Walter Cunliffe, 1st Baron Cunliffe

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Cunliffe
Governor of the Bank of England
In office
Preceded by Alfred Clayton Cole
Succeeded by Sir Brien Cokayne
Personal details
Born Walter Cunliffe
(1855-12-03)3 December 1855
London, England
Died 6 January 1920(1920-01-06) (aged 64)
Headley Court, Surrey, England
Nationality British
Profession Banker

Walter Cunliffe, 1st Baron Cunliffe GBE (3 December 1855 – 6 January 1920) established the merchant banking business of Cunliffe Brothers (after 1920, Goschens and Cunliffe) in London, and who was Governor of the Bank of England from 1913 to 1918, during the critical World War I era. He was created 1st Baron Cunliffe in 1914. He chaired the Cunliffe Committee which reported in 1918 with a plan for the monetary policy of the central bank and government after the war, which helped to shape fiscal policy.

Early life and education[edit]

Cunliffe was born in London in 1855, the eldest of four brothers and two sisters. His father, James Cunliffe, helped to finance and negotiate the development of the North Eastern Railway, and became a merchant banker in the 1860s. He was educated at Harrow School and Trinity College, Cambridge.[1]

His brother, Alan Percy Cunliffe (1864–1942) was a landowner and racehorse-owner,[2] who late in life married the film actress Malvina Longfellow.[3]

Merchant banking and the Bank of England[edit]

Walter Cunliffe entered the banking industry in 1880. Together with his two brothers Arthur Robert and Leonard Daneham, he founded the merchant bank Cunliffe Brothers in 1890. On 1 January 1920, it merged with Fruhling and Goschen to become Goschens and Cunliffe,[4] which failed in December 1939.

Cunliffe became a director of the Bank of England in 1895, becoming Governor in 1913 and working under Chancellors of the Exchequer David Lloyd George and Bonar Law. Shortly after the outbreak of the First World War, he calmed the money markets after preventing the suspension of gold payments and preventing the removal of foreign securities. He was created Baron Cunliffe, of Headley in the County of Surrey, in December 1914.[5] In April–May 1917 he was a member of the Balfour Mission, intended to promote cooperation between the US and UK during World War I.

Cunliffe was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in June 1917[6] and he conflicted with Law later that year when he felt that the Treasury was taking too much of a role in maintaining the Pound sterling exchange rate. By November, Cunliffe had been forced to announce his imminent retirement, which occurred in March 1918.

At the Bank of England, Cunliffe personally wrote one of the first office dress codes for women, noting that he was "pained by some of the costumes he encountered" in the hallways. The policy was conservative, allowing that "During the summer, white blouses are allowed but they must be absolutely white without coloured pattern or design upon them."

He was appointed a director of North Eastern Railway in 1905 and of P. & O. Line in November 1919. He also received foreign decorations, including Commandeur of the Légion d'honneur (France),[7] Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun (Japan),[7] and the Order of St. Anna (first class; Russia).[8]

Something of his style is conveyed by the following anecdote from Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks:

Lord Cunliffe, giving evidence before a Royal Commission, at the special request of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, would only say that the Bank of England reserves were "very, very considerable". When pressed to give even an approximate figure, he replied that he would be "very, very reluctant" to add to what he had said.[9]

Cunliffe Committee[edit]

As Governor of the Bank of England, Cunliffe chaired a committee, known as the Cunliffe Committee, for the purpose of reporting recommendations on the post-World War I transition of the British economy. The committee reported in 1918 that "it is imperative that after the war, the conditions necessary for the maintenance of an effective gold standard should be restored without delay." Prior to the Committee's creation, Cunliffe had criticized a young John Maynard Keynes, stating that "Mr. Keynes, in commercial circles, is not considered to have any knowledge or experience in practical exchange or business problems."

Personal life[edit]

In 1880 he was given the original farmhouse estate of Headley Court, formerly the main manor of the village, and its remaining 300 acres (1.2 km2), by his father, on the condition that he would make a career in banking rather than become a farmer. He redeveloped it in 1898. The family fortune had been made by Walter's grandfather,[dubious ] James Cunliffe, with his development of the North Eastern Railway (UK). He had the new house built in 1898 by Edward P. Warren. He employed Lawrence Turner for the ceilings and plasterwork.[10]

Cunliffe married firstly Mary Agnes (died 1893) in 1890, younger daughter of Robert Henderson, and secondly in 1896 Edith Cunningham, fifth daughter of Colonel Robert Tod Boothby, who together had three sons and three daughters. His son, Hon. Geoffrey Cunliffe, married actress Barbara Waring.

He died at his home, Headley Court, in January 1920 after suffering from septicaemia. His son Rolf succeeded to his title.


  1. ^ "Cunliffe, Walter (CNLF874W)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ Cunliffe, Alan Percy ( - 1942) at, accessed 6 August 2016
  3. ^ Register of Marriages for the Elham registration district, April–June 1940, volume 2a, p. 4854: "Longfellow, Malvina, & Cunliffe, Alan P."
  4. ^ Declercq, Robrecht (2017). World Market Transformation: Inside the German Fur Capital Leipzig 1870 and 1939. Routledge. p. 224. ISBN 9781317212638.
  5. ^ "No. 29007". The London Gazette. 15 December 1914. p. 10688.
  6. ^ "No. 30250". The London Gazette (Supplement). 24 August 1917. p. 8794.
  7. ^ a b "No. 30741". The London Gazette. 11 June 1918. p. 6931.
  8. ^ "No. 29381". The London Gazette. 26 November 1915. p. 11756.
  9. ^ J.A.Gere and John Sparrow (ed.), Geoffrey Madan's Notebooks, Oxford University Press, 1981
  10. ^ Headley Court - Historic England. "Details from listed building database (1389265)". National Heritage List for England. Retrieved 28 November 2013.


Government offices
Preceded by
Alfred Clayton Cole
Governor of the Bank of England
Succeeded by
Sir Brien Cokayne
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Cunliffe
Succeeded by
Rolf Cunliffe