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Sir  Hubert  Llewellyn Smith (1864–1945), by Walter Stoneman, 1917Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith (1864–1945), by Walter Stoneman, 1917
Smith, Sir Hubert Llewellyn (1864–1945), civil servant and social investigator, was born in Bristol on 17 April 1864. Of middle-class Quaker extraction, he was the youngest son of Samuel Wyatt Smith, a partner in a wholesale tea business, and his wife, Louisa, daughter of James Scholefield, of Kingsholm, Gloucester. Llewellyn Smith married in 1901 Edith Maud Sophia, eldest daughter of George Mitchell Weekley, of Highgate; they had four sons and two daughters.

Early links with the labour movement

Llewellyn Smith (as he was usually known) went up to Corpus Christi College, Oxford, from Bristol grammar school in 1883, becoming immersed in the so-called ‘new Oxford Movement’ that was committed to investigating and improving the condition of the working classes. A contemporary of Michael Sadler and L. T. Hobhouse, he combined other activities with participating in the Inner Ring, a group presided over by Arthur Acland to discuss social and economic issues, and with hosting parties of working men from Bethnal Green befriended by the University Settlement Movement. Like others of this Oxford circle he became a disciple of John Ruskin, whose ideas on social economics and the promotion of the visual arts and technical skills were important influences.

In 1884 and 1886 Llewellyn Smith obtained a double first in mathematics. More significantly, in 1886, he won the Cobden prize for an essay on The Economic Aspects of State Socialism. This reflected a social radicalism that rejected both free-market and socialist dogma. Instead he advocated a mix of ethical and market imperatives in shaping economic and welfare policy. However, his sympathies clearly lay with the labour movement, and in an address to working men in Bradford in 1887 he admitted that he ‘would rather be wrong with Karl Marx than right with David Ricardo’ (Kadish, 73).

After leaving Oxford, Llewellyn Smith became a lecturer for the Oxford University Extension Delegacy and the Toynbee Trust, and secretary of the National Association for the Promotion of Technical and Secondary Education. He continued to participate in the Settlement Movement both at Toynbee Hall and later at Beaumont Square, where he founded a sub-colony called the Swarm. Meanwhile, on the survey of the life and labour of the people in London (the Booth survey), at the British Association for the Advancement of Science, and at the Royal Statistical and Economic societies, he collaborated with some of the leading social scientists and investigators of the day, including Charles Booth and Beatrice Potter (later Webb). His contributions to the Booth survey on the relationship between migration, the labour market, and social deprivation powerfully informed contemporary concerns surrounding the threat of ‘urban degeneration’.

Meanwhile Llewellyn Smith was increasingly involved in union agitation. In 1888 he helped to mobilize public opinion against the employers in the celebrated Bryant and May's match-girls' strike. In 1889 he provided publicity for Ben Tillett in the dock strike, publishing with Vaughan Nash The Story of the Dockers' Strike. The following year he attempted to promote union branches among the rural labourers of Oxfordshire, while in the London omnibus strike of 1891 he co-ordinated strike action for John Burns in east London.

Board of Trade: industrial relations, unemployment, and minimum wages

Llewellyn Smith's connections with the trade union movement and with the social scientific community, coupled with his strong involvement with the progressive wing of the Liberal Party, led to his appointment as the first labour commissioner of the Board of Trade in 1893, in charge of a newly established labour department. Although its initial terms of reference were largely that of a statistical bureau, as labour commissioner (1893–7), as deputy comptroller-general and comptroller-general of the commercial, labour, and statistical branch (1897–1906), and finally as permanent secretary of the Board of Trade (1907–19), Llewellyn Smith was to preside over its extension into the fields of industrial conciliation and arbitration, unemployment policy, and minimum wage legislation.

