Croft, Henry Page, first Baron Croft 1881-1947, politician, was born 22 June 1881 at Fanhams Hall, Ware. He was the second son and youngest of the eight children of Richard Benyon Croft who had resigned a commission in the Royal Navy and joined the business of Henry Page, maltster, of Ware, upon his marriage to Page's only child, Anne Elizabeth. Croft, who was a great-grandson of Sir Richard Croft [qv.], was educated at Eton, Shrewsbury, and, as a rowing man, at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, which he left without taking a degree in 1902 to go into the family business. He was captivated by Joseph Chamberlain's policy for imperial preference and organized a tariff reform league in Hertfordshire. With a number of friends he formed a secret protectionist confederacy to which—because it was secret—more importance was attached than the inexperience of its members warranted. He contested Lincoln as a protectionist in January 1906, coming bottom of the poll, but splitting his party's vote, so that a free-trade Conservative was unseated. For three years he campaigned vigorously in the Christchurch division of Hampshire, where he was elected by a narrow majority in January 1910. Two years later he published The Path of Empire, a brief plea for imperial unity. He remained in the House of Commons for thirty years, carrying the Bournemouth half of his constituency when it was divided in 1918 and retaining the seat thereafter, once (in 1931) by a majority of 29,916.
He had joined the 1st Hertfordshire Volunteer battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment while an undergraduate. It became the 1st Territorial battalion of the Hertfordshire Regiment; he went to France with it in November 1914, and commanded it in 1915. In 1916 he commanded the 68th Infantry brigade and saw fighting on the Somme. He was appointed C.M.G. in 1915 and was twice mentioned in dispatches. It had, however, been suggested to him by Sir Henry Wilson [qv.] and others that his duty lay as an advocate of the manpower measures before the House of Commons and in August 1916 he returned home to resume his career as an extreme Conservative back-bencher
In September 1917 Croft formed, with a few friends, a National Party with a programme of xenophobic imperialism; it ran twenty-three candidates in the general election of 1918, but only Croft and Sir Richard Cooper were successful. They protested with special vigour at the practice of selling honours to provide party funds, and against the Irish settlement. Croft returned to the conservative fold when Lloyd George fell, and his forceful and absolutely honest personality earned him a baronetcy in the resignation honours in 1924. He was made an honorary brigadier-general in the same year. He now took a leading part in the agitation for tariffs. When in 1926 he became chairman of the Empire Industries Association he made its policy more uncompromisingly protectionist, and turned it into an efficient propaganda organization. He was also chancellor of the Primrose League in 1928-9 and in 1946 grand prior. By 1931 the whole Conservative Party had come to accept a tariff programme which was enacted in 1932.
Croft now became convinced that India was unsuitable for self-government; in October 1934 he came near to persuading his party's annual conference to adopt his view, and he spoke nearly 300 times in Parliament against the Government of India bill, 1935. This brought him into close association with (Sir) Winston Churchill and he was one of the small group of Churchill's friends who discussed defence and foreign policy in the years before the war, although he found himself temporarily estranged from them when he supported the Munich agreement in 1938. He was also a prominent advocate of General Franco throughout the Spanish civil war. In May 1940, on Churchill's recommendation, he was created Baron Croft, of Bournemouth, and became joint parliamentary under-secretary for war, answering for the War Office in the House of Lords. A speech on 4 February 1942 in which he supported, among other weapons, the use of pikes (bayonets fixed to staves) by the Home Guard attracted attention; otherwise he supervised army administration and welfare unobtrusively. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 1945 and resigned with the rest of the Conservative administration in July that year, dying in London 7 December 1947.
He married in 1907 Nancy Beatrice (died 1949), daughter of Sir Robert Hudson (later first Baron) Borwick, and had three daughters and a son, Michael Henry Glendower Page (born 1916), who succeeded him.
H. P. Croft, Twenty-Two Months under Fire, 1917, and (Lord Croft), My Life of Strife (in which is reproduced a portrait by P. A. de László), published posthumously, 1949
The Times, 9, 10, and 29 December 1947.
Contributor: M. R. D. Foot.