My visit to the home of the Welsh Wizard

I will admit to being in two minds about David Lloyd George. He was a great Liberal whose People’s Budget was the first real attempt by a government to meaningfully redistribute wealth, creating the first semblances of the welfare state. He was also the first Welsh Prime Minister. He also, however, used his power and influence over women, as has been documented in Ffion Hague’s book – The Pain and the Privilege.

This week I visited his birth place now museum in Llanystumdwy in North Wales. He came from very humble beginnings, living in a tiny cottage, sharing a bed with his mother – who was single – and two siblings.

The museum charts his life and achievements from transformative social welfare programmes including old age pensions, to his most controversial policy of conscription. It also offers a balanced narrative of his affairs – he would possibly be a plaintiff in the #MeToo movement in this day and age.

The museum is under threat of closure – their funding may end in March next year and a business case is going to the local council for consideration. On my visit I spoke to a young woman who worked at the museum. She told me of her hopes for a Lloyd George debating school at the museum for young people. As well as learning how to debate, she wants young people to learn of some difficult aspects of Lloyd George’s life and career, such as conscription and his treatment of women.

I ended my visit with an overwhelming sense that we have to do all we can to preserve this part of our Welsh and Liberal history – warts and all. The museum, which celebrates the achievements of a boy who achieved great things, without privileged upbringing or an Eton education, could and should play a role in nurturing the next generation of Welsh – and hopefully – liberal politicians. It should carry a message for future aspiring politicians about the potential of politics to change lives, a word of warning about abuse of power and influence over others, and the importance of treating people with fairness, dignity, and compassion.

If you would like to be a Friend of the Museum and help it thrive, here’s the link.

* Jane Dodds is Leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats

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18 Comments

  • Richard Church 19th Aug '21 - 8:46am

    Lloyd George’s government record is important, but its not the only reason he left a great leagacy to rural Wales. He is remembered for his achievements before he was in government.

    He was instrumental in the rise of Liberalism in rural Wales through his championing of tenant farmers exploited by greedy landlords, and his opposition to church tithes, paid by non conformists to a church they did not believe in. In the late 19th century tenant farmers were hounded out by Conservative landlords just because of who they voted for and what chapel they attended. Lloyd George’s legacy created an attachment to Liberalism in rural Wales that lasted for a hundred years.

  • I have visited the museum, and Lloyd George’s grave on the slopes which lead down to the river Dwyfor.

    It was a long time ago, around 1979, shortly after I got married. It was very peaceful, and I was particulary moved by the fact that DLG, after rising to such incredible heights, wanted to be buried in this little place where he grew up.

    I will be signing up as a Friend of the museum, and encourage others to do the same.

  • Yes, Lloyd George was a remarkable man of many talents and his preWW1 reforms did indeed establish some of the earliest beginnings of the welfare state. Jane is correct to mention his attitude to women – though he was not alone in this as anyone who has read the Asquith letters to Venetia Stanley will know.

    However, any serious historian who looks below the surface will realise just how shallow, mendacious and cynical (sale of honours) he could be. He, more than any other single person, aroused considerable mistrust. As a result he probably contributed as much as anybody else did to the decline of the old Liberal Party in and after the First World War.

  • William Wallace 19th Aug '21 - 10:51am

    I read Ffion Hague’s book, and thought it managed very well to be sympathetic to both the most important women in Lloyd George’s life: both his wife and Frances Stevenson, trying to make a career in a male-dominated world. As to the references to other women throughout the book: I understand why he was nicknamed ‘the goat’.

  • John Marriott 19th Aug '21 - 11:18am

    My wife and I visited the museum and Lloyd George’s grave many years ago. My abiding memory of the former was the curator’s insistence on answering my questions in Welsh and of my thinking that, like Churchill’s grave at Bladon, how understated the latter was given the stature of the man buried there. Both were liberals at one time or another. Perhaps that’s why they eschewed pomp and circumstance in favour of simplicity. Of course, neither were Saints. What was it that Shakespeare’s Mark Antony said about Caesar?

  • Lorenzo Cherin 19th Aug '21 - 12:34pm

    A good point from colleagues, particularly David, who, as with me, is not a huge fan of the man who shares his name!

    It is important, though, to preserve history. the casual approach to it is lousy. Those people correct to want the removal of a statue to a slave trader, often go too far.

    The lack of funds for a museum as important as the one Jane Dodds shares in her reflective piece, is appalling.

    I was startled to see in the USA in my field of great interest, culture, its similar. The eminent actor and campaigner for civil rights, Fredric March, had a theatre named after him decades ago in his old college. now they discover he was for a brief period at that point a member of a politically incorrect fraternity, despite his later terrific activism, his name has been removed.

    I was astonished to read that the only home Marilyn Monroe bought, was up for sale, recently, nobody thought to buy it to turn into a museum, not even her estate, itself not her relatives, as she had no kids!

  • Lloyd George’s coalition government encountered the most extreme of circumstances in WW1. The coalition continued for four years after the Great War.
    Turkish troops defeated Greek Forces at Smyrna in Anatolia (now Izmir) in 1922 and threatened Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), which had been occupied by Allied forces since 1918 https://military.wikia.org/wiki/Occupation_of_Constantinople.
    The belligerent Lloyd George issued a communiqué threatening Turkey with a declaration of war by Britain and the Dominions. The French made it clear that they had no intention of joining Britain in a war with Turkey and the British Dominion Prime Ministers had not been fully consulted. An armistice was negotiated and East Thrace was abandoned to the Turks.
    The Conservatives considered Lloyd George’s actions had been rash. The incident saw the formation of the Conservatives 1922 committee that brought an end to the 1918–1922 post-war coalition government. Lloyd George resigned as Prime Minister, never to return as a major figure in party politics.
    British and French forces were ultimately withdrawn from the Dardanelles neutral zone in summer 1923, following the ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne.

