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Grigg, Edward William Macleay, first Baron Altrinchamlocked


Edward William Macleay Grigg, first Baron Altrincham (1879–1955)

by Walter Stoneman, 1931

Grigg, Edward William Macleay, first Baron Altrincham (1879–1955), colonial administrator and politician, was born on 8 September 1879 in Madras, the only son of Henry Bidewell Grigg (d. 1894) of the Indian Civil Service and his wife, Elizabeth Louisa (d. 1920), eldest daughter of Sir Edward Deas Thomson, colonial secretary of New South Wales (1837–56). A scholar of both Winchester College and New College, Oxford, he obtained a second class in classical moderations (1900) and a third in literae humaniores (1902). In 1902 he won the Gaisford Greek verse prize.

Journalism was Grigg's first calling. In 1903 he joined the staff of The Times as secretary to G. E. Buckle, the editor, then moved to The Outlook as assistant editor (1905–6) to J. L. Garvin. In 1908, after two years of widespread and intensive travel, he returned to The Times as head of its colonial department. His family background, his personal knowledge of imperial affairs, and his reverence for Joseph Chamberlain and Lord Milner well fitted him for this post. At no time in its history, Grigg was later proud to recall, did that newspaper exercise a more salutary and decisive influence upon national policy than in the years immediately before the First World War. He resigned in 1913 to become joint editor of the Round Table.

Grigg was thirty-four at the outbreak of war in 1914. Scorning the posts of dignified safety which could have been his for the asking, he joined the Grenadier Guards as an ensign and was sent out to the 2nd battalion in France. The Scribe, as he was affectionately called in the brigade, showed outstanding qualities of gallantry and leadership throughout the heavy fighting in which the guards division was engaged. Winston Churchill, then a major in the Oxfordshire yeomanry, was for a short time attached to Grigg's company to gain experience of trench warfare. Early in 1916 Grigg was transferred to the staff. By the end of the war he had risen to be lieutenant-colonel and GSO1 of the guards division. He was awarded the MC in 1917 and the DSO in 1918, created CMG in 1919, and mentioned in dispatches.

It was during his years in the grenadiers that Grigg first met the prince of Wales, whom he accompanied on tours of Canada in 1919 and of Australia and New Zealand in 1920 as military secretary and special adviser. For these services, not always free from anxiety, he was appointed successively CVO (1919) and KCVO (1920). On his return he joined the staff of the prime minister, Lloyd George, as a private secretary. To the traditional loyalties of the post he added an intense personal admiration for his mercurial chief which blinded him to all criticism, however well founded. He served his master with memorable fidelity throughout some difficult political situations. At Cannes in January 1922 he took part in the historic game of golf which caused the downfall of Aristide Briand. When Lloyd George himself fell from power later that year Grigg was offered a choice of senior appointments in the civil service. He preferred instead to enter the House of Commons, representing Oldham (1922–5) as a Lloyd George Liberal. As secretary to the Rhodes Trust from 1923 to 1925 he was also able to maintain a close interest in imperial affairs.

In 1925 Grigg was appointed governor of Kenya. In 1923 he had married Joan Alice Katherine Dickson-Poynder [see Grigg, Joan Alice Katherine, Lady Altrincham (1897–1987)], only child of John Poynder Dickson-Poynder, Lord Islington. They had one daughter and two sons. His wife's instinctive sympathy for all races, expressed particularly in her patronage of nursing and maternity services, enhanced the distinction of her husband's administration. The task with which Grigg had been charged was to unite the three east African territories of Kenya, Uganda, and Tanganyika. Largely owing to the opposition of Sir Donald Cameron, governor of Tanganyika, and to lukewarm support from the British government, this mission failed. But there was much else in his programme which brought lasting economic benefit to the colony and created stable conditions most likely to attract European capital. Agriculture and forestry, communications and schools, town planning and security of land tenure were all improved during his energetic and sometimes exacting rule. Believing that the civilization of an age is reflected in its buildings, he dignified Kenya with two splendid government houses—at Nairobi and Mombasa—and with the law courts in Nairobi, all designed by Sir Herbert Baker, but was unable to realize an ambitious project for central government offices. He was appointed KCMG in 1928.

Appreciation of his governorship has since been tempered by belittlement of Grigg's trust in tribal self-government and provincial autonomy. He rejected the later fashion of thought that Kenya should progress through the multiracial state towards a common citizenship. This, he believed, could lead only to the ultimate extinction of the white settler and to an overwhelming African ascendancy: a prospect he deplored, not because he felt that Africans as such were unfitted to govern themselves, but because he feared that they would be required to administer an alien system of Western government without the necessary education and experience. To the end of his days he set his face against so abrupt an abdication of what he held to be Great Britain's imperial mission.

