Marion Graeme Billson

Labour candidate and solicitor


Admitted 1922, Not called (practised as a solicitor)

Marion Graeme Billson was the youngest of four daughters born to James Billson, a wealthy Leicester coal merchant, florist and farmer. James was a member of the Secular Society, Socialist League and the Fabian Society, and was a friend of George Bernard Shaw.

Marion Billson studied at Girton College, Cambridge before being admitted to The Inner Temple in September 1922. She seems to have decided to abandon the Bar before her Call, and instead joined a solicitors’ firm in Croydon. She received her licence to practise in 1929, and in 1934 she went into partnership with an established local solicitor, Charles Copley Singleton, to form the firm of Copley Singleton & Billson.

In early 1940, Billson represented one Emily Lanceley at Croydon magistrates’ court. Mrs Lanceley’s soldier husband was trying to cut his court-ordered maintenance payments to her from ten shillings to only five shillings a week. The husband argued that he was unable to pay more on his army wages. Billson argued that the case could constitute an important precedent, as:

if you grant this application you might receive similar applications from every soldier in the country who is separated from his wife

She added that if Mr Lanceley would pay seven shillings a week to his wife, the military authorities would contribute the balance. Billson won the case; the result was reported in the Times.

In the 1945 general election, Billson was selected as the Labour candidate for the seat of Croydon North. She narrowly lost to the Conservative incumbent, Henry Willink, who held on by only 607 votes. Coincidentally, Willinck was also an Inner Templar, admitted in 1919 and called in 1920. By the time of the 1945 election, he was a King’s Counsel and a Bencher. Following the election, there were rumours that sacks of servicemen’s votes had been left uncounted in the basement of Croydon Town Hall. If so, they may have swung the result as there was strong support for Labour among members of the armed forces, who were about to be demobilised and were concerned they would face the same unemployment and homelessness which had greeted those returning from the First World War.

Following her defeat, Billson received a postcard of commiseration from George Bernard Shaw, who advised her:

do not stick to Croydon, which is a quite hopeless constituency. On the strength of your having fought it, make the Labour Party find you a seat of which there is at least half a chance of your winning. That is the usual political routine.

Billson had no further involvement in national politics but she continued her work as a local councillor in Croydon, and was also head of her local branch of the CND.