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Boyd, Alan Tindal Lennox-, first Viscount Boyd of Mertonlocked

  • Philip Murphy

Alan Tindal Lennox- Boyd, first Viscount Boyd of Merton (1904–1983)

by Elliott & Fry, c. 1960

Boyd, Alan Tindal Lennox-, first Viscount Boyd of Merton (1904–1983), politician, was born on 18 November 1904 at Loddington, Bournemouth, the second of four children of Alan Walter Lennox Boyd (1855–1934), a barrister, and his second wife, Florence Anne (1870–1949), daughter of James Warburton Begbie MD, of Edinburgh. His father's first wife, Clementina Louisa, had died in 1896, leaving him with a daughter, Phyllis; in 1925 his father altered the family name to Lennox-Boyd by deed poll.

Family, education, and Conservative politics

Lennox-Boyd remembered his father as an unaffectionate figure who spent long periods away from his young family. Florence, by contrast, developed an almost obsessively close relationship with her four sons. Together, mother and sons constituted what one acquaintance described as the 'Lennox-Boyd Mutual Admiration Society', an emotionally self-sufficient unit into which outsiders found it virtually impossible to break. George, Alan's elder brother, was briefly engaged to the daughter of Lord Baden-Powell. Yet neither George nor either of Alan's other brothers ultimately married, despite the fact that Donald was thirty-two when he died, Francis thirty-five, and George forty-one. His own marriage in December 1938 to Patricia Florence Susan Guinness (1918–2001), daughter of Rupert Edward Cecil Lee Guinness, second earl of Iveagh, caused surprise in some quarters. Nevertheless it proved a success. It provided him with a witty and tolerant companion who bore him three sons, and it absolved him from financial worries for the remainder of his life. It also helped him to endure the tragic deaths of all three of his brothers between April 1939 and June 1944 and the loss of his mother in 1949.

Lennox-Boyd was educated at Sherborne School and Christ Church, Oxford (1923–7), where he read history. He was active in university politics and became president of the union (1926). His characteristic brand of high toryism—incorporating an unswerving faith in Britain's established institutions and a highly romanticized notion of Britain's 'Imperial mission'—was already fully in evidence. He was awarded the Beit essay prize for colonial history (1926), but like his hero Lord Curzon he failed to win a first, to his immense disappointment. At the 1929 general election he stood, unsuccessfully, for the Conservatives in the Gower division of Glamorgan. Shortly afterwards, he was selected to fight the far more promising seat of Mid-Bedfordshire. His chances of securing election received a severe blow in August 1931, when the sitting Liberal member, Milner Gray, joined the newly formed National Government as a junior minister. Lennox-Boyd came under sustained pressure from the Conservative leadership not to stand against Gray, but refused to withdraw from the contest, and thus earned himself the nickname the Wrecker of Mid-Beds. At the October 1931 general election he won the seat for the Conservatives without the support of central office and, thereafter, felt free to take an independent line on the back benches. He held Mid-Bedfordshire continuously until 1960, although it remained a marginal seat. During the 1930s he became one of Winston Churchill's most energetic supporters in the campaign against constitutional reform in India. His determined advocacy of the nationalist cause during the Spanish Civil War and his suggestion that the king of Italy should be recognized as the emperor of Abyssinia led to accusations that he was a fascist sympathizer.

Despite his reputation as a right-wing rebel, Lennox-Boyd's assured performances in the Commons won him a place in government in February 1938 as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Labour. Shortly after his appointment, he attracted fierce criticism when he publicly dismissed the notion that Britain should guarantee the borders of Czechoslovakia against German aggression. This caused a rift with Churchill which took years to repair. At the outbreak of war, despite his desire to enlist, he was persuaded by Chamberlain to become parliamentary secretary at the newly created Ministry of Home Security. He was moved again, to the Ministry of Food, before leaving the government at his own request in May 1940 to join the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He served on a series of motor torpedo boats. His duties included escorting channel convoys on their perilous progress through the Strait of Dover. In November 1943, shortly after the vessel under his command had been damaged in an attack on a German convoy off the Hook of Holland, Churchill brought him back into the government as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. Churchill appears to have regarded his military service as adequate atonement for his Chamberlainite past, and their friendship gradually recovered.

Colonial affairs

In the caretaker government of May to July 1945 Lennox-Boyd remained at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. After the Conservatives' defeat in the 1945 general election, he became a leading figure in the active back-benchers group of Tory MPs whose self-imposed mission was to harry the Labour government by every means at their disposal. He had little sympathy for the domestic social agenda of the Attlee administration and he was fiercely critical of their handling of imperial affairs, particularly their record in India and Palestine. On the death of Oliver Stanley in 1950, he became the Conservatives' principal spokesman on colonial affairs. Following the Conservative victory of October 1951, Churchill appointed him minister of state at the Colonial Office, despite being advised by the cabinet secretary that the post was unnecessary and should be abolished. He remained at the Colonial Office for less than seven months before being transferred, against his wishes, to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation. He accepted this appointment on the understanding that he would return to the Colonial Office as secretary of state on Oliver Lyttelton's departure. As minister of transport, he consolidated his reputation by successfully piloting through the house the government's contentious 1953 Transport Bill.