Along with George Askwith, Llewellyn Smith laid the foundations for twentieth-century state intervention in British industrial relations. In collaboration with the positivist Henry Crompton, he drafted the 1896 Conciliation (Trade Disputes) Act which established a voluntary framework for government conciliation and arbitration in strikes and lock-outs. Thereafter, by creatively exploiting the Board of Trade's investigative powers under the act to mobilize public opinion, and by developing a pool of expert umpires and conciliators, Llewellyn Smith ensured that, despite the absence of compulsion, the department could mediate in many of the most bitter and damaging disputes of the period.

Meanwhile, under Llewellyn Smith's supervision, a whole series of investigations into the causes and effects of unemployment, and possible remedies, had been undertaken at the Board of Trade. His own Report on Agencies and Methods for Dealing with the Unemployed and his evidence before the select committee on distress from want of employment of 1895, by breaking down the volume of recorded unemployment into seasonal and cyclical variations, pioneered modern unemployment analysis. Moreover, despite a continuing belief in the importance of ‘character’, his work facilitated public recognition of unemployment as a structural problem of industry requiring state intervention.

Llewellyn Smith's second major contribution to developing unemployment policy was to recruit, among other experts, William Beveridge to the Board of Trade and to collaborate with him on memoranda and evidence to the royal commission on the poor laws, proposing a compulsory scheme of unemployment insurance in selected trades. This was to be administered in conjunction with a system of labour bureaux or exchanges and financed by contributions from workers, employers, and the state. Thereafter he played a key role, under the presidentships of Winston Churchill and Sydney Buxton, in steering through parliament the labour exchanges and unemployment insurance legislation of 1909 and 1911, despite considerable opposition from employers, the serious concerns of the trade union and labour movements, constant harassment from the Treasury, and the rival ambitions of David Lloyd George for invalidity insurance.

Llewellyn Smith also contributed significantly to the introduction and development of minimum wage legislation under the Trade Boards Act of 1909. He networked between Winston Churchill, the then president of the Board of Trade, and leading experts in the field of ‘sweated’ labour and low-income destitution, including Ernest Aves, George Askwith, Sidney and Beatrice Webb, and Charles Dilke. He was also largely responsible for ensuring that the proceedings of the trade boards were for the most part voluntary and autonomous and did not involve the state in imposing an arbitrary statutory minimum on any trade.

At the same time Llewellyn Smith was heavily involved in framing pre-war industrial and trade policies. He negotiated a series of commercial treaties, most notably with Romania in 1905 and with Japan in 1911. In addition he participated in government inquiries into the consular service and the system of commercial attachés, and did much to wrest the control of commercial diplomacy from the Foreign Office. He also helped formulate a wide-ranging programme of industrial legislation relating to issues such as patent and company law, copyright, and the regulation of rail transport and the mercantile marine.

Wartime measures and post-war economic policy

Llewellyn Smith was at the forefront in Whitehall's response to the economic and administrative challenges of the First World War. He was primarily responsible for the economic preparations for war. He devised the valuable system of war-risk insurance and in 1915 organized, under Lloyd George, the new Ministry of Munitions. He played a crucial role in wresting munitions supply policy from the War Office and in shaping wartime manpower policy. He did much to relieve the critical shortage of skilled labour by decentralizing munitions production, ending indiscriminate military recruitment, and securing an agreement, however tenuous, with the engineering unions on ‘dilution’ and on the wartime suspension of industrial militancy and restrictive practices.

After the First World War, Llewellyn Smith remained permanent secretary of the Board of Trade until 1919, devoting his energies to the task of domestic and international reconstruction. Between 1917 and 1919 he played a leading part in the reorganization of the board and the machinery of commercial intelligence. In 1918–19 he headed the British economic section at the Paris peace conference and drafted many of the economic provisions of the treaty. In 1919 he also visited India as president of the viceregal committee on the reorganization of the government secretariat.

In 1919 Llewellyn Smith was elevated to the newly created post of chief economic adviser to the government. He continued to make significant contributions to domestic commercial policy, such as the drafting of the 1926 Merchandise Marks Act and of the Balfour report on industry and trade. However, his work in the 1920s was increasingly devoted to promoting the economic aims of the League of Nations, as British member of the economic committee from 1920 to 1927, economic adviser at the Washington disarmament conference, and substitute delegate to the league assembly in 1923 and 1924. As such, he remained a leading personality in all negotiations affecting international trade and the commercial repercussions of the First World War.

