John Barnes, Historian

Sir Rowland Blades, 1stBaronet and 1st Baron Ebbisham (1868 - 1953)

Although Blades played an active part in the extra-parliamentary activities of the Conservative Party serving as its Treasurer fior two years and becoming Chancellor of the Primrose League, his ten year term as the Unionist MP for Epson was relatively undistinguished and he made his mark principally for his use of his term mas Lord mayor of London to foster good international relations. His official vists to France, Belgium and Italy won both the |City and his country much good will. He was also a strong supporter of Baldwin's efforts to establish peace in industry and he took a keen interest in the welfare of his own employees. He also took a considerable interest in other humane causes. In 1929 he presented to HMS London a remarkable collection of historical prints depicting earlier versions of the ship in service with the Royal Navy.

George Rowland Blades was born on 15 April 1868, the only son of Rowland Hill Blades of Sydenham and Agnes Amelia, younger daughter of George Henry Fletcher. His grandfather had founded the firm of printers and publishers, which in 1821 became Blades, East and Blades Ltd. and he was the first of the family to have a connection with the City of London, chairing the Corporation's Library Committee. His grandson joined the firm in 1886 and had a thorough apprenticeship in the printing trade. He was eventually to become the firm's Chairman. In 1905 he was President of the Institute of Printers and in 1917 became the long-serving president of the Printers Pension Corporation, which he steered successfully through the Second World War. He was an active freemason.

In 1908 he married Margaret, the daughter Arthur Reiner of Ferriby, Sutton. They had four children and their eldest son, Lieutenant Colonel the Hon. Rowland Roberts Blades was to succeed his father in the title. He had gone missing in 1940, but was eventually found to be a German prisoner of war.

Blades became a common councilman of the City Corporation in 1913 and he was the senior sheriff in 1917-18 Sir Charles Hanson MP was his colleague. On the occasion of the King and Queen's visit to the City to celebrate their silver wedding, he was knighted. He became an Alderman in 1920 and finally resigned as Alderman for Bassishaw in January 1948. He began his political career by representing the City on the London County Council and in 1918 was elected as the Unionist MP for Epsom. He held the seat in the General Elections of 1922, 1923 and 1924. He was created a baronet in the New Years Honours List in 1922.

His parliamentary career was mainly notable for his interest in cricket and he played a notable part in reviving the Parliamentary team. He was a slow left arm bowler and in 1926 Baldwin presented him with the silver-mounted ball with which he had taken 6 for 61 against the MCC in the preceding season. In all he had taken 114 wickets that summer. Blades continued to play cricket until much later and in September 1933 is recorded to have taken his hundredth wicket for that season in a match against the ground staff at Lords. He also took a hundred wickets in both 1937 and 1938, playing for a variety of teams, the hundredth in 1938 coming when he was playing for the Hampshire Hogs against the Hoggets. It was once said of him that he was “a mixture of Dick Whittington and Peter Pan who did as much for sport as any man” and his efforts were not confined to the field of play. Thus he is recorded as helping get the Cheam cricket club restarted in 1919, while in 1938 he took on the Presidency of Surrey. He remained President and captain of the Lords and Commoners until the war put an end to their matches and in July 1939 took 4 for 68 in the annual match against the MCC. Earlier in the season he had taken 4 for 34 in a fine win over the parliamentary staff.

Blades had already served as Master of the Gardeners and the Horners and was the reigning Master of the Stationers' Company when in January 1926 he was elected Lord Mayor of London. In January 1927 he made an official visit to Paris and attended the annual banquet of the British Chamber of Commerce. Later in the year he paid official visits to Belgium and to Rome, the first Lord Mayor to do so. During his year of office he was received by the President of France and the King of Egypt and in his turn he welcomed the Duke and Duchess of York on their return from their visit to Australia and New Zealand. In 1928-29 he became President of the Federation of British Industries. He remained an active figure in the life of the corporation, becoming Master of the Wheelwrights Company in 1932 and five years later 1937 Master of the Haberdashers. He briefly acted as Lord Mayor in 1940 and in the following year was elected Chairman of the Finance Committee. In September 1942 he launched a special appeal on behalf of the City of London Savings Committee to secure the funding of 25 Churchill tanks by the City.

In 1928 he was raised to the peerage and chose for his title the ancient name of Epsom in Surrey. Baldwin appointed him to the Channel Tunnel sub committee of the Committee of Civil Research and he was the only dissenter when they reported in favour of the proposal in 1930. From 1931 until 1933 he acted as Treasurer of the Conservative party and he served as Treasurer of the National Union in 1936. He served as Vice Grand Master and from 1934 until May 1946 as Chancellor and Treasurer of the Primrose League. Until the war came he was a regular speaker at meetings in every part of the country, endorsing the decision to repair Britain's defences, but defending the Munich settlement in 1938, to which the Grand Council of the League had given its full support. During the war he continued to presid over the regular meetings of its Grand Council, which assumed fresh importance when the National Union put its activities into abeyance. It was one of the few bodies that kept the Conservative flag flying during the Second World War.

A Sunday school teacher in his early years, Blades was a deeply religious man, and although he did not parade his faith ostentatiously, he served as churchwarden of St Mary Abchurch, Cannon Street, the parish in which his firm was located, for thirty-five years as well as serving as a churchwarden at St Lawrence Jewry and St George's Hanover Square.

He served on the Boards of the Southern Railway, retiring at the end of the war, and the Phoenix Assurance Company.

In June 1938 he chaired over the International Red Cross Conference in London, perhaps one of the high points of a long career devoted to charitable fund raising. His activities covered a wide range. Thus in May 1938 one can find him active as Vice Chairman of the Extension Fund Appeal Committee for Guys Hospital and as part of a deputation from the representative council of Seamen's Missions and Sailors' Homes to the Parliamentary Secretary for Labour on the subject of port welfare for seamen. When he retired as secretary of the City of London Savings Committee in 1948, he had held the position for the previous thirty two years and it was far from the only position in which he had given long service. He was the Treasurer of Dr Barnardo's Homes and during the Second World War he acted as Treasurer of the Red Cross Comforts Appeal Committee. He chaired the Council of King Edward's Hospital Fund for London and from 1937 chaired meetings of the Presidents of the League of Mercy, a body giving help to voluntary hospitals. He was himself president of the National Hospital for Consumption and Diseases of the Chest at Ventnor. Another of his interests was the Royal London Discharged Prisoners Association. Until 1950 he served also as a Trustee of the National Playing Fields Association. His interest in international understanding led to membership of various bodies furthering that work and a particular interest in Belgium led to the Presidency and later continued membership of the Council of the Anglo-Belgian Union. This list could readily be multiplied and what was striking is that he continued his connection with many until he was in his late ‘70s.

He died on 24 May 1953.