Celtic Royal Genealogy

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  • ID: I12
  • Name: Lionel Beaumont-Thomas M.P., M.C., of Brampton House
  • Surname: Beaumont-Thomas
  • Given Name: Lionel
  • Suffix: M.P., M.C., of Brampton House
  • Prefix: Col.
  • Sex: M
  • Birth: 1 Aug 1893 in Moorlands, Lydney, Gloucestershire, England
  • Death: 1958 in Brighton, Sussex, England
  • _UID: 4A9548A7AD55BB4EB99ECF7E17B5A49B885D
  • Baptism: 8 Oct 1893 Trinty Church, Margate, Kent, England
  • Note:
    England & Wales, FreeBMD Birth Index: 1837-1983
    Name:Lionel Beaumont Thomas
    Year of Registration:1893 Quarter of Registration:Jul-Aug-Sep District:Chepstow County: Gloucestershire, Monmouthshire Volume:11a Page:1

    England & Wales, FreeBMD Marriage Index: 1837-1983
    Name:Lionel B Thomas
    Marriott District: Paddington County:Greater London, London, Middlesex Volume:1a Page:159

    Divorce Court File: 6696.
    Appellant: Pauline Grace Thomas.
    Respondent: Lionel Beaumont Thomas.
    Type: Wife's petition for divorce [WD].
    Covering dates 1933
    Availability Open Document, Open Description, Normal Closure before FOI Act: 30 years Held by
    The National Archives, Kew

    Divorce Court File: 6776.
    Appellant: Henry Edward Hazlehurst.
    Respondent: Iseult Margery Hazlehurst.
    Co-respondent: Lionel Beaumont Thomas.
    Type: Husband's petition for divorce [HD].
    Covering dates 1933
    Availability Open Document, Open Description, Normal Closure before FOI Act: 30 years Held by
    The National Archives, Kew

    London, England, Electoral Registers, 1847-1965
    Name: Lionel Beaumont-Thomas Electoral Year: 1934 Parliamentary Division: Kensington County or Borough: Kensington and Chelsea
    Source Information:
    Ancestry.com. London, England, Electoral Registers, 1847-1965 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010.
    Original data: Electoral Registers. London, England: London Metropolitan Archives.

    1911 Census Household Transcript
    Name: Relationship to head: Marital Status: Years married: Sex: Age in 1911: Occupation: Where born:

    County London District Wandsworth
    Subdistrict Southfields
    Enumeration District 10
    Parish Wandsworth

    Military Service of Col. Lionel Beaumont-Thomas MC p/135846-General List
    The "official" Ministry of Defence service history of Lionel Beaumont Thomas Dates

    First World War
    Commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant (Special Reserve) Royal Artillery01/04/12
    Posted to 22nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery 10/04/12
    Attached to 34th Brigade 1912/13
    Posted to 4b Reserve Brigade 04/08/14
    Posted to 7th Division Ammunition Column 28/08/14
    Posted to 58th Battery, Royal Field Artillery 1914
    Posted to 35th Brigade 03/12/14
    Promoted Lieutenant Feb/15
    Posted to F Battery, Royal Horse Artillery Jul/15
    Posted to 14th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery 04/08/15
    Appointed Adjutant 14th Brigade, Royal Horse Artillery Oct/15
    Appointed Acting Captain, F Battery, Royal Horse Artillery Mar/17
    Posted to 35th Brigade 03/08/15
    Posted to command B/76 Jul/18
    Posted to Home Service Nov/18
    Resigned Commission 1919
    Attended Military Intelligence Course 1919
    Resigned Commission 1919
    Appointed to a command a Battery in the 83rd Welsh Brigade, Cardiff 1919
    Attended Commanding Officers course, Larkhill 1922
    Resigned Commission 1923

    Second World War
    Commissioned as lieutenant The General War List 06/06/40
    Appointed Acting Captain 06/06/40
    Appointed General Staff Officer Class 06/06/40
    Appointed General Staff Officer 2nd Grade (L) 03/07/40
    Appointed Acting Major 03/07/40
    Relinquished Appointment of GSO 2nd Grade (M.O. 3 (c)) and acting Major 27/09/40
    Selected to attend Politics Military course 12/01/41
    Appointed General Staff Officer Grade 2 (Liaison) General Headquarters Home Forces 08/03/41
    Appointed GSO 2 (War Sub) Royal Air Force 10/03/41
    Promoted War Substantive Captain 15/03/41
    Posted to No. 12 Group Royal Air Force 20/01/42
    Relinquished appointment as GSO 2 Liaison GHQ 20/01/42
    Posted from GSO 2 (L) No.12 Group R.A.F. to LDRD to revert to WSR/Capt on abolition
    of appointment23/02/42
    Posted from GSO 2 (L) No.12 Group R.A.F. to serial G.27 as L.D.G. Major Appointment23/02/42
    Joined for duty24/02/42
    Relinquished appointment as GSO 2 (L) No.12 Group R.A.F. 23/02/42
    Selected for appointment as Staff Officer as the head of the Mission proceeding to the
    Middle East The appointment carries local rank of Colonel. To report for duty immediately
    to Brig. R N Brooks DSO to be specifically employed at Air Ministry and granted rank of
    Acting Lieutenant Local Colonel (WO/p&m) 26/05/42
    To be specifically employed (P I D Foreign Office) and granted rank of Local Colonel 10/10/42
    Ceases to be specifically employed and is entitled to remuneration from Army Funds 05/01/43

    After ?43
    Presumed missing and killed
    Reported missing
    Presumed killed whilst in enemy hands in action

    U/A Major
    P/q Major
    Major W/S Captain
    A/Lt Col.
    Local Col.
    W/S Maj T/Lt Col.
    Local Col.
    Military Cross (London Gazette 01/01/17) 1914-15
    Star British War Medal
    Defence Medal
    War Medal 1939-45

    Awards of the Military Cross to British and Commonwealth Forces were announced in the London Gazette .
    There are no citations for those awarded in the half yearly (i.e. New Year and Kings Birthday) honours list.
    A short statement of the circumstances of award of Military Crosses announced outside the half yearly lists was normally published, although often some weeks after the original announcement Information regarding exact locations and movements of servicemen or units may be available from the ?Commanders War diaries? which are held by the Public Records Office, Ruskin Avenue, Kew, Surrey TW9 4DU. Ministry of Defence, Bourne Avenue, Hayes, Middlesex, UB3 1RF 31 July 1996

    BEAUMONT-THOMAS, Major LIONEL: Deputy Chmn., Richard Thomas & Co.; b. Aug., 1893; s. Richard Beaumont-Thomas; ed. Rugby; m Pauline Grace Marriott; (2nd) Iseult Margery Hazelhurst Bland, 1934. Deputy Chmn , Richard Thomas & Co., and dir. in various companies. Served in European War, 1914-18 ( Military Cross). Freeman of City of London; J.P. for Herefordshire County; M.P , King's Norton Division of Birmingham, since 1929. Address: Social House, Chiswick Mall, London W.4, and Brampton House, Herefordshire, Eng.
    [Whos Who In Commerce And Industry The International Business Whos Who 1938]

    Mr Lionel Beaumont-Thomas
    1893 - 1942 Summary information for Mr Lionel Beaumont-Thomas
    Alternative names
    Lionel Thomas 1893 - 1942
    Birmingham King's Norton May 30, 1929 - November 14, 1935


    2 speeches ? DISARMAMENT.
    Commons March 24, 1930
    Commons April 15, 1930
    2 speeches ? IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY (WAGES). Commons June 26, 1930
    2 speeches ? SAFEGUARDING POLICY AND EMPIRE MARKETS. Commons July 16, 1930
    3 speeches ? STEEL INDUSTRY.
    Commons November 5, 1930
    Commons November 26, 1930
    2 speeches ? ROAD WORK (IRISH LABOUR).
    Commons November 27, 1930
    5 speeches ? UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE [MONEY]. Commons December 1, 1930
    CLAUSE 1.?(Continuance of Acts in Schedule.)
    Commons December 4, 1930