At the end of July 1954 Lennox-Boyd finally succeeded to the post of colonial secretary. Given his previous political record, he might have been expected to make every effort to impede constitutional development in the colonies. He certainly believed that British rule had conferred immense benefits on colonial peoples and that their interests would not be served by unnecessarily rapid transfers of power. Yet he also believed in supporting the judgement of his governors, and their preference, when faced with pressure from strong nationalist movements, was overwhelmingly for concession rather than confrontation. He proved willing to expedite Malaya's progress towards independence, and he presided, with far greater reservations, over the transfer of sovereignty in Ghana. His period as secretary of state coincided with a fashion, of which he fully approved, for federating groups of colonial territories. As minister of state he took part in the negotiations leading to the establishment of the Central African Federation, and as colonial secretary he oversaw the creation of federations in the West Indies and southern Arabia. None of these survived. While their existence could be justified on economic and strategic grounds, they proved highly vulnerable to regional tensions, the fear of domination by a particular ethnic group, and the rise of anti-colonial nationalism.

Some of the most intractable problems with which Lennox-Boyd had to deal could not be resolved by the simple concession of independence. One such case was Cyprus. In their efforts to restore peace and stability to the island following the outbreak of the EOKA campaign of violence in 1955, the freedom of manoeuvre enjoyed by Lennox-Boyd and the island's governor was severely restricted by the involvement of Downing Street, the Foreign Office, and the chiefs of staff. In Malta he was faced with the anomalous situation of a dependent territory seeking closer association with Great Britain. Negotiations on integration with the island's prime minister, Dom Mintoff, proved far less amicable than many independence struggles and ultimately achieved nothing.

In November 1958 Lennox-Boyd bowed to pressure from his family and undertook to leave the Commons at the next general election in order to assume the post of managing director of Guinness, which was due to fall vacant in 1960. He had already served as colonial secretary for over four years, and he had little interest in taking on any other senior post in government. At the time this decision was made, he and Macmillan were in broad agreement over the general direction of British colonial policy. In so far as disagreements had emerged before the beginning of 1959, it was Lennox-Boyd who had proved the more sympathetic towards the aspirations of colonial nationalists. His plans for a graceful retirement from politics were confounded, however, by events in Africa. On 3 March 1959 eleven 'hard-core' Mau Mau inmates died at the Hola detention camp in Kenya. A communiqué issued by the Kenya government linked the deaths to water poisoning. On the morning of 14 March 1959, just hours before he was due to tell a special meeting of his constituency party that he did not intend to contest the next general election, Lennox-Boyd was informed by the governor of Kenya, Sir Evelyn Baring, that the detainees had been beaten to death. Under the circumstances Lennox-Boyd could not announce his intention of leaving politics without appearing to assume responsibility, personally and on behalf of the government, for the Hola deaths and subsequent cover-up. He was persuaded by Macmillan to fight the next general election on the understanding that, shortly afterwards, he would be allowed to quit the Commons.

Lennox-Boyd retained his seat in October 1959 and in the summer of 1960 he was elevated to the House of Lords as the first Viscount Boyd of Merton. He sold his house in central London to the newly independent government of Nigeria and bought Ince Castle in Cornwall, a seventeenth-century house overlooking the Lynher estuary. Yet he remained extremely busy. Arthur Guinness & Co. Ltd claimed much of his time. He served initially as joint managing director, and then, following Sir Hugh Beaver's retirement at the beginning of January 1961, as sole managing director. He remained in the post until 1967 and then served as joint vice-chairman until 1979. He gave generously of his time to a wide variety of other organizations including the British Museum, VSO, the Overseas Service Pensioners' Association, and the British Leprosy Relief Association, many of which enabled him to remain in touch with Commonwealth affairs.

