A Fitting Tribute

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A Fitting Tribute

The debate over the memorial to Viscount Grey of Fallodon

A Fitting Tribute The debate over the memorial to Viscount Grey of Fallodon

Richard Smith FCO Historians 2015

Edward Grey (1862–1933), Viscount Grey of Fallodon by George Fiddes Watt (1873–1960) © Palace of Westminster Collection

Sir Edward Grey is Britain’s longest continuously serving Foreign Secretary, having held the seals of office from November 1905 to November 1916. Created Viscount Grey of Fallodon in 1916, he died on 7 September 1933. During his final months Grey was visited in his nursing home by Sir Walford Selby, who had been a junior diplomat during his time as Foreign Secretary. On the day of Selby’s departure for Vienna to take up the post of ambassador, he went to say goodbye and took Grey a large bunch of sweet peas. ‘My last recollection of him was his head buried in the peas inhaling their fragrance. I never saw him again’. Following Grey’s death Lord Tyrrell, his former private secretary,

wrote to Selby: ‘Our great friend has found his release. We cannot grudge it him but to us he leaves the sorrow of his loss, though as a legacy a wonderful memory of great statesmanship and unique friendship.’ The following year a committee was formed to devise a fitting public memorial to keep alive Viscount Grey’s memory as a statesman and public figure. It was headed by the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, and contained a distinguished list of politicians, academics, diplomats and writers, reflecting the many different aspects of Grey’s career and character. Luminaries included the Archbishop of Canterbury, Sir James Barrie, Stanley Baldwin, Lord Halifax, Winston

Churchill, Neville Chamberlain, J.A. Spender, Lord Tyrrell, H.A.L. Fisher, G.M. Trevelyan and the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University. The committee wanted to erect a memorial, in the form either of a bust or tablet, in the precincts of either Westminster Abbey or the Palace of Westminster. However their task would not prove straightforward. What followed was an administrative wrangle over a suitable form of memorial between the committee, the Foreign Office and the Office of Works, the government department responsible for overseeing the erection of public memorials in London. The committee were thwarted almost immediately by the recent introduction of a

ten-year rule, which prevented consideration of any proposal of this kind until ten years after the death of a person. It was unfortunate, noted the committee’s chairman, Lord Buxton, that Grey’s was the first case to fall under this new resolution. Buxton then enquired whether the ban extended to government buildings and, if not, whether the government would consider a memorial in the Foreign Office. The Foreign Secretary, Sir John Simon, warmly welcomed the proposal and believed there would be no difficulty in finding ‘a suitable niche’ for a bust either at the corner of the Grand Staircase or by substituting the bust of the former Permanent Under-Secretary, Lord Hammond, which faced the staircase at the bottom. He

was less enthusiastic about the idea of a tablet. However the First Commissioner of Works, William Ormsby Gore, thought the committee might feel that the bust would be ‘buried’ in the Foreign Office where few people would see it. His reservation was to prove well founded. The committee did indeed want an outdoor site for the memorial where it would be visible to all. The Office of Works warned there was a dearth of suitable sites. In November 1934 Lord Tyrrell and H.J. ‘Jack’ Tennant, the Liberal politician and fishing friend of Grey, met Sir Patrick Duff, Secretary of the Office of Works, to press for a plaque with a bas-relief on the St James’s Park

frontage of the Foreign Office. Duff thought it would look ‘lamentably insignificant’ given the size of the building and the distance of the Foreign Office from the road. After going out into the street to inspect the site they agreed and instead accepted a niche at the head of the first flight of stairs on the Grand Staircase. They thought they would almost certainly carry the committee with them. However this was not the case as six months later, in May 1935, the noted architect Sir Edwin Lutyens submitted, on behalf of the committee, drawings to the Office of Works for an outdoor memorial. It consisted of a bust of Grey, in Italian stone, within an architectural surround of Portland stone. It

was proposed to position the memorial in the wall of the Downing Street Garden facing the Foreign Office. The plans came as a surprise to Duff but he was not unsympathetic to the proposal. The First Commissioner, however, was unhappy. The Downing Street Wall already had a memorial to Lord Kitchener along it, facing onto Horseguards’, which he thought was ‘frankly ridiculous’ and he was opposed to any further ‘Denkmalisation’ of the wall. Ormsby Gore much preferred the idea of a bust in the Foreign Office. He suggested to Tyrrell and Tennant that a temporary home for a memorial might be found in the Foreign Office before moving it to the Houses of Parliament, once the tenyear limit had expired, so it could be ‘in

company with the statesmen of his day’ and where it would be ‘much more appropriately placed.’ Following the meeting Ormsby Gore wrote to Lord Tyrrell to give him his personal view. After conducting a recce with Duff and his chief architect to ‘spy out the land’ he had returned determined to oppose vigorously any memorial on the Downing Street walls— ‘The full horror of Kitchener again impressed itself upon my mind this morning’, he wrote. Anything there would look out of place both architecturally and aesthetically. Instead he laid out three options: (i) If it was a bust, it could only be inside the Foreign Office; (ii) If it was a statue, it could have temporary locus

