Open main menu

Walter Elliot (Scottish politician)

Walter Elliot Elliot, CH, MC, FRS, FRSE, FRCP (19 September 1888 – 8 January 1958) was a prominent Scottish Unionist Party politician in the interwar years. His most important role was as Secretary of State for Scotland.

Walter Elliot

Walter Elliott MP.jpg
Secretary of State for Scotland
In office
29 October 1936 – 6 May 1938
MonarchEdward VIII
George VI
Prime MinisterStanley Baldwin
Neville Chamberlain
Preceded bySir Godfrey Collins
Succeeded byJohn Colville
Minister of Agriculture
In office
28 September 1932 – 29 October 1936
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Stanley Baldwin
Preceded bySir John Gilmour
Succeeded byWilliam Morrison
Financial Secretary to the Treasury
In office
24 August 1931 – 29 September 1932
Prime MinisterRamsay MacDonald
Preceded byFrederick Pethick-Lawrence
Succeeded byLeslie Hore-Belisha
Personal details
Born(1888-09-19)19 September 1888
Lanark, Lanarkshire, Scotland
Died8 January 1958(1958-01-08) (aged 69)
Bonchester Bridge, Roxburghshire, Scotland
Political partyConservative
Scottish Unionist
Spouse(s)Helen Hamilton
Katharine Tennant
Alma materUniversity of Glasgow


He was born in Lanark the eldest son of William Elliot, a livestock auctioneer, and his wife, Ellen Elizabeth Shiels.[1] His mother died during the birth of his youngest sibling. The children were thereafter raised by the mother's relatives in Glasgow.[2] They appear to have had a company, Shiels, Elliot and Nelson, who made farming equipment including the Shiels patent milking machine.[3]

Elliot was raised in Glasgow and educated at both Lanark High School and the Glasgow Academy and from 1905 at the University of Glasgow, where he studied science and medicine, graduating MB ChB in 1913. He was President of the Glasgow University Union, 1911–12. One of his friends from the Academy, through university and beyond, was the playwright Osborne Henry Mavor.[2]

In 1913–14 he was briefly House Surgeon at the Western Infirmary in Glasgow.

At the onset of the First World War he enlisted as a medical officer in the Royal Army Medical Corps attached to the Scots Greys. He won a Military Cross for his actions at Wancourt during the Battle of Arras in April 1917. He won a second Military Cross in Cambrai in November 1917 adding a bar to the original medal. Walter received a leg wound in the final month of the war, but returned home safely. His younger brother Dan Elliot was killed at Gallipoli.

In 1924 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. His proposers were Sir Robert Blyth Greig, Frederick Orpen Bower, Arthur Crichton Mitchell, and William Archer Tait.[1]

He was Rector of Aberdeen University 1933–36 and Rector of Glasgow University 1947–50. He was a governor of The Peckham Experiment in 1949.[4] He was made a Companion of Honour (CH) in 1952. He was also Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. Six universities awarded him honorary doctorates (LLD).

He appeared on the television program The Brains Trust.[5]

He died at the family estate of Harwood (inherited from his father) in Bonchester Bridge on 8 January 1958 of a coronary thrombosis.[1] He is buried in Hobkirk churchyard.

Political careerEdit

Elliot then entered politics and was elected as Member of Parliament (MP) for Lanark in the 1918 general election. He lost this seat in the 1923 general election but, a year later in a 1924 by-election, he was elected as MP for Glasgow Kelvingrove. He was seen by many as a rising star. In 1932 he entered the Cabinet as Minister of Agriculture and subsequently served as Secretary of State for Scotland and Minister of Health. Amongst his achievements were the Agricultural Marketing Act which sought to protect food producers from going bankrupt amidst massive surpluses and collapsing prices, the introduction of free milk for school children and formation of the National Housing Company which built prefabricated "Weir Houses" in Clydeside.

On 29 March 1939, Elliot passed the Cancer Act 1939 - "An Act to make further provision for the treatment of cancer, to authorise the Minister of Health to lend money to the National Radium Trust, to prohibit certain advertisements relating to cancer, and for purposes connected with the matters aforesaid". All provisions in the Act for improving the treatment of cancer nationally have since been stripped, leaving only the prohibition against advertisements relating to cancer treatments.[6]

In 1938 Elliot's career reached a turning point when he came close to resigning over the Munich Agreement but decided against. Consequently, his political stock began to fall and when Winston Churchill replaced Neville Chamberlain as Prime Minister in 1940, Elliot was dropped from the government. He later served as Lord High Commissioner to the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. In the 1945 election, he lost his Kelvingrove seat by just 45 votes. He was returned for the Combined Scottish Universities seat in a by-election in November 1946. When the university seats were abolished, Elliot returned to Kelvingrove where he beat his Labour opponent from 1945, John Lloyd Williams, and SNP candidate Hugh MacDiarmid in the 1950 election.

Elliot also led the popular Elliot Commission on Higher Education in West Africa whose report informed the creation of the first university colleges in West African countries such as Nigeria and Ghana.


Elliot married Helen Hamilton in 1919, but she died in a mountaineering accident on their honeymoon. He married secondly, Katharine Tennant (the daughter of Sir Charles Tennant, 1st Baronet and a half-sister of Margot Asquith) on 2 April 1934.


  • Toryism in the Twentieth Century (1927)
  • Long Distance (1943)


The Elliot Library at the Glasgow University Union is named after him.


  1. ^ a b c Biographical Index of Former Fellows of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1783 – 2002 (PDF). The Royal Society of Edinburgh. July 2006. ISBN 0 902 198 84 X.
  2. ^ a b "University of Glasgow :: Story :: Biography of Captain Walter Elliot Elliot". Retrieved 11 February 2018.
  3. ^ Glasgow Post Office Directory 1900
  4. ^ "The Bulletin of the Pioneer Health Centre". Peckham. 1 (5). September 1949. Retrieved 21 October 2016.
  5. ^
  6. ^ "Cancer Act 1939 CHAPTER 13 2 and 3 Geo 6". Retrieved 12 April 2012.


  • Torrance, David, The Scottish Secretaries (Birlinn 2006)
  • Boyd-Orr; Sir Stephen Tallents (1958) [1958]. "Walter Elliot". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society, Volume 4. London: Royal Society.

External linksEdit