John Barnes, Historian

Major Sir Harry Barnston, 1st Baronet (1870 - 1929)

Barnston was an unusually popular Member and the affection felt for him, even though he was a whip, was "of no ordinary kind". He was equally well liked in Cheshire where he was not only the senior Member in the County but known as a practical agriculturist. He served as Comptroller of the Royal Household, the position usually held by the second most senior whip serving under the leadership of the parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury, for seven years in all, a period broken only when the Conservative Party went into opposition between January and October 1924. He was forced into retirement by ill health and died before the 1924-29 Parliament came to an end.

He headed a family that had held land in Cheshire over seven centuries. His father Major William Barnston of Crewe Hill, Farndon, was a landowner who became a soldier, serving with the 55th Foot. His mother, Mary Emma King, was the daughter of Colonel King of the 11th Light Dragoons. An uncle, Major Roger Barnston, was killed at Lucknow in 1857.

Harry Barnston was born on 12 December 1870 and after being educated privately took his degree at Christ Church, Oxford. He was subsequently called to the Bar by the Inner Temple on 27 January 1898, but never practiced. Instead he devoted himself to farming his own estate and he also became Chairman of the Tarvin Board of Guardians. He took a commission in the Earl of Chester's Yeomanry regiment and saw service in the South African war. When the Great War broke out, he rejoined the army and saw service in France. It is believed to have done permanent damage to his health.

In 1905 he had contested Stockport unsuccessfully. In 1908, already the prospective Conservative candidate for Eddisbury, he became a Vice President of the Cheshire Division of the National Union. He captured the seat from the Liberals in January 1910 and held it in December and at four subsequent General Elections, at first unopposed, but subsequently under serious challenge from the Liberals. Unopposed in 1918, he was again without opposition in the by-election that followed his ministerial appointment and in the 1922 election. In December 1923, he beat his Liberal opponent, R.J.Russell by only 196 votes, but increased his majority in October 1924 to 1,669. However, in the by-election that followed his death Russell gained the seat and held it at the 1929 General Election.

He served the Minister of Agriculture, Arthur Griffith Boscawen, as his PPS in 1919 and was appointed to the Whips Office as Comptroller of the Royal Household on 7 January 1921. In addition to his Whips duties in the House of Commons he had akso to be in attendance at a number of Royal functions.

Although Barnston voted for the continuance of the Coalition, he did not sign the ministerial letters of support for Chamberlain in October 1922 and found no difficulty in continuing in office under Bonar Law. He remained Comptroller until the Baldwin Government was voted out of office in January 1924 and returned to the same post after the 1924 General Election had returned Baldwin to power.

In the autumn of 1926 he was taken ill, but made a speedy recovery and was able to play his normal role in the Parliamentary session which followed. Taken badly ill in December 1927 he insisted on pairing against the Prayer Book measure. It was evident, however, that his recovery would take months and that he would have to resign his position as Comptroller. He received a warm letter of regret from his party leader: "We have been associated in parliament 18 years, a large slice out of our lives, and for several years in office together. I am sure your work has been happy. There has never been a better team than the Whips in this Parliament, and no member of that team regarded with more respect and affection than yourself. You will be greatly missed, and I am indeed grateful for all the willing and efficient service you have rendered. Our best wishes go with you."

Barnston was laid up in Cheshire until the following April. He then convalesced at Llandudno but his health did not improve. In October he told his Association that he would retire at the end of the parliament and Baldwin wrote again to say he was. "very sorry to get your news, though I am sure you have chosen the wisest course. I know well what a wrench it must be to you after all these years. It is a long time since we foregathered at Alan Burgoyne's garden party when we were young and before the world was turned upside down. I like to think of the many years of subsequent friendship and the work we have shared through years of trail and testing. No man will leave in politics more sincere friends."

Barnston had been created a Baronet in Baldwin's resignation honours in January 1924 and he served his native County as a deputy Lieutenant and a Justice of the Peace. His keen interest in agriculture had led to the Presidency of the Cheshire Agricultural Society and he was proud of his reputation as a practical agriculturist and as someone who took a keen interest in local affairs. His principal recreation was shooting.

A passionate opponent of the payment of MPs, he had insisted ion the payments being made to a separate account on which he never drew, but which was left in his will to be divided between the Chester Royal Infirmary and the Nantwich Cottage Hospital.

Barnston died at Crew Hill, Farndon on 22 February 1929. He was unmarried and with his death the baronetcy became extinct. The King and Queen sent a message of deep sympathy to Barnston's sister. He was buried at Farndon on 25 February 1929 and two stained glass windows were subsequently inserted into the parish church in his memory.