    Commons January 22, 1931
    Commons February 3, 1931
    Commons February 10, 1931
    2 speeches ? GREAT BRITAIN AND FRANCE (WAR LOANS AND PAYMENTS). Commons February 17, 1931
    UNEMPLOYMENT INSURANCE (No. 2) BILL. Commons February 18, 1931
    Commons March 5, 1931
    2 speeches ? SUPPLIES.
    Commons March 11, 1931
    Commons March 16, 1931
    Commons April 16, 1931
    2 speeches ? IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY.
    Commons April 21, 1931
    Commons April 28, 1931
    Commons May 19, 1931
    Commons June 2, 1931
    Commons June 4, 1931
    Commons June 8, 1931
    Commons June 9, 1931
    2 speeches ? PARACHUTES.
    Commons June 17, 1931
    2 speeches ? IRON AND STEEL INDUSTRY.
    Commons June 23, 1931
    Commons June 30, 1931
    Commons July 7, 1931
    Commons July 14, 1931
    Commons July 20, 1931
    CYCLES (REFLECTORS). Commons September 10, 1931
    2 speeches ? WORK SCHEMES (GRANTS).
    Commons September 14, 1931
    Commons September 14, 1931
    Commons September 16, 1931
    Commons September 29, 1931
    Commons October 6, 1931
    Commons November 17, 1931
    Commons November 24, 1931
    2 speeches ? TINPLATE INDUSTRY.
    Commons November 30, 1931
    Commons December 2, 1931
    3 speeches ? IMPORTS.
    Commons December 8, 1931

    Commons February 9, 1932
    Commons February 9, 1932
    Commons February 16, 1932
    CLAUSE 9.?(Power of Board of Trade to require information.) Commons February 22, 1932
    Commons February 25, 1932
    5 speeches ? NEW CLAUSE.?(Provisions as to re-organisation of a trade or industry.) Commons February 25, 1932
    2 speeches ? COAL MINES ACT.
    Commons March 1, 1932
    Commons March 14, 1932
    Commons April 12, 1932
    2 speeches ? HORSE TRAFFIC.
    Commons April 20, 1932
    2 speeches ? AMENDMENT OF LAW.
    Commons April 20, 1932
    Commons April 21, 1932
    2 speeches ? BRITISH ARMY (BEDDING CONTRACTS). Commons May 2, 1932
    3 speeches ? SUPPLY.
    Commons May 2, 1932
    2 speeches ? IMPORT DUTIES ACT, 1932.
    Commons May 4, 1932
    3 speeches ? IMPORT DUTIES ACT, 1932.
    Commons May 5, 1932
    Commons May 6, 1932
    NEW CLAUSE.?(Amendment in respect of duties for licences on motor cars.) Commons May 26, 1932
    Commons May 30, 1932
    2 speeches ? CINEMATOGRAPH FILMS.
    Commons June 8, 1932
    Commons July 6, 1932
    6 speeches ? OTTAWA AGREEMENTS BILL.
    Commons October 26, 1932
    2 speeches ? TRAFFIC SIGNALS.
    Commons November 2, 1932
    Commons December 19, 1932

    Commons June 13, 1934
    Commons June 14, 1934
    2 speeches ? ONE-WAY TRAFFIC.
    Commons July 18, 1934
    Commons October 30, 1934
    2 speeches ? BRITISH EMPIRE (ECONOMIC PLANNING). Commons November 5, 1934
    2 speeches ? ONE-WAY TRAFFIC (LONDON SQUARES). Commons November 7, 1934
    Commons November 14, 1934
    2 speeches ? DEBATE ON THE ADDRESS.
    Commons November 20, 1934
    4 speeches ? DEBATE ON THE ADDRESS.
    Commons November 22, 1934
    Commons November 28, 1934

    2 speeches ? BUILT-UP AREAS (SPEED LIMIT).
    Commons April 4, 1935
    Commons April 15, 1935
    2 speeches ? PEDAL CYCLISTS.
    Commons May 1, 1935

    Will of Lionel Beaumont-Thomas
    Lionel Beaumont-Thomas of Great Brampton, Madley, Herefordshire, died on or since 7th day of December 1942 on war service. Probate granted at Llandudno, 23rd November 1943.
    Gross value, 92,216-12-11 pounds sterling, net value, 23540-6-9 pounds sterling, estate duty and interest paid, 3,352-17-8 pounds sterling.
    Granted to Isuelt Marjorie Beaumont-Thomas of 32 Bedford Gardens, Kensington, London.
    Extracted by Gregory Rowcliffe and Co, 1 Bedford Row, London. W C1 .

    His father's sadly early death in 1917 had precipitated his elder son Lionel into a senior position in the family company of Richard Thomas & Co: Lionel Beaumont-Thomas (he early adopted the hyphenated form) was still a serving officer in France. Not least because his experience for four years had been in the trenches, he chose on returning to civilian life not to join the company in an executive position but to apply his experience of leadership to the political arena.

    He was born on 1 August 1893. Educated at Rugby, he then spent two years on the Continent gaining a knowledge of pig iron and steel; most of that time was spent at the Arbed steelworks in Luxembourg.
    He was commissioned into the Army reserve when aged 18, in April 1912, serving with the 22nd Battery of the 34th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, and attending summer camp at Bulford.
    He met and fell in love with Pauline Grace Marriott, the only daughter of a former officer in the Colonial Service in Fiji, Sidney Frederick Marriott. Lionel's mother strongly disapproved of the association, partly because she had sub­stantial ambitions for her elder son, and partly (it seems) because disapproval was in her nature. The two young people (he was not yet 21) secretly married in a register office: the bride's mother was a witness. Shortly afterwards Lionel was sent abroad to Luxembourg again for a year, ostensibly to learn more about steelmaking, but in reality because his mother was determined to separate him from the 'girl friend' to whom in fact he was already married. When he returned it was to receive his mother's grudging agreement to their marriage. When told they were already married, she initiated a family row of monumental pro­portions, insisting that the young couple should marry in church. This they did, at Holy Trinity, Brompton.

    But war was imminent. The young couple had returned to Luxembourg, from where they narrowly escaped in August 1914. (After the war they discovered that a German patrol searching for spies had visited their home only hours after they had left it.) Lionel Beaumont-Thomas was then mobil­ised as an officer with the 58th Battery of the 7th Division of the Royal Field Artillery, and almost immediately was embarked with his regiment to Belgium where the Germans were at the gates of Antwerp (the city fell on 10 October). Thereafter the British Expeditionary Force assembled to the left flank of the French armies. Despite the gallantry and carnage of the battles of the Western Front, the war subsided into a bloody stalemate of trench warfare, with the artillery firing barrages to anticipate infantry advances that on each side produced little but frightful slaughter. For three years (August 1915 to August 1918), with only occasional breaks for leave, Lionel Beaumont-Thomas was adjutant to the 14th Brigade Royal Horse Artillery, first in the rank of acting and later substantive Captain. It was claimed of him after the war that he had taken part in all the major military engagements of the war on the Western Front. Certainly he showed great gallantry in one of the most horrendous, the Battle of the Somme. That battle began in July 1916 with artillery barrages that were the prelude to attempts by the infantry to advance. The attempt was a failure, and the British soldiers were mown down by machine guns. On the first day, 1 July, 19,240 British soldiers were killed or died of wounds. There were few successes; but one was around the village of Mametz, where the Division in which Lionel Beaumont-Thomas served achieved a modest capture of ground. In January 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross for holding a stretch of ground after two of his companions had been killed (the decoration had been instituted in 1915 to mark acts of bravery by junior officers, of which there were many).

    Although his first inclination had been to remain in the army (and, promoted to Major, he had achieved his first independent command - of 76th Battery, Royal Field Artil­lery - in June 1918), the death of his father persuaded him to return home and be available for a closer association with the family company. Though he attended an army intelligence course for two months in 1919, he subsequently resigned his commission and settled down in Herefordshire. His home was Great Brampton House, at Madley, a Regency house 'improved' by the Victorians. His wife now had three children: in 1920 Richard was five, Nigel four, and Paul one. A daughter, Pearl, was to be born in 1921.

