George Allardice Riddell, the only son of James Riddell, photographer, and his wife, Isabel Young Riddell, was born in London on 25th May 1865. Educated privately, he was first employed as a clerk by a Bloomsbury solicitor. In his final examinations he was placed first in all England and was admitted a solicitor in 1888. (1)
Riddell married Grace Edith Williams on 13th December 1888. He became a successful businessman and in 1891 he became the legal consultant to the consortium that purchased the ailing News of the World.
Riddell divorced Grace on 29th October 1900. The following month he married his cousin, Annie Molison Allardice. He never publicly acknowledged his first marriage and this would cause him problems in the future.
Riddell constantly enhanced his shareholding in the News of the World and by 1903 he was the managing director. Under the direction of Riddell, the newspaper's priority was the "solid, careful, objective presentation of police court reports of rape, seduction, violence and marital infidelity". (2)
Riddell had a complex character: "He was masterful yet extraordinarily considerate; sure of his own judgement yet always open to persuasion. Few rich men had so few wants. He was keenly interested in making money, but not in spending it upon himself. His clothes were shabby, he drank little, was indifferent to food, but smoked incessantly. A man of amazing industry, he had an insatiable curiosity, made manifest by cross-examining everyone with whom he came into contact." (3) The journalist, Sidney Dark, commented that Riddell "had an infinite capacity for asking never answering questions". (4)
George Riddell and the Liberal Party
Riddell was a supporter of the Liberal Party. With his newspaper selling 2 million copies, it is believed that Riddell played a significant role in the 1906 General Election victory. The Liberal Party won 397 seats (48.9%) compared to the Conservative Party's 156 seats (43.4%). Margot Asquith wrote: "When the final figures of the Elections were published everyone was stunned, and it certainly looks as if it were the end of the great Tory Party as we have known it." (5)
Riddell became a very close friend of David Lloyd George and kept a detailed record of the man's career. "I think his executive powers his strong point. His courage, patience, tenacity, energy, tact, industry, power of work, and eloquence combine to make him an administrator of the first order. And to these should be added his charm of manner, his power of observation, and his ruthless method of dismissing inefficients. These qualities are especially valuable at a time of emergency like the present. He sees something to be done, and he does it well and quickly. His schemes are another matter." (6)
Riddell decided to build Lloyd George a house besides the golf course at Walton Heath. The house was blown up on 19th February, 1913, by some members of the Women's Social and Political Union, during their campaign for women's suffrage. "Lloyd George himself was in no danger, because he was abroad at the time, on his way to the South of France... If all the bombs planted had exploded a number of workmen would have been killed, but fortunately there were no casualties, though the material damage was quite extensive." (7)
Riddell later met Emmeline Pankhurst, the woman who ordered the arson attack. "Mrs. Pankhurst smiled but seemed rather uneasy, remembering she had been convicted and imprisoned for inciting her people to destroy the house I had built for Lloyd George at Walton Heath." She commented: "I did not know it was to be your house that would be destroyed. Those days are all over now. I am very sorry if I did you any wrong. I hope the house was well insured". (8)
First World War
On 28th July, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia. The following day the Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany promised to Britain that he would not annex any French territory in Europe provided the country remained neutral. This offer was immediately rejected and at a Cabinet meeting on Friday, 31st July, the Cabinet discussed the possibility of joining the war. Only two ministers, Sir Edward Grey and Winston Churchill, argued in favour and H. H. Asquith appeared to support them. (9)
More than half the Cabinet, including David Lloyd George, Charles Trevelyan, John Burns, John Morley, John Simon, Charles Hobhouse, Thomas McKinnon Wood and William Lygon, 7th Earl Beauchamp, were opposed to Britain entering the war. George Riddell wrote: "I gathered that John Burns had practically resigned, and that Simon, Earl Beauchamp, Morley and Mackinnon Wood were considering the advisability of doing so." (10)
Churchill suggested that it might be possible to continue if some senior members of the Conservative Party could be persuaded to form a Coalition government. On 1st August, Asquith wrote in his diary that his government was badly divided on the issue of war: "Lloyd George, all for peace, is more sensible and statesmanlike for keeping the position still open. Grey declares that if an out-and-out and uncompromising policy of Non-intervention at all costs is adopted he will go. Winston very bellicose and demanding immediate mobilization... Of course, if Grey went, I should go, and the whole thing would break up." (11)
