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Ernest Marples

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Title: Ernest Marples  
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Subject: Lynda Chalker, Baroness Chalker of Wallasey, Harold Watkinson, 1st Viscount Watkinson, Richard Beeching, Baron Beeching, Beeching cuts, Third Churchill ministry
Collection: 1907 Births, 1978 Deaths, British Secretaries of State, Conservative Party (Uk) Life Peers, Conservative Party (Uk) Mps, Members of the Parliament of the United Kingdom for English Constituencies, Members of the Privy Council of the United Kingdom, People Educated at Stretford Grammar School, People from Stretford, Royal Artillery Officers, Uk Mps 1945–50, Uk Mps 1950–51, Uk Mps 1951–55, Uk Mps 1955–59, Uk Mps 1959–64, Uk Mps 1964–66, Uk Mps 1966–70, Uk Mps 1970–74, United Kingdom Postmasters General
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Ernest Marples

The Right Honourable
The Lord Marples
Member of the United Kingdom Parliament
for Wallasey
In office
26 July 1945 – 28 February 1974
Preceded by George Leonard Reakes
Succeeded by Lynda Chalker
Postmaster General
In office
17 January 1957 – 14 October 1959
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Preceded by Charles Hill
Succeeded by Reginald Bevins
Minister of Transport
In office
14 October 1959 – 16 October 1964
Prime Minister Harold Macmillan
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded by Harold Watkinson
Succeeded by Tom Fraser
Personal details
Born Alfred Ernest Marples
(1907-12-09)9 December 1907
Levenshulme, Manchester, Lancashire
Died 6 July 1978(1978-07-06) (aged 70)
The Princess Grace Hospital Centre, Monaco
Resting place Southern Cemetery, Manchester
Nationality UK
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Ruth Dobson

Alfred Ernest Marples, Baron Marples PC (9 December 1907 – 6 July 1978) was a British Conservative politician who served as Postmaster General and Minister of Transport.

As postmaster general he saw the introduction of Premium Bond scheme and of postcodes. His period as Minister of Transport was controversial. He both oversaw the significant construction, he opened the first section of the M1 motorway, and the closure of a considerable portion of the national railway network with the Beeching cuts. His involvement in the road construction business Marples Ridgway, of which he had been managing director, was one of repeated concern regarding possible conflict of interest.

In later life he was elevated to the peerage before fleeing to Monaco at very short notice to avoid prosecution for tax fraud.


  • Early life 1
  • Political career 2
    • Postmaster General 2.1
    • Minister of Transport 2.2
    • Peerage 2.3
  • Business interests 3
  • Controversies 4
    • Conflict of interest 4.1
    • Use of prostitutes 4.2
    • Flight to Monaco 4.3
  • Popular culture 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early life

Marples was born at 45 Dorset Road, Levenshulme, Manchester, Lancashire.[1] His father had been a renowned engineering charge-hand and Manchester Labour campaigner, and his mother had worked in a local hat factory. Marples attended Victoria Park Council School and won a scholarship to Stretford Grammar School. By the age of 14 he was already active in the Labour Movement, as well as earning money by selling cigarettes and sweets to Manchester football crowds. He also played football for a YMCA team.

Marples worked as a miner, a postman, a chef and an accountant. He was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1941, rose to the rank of Captain and was medically discharged in 1944.

Marples married Ruth Dobson (1919-2014), who on his elevation to the Peerage in 1974 became Lady Marples.[2]

Political career

Marples joined the Conservative Party and in 1945 was elected as Member of Parliament for Wallasey. In 1951, Winston Churchill appointed him a junior minister in the Conservative Government 1951–1955.[3] Marples was a minister under Harold Macmillan and Alec Douglas-Home throughout the Conservative Government 1957–1964.

Postmaster General

In 1957, Harold Macmillan appointed Marples Postmaster General. At that time the telephone network was controlled by the General Post Office, and Marples introduced subscriber trunk dialling (STD), which eliminated the use of operators on national phone calls. On 2 June 1957, Marples started the first draw for the new Premium Bond scheme. He also introduced the first postcodes to the UK.[4]

Minister of Transport

Marples was Minister of Transport from 14 October 1959 until the Conservatives lost the 1964 General Election on 16 October 1964.

As Minister of Transport, Marples oversaw the introduction of parking meters and the provisional driving licence in 1958 and two Transport Acts. The Road Traffic Act of 1960 introduced the MOT test, roadside single yellow lines and double yellow lines, traffic wardens, and the 250 cc engine limit for learner motorcyclists.