    For a time Lionel Beaumont-Thomas kept up his military links, commanding a Territorial Army battery within the 86th Brigade of the RFA in Cardiff. He also attended a senior officers' gunnery course at Larkhill in 1922. But soon he was drawn into local responsibilities, as a Justice of the Peace in Herefordshire from 1922 and a County Councillor from 1924. He retired from the TA with the rank of Major in 1923, no doubt because he had now found political ambitions. He was adopted as Unionist (Conservative) can­didate for Llanelli in 1923 and fought the general election in that year; he was not elected. In the following year he was adopted for Pontypool, and fought the October election that year (when Ramsay MacDonald's first Labour Government was ousted by the Conservatives under Stanley Baldwin). It was a rough election. But he did not fear to go into 'enemy' territory. Welsh miners were notoriously 'left' politi­cally, and passionate about it. Lionel Beaumont-Thomas went to speak at a meeting at the militant village of Garndiffaith. Afterwards, he found that his car had been pushed against a wall so that he could not get into it; and in the melee that followed, he was assaulted, his clothes torn and his watch smashed. He escaped across the hills on foot.

    When in 1927 he was adopted as Conservative candidate for the King's Norton division of Birmingham, he was gaining a place in the heartland of the Conservative Party. For it seemed that Stanley Baldwin's cabinet was largely peopled from Birmingham. The Foreign Secretary was Austen Chamberlain, his half-brother Neville was Minister of Health, where his legislation on rating and local govern­ment reforms brought him acclaim. Both were the sons of Joseph Chamberlain, and had earned their political spurs in local government in Birmingham. Two other members of the cabinet were Members for Birmingham constituencies: Leo Amery (Sparkbrook) was Dominions and Colonial Sec­retary, and Sir Arthur Steel-Maitland (Erdington) was Min­ister of Labour.

    The General Election of May 1929 has been described [AJP Taylor, English History 1914-45, Oxford 1965] as 'the only fully three-cornered contest in British history. For the first and last time, three parties - Conservative, Liberal and Labour - fought on something like equal terms. Each of them ran more than 500 candidates - never before, and never again'. Although the King's Norton seat had been Conservative from 1918-24 (when the MP was the motor manufacturer Herbert Austin, whose Longbridge works were in the constituency), the sitting member was Labour -Robert Dennison. It was therefore a marginal seat with a probable bias towards Labour. Beaumont-Thomas's election address emphasised industry and employment:

    The interests of my family have for many generations been closely identified with the industries of this coun­try, and consequently I can claim to be in close touch with the problems which confront both Employers and Employees. I am of opinion that these problems can only be solved by the closest cooperation between all sections of the community. Peace in Industry is essential if we are going to maintain and raise the standard of living of the people who depend upon Industry for their livelihood. It will be my earnest endeavour to promote in every way a better relation­ship and to kill that feeling of suspicion which eats into the hearts of the people.

    Lionel Beaumont-Thomas and his wife had, over a period of two years since he had been adopted as a parliamentary candidate, worked very hard to get to know the constitu­ency. His campaign was much helped by an open letter from Herbert Austin that was widely publicised in the local factories:
    All men and women should make up their minds in this Election to vote more from the point of view of their own livelihood than from a preference for any one Party. There is no satisfaction in being unemployed, even if one's favourite Party is governing the country.

    I can speak from an intimate knowledge and experi­ence of the great Motor Industry, and have no hesita­tion in saying that if the McKenna Duties were repealed it would lead to much misery and unemployment throughout the country, and particularly in the King's Norton Division.
    The McKenna Duties were taxes of 33 per cent imposed in 1915 by Reginald McKenna, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the import of'luxury' goods, including motor cars. They had been abolished in 1924 by the first Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Snowden, but reimposed in the following year by his successor in that post, Winston Chur­chill. There was some irony in this, since Churchill as a supporter of Free Trade was against import controls; but he needed the additional tax revenue to finance contributory old-age pensions, introduced in the budget of 1925.

    The result of the election was a swing against the Con­servative government, with Labour gaining 288 seats to the Conservatives' 260 and the Liberals' 59. Baldwin resigned the premiership, and Ramsay MacDonald formed his Labour administration. But in King's Norton the result was remark­ably against the trend:

    Major L Beaumont-Thomas (Unionist) 14,464
    R Dennison (Labour) 13,973
    A P Marshall (Liberal) 5.998
    Unionist Majority 491

    Whether the result was influenced by Beaumont-Thomas's association, as a leading steel-maker, with the motor industry in the constituency, it was one of the two Conservative gains from Labour in that election. Neville Chamberlain wrote from his Edgbaston home:

    Dear Beaumont Thomas
    I have had to write so many letters of condolence today, that it is a real pleasure to be able to congratulate you upon your magnificent win. I am told that the Labour Party considered their organisation in King's Norton as the best in the Midlands, and that you should have pulled off the victory, at a time when obviously the whole swing was against our Party, is indeed a subject of satisfaction to all of us. I know how much work you yourself put into the Division, without which this great result would not have been achieved, and I am thankful that your efforts have been rewarded.
    Leo Amery, who had retained his seat in neighbouring Sparkbrook, wrote from the Dominions Office:
    I have no doubt that we shall want to concentrate much more definitely and actively on safeguarding in the future and really educate the whole electorate as you and I have educated our own particular constituencies.

    There were congratulations too from present and former directors of Richard Thomas & Company: from Edward Boyle ('May you enjoy many happy and successful years in the H of C. You are just the sort of man who ought to be there'), and Lord Bledisloe and Henry Bond, both of whom expressed the same sentiment: 'How pleased your father would have been!'

    There was a grand garden party at Brampton, attended by Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain and many of the constituency leaders. To celebrate, Lionel Beaumont-Thomas devised a great treasure-hunt and as prizes he went to the newly-opened Marks & Spencer store in Hereford and virtually cleared it out by buying up quantities of such items as handbags for the ladies and umbrellas for the men. He enjoyed doing things on the grand scale; a few years later, to demonstrate his gratitude to his constituents he invited 2000 of them to London. He hired the Lyons Corner House to provide them with a meal and took them on a guided tour of the Palace of Westminster. He arranged for the constituency visit to be filmed (the record is now in the National Film Archive).
    In the House of Commons Beaumont-Thomas soon became recognised as a 'good constituency member'. In this respect he was greatly helped by his wife Pauline, who though she had been presented at Court and was therefore eligible to be a 'society hostess' preferred the country life in Herefordshire with her young family, and willingly con­cerned herself with social matters in the King's Norton constituency only 40 miles away. For his part, Beaumont-Thomas also earned a reputation as an authoritative spokes­man in the House on behalf of the British steel industry, as a Director and Deputy Chairman of Richard Thomas & Co. A typical speech was one he gave on 5 November 1930, when he moved that

    this House views with grave apprehension the present condition of the Iron and Steel Industry, and urges the Government to take immediate steps to stem the continuous decline in the activities of this industry with its resultant increase in unemployment.

    In the decade since the (first) World War the European steel industry had grown vastly. The French steel industry (partly because of the industrial areas transferred from Germany after Versailles) had more than doubled production, as had Belgium and Luxembourg; even German steel production was back to the level of 1913. But 'in Great Britain, pro­duction has decreased by 698,700 tons and exports have dropped by 589,800 tons ... For September this year, our exports have fallen to 200,280 tons, which is lower than for any month since April 1926; while our imports have amounted to 223,800 tons. That is to say, our imports are greater than our exports, and we have now 38 per cent of insured workers in the industry unemployed.'

    Beaumont-Thomas alleged that this was due to European 'dumping' as low prices. Continental sheet steel bars could be bought in South Cymru at ,£3 13S 6d, while South Cymru locally-produced bars cost _£4 17s 6d. He argued that some form of protection was necessary 'if this industry is to con­tinue to exist'. He gave as an example one steelworks 'which, I regret to say, will probably be closed within the next few days'.

    This plant happens to be part of what I will call a completely rationalised organisation which starts with digging up the ore and the coal and ends by selling the semi-finished product. It is rationalised in that respect as far as it is possible to rationalise anything. It is producing at the present time 2700 tons of pig iron and 2500 tons of steel per week, and could produce, if there were a demand for it, 3500 tons of steel per week. It provides employment directly for 1080 men in that plant itself, and 1450 men in the production of the coal required which, in this case, is about 7000 tons per week. The wages of these men average ,£7600 per week ... Steel produced at this plant can be delivered in Cymru at a cost of £5 per ton. Those who are concerned in the industry here will know that that cost is only obtained by efficient working ...

