Britain’s Prime Minister at Gregynog

David, Mr Austin, and Mr Baldwin planting a “Copper Beech” commemorating Mr Baldwin’s visit to Gregynog 1936.

In 1936 the Prime Minister of Great Britain, Stanley Baldwin, was feeling the pressure of events both at home and abroad. Continuing social and industrial distress in South Wales and other parts of the country, the rise of belligerent new political regimes in Germany and Italy, civil war in Spain, rising turbulence in Palestine: all these issues were keeping Mr Baldwin awake at night, and to make things worse, the new King Edward VIII was in love with a married American woman and refusing to give her up.

Thomas Jones (always known as T.J.), close friend, adviser and indeed father-figure to Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Gregynog, had been Baldwin’s Cabinet Secretary in the 1920s, and remained his close friend. On 24 July 1936 T.J. recorded in his diary that

Downing Street Secretaries are concerned about the state of Baldwin’s health. We conspire with Dawson [Lord Dawson of Penn, ‘Physician in Ordinary to the King’] to pack him off for a holiday. I suggest Gregynog for the first month … Dawson sees Baldwin at Chequers and he revives the thought of going to Montgomeryshire and hunts for a map of mid Wales …

The plan went ahead, and on 7 August T.J. wrote:

Baldwin, Lady Baldwin and maid arrive at Gregynog by car from Chequers via Cirencester and Tewkesbury, and I introduce them to the Misses Davies. We take ourselves off to Broneirion and leave them in charge of Anderson, the butler, and Mrs. Herbert Jones. I have arranged for Geoffrey Fry to provide the contents of a cellar.

This last note reminds us that the Misses Davies being lifelong total abstainers from alcohol, no beer, wine or spirits were ever served at Gregynog when they were in residence. So T.J. asked Geoffrey Fry, who was the Managing Director of Harrods at the time, to remedy the deficiency on the Prime Minister’s behalf – on sale or return, it is always alleged. It is clear from the above note that the Davies sisters moved to Broneirion, their stepmother’s home, for the period of the holiday, in order to leave the Baldwins in peace at Gregynog.

Baldwin had a restful holiday at Gregynog, despite attempts to doorstep him by deputation of people from South Wales wishing to protest about Britain, Germany and Italy supplying Fascist Spain with aeroplanes and armaments. (See the Manchester Guardian, 17 August 1936). He planted a tree in the Gregynog grounds, a tree which sadly we’ve never been able to identify, if indeed it survived at all.

On 13 August Baldwin wrote to T.J. from Gregynog:

What a country! What peace! And what healing air! I am soaking in the Welsh spirit and if I don’t make a lovely speech about ’em one day, I’ll eat my hat … I am quietly happy and only worry at intervals …

He visited local friends and spent time in the Gregynog Press.

I told the binder [George Fisher] I wish we could change places but he seemed content with his own lovely vocation.

He continued:

I think Mr Anderson likes pouring out wine: he hugs his bottles and plies me with assiduity. I have great difficulty in getting any water out of him but I have at last drilled him into keeping a jug of water and glasses on tap in one of the downstairs rooms.

There is no record of how much of Geoffrey Fry’s ‘cellar’ was actually returned to Harrods from Gregynog after the Prime Minister’s visit.

Within weeks T.J. himself was resting in bed in a sanatorium in the Alps, but by the end of August he found himself accompanying another demanding former colleague, David Lloyd George, on a visit to Germany to meet Herr Hitler … but that is another story. He did not meet Stanley Baldwin again until 17 September, when Baldwin described his time at Gregynog as “the most peaceful holiday of my life.” He admitted to being much better; Gregynog had been a perfect beginning. “Now I see that I shall shortly be shouldering things again.”

The “things” that Mr Baldwin would shortly be shouldering included the Abdication of King Edward VIII. He retired as Prime Minister the following year, to be succeeded by Neville Chamberlain, and died in 1947.

Later in the 1930s, ‘Mr Anderson’, the butler, was remembered by Loyd Haberly, the American poet who was Controller of the Gregynog Press for a short time:

There were twelve or fourteen maids who wore red flannel, and Anderson, the butler, too, a solitary long-nosed man with horn-rim spectacles, in attendance at the top table, always stubbing his toe and so he would come in and begin to pitch forwards. He always got his balance before the tray dropped.

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