The NHS, Unions, the Midland Bank, Britney Spears & the Monckton Lecture Theatre...What links these five?
It is in fact Viscount Walter Monckton, after whom the lecture theatre is named. In the spirit of mixing heritage with estates, this edition looks at two of the places around St. George’s named after particularly influential individuals.
Walter Monckton was the first chairman of St. George’s Hospital after the introduction of the NHS by Clement Attlee’s government in the late 1940s. Part of the problem with introducing a national health service as part of the welfare state was that doctors didn’t actually want an NHS, and without doctors there could not be an NHS. Their main problem with a national health service was that they would lose their independence, and some of their power and the ability to make decisions freely. This was not a problem for Aneurin Bevin, the pioneer of the NHS, as he was shrewd and knew that clever appointment of management and plenty of money (“I stuffed their [consultants] mouths with gold”) would bring doctors around to his new health service. Part of this new management structure included Walter Monckton, who was appointed chairman of St. George’s Hospital Board of Governors (note this board was replaced by the Area Health Authorities in 1974). Monckton was a great chairman and ensured strong links were forged between management and the medical staff, gaining their complete respect in the process. During his time at St. George’s the relationships between hospital management and clinical staff were arguably the happiest and most harmonious of the hospitals history.
Before coming to work at St. George’s Monckton was a barrister and politician, and early in his career he was attorney to the Royal Family, along with serving in WWI, receiving the Military Cross in 1919. Although his views were originally very socialist, Monckton came to work extensively with the Conservative Party, and was a Conservative MP for Bristol West. Before the Second World War, Monckton supported Chamberlain’s appeasement policy with Nazi Germany, and he was later selected by Churchill to become Director-General of the Ministry of Information. Subsequently Monckton become Solicitor-General and then Minister of Labour in the early 1950s. Churchill appointed Monckton to this role as he felt his charms would be useful in averting conflict with the Trade Unions. However this would prove to be a mistake as Monckton heavily sympathised with the Unions, and scrapped both the Workers’ Charter and Industrial Charter, both of which were measures designed by the conservatives to control the power of the Unions. This allowed Unions to become extremely powerful and able to act against the interests of the country, a process which disrupted the post-war recovery and the British economy for many years. This was not redressed until the issues came to ahead in the 1970s and Government managed to curb the influence and power of the Unions, something that would have happened far earlier had Monckton not been the Labour Minister. He later became Minister of Defence under the subsequent government, and was the only member of the cabinet to oppose the invasion of Egypt in the late 50s in the Suez Crisis, the result of which marked, to many, the end of Britain’s status as a superpower.
Monckton left politics in 1957, becoming chairman of the Midland Bank (now part of HSBC) and continued to act as an advisor to the Royal Family, involving himself in many royal cover-ups.
Walter Monckton had an interesting life, in management, law, politics and the health service at St. George’s. It is clear that he was not without flaws, but he is certainly worthy of the honour of our main performing arts and lecture theatre being named after him, The Monckton Theatre. Oh, and if you were wondering, the tenuous link to Britney Spears is that Monckton was also known to be a womaniser.