In 1915, during the course of a heated newspaper exchange, Sir Hedley Le Bas made public Riddell's first marriage. Subsequently, King George V rejected Riddell's nomination as a peer because he had been the guilty party in a divorce action. (12)
During the First World War Riddell was Lloyd George's most important adviser. He claimed in his diary that Lloyd George worked very closely with Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, the owner of The Times and The Daily Mail, to overthrow H. H. Asquith, as prime minister. "There is no doubt that Lloyd George and Northcliffe are acting in concert... Lloyd George is growing to believe more and more every day that he (Lloyd George) is the only man to win the War. His attitude to the PM is changing rapidly. He is becoming more and more critical and antagonistic. It looks as if Lloyd George and Northcliffe are working to dethrone Mr A." (13)
On 18th November, 1916, Max Aitken, Lord Beaverbrook, lunched with Andrew Bonar Law, the leader of the and put Lloyd George's case for reform. He also put forward the arguments for Lloyd George becoming the leader of the coalition. Lloyd George, Lord Beaverbrook, Bonar Law and Edward Carson, drafted a statement addressed to Asquith, proposing a war council triumvirate and the Prime Minister as overlord. On 25th November, Bonar Law took the proposal to Asquith, who agreed to think it over. The next day he rejected it. (14)
Further negotiations took place and on 2nd December Asquith agreed to the setting up of "a small War Committee to handle the day to day conduct of the war, with full powers", independent of the cabinet. This information was leaked to the press by Carson. On 4th December The Times used these details of the War Committee to make a strong attack on Asquith suggesting that he was unable to achieve victory with the present "cumbrous methods of directing the war". (15)
The following day he resigned from office. George Riddell reported: "To proceed with the account of the conference with the King. On Bonar Law’s refusing to form an administration, the King requested LG to do so. LG has undertaken the task, which he says is a thankless one. Bonar Law and the Conservatives will serve under him and he thinks Henderson will, subject to securing the approval of the Labour Party. Henderson was willing to serve under Bonar Law on the same conditions. LG has the support of at least eighty Liberals upon whom he can draw in case of need. If he cannot form a Cabinet from amongst the politicians, he will invoke the aid of business men to carry on the war." (16)
Riddell believed that Lloyd George had all the merits needed to be a great war leader. "He (David Lloyd George) is a remarkable combination of forces; an orator and a man of action. His energy, capacity for work, and power of recuperation are remarkable. He has an extraordinary memory, imagination, and the art of getting at the root of a matter... He is not afraid of responsibility, and has no respect for tradition or convention. He is always ready to examine, scrap, or revise established theories and practices". (17)
Lloyd George was highly critical of the way General Douglas Haig was fighting the war on the Western Front. Riddell reported: "Long talk with LG on the war. He gave me Haig’s dispatch to read, which I found very disappointing. Obviously he is not confident about the future. LG says that he LG wrote a memorandum a month ago in which he prophesied the practical failure of the recent offensive. There is an uneasy feeling that while we are confidently talking of smashing Germany, there is no evidence of any definite plan likely to lead to victory within a reasonable period, and that meanwhile we are steadily sacrificing ships and lives. That feeling is growing. I have said, and am still saying, that we must hit the enemy elsewhere. We must formulate new plans. Our soldiers have no imagination. Haig naturally has no eyes for anywhere but his own Front. He wants, very properly, to win the war there, and the soldiers at home have no genius". (18)
After the war Lloyd George once again approached King George V about the possibility of George Riddell being given a title. "The king's reservations were finally overcome by letters from other press lords protesting Riddell's virtues as chairman of the Newspaper Proprietors' Association. He received a barony in 1920." (19) Riddell therefore became the first divorced peer to enter the House of Lords, breaking a social and constitutional convention that, until then, had bound both houses of parliament. (20)
Lord Riddell served as president, chairman, or treasurer on the boards of a score of disparate charitable boards. He had a particular concern for medical charities. He kept a diary and they were published shortly before the end of his life in three volumes: Lord Riddell's War Diary (1933), Lord Riddell's Intimate Diary of the Peace Conference and After (1933), and More Pages from my Diary, 1908–1914 (1934). "They afford a most valuable guide to the politics of the period generally and to the career of Lloyd George in particular. The detailed retailing of conversations, while not always appreciated by Riddell's interlocutors, has provided rich and entertaining pickings for historians". (21)
Lord George Riddell died at his home, Walton Heath House, Banstead, Surrey, on 5th December 1934.
