John Barnes, Historian

Sir George Bowyer, 1st Baronet of Weston Underwood and 1st Baron Denham (1886-1948)

Patrick Hannon, a fellow MP, observed of George Bowyer that throughout his life he upheld all that was best in the traditions of a country gentleman. He served ten years as a Conservative whip in the Commons, endearing himself not only to his party colleagues, but making friends in every quarter of the House, before becoming briefly Comptroller of the Royal Household in 1935. Two years later he was elevated to the House of Lords and served as Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture 1939-40. After the Second World War he served until 1947 as the Conservative Chief Whip in the House of Lords. Bowyer had great charm and was absolutely dedicated to duty. He was capable of great kindness and was always available to help, whether he was dealing with constituents, friends, or even on some occasions mere acquaintances. He always liked to give someone a “leg up” if he was able to do so.

George Edward Wentworth Bowyer was born on 16 January 1886. He was the eldest son of Lieutenant Colonel W.G.Bowyer R.E.. He was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford and was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1909. He practised on the Midland Circuit.

He joined the Buckingham battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, a territorial army battalion, in 1910 and served with them in the First World War. He was wounded in May 1915, mentioned in despatches, won the MC and ended the war with the rank of Captain, which, as was usual then, he used during his parliamentary career.

He was elected as the Conservative MP for Buckingham in 1918 and in the following tear married the Hon. Daphne Freeman-Mitford, fourth daughter of Algernon Freeman-Mitford, 1st Baron Redesdale. Their eldest son, Richard, was born on 17 February 1920; a daughter, Peggy, was born on 18 May 1925. She married Lieutenant J.D.L.Repard RN. The youngest of their children, Bertram, who succeed his father in the Barony was born on 3 October 1927.

Three years after his entry into the House of Commons, Bowyer was appointed PPS to Sir Philip Lloyd-Greame, the President of the Board of Trade and he continued in that post until 1924. In the following year he became a Whip. Believing strongly that example was more important than precept, he was assiduous in his attendance in the Commons and in 1927 did not miss a single one of the 450 divisions. From 1926 until the Conservative party was defeated in the 1929 General Election, he was a Junior Lord of the Treasury. In the spring of 1930 Baldwin made him a deputy Chairman of the Conservative Party, a title that was changed to that of Vice Chairman in Marxch. It was a position that he held until December 1935. He was had special responsibility for the selection of Conservative candidates and had created the Standing Advosry Committee on Candidates. Throughout his tenure of his Vice Chairmanship of the party, however he continued to be a member of the Conservative whips office. 1930 saw him suffer from an accident in the hunting field which kept him away from the Commons and later in the year he had a bout of pleurisy.

When the Conservatives took office in the National Government, he continued to serve as an unpaid assistant whip, but it was widely recognised that he was third by seniority and in June 1935 this was confirmed when Baldwin appointed him Comptroller of the Royal Household, a post given to a senior whip, but one which carried with it some duties at Court also. His resignation was announced on 6 December 1935, the reason given being his wish to devote more time to his private business interests. He had been able to join the Board of Guardian Assurance Ltd in 1932, but had had to relinquish that position on taking office. It was noted when he retired that in the decade he had spent in the whips office, apart from two brief periods when he was off sick, he had missed only one sitting of the Commons. There can be no more fitting tribute to a whip.

He had been knighted for his services on 10 July 1929, and was made a Baronet in the New Years Honours list in January 1933. In the Coronation Honours List, May 1937 he was elevated to the peerage as the 1st Baron Denham of Weston Underwood.

Bowyer was one of those critical of the Hoare-Laval Pact, a rare breach in his loyalty to the party. He twice served on committees to determine the Civil List for a new monarch, and when he joined the Lords was one of the founder members of its Committee on Road Safety. In the Lords his maiden speech unusually was devoted to moving the second reading of the Streets Playgrounds Bill and in July 1939 he moved the second reading of the Riding Establishments Bill.

On 20 September 1939 he was appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries and in March 1940 took the Agriculture (miscellaneous wartime provisions) Bill through the Lords.. When Churchill became Prime Minister in May 1940 Denham left the Government and became a GSO2 in the Home Guard Directorate in the War Office, serving until 1945. In 1945 he took on the task of whipping Conservative peers in the House of Lords, working closely with the Conservative leader, Lord Salisbury, but he resigned in 1947.

His eldest son had been killed on 29 January 1943 flying with the RAF.

Bowyer was active in local government and had been elected President of the Urban District Councils Association in 1923. He gave that office up on becoming a whip in 1925. Chosen to be President again in 1929, he retained the office until the end of his life.

He joined the Board of Guardian Assurance Ltd in July 1932, and after a brief intermission while he was in office, rejoined it in December 1935, becoming its deputy chairman during the Second World War. He also served as Chairman of the London and Montrose Trust and shortly before his death was on the Board of new undertaking, Shipman and King Cinemas Ltd.

Bowyer was the long serving senior Steward of the National Greyhound Racing Club and the first Chairman of the Greyhound Racing Board of Control July 1938. He was devoted to the countryside and was indefatigable in promoting the interests of farmers. However, he identified himself with every aspect of rural life, enjoyed hunting with the Oakley and Grafton Hunts and was active in the British Legion. He shot and he also enjoyed playing both cricket (he helped found the Parliamentary Cricket association) and golf. He was a member of the International Sportsman’s Club.

He died in a nursing home in London on 30 November 1948 and was buried at Weston Underwood, Olney on 3 December 1948. He was only 62.

An obituary appeared in The Times on 1 December 1948 and a memorial service was held at St Margaret’s Westminster on 17 December 1948.