John Barnes, Historian

Sir Edmund Brocklebank (1882 – 1949)

Brocklebank was that rare creature in Conservative ranks, a clergyman turned politician. He sat in the House of Commons by courtesy of the Clerical Disabilities Act of 1870, which permitted him to relinquish “all rights, privileges, advantages and exemptions of the office [of priest or deacon] in the Church of England, as by law belong to that office”. He did not have to give up holy orders. He sat in parliament for two seats, Nottingham East 1924-29 and the Fairfield division of Liverpool 1931-45, and while he contributed little to debate, he found his metier in being a highly successful Parliamentary Private Secretary to a succession of ministers.

Brocklebank had taken holy orders after completing theological training at Cuddesdon Theological College and was priested in 1908. However, it seems that he had always intended to go into public life. He gave up his position as Vicar of Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell in 1920 in order to pursue a parliamentary seat. His long service as a PPS began in 1927 and during the National Government, he served in succession Hilton Young, Malcolm MacDonald and Sir John Anderson 1934-45.

Clement Edmund Royds Brocklebank was born on 28 August 1882, the fifth son of Thomas Brocklebank of Liverpool and of Wateringbury Place, Kent. One of his brothers also took holy orders. He was educated at Eton and at Magdalen College, Oxford, where he first became interested in social questions. He worked for a time in the east end of London, but decided to become ordained and trained at Cuddesdon Theological College. He was ordained deacon in 1907 and became a priest in 1908. He served as Curate of St Matthews Westminster 1907-15 and of the Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell in 1916. The next two years were spent as Chaplain to Westminster Hospital. He returned to the church of the Holy Redeemer, Clerkenwell as its Vicar in 1918, but after two years in post, stood down. The Clerical Disabilities Act of 1870 allowed him to relinquish his office in order to stand for Parliament and this Brocklebank was determined to do.

He attempted to gain election for Smethwick in 1923, but was defeated by John Davison, the sitting Labour MP, by 2,333 votes. He did not contest the 1923 General Election, but gained the Conservative nomination for Nottingham East in 1924 and at the General Election took the seat from the Liberals.

He had become engaged to be married in December 1920 to Norma McFarlane, daughter of the late Captain Norman McFarlane, but the engagement was broken off in the following June. Six and a half years later in Januray 1927 he became engaged to Grace (1888 1975)-), eldest daughter of the late Arthur John Wise of Wold House, Nafferton in Yorkshire and their marriage took place in the Crypt of the Houses of Parliament later that year. They had one daughter, Felicity Walker-Watson and two grandsons.

In November 1927 he was appointed Parliamentary Private Secretary to Sir Vivian Henderson, parliamentary Under Secretary at the Home Office and remained in that position until May 1929. In May 1929 he chose not to contest Nottingham east, leaving his predecessor as Conservative MP for that seat to contest and lose it. He contested Birkenhead east instead and was no more successful, losing it to a liberal by 1,297 votes. However in 1931 he was successful in securing election for the Fairfield Division in Liverpool. In December 1934 he became PPS to the Minister of Health, Hilton Young, and after the General Election in 1935 he became Malcolm MacDonald’s PPS, following him from department to department until he left the Government in February 1941. In the following month he was asked to become PPS to Sir John Anderson, then Lord President of the Council and he remained in that position when Anderson went to the Exchequer in September 1943.

Although he was a not infrequent questioner of the Chancellor of the Exchequer amongst others, Brocklebank did not make his maiden speech until 1927, when he spoke in defence of the lace duties and sought to establish their success in reducing unemployment in Nottingham. Neither he nor anyone else seems to have recognised that this was his maiden speech. Once he had become a PPS he intervened even more rarely and his next speech, which revealed a considerable knowledge of the shipping industry (as indeed had some of his earlier questions), was not made until the second reading of the Merchant Shipping Bill on 5 February 1932.

Brocklebank was knighted in the Coronation honours list on 11 May 1937. In 1938 he introduced a bill to facilitate marriages where one of the couple to be married lived in Scotland and the other in England. On 6 October 1939 he was one of five Conservative MPs who tabled a motion calling for a parliamentary Committee to be established to scrutinise war expenditure.

Brocklebank suffered a swing of 14 per cent against the Conservative party in the General Election of July 1945 and was out by 1,147 votes.

He died at his home, Turleigh Combe, Winsley, Bradford-on-Avon on 24 August 1949 shortly before his sixty-seventh birthday and was buried at Longbridge Deverill on 29 August. His widow survived him to die on 11 November 1975.