Sir John Henry Birchenough, 1st Baronet, GCMG (7 March 1853 – 12 May 1937) was an English businessman and public servant.
Early life and education
Birchenough was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, the second son of John Birchenough, a silk manufacturer. He was educated firstly at Strathmore House, Southport, then subsequently at the University of Oxford, University College, London (BA, 1873; MA, 1876), and the École Libre des Sciences Politiques, Paris.
In the mid-19th century, Macclesfield had a thriving silk industry, and Birchenough joined the family silk business, John Birchenough & Sons, as a partner with his father and two brothers, Walter Edwin Birchenough (the father of the Very Reverend Godwin Birchenough) and William Taylor Birchenough. The latter was married to Jane Peacock, daughter of Richard Peacock MP, the locomotive manufacturer. The Birchenoughs, who were Methodists, were a prominent business family in Macclesfield, and Henry's father, a Liberal, served as mayor of the town in 1876. In common with other silk manufacturing families in Macclesfield Henry Birchenough was engaged in supporting local charities and served variously as the chairman of the Technical School, the School of Art and the "Useful Knowledge Society" in Macclesfield.
As well as being a partner in the family silk business Birchenough was also a director of the Imperial and Continental Gas Association and of British Exploration of Australia Ltd, and later served as president of the Macclesfield Chamber of Commerce.
Birchenough became a close friend of Alfred Milner, the future Lord Milner, and the two shared lodgings in London prior to Birchenough's marriage. Their friendship was to endure until Milner's death.
After the South African War, and at the suggestion of Lord Milner, the British Government sent Birchenough to South Africa as Special Trade Commissioner in 1903 to enquire into prospects for British trade in the country in the aftermath of the war. According to a November 1903 New York Times article, Birchenough was optimistic about the revival of business opportunities for Britain in the country. In South Africa, he also undertook a study of the activities of Britain's main trade rivals, identifying the United States and Germany as being the main competitors in the country. Birchenough also laid out a number of suggestions to be considered in order to increase Great Britain's competitive edge; these and the rest of his report were incorporated into a Blue Book. For this work, he was appointed Companion of the Order of St Michael and St George (CMG) in the 1905 Birthday Honours.
He became a director of the British South Africa Company in 1905 and soon became prominent in the company, being appointed Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the 1916 Birthday Honours for services to Rhodesia. He became president of the BSAC in 1925 and held the post until his death. He was also chairman of the Rhodesia Railway Company and the Mashonaland Railway Company from 1925 until his death. He was a Fellow of the Royal Empire Society.
Birchenough was also chairman of the Beit Railway Trust from 1931 until 1937. After his death, his ashes were interred in a pillar of the Birchenough Bridge, which had been constructed with the support of the Beit Trust and which spans the Save River in Zimbabwe.
He was appointed Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) in the 1935 Birthday Honours for services to the British South Africa Company and the Beit Trust.
By 1904, Birchenough was a member of the committee under Joseph Chamberlain that produced the Tariff Commission report on the steel industry and trade, and the textile industry and fabrics. In 1906, he was appointed to the Royal Commission on Shipping Rings, and was also a member of the Advisory Committee to the Board of Trade.
He worked with the Board of Trade during the First World War, chairing the After the War Textiles Committee from 1916, the Royal Commission on Paper from 1917, and the Commission on Cotton Growing in the Empire from 1917, and sitting on the Burleigh Committee on Commercial and Industrial Policy from 1916. From 1918 he chaired the Advisory Council to the Ministry of Reconstruction. He was also a government director of the British Dyestuffs Corporation.
Contributions to contemporary imperial discourse
Together with Milner, Birchenough was a member of the Coefficients dining club, founded at a dinner given by Sidney and Beatrice Webb in September 1902, and which was a forum for the meeting of British socialist reformers and imperialists of the Edwardian era.
He also contributed to two compilations of essays and lectures in the pre First World War period regarding imperial thinking. These included The Empire and the Century: A Series of Essays on Imperial Problems and Possibilities, published in 1905 by John Murray.
