John Barnes, Historian

Lt Col Sir Edward Archibald Ruggles-Brise, 1st Baronet (1882-1942)

Ruggles- Brise was the Conservative MP for Maldon in Essex from 1922 until his death with a brief intermission in 1923-24, when he briefly lost the seat to the Labour MP, Valentine Crittall. A landowner and land agent, he was an expert agriculturist and he chaired the Conservative backbench agriculture committee from 1934.

Born on 9 September 1882, he was the son of Archibald Ruggles-Brise of Spains Hall, Finchingfield. He was educated at Eton where he was in the Reverend S.R.James’s House and had H.W.F.Tatham as his tutor. He got his oppidan wall and was a Lieutenant in the Eton College RV 1900-01. In 1901 he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge.

In 1903 he joined the Essex Yeomanry and reached the rank of major in 1915. He served with them and the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards during the First World War and won the MC. After the war he served in the Army of Occupation and was mentioned in despatches. From 1927 until 1934 he commanded the 104th (Essex Yeomanry) Field Brigade and was gazetted Brevet Colonel in 1931. He held the Territorial Decoration.

He was elected for Maldon in 1922, lost the seat in December 1923 and regained it in the 1924 election. He held it in 1929, 1931 and 1935. In 1930 he contributed a striking article to The Times on ‘The Wheat Quota System’ which the Central Office had reprinted and circulated as a pamphlet.

Ruggles-Brise farmed his own land and his experience was put to good use in the House of Commons where he made frequent contributions in debate and earned the respect of his fellow-members. In 1934 he was elected to Chair the Conservative party’s backbench Agriculture Committee. Percy Hurd, sometime secretary of the committee remarked on the considerable influence he had on an increasingly urbanized House of Commons and Cabinet. While he attempted to ensure that the committee lost something of its former reputation for what today would be called ‘whingeing’, he was never less than forthright in his advocacy of the importance of British agriculture whether speaking on the floor of the House of Commons or in private heart-to-heart talks with Ministers. On occasion he and his colleagues felt it necessary to make their dissent public. At the Agriculture Committee’s meeting on 9 November 1938, for example, there was agreement that Ruggles-Brise should table an amendment to the Address regretting that there had been no mention of the extension of price insurance and urging immediate action to help barley and sheep-producing areas. It had the support of 50 Mps but was not called. Instead they made their voice felt in debate. However, it was not the end of the problems they were causing for the Minister of Agriculture, W.S.Morrison. About one hundred MPs attended a meeting on 29 November, which adopted a report from their Milk Sub Committee, recommending that the Government’s Milk Bill should be withdrawn while an agreed Bill was worked upon. With only eight dissentients, most of whom wanted the Bill deferred to after Christmas, while the Minister consulted, the Committee asked their Chairman and the Chairman of the 1922 Committee to see the Prime Minister and ask for the bill to be withdrawn. The two saw Chamberlain later that evening and the Bill was withdrawn. The Committee had recognized that Morrison’s personal position was on the line and indicated that they had no wish to embarrass him. Nevertheless their move was well-publicized in The Times and it was no great surprise when Chamberlain reshuffled Morrison out of the Ministry in February 1939, replacing him with a leading member of the NFU, Reginald Dorman Smith. The Agriculture Committee welcomed his appointment, but it did not prevent them from signaling to The Times in March that a deputation from the Committee was meeting with Dorman Smith to discuss the barley subsidy.

Ruggles-Brise was by no means a creature of the whips: When the 1922 Committee discussed the possible return of the German colonies on 14 November 1938 and decided to table a motion seeking to avert any such move, the four MPs asked to put their name to it were Vyvyan Adams, Leo Amery, Page Croft and Ruggles-Brise.

Totally imperturbable, his breadth of outlook and quick grasp of the essentials of any problem were much admired, but he was also well-liked. It was said of him that in Essex he had only friends. In the Commons too he was a popular figure and he chaired the House of Commons branch of the British Legion. He farmed his own estates and was also a Land Agent and a fellow of the land Agent’s Society. He had served on the Smallholdings Committee of the Essex County Council since 1908. Because he spoke from a wealth of practical experience, his colleagues in the Commons gave weight to his words. In 1935 he was made a Baronet in the Jubilee Honours, taking Stains Hall into his title.

He had served his native County as a deputy lieutenant and JP since 1920 and in 1937 took over the Chair of the Bardfield Bench when his father retired after 62 years service. On 19 may 1939 he was appointed Vice Lieutenant of Essex.

Ruggles-Brise chaired the Essex and Middlesex Area of the National Union in 1937/8 and was co-opted on to the Executive Committee of the National Union subsequently.

He had married Agatha Gurney (1881-1937) the daughter of John Henry Gurney of Keswick hall, Norfolk in 1907 but their happy marriage came to an untimely end when she died at the age of 50 on 2 April 1937. They had two sons and two daughters. He remarried on 14 March 1939, his second wife being Lucy Barbara Pym (1895-1979), daughter of the Right Reverend Walter Ruthven Pym, Bishop of Bombay. Her brother, Leslie, was a colleague in the Commons, serving as assistant Secretary to the Agriculture Committee.

When the Local Defence Volunteers (later the Home Guard) were formed Ruggles-Brise was appointed Zone Commander and took a great interest in their formation, organisation and training right up to his last illness and indeed while ill.

Amongst his other business interests he served as Chairman of the Board of Nigel van Ryn Reefs Ltd.

His younger son, Guy, was captured by the Italians in 1941.

Ruggles-Brise died on 12 May 1942 and was succeeded in the Baronetcy by his elder son, Colonel Sir John Ruggles-Brise.