Lennox-Boyd became increasingly alarmed at what he regarded as the dangerously rapid pace of decolonization in Africa. A sign of his disenchantment with the colonial policy of the Macmillan government was his decision in 1962 to become joint patron of the recently established Monday Club. However, he resigned from this office in 1968 after the club publicly endorsed Enoch Powell's stance on immigration. He had opposed the imposition of controls on Commonwealth immigration while colonial secretary, and on a personal level he was repelled by racial prejudice, as the many guests from Africa and elsewhere in the Commonwealth who stayed at his home in Chapel Street would testify. In this as in so many other matters, as Sir Hugh Foot once remarked, 'his good nature and his good humour and his generous fairness repeatedly rescue him from the consequences of his reactionary policies' (H. Foot, A Start in Freedom, 1964, 152). A large man (6 feet 5 inches in height), his physical stature was more than matched by a commanding personality of immense warmth and charm, which won him a far wider range of friends than might have appeared likely from the bare outlines of his career. In April 1979 he was sent as head of a team of observers from the Conservative Party to monitor the elections in Zimbabwe. He accepted the task with relish and performed it with great thoroughness, although his team's main conclusion—that the elections had been fairly conducted—ultimately proved unhelpful to Margaret Thatcher. On the evening of 8 March 1983 he was knocked down and killed by a car while crossing the Fulham Road in London. He was cremated in a private ceremony and his ashes buried in the grounds of St Stephen's Church in Saltash, Cornwall.

Christopher Lennox-Boyd

Lennox-Boyd's second son, Christopher Alan Lennox-Boyd (1941–2012), collector and print dealer, was born on 22 July 1941 at Pyrford Court, Pyrford, Surrey. He was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he read philosophy, politics, and economics, graduating in 1963. Although his father intended him to read for the bar, with no pressing need for an income he decided instead to pursue his passion for researching and collecting prints. It was often rumoured that he bought Sanders of Oxford instead of settling his bill as an undergraduate, though in fact he bought the shop a little later. There, and from his home and base in a flat at 42 Upper Brook Street, London, and for a time also at the Great House in Burford, Oxfordshire (both noted by visitors for the piles of drawings, prints, books, and papers covering almost every surface), he became a noted dealer in and prolific collector of prints and drawings, specializing in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British mezzotints, but with wide-ranging interests and enthusiasms, including prints, maps, engravings, and etchings. He acted as an unpaid consultant and cataloguer for the British Museum and other institutions, many of which he provided with items. Described by friends as a magpie, he also began acquiring collections of printed handkerchiefs, fans, picture frames, and assorted, especially printed, ephemera, donating items to the John Johnson collection at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, and the Museum of Brands, Packaging, and Advertising in Gloucester (and later London). He published little, preferring to impart his knowledge in person, but he collaborated with J. Mordaunt Crook on Axel Haig and the Victorian Vision of the Middle Ages (1984), Sarah Halliwell and Guy Shaw on Theatre in the Age of Garrick (1994), and Tim Clayton and Rob Dixon on George Stubbs: the Complete Engraved Works (2002). Immense in stature and girth and immensely sociable, he was famed for his annual parties, when he would hire special help to clear a space among the previous year's accumulated prints and papers. Having amassed a personal collection of over 50,000 mezzotints, in 2010 he sold 7250 of them to the British Museum for £1.25 million. He died of urosepsis and kidney disease on 3 August 2012 at St Mary's Hospital, Westminster. He enjoyed the company of women, but never married.


  • Bodl. Oxf., MSS Boyd
  • interview for the Oxford Colonial Records Project, Bodl. RH
  • TNA: PRO, Colonial Office MSS
  • D. Goldsworthy, ed., The conservative government and the end of empire, 1951–1957, 3 vols. (1994)
  • P. Murphy, Alan Lennox-Boyd: a biography (1999)
  • Daily Telegraph (29 Aug 2012)
  • b. cert. [Christopher Alan Lennox-Boyd]
  • d. cert. [Christopher Alan Lennox-Boyd]


  • Bodl. Oxf., papers
  • Ince Castle, Cornwall, scrapbooks
  • TNA: PRO, Colonial Office MSS and other departmental MSS
  • TNA: PRO, corresp. relating to Cyprus and Malta
  • TNA: PRO, private office papers, AVIA 9
  • Bodl. RH, corresp. with Arthur Creech-Jones
  • Bodl. RH, corresp. with Margery Perham
  • Bodl. RH, corresp. with R. R. Welensky
  • CAC Cam., corresp. with Buchan-Hepburn
  • CAC Cam., Churchill MSS
  • CAC Cam., corresp. with E. L. Spears
  • CUL, corresp. with Sir Peter Markham Scott
  • Nuffield Oxf., corresp. with Lord Cherwell
  • Parl. Arch., corresp. with Lord Beaverbrook
  • U. Birm. L., MSS, corresp. with Lord Avon
  • U. Leeds, Brotherton L., corresp. with Henry Drummond-Wolff


  • Bodl. RH, recordings of Oxford Colonial Records Project interviews


  • photograph, 1956, Hult. Arch.
  • Elliott & Fry, photograph, 1960, NPG [see illus.]
  • obituary photographs (Christopher Alan Lennox-Boyd)

Wealth at Death

£197,998: probate, 22 June 1983, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

£3,779,901—Christopher Alan Lennox-Boyd: administration, 3 Dec 2013, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

Bodleian Library, Oxford
National Archives of the United Kingdom, Public Record Office, London