  • James Fowler 19th Aug '21 - 9:31pm

    D L-G is a particularly difficult legacy to deal with for Liberals and I’d like to thank Jane Dodds for writing this piece and stimulating discussion. While there’s nothing that I can add to the thorough scholarship on him, my opinion is that he will always remain a remarkable historical figure because he was the first true ‘outsider’ to make Prime Minister. However, his liberal record is ambiguous because he had, I think, already begun to abandon liberalism in favour of national efficiency and social imperialism before the First World War – hence his later ability to work, for a while, with the Tories and the Labour movement.

  • I think most of our greatest Liberal (and Lib Dem leaders) had difficult to reconcile sides to them – certainly Gladstone, Asquith, and in more recent times Steel, Ashdown and Kennedy were by no means “perfect Liberals” (whatever that might imply). Even the revered Jo Grimond! I think Lloyd George’s greatest feature was his bringing the radicalism of Cobden, Bright etc in from the edge of the Liberal movement to centre stage. For that we should always praise him.

    David Raw mentions his role in contributing to the decline of the Liberal Party – this seems to me to be shared with the 2010 – 2015 Coalition period an over-willingness to “get into bed with the Tories” (including of course that other notoriously flawed character, Churchill – he of “ratting and reratting” fame! His lack of full-hearted welcome to the women’s suffrage movement also didn’t help!

  • Before Manchester Lib Dems spot the error and go into overdrive, DLG was born in Hulme, Manchester.
    Very soon afterwards though moving to Llanystumdwy.
    A good museum well worth visiting, but rather more of the historic posters being anti Lloyd George/Liberal than pro unfortunately.
    Agree that DLG’s legacy is complex and difficult for us.

  • If he had agreed and pushed, think it was 1919, he could have obtained P R. Admitted afterwards that it was one of his big mistakes. We have lamented that ever since.

  • GWYN Williams 20th Aug '21 - 3:12pm

    For further discussion of Lloyd George’s legacy, Britain’s only Welsh Prime Minister, victor of the Great War, architect of the state pension and universal suffrage, saviour of the Welsh Language and disestablishmentarian of the Church in Wales why not join Cymdeithas Lloyd George Society.
    https://lloydgeorgesociety.org.uk/en/

  • Lloyd George was very complex, and a man of his time – maybe. In many ways he was also way ahead of his time and to judge him by today’s mores seems wrong to me. If he was an imperialist he also dismantled the Anglican Church in Wales, and if he sold tawdry Honours he also would have been from a background that saw the rank hypocrisy of the ‘ruling class’. A womaniser? Well, what of the other more establishment PMs that are avoiding having their legacies scoured on the same way. The fact that he spoke Welsh, was non conformist and generally progressive (but hampered by realpolitik) ought to be enough to celebrate his achievement. He was of course also the last Liberal PM of the U.K. …

  • @ John McC “He was of course also the last Liberal PM of the U.K. …”.

    Errrrrrrrrr, I rather thought that happened to be the Leader of the Liberal Party and Prime Minister who was in office in May 1915 ?

  • Nigel Jones 20th Aug '21 - 9:40pm

    Thanks Jane. I was at the museum in 2018, a great place to visit. I was told they had support from the County Council and Welsh Parliament, but one of them was about to cease their financial contribution. I joined their society and at the September party conference mentioned to our party’s History society that they needed to give the museum more support. They said they were already in touch, but nothing seems to have happened since and they certainly did not put out an appeal to Lib-Dem members to support the museum. They should do that now.
    I come from a non-conformist Welsh background and believe we should be encouraged by Lloyd-George’s early achievements, in spite of his later mistakes. We do ourselves no good if we don’t promote the really great things people like him did; who is perfect ? My family and friends in Wales boasted about him while simultaneously mentioning his flaws.

  • Duncan Brack 21st Aug '21 - 11:13am

    Just to respond to Nigel Jones, in 2018 the Liberal Democrat History Group did circulate the news that the museum was under threat to our own mailing list, and we’ve just done so again. We don’t have access to the party’s email mailing list.

  • @Jane – I too feel great conflict over Lloyd George. He was undoubtedly a huge figure in our party’s history, and he did a lot of good things, but also a lot of bad ones. It proves that nuance is a fact in politics: things (and people) are never as black and white as some people want them to be. But overall, I prefer to concentrate on LG’s truly great achievements. Listen to this song, which I think sums those up well: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KeYuTfa5oXo.
    (Sadly I don’t know who wrote it; I don’t think it was Tony Capstick – I believe he just found the song somewhere and sang it in this concert. He was a collector of old folk songs as well as a comedian).

  • @ Tony H Thanks for that, Tony.

    As a one time PPC for the former Sowerby constituency (which includes the delightful Heptonstall), Tony, I can tell you the song is based on a poem by one F W Moorman 1872-1919, professor of English Language at the University of Leeds. It’s the first song in his book ‘Songs of the Ridings 1918’. It’s been placed online as part of the Gutenberg project by Dave Fawthrop of Halifax.

    A pity about the political facts though and you’re rtight to be wary of D LLG. Actually it was that son of Morley. H.H. Asquith, who devised the first old age pension and introduced it in the 1908 budget which he presented. The workhouses weren’t finally abolished until 1948 three years after LLG’s death. As for the value of the 1908 old age pension, it was paid at age 70 (average life expectancy then 40 for men, 43 for women) and five shillings in 1908 is about £ 30 now.

    Good song, though, and the late Tony Capstick was a reet good lad. A West Yorkshireman, a great politico, a great comedian, and even played the long suffering policeman in Last of the Summer Wine until a few days before his death.

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