A money-making Gladstone

Despite having a wealthy father, William Gladstone was never a rich man. The Hawarden estate in Flintshire, which came into his family through his wife, was unprofitable for years. One of his sons, however, had the Midas touch, as Alistair Lexden explained in a letter published in TLS: The Times Literary Supplement on October 5.

Sir, Ian Cawood (In Brief, September 21) refers dismissively to Gladstone’s third son, Henry (1852-1935), as “anonymous”. He should consult the biography of this successful man, ennobled in 1932, written by Ivor Thomas and published in 1936. Henry was the only member of the Gladstone family to make serious money, apart from the Liberal leader’s father, the slave-owning Sir John. He invested profitably in the railways in India where he also established thriving jute mills, became a Director of the Bank of Bengal and acquired a share of a large timber business. His Russian Petroleum Company, founded in 1897, brought him a fortune from the Baku oil fields. One well produced 330,000 tons in thirty-three days (“Mr Gladstone was fascinated”). His wealth helped sustain both the Liberal Party and the disestablished Church in Wales after the First World War, and paid for numerous memorials to the Grand Old Man. A poor speaker, he politely declined the safe Liberal seats which were offered to him. He was well-known, not anonymous.

Alistair Lexden
House of Lords, London SW1