Drawing of the ill-fated design by Sir Edwin Lutyens (Crown Copyright)

under cover before being eventually removed to the Houses of Parliament; (iii) Or it could be a statue as part of a scheme to rework the Downing Street steps. However this would take more money to defray the cost of rebuilding the steps. But the Office of Works quickly changed its mind. The ten year rule was designed ‘expressly for the purpose of resisting projects framed in the enthusiasm of the moment’. It would be wrong to give the impression that a statue was safe to go to Parliament in ten years’ time when ‘there may be other candidates for vacant places’ or ‘the light of history made readjustments in the national estimate of statesmen.’ They now proposed

either: (i) a bust in the Foreign Office; or (ii) a medallion in the wall of the Foreign Office opposite the foot of the Downing Street steps ‘beside the side door which Lord Grey always used to use,’ where it would, ‘meet the eye of every person who passed down the Downing Street steps’. This could include ‘the head of Lord Grey in low relief’ as well as a suitable inscription; or (iii) a statue, at the bottom of the Downing Street steps but the cost to prepare the site would be £3,000, over and above what any statue would cost. Also as that end of Downing Street was an ‘architectural muddle’ and future alterations might be made, they were not confident a statue placed here ‘could be regarded as a permanency.’

To the annoyance of the Office of Works, the committee continued to press the idea of the Downing Street garden wall site. The First Commissioner resolved to send the proposal to the Royal Fine Art Commission in the hope that they would turn it down. If not, he agreed to seek the approval of the Cabinet. Ormsby Gore did not want to turn the proposal down flat because Tennant was a Liberal ‘party’ man and refusal might be attributed to party bias. The Commission did not, in principle, object to the bust in the wall (‘most aggravatingly’ in the words of Duff) but were reluctant to endorse it in light of the objections from the First Commissioner. At the same time they

had reservations about the wall medallion commenting that ‘the heavily rusticated background and the very restricted space would present difficulties which could hardly be overcome by the closest collaboration between the Sculptor and the Architect’. Instead they plumped for the only other suggestion in the letter, that of a bust on the Foreign Office staircase. In July 1935 the First Commissioner circulated a paper to Cabinet outlining options including the bust in the Foreign Office, a medallion on the Foreign Office wall, and the Lutyens scheme. He spoke out against the latter stating that while the Downing Street garden wall might not be an object of beauty it was

The Kitchener Memorial so derided by the First Commissioner of Works (Wikimedia Commons)

‘homely and unaffected’ and ‘simple and appropriate’ for its purpose as a garden wall, not as a repository for memorials. The view of the Foreign Office was that a medallion would be unsuitable. Sir Stephen Gaselee, the Foreign Office Librarian, thought tablets ‘a mean and usually ugly form of commemoration’. The Cabinet considered the matter and took Ormsby Gore’s advice; rejecting the Downing Street wall plans and agreeing that the most appropriate memorial would be a bust in the Foreign Office. However the proposal still did not meet the approval of the committee who now cast around for other suitable public sites near Parliament, such as Victoria Tower Gardens.

At the Foreign Office Charles Howard Smith, an assistant under-secretary, thought there was space for a statue on the grass plot by the Foreign Office garden door on Horse Guards Parade. He thought it would need to be an imposing statue like that of Clive outside the India Office. ‘Imposing’ sounded expensive to Sir Stephen Gaselee, whereas the Permanent Under-Secretary, Sir Robert Vansittart declared that he hated statues out of doors and especially one right outside his office window. ‘Efforts in this particular genre to perpetuate the ephemeral seem to be quite out of keeping with our age’ he noted, and he hoped ‘they will not continue the last century’s habit of plastering the streets with monuments.’ The Foreign Office’s collective

view was that the best place for a statue (after the Foreign Office) would be near the House of Commons ‘in which Lord Grey also played a large part’ — ‘but I don’t want any bust in any public park!’ added the Foreign Secretary, now Sir Samuel Hoare. One possible site was in Victoria Tower Gardens, opposite the circular shrubbery occupied by a statue of the suffragette, Mrs Pankhurst. Officials thought the fact that the suffragettes had smashed the windows of Lord Grey’s house in Queen Anne’s Gate during their agitation for the vote might add ‘a certain piquancy’ to the situation. There were also vacant sites in Parliament Square, but these commemorated Prime Ministers, a

post that Grey had never held. Increases in traffic also meant that the Square might have to be redesigned soon. ‘It seems to me most unfortunate that Mrs Pankhurst should have been put where she is’, commented Duff, ‘thus “pegging” the shrubbery forming her background, which would be much better away’. Another statue here, he thought, would be regrettable. Duff thought that if the committee rejected what the Cabinet had offered, and alternative possibilities had been explored without success, they were under no obligation to find another site. This was the answer that was eventually given to the committee.