    The prospect was that the company would have to close down steel making at that plant, putting 2530 men out of work. Beaumont-Thomas argued that the provision of a national subsidy of £1 per ton on home-produced steel would keep the works open, save unemployment pay, and enable the workers to 'retain their purchasing power' to stimulate the stagnant economy.

    If nothing were done to help the steel industry, said Beaumont-Thomas in a phrase that rings poignantly after fifty years,

    the time will come when the country will be nothing but a commercial country and not an industrial country at all. That will simply mean that we shall be forced to emigrate our people by hundreds of thousands, because there will be nothing for them to do.

    The speech was effective. Neville Chamberlain wrote that he was 'much impressed by the overwhelming case you made out'. Though Beaumont-Thomas did not name the works that was about to close, it was obvious to many people inside and outside the steel industry. As Edward Boyle wrote:

    You could not have a better instance to quote than poor old Redbourn, and you used it most effectively. Ventilation of the matter cannot fail to do good: but Govt. will continue to play off against us the Shipping Industry to the end.

    Although the Government accepted the Beaumont-Thomas resolution, and began renewed talks with steel industry rep­resentatives, it was too late to save the Lincolnshire works at Redbourn, which closed that November.
    During 1931 the national financial crisis deepened. During August there was a run on the pound, and Ramsay Mac-Donald formed a 'National Government' in an attempt to stem the tide (as a result, he cut himself off from most of his Labour colleagues). The economic crisis grew worse, and in September the Government abandoned the gold standard and called an election. Beaumont-Thomas stood again at King's Norton as a 'Unionist and National' candidate, taking as his platform a 'sound industrial policy'. This was to be achieved by protection against 'Foreign made Goods', which had led to unemployment rising to 2,800,000.

    It is clear that unless THIS PROCESS IS CHECKED we shall be BANKRUPT as a Nation ... We must secure our HOME MARKETS for our OWN PEOPLE, and organise on a united plan all the markets of the EMPIRE. OUR FUTURE WILL THEN BE ASSURED.

    This appeal for Empire preference proved attractive to the Birmingham electors, who returned Beaumont-Thomas with a swingeing majority of 8,000. He resumed his par­liamentary career enthusiastically, and began to become noticed in the sort of post that is sometimes the prelude to ministerial office: he was Secretary of the Parliamentary Transport Committee from 1931, and a member of a par­liamentary trade delegation to Denmark in 1932.
    The life of a Member of Parliament, particularly if he or she is attentive both to parliamentary business and to the constituency, is time-consuming and a heavy strain on per­sonal relationships. Particularly this is so for provincial Mem­bers during the terms when Parliament is sitting, for the timetable can often be irregular and unpredictable. Social life is liable to be disrupted, and the effect on family life can be devastating. Lionel Beaumont-Thomas was approaching 40, tall (he was six foot five inches), balding but fair-haired and fair-complexioned, with a 'good war record', and wealthy. When in London, he lived on his yacht moored on the Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament, to which he was ferried by launch. It was an impressive setting even for a period when rich men would be admired for dem­onstrating their wealth in outward show. Devoted to his wife and family, he nevertheless had an eye for a pretty woman. On the occasions when his parliamentary duties allowed, he was to be seen at evening functions in London with an attractive young woman, Mrs Iseult Hazelhurst.
    In the spring of 1933 he wrote to Neville Chamberlain to tell him that he would not be standing for re-election. Chamberlain replied:

    Since you have been Member for King's Norton you have brought that somewhat difficult Division into a very satisfactory condition; and your unremitting attention to it, together with the admirable seconding you have had from Mrs Thomas, has had its reward in the personal regard in which you are held.
    I had observed, with great interest and satisfaction, the position you have made for yourself in the House of Commons, where you have secured respect by your sincerity and knowledge of your subject. None of the Birmingham Members, outside of those who have held Office have, I think, yet taken so high a place in the estimation of the House. In these circumstances, I am naturally very grieved to hear that you feel you cannot continue to remain a member; and while I fully realise your difficulties and appreciate that it is only the exig­encies of the situation which have led you to take such a decision, I shall always be very sorry that you have had to cut short your political career.

    It was announced in the King's Norton constituency that their MP would not be seeking re-election 'owing to ill-health', and the announcement precipitated a number of messages of goodwill. The formal resolution passed by the Divisional Executive Committee added to the regret at los­ing Lionel Beaumont-Thomas as their MP a message con­veying

    to Mrs Beaumont-Thomas their sense of gratitude at the unfailing kindness and loyalty with which she has at all times assisted them in their endeavours to promote the interest of Unionism and to secure the return of a Unionist Member for the Division.

    Such expressions of thanks were the more significant because some at least in the Division knew that the 'illness' was diplomatic, and that Lionel Beaumont-Thomas had decided to marry Iseult Hazelhurst. His wife Pauline was persuaded to divorce him. While there were at this time some divorced Members of Parliament, even on the Conservative benches, Lionel Beaumont-Thomas's perhaps old-fashioned concept of duty required him to resign his seat and end his par­liamentary career. Pauline Beaumont-Thomas moved out of Great Brampton House with her children, subsequently making her home in Norfolk at Cedar Grange, Heathersett, which became a haven for her children and their friends. Iseult moved into Great Brampton and set about a scheme of 'modernisation', painting the Regency mouldings and panelling of the drawing-room (which had previously been natural wood) a uniform and dazzling white, in the style made fashionable among the 'bright young things' by Syrie Maugham. Iseult made her husband's children welcome when they visited Great Brampton; but they learnt resilience from having to cope with the different lifestyles of their parents - their father's lavish and luxurious in Herefordshire or the South of France, their mother's loving but economi­cal, if not austere, in Norfolk.

    The danger of flooding in London has always been present. From time to time the danger has turned into reality, as on 6 January 1928 when the conjunction of weather and tides drove an unusually high tide up river and into the capital. Fourteen people drowned and much damage was done. The argument for damming the River Thames had been put forward periodically for many years, notably by the nineteenth century philosopher Herbert Spencer who - being also an engineer - proposed in the 1850s that a barrage with locks should be built in the lower reaches of the Thames so as to provide London with a clear non-tidal waterway. The counter-arguments, which carried the day until late in the twentieth century, were that the discharge of effluent and industrial waste into the river would make such an 'inland lake' noxious and unhealthy.

    The argument for some form of barrage was carried forward by sometime MP, humorist and boatman A P (later Sir Alan) Herbert, who in 1929 coined the word 'waterbus' and in 1932 wrote a book, No Boats on the River, to draw attention to the fact that London's broadest and most access­ible highway was under-used while the streets of the capital were becoming more and more congested with road traffic. In 1934 a public inquiry on which the London County Council, the Port of London Authority, and the London Passenger Transport Board were represented came to the conclusion that increased use of the river for transport was impracticable because of the tidal flow. There were enough interested parties who were not prepared to let this be the end of the matter. A mechanical engineer with an office overlooking the Thames, J H O Bunge, began a campaign for a Thames Barrage by means of which the tidal flow could be controlled and regulated down stream. The Thames Barrage Association was formed following a meeting of the London Society in October 1934. It attracted eminent sponsors who agreed to be Vice-Presidents, among them Lord Desborough, Sir Edwin Lutyens, Sir Giles Gilbert Scott and A P Herbert, The President was Sir Louis Dane, who in his 37 years as Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab had provided dams and barrages across many of the rivers of that Indian province for the purpose of irrigation. The Chairman of the Executive Committee from the outset was Lionel Beaumont-Thomas. He had a particular affection for the Thames, not least because in London he lived upon it, on board his yacht.