(1) George Riddell, diary entry (1st August, 1914)
The Cabinet rose at 1.30 and adjourned till 6.30, when it had another long meeting. I was told there were serious dissensions and likely to be several resignations. It seemed that there were four parties in the Cabinet:
(i) The party headed by Asquith and Grey, who thought it vital to support France; (2) the "Peace Party," headed by Sir John Simon, who would not have war at any price; (3) a party headed by Lloyd George in favour of intervention in certain circumstances; and (4) a party headed by Mackinnon Wood and Masterman which was endeavoring to compose the differences between the other three parties with a view to avoiding a split in the Government.
Lloyd George, Simon, Masterman, and Ramsay MacDonald came to dinner at my house. LG said he had been at work for eighteen hours, but he seemed wonderfully fresh. I gathered that John Burns had practically resigned, and that Simon, Earl Beauchamp, Morley and Mackinnon Wood were considering the advisability of doing so.
While we were at dinner, Simon took a paper out of his pocket and, handing it to Lloyd George, said, "Those are my views.” Lloyd George read it carefully and handed it back to him without comment. Simon showed it to me before he left. It was a draft letter of resignation.
A long discussion took place regarding the rights and wrongs of the situation. Lloyd George brought out the official war map and, putting it on the edge of the dinner table, graphically described the position of the various forces. He said that as a compromise the Government had determined to tell Germany that England would remain neutral if Germany undertook not to attack the coast of France or to enter the English Channel with a view to attacking French shipping. He said that if the Germans gave this undertaking in an unqualified manner and observed the neutrality of Belgium, he would not agree to war but would rather resign. He spoke very strongly, however, regarding the observance of Belgian neutrality. I understood Ramsay MacDonald to agree that if Belgian neutrality were infringed, this country would be justified in declaring war upon Germany. He said that he and the Labour Party would resolutely oppose intervention on any other grounds.
LG strongly insisted on the danger of aggrandising Russia and on the future problems that would arise if Russia and France were successful. I suggested that it would be well to let the future take care of itself, and that we had got to think about the present. How should we feel if we saw France overrun and annihilated? In reply, Lloyd George said, "How would you feel if you saw Germany overrun and annihilated by Russia?" I said, "Well, the Germans would have brought it on themselves by their action. The war is due to them. Austria would not have acted as she did if she had not had the support of Germany.” LG said, "Yes, but in 1916 Russia will have a larger Army than Germany, France, and Austria put together. The French have been lending the Russians millions of money for the purpose of constructing strategical railways to carry their armies to the German frontier. These will be completed in 1916. The French papers have been boasting that in that year France and Russia will be able to smash Germany. No doubt the Germans think they must strike before their enemies are ready to annihilate them. No doubt they have been stimulated by extravagant and erroneous reports regarding the state of affairs in Ireland. In fact the Foreign Office are quite convinced of this.”
Simon, who looked very gloomy, said, ‘‘We have always been wrong when we have intervened. Look at the Crimea. The Triple Entente was a terrible mistake. Why should we support a country like Russia?” I said, ‘‘Whether the Entente was a mistake or not, we must act up to our word, both expressed and implied. Furthermore, in a matter of this sort we must brush aside contingencies and problematical situations. We must deal with proximate causes and present dangers. The proximate cause is German aggression and the present danger is the annihilation of France by Germany.” Masterman agreed with me, and we both strongly advocated immediate intervention, to which LG responded by calling us "Jingoes." They left at 11.30 o’clock. It was an exciting day.
