AGNES LOIS BULLEY
(1901 – 1995)
Paving the Road Towards a Better Future
Born into wealth, which she rejected, a member of the Labour Party, Communist Party and Cheshire County Council, a Quaker, a fighter against racism and for social justice and equality, especially for women, a philanthropist with a shrewd business brain, a national benefactor of applied plant biology and horticultural research - Lois Bulley was an exceptional human being.
Her socialist, agnostic father, Arthur Bulley, was a pioneer Fabian and a successful Liverpool cotton broker. He used his wealth to become perhaps the most important patron of British plant collecting this century, creating at Ness in the Wirral a garden which holds today one of the finest plant collections in the British Isles.
Her mother, Agnes, an equally committed socialist, was a devout Anglican whose marriage worked happily in spite of the religious difference. Both Lois and her brother Alfred, however, were deeply affected by these contradictions. Brought up as agnostics so they could choose their own religion when old enough, they spent their early childhood closeted at Ness in a household of older people, and rarely mixed with other children. They were taught by French and German governesses, which gave Lois a German accent which lasted all her life. Overawed by her upbringing and later by boarding school, she was left with permanent difficulty in establishing personal relationships.
The conscience and passionate integrity passed on by her parents troubled Lois Bulley. She felt she had no right to her inherited wealth, but owed a debt to the society which gave it to her. This was her morality and her motivation, which she pursued through charitable and political work.
Charitable action began in the late 1920s with a trust to help the children of poor families achieve a full-scale private education. Political action was nourished by work in the East End of London, where Bulley applied an early training in midwifery and Truby King nutrition. She briefly joined the British Women's Total Abstinence Union; though she rejected its narrow evangelism she remained a lifelong teetotaller.
Joining the Labour Party in 1930, Bulley won a seat on Neston Urban District Council, where she championed low-paid railwaymen. In 1934 she became county councillor for Neston, including Ellesmere Port, lost the seat three years later, then won Bebington including New Ferry in 1938. She served as alderman from 1939 until 1946. One of only two socialists and five women on the council, she campaigned on issues of the unemployed, low levels of public assistance, social deprivation and women's and children's rights.
Dressing simply and never one for fine living, Bulley was well-known for her ability to clarify, explain and win understanding. In Tory-dominated Cheshire in the cruel 1930s this made her a public force for the Left. She saw no contradiction in standing as Labour candidate for Chester in the 1935 general election, then joining the Communist Party in 1936 while remaining a Labour Party member. The pro-Franco attitude of the Tory government in Britain towards the Spanish Civil War shocked her. "Only the Communists," she said, "offer an effective opposition."
Agnes Lois Bulley died on 27th December 1995 at the age of 94.