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Neville Chamberlain

Neville Chamberlain Born: 18 March 1869 in Edgbaston, Birmingham

First entered Parliament: 14 December 1918

Age he became PM: 68 years, 71 days

Maiden Speech: 12 March 1919 during Committee Stage of the Increase of Rent and Mortgage Interest

Total time as PM: Two years, 348 days

Died: 9 November 1940 at Highfield Park, Reading

Hear Chamberlain on Hitler

In September 1938 Neville Chamberlain, Conservative Party Prime Minister, made three visits to Germany for talks with Adolf Hitler that he hoped would avert a war.

As he stepped off the aircraft on his return to Britain after their final meeting, Chamberlain held up a signed piece of paper and made this short speech.

Facts and figures

Nickname: “The Coroner”

Education: Rugby School and Mason College (later became University of Birmingham)

Family: Chamberlain was the third of six children. He was married to Anne de Vere Cole, and had one son and one daughter

Interests: Nature, fishing, music and literature.

Biography

Born into political dynasty

Neville Chamberlain was born to a political family, being the youngest son of Joseph Chamberlain, a Victorian Cabinet Minister, and the half-brother of Austen, a Chancellor of the Exchequer. He was educated at Rugby and Mason College, Birmingham.

When he was 21 Chamberlain left for the Bahamas to manage a 20,000 acre estate a venture which eventually failed. But he gained a reputation for being a hands-on manager, taking a strong interest in the day to day running of affairs.

On his return he became prominent manufacturer in Birmingham, where he was elected a councillor in 1911 and Lord Mayor in 1915.

Lloyd George appointed him Director-General of the Department of National Service in 1916, but personal bitterness between the two men led to his resignation within one year.

Stanley Baldwin In 1918 Chamberlain was elected Conservative MP for Ladywood, but refused to serve under Lloyd George in coalition government. In 1922 he became Postmaster General under Bonar Law, where he proved his judgement and ability.

He was made Minister of Health within months and, under Baldwin, Chancellor of the Exchequer all in little more than a year, and within five years of entering Parliament.

Chamberlain’s Local Government Act of 1929 reformed the Poor Law, effectively laying the foundations of the welfare state, and reorganised local government finance.

Economic crisis

In 1931 Ramsay MacDonald made Chamberlain Chancellor in his National Government, and Baldwin retained him in turn. During the economic crisis, he achieved his father’s protectionist ambitions by passing the Import Duties Bill in 1932.

In May 1937 he succeeded Baldwin as Prime Minister, and was elected Conservative leader.

War was brewing in Europe, and had already exploded in Spain. Chamberlain was unwilling to go down in history as responsible for an inevitably destructive war without doing everything possible to prevent it. Neville Chamberlain, as with many in Europe who had witnessed the horrors of the First World War and its aftermath, was committed to peace at almost any price.

Chamberlain famously met German chancellor Adolf Hitler in Munich 1938 the result of which was an agreement that Britain and Germany would never again go to war. “I believe,” he declared on his return to the UK, “it is peace for our time.”

However, the success of ‘appeasement’ was shortlived, as Hitler occupied Prague the following year.

The subsequent invasion of Poland forced Chamberlain’s hand, and he declared war on 3 September, 1939. He soon came under attack from all political sides after the disastrous first months of war when Germany look set for a rapid victory.

Unable to form a national government himself, he resigned in May 1940 after the failure of the British efforts to liberate Norway.

Bowel cancer struck soon after, forcing him to leave Churchill’s coalition government. On his death bed he garnered the strength to whisper ‘approaching dissolution brings relief .’

Quote unquote

“This is the second time in our history that there has come back from Germany to Downing Street peace with honour. I believe it is peace for our time”

Did you know?

Chamberlain went to his formal appointment at Buckingham Palace uncertain about whether or not the term “kiss hands” was literal or metaphorical. It was only when the King invited him to sit down, without offering a hand, that Chamberlain deduced the answer.

Extract of Chamberlain’s radio address to the nation on the outbreak of the Second World War

Neville Chamberlain giving his 'peace in our time' declaration “You can imagine what a bitter blow it is to me that all my long struggle to win peace has failed. Yet I cannot believe that there is anything more, or anything different, that I could have done, and that would have been more successful… We have a clear conscience, we have done all that any country could do to establish peace, but a situation in which no word given by Germany’s ruler could be trusted, and no people or country could feel themselves safe, had become intolerable… Now may God bless you all and may he defend the right. For it is evil things that we shall be fighting against, brute force, bad faith, injustice, oppression, and persecution. And against them I am certain that the right will prevail.”

Wife

Anne de Vere Cole’s family though the Chamberlain family too stuffy for their daughter but it was a true love match. After each of his career successes he would say ‘I’d never have done it without Annie’. She in turn believed her husband could do no wrong and was a fiercely loyal and faithful wife. The couple had two children.

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