(2) George Riddell, diary entry (4th September, 1916)
Called at War Office to see LG (David Lloyd George). While I was waiting, Mrs. Pankhurst arrived. LG came out to get a paper and took the opportunity to introduce me to Mrs. Pankhurst, who was accompanied by Sir J. Murray, before the war the universal bailer out of Suffragettes. LG laughingly said to Mrs. Pankhurst, "You must try to convert him" (pointing to me). Mrs. Pankhurst smiled but seemed rather uneasy, remembering she had been convicted and imprisoned for inciting her people to destroy the house I had built for Lloyd George at Walton Heath. I said, "Mrs. Pankhurst, I am honoured to meet you. I have always admired your wonderful speaking. You made one of the best legal speeches on record when you were tried at the Old Bailey; I have been told so by several distinguished lawyers who heard you. You and I have a close association. Unwittingly you caused my house to be blown up and unwittingly I caused you to be imprisoned."
Mrs. Pankhurst (blushing faintly at my compliment): I did not know it was to be your house that would be destroyed. Those days are all over now. I am very sorry if I did you any wrong. I hope the house was well insured.
"As a matter of fact the insurance company would not pay, but that does not matter. In those days the blowing up of Lloyd George’s house was an event of importance; today the blowing up of a whole town counts for nothing. But I ought to tell you, Mrs. Pankhurst, that you were convicted by the evidence of a reporter of the Western Mail (of which I was then Chairman) who had reported an inflammatory speech delivered by you at Cardiff, which resulted in the charge of inciting to the destruction of property.
Mrs. Pankhurst: "What a strange coincidence! Now we can forgive each other, can’t we? You referred to my powers as a speaker. Speaking is quite easy if you have something to say, and if you feel strongly. Enthusiasm is the speaker’s mainspring.
We parted with mutual expressions of goodwill.
(3) George Riddell, diary entry (6th December, 1916)
This evening the King called a conference consisting of Asquith, LG, Bonar Law, Balfour, and Grey. Balfour got up from his bed to attend. Asquith absolutely declined to serve under Bonar Law. He said that after being Premier he could not accept a subordinate position. LG. thinks Asquith acted badly. The interview was, however, most friendly. This pleased the King, who was evidently glad to see that Asquith and LG were on such good terms. LG said his relations with Asquith had always been of the most friendly character. They have never had a quarrel. LG thinks Balfour was surprised at Asquith’s attitude. LG says that on Sunday Asquith agreed to his proposals with certain modifications, which LG accepted. Bonham Carter, Asquith’s secretary and son-in-law, was delighted. Now Asquith says no agreement was reached and that the proposals were only agreed for subsequent consideration.
LG says whether Asquith is losing his memory, whether he does not know what he is saying, or whether his statement is open to another construction, he does not know. Bonar Law told LG that subsequent to the interview between LG and Asquith, the latter said to Bonar Law that a settlement had been arrived at. Bonar Law cannot understand Asquith's action in repudiating it. All Asquith's best friends, Bonham Carter, Hankey, and Eric Drummond, advised Asquith to enter into the arrangement. LG thinks he was persuaded in the other direction by McKenna and Runciman. LG does not know what advice Grey gave.... Burnham told me Asquith had referred to the Press campaign against him and had suggested that LG was responsible for it. Burnham said Asquith was very bitter. Evidently he conceals his feelings from LG.
To proceed with the account of the conference with the King. On Bonar Law’s refusing to form an administration, the King requested LG to do so. LG has undertaken the task, which he says is a thankless one. Bonar Law and the Conservatives will serve under him and he thinks Henderson will, subject to securing the approval of the Labour Party. Henderson was willing to serve under Bonar Law on the same conditions. LG has the support of at least eighty Liberals upon whom he can draw in case of need. If he cannot form a Cabinet from amongst the politicians, he will invoke the aid of business men to carry on the war. Should the House of Commons prove impossible, he will go to the country. There are still 7,200,000 voters here, and he thinks he will receive overwhelming support. McKenna is bitterly opposed to him. Runciman acts in concert with McKenna. LG spoke strongly of the imprudence of Northcliffe’s leaders in the Daily Mail during the last few days. He had not seen him for three months till Monday or yesterday, I forget which, when he implored Northcliffe to refrain from abusing Asquith and Balfour. LG inquired whether he could count on Burnham’s support. Burnham replied in the affirmative. Burnham suggested that I should see Northcliffe and endeavour to persuade him to mitigate his abuse of Asquith and Balfour, which was calculated to exacerbate the situation and render LG's task more difficult. I replied that I thought such a request might be productive of more harm than good...