In 1911, he contributed to "The British Dominions", a lecture tour at Birmingham University in the winter of 1910-1911. The lectures were subsequently edited by William Ashley, the economic historian, and published by Longmans Green and Co in 1911.
The Patriotic Association of Macclesfield and the National Service League
In 1900, Birchenough joined with Thomas Coglan Horsfall to instigate the Patriotic Association of Macclesfield, which was envisaged as a feeder for the local Volunteer Force. Subsequently, he became president of the Association whilst Horsfall became treasurer. In early 1902, the National Service League was formed in London. Birchenough sat on the executive committee of the League.
Progressing with the same theme, in July 1904 Birchenough published an article in the Nineteenth Century and After entitled "Compulsory Education and Compulsory Military Training", where he linked compulsory military training with the need for creating national efficiency.
Henry Birchenough was married to Mabel Charlotte, third daughter of George Granville Bradley, Dean of Westminster. Mabel, like her sister Margaret, was a writer and the author of The Popular Guide to Westminster Abbey (1885), Disturbing Elements (1896), Potsherds (1898), and Private Bobs and the New Recruit (1901). One of Birchenough's nephews, William Taylor Birchenough (son of William Taylor Birchenough of Gawsworth Hall), played in the famous Eton v. Harrow Fowler's match in 1910 and another, the Very Reverend Godwin Birchenough, became Dean of Ripon.
Birchenough had two daughters, but no sons, and so the baronetcy became extinct on his death.
- "Do Foreign Annexations Injure British Trade?", article published in Nineteenth Century, 1897
- "England's Opportunity", article published in Nineteenth Century, July 1897
- "The Expansion of Germany", article published in Nineteenth Century, February 1898
- "The future of Egypt: The Niger and the Nile, a warning", article published in Nineteenth Century, 1898
- "The Imperial Function of Trade", article published in Nineteenth Century, 1899
- "Local Beginnings of Imperial Defence: an Example", article published in Nineteenth Century, 1900
- "A Civilian View", article published in Nineteenth Century, 1900
- "A Business View of South African Pacification", article published in Nineteenth Century and After, 1901
- "Mr Chamberlain as an Empire Builder", article published in Nineteenth Century and After, 1902
- "Preferential Tariffs within The Empire - A Reply to Sir Robert Giffen", article published in Nineteenth Century and After, 1902
- Commercial mission to South Africa: report received from Mr. Henry Birchenough, the special commissioner appointed by the Board of Trade to inquire into and report upon the present position and future prospects of British trade in South Africa, HMSO, 1903
- "Compulsory Education and Compulsory Military Training", article published in Nineteenth Century and After, July 1904
- "Some Effects of The War upon British and German Trade in South Africa", article published in the Journal of the African Society, 1915
- Report of the Departmental Committee appointed by the Board of Trade to consider the position of the textile trades after the war, 1918 (Birchenough chaired the committee)
- Report of the Empire cotton growing committee, HMSO, 1920 (Birchenough chaired the committee)
- Sarah Jane Griffiths PHD Thesis Liverpool University 2006
- Volume 1 Tariff Commission Report, Steel industry and trade -- England; Textile industry and fabrics, London, 1904
- The Anglo-American Establishment Caroll Quigley 1981
- Burke's genealogical and heraldic history of the peerage, baronetage and knightage 1914 page 2172
- Who's Who of Southern Africa, 1911
- "On The London Exchange". The New York Times. 23 November 1903.
- Platt, Milton J. (13 December 1903). "OUR SOUTH AFRICAN MARKET; Conclusions from the Report of the British Board of Trade Commissioner". The New York Times.
- The London Gazette: . 27 June 1905.
- The London Gazette: . 2 June 1916.
- Biography, Who Was Who
- The London Gazette: . 31 May 1935.
- The London Gazette: . 30 December 1919.
- "Archives Catalogue - Coefficients". LSE Library.
- Sarah Jane Griffiths PHD Thesis Liverpool University 2006 Charitable work of the Macclesfield silk manufacturers, 1750-1900
- Martha S. Vogeler, 'Woods , Margaret Louisa (1855–1945)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
- Obituary, The Times, 13 May 1937