    The original plan envisaged a barrage with locks, at the east end of Woolwich Reach. By 1938 this had matured to a more complex proposal, for a 70-ft high viaduct to be built across the western end of Galleons Reach, in effect extending southwards the entrances to the two great com­mercial docks, the Albert and King George V. The viaduct was to be pierced by two pairs of locks, one to take coasters and the other, barges. To the south, cut through the riverside frontage of Woolwich Arsenal would be a 500 ft ship canal, with locks at its eastern end, additional docking facilities along its length, and a 520 ft span lifting bridge at its western end, beside the main barrage. Despite its authoritative support, this scheme was vetoed in 1938 on the insistence of the Committee of Imperial Defence.
    By 1942, there was renewed interest in the possibility of a barrage across the Thames; and wartime enthusiasm for the various plans for rebuilding London after the war made such interest timely. Unfortunately Lionel Beaumont-Thomas was no longer alive to see this revival of concern with an imaginative proposal that he had for so long enthusi­astically supported. When the Thames Barrage Association published a book1 about the scheme in 1944, it was dedicated to Lionel Beaumont-Thomas, 'good friend, strong supporter, tactful adviser in the effort he shared and wished to see brought to fruition'. It was to be forty years after his death that (though not to the design he and his friends put forward) the Thames Barrage became a reality at Woolwich,

    1 Tideless Thames in Future London, J H O Bunge, Thames Barrage Associ-Association, London 1944.

    at least deferring if not finally ending the prospect of a London under water, and so belatedly justifying the for­ward-looking belief of Lionel Beaumont-Thomas in the concept.
    During 1937 Beaumont-Thomas spent some time map­ping out a career for his second son Nigel, who came down from Cambridge that year having read engineering. The relationship between father and son was at times fractious and uneasy, particularly after Lionel's divorce, when Nigel tended to be closer to his mother. But there is no doubt that the father was proud of his son's engineering prowess, and eager to recruit him for the family company. He planned that Nigel should spend some time in the steelworks of France and Germany, and then visit the United States. He wrote to Sir William Firth, then Chairman of Richard Thomas & Co. Firth replied (31 January 1938):

    Mr dear Lionel
    Replying to your letter of the 28th, I am very pleased that Nigel has done so well.
    I am quite sure he is much above the average, and that if he continues to be as industrious as in the past, there must be a big future for him in our Company.
    I have given careful thought to the programme you have mapped out for him, and, taking the long view, I do not think you could improve on it.
    To have a man in our Organisation with engineering knowledge and ability to speak German and French fluently, and with American experience, would be a wonderful asset, and I think it would be a pity not to give him the opportunity of securing this additional knowledge.
    He could, of course, go to Ebbw Vale under the new engineer, but I believe he would be more useful new blood if he came in a few years hence with the addi­tional knowledge acquired outside our Organisation.
    I think he would carry more weight that way.
    If Lena(1) had been willing I would have liked to have
    trained my own boys on the lines you suggest training
    Yours ever,

    (1) Helena Adelaide, Lady Firth: they had two sons.

    Nigel had worked for six months on the shop floor of the RT Works in Llanelli between leaving Harrow and going up to Cambridge. He had also lived for a period in Cologne, studying the steel business and learning German. Sub­sequently, though briefly, and mainly for a holiday, he had visited the United States. But the war was to destroy the main 'training plan', as it destroyed so much else.
    On the outbreak of the Second World War on 3 Sep­tember 1939 Lionel Beaumont-Thomas (who still held the rank of Major) immediately volunteered for army service, and although medically graded Bl, he was appointed to the command of the enemy armaments intelligence branch at the Ministry of Economic Warfare, a post he held until May 1940, and a remarkably imaginative slot for a steel manufacturer. On his military record he noted his fluency in French, the fact that he had 'lived and travelled in France and Luxembourg for several years', his 'thorough knowl­edge of the canals and rivers of France, Belgium and Hol-land'and the additional qualification that he could navigate a ship.
    During the summer of 1940 he was a GSO2 (General Staff Officer) at the Home Defence Directorate of the War Office. For the last three months of 1940 he was on a senior staff course at Minley, and thereafter worked in military intel­ligence. Early in 1941 he attended an eight-week politico-military course at Trinity College, Cambridge. As senior officer on the course, he was deputed to speak at the ter­mination dinner in Trinity College hall. His words were mainly of conventional thanks to the Master and Fellows of Trinity for their hospitality; but in the first draft of his speech (though he afterwards deleted the passage in pencil, and may not have used it) he wrote the following:

    The four years I spent in the last war, in close contact with the mind of the soldier in the ranks and imbued as we all were with one mind to win the war and make, each one of us, our sacrifice to do so made me an optimist and an idealist. The 20 years I have spent since the last war, in the arena of industrialism, trade unionism and politics have I must confess gone far to shatter many of my illusions.

    In October 1942 Lionel Beaumont-Thomas was detailed to be Staff Officer to the Head of a British Mission then proceeding to the Middle East. He would have the local rank of Colonel. The appointment gave him particular pleasure, because his second son Nigel, having emulated his father by also winning the Military Cross, had subsequently been captured at Tobruk the previous June, and was now a pri­soner-of-war in Italy. It pleased Lionel to think that he too was to serve in the same field of war, and perhaps contribute to his son's liberation.

    Promoted to full Colonel, he embarked by ship in November 1942. It was at the height of the Battle of the Atlantic and his ship was given a complex zig-zag course to evade German U-boats. The plan was to cross the Atlantic and then take a course eastwards through the southern ocean to Gibraltar. About 100 miles from the West Indies, in the Caribbean, the ship was torpedoed and the crew and passengers took to the rafts. Only the captain, taken as a hostage on board the U-boat, survived. The remainder of the crew and passengers were never heard of again.

    With his colleagues Lionel Beaumont-Thomas was posted missing. Later his family learnt that his orders were con­cerned with the Allied landings on the island of Crete, to effect its recapture from the Germans. He was officially reported 'killed in action' in the following May, and in due time his name was inscribed on the Brookwood Memorial with those of 3500 other men and women of the land forces of the Commonwealth who died in action during the Second World War and have no known grave.
    The annual report of Richard Thomas & Co in the fol­lowing year recorded the company's deepest regret: 'Colonel Beaumont-Thomas not only bore a name highly respected in the annals of our Company, but was the father of the Board so far as length of service was concerned, having been elected a director over twenty-six years ago'. The Times noted that he was 'a man greatly beloved and respected'. The obituary was written by his fellow director and friend, Sir Edward Boyle.

    Men of Steel, The History of Richard Thomas and his Family, David Wainwright, Quiller Press, 1986

    When William Firth became Chairman of Richard Thomas & Co on the retirement of Henry Bond in October 1931 he began a vigorous programme of expansion. His ultimate ambition was to build a strip mill on the pattern of the successful American steel mills. He saw the potential market in the expanding motor industry, which in the 1930s was providing comparatively cheap transport for more and more people. Sir William (he was knighted in 1932) was a steel man, and regarded finance as something that must be pro­vided to underwrite sensible and profitable engineering sch­emes. It is clear that he left the financing of his considerable enterprises to his vice-chairman, Lionel Beaumont-Thomas, his cousin Cedric Treherne Thomas and Sir Edward Boyle, one of the most active and entrepreneurial of the directors.

    But Firth found the steel trade embattled against him. He therefore embarked on a series of takeovers and mergers. His aim initially was to build the new strip mill at Redbourn in Lincolnshire; despite the chequered history of that plant, and its closure at times of financial difficulties in the industry, it was well placed to obtain its basic raw material, iron ore, from nearby fields. Firth also observed the expansion of the British motor industry in the Midlands. Redbourn had much better transport links than South Cymru had.

    In spring 1933 Firth made an agreement with the White-head Iron and Steel Company Limited of Newport to supply billets from Redbourn. The two companies, registered as the Whitehead-Thomas Bar & Strip Company Limited would instal at Redbourn the continuous bar and strip mill from the Whitehead works at Tredegar. Towards the end of 1933 Richard Thomas took over another well-known South Cymru steel company, William Gilbertson & Co Ltd of Pontardawe (the Gilbertson brothers joined the Richard Thomas Board); the Cardonnel Tinplate Works was acquired in March 1934, and the MelingrifRth and Treforest Works in June that year. In 1935 the company acquired the Pencoed Tinplate Works, iron ore land in Northamptonshire (a prelude to the Redbourn development), Monks, Hall & Co in Warrington and HF Spencer & Co of Wol-verhampton (a sheet merchanting business). All these were some compensation for Firth's failure to bring together a consortium of steel manufacturers, including Baldwins, Lysaghts and United Steel. If necessary he would go it alone. By 1936 Richard Thomas & Co had become a very large enterprise indeed, with eight steel works, eight rolling mills, 207 tinplate mills and 47 sheet mills. The enterprise also encompassed six collieries and eight brickworks.

