Papers of Benjamin Theaker Parkin MP

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The papers largely relate to Ben Parkin's activities after his election as MP for Paddington North. They have been artificially arranged beginning with a series of correspondence files (1953-1968) arranged alphabetically by surname, with the notable exception of the itinerary for his visit to Israel in 1957, which can be found in file 'I'. Constituency correspondence is combined with correspondence on a range of things and from a range of people such as United States Airways and the Union of Democratic Control. There is a letter from Hugh Gaitskell dated 14 December 1955. The remaining papers have been collected under subject headings which cover the different areas of Parkin's interests and activities.

Correspondence files are followed by general Labour Party files and files for the North Paddington constituency of the Labour Party (1946-1970) and these include correspondence, leaflets, membership cards, press cuttings, minutes, one school report for Nicholas Parkin dated 1970 and correspondence about Ben Parkin's memorial service. There is also a letter from Anthony Eden dated 4 May 1956 and a file on the general election of 1964.

Perhaps the largest section of his papers relates to his interest in housing. This series of files (1950-1969) contains a number of case papers including material relating to problems with his own tenants. There are also general housing files of information collected by Parkin including extracts of speeches and questions asked in the House of Commons. Fourteen files relate to information gathered upon the landlords that he campaigned against, including Peter Rachman. There are a number of files containing financial material, photocopied and original, relating to the business activities of questionable landlords. The remainder of this section comprises press cuttings and photographs of poor housing conditions.

There is a small amount of material relating to the issue of rearmament (1953-1969) comprising assorted correspondence, speeches, press cuttings and reports, as well as an undated photograph of Ben Parkin participating in an anti-nuclear march and a Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND) wristband. His concern about the use of dangerous drugs, especially 'purple hearts', is evidenced by two files (1961-1965) containing correspondence and parliamentary questions on this topic. There are also a number of general subject files (1953-1968) on such topics as Paddington Borough Council, electoral registration, prostitution and nationalised industries in Czechoslovakia and police crowd control tactics.

Parkin's collection of publications and writings (1954-1965) includes a variety of undated typescripts and published pamphlets reflecting his areas of interest especially disarmament. His papers contain a number of press cuttings (1947-1964), some of them from Soviet and Czechoslovakian newspapers. Files of personal papers (1962-1975) largely post-date Parkin's death and there is a series of correspondence between Pamela Parkin and Mrs Marcia Williams (Private Secretary to Harold Wilson), covering this period and papers about his pension. There are also letters from Harold Wilson (1969, 1974) and Michael Foot (1975). Amongst files of miscellaneous material (1918-1964) are two x-rays of Ben Parkin, one definitely identifiable as a hand.

Administrative / Biographical History

Benjamin Theaker Parkin was born in 1906 in East London, the son of Captain BD Parkin. He was educated at Wycliffe College, Stroud, Gloucestershire, and then at Lincoln College, Oxford and the University of Strasbourg. He began his career as a schoolmaster, holding the post of headmaster at Stonehouse Council School, Stroud, for some years. During the Second World War he joined the Royal Air Force, reaching the rank of Flight Lieutenant. His first marriage to Phyllis Lunt in 1929 produced two sons. However, this was dissolved in 1957 and he married Pamela Tuffnell (nee Coates) in the same year. They had one son, Nicholas [Obituary, The Times].

In the general election of 1945 Ben Parkin was elected to the Stroud Division of the County of Gloucester. He was the town's first Labour MP with a majority of 949. Boundary changes in 1950 created the Stroud and Thornbury seat which Parkin lost to the Conservative candidate, Walter Robert Dempster Perkins, by just 28 votes. Parkin contested the seat again in 1951, this time losing by 1,582 votes. In December 1953 he won the Paddington North seat with a majority of 2,260. He remained the MP for this constituency until his death on 3 June 1969. A knowledgeable and outspoken man, he was associated with the left of the party and never held a portfolio. However, in 1949 he was appointed by the Minister of Pensions as a member of his Central Advisory Committee. In the same year Parkin, with 64 other Labour MPs, received a formal warning from the Chairman of the Parliamentary Labour Party and the Government Chief Whip regarding their conduct towards the Labour party. This followed the expulsion of two MPs and the dismissal of four parliamentary private secretaries for having voted against the Government on the Ireland Bill. During the 1960s he served on a variety of Parliamentary Labour Party committees, including Housing and Local Government [Obituary, The Times; U DBP/2/10].