In January 1936 an appeal for funds was made by the Prime Minister, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Crewe, Professor G.M. Trevelyan and the Chancellor and ViceChancellor of Oxford University. A three-fold memorial was planned: a statue or bust in Central London, the purchase of one of Grey’s favourite viewpoints, ‘Ros Castle’, (a small hill-top in Northumberland), for preservation by the National Trust; and the development of the work of the British Trust for Ornithology at Oxford to form a permanent institute of bird studies, to which Grey’s name would be attached. The appeal stated: ‘If the strength, integrity, and simplicity of his character made him for 11 years the notable representative of his country before the

world as Foreign Secretary, and helped to give to the British Empire and her Allies confidence and unity at the supreme crisis of fate, these qualities were drawn from the same well-springs of old English rural life which inspired him as a countryman, a naturalist, and an author.’ At the same time the committee returned to the Office of Works to indicate that the idea of a medallion at the side door of the Foreign Office would, after all, be acceptable to them. There was some confusion in the Office as to whether this option had already been rejected by the Cabinet. (In fact they had remained silent on the point.) However the First Commissioner had no objections and

wrote to the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, now Anthony Eden, to recommend the proposed solution. Eden greatly regretted the rejection of the bust for the Foreign Office and described himself strongly opposed to the idea of a medallion, which he thought would be unsatisfactory from an aesthetic point of view. The site, he said, was not ideal for displaying the medallion and it would do little to enhance the appearance of the Foreign Office wall. He pressed again for a bust in a niche on the Grand Staircase, opposite the statues of Lord Clarendon and Lord Salisbury, where it would be seen by the great majority of visitors to the Foreign Office and where Grey would be ‘in good company’. Sir Stephen Gaselee offered up a suggestion

Right: The view from Ros Castle in Northumberland, one of Grey’s favourite spots, and above: the inscription on the memorial placed at the summit (Wikimedia Commons: Andrew Curtis & Richard Webb respectively)

from committee member and former diplomat, Lord Howard of Penrith, who wondered if a statue of Grey could be accommodated in the Foreign Office until such time as it could be moved to Parliament but the idea came up against Vansittart’s aversion to statues. When the First Commissioner met the committee on 5 February 1936 they had before them a letter from the Prime Minister acquiescing in the scheme and a letter from the Foreign Secretary strongly opposing it. The committee themselves did not seem united. Lord Howard agreed strongly with Eden that the site was not appropriate and that a bust in the Foreign Office was more

suitable, but another member urged that if the public were being asked to subscribe to a memorial they must have a chance to see it. Howard returned a month later to say the committee now wanted a bust, not a plaque, for which Sir William Reid Dick had provided a design, to be placed by the side door. But the committee were not unanimous. Howard thought this proposal was even worse but other members were ‘so tired of the struggle’ that they were prepared to agree to it, and they were irritated with Howard for his resistance. Lord Howard was told that as this proposal was new the committee had to submit it in writing.

In an attempt to bridge the impasse between himself, the committee, and the government, Howard returned again to the idea that the memorial might be worked-in as part of the improvements contemplated for the end of Downing Street. The bust could sit under a canopy of architectural design. Rather than waiting for the scheme to widen the steps leading from Downing Street to St James Park, the canopy could be placed ‘in the rather ragged grass plot which at present so unworthily ends Downing Street’ to be worked later into any final improvement. The memorial would give Downing Street a more ‘dignified termination’ and greatly improve a spot ‘so absurdly unworthy as to be almost a laughing stock’. The Chief Architect took

another look at the site and thought that remodelling the steps, in a way that enhanced the area, would cost £10,000. Duff thought such a commitment was not possible merely ‘to restore unanimity to the Grey Memorial Committee’. Ormsby Gore agreed that a bust by the side door would look absurd, and suffer from weathering, and that the Downing Street steps scheme would be very expensive. The Office of Works replied to Howard that whilst they had ‘every desire to help the Memorial Committee in their difficulties’ they rejected the proposition. They accepted that the end of Downing Street was ‘not particularly creditable as it stands’ but the Exchequer was unlikely to give funding. They could not give an assurance as to when any

