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Reference group
Milner's Kindergarten (act. 1902–1910) was an informal club of colonial administrators and political activists in southern Africa that comprised a number of young Oxford graduates whom Alfred Milner, Viscount Milner, and his successor as high commissioner, William Waldegave Palmer, second earl of Selborne, recruited to fill various posts in the administration of the Transvaal and Orange River colonies following the South African War of 1899–1902. Initially just a close-knit fraternity, the Kindergarten had no formal constitution and accounts of its membership vary. Robert Brand, afterwards Baron Brand, later recalled that the key members were himself, Lionel Curtis, John Dove, Patrick Duncan, Richard Feetham, Lionel Hichens, J. F. (Peter) Perry (1873–1935), and Geoffrey Robinson (who in 1917 changed his name to Geoffrey Dawson), joined after 1905 by Philip Kerr, later marquess of Lothian, and Dougal Malcolm (R. Brand, ‘Note on the Kindergarten’, 9 Aug 1958, Bodl. Oxf., Round Table papers, c.867, fol. 51). Other, more peripheral or temporary, members included Leo Amery, Herbert Baker, John Buchan, George Craik (1874–1929), William Marris, James Meston, Basil Williams, and Hugh Wyndham, later fourth Baron Leconfield (1877–1963).

Despite—or perhaps because of—an ‘enormous number of applications’ for employment (W. Baillie Hamilton to Lord Ralph Kerr, 21 June 1903, NA Scot., Lothian papers 453, fol. 2), Milner largely fell back on personal and Oxford connections in filling the senior posts in his administration. Perry and Robinson were recruited from the Colonial Office, where each had worked with Milner; Perry in turn recruited Brand; Duncan was poached from the Inland Revenue, where he had been Milner's private secretary; Curtis came armed with an introduction from Lord Welby, and in turn was able to secure posts for his New College friends Hichens, Feetham, and Dove. Oxford connections, a common veneration for ‘His Triple X’, Lord Milner, and a shared social life of holidays, dinners, and discussions cemented a friendship between the young men which was to endure for the rest of their lives. In South Africa they shared accommodation in various combinations, and after 1906 had a fixed base at Moot House in Parktown, Johannesburg, designed for Feetham by Baker. The name Moot was chosen in self-conscious imitation of Anglo-Saxon freemen, and to convey the group's frequent discussions of moot points. The name Kindergarten was first used by a critic of the group, Sir William Marriott, and taken up by J. X. Merriman, who complained in the Cape parliament of Milner's ‘setting up a sort of kindergarten … to govern the country’ (Nimocks, Milner's Young Men, 44); Milner's young men at first resisted but then embraced the description. The name Round Table also dates from this period, John Buchan in 1906 paying tribute to ‘the brilliant minds of the Round Table’ (Buchan, The Lodge in the Wilderness, 1906, preface). After his retirement as high commissioner for South Africa in 1905 Milner was pessimistic about the prospects for British interests, largely because of the failure of his schemes to attract British settlers, and what he saw as the Liberal government's premature grant of self-government to the two former republics; Margot Asquith recorded that ‘he has got it on the brain that we shall lose South Africa’ (M. Asquith, Autobiography, 1920–2, 2.85). His protégés in the Kindergarten—now joined by Kerr and Malcolm—were more optimistic, believing that a united South Africa would attract settlers and remain loyal to the British empire. Accordingly the Kindergarten was closely involved in the movement for South African unification, drafting the ‘Selborne memorandum’ which gave official backing to the movement, organizing Closer Union societies in each of the colonies, and encouraging the growth of a common white South African nationalism through the monthly The State (edited first by Kerr, then by Williams). Members of the Kindergarten sometimes claimed, and frequently were given, credit for the unification of South Africa, though later historians have tended to see their role as at most that of facilitators of a movement which drew its strength from more powerful political and economic forces.