We talked of Curzon. LG. said he had great knowledge - information of a sort which is uncommon amongst British politicians. He knows foreign countries; he has travelled widely. He is dogmatic and often unreasonable, but he brings something to the general stock which is very valuable.
(4) George Riddell, diary entry (26th May, 1917)
LG (Lloyd George) lunched with me at the Golf Club and we played a round, in the course of which he made a noticeable remark. I said that a Tory had told me that LG had been raised up by Providence for the purpose of the war, and that, much as he had disagreed with him before the war, he was now all for him, etc. The usual thing. LG laughed and said, "Later on they may disagree with me more than ever they did before." Perhaps he is meditating huge schemes of social reform. No such opportunity has ever occurred in the history of the world. It may well appeal to his imagination - the reshaping of mankind. It will be interesting to see whether these attempts will share the fate of all other schemes to create a machine-made world. LG prides himself on his schemes far more than on his executive performances. I think his executive powers his strong point. His courage, patience, tenacity, energy, tact, industry, power of work, and eloquence combine to make him an administrator of the first order. And to these should be added his charm of manner, his power of observation, and his ruthless method of dismissing inefficients. These qualities are especially valuable at a time of emergency like the present. He sees something to be done, and he does it well and quickly. His schemes are another matter.
(5) George Riddell, diary entry (6th August, 1917)
Long talk with LG on the war. He gave me Haig’s dispatch to read, which I found very disappointing. Obviously he is not confident about the future. LG says that he LG wrote a memorandum a month ago in which he prophesied the practical failure of the recent offensive.
There is an uneasy feeling that while we are confidently talking of smashing Germany, there is no evidence of any definite plan likely to lead to victory within a reasonable period, and that meanwhile we are steadily sacrificing ships and lives. That feeling is growing.
I have said, and am still saying, that we must hit the enemy elsewhere. We must formulate new plans. Our soldiers have no imagination. Haig naturally has no eyes for anywhere but his own Front. He wants, very properly, to win the war there, and the soldiers at home have no genius.
(6) George Riddell, diary entry (13th August, 1917)
He (David Lloyd George) is a remarkable combination of forces; an orator and a man of action. His energy, capacity for work, and power of recuperation are remarkable. He has an extraordinary memory, imagination, and the art of getting at the root of a matter... He is not afraid of responsibility, and has no respect for tradition or convention. He is always ready to examine, scrap, or revise established theories and practices.
These qualities give him unlimited confidence in himself. He has a remarkably quick, alert, and logical mind, which makes him very effective in debate. He is one of the craftiest of men, and his extraordinary charm of manner not only wins him friends, but does much to soften the asperities of his opponents and enemies. He is full of humour and a born actor. His oratory has a wide range. He has an instinctive power of divining the thoughts and intentions of people with whom he is conversing. His chief defects are: (i) Lack of appreciation of existing institutions, organisations, and stolid, dull people, who often achieve good results by persistency, experience, and slow, but sound, judgment. It is not that he fails to understand them. The point is that their ways are not his ways and their methods not his methods. (2) Fondness for a grandiose scheme in preference to an attempt to improve existing machinery. (3) Disregard of difficulties in carrying out big projects. This is due to the fact that he is not a man of detail.
(7) George Riddell, diary entry (28th August, 1917)
LG (David Lloyd George) said that unless the war is conducted on different lines we are certain to lose it, and that unless a change is made it would be better to make the best peace possible. But he was strongly of opinion that new and better methods were available. He read extracts from his minute of July, in which he predicted the failure of the offensive on the Western Front and advocated an Italian offensive. He said that events had unfortunately proved that he was right. He added, "My warnings and suggestions have, however, been disregarded by the soldiers. All Robertson’s thoughts are concentrated on the Western Front. We are losing the flower of our Army, and to what purpose? What have we achieved? The Italians are doing well - better than was expected. If we supported them by sending them 300 guns with the necessary ammunition, we might enable them to break the Austrians and thus achieve a success which might well be the turning-point of the war. I have written urging this, and that we should suspend the offensive on the Western Front. Robertson will not agree. He is a stiff sort of man - unbending".