    Gradually throughout 1935 the proposition that Richard Thomas & Co would place the new continuous strip mill at Redbourn in Lincolnshire spread alarm through South Cymru. The attractions of a continuous strip mill did not appeal to the workforce since they knew from American experience that such mills adopted new techniques of manu­facture and employed less labour. However, the alternative of the main part of the company's activity moving away from South Cymru altogether was even more hazardous. In mid-October 1935 a conference of local interests was arranged by the Newport Chamber of Commerce and later in the month the Mayor of Swansea led a delegation to London which explained the local concern to the President of the Board of Trade. But already by that time the directors of Richard Thomas had decided not to proceed with the strip mill at Redbourn. They would build it at Ebbw Vale. It was reported to a Board meeting on 31 October 1935 that the Ebbw Vale Steel, Iron & Coal Company had been acquired from Sir John Beynon, together with many other assets of the company. These included Lancaster's Steam Coal Collieries, iron ore land at Irthlingborough in Nor­thamptonshire, 615 works railway wagons and 1900 colliery railway wagons.

    The reasons for the change of decision are complex. Some attributed it to political pressure applied by the Prime Minis­ter, Stanley Baldwin - himself a member of a famous steel family though one that was in bitter rivalry with Richard Thomas. In a political speech during the General Election of November 1935 Baldwin seemed to claim something of the sort when he referred to the decision as 'something I have taken a great personal interest in, and that I have helped quietly and out of the limelight to do my bit in pushing along'.

    One historian of the steel industry points out that while several local figures in South Cymru, including Firth and Aneurin Bevan, had mutually agreed not to make political capital out of the decision, 'Lady Firth was deeply involved with the Primrose League (the Conservative support group) and a telegram was sent to the Ebbw Vale Urban District Council announcing the purchase of the works and the plan for the new mill'. On the other hand another historian of the industry comments that 'it is said that Stanley Baldwin, in 1935, as Prime Minister, felt able to argue that Ebbw Vale should be bought by Richard Thomas and new integrated sheet rolling works opened there. Not a shred of hard evi­dence supports this view.' What is clear, however, is that the Government ultimately became involved in the financing of the new Ebbw Vale plant. It was estimated to cost £8,500,000.

    Firth's action in deciding to put the new strip mill in Ebbw Vale instead of Redbourn lost him one of his assistant managing directors, A W 'Dick' Kieft, who resigned at the end of November 1935. Kieft had been much concerned with the planning of Redbourn and the decision to transfer to South Cymru, and to bring in additional expert advice at the top of the company, upset him to the point of departure. Firth's letter accepting Keift's resignation is typical of his often abrasive style:

    Get the following thought clearly into your head - that I have worked all my life building up the Grovesend to what it is today and getting Richard Thomas to where it is today, and that no opposition from anyone will weaken my determination to go on working the way I think best.

    On the day he wrote that letter, Firth also wrote to his consultant H A Brassert, who was beginning to plan the work to be done at Ebbw Vale. Brassert was an American, a member of the great Philadelphia steel family; there is some irony in the fact that in the 1930s the British steel industry imported American skills, which had themselves been created by the emigration to America of British and particularly Welsh tinplate and steelmaking expertise fifty years earlier. Because there has been considerable historical debate over the reasons why Firth made the switch to Ebbw Vale, and the question of government pressure whether from Stanley Baldwin or some other political figure, it is worth quoting from Firth's letter to Brassert at some length.

    14 December 1935
    I understand you are going down to Ebbw Vale ... on Monday. I am desperately anxious to start up at least one additional battery of coke ovens and at least one, two I hope, of the best of the blast furnaces, with foreign ore if necessary, or a mixture of foreign and Northampton if possible, and the Bessemer melting shop, and the existing billet mill at the EARLIEST POSSIBLE MOMENT, for the following reasons -
    1. I am desperately anxious to provide at the earliest possible moment some employment in the district.
    2. The Government are pressing me to do this.
    3. I want to make some money at the earliest possible moment.
    4. I want to get into production so as to put an end to the shortage of billets in the country and avoid the need of our having to go to the Continent for a supply in addition to the tonnage we have limited them to. I again ask you to concentrate on this aspect. On a future visit I want you to concentrate on the bigger programme and to help you I give you a rough outline of what I have in mind.
    Pulling down all the old buildings and levelling the site adjoining the offices, making the scrap available for the melting shop. Erecting the following: At least one set of modern coke ovens. Two modern blast furnaces. One slabbing mill.
    One continuous strip mill and a cold reduction plant. After that picture is complete, remodel the existing Bessemer melting shop, rebuild the existing soaking pit so that in all we shall have available about 6000 tons of slabs per week, and 4/5000 tons of ingots for the existing billet mill per week, a total output at the works of 10,000 tons.
    From the foregoing you will understand that I do not want to raze the works to the ground, but want to keep the old billet plant as well as the proposed new plant going side by side. I want to give employment and make money on the old billet plant and the old melting shop WHILE WE ARE BUILDING THE NEW, and THEN while we are making money on the new, modernise as far as practicable the old.
    I realise that you may say, taking the long view, it would be better to scrap everything, and not attempt to earn any money, or give any employment bar con­struction work for 18 months, but it is not for you to decide the policy. That is for me to do.

    As Firth was writing this letter to Brassert, he sent another letter to his manager GA White, instructing him to make sure that Brassert took notice of his letter.

    Keep Brassert's feet on the ground [he told White] ... Impress upon him the importance I attach to an early start on the existing plant. I think you know I have a great admiration for him as well as liking him very much as a man, but as is only natural his interest lies not in patching up old plant for temporary operations, but in creating a new works that he can be proud of. I would like to give him the opportunity to do both, but he must do the patching first. All we want is a patch that will last about 3 years, so that we can employ men and earn money while we are spending it on the new plant and getting the new plant into operation.

    Firth copied these letters to his Vice-Chairman, Lionel Beau­mont-Thomas, marking them 'Strictly Confidential'. He added a cover-note that told of yet another intrigue:

    On Friday, on the way down to Ebbw Vale, I met Solberg the Vice-President of the Armco Co in the train. I told him we were not prepared to entertain paying them a royalty unless he gave us exclusive rights with the strip mills in this country. He said his company put no limit to the amount of money they would spend to sue anyone who attempted to put a strip mill in this country in defiance of their patents. I told him it made no difference and we would do it just the same unless he gave us the sole rights. Eventually he said his company would be agreeable to do this, and I have an appoint­ment to see him on Tuesday next which, as a prelimi­nary, is I think you will agree highly satisfactory.

    Solberg of Armco was a few years later to perform a signal service for Richard Thomas & Co. Lionel Beaumont-Thomas had promised his daughter Pearl that she would travel with him on a trip that he intended to make to Germany. The outbreak of the Second World War pre­vented it. But as America remained neutral for the early years of the war, Solberg was able to travel to the Ruhr and study German steel production. His first call on returning to England was to the Beaumont-Thomas flat at 40 Berkeley Square, and Pearl Beaumont-Thomas understood that he was able to pass on extremely valuable information to her father, then working in the Ministry of Economic Warfare.

    In his history of the steel industry John Vaizey says that the capital structure of Richard Thomas & Co was reorganised in late 1934 and early 1935, and he continues:

    It is clear that Major Beaumont Thomas and Sir Edward Boyle took a leading part in these matters, and that the financial affairs of the company, in relation to the stock market and to the banks, were largely in their hands.

    This is a reasonable assessment, though correspondence exists from the early 1930s between Firth and the Chairman of Lloyds Bank which indicates that Firth was also fully involved. But there is ample evidence now that the ultimate decision of Richard Thomas to build its strip mill at Ebbw Vale rather than Redbourn was taken on commercial as well as social grounds. If there was any pressure from Government (and Firth did write to Brassert that 'the Government are pressing me to do this') it came through the intervention of the Commissioner for the Special Areas, Sir Malcolm Stewart (a businessman and President of Associated Portland Cement). It was Stewart who called the purchase of Ebbw Vale by Richard Thomas & Co 'one of the only two encour­aging events in industrial transference' at that time. Never­theless it was true that Stanley Baldwin, Prime Minister of the National Government from June 1935, who according to his biographer 'intervened and urged Firth ... to consider Ebbw Vale'. Baldwin did subsequently claim that he 'helped quietly and out of the limelight to do his best in pushing along' the Ebbw Vale plan.