Following the union of South Africa in 1910, Duncan and Feetham remained in the new dominion, and Perry made his way to Canada, where he became a prominent financier. The other Kindergarten members drifted back to England, where they embarked on successful and in some cases lucrative careers in journalism, politics, business, finance, and the burgeoning world of think-tanks and policy institutes. Reunited with Milner, they formed the core of the Round Table ‘moot’, which launched a network of study-groups around the empire to discuss imperial and foreign policy problems (in the hope that they would support imperial federation, though the moot was itself divided on the form, timing, and feasibility of this) and published an influential journal, The Round Table. Individually or collectively, members of this moot attempted to influence, with varying degrees of success, British and imperial policy in a number of areas, including foreign policy co-operation between Britain and the self-governing dominions, the colonial settlement at Versailles, the independence of southern Ireland, constitutional reform in India and elsewhere, and the forging of an Anglo-American partnership. Some members—notably Robinson, now Dawson, and Kerr, now marquess of Lothian—were prominent in advocating the appeasement of Nazi Germany, though by no means all of the group supported this policy. Members of the Kindergarten continued to form the numerical majority of the Round Table moot until the Second World War; thereafter younger members predominated, and brought with them different interests and concerns. The last of the London-based Kindergarten, Lord Brand, died in 1963; Feetham died in South Africa in 1965.

The Kindergarten's activities in southern Africa have received considerable attention from historians, earlier ones emphasizing the importance of other factors in bringing about South African unification, but later ones rediscovering the Kindergarten's role in the creation of a white South African nationalism and the consolidation of white supremacy. The Round Table has also provided fertile ground for historical research. Accounts of the influence of the core group have varied, ranging from Carroll Quigley's claims of a pervasive and negative influence on British policy to John Kendle's more measured examination of the failure of the group's original plans for imperial consolidation. Deborah Lavin, Alex May, and other writers have substantially agreed with Kendle's verdict on the Round Table movement, but have drawn attention to the core group's significance in a number of different policy areas, and more generally in influencing the terms of debate on imperial and foreign policy in Britain.

Alex May


Janitor [J. G. Lockhart and M. Lyttelton], The feet of the young men: some candid comments on the rising generation, 2nd edn (1929) · The Milner papers, ed. C. Headlam, 2 vols. (1931–3) · H. Wyndham, ‘The formation of the Union, 1910–60’, South Africa, Rhodesia and the Protectorates, ed. A. P. Newton and E. A. Benians (1936), vol. 8 of Cambridge history of the British Empire (1929–59), 613–40 · L. Curtis, ‘One of Milner's young men’, Ashridge Quarterly, 1 (1947), 34–8 · L. Curtis, ‘When I look back’, The Listener, 47 (1948), 749–50 · L. Curtis, With Milner in South Africa (1951) · J. Conway, ‘The Round Table: a study in liberal imperialism’, PhD diss., Harvard U., 1951 · J. E. Wrench, Geoffrey Dawson and our times (1955) · J. R. M. Butler, Lord Lothian (1960) · L. M. Thompson, The unification of South Africa, 1902–1910 (1960) · D. C. Ellinwood, ‘Lord Milner's “Kindergarten”, the British Round Table Group, and the movement for imperial reform, 1910–1918’, PhD diss., Washington University, 1962 · W. Nimocks, ‘The Kindergarten and the origins of the Round Table movement’, South Atlantic Quarterly, 58 (1964), 507–20 · G. H. L. Le May, British supremacy in South Africa, 1899–1907 (1965) · W. Nimocks, Milner's young men: the Kindergarten in Edwardian imperial affairs (1968) · J. E. Kendle, The Round Table movement and imperial union (1975) · S. Marks and S. Trapido, ‘Lord Milner and the South African state’, History Workshop Journal, 8 (1979), 50–80 · C. Quigley, The Anglo-American establishment: from Rhodes to Cliveden (1981) · H. Hodson, ‘The Round Table, 1910–81’, Round Table, 284 (1981), 308–33 · H. Hodson, ‘Looking back: the founders’, Round Table, 315 (1990), 254–6 · D. A. Low, ‘Whatever happened to Milner's young men: what of their successors?’, Round Table, 315 (1990), 257–67 · R. Symonds, ‘The Round Table and their friends’, Oxford and empire: the last lost cause (1991), 62–79 · A. C. May, ‘The Round Table, 1910–1966’, DPhil diss., U. Oxf., 1995 · D. Lavin, From empire to international commonwealth: a biography of Lionel Curtis (1995) · I. R. Smith, ‘Milner, the Kindergarten, and South Africa’, The Round Table, the Empire/Commonwealth, and British foreign policy, ed. A. Bosco and A. May (1997), 35–53 · S. Dubow, ‘Colonial nationalism, the Milner Kindergarten and the rise of “South Africanism”’, History Workshop Journal, 43 (1997), 53–85