemouth and it was from there that she wrote her letter on unemployment that was printed in the Pall Mall Gazette and seen by Joseph Chamberlain, a leading Liberal. She had an infatuation with the ageing widower and it stirred her political writings.
Martha Beatrice Potter around 1875
During work on co-operative history, Beatrice met Sidney Webb. In 1890 she noted in her diary: “At last I am a socialist.” Sidney came to Bournemouth to recover from scarlet fever and in 1891 they were married. Beatrice Webb sat on the Royal Commission on the Poor Law, established in December 1905 by the outgoing Balfour government. Her minority report, published in 1909, made the case for prevention not cure, andargued that poverty was a problem for society not for the individual to solve.
Sidney Webb wrote Clause IV of the new Labour Party constitution calling for collective ownership of the means of production, distribution and exchange.
In 1894 the couople wrote The HIstory of Trade Unionism that became a definitiave account of British trade unionism.
In 1910 Beatrice spoke in Bournemouth on her Minority Report on the Poor Law Commission. Organised by the Poole and Bournemouth branch of the National Committee for the Prevention of Destitution, the meeting heard the Fabian case for public spending to relieve poverty. Beatrice appealed to those living comfortable lives in the town to help.
The Bournemouth Fabians continued to promote their policies and attract radical speakers. For a while the left-leaning paper Tribune was printed on the Bournemouth Times presses and the Fabian Society formed the Bournemouth Civic Society to protect the town’s heritage.
Sidney and Beatrice Webb