Edward Charles Grenfell MP (1870-1941)
GRENFELL, EDWARD CHARLES, first BARON ST JUST, (1870-1941), banker and politician, was born in London 29 May 1870, the only son of Henry Riversdale Grenfell, banker and Member of Parliament, by his wife, Alethea Louisa, daughter of Henry John Adeane, landowner and member of Parliament, of Babraham, Cambridge. Lord Desborough, a notice of whom appears below, was his cousin. Grenfell was educated at Harrow and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he won the Greaves essay prize in 1891 and obtained a second class in history in 1892. Electing to follow his father’s profession of banking, he went first to Brown, Shipley & Co and, after two years, moved in 1894 to Smith, Ellison’s Bank at Lincoln, eventually becoming manager of the Grimsby branch.
Meanwhile Grenfell made the acquaintance of Walter Hayes Burns, partner in the Anglo-American banking firm of J. S. Morgan & Co. in London, who, forming a high opinion of his abilities, appointed him manager of that house in 1900. He was given a partnership in 1904; and in 1909, when the house style had to be changed under the provisions of J. S. Morgan’s will, it was renamed Morgan, Grenfell & Co. Grenfell quickly made his mark in the City and acquired other interests. He was a director of the Bank of England from 1905 till 1940 and served on the board of the Sun Assurance group. He was also a director of the White Star Line, and was closely concerned with the purchase of that steamship company by the American corporation, International Mercantile Marine, Inc., on the London committee of which he sat.
During the war of 1914-1918 it was decided that all British and allied purchases of American war materials should pass through the Morgan firm in New York; and Grenfell with his fellow partners was closely concerned with the great task of organization involved in this immense series of transactions.
Grenfell’s reputation in the City of London was such that, when he aspired to Parliament in 1922 he was adopted as Conservative candidate for that constituency. At a by election in May 1922 he was returned with a majority of 3,936; and in the general elections of 1922 and 1923 both he and Sir Frederick Banbury (later Lord Banbury q.v) were returned unopposed. He remained in the House of Commons until 1935, when he was raised to the peerage as baron St Just, of St Just in Penwith, in the county of Cornwall.
Grenfell continued throughout his life to take a lively interest in the affairs of Harrow School, and served as a governor from 1922 until his death, which took place at Bacres, Henley-on-Thames, 26 November 1941.
Grenfell’s life was bound up with the City and with Parliament, but both in business and in politics he moved with great caution and circumspection. He held definite views on finance, which he made known behind the political scenes rather than in the House, feeling that many of his constituents would not concur with them. In a period of changing manners and values he was jealous to preserve at all costs the solid reputation of his firm. His standing derived mainly from his great loyalty and integrity, which inspired trust and confidence in those with whom he had dealings. Always formally and correctly well dressed, he appeared to superficial acquaintances a conventional and reserved man; but to those who knew him well there was revealed a fund of affectionate friendship.
In 1913 Grenfell married Florence Emily, elder daughter of George William Henderson, merchant importer, of London. He was succeeded in the barony by his only child, Peter George (born 1922).
A portrait of Grenfell by (Sir) Oswald Birley is in the possession of the family.
[The Times, 28 November 1941; private information]
HERBERT B. GRIMSDITCH
Text reproduced from the Dictionary of National Biography 1941 – 1950 edited by LG Wickham Legg and ET Williams, by permission of Oxford University Press.