New tribute is unveiled to Leeds political pioneer Alice Bacon

Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves unveils the new tribute to Baroness Alice Bacon in Leeds today.
Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves unveils the new tribute to Baroness Alice Bacon in Leeds today.

Leeds’s Corn Exchange loomed large in the remarkable life of the late political trailblazer Baroness Alice Bacon.

The historic building was the venue for Baroness Bacon’s constituency surgeries after she became the city’s first female MP and it also regularly played host to bazaars organised by her beloved Labour Party.

Baroness Alice Bacon.

Baroness Alice Bacon.

So it is surely only fitting that this cherished Leeds landmark has now been chosen as the home of a new blue plaque tribute to her achievements.

And today visitors to the Corn Exchange got their first glimpse of the plaque as it was unveiled by Leeds West MP Rachel Reeves, Baroness Bacon’s biographer and only the second woman to represent a Leeds constituency in the Commons.

Ms Reeves told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “A lot of what Alice did, certainly at a local level, was done here in the Corn Exchange.

“Back in the 1940s, 50s and 60s, it wasn’t so common for MPs to hold regular surgeries in their constituencies and so Alice’s were some of the earliest.

“A lot of people still have fond memories of meeting her here and after I wrote my book about her, I received lots of letters from people who wanted to tell me how she helped them on a whole range of things.”

Also in attendance today was Coun Judith Blake, leader of Leeds City Council and the first woman to hold that position.

She said: “I think it’s an inspirational choice, putting the plaque where Alice Bacon came to meet the people of Leeds.

“We want to make sure that more women come forward, get involved [in politics] and represent the great city of Leeds.”

The Leeds Civic Trust tribute to Baroness Bacon has received sponsorship and support from Corn Exchange owner Rushbond and the University of Leeds.

Rushbond chief executive Jonathan Maud and Prof Cristina Leston-Bandeira, from the university’s School of Politics and International Studies, were among today’s guests.

Leeds Civic Trust director Martin Hamilton said: “We were unsure originally where we were going to put this plaque.

“Alice lived in Normanton and it wasn’t clear where she had her constituency office, but then it became apparent that she held surgeries in the Corn Exchange and we thought, ‘what a brilliant place for it’. It’s such a spectacular setting.”

Baroness Bacon represented Leeds North East and then Leeds South East between 1945 and 1970.

The Yorkshire miner’s daughter became a minister when Labour re-entered government in 1964, helping to create the welfare state and playing a pivotal role in the introduction of comprehensive schools.

She was made a life peer in 1970 and died in 1993 aged 83.