The Transport Act 1962 dissolved the British Transport Commission (BTC) which had overseen the railways, canals and road freight transport and established the British Railways Board; it also put in place measures which simplified the process of closing railways. The Act was described as the "most momentous piece of legislation in the field of railway law to have been enacted since the Railway and Canal Traffic Act 1854".[5]

In anticipation of the 1962 Act, the government appointed Dr Richard Beeching as Chairman of the British Railways Board with a brief to recommend and implement such changes as were necessary to end of the losses that were growing rapidly at the time. The Beeching cuts, or "Beeching Axe" that followed resulted in the major closures for both stations and lines. It may not be entirely a coincidence that as Beeching was closing railway lines, the government was providing funding for the construction of motorways, which were being built by companies in which Marples had an interest (see below).


Marples retired from the House of Commons at the February 1974 general election. On 8 May 1974 he was made a life peer as Baron Marples of Wallasey in the County of Merseyside.[6][7]

Business interests

In the late 1940s Marples was a director of a company called Kirk & Kirk,[3] which was a contractor in the construction of Brunswick Wharf Power Station.[8] Marples met civil engineer Reginald Ridgway (1908–2002), who was working as a contractor for Kirk & Kirk.[8] In 1948 the two men founded Marples Ridgway and Partners, a civil engineering company that started with one five-ton ex-army truck and one crane.[8]

The new partnership took over Kirk & Kirk's contract at Brunswick Wharf[8] and in 1950 Marples severed his links with Kirk & Kirk.[3] Marples, Ridgway's subsequent contracts included building power stations in England, the Allt na Lairige dam in Scotland, roads in Ethiopia and (significantly) England, and a port in Jamaica.[8] The Bath and Portland Group took over Marples Ridgway in 1964.[8]


Conflict of interest

Shortly after he became a junior minister in November 1951, Marples resigned as Managing Director of Marples Ridgway but continued to hold some 80% of the firm's shares.[3][9] When he was made Minister of Transport in October 1959, Marples undertook to sell his shareholding in the company as he was now in clear breach of the House of Commons' rules on conflicts of interest.[9] He had not done so by January 1960 when the Evening Standard reported that Marples Ridgway had won the tender to build the Hammersmith Flyover and that the Ministry of Transport's engineers had endorsed the London County Council's rejection of a lower tender.[3][9][10]

Marples' first attempt to sell his shares was blocked by the Attorney-General on the basis that he was using his former business partner, Reg Ridgway, as an agent to ensure that he could buy back the shares upon leaving office.[9] Marples therefore sold his shares to his wife, reserving himself the possibility to reacquire them at the original price after leaving office;[3][11][12][13][14] by this time, his shares had come to be worth between £350,000 and £400,000.[9]

In 1959 Marples opened the first section of the M1 motorway shortly after becoming minister. It is now understood that although his company was not directly contracted to build the M1, Marples Ridgway "certainly had a finger in the pie".[15] Marples Ridgway built the Hammersmith flyover in London at a cost of £1.3 million, immediately followed by building the Chiswick flyover;[8]

Marples Ridgway was also involved in other major road projects in the 1950s and 1960s[16] including the £4.1 million extension of the M1 into London, referred to as the Hendon Urban Motorway at the time.[17]

Use of prostitutes

When Lord Denning made his 1963 investigation into the security aspects of the Profumo Affair and the rumoured affair between the Minister of Defence, Duncan Sandys, and the Duchess of Argyll, he confirmed to Macmillan that a rumour that Ernest Marples was in the habit of using prostitutes appeared to be true.[18] The story was suppressed and did not appear in Denning's final report.[19]

Flight to Monaco

Early in 1975 Marples suddenly fled to Monte Carlo.[20] He left just before the end of the tax year, fearing that he would otherwise be liable for a substantial tax bill.[20]

Among the journalists who investigated his unexpected flight was Daily Mirror editor Richard Stott:

"In the early 70s ... he tried to fight off a revaluation of his assets which would undoubtedly cost him dear ... So Marples decided he had to go and hatched a plot to remove £2 million from Britain through his Liechtenstein company ... there was nothing for it but to cut and run, which Marples did just before the tax year of 1975. He left by the night ferry with his belongings crammed into tea chests, leaving the floors of his home in Belgravia littered with discarded clothes and possessions ... He claimed he had been asked to pay nearly 30 years' overdue tax ... The Treasury froze his assets in Britain for the next ten years. By then most of them were safely in Monaco and Liechtenstein."[21]

The flight came at a time when Marples was facing problems on several fronts. Tenants of his block of flats in Harwood Court, Upper Richmond Road, Putney, London, were demanding that he repair serious structural faults and had threatened legal action.[20] He was being sued for £145,000 by the Bankers Trust merchant bank in relation to an agreement made with the French company Ernest Marples et Cie.[20] He was also being sued by John Holmes, the chartered surveyor and director of Marples' property company Ecclestone Enterprises, for wrongful dismissal and who was claiming £70,000 in damages.[20] Inland Revenue was demanding that he pay back nearly 30 years back taxes on his residence in Eccleston Street, Belgravia, London, as well as capital gains tax on his properties in Kensington.[20] In addition, in 1974, he had lost 130 cases of wine to a fire in a store he owned under a railway line in Brixton,[22] and he had been convicted of drinking and driving for which he received a one-year ban and a £45 fine.[23]

