Stanley Baldwin on the cover of Time magazine in 1935.
1. The Key Facts:
Born: 1867, in Bewdley, Worcestershire.
Died: 1947, at Astley Hall, Worcestershire.
Wife: Lucy, née Ridsdale (1869-1945), married 1892.
Children: Diana (1895-1982)
Most famous as: Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 1923-24, 1924-29 and 1935-37.
2. Although he was not aristocratic by birth, Stanley Baldwin’s family was well connected, particularly within the cultural elite of late-Victorian England. His mother, Louisa, née MacDonald, had four sisters. One was the mother of Rudyard Kipling; another married the Pre-Raphaelite Edward Burne-Jones; and yet another married Edward Poynter, who was then a celebrated painter of biblical and historical scenes.
3. While a student at Harrow school, in 1883, Baldwin was apparently disciplined for writing a piece of pornography. His father told his mother that the incident had been ‘much exaggerated’ by the school’s headmaster, a fact that it is now impossible to verify, owing to the disappearance of the offending text.
4. Baldwin became a Conservative MP in 1908. In his first Cabinet post, as President of the Board of Trade in the early 1920s, he introduced legislation requiring all products sold in Britain to show a country of origin; it was the first law of its kind, intended to encourage people to ‘buy British’.
5. In 1919, Baldwin, then a rich man owing to his family’s iron foundry business, anonymously donated one fifth of his wealth to the Treasury to reduce the national debt. He hoped that other rich people would follow suit, but, with few exceptions, they did not. Baldwin’s donation, of £150,000 would now be worth over £5 million.
6. In 1927, Baldwin became the first serving British Prime Minister to visit North America, when he travelled to Canada with his wife.
7. Most newspapers in Britain in the interwar period supported Baldwin’s Conservative Party. But Baldwin himself had an uneasy relationship with the leading press barons, men like Lords Rothermere and Beaverbrook. Largely, this was because Baldwin was in their eyes too moderate. In 1931, he launched one of the fiercest attacks ever made by a British Conservative politician against what he saw as unconstitutional press behaviour. ‘Their methods are direct falsehood, misrepresentation, half truths, the alteration of the speaker’s meaning by putting sentences apart from the context, suppression and editorial criticism of speeches which are not reported in the paper,’ he said. ‘What the proprietorship of these papers is aiming at is power, but power without responsibility – the prerogative of the harlot through the ages.’
An election poster from the 1930s.
8. Baldwin was prime minister three times. He resigned for the final time in May 1937, a man exhausted by the Abdication Crisis of the previous year and the increasing challenge of responding appropriately to Europe’s totalitarian dictators. He immediately suffered a nervous collapse, in July 1937, and was left almost unable to walk for a period of time. Though he was elevated to the peerage, his final years were spent in relative poverty in Worcestershire, his business interests having suffered during the Depression. In the Second World War, he was frequently depicted as appeaser-in-chief, blamed along with other ‘guilty men’ for having allowed Nazism to grow so strong.
Baldwin and his wife seen at Astley Hall, in Worcestershire, a few days after the conclusion of the Abdication Crisis.
9. Baldwin and his family are satirised in Evelyn Waugh’s classic novel of 1930, Vile Bodies. After a party, the heroine of that novel, Agatha Runcible, accompanies a Miss Brown back to her house. The following morning, Agatha discovers that the house is actually 10 Downing Street. The Prime Minister’s wife is depicted at breakfast telling her sons and daughters to be kind to their father. ‘Now, children… do try to remember to talk to your father at breakfast. He was quite hurt yesterday. He feels out of things. It’s so easy to bring him into the conversation if you take a little trouble, and he does so enjoy hearing about everything.’
10. Back in the real world, Baldwin’s eldest son, Oliver, who became the second Earl of Bewdley on his father’s death, was a constant source of worry to the statesman, as well as, sometimes, of embarrassment. At the height of Baldwin’s political career, in 1929, Oliver became an MP for the opposition Labour Party, thus contributing to the Conservatives’ defeat in the 1929 general election. Closer to home, Oliver had already revealed his homosexuality to his parents, something that Stanley and Lucy initially found difficult to accept, but later became reconciled to, acknowledging Oliver’s long-term partner John Boyle. It was a highly unusual thing for parents of their background to do at that time.
Images of Oliver Baldwin, from his time as Governor of the Leeward Islands in the late 1940s. Controversially, he travelled there with John Boyle, though nothing was said publicly about this at the time. Source: The National Archives.
Sources: Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Evelyn Waugh, Vile Bodies. Christopher J. Walker, Oliver Baldwin. The Times.