Bradbury, John Swanwick, first Baron Bradbury 1872-1950, civil servant, was born at Winsford, Cheshire, 23 September 1872, the only surviving son of John Bradbury, oil merchant, and his wife, Sarah, daughter of William Cross, of Winsford. He was educated at Manchester Grammar School and at Brasenose College, Oxford, where he was a scholar and was placed in the first class in literae humaniores (1895) and in modern history (1896). In this year he entered the Civil Service where he was to play a great part in its evolution into the new kind of service embracing the great diversity of functions which twentieth-century democracy demands.
After a short time in the Colonial Office he was transferred to the Treasury. His selection at the end of 1905 to be private secretary to Asquith, the chancellor of the Exchequer in the newly appointed Liberal Government, marked him out for advancement, and when Lloyd George succeeded Asquith in April 1908, Bradbury became head (or as it was then principal clerk) of one of the six divisions by which the work of the Treasury was carried on. In that capacity he took a responsible part in the preparation of Lloyd George's famous budget of 1909. He had not long emerged from the strenuous work which this involved, when he became deeply engaged in Lloyd George's health-insurance project. He had to plan the financial fabric of this vast scheme and when the measure became law the Treasury had also to take the initiative in building up a new administrative machine since none existed. The Civil Service was combed for men of ability and energy to man the new department, and Bradbury himself became an insurance commissioner (1911), without relinquishing his post at the Treasury.
In 1913, when Sir Robert (later Lord) Chalmers [qv.] resigned the permanent secretaryship of the Treasury, it was decided to appoint two joint permanent secretaries, and the choice fell on Bradbury, who had charge of the purely financial functions, in collaboration with Sir Thomas Heath [qv.] who attended to the administrative side. They were later rejoined by Chalmers.
In the acute crisis which attended the outbreak of war in 1914, Bradbury saw at once that what was needed to keep the financial machine working was an issue of paper money of conveniently small denomination in place of gold. By a combination of sure and prompt decision and ingenious improvisation he was able to provide a new issue of currency notes which actually reached the banks within a week. The notes, which bore a facsimile of his signature, were for long known as Bradburys and made his name familiar in every home.
Throughout the war Bradbury remained the Government's chief financial adviser, rendering services to his country too numerous to mention. It should, however, be recorded that to him more than to anyone is due the credit for devising in the war savings certificate a type of security which has gained a permanent footing in the structure of government finance.
The Treaty of Versailles brought Bradbury a new sphere of work. He left the Treasury in 1919 to become principal British delegate to the Reparation Commission. The five years which followed gave only too ample scope for his gifts of tact, clear judgement, and humour. Whilst the Dawes committee was preparing its report which put an end to illusions never shared by Bradbury he was indefatigable behind the scenes with ideas and formulae. He was raised to the peerage in January 1925 as Baron Bradbury, of Winsford, and retired shortly afterwards. He had been appointed C.B. in 1909, promoted K.C.B. in 1913 and G.C.B. in 1920. He was an honorary fellow of Brasenose (1926) and an honorary Doctor of Law of Cambridge and Manchester (1925).
From 1925 to 1929 Bradbury was chairman of the Food Council and he was also for a time a government-appointed director of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company. His financial abilities were much sought after and a variety of business appointments also occupied his time. He was a member of the Treasury (Macmillan) committee on finance and industry (1929-31), but dissented from its report. He was an orthodox economist who had strongly recommended the return to the gold standard in 1925 and who considered the country's financial plight in 1931 to be due to the maintenance of an unjustifiably high standard of living. His dissenting memorandum suggested that the best contribution which the State can make to assist industry and promote employment is strict economy in public expenditure and lightening the burden of debt by prudent financial administration.
Bradbury was tall, but with a slight stoop, his face pale and rather deeply lined, with a jowl, not actually prominent, but indicative of a bull-dog tenacity. Tenacity founded on clear thinking, combined with a lively sense of humour, a wide tolerance, and a capacity for witty comment, went far to account for the important achievements which marked his public career.
In 1911 Bradbury married Hilda Maude (died 1949), daughter of William Arthur Kirby, chartered accountant, of Hampstead. They had one daughter and two sons, the elder of whom, John (born 1914), succeeded him as second baron when he died in London 3 May 1950. A portrait of Bradbury by A. E. Orr is in the possession of the family.
Sir James Grigg, Prejudice and Judgment, 1948
Contributor: R. G. Hawtrey.