His departure came in the wake of the failure of a plan to avoid paying tax on his properties by involving a Liechtenstein-based company with which he had been involved for more than ten years.[20] He was to sell his Harwood Court block of flats for £500,000 to Vin International which would refurbish and sell them for between £2.25 million and £2.5 million.[20] Marples would only be liable for capital gains tax at 30% on the transfer to Vin which, as an offshore company, would only be liable for stamp duty at 2%.[20] The plan failed following the change of government in 1974.[20] After reports of this plan were published in the Daily Mirror, the Treasury froze Marples' assets in Britain.[24] In November 1977, he paid £7,600 to the British government in settlement of his breach of exchange control regulations, following which he made a return to London.[24]

Marples' final years were spent on his 45-acre vineyard estate in Fleurie, France.[20] He died in a Monte Carlo hospital on 6 July 1978.[25] In his will, he left property valued at £388,166.[26] He is buried in a family plot in Southern Cemetery, Manchester. [27]

Popular culture

In 2009 his name was used for a website which campaigned to have the UK Postcode dataset released as Open Data and drew threats of legal action by the Royal Mail against its founders.[28][29] The dataset was opened up on 1 April 2010 following support from many people, including MPs,[30][31] and Code-Point Open can now be downloaded free with[32]

The founders of the site claim that they were not aware of the controversy around him at the time they chose him for the website.[33]


  1. ^ Dutton, D.J. "Ernest Marples".  
  2. ^ "(Alfred) Ernest Marples, 1st Baron Marples; Lady Ruth Marples (née Dobson)". Image Details.  
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport (28 January 1960). "Personal statement".  
  4. ^ Arthur, Charles (7 October 2009). "Who would really benefit of postcode data were free?".  
  5. ^ Kahn-Freund, Otto (March 1963). "Transport Act, 1962". Modern Law Review 26 (2): 174.  
  6. ^ The London Gazette: no. 46286. p. 5747. 10 May 1974.
  7. ^ Cracroft-Brennan, Patrick (21 October 2008). "Life Peerages under the Life Peerages Act 1958". Cracroft's Peerage. Heraldic Media Limited. p. Life peerages - M. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Reginald Ridgway".  
  9. ^ a b c d e Loft, Charles (2006). Government, the Railways and the Modernization of Britain. Routledge. p. 55.  
  10. ^  
  11. ^ Norm, Terry (1 October 2011). "Railways and Things The Age of Steam". History of Local Railways and Stations. town of Ammanford Web Site. Retrieved 31 October 2011. 
  12. ^ Henshaw, David (1991). The Great Railway Conspiracy. Hawes, North Yorkshire: Leading Edge Books. p. 126.  
  13. ^ Dudley, Geoffrey; Richardson, Jeremy (2001). Why Does Policy Change?: Lessons from British Transport Policy 1945-99. Routledge. p. 45.  
  14. ^ Hamer, Mick (1987). Wheels within Wheels: Study of the Road Lobby. Routledge. p. 50.  
  15. ^ "Life in the fast lane - part two". The Guardian (London). 22 January 2011. the M1 was very much the darling of Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport in Harold Macmillan's Tory government in the 50s, who just happened to be a director of Marples Ridgway, a civil engineering company specialising in road construction. Although the company didn't officially build the M1, it certainly had a finger in the pie. 
  16. ^  
  17. ^  
  18. ^ Lamb, Richard (1995). The Macmillan Years 1957-1963: The Unfolding Truth. London:  
  19. ^  
  20. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k  
  21. ^  
  22. ^ "Blaze blow for Marples".  
  23. ^ McCormick, John (1974-10-10). "Drink-and-drive shame for Lord Marples".  
  24. ^ a b  
  25. ^ "A stormy King of the Road".  
  26. ^ "Home News round-up".  
  27. ^ "Ernest Marples". Retrieved 22 April 2015. 
  28. ^ Arthur, Charles (7 October 2009). "Who would really benefit if postcode data were free?". The Guardian (London). 
  29. ^ The Silent State, Heather Brooke
  30. ^ "Alfred Ernest Marples, Baron Marples of Wallasey, is very happy because the Ordnance Survey have released free postcode data. Yay! His name was chosen because he was the person who introduced the Post Code.". 
  31. ^ "Postcode data to be free in 2010". BBC News. December 2009. 
  32. ^ "OS Code-Point Open". 
  33. ^ "Interview with me about Ernest Marples". 

External links

  • Hansard 1803–2005: contributions in Parliament by Ernest Marples
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Leonard Reakes
Member of Parliament for Wallasey
1945February 1974
Succeeded by
Lynda Chalker
Political offices
Preceded by
Charles Hill
Postmaster General
Succeeded by
Reginald Bevins
Preceded by
Harold Watkinson
Minister of Transport
Succeeded by
Tom Fraser
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