Bennett, Peter Frederick Blaker, Baron Bennett of Edgbaston 1880-1957, industrialist, was born at Dartford, Kent, 16 April 1880, the eldest son of Frederick Charles Bennett, a carpenter and sometime organizing secretary for the Y.M.C.A., and his wife, Annie Eliza Blaker. The family moved to Birmingham when he was twelve and he was educated at King Edward's School, Five Ways, Birmingham. His lifelong connection with the motor industry began in 1903 when he joined the Electrical Ignition Company. Four years later, when sales manager, he left the firm and entered into partnership with James Albert Thomson, founding a small concern in Birmingham known as Thomson Bennett, Ltd. When the company, employing only a hundred or so, moved to a new site, a furniture van sufficed to transfer all the machinery. In December 1914, on the initiative of Harry Lucas, the company was amalgamated with Joseph Lucas, Ltd., to promote the manufacture of combined ignition and lighting systems for cars, tanks, and aircraft. At that time the company employed some four thousand workers; by 1939 there were thirty thousand. This success was due largely to the technical vision of Bennett and the commercial ability of his joint managing director, Oliver Lucas, both of whom provided the necessary drive and sense of purpose. When the latter died in 1948 Bennett became chairman and managing director of the Joseph Lucas group of companies.
Considerable difficulties were encountered during the critical period of the war of 1914-18 principally because the manufacture of magnetos and other components was a German monopoly. Bennett was appointed chairman of the Aero Magneto Manufacturers Association and of the British Ignition Apparatus Associationóboth newly sponsored by the Admiralty. In the inter-war years Bennett was a member of the British trade deputation to Virginia in 1930 and represented the British motor industry at the Ottawa conference of 1932, the year in which he was president of the Birmingham chamber of commerce. He was president of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders in 1935-6 and president of the Federation of British Industries in 1938-9.
From 1938 until the outbreak of war in the following year Bennett was a member of the prime minister's panel of industrial advisers. In 1939-40 he was director-general of tanks and transport at the Ministry of Supply and from 1940 to 1941 director-general of emergency services organization at the Ministry of Aircraft Production. In 1941-4 he was chairman of the Automatic Gun Board. He was also honorary colonel of the 9th battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
In 1940 Bennett entered Parliament as member for the Edgbaston division of Birmingham in succession to Neville Chamberlain. Although formerly a Liberal he held his seat as a Conservative and retained it until 1953, serving as parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Labour in 1951-2. He was knighted in 1941 and raised to the peerage in 1953.
Brought up as a Methodist, Bennett was a religious man and a teetotaller and as a young man was a superintendent of Sunday schools in Acocks Green. He was president of the Birmingham Y.M.C.A. and of the Birmingham General Dispensary and a county commissioner of the Boy Scout movement to which he gave lifelong support. He endowed a social centre for a large new housing area in Kingstanding and was a generous benefactor of various Midlands institutions, including the Y.M.C.A. for which he provided funds for the concert hall which bears his name.
In the field of education, he was a governor of the university of Birmingham which in 1950 conferred on him an honorary Doctor of Law and he established a scholarship fund to enable unsponsored students to attend the university's postgraduate course in engineering production under the Lucas professor of engineering production. The Lucas chair had been endowed a few years earlier by his company as a result of the efforts and advice of Bennett and his deputy (Sir) Bertram Waring who was later to succeed him as chairman of his company.
Throughout his life Bennett maintained a keen interest in sporting activities, playing rugby football in his younger days and continuing to play golf and tennis in his later years. He was also particularly fond of walking. He took a lively interest in cricket and derived much satisfaction from his election as president of the Warwickshire County Cricket Club in 1955.
In 1905 Bennett married Agnes, daughter of Joseph Palmer, who survived him and who had a distinguished record in social service and to whom he looked for guidance and encouragement throughout his long career. Of exceptional wisdom and strong character, Bennett was always honest, fair, and often generous in his dealings. He had no children and the title became extinct when he died at his home at Four Oaks, Warwickshire, 27 September 1957. A portrait by (Sir) James Gunn is in the possession of the Joseph Lucas Company, Ltd.
Contributor: N. A. Dudley.