Ernest Marples

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Lord Marples
Minister of Transport
In office
14 October 1959 – 16 October 1964
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Sir Alec Douglas-Home
Preceded byHarold Watkinson
Succeeded byTom Fraser
Postmaster General
In office
17 January 1957 – 14 October 1959
Prime MinisterHarold Macmillan
Preceded byCharles Hill
Succeeded byReginald Bevins
Member of Parliament
for Wallasey
In office
26 July 1945 – 8 February 1974
Preceded byGeorge Reakes
Succeeded byLynda Chalker
Personal details
Alfred Ernest Marples

(1907-12-09)9 December 1907
Levenshulme, Manchester, Lancashire
Died6 July 1978(1978-07-06) (aged 70)
The Princess Grace Hospital Centre, Monaco
Resting placeSouthern Cemetery, Manchester
Political partyConservative
Spouse(s)Edna Florence Harwood
(1937–1945) (dissolved)
Ruth Alianore Dobson
(1956–1978) (his death)[1]

Alfred Ernest Marples, Baron Marples, PC (9 December 1907 – 6 July 1978) was a British Conservative politician who served as Postmaster General (1957–1959) and Minister of Transport (1959–1964).

As Postmaster General, he oversaw the introduction of the Premium Bond scheme and of postcodes. His period as Minister of Transport was controversial. He both oversaw significant road 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, led to concerns regarding possible conflict of interest. In later life, Marples was elevated to the peerage before fleeing to Monaco at very short notice to avoid prosecution for tax fraud.

Early life[edit]

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. In the Second World War he was commissioned into the Royal Artillery in 1941, rose to the rank of captain and was medically discharged in 1944.

In 1937 Marples married Edna Florence Harwood, the daughter of a Nottingham businessman. This marriage was dissolved in 1945.[1]

In 1956 Marples married his former secretary Ruth Dobson (1919–2014), who on his elevation to the peerage in 1974 became Lady Marples.[1][2]

Political career[edit]

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[edit]

In 1957, Harold Macmillan appointed Marples Postmaster General. On 2 June 1957, Marples started the first draw for the new Premium Bond scheme. At that time the telephone network was controlled by the General Post Office, and saw the introduction of subscriber trunk dialling (STD), which eliminated the use of operators on national phone calls, and it has also been claimed that he introduced the first postcodes to the UK, although these were both actually technical innovations which would probably have been inevitable regardless of the presiding politician.[4]

Minister of Transport[edit]

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, panda crossings in 1962 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 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.[6]


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.[7]

Business interests[edit]

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 at Blackwall in London.[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[edit]

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, at which time 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, shortly after becoming minister, Marples opened the first section of the M1 motorway. It was understood that although his former company was not directly contracted to build the M1, Marples Ridgway was alleged to have "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[edit]

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] In early 2020, the rumours were corroborated by broadcaster and investigative journalist Tom Mangold, based on the diaries of Lord Denning's then-secretary, Thomas Critchley. The diaries reported the transport minister's fetish for being whipped while dressed in women's clothing, as described in great detail by one of the prostitutes who had provided these services to Marples, and confirmed at the time by her detailed knowledge of the interior of Marples' home where the events took place.[19] The story was suppressed and did not appear in Denning's final report.[20]

Flight to Monaco[edit]

Early in 1975, Marples suddenly fled to Monte Carlo.[21] He left just before the end of the tax year, fearing that he would otherwise be liable for a substantial tax bill.[21]

Among the journalists who investigated his unexpected flight was Richard Stott (later editor of the Daily Mirror):

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.[22]

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.[21] 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.[21] 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.[21] The Inland Revenue was demanding that he pay nearly 30 years' back taxes on his residence in Eccleston Street, Belgravia, London, as well as capital gains tax on his properties in Kensington.[21] 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,[23] and he had been convicted of drinking and driving for which he received a one-year ban and a £45 fine.[24]

Memorial inscription to Ernest Marples on the family grave in Southern Cemetery, Manchester

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.[21] 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.[21] 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%.[21] The plan failed following the change of government in 1974.[21] After reports of this plan were published in the Daily Mirror, the Treasury froze Marples' assets in Britain.[25] 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.[25]

Marples' final years were spent on his 45-acre vineyard estate in Fleurie, France.[21] He died in a Monte Carlo hospital on 6 July 1978.[26] In his will, he left property valued at £388,166.[27] He is buried in a family plot in Southern Cemetery, Manchester.[28]

Popular culture[edit]

In 2009, his name was used for a website,, that campaigned to have the UK Postcode dataset released as Open Data and drew threats of legal action by the Royal Mail against its founders.[29][30] The dataset was opened up on 1 April 2010 following support from many people, including MPs,[31][32] and Code-Point Open can now be downloaded free with[33]

