James Chuter Ede

James Chuter Ede, Baron Chuter-Ede, CH, PC, DL, JP (11 September 1882 – 11 November 1965), was a British teacher, trade unionist and Labour politician. He served as Home Secretary under Prime Minister Clement Attlee from 1945 to 1951, becoming the longest-serving Home Secretary of the 20th century.

James Chuter Ede

James Chuter Ede (minister van Binnenlandse Zaken (Home Secretary)), Bestanddeelnr 900-7223.jpg
James Chuter Ede in 1945
Leader of the House of Commons
In office
16 March 1951 – 26 October 1951
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded byHerbert Morrison
Succeeded byHarry Crookshank
Home Secretary
In office
3 August 1945 – 26 October 1951
Prime MinisterClement Attlee
Preceded bySir Donald Somervell
Succeeded bySir David Maxwell Fyfe
Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education
In office
15 May 1940 – 13 August 1944
Preceded byKenneth Lindsay
Succeeded byOffice abolished
Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education
In office
13 August 1944 – 23 May 1945
MinisterRab Butler
Preceded byOffice created
Succeeded byThelma Cazalet-Keir
Member of Parliament
for South Shields
In office
14 November 1935 – 15 October 1964
Preceded byHarcourt Johnstone
Succeeded byArthur Blenkinsop
In office
30 May 1929 – 27 October 1931
Preceded byEdward Harney
Succeeded byHarcourt Johnstone
Member of Parliament
for Mitcham
In office
3 March 1923 – 6 December 1923
Preceded byThomas Worsfold
Succeeded byRichard James Meller
Personal details
Born(1882-09-11)11 September 1882
Epsom, Surrey
Died11 November 1965(1965-11-11) (aged 83)
Ewell, Surrey
Political partyLabour
Other political
Lilian Williams
m. 1917; died 1948)
Alma materChrist's College, Cambridge

Early lifeEdit

Chuter Ede was born in Epsom, Surrey, the son of James Ede, a grocer[1] of Nonconformist religious convictions, and his wife Agnes Mary (née Chuter). He was educated at Epsom National School, Dorking High School for Boys, Battersea Pupil Teachers' Centre, and Christ's College, Cambridge, where he studied natural sciences. Either through his family background or by a decision when a student, he became a Unitarian, and his religion consumed much of his time and effort later in life.[2]

He then worked as a teacher, becoming an assistant master at council elementary schools in Surrey from 1905 to 1914, mainly in Mortlake.[3] He had to resign this post in 1914, when he stood for election to Surrey County Council, and did not work as a teacher again.[2]

During the First World War he served in the East Surrey Regiment and Royal Engineers, reaching the rank of Acting Regimental Sergeant Major. After the war he was active within the National Union of Teachers.

Political careerEdit

Initially a Liberal, he became a member in 1908 of Epsom Urban District Council and in 1914 of Surrey County Council. During World War I he moved to the Labour Party. He was charter mayor of Epsom and Ewell in 1937.

After fighting Epsom in 1918, he was first elected to the House of Commons as Member of Parliament (MP) for Mitcham, at a by-election in March 1923. However, he lost the seat in December at the 1923 general election. He returned to Parliament at the 1929 general election, for the Tyneside seat of South Shields, but was defeated again at the 1931 election. He was re-elected at the 1935 general election, and held the seat until his retirement from the Commons at the 1964 general election. During the 1930s, he became the Labour Party's main specialist in the field of education, following Charles Trevelyan, who had encouraged Ede by appointing him to chair a government committee on private schools.[4]

In the wartime coalition he held junior ministerial office as Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of Education, under two Conservative Presidents, first Herwald Ramsbotham, and then RA Butler. With Butler, he steered the Education Act 1944 through Parliament, and it is clear that his detailed knowledge of state education, which Butler lacked, was crucial to the success of this measure.[5] There remained considerable cross-party respect between the two men.[2]

He was Home Secretary in the 1945 Labour government of Clement Attlee, and concurrently Leader of the House of Commons in 1951. He was responsible for restructuring several public services, through the Police Act 1946, the Fire Services Act 1947, the Civil Defence Act 1948, and the Justices of the Peace Act 1949. In addition, he was closely involved in the Children Act 1948, the British Nationality Act 1948, the Representation of the People Act 1948, and the Criminal Justice Act 1948. He established the Lynskey tribunal under Sir George Lynskey in 1948 to investigate allegations of corruption among ministers and civil servants.

In 1964 he left the Commons and was created a life peer as Baron Chuter-Ede, of Epsom in the County of Surrey on 1 January 1965.[6]

Capital punishmentEdit

In 1938, Chuter Ede voted for a motion in favour of abolishing the death penalty for murder. This did not result in any change in the law but, when he was Home Secretary, his own Criminal Justice Bill in 1948 was successfully amended by MPs who wished to abolish hanging. However, by this time Chuter Ede, in line with the policy of the Attlee Government, opposed the reform. For a while he agreed to commute every death sentence to life imprisonment, but the House of Lords then rejected the amendment, and the Criminal Justice Act 1948 did not abolish capital punishment. He permitted hangings to continue.

In 1950 Timothy Evans was convicted of murdering his own daughter, and Chuter Ede approved his death sentence. In 1953, after John Christie had been convicted and hanged for a murder committed in the same house (and it was clear he had committed several others), Chuter Ede eventually concluded that he had made the wrong decision in regard to Evans.

He took part in the campaign for a pardon for Evans, and ended his career supporting the cause of abolition. In November 1965, capital punishment for murder was abolished by the Murder (Abolition of Death Penalty) Act 1965, and Evans's body was transferred to consecrated ground, shortly before Chuter Ede's death. His campaign was described as "the last struggle of a liberal nonconformist of the old school".[7]


Chuter Ede married Lilian Mary, daughter of Richard Williams, in 1917. She died in 1948. Lord Chuter-Ede survived her by 17 years and died at Ewell, Surrey, in November 1965, aged 83. Chuter Ede Education Centre in South Shields is named after him. It was formerly a comprehensive school.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Hermiston, Roger (2016). All Behind You, Winston – Churchill's Great Coalition, 1940–45. London: Aurum Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-78131-664-1.
  2. ^ a b c Hart, Stephen (2020). "James Chuter Ede - a Model Unitarian Overlooked". Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society. 27 (2).
  3. ^ Jeffreys, Kevin, "Ede, James Chuter Chuter-, Baron Chuter-Ede (1882–1965)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004; online edition, January 2008. Retrieved 19 April 2018 (subscription required)
  4. ^ Barker, Rodney (1972). Education and Politics, 1900-1951. Oxford UP.
  5. ^ Evans, Robert (1993). James Chuter Ede and the Making of the 1944 Education Act (MA dissertation). Institute of Education, London.
  6. ^ "No. 43538". The London Gazette. 1 January 1965. p. 83.
  7. ^ Quotation from Kevin Jeffreys, op cit; see also his introduction to Labour and the Wartime Coalition, Historian's Press, 1987.

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Thomas Worsfold
Member of Parliament for Mitcham
Succeeded by
Sir Richard Meller
Preceded by
Edward Harney
Member of Parliament for South Shields
Succeeded by
Harcourt Johnstone
Preceded by
Harcourt Johnstone
Member of Parliament for South Shields
Succeeded by
Arthur Blenkinsop
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Donald Somervell
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Sir David Maxwell Fyfe
Preceded by
Herbert Morrison
Leader of the House of Commons
Succeeded by
Harry Crookshank