Retirement and assessment

After retiring in 1927 Llewellyn Smith remained active in public affairs. He continued to contribute evidence to government inquiries, such as the royal commission on unemployment insurance (1931), and wrote a pioneering history of the Board of Trade (1928). He was also chairman of the National Association of Boys' Clubs (1935–43). In addition he renewed his early interests in east London and social scientific enquiry. For many years he worked on a History of East London (1939) and between 1928 and 1935 acted as director of the New Survey of London Life and Labour, the sequel to Charles Booth's pioneering inquiry of the 1880s on which Llewellyn Smith had learned his statistical and investigative skills.

Apart from his administrative talents Llewellyn Smith had a strong artistic bent, and sketching was always his favourite leisure occupation. Through the High Pyrenees (1898), written jointly with Edward Harold Spender, had been illustrated with his own drawings. From his earliest connections with the craft school movement in east London, he retained a lifelong interest in the crafts and the training of craftsmen. He was a vigorous and pioneering chairman of the British Institute of Industrial Art from 1920 until 1935 and published a short but illuminating study, The Economic Laws of Art Production (1924).

Llewellyn Smith was appointed CB in 1903, KCB in 1908, and GCB in 1919. He died at Church Farmhouse, Tytherington, Wiltshire, on 19 September 1945, survived by his wife. In many ways his career recalled that of the great Victorian ‘statesmen in disguise’. Lord Salter regarded him ‘as beyond question one of the great civil servants of his time … who not only administered policy but exercised a powerful influence in its formation’ (DNB). Recent research into the history of modern government growth reveals Hubert Llewellyn Smith to have been a major architect of the social and commercial policy of late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Britain.

Roger Davidson


R. Davidson, Whitehall and the labour problem in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain (1985) · R. Davidson, ‘Llewellyn Smith, the labour department and government growth, 1886–1909’, Studies in the growth of nineteenth-century government, ed. G. Sutherland (1972), 227–62 · A. Kadish, The Oxford economists in the late nineteenth century (1982) · J. Harris, Unemployment and policy: a study in English social policy, 1886–1914 (1972) · Lord Beveridge, Power and influence (1953) · Lord Askwith, Industrial problems and disputes (1920) · R. Davidson, ‘Sir Hubert Llewellyn Smith and labour policy, 1886–1916’, PhD diss., U. Cam., 1971 · R. Davidson and G. Jenkins, interview, 14 Nov 1968 · T. Ainscough and R. Davidson, interview, 23 Dec 1968 · R. Davidson and H. F. Hill, interview, 22 Nov 1968 · R. Davidson and H. Hutchinson, interview, 3 Dec 1968 · R. Davidson, A. Llewellyn Smith, and H. Llewellyn Smith, interview, 4 July 1968 · R. Davidson and H. Wilson, interview, 8 Jan 1969 · Economic Journal, 56 (1946), 143–7 · The Times (21 Sept 1945) · The Times (25 Sept 1945) · Journal of the Royal Statistical Society, 108 (1945), 480–81 · DNB · J. Harris, ‘Ruskin and social reform’, Ruskin and the dawn of the modern, ed. D. Birch (1999), 7–33 · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1946)


priv. coll., papers · RIBA, papers relating to work as chairman of British Institute of Industrial Art |  BL, corresp. with W. J. Ashley, Add. MSS 42243–42247a · Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Herbert Asquith · Parl. Arch., corresp. with David Lloyd George · U. Newcastle, Robinson L., corresp. with Walter Runciman · University of Toronto, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, letters to James Mavor


W. Stoneman, photograph, 1917, NPG [see illus.] · photograph, 1919, priv. coll. · photograph, c.1921–1922, NPG

Wealth at death  

£9745 16s. 2d.: probate, 28 Feb 1946, CGPLA Eng. & Wales