Childhood & Early Life
Aneurin Bevan was one of the ten children born on November 15, 1897 in Tredegar, Monmouthshire to David Bevan and Phoebe nee Prothero. While his father was a coal miner, his mother worked as a seamstress.
Academically poor, young Bevan repeated a year of studies. Due to his dismal performance, he left studies at the age of thirteen and instead started working at the local Tytryst Colliery.
He joined Tredegar branch of the South Wales Miners' Federation and was appointed as a trade union activist. By the age of 19, he became the head of the local Miners' Lodge.
Bevan’s excellent oratory skills made him a highly influential figure in the Tredegar Iron Company. His rising popularity became a threat for his employers who sacked him. However, gaining support from the Miner’s Federation, he forced the company to re-employ him.
In 1919, seeking a sponsorship from the South Wales Miner’s Federation, he gained admission at the Central Labour College in London. He studied economics, politics and history. It was in London that the seed for his left-wing political approach was sowed.
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In 1921, Bevan returned from London. With Tredegar Iron & Coal Company refusing to re-employ him, Bevan searched for work but in vain. He spent three years in idleness before being employed by Bedwellty Colliery. However, with the closure of the company, he was yet again unemployed.
It was in 1926 that Bevan finally found work again, as a paid union official. He became a head of the local miners against the colliery companies during the General Strike.
As one of the leaders of the South Wales miners during the General Strike, he was responsible for distribution of strike pay in Tredegar. Additionally, he helped in the formation of the Council of Action, which would be responsible for raising money and providing food for the miners.
In 1928, he served as the member of the Cottage Hospital management Committee. Following year, he was made the chairman of the committee, a post which he held for a year.
Bevan’s stint in politics started in 1928, when he won a seat on Monmouthshire County Council.
Bevan was chosen as the Labour Party candidate from the parliamentary constituency of Ebbw Vale, for the 1929 General Election. He easily won the election. Bevan was so popular in his constituency that he was elected unopposed in the 1931 General Election.
Bevan became an early supporter of the socialists. In 1936, he joined the board of the new socialist newspaper, Tribune.
During World War II, he was one of the leaders of the House of Commons. Following Labour Party’s landslide victory in 1945 General Election, he was appointed as Minister of Health & Housing by new Prime Minister, Clement Attlee. With this, he became the youngest member in Attlee cabinet to serve in the ministerial position.
As Minister of Health, Bevan worked for providing free health service that was to be paid directly through public money.
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On July 5, 1948, Bevan's National Health Service Act came into being. As a Health Minister, Bevan gained supervisory control over 2,688 voluntary and municipal hospitals in England and Wales that were nationalised.
As a housing sector minister, Bevan worked for establishing a society in which people had the choice to live in owner occupation or private sector. He envisioned a society wherein people from various walks of life and professions lived together on the same street.
Unlike the health portfolio, housing reform proved to be a challenging task for him as pre-war slums were vast and extensive. Adding to the woes was the limited availability of building materials and skilled labour in the post-war era. As such, he succeeded in building merely 227,600 homes in three years which was far less as compared to his successor Macmillan’s 300,000 a year
In 1951, he was appointed as the Minister of Labour. Under the new portfolio, he successfully defended railway men to secure a deal that would provide them increased pay. However, he resigned from his post, after Hugh Gaitskell's introduction of prescription charges for dental care and spectacles. Later in the year, the Labour Party lost the General Election.
In 1952, Bevan came up with his work, ‘In Place of Fear’ which went on to become one of the most widely read socialist book. Same year, he not just lost a debate on health to Conservative backbencher Iain Macleod but with it, his seat as the Minister of Health as well.
Following his exit from ministerial position, he became the leader of the left wing of the Labour Party. As the head, he strongly condemned the high defence expenditure and instead supported building better relations with Soviet Union.
After 1955 General Election, he contested against Morrison and Labour right-winger Hugh Gaitskell for the leadership of Labour Party. Gaitskell was chosen as the leader of the Labour Party and under his leadership Bevan served as the Shadow Colonial Secretary, and later as Shadow Foreign Secretary. Eventually, he was elected as Labour Party Treasurer, defeating George Brown
In 1959, Bevan was elected as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party.
Personal Life & Legacy
In 1934, Bevan married fellow Socialist Member of Parliament, Jennie Lee, who later in 1970 became Baroness Lee of Asheridge.
During the end of 1959, he suffered from severe pain. Resultantly, he was admitted in a hospital for ulcer surgery. However, examination confirmed presence of malignant stomach cancer.
Aneurin Bevan breathed his last on July 6, 1960 at his home Asheridge Farm, Chesham, Buckinghamshire.