Graham Wallas, 1858-1932

Graham Wallas was born in Sunderland on 31 May 1858, the son of an Evangelical clergyman of the Church of England who later became Rector of Shobrooke in Devon, where the young Wallas was brought up. He went to public school at Shrewsbury and thence to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, where he read Greats. Wallas […]

Edwin Montagu, 1879-1924

Few of the young men swept into Parliament by the Liberal landslide in 1906 endured as meteoric a rise and fall as Montagu. By the age of thirty-eight he was Secretary of State for India, introducing sweeping reforms to the government of the subcontinent. Yet he was forced to resign in 1922 after a bitter […]

William Ewart Gladstone, 1809-1898

As Roy Jenkins concluded in his masterly biography, ‘Mr Gladstone was almost as much the epitome of the Victorian age as the great Queen herself’. He was the political giant of his lifetime and even at the end of the twentieth century the principles and aspirations he brought to public life are still inherent in the […]

Ralf Dahrendorf (Lord Dahrendorf), 1929-2009

Writing in 1997, Ralf Dahrendorf referred to his favourite countries: Britain and Germany, and the Europe – even the Europe – to which they both belong; his commitment to public service, to academia, to politics and to liberalism has been visible in all of them. Born in Hamburg, that most anglophile of German cities, on […]

Christopher Addison (Lord Addison), 1869-1951

When in November 1918 Lloyd George promised to make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in, it fell to Christopher Addison to formulate and carry out the policy through which homes would be provided for the men returning from the Great War. The Housing and Town Planning Act of 1919, under which local authorities […]

Bill Rodgers (Lord Rodgers), 1928-

Bill Rodgers – one of the Gang of Four who founded the SDP, and now (as Lord Rodgers of Quarry Bank) the leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords – was born in Liverpool on 28 October 1928 and named William Thomas Rodgers. His father was employed for forty years by the […]

Elliott Dodds, 1889-1977

Elliott Dodds lived a life of rich variety and contrast. A southerner by birth, he became indelibly associated with the laissez-faire Liberalism of the northern counties. A journalist, whose political beliefs were breathed into every corner of the Huddersfield Examiner, he wrote extensively throughout his life on the changing relationship between individual liberty and the […]

Violet Bonham Carter (Baroness Asquith of Yarnbury), 1887-1969

Violet Bonham Carter was born in Hampstead on 15 April 1887 as Helen Violet Asquith, the daughter of Herbert Henry Asquith and his first wife Helen Melland. In 1891 Violet’s mother died of typhoid fever, and in 1894 Asquith married Margot Tennant. At the time of Violet’s birth, Asquith had just entered the House of Commons. […]

Sir John Simon (Viscount Simon), 1873-1954

Though he never rose to the premiership, John Allsebrook Simon’s collection of the highest offices of state – the Home Office (twice), the Treasury, the Foreign Office and the Woolsack – is unique in twentieth-century history. He played a major role in British politics over more than three decades, while also enjoying a distinguished legal […]

Jo Grimond (Lord Grimond), 1913-1993

Regarded by many contemporary Liberals as their spiritual leader and mentor, Jo Grimond was a figure of great magnetism and intellectual originality. He was once described as a politician on whom the gods smile, and inspired a rare degree of public affection. Within the Liberal Party, neither of his successors, Jeremy Thorpe nor David Steel enjoyed the […]

Bernard Greaves, 1942-

For thirty years, Bernard Greaves has influenced Liberal, Liberal Democrat and public policy on a range of issues. Generally, he has done so by a willingness to rigorously follow through original ideas based on firm and clear principles and a painstaking application to detail. He has greatly influenced a smaller number by the force of […]

Charles Bradlaugh, 1833-1891

Charles Bradlaugh was born on 26 September 1833 in Hoxton, London, the eldest of the seven children of a poor solicitor’s clerk, and he received only an elementary education. Though brought up in the Church of England, he came to doubt the doctrines of Christianity. Pressure to conform drove him from home in 1850 and […]

Shirley Williams (Lady Williams), 1930-2021

As the byelection car cavalcade drove slowly through a council estate in Warrington, Shirley Williams, microphone in hand, was drumming up support for SDP candidate Roy Jenkins. Standing precariously on the front seat, her head and shoulders poking through the sun-roof, Williams was in her element. As she passed a broken-down car, its grease-stained owner […]

Sir William Harcourt, 1827-1904

William George Granville Venables Vernon Harcourt was born at York on 14 October 1827, of a land-owning and clerical family which traced its ancestry to the Plantagenet kings. His elder brother, Edward Harcourt, was a staunch Conservative and for eight years an MP. William Harcourt’s views, however, began to take a Liberal turn in the […]

Thomas Hill Green, 1836-1882

Thomas Hill Green was that rare combination, a high-powered philosopher and political theorist who also contributed effectively to practical politics. His friend, the Cambridge philosopher, Henry Sidgwick, said that while he could hold his own with Green in metaphysics and epistemology, when it came to politics, ‘I always felt the chances were that before long […]

Joseph Chamberlain, 1836-1914

In a picture postcard (Tuck & Sons Ltd, c. 1905) Radical Joseph was pictured wearing a coat of many colours. Each segment was labelled with different stages in his political career: socialist, extreme radical, Gladstonian, Liberal Unionist, Conservative and protectionist and food taxer. Inconsistent was one of the more favourable epithets used of Chamberlain. To […]

Sir Clement Freud, 1924-2009

Clement Freud was one of the best-known faces on TV, and best-known voices on radio, when he became Liberal candidate for the Isle of Ely in the 1973 by-election. ‘Freud has them rolling in the Isle’ ran one tabloid headline. Those who did not know him were surprised that, even during a promising run of […]

John and Barbara Hammond, 1872-1949 and 1873-1961

John Lawrence Le Breton Hammond (known as Lawrence) was born in 1872, the son of the Vicar of Drighlington in the West Riding of Yorkshire. Lucy Barbara Bradby (known as Barbara) was born in 1873, the daughter of the headmaster of Haileybury College. Married in 1901, the Hammonds had no children. They became pioneer social […]

Sir Winston Churchill, 1874-1965

Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was born in Blenheim Palace, Oxfordshire on 30 November 1874, the son of Lord Randolph Churchill and his American wife, Jennie. He was educated at Harrow and Sandhurst, and embarked on a military career which took him to India and Africa. He also began to make a name for himself as […]

David Lloyd-George (Earl Lloyd-George and Viscount Gwynedd), 1863-1945

Lloyd George, according to Winston Churchill after his death, ‘was the greatest Welshman which that unconquerable race has produced since the age of the Tudors’. Yet he was born in England at 5 New York Place, Robert Street, Chorlton-upon-Medlock, Manchester on 17 January 1863. His parents, William George, a school teacher, and Elizabeth Lloyd, a […]