On returning to England in 1930 Grigg was offered a choice of Indian governorships. Neither he nor his wife, however, was in robust health and he refused them all. It was the fatal turning point of his life. Whatever his opinion of African incapacity for self-rule, it did not extend to the peoples of India. As a boy he had seen his parents' house thronged with Indian visitors and developed a sympathetic understanding of their aspirations. He might have been one of the greatest of Indian administrators; instead he determined to remain at home and to plunge once more into the world of politics. Lacking the instincts of political manoeuvre and self-advancement, and further handicapped by his known allegiance to Lloyd George, Grigg was doomed to fail in this venture.

In the general election of 1931, although already adopted as National Conservative candidate for Leeds Central, Grigg stood down with characteristic unselfishness in favour of the former Labour member who proposed to stand as a ‘national’ candidate. Two years later, having in the meantime served as chairman of the milk reorganization commission, he returned to the House of Commons as member for Altrincham. It is to his credit that he recognized the menace of Nazi Germany before most of his colleagues. In two eloquent works, The Faith of an Englishman (1936) and Britain Looks at Germany (1938), he pleaded for a stern policy of defence. Yet he continued to believe that such a course of action was not incompatible with wholehearted support for the administrations of Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain. Too loyal to be a rebel, he would plead with his leaders in private but recoiled from criticizing them in public. His name is not to be found among those Conservatives who abstained in the ‘Munich’ division.

Denied office until the outbreak of the Second World War, Grigg was appointed parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Information in its opening days. In April 1940 he became financial secretary, and in May joint parliamentary under-secretary, at the War Office. He held the latter post until March 1942, having earlier refused Churchill's offer of promotion as first commissioner of works since it depended upon his acceptance of a peerage. Thereafter he was inadequately employed for a man of his talents, but in November 1944 returned to office as minister resident in the Middle East in succession to Lord Moyne and was sworn of the privy council. The defeat of the Churchill government in July 1945 put an end to both his political ambitions and his active political life, although he was to assume the editorship of the National Review in 1948. He was created Baron Altrincham in 1945 and died at his house at Tormarton, in Gloucestershire, on 1 December 1955, after a long illness. His last reserves of strength were drained in the completion of Kenya's Opportunity (1955), a final tribute to the land which was so much a part of his life. His elder son, John Edward Poynder Grigg (1924–2001), succeeded to the title but disclaimed it in 1963. Altrincham was survived by his wife.

Ned Grigg was a handsome man, well above middle height and with the complexion of a countryman. Yet his soldierly bearing concealed a nervous system ill suited to the hubbub of politics. Opposition to his impulsive enthusiasms evoked bursts of impatience, even of rage. Then the clouds would lift: in his family circle or when entertaining a few close friends—drawn mostly from the Milner 'kindergarten'—he would both show and inspire deep affection. He was half a poet. Few other colonial governors would have written: 'The very thought of Kenya is like sunlight to me, sunlight crisp as mountain air in the high places of the earth.' He found perennial solace in the plays of Shakespeare and in listening to music.


  • The Times (2 Dec 1955)
  • personal knowledge (1971)
  • private information (1971)
  • WWBMP, vol. 3
  • E. W. M. Grigg, Kenya's opportunity: memories, hopes and ideas (1955)


  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. and papers; memoranda relating to reform of House of Lords
  • Bodl. RH, corresp. and papers relating to Kenya
  • News Int. RO, papers as imperial editor of The Times
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lionel Curtis
  • Bodl. Oxf., letters to Lady Milner
  • Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Sir Alfred Zimmern
  • CAC Cam., corresp. with Sir E. L. Spears
  • NA Scot., corresp. with Lord Lothian
  • NL Aus., corresp. with Viscount Novar
  • Parl. Arch., letters to Lord Beaverbrook
  • U. Leeds, Brotherton L., corresp. with Henry Drummond-Wolff, etc.


  • BFINA, news footage


  • W. Stoneman, three photographs, 1921–41, NPG [see illus.]
  • R. Nester, pencil drawing, priv. coll.

Wealth at Death

£8823 5s. 5d.: probate, 18 April 1956, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

M. Stenton & S. Lees, eds., , 4 vols. (1976–81)
J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]