improvement might be put in place, and to put down any bust temporarily was not a ‘happy solution.’ They also rejected the bust by the side door as impractical and reiterated the two available options: a bust in the Foreign Office or a plaque by the side door. Clearly dejected, Howard was ready to propose to the committee that they give up the idea of putting up any memorial for the time being. However the following month the committee wrote to the Office of Works stating that they accepted the side door site, but had dropped the idea of a bust, and had instructed Sir William Reid Dick to prepare plans for a plaque. The Office felt that they had to defer

to this choice as the Prime Minister had agreed that the committee might be offered this alternative site. It was one of the last pieces of business to come before Ormsby Gore before he left to become Secretary of State for the Colonies. The Foreign Secretary was informed of their decision. This prompted Howard Smith to meet the new First Commissioner, Lord Stanhope, to protest. But Stanhope was clear that, although it was regrettable that the site had been offered, it was impossible to withdraw the offer now. It might be possible to review the situation if the Royal Fine Art Commission found Sir William’s scheme ‘hopelessly unacceptable’ but not otherwise. ‘Most regrettable—but with a faint ray of hope’, was Vansittart’s

verdict. ‘A wretched business’ was Eden’s more forceful verdict. He thought it absurd that the Foreign Office had no power to control memorials ‘about its walls’. Howard Smith wrote to convey the Foreign Secretary’s disapointment, his fear that the Commission would not be deterred, and his hope that Lord Stanhope would do everything possible to prevent the erection of the plaque. In July 1936 Lutyens submitted a scheme consisting of a portrait panel set into the masonry at the side of the Foreign Office doorway at the end of Downing Street, with an inscription cut into the stone base below. The Office of Works forwarded the scheme to the Royal Fine Art Commission in the hope

that their comments might provide an excuse to cancel the offer of this site. Just to make sure Duff rang the Commission for a ‘private word’ to say that the more hostile their criticisms were the better. However the Commission replied positively stating that the arrangement of the plaque and inscription showed ‘a skilful handling of an awkward problem.’ Privately the Commission conveyed to Duff that the scheme made the best of a bad job but as Lutyens and Reid Dick were both members it could not be expressed in such terms. The Office of Works contacted the Foreign Secretary to say that as the letter from the Commission provided no ammunition, they

had no option but to let it go ahead. The only hope of stopping the scheme was to get Lord Tyrrell to mobilise opposition on the Memorial Committee itself, but they thought that the committee were probably in agreement on the matter. At the Foreign Office Gaselee thought Lord Howard would be willing to take some form of action and along with Lord Tyrrell ought to pull a good deal of weight on the committee. However Eden thought that this had been tried so many times it seemed hardly worthwhile returning to the charge. He felt he could no longer stand out against the proposal. Eden then left for a Four-Power Conference in Geneva and it was November before he finally

replied to Stanhope dropping all objections to the proposal. ***** On Tuesday 27 April 1937 the memorial was unveiled in front of a distinguished company of intimate friends and admirers of Lord Grey. Over 1,000 people had subscribed to the fund, raising over ÂŁ4,000 for the three memorial projects. Lord Cottesloe presided over the event, the Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin made a speech in tribute to Grey, and Lord Crewe proposed a vote of thanks. Right: Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin waits to unveil the memorial in 1937 (The Times/News Syndication)

The plaque consisted of a classical portrait of Grey, in relief, surrounded by a circular inscription: ‘Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, MCMV—MCMXVI’. Incised in the wall below the plaque, after Grey’s name and dates, was the following tribute: ‘By uprightness of character, wisdom in council and firmness in action, he won the confidence of his countrymen, and helped to carry them through many and great dangers’. The three-year struggle to find a suitable form of memorial for Edward Grey in London was a tale of personalities, official procedure and personal tastes. But despite the differences of opinion the choice of memorial has stood the test of time. The plaque’s location, to the

right of the ‘Ambassador’s Entrance’, the door used for eleven years by Grey to enter the Foreign Office, proved appropriate, even though Downing Street is now closed to the public. But decades of weathering eventually took their toll. Until recently it was in a poor state of repair, with parts of the inscription hardly legible. In 2014, the year of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office restored the memorial to its former glory. It now forms an intrinsic part of the fabric of the building.

Sources: T[he] N[ational] A[rchives] WORK 20/200; TNA FO 366/956; TNA FO 366/980; CAB 23/82/6, CAB 24/255/49; Walford Selby MSS, Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS. Eng.c.6599; Buxton MSS, British Library, Add. MSS. 87084; The Times.

Left: The memorial today (Crown Copyright) Back cover: Workmen washing the memorial in 1938 (Crown Copyright)