The Norwood Society

Josiah Stamp

Josiah Stamp was the subject of a talk to the Local History Group by John King who is known to us for his Lewisham Local History Society and Croydon Airport Society involvements. The following article is drawn from his talk, and also from other sources.

To begin at the end, Josiah Stamp, his wife and eldest son Wilfrid, were killed by the blast from a bomb on the night of 16th April 1941 in the basement of their Shortlands home. He was then only 60, and had he lived there is no doubt that he would have had a substantial, important and influential contribution to make to Britain’s post-war economic troubles.

His beginnings were modest, and he joined the Civil Service as a boy clerk at the age of 16, having achieved success in the national examination. He was allocated (fortunately, as it turned out) to the Inland Revenue Department, and gained the highest marks in an examination for a higher grade post. His ability was quickly recognised, and he was promoted and later sent to Leicester and then to Hereford as an assistant inspector. He gained a degree in economics by external study, and by 1909 was a 1st Class Inspector in London. He met Olive Marsh at the age of 17, and they corresponded for several years until they married in 1903 and set up home in London. Further promotions followed until in 1916 he became assistant secretary to the Board of Inland Revenue, and built up a considerable reputation as an economist. In 1919, he was head-hunted by Nobel Industries, becoming director and secretary to the Board. His reputation during the war years was such that his advice was said to have been sought by Reginald McKenna, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, about economic issues. He was a member of the Royal Commission on Income Tax in 1919, and other important committees later. One important appointment, and one that would lead to controversy in later years, was to serve on the Dawes Reparation Commission’s Committee on German Currency and Finance in 1924. That Committee’s report led to reparations being discontinued (much to the annoyance of the French) in favour of re-establishing Germany’s economy. Stamp was also involved in helping to set up a state railway company to run German railways on commercial lines.

His reputation was further enhanced in the post-war years by becoming an adviser to Government Departments, and by his learned papers and articles. He was knighted in 1920. In 1926 he left Nobel to become Chairman of the London, Midland & Scottish Railway which had only been formed three years earlier following the grouping of the railways. In 1928 he also became a director of the Bank of England. It was however said that his lack of knowledge of the railway industry showed itself for some years in his approach to the problems facing the railways. In 1938 he was ennobled as Lord Stamp of Shortlands.

One of his brothers was Sir Dudley Stamp, CBE, the famous geography professor, who apparently showed the same facility in the use of the written word, and an ability to digest and retain information at an awesome rate. It was said about Josiah that his way to success was to develop his mind as a cerebral filing system, and to condition himself for maintaining a capacity for continual work. He had an encyclopaedic memory and prodigious energy – these were comments made about him.

Josiah Stamp was by upbringing strictly teetotal and a committed Christian, and this was notable and gave rise to comment in the commercial world of the time. He was not however free from controversy, mainly because of his attitude towards Germany during the growth of the Nazi Government. He supported the appeasement policy. He had, it seemed, developed sympathy for the economic plight of the German people after the 14-18 War, and his work with the Dawes Commission would have led him to applaud Germany’s economic success from 1933 onwards. His judgment however led him to argue that British universities should still send representatives to Heidelberg’s 550th anniversary even though Jewish lecturers there had lost their jobs due to Nazi racial policies. He justified his argument by blaming the Government and not the university. However, two years later he wrote articles for Herman Goering’s magazine ‘Der Vierjahresplan’ (the four-year plan), and also attended the Nuremberg Party Rally as Hitler’s guest. At that time, however, it has to be said in his defence that many prominent people were similarly misguided.

Lord Stamp’s death created, ironically, a taxation difficulty. His eldest son was killed by the same bomb that killed his father, and it had to be decided whether, if he died later (even minutes) he would have inherited the peerage. As it was impossible to establish the sequence of deaths it had to be decided on the basis of a principle of law that where the sequence could not be determined it should be assumed that the elder had died first. This meant that Wilfred inherited the title (and presumably the estate) momentarily, and the title passed to Trevor, the second son in line. However, this meant that estate duty had to be paid twice. One can imagine what Josiah’s view would have been of this particularly quirky law!

The following is said to be attributable to Stamp, and may have a familiar ring about it, given current circumstances.

‘Banking was conceived in iniquity and was born in sin. The bankers own the earth. Take it away from them, but leave them the power to create money, and with a flick of the pen* they will create enough deposits to buy it back again. However, take away from them the power to create money and all the great fortunes like mine will disappear and they ought to disappear, for this would be a happier and better world to live in. But, if you wish to remain the slaves of bankers and pay the cost of your own slavery, let them continue to create money.’

*For ‘a flick of the pen, substitute ‘the press of a computer button’.

With thanks to John King for introducing Lord Stamp to the Norwood Society, and acknowledgements to Wikipedia and others.

Rebecca Pemberton

The Norwood Review Edition #187.