The founders of the site claim not to have been aware of the controversies concerning Ernest Marples when they chose his name for the website.[34]


  1. ^ a b c d Dutton, D.J. "Ernest Marples". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 10 October 2008.
  2. ^ "(Alfred) Ernest Marples, 1st Baron Marples; Lady Ruth Marples (née Dobson)". Image Details. National Portrait Gallery. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Ernest Marples, Minister of Transport (28 January 1960). "Personal statement". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 380–381. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  4. ^ Arthur, Charles (7 October 2009). "Who would really benefit if postcode data were free?". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 31 October 2011.
  5. ^ Kahn-Freund, Otto (March 1963). "Transport Act, 1962". Modern Law Review. 26 (2): 174–184. doi:10.1111/j.1468-2230.1963.tb00706.x. JSTOR 1093306.
  6. ^ Clegg, Malcolm (2020). The Last Days of British Steam: A Snapshot of the 1960s. Barnsley: Pen and Sword Transport. pp. 6–7. ISBN 978-1526760425.
  7. ^ "No. 46286". The London Gazette. 10 May 1974. p. 5747.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g "Reginald Ridgway". The Daily Telegraph. London. 29 March 2002. Retrieved 12 September 2010.
  9. ^ a b c d e Loft, Charles (2006). Government, the Railways and the Modernization of Britain. Routledge. p. 55. ISBN 978-0-7146-5338-9.
  10. ^ Robert MellishBermondsey MP (28 January 1960). "Ministers of the Crown (Private Interests)". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 372–372. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  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.[self-published source]
  12. ^ Henshaw, David (1991). The Great Railway Conspiracy. Hawes, North Yorkshire: Leading Edge Books. p. 126. ISBN 978-0-948135-48-4.
  13. ^ Dudley, Geoffrey; Richardson, Jeremy (2001). Why Does Policy Change?: Lessons from British Transport Policy 1945-99. Routledge. p. 45. ISBN 978-0-415-16918-9.
  14. ^ Hamer, Mick (1987). Wheels within Wheels: Study of the Road Lobby. Routledge. p. 50. ISBN 978-0-7102-1007-4.
  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. ^ Arthur LewisWest Ham North MP (11 November 1964). "Marples, Ridgway & Partners Limited". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 64W–64W. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  17. ^ Stephen Swingler, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Transport (21 April 1967). "M1". Parliamentary Debates (Hansard). United Kingdom: House of Commons. col. 174W–174W. Retrieved 3 March 2015.
  18. ^ Lamb, Richard (1995). The Macmillan Years 1957-1963: The Unfolding Truth. London: John Murray. p. 482. ISBN 0-7195-5392-X.
  19. ^ Mangold, Tom (26 January 2020). Keeler, Profumo, Ward and Me (Television production). BBC Two.
  20. ^ Sandbrook, Dominic (2006). Never had it so good: a history of Britain from Suez to the Beatles. London: Abacus. p. 674. ISBN 0-349-11530-3.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Stott, Richard (2 July 1975). "Why Marples had to go". Daily Mirror. pp. 1, 4–5.
  22. ^ Stott, Richard (2002). Dogs and Lampposts. Toronto: Hushion House Publishing. pp. 166–171. ISBN 1-84358-040-3.
  23. ^ "Blaze blow for Marples". Daily Mirror. 23 January 1974. p. 12.
  24. ^ McCormick, John (10 October 1974). "Drink-and-drive shame for Lord Marples". Daily Mirror. p. 1.
  25. ^ a b Stott, Richard (12 November 1977). "How Marples broke law". Daily Mirror. p. 2.
  26. ^ "A stormy King of the Road". Daily Express. 7 July 1978. p. 15.
  27. ^ "Home News round-up". Sunday Express. 1 October 1978. p. 17.
  28. ^ Manchester Evening News
  29. ^ Arthur, Charles (7 October 2009). "Who would really benefit if postcode data were free?". The Guardian. London.
  30. ^ The Silent State, Heather Brooke
  31. ^ "Alfred Ernest Marples, Baron Marples of Wallasey, is very happy because the Ordnance Survey have released free postcode data. Yay!". Ernest Marples Postcodes Ltd. Archived from the original on 3 February 2012.
  32. ^ "Postcode data to be free in 2010". BBC News. December 2009.
  33. ^ "OS Code-Point Open". Archived from the original on 17 April 2012.
  34. ^ "Interview with me about Ernest Marples". Archived from the original on 28 January 2010.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Wallasey
1945February 1974
Succeeded by
Political offices
Preceded by Postmaster General
Succeeded by
Preceded by Minister of Transport
Succeeded by