The UK Civil Service

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Jacqueline Hope-Wallace

The following article first appeared in Civil Service Network in August 2009:

Jacqueline Hope-Wallace CBE, who recently turned 100, built a successful career in the civil service at a time when women were a rarity in its upper echelons. She recalls the highlights of 40 years in Whitehall.

"I was born in 1909, and went to the local school in Wimbledon Common. My father was in the civil service: the Charity Commission. So when I came down from Oxford with a degree in history in 1931, I wasn't keen on the civil service; it seemed boring. But of course in the early '30s things were very low, rather like today. I had friends with very good degrees from Oxford who couldn't get jobs; one girl who got a first at my college was selling hats at Harrods for a year or two before she could get a proper job. So my father said I had better go into the civil service, and I did. I was there for 40 years.

I joined the Ministry of Labour, and they sent me out into the provinces, which I hated. I had to stay in B&Bs in county towns for nearly two years, then I managed to get back to London. Soon after that they set up something called the National Assistance Board (NAB), and I got in there right at the beginning. There was high unemployment at that time, and the unemployed and pensioners received a non-means-tested unemployment benefit; the NAB had offices all over the country, and gave means-tested benefits to people for whom the basic benefits weren't sufficient.

My brother Philip was a journalist: the Guardian's man on music and plays. And for nearly 70 years I shared a life with a well-known historian called Dame Veronica Wedgwood, in Sussex and London. So that was the entourage that I lived in socially; when I left the office I shut the door completely, and my evenings were spent with quite different sorts of people. But the '30s was a very bad period; we all felt certain that there was going to be a war.

When the war came the NAB got lots of extra jobs: anything that involved a means test. For a short time I was evacuated up to Lancashire while London was being bombed, but it was awful being exiled up there and I got back to London as quickly as I could. I lived in Wimbledon, so had to get up to London every morning - and that was sometimes difficult, London being in such a state of chaos, but one got used to it.

After the war, everybody was hopeful that everything was going to be wonderful and different - but it wasn't, of course. I got a fellowship to America for six months, where I examined how they dealt with the unemployed and old people, then I stayed at the NAB until 1965: I became an under-secretary, and looked after the policy side of things. In '65 I moved to the Ministry of Housing and Local Government (MHLG) to deal with countryside matters - and very soon after that, the NAB was folded up.

The newspapers wrote that I was the first woman to reach the rank of under-secretary - but I don't think it's true. When I became an under-secretary there were a couple of women who were already permanent secretaries, and when I moved to the MHLG the permanent secretary was Dame Evelyn Sharp. It upsets me when they write that.

I retired in 1969, though I stayed on various boards: I was on the board of the Corby Development Corporation until 1980. Corby had been a village and it absorbed all these people from the North. Like many of these places, the people who lived there originally didn't like being a new town - but we managed these problems. I haven't been back, though: I found it ugly and boring.

Life has changed immensely over the years, especially for women. When I used to go to civil service meetings with other departments, I always found myself the only woman at the table. It didn't bother me at all, though. I quite liked it: being the only woman gave one a little bit of self-esteem."

Notes:

Dorothy Jacqueline Hope-Wallace was born in May 1909. She graduated from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford in 1931 with a BA. She worked in the Ministry of Labour and then with the National Assistance Board. She was awarded a CBE in the New Year Honours List for 1958, identified as "Assistant Secretary, National Assistance Board". She was Under-Secretary of Labour from 1958 to 1965, Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Housing and and Local Government from 1965 to 1969. She was Commissioner of the Public Works Loan Board from 1974 to 1978.

Her grandfather lived in Featherstone Castle in Northumberland. Her brother, Philip Hope-Wallace, was a notable music and theatre critic. And her lifelong partner - until her death in 1997 - was renowned author Dame Veronica Wedgwood. It is sad to note that this relationship was not acknowledged in most of Dame Veronica's obituaries. But Ms Hope-Wallace was remembered by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Alexander Chancellor, editor of the Spectator from 1975 to 1984, recounted that:

"On Easter Monday, a beautiful spring day, [Lord] Alexander Hesketh brought Margaret and Denis Thatcher over [from Easton Neston] to my house at Stoke Park, where she said another surprising thing to me. Staying there with my late uncle Robin was Jacqueline Hope-Wallace, a great admirer of Margaret Thatcher, having once served under her as a civil servant in the Ministry of Pensions in the early 1960s, who was feeling bereft after the death of her long-term friend C.V. (Veronica) Wedgwood, the historian. I didn't mention that they had been lovers but must have somehow implied it, for Lady Thatcher grasped the point immediately and said, as a very modern person might, "I didn't realise they were partners." When they eventually crossed paths on the lawn, Hope-Wallace started to say "You won't remember me, but .." when Lady Thatcher briskly interrupted her: "Of course I remember you - you wrote that marvellous report on pension reform ..". She went on to recall the names and personalities of all the other civil servants in that department. She thus made a forlorn old lady very happy. Ted Heath would never have managed that."

I do not have a photograph of Ms Hope-Wallace. Can anyone help? If so, pls email me at 68rtsw8@gmail.com .