    Two other figures, both to become still more famous in the national life, were personally involved in the Ebbw Vale decision. One was Ernest Bevin, then General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers Union, who in 1934 vehemently attacked the proposed Redbourn strip mill in a speech at the Annual Tinplate Conference of 1934. Bevin's biographer records that he 'played a big part' in the lengthy negotiations that led to the mill going to Ebbw Vale.

    Another personality who worked long and passionately for the employment opportunities offered by the new strip mill was the Member of Parliament for Ebbw Vale - Aneurin Bevan. He had been elected in the year that the old Ebbw Vale works closed - 1929 - throwing ten thousand men out of work. Aneurin Bevan was determined to get work back to the valley.

    He had battered at the doors of Government depart­ments, headed deputations from the local council and the unions, brought Ministers to Ebbw Vale and gen­erally pulled every string that he could to get the works reopened. He even submitted to what, for him, was the indignity of ingratiating himself with the Special Areas Commissioner appointed by the National Government ... Nothing was left undone that could be done, both in Parliament and by private negotiation.

    The intervention of Lady Firth and her friends from the Primrose League in the Ebbw Vale constituency during the parliamentary election of 1935 was not calculated to endear the Firths to Aneurin Bevan. Yet as Michael Foot records in his biography of Bevan 'the two men became firm friends'. The confidential letters from Sir William Firth quoted above, written not for propaganda but as guidance to his engineering consultant, demonstrate clearly that Firth regarded the prospect of remedying the 50 per cent rate of unemployment in Ebbw Vale as a prime reason for placing the new strip mill there. This was not public relations; nor was it nostalgia among the Richard Thomas board for their past glories in South Cymru (those had been on the coast, not up in the valleys).

    Sir William Firth was to be destroyed by his colleagues among the steel chiefs. Sir Henry Spencer, subsequently managing director of Richard Thomas and Baldwins, spoke this epitaph:

    It was Sir William Firth - who was a restless rebel with an original, non-conformist, unconventional outlook and powerful personality - who shook the industry from top to toe by his imaginative, spectacular, con­troversial modernisation of derelict Ebbw Vale into an integrated iron, steel, and continuous hot and cold reduction sheet and tinplate mill - the first of its kind outside the United States. He did this against the wishes and against the bitter hostility of the whole of the steel industry, and with no sympathy from banking. Indeed, at the end, when money ran short, both the industry and the banks combined to try and ruin him and his company, and to prevent the completion of Ebbw Vale.

    The problem was indeed that the money ran short, and that the building of this great new mill coincided with a general surplus of production in British steel and tinplate. In the latter, production rose from an estimated 14 million boxes in 1935 to over 19 million boxes in 1937; and while there was a market for these quantities in those years, in 1938 sales at home and abroad slumped to a total of only 12 million boxes, and production had to be cut back commensurately (source: EH Brooke, p. 3). But the even greater problem was the escalating cost of the new plant. The site proved to be more difficult than had been supposed, and the cost of foundations, both in terms of materials and labour, rose vastly. The likely cost soon topped the estimated £8 million and by 1937 was well over ^11 million. Sales could not sustain such expenditure. The Stock Exchange share quo­tation for Richard Thomas & Co dropped from 17s 6d to 3s 6d. At least ,£2 million were urgently needed, but could not be raised on a market already depressed by slump and the fear of imminent war in Europe.

    The financiers of the City were applied to. Montagu Norman, then Governor of the Bank of England, produced a scheme whereby some £6 million to complete the new Ebbw Vale plant and underwrite immediate future devel­opments would be made available provided that effective control in the company's financing would pass to a 'Group of Four' chaired by Montagu Norman himself, the others being E H Lever, then deputy chairman of the Prudential Assurance Company (an experienced financier of the steel industry, later to become Sir Ernest Lever), Lord Green­wood, President of the Iron and Steel Federation and Chair­man of the rival steelmaker Dorman Long; and Sir William Firth himself. To Firth's eventual annoyance and frustration, other direc­tors put on to the Richard Thomas board at this time were John E James of the Lancashire Steel Corporation, Colonel Sir Charles Wright of Baldwins, Samuel Richard Beale of Guest Keen Nettlefolds and the accountant John Adamson. To make room for them, Cedric Treherne Thomas, son of Frank Treherne Thomas and a director from 1930, was among four directors who resigned - leaving Lionel Beau­mont-Thomas, deputy chairman, as the sole family rep­resentative on the board.

    The immense size and capacity of the Ebbw Vale plant, with hot and cold rolling mills a third of a mile in length and capable of turning out 2400 tons of sheet steel every day, raised questions of over-capacity. This mammoth, as it then seemed, also raised questions about the future of the old tinplate works and their employees. One perceptive reporter noted that 'if the demand fell sharply ... Richard Thomas would always be able to close down its old-style mills and concentrate upon Ebbw Vale'. That, eventually, was what happened. But in 1939, when the new plant was put into full production for the first time, there was plenty of work; it was an augury of what was to come that among the most urgent demands that summer was for steel sheet to build 'garden shelters' as a protection from the air raids that were all too correctly feared.

    Technically, there is no doubt whatever about the worth of Ebbw Vale [commented the Investors' Chronicle in April 1939]. Comparison between it and the traditional South Cymru method of making tinplate is like comparing an express train with a stage-coach. Where traditional tinplate takes hours, Ebbw Vale takes minutes. Only those who were completely out of touch with American developments in this field could have doubted the technical correctness of Ebbw Vale. Some criticism of its location was justified; costs would have been even lower if the plant had been in Lincolnshire. But the fact that Ebbw Vale was a depressed area and that the new works is probably the least vulnerable
    steelworks in the country to attack from the air is now a fair answer to those criticisms ...
    Will there be more Ebbw Vales? Will there be more and more of these plants, so that all the old-style mills will be put out of business and there will be a surplus even of modern sheet- and tinplate-producing capacity? That is what happened in America. The old-style plants have been knocked completely out of the ring, and there are probably too many of the modern plants to look after anything like the present demand. It is unlikely in this country that erection of modern mills will proceed to such lengths. For one thing, there is the rigid control of the British Iron and Steel Federation. At present there is only one more strip mill in prospect - that which is being built by John Summers at Shotton, Cheshire ... Its existence will presumably intensify the problem of surplus old-style mill capacity, and it will incidentally leave Richard Thomas with less quota for its old-style mills, just as it will leave every other old-style producer with less quota ... On a very rough computation it looks as if the effect of Ebbw Vale and the new John Summers plant is likely to be to render something like one-fifth of Richard Thomas's old-style sheet and tinplate mills obsolete.

    That was an astute guess: although unfortunately the idea that the Ebbw Vale plant was to be safer from wartime air attack than Lincolnshire was to be devastatingly disproved. There were other problems in the boardroom in the summer of 1939. Disagreements between Sir William Firth, Beale of GKN and Wright of Baldwins became so sharp that with the agreement of the Bank of England 'Group of Four', Beale and Wright resigned, as did John Adamson, and were replaced by the Earl of Dudley, Chairman of the Round Oak Steel Works; Sir James Lithgow, Chairman of the Steel Company of Scotland; and Alien Campbell Macdairmid, Chairman of Stewarts and Lloyds. At the same time John E James became Managing Director of Richard Thomas to enable Firth to concentrate on his duties as Chairman. Unfortunately James fell ill, and was replaced as Managing Director by Gustavus Henry Latham, Chairman and Managing Director of Whitehead Iron and Steel. Firth had at this time moved the headquarters office of Richard Thomas & Co from Shell Mex House on the Embankment to his home in Surrey, Hatchford Park, Cobham. This may have been symbolic but it was soon to be reversed.