(8) George Riddell, diary entry (24th November, 1917)
We talked of the political situation. He (David Lloyd George) said, “The Liberals will have to choose whether they are going to follow me or not. There will be a cleavage. I shall have to rely upon the business classes to a great extent. I shall have to organise.”
He asked what I thought of a proposal to censor a pamphlet which the Union of Democratic Control wish to issue. He described it as a very clever piece of work. The author does not advocate stopping the war, but suggests that the time has come when we should discuss at home what terms of peace might be accepted. I said, "It would be difficult to suppress a pamphlet of that sort. It may be pacifist in intention, but it is not expressed as such.” LG agreed, and said he was opposed to suppression. Such a proceeding would give rise to difficult questions, and the difficulties are likely to increase as the war progresses. LG stayed to tea, and I walked home with him.
(9) George Riddell, diary entry (1st January, 1918)
Winston Churchill lunched with me. Talked of peace terms. I said, "If the war continues for another twelve months, in attempting to annihilate Germany we may annihilate ourselves. We shall be burdened with another 3,000 millions of debt; we shall have lost or rendered useless another million men; we shall have lost a great part of our mercantile marine and a great part of our trade. The Americans will come in at the end of the war with all the gold in the world and vastly increased merchant shipping. They will have captured much of our trade and will want to dictate terms of peace, including the freedom of the seas."
Winston: "We must fight on to a finish. You never know when the Germans will crash. It is highly dangerous to dwell on the factors you name."
Riddell: "But suppose it were possible to settle on these terms: the Germans to evacuate France and Belgium; the Alsace-Lorraine question to be settled to the satisfaction of the French; Palestine and Mesopotamia to be placed under a protectorate; some suitable arrangement to be made regarding the German colonies, and Serbia and Rumania to be restored. Do you think that the Allies would be prepared to continue the war in order to endeavour to smash Germany?"
Winston: "The terms you name are far better than we shall ever get. Of course we should settle on such terms. I would take much less."
Riddell: "Well, you see you are even more pacific than I am."
Winston: "I may be. I fear that your terms are impossible as things have turned out. I am terribly anxious about the Navy. I know it as no other civilian knows it. Changes are being made which prevent me from sleeping at night... The position is most serious. I wish I was in Opposition. When the war is over I shall resign. I could not stop with this Government; I would prefer Opposition. While the war is on I must help to the best of my ability, and I was miserable while I was unemployed.
(10) George Riddell, diary entry (26th January, 1918)
We discussed the political situation. L. G. thinks that the Liberal Party in its old form is a thing of the past and cannot be galvanised into life. He doubts the success of the great efforts now being made by the Liberal organisation, who are very busy indeed in all directions. He thinks that it may come to a fight between him and Henderson, and that all Parties, including Labour, will be split and be reconstituted. I said, "But you must have candidates. You cannot vote without having someone to vote for." LG agreed, and said that he had some men coming to see him about the matter to-morrow morning, with the object of forming an organisation. He said that he proposes to appoint Beaverbrook to succeed Carson as head of the Department of Information. He asked my opinion. I replied that I thought he would do the work well.
(11) George Riddell, diary entry (28th September, 1918)
As a man of action, that is his strength. When he (Lloyd George) comes to a decision, he is like an engine that has determined to start. He begins to work up the steam. He compels himself to see no obstacles and to believe that anyone who disagrees with him is either a misguided fool or a knave. That is a great source of strength when you want to do things, but a dangerous quality if your decision happens to be wrong. Many people who come to decisions weaken themselves in action by constant questionings and doubts.
(12) George Riddell, diary entry (13th November, 1918)
The newspapers appointed me to represent the Press at the Peace Conference. Lord Burnham, who presided, said some nice things which were well received. He referred to what I had done for the Press during the war, and said that I was the best person to go to Paris. At the request of the Conference, he wrote a letter to the Prime Minister sending the resolution, and strongly supporting my nomination.
The Prime Minister said he was gratified I was going. Mr. Balfour also said he thought I was the best person to go, and that he was glad the newspapers had asked me to do so. Northcliffe told me he would do everything in his power to help me. He rang up quite voluntarily. He, Thomas Marlowe (editor of the Daily Mail), Sir Andrew Caird (managing director Daily Mail) and Campbell Stuart (managing director of The Times Publishing Company) have been most kind in every way.
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