WHO WAS LORD WOOLTON?
Our February 2019 talk - reviewed by Mike Chitty
Janet Hollinshead came to talk to us about a man who made Woolton a well-known name - though as the name of a Pie rather than a place. Who was he, exactly?
Lord Woolton was born in Salford - as Frederick James Marquis. He graduated from Manchester University in Combined Sciences in 1905, and worked as a maths teacher in Burnley. Before long, however, he changed direction, taking up two jobs in Liverpool. He was in charge of the Liverpool University Settlement - an institution, like similar examples elsewhere, using education for the benefit of deprived areas - and also Manager of the David Lewis Hostel, Club and Theatre, which had been paid for out of a philanthropic bequest from the late founder of Lewis's department store. In 1912 Marquis had married Maud Smith, who was also from Salford. They moved into a flat on the top floor of the hostel, and had two children.
In the 1920s he embarked on a new and very successful career. He had met the Cohen family - David Lewis's nephews, who had taken over the retail business on the founder's death - and was invited to work for the company. Soon, Marquis became a member of the Board - the first 'non-family' member - and by the 1930s he was Managing Director. Under his guidance, Lewis's expanded far beyond its original Liverpool base, and opened stores in several other provincial towns. In 1935 Marquis was knighted 'for services to the economy'. Janet explained that Marquis had continued to live in Liverpool. For most of the time he lived in Mossley Hill Road, but in 1938 he bought the house called 'Hillfoot' in School Lane, Woolton. Then, in 1939, war broke out.
As a result of his years of experience at Lewis's, Marquis was appointed Director of Equipment & Stores at the Ministry of Supply. He was given a seat in the House of Lords, to be available to answer parliamentary questions. The 'obvious' title, Lord Marquis, was deemed potentially confusing - so instead he chose Lord Woolton. In 1940 he was appointed Minister of Food, with an apartment in London and another in Colwyn Bay to which the Ministry had been evacuated.
Janet showed us pictures of ration books, recipe books and posters, for which Lord Woolton was responsible. The posters encouraged people to 'dig for victory' on 'the Kitchen Front'. In 1941 the chef at the Savoy in London was asked to devise a recipe for a meatless pie. Lord Woolton was by this time a very well-known figure - he gave weekly talks on radio as 'Uncle Fred', promoting the recipes - and the meatless pie became known as Woolton Pie.
It was only after WW2 that Lord Woolton involved himself in party politics. He became Chairman of the Conservative Party, and then Lord Privy Seal. Initially a Baron, he was made a Viscount in 1953 and Earl of Woolton in 1955. But he rarely visited Liverpool. The house, Hillfoot, was used as Lewis's HQ following the blitzing of their city centre premises. Eventually it was demolished to make way for the Camp Hill Road housing estate. The title, Lord Woolton, will die out soon, because the 3rd Earl (Frederick's grandson) only has daughters.
Janet ended her talk with a plea: does anyone have a photograph of 'Hillfoot'? Her account of Lord Woolton's life and work had been much appreciated by the large audience, and we hope that she will be successful in her search.