His interests were varied. However, he seemed to focus on social issues, for example, housing, prostitution, unemployment and drug abuse. His maiden speech referred to the need to get the nation back to work after the damage caused by the Second World War. The questions that he raised in the House perhaps reflect his Royal Air Force background and the experience of being demobbed. His interest in housing matters is evidenced in his questions regarding the state of housing in his first constituency of Stroud, as well as his campaigns on behalf of his constituents in Paddington North. He believed the poverty and deprivation witnessed in Paddington was partly caused by the series of 99 year leases which had been produced upon completion of the railway station in 1854 and were, therefore, due for renewal at that time. He is, perhaps, best known for his diligent efforts to expose the activities of Peter Rachman and other notorious landlords of inner London. He coined the phrase 'Rachmanism'. He sought redress for his constituents who were often tenants in poorly-maintained, expensive, multiple occupancy dwellings. His application to introduce a private Bill to control slum racketeering was rejected by 208 votes to 140. In 1968 he advocated the introduction of a licensing system for landlords which switched the onus of responsibility for ensuring improvements were carried out from the local authority to the owner. He called for measures to remove young prostitutes from the streets of Paddington. In tackling the menace of drugs he called upon the Government to take action to stop the peddling of 'purple heart' tablets amongst teenagers. He reproached the government for not studying the 'Soho nerve centre' of the 'purple heart pill racket' sufficiently, and asked a number of parliamentary questions relating to this during late May and early June 1965 [Hansard, Parliamentary debates, 425:1356-8 [1945], 527:612 [1954]; U DBP/5/2; Obituary, The Times].

Parkin campaigned strongly against German rearmament and the European Defense Community, which favoured reducing national service. He published pamphlets highlighting his fears of German rearmament as well as addressing a Communist-organised meeting in Brussels in 1954 which was held to protest against German rearmament. This meeting resulted in clashes between police and protesters outside the House of Commons a few days later as demonstrators supporting him gathered to lobby MPs [Obituary, The Times].

Parkin enjoyed travel as a hobby and as part of his job and in 1947 he joined a group of Labour MPs visiting the Soviet Union. Ostensibly going as tourists, on arrival they sought meetings with the country's leaders. In Moscow they discussed politics with Molotov and economics with Stalin. Parkin declared the meeting to have been very useful and hoped for an improvement in Anglo-Soviet relations. This was part of a wider trip around Eastern Europe including Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia and Poland. They were invited by the Socialist parties of each of the countries who wished to discuss the progress that had been made in 'reconstructing' their countries. The following year he was part of a party visiting Nigeria for three weeks to inquire into the spending of £23 million which had been allocated to the colony under the Colonial Development Act of 1945. In 1954 a group of Labour MPs, including Parkin, were invited to Prague by the People's Institute of Foreign Affairs. From there they went on to Moscow and eventually China. During January 1957 he visited Israel stopping at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, where he toured the New Hebrew University [Obituary, The Times; U DBP/7/5; U DBP/1/9b].

Parkin was also a member of the Union of Democratic Control (UDC) which by this time had become closely involved in the independence movements, particularly within the British Empire. Between 1953 and 1954, and again in 1963, he was a member of its Executive Committee. During the years 1954 and 1956 he also sat upon the Management Sub-Committee. During the 1950s he held the position of Joint Secretary with Audrey Jupp. Ben Parkin died in 1969 [U DDC/1/6a, 8; U DDC/5/224-5, 237, 259; U DBP/1/25].

Arrangement

U DBP/1 Correspondence, 1953 - 1968

U DBP/2 Labour Party and North Paddington Constituency Labour Party, 1946 - 1970

U DBP/3 Housing, 1950 - 1969

U DBP/4 Rearmament, 1953 - 1969

U DBP/5 Dangerous drugs, 1961 - 1965

U DBP/6 General subject files, 1953 - 1968

U DBP/7 Writings and Publications, 1954 - 1965

U DBP/8 Press cuttings, 1947 - 1964

U DBP/9 Personal, 1962 - 1975

U DBP/10 Miscellaneous, 1918 - 1964

Conditions Governing Access

Some of the records in this collection contain sensitive personal information. Those records containing the sensitive personal data information of adults are not available for public inspection for 75 years. Those records containing the sensitive personal data information of children are not available for public inspection for 100 years. This is in accordance with Section 40 and Section 41of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Other Finding Aids

Entry in Modern political papers subject guide

Conditions Governing Use

Nicholas Parkin

Custodial History

Deposited by Nicholas Parkin in July 1994, with two further items received in May 1998 (U DBP/10/9-10).

Related Material

Archives of the Union of Democratic Control [U DDC]

Bibliography

Marsh, Hilary, 'Ben Parkin: exposer of Rachmanism', Paragon Review, 5 (1996) Obituary, 'The Times', 4 June 1969