Cripps, Charles Alfred, first Baron Parmoor 1852-1941, lawyer and politician, was born at West Ilsley, Berkshire, 3 October 1852, the third son and sixth of the eleven children of Henry William Cripps, a well-known ecclesiastical lawyer who was for many years chancellor of the diocese of Oxford, by his wife and cousin, Julia, daughter of Charles Lawrence [qv.]. Cripps went as a scholar to Winchester and to New College, Oxford, where his academic career was brilliant. He obtained four first classes: in mathematical moderations (1872), in history (1874), in jurisprudence (1875), and in civil law (1876); he played for the university at Association football. He was elected in 1876 to an open fellowship at St. John's College which he resigned on his marriage in 1881. He was elected an honorary fellow of New College in 1919.
Cripps, not greatly attracted by academic life, had decided before his marriage to pursue a legal career. In 1876 he had obtained the senior studentship at the Inns of Court and was called to the bar in 1877 by the Middle Temple. In 1890, with Asquith and Haldane both his juniors, he took silk. With his outstanding abilities and his family connexion he quickly acquired a large and lucrative junior practice, having at one time a number of general retainers for the great railway companies before the Railway Commission and parliamentary committees. The famous Manchester Ship Canal case established his reputation as a leading parliamentary junior. In 1881 he had published A Treatise on the Principles of the Law of Compensation. He became a bencher of his Inn in 1893 and treasurer in 1917. Between 1895 and 1914 he was attorney-general to three successive Princes of Wales and in 1908 he was appointed K.C.V.O. In 1904 he was elected a fellow of Winchester College
In politics Cripps was first regarded as a left-wing Liberal but when the Home Rule split came, much influenced by his brother-in-law L. H. Courtney (later Lord Courtney of Penwith) [qv.], he supported the Liberal Unionists. He was elected Conservative member for the Stroud division of Gloucestershire in 1895 but he lost his seat in 1900. He re-entered Parliament the following year for the Stretford division of Lancashire, but was defeated in 1906. In January 1910 he was returned for his home constituency, the Wycombe division of Buckinghamshire. In his first parliamentary term Cripps was a member of the select committee on the Jameson raid but his main concern throughout his period in Parliament was the championship of Church interests, particularly in education, from the standpoint of an advanced high churchman. On other questions his influence was a moderating one. He supported A. J. Balfour and Lord Lansdowne in the constitutional crisis of 1911 and on two occasions his chairmanship of meetings of Unionist members helped to strengthen their position against the party extremists. Early in 1914 he was raised to the peerage, on Asquith's recommendation, as Baron Parmoor, of Frieth, in the county of Buckingham, and sworn of the Privy Council, being appointed an unpaid member of the Judicial Committee. During the war he did a considerable amount of work as a member and at times as president of the Judicial Committee which then constituted the court of appeal in Admiralty prize cases.
The turning-point in Parmoor's career came in 1914 when from the outset he was opposed to British participation in the war and a principal champion of the conscientious objector. He concerned himself greatly with plans for a future world order and in 1917 publicly supported Lansdowne's peace letter. In March 1918 he opened a very important debate in the House of Lords on the desirability of constituting a League of Nations. After the armistice he became chairman of the Fight the Famine Council, the honorary secretary of which he married as his second wife in 1919.
In 1924, in his seventy-second year, Parmoor accepted Ramsay MacDonald's invitation to serve in the first Labour Government as lord president of the Council. It was characteristic that he should have indicated in his letter of acceptance that his principal concern was that the Labour Party should pursue a new foreign policy on new lines, substituting friendliness and goodwill for the war spirit.
Parmoor shared with Lord Haldane the Labour spokesmanship in the House of Lords and he was in addition made specially responsible for League of Nations affairs, being in 1924 chief British representative at the Council and Assembly of the League. He was thus very directly concerned with the negotiations about the Geneva protocol, the possible contribution of which to the cause of peace he rated very highly. But the breaking down of responsibility for foreign policy did not work out smoothly in practice, and Parmoor's relations with the Foreign Office were neither intimate nor uniformly easy. In opposition, Parmoor continued, so far as his health allowed, to act as Labour spokesman in the Lords, and with the formation of the second Labour Government in 1929 he returned to his office as lord president, declining, however, to resume his former responsibility for League affairs. He was contemplating early retirement on grounds of health when the crisis of August 1931 broke upon the Government. He dissented strongly from the policy of Ramsay MacDonald which he condemned as both wrong in itself and based on a misunderstanding of constitutional convention. He then finally withdrew from politics.
In a long and busy life Parmoor maintained an active interest in the running of his farm and in local affairs. He served, like his father before him, as chairman of the Buckinghamshire County Council and of quarter-sessions. Nor did he ever fail to devote much of his time to Church affairs. He was for many years vicar-general of Canterbury (1902-24) and chancellor and vicar-general of York (1900-14). He played a prominent part in the appointment of the Archbishops' Committee on Church and State, and was unanimously chosen first chairman (1920-24) of the House of Laity when the Church Assembly was instituted.
Parmoor was twice married: first, in 1881 to Theresa (died 1893), sixth of the nine gifted daughters of Richard Potter, sometime chairman of the Great Western Railway, of Standish, Gloucestershire, and sister of Beatrice Webb [qv.]; and secondly, in 1919 to Marian Emily (died 1952), daughter of John Edward Ellis, member of a well-known Quaker family and a former Liberal junior minister. By the first marriage he had four sons and one daughter, the youngest son being Sir (Richard) Stafford Cripps, chancellor of the Exchequer from 1947 to 1950.
A great lawyer and an eminent churchman, Parmoor achieved high office in politics but not the full measure of success which his gifts might have commanded. Never a strong party man, he had neither aptitude nor liking for the arts which win popularity. He was indeed a man of high seriousness of mind and of the highest integrity, who never, least of all in his old age, lost the vision of a more just and a more Christian world. He died at Parmoor, Henley-on-Thames, 30 June 1941, and was succeeded as second baron by his eldest son, Alfred Henry Seddon (born 1882), fellow and sometime bursar of the Queen's College, Oxford.
A portrait of Parmoor by Sir John Lavery hangs in the Church House at Westminster. A cartoon by Spy appeared in Vanity Fair, 10 April 1902.
Lord Parmoor, A Retrospect, 1936
The Times and Manchester Guardian, 2 July 1941
Contributor: N. Mansergh.