    On 18 April 1940 an extraordinary meeting of the direc­tors of Richard Thomas & Co was held, at which it was reported that three days earlier the Securities Management Trust (the body representing the control consortium set up by the Bank of England) had removed Sir William Firth from the board of directors 'forthwith'. He was replaced as Chairman shortly afterwards by Ernest Lever of the Pru­dential Assurance Company, who was also finance director. Sir William Firth remained intensely bitter about the busi­ness, he and his wife lobbying passionately and intervening noisily at Annual General Meetings of the company. It was true, as he claimed, that the Ebbw Vale works was not producing to capacity, while steel works in which other directors of the company had interests were increasing pro­duction. As John Vaizey comments: 'The papers show that Sir William's facts were correct; the implications he read into them were not necessarily so.' In particular Sir William inveighed passionately against the company's decision to merge with Baldwins at the end of 1944 to form Richard Thomas & Baldwins. The company was the family company of the former Prime Minister, Stanley Baldwin, who had persuaded Firth to rebuild Ebbw Vale at the expense of Redbourn. Firth put before an Extraordinary General Meet­ing of Richard Thomas & Co, held in London on 28 December 1944, a vigorous argument against the merger.

    The proposal before the meeting is that we should purchase from Baldwins their redundant tinplate plant, which only approximates 6 per cent to 8 per cent of total trade capacity ... We are asked to issue shares of a market value of more than 5| million pounds ... If the fusion scheme is approved, we shall get a small percentage of obsolete and redundant sheet mills, and some steel works which, in the past, have fed these and other obsolete mills, but we have no need of this steel capacity, since the steel works we at present own, and which at present supply our redundant plants, have an ouput sufficient to feed additional modern plant which we need to build.
    It is true that for the S\ million pounds we shall be­come the owners of two collieries that we do not need, and which, I understand, are operating at a loss ...
    And finally, if the scheme goes through, we shall become the owners of a large block of shares in Guest Keen and Baldwins, a company that is not competitive to ours, since it operates in a section of the steel industry in which we are not interested, and have no good reason to be, since our speciality is the production of steel for conversion into Sheets and Tinplates, and our problem is the raising of cash to build additional modern plant for this purpose.

    As Chairman, Ernest Lever pointed out that the merger was necessary to provide the rationalisation that alone could provide the resources to build modern strip mills in which, he believed, future prosperity lay. Before the war the com­pany had exported half its strip production. Now it was necessary to raise production to American standards of qual­ity, so as to enter the potential post-war markets. It was a fine ambition. The merger was approved.
    Eventually Sir William accepted a redundancy payment, which was regarded among his former friends, colleagues and workers in South Cymru as a public spirited act. He later retired to South Africa, where he died.

    Ernest Lever was generally regarded as a calm and even-handed chairman who while a very great deal less flamboyant that his precessor Sir William, nevertheless did well for the company. He also maintained warm personal relations with his deputy chairman, Lionel Beaumont-Thomas. He, having returned to war service with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel, decided in late September 1942 that it was inappropriate that he should continue to be paid for executive services with the company. He therefore volunteered his withdrawal from executive duties while retaining his directorship. 'I appreciate your gesture,' wrote Lever. Three months later, Lionel Beau­mont-Thomas was lost at sea. With his death, the last Thomas departed from the Board of Richard Thomas & Company. There were still those who hoped that the family would return to the Board after the war, in the person of Lionel Beaumont-Thomas's son Nigel, at this time an army officer fighting in North Africa.
    [Men of Steel, The History of Richard Thomas and his Family, David Wainwright, Quiller Press, 1986]
    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12
  • Change Date: 25 Apr 2013 at 01:00:00

    Father: Richard Beaumont-Thomas of Alvington Court b: 25 May 1860 in Oxford, England
    Mother: Nora Constance Anderson b: 17 Apr 1866 in Dundee, Angus, Scotland

    Marriage 1 Pauline Grace Marriott b: 1892 in Fitz, New Zealand c: in Paddington, London
    • Divorced: Y
    • Married: Apr/Jun 1913 in Paddington, London and vows retaken at Holy Trinity, Brompton, Llundain
    1. Has No Children Richard Lionel Beaumont-Thomas b: 8 Apr 1915 in 24 Devon Place, London, England
    2. Has No Children Nigel Beaumont-Thomas 4th Parachute Squadron R.E. b: 17 Apr 1916 in 11d Hyde Park Mansions, London, England
    3. Has Children Paul Sidney Beaumont-Thomas b: 12 Apr 1919 in 2 Nottingham Place, London, England
    4. Has Children Pearl Paulina Beaumont-Thomas W.A.S.B. b: 21 Jun 1921 in Great Brampton House, Madley, Herefordshire, England

    Marriage 2 Nancy Jeffries Turner b: 22 Dec 1899 in 68 Clive Road, Canton, Caerdydd, Morgannwg, Cymru
    • Note: Partners
    1. Has Children Noel David Jeffries Turner Chindits b: 5 Jan 1920 in 18 Glandwr Place, Whitchurch, Caerdydd, Morgannwg, Cymru

    Marriage 3 Isuelt Marjery Bland b: 6 Mar 1896 in Culworth, Northamptonshire, England
    • Married: 5 Jan 1934 in Kensington, London

    1. Title: Turner-Thomas Genealogy
      Author: Arthur Edwyn Turner-Thomas
      Publication: Turner-Thomas Genealogy.ged
    2. Title: College of Arms
      Author: Arthur William Steuart Cochrane
      Publication: Extracted from a lineage document submitted by Patrick Spence-Thomas
      Rouge Croix, pat. 3 October, salary from 8 January 1904.
      Chester, pat. 25 October, salary from 29 September 1915.
      Norroy, pat. 9 October, salary from 5 October 1926.
      Clarenceux, pat. 26 July 1928, salary from 12 September 1927.
      B. 27 April 1872, s. of Rev. David Crawford Cochrane, Master of Etwall Hospital, Derbyshire; a wine-merchant in early life and for a time Secretary to Scott-Gatty, Garter; Rouge Croix 1904; at his death 11 January 1954, had been a member of the College for nearly fifty years; adviser on heraldry to the Admiralty Committee on Ships' Badges 1936; M.V.O. 191 1 ; C.V.O. 193 1 ; K.C.V.O. 1937.
      Had a keen wit and a flair for producing happy and origiiial designs for arms and badges ; also known as writer of short stories.
      {Who's Who; The Times, 16 October 1926, 13 and 15 January 1954; etc.)
      Anns: Per pale or & gules, 2 crosses trefly dimidiated & issuing from the dexter & sinister flanks counterchanged. Crest: A horse passant argent with a gold crown about its neck. Motto: virtute et labore. (Designed by Cochrane and granted 25 November 1925.)
    3. Title: Brewis document
      Author: Pearl Brewis
      Publication: Extracted from lineage document produced by Pearl brewis, daughter of Lionel Beaumont-Thomas
    4. Title: Men of Steel, The History of Richard Thomas and his Family
      Author: David Wainwright
      Publication: Quiller Press, 1986
    5. Title: Will of Lionel Beaumont-Thomas
      Author: Lionel Beaumont-Thomas
      Publication: Probate granted at Llandudno, 23rd November 1943
    6. Title: Will of Richard Beaumont-Thomas
      Author: Richard Beaumont-Thomas
      Publication: Probate Registry of the High Court of Justice, London, 17th April 1917
    7. Title: Military Service Record
      Author: Ministry of Defence, Bourne Avenue, Hayes, Middlesex, UB3 1RF
      Publication: CS (RM) 2B
    8. Title: Whos Who In Commerce And Industry The International Business Whos Who 1938
      Publication: Institute For Research In Biography, Inc.
    9. Title: A Genealogical and Heraldic History of the Landed Gentry of Great Britain and Ireland
      Author: Bernard Burke, John Burke
      Publication: Burke's Peerage, 1972
    10. Title: Debrett's House of Commons, and the Judicial Bench
      Publication: 1930
    11. Title: The Thames, 1580-1980: a general bibliography
      Author: Ben Cohen
      Publication: B. Cohen, 1985
    12. Title: Coastal adventure: a book about marshes and the sea, shooting and fishing, wildfowl and waders and men who sail in small
      Author: James Wentworth Day
      Publication: Harrap, 1949
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