Archive of Sir Stafford Cripps
- 1872-1994, n.d.
45.0 Linear metres (301 physical shelfmarks)
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Collection ID (for staff)
CMD ID 5981, 5990, 6167, 6185, 9661, 11420
Biographical / Historical
He attended the public school Winchester College and moved on to University College, London, where he excelled in his study of chemistry. He met his future wife Isobel Swithinbank while campaigning for his father in the South Buckinghamshire constituency in the 1910 general election. They married on 12 July 1911, and had four children. Cripps was called to the bar in 1913, and during World War I first volunteered for the Red Cross, and then used his chemistry training to run a munitions factory in Queensferry. In 1916 he suffered a physical breakdown which sidelined him for the rest of the war.
He returned to work as a lawyer in 1919 and did voluntary work as the treasurer of the World Alliance for Promoting International Friendship through the Churches. He was made Britain's youngest King's Counsel in 1927. In 1929, Cripps joined the Labour Party, and was selected as a prospective parliamentary candidate for West Woolwich. In 1930, however, he joined Ramsay MacDonald's Labour government as solicitor-general (and was knighted). In January 1931, he won a by-election at Bristol East (which later became Bristol South East), where he remained an MP until he resigned due to ill health in October 1950, to be succeeded by Tony Benn.
His politics swung significantly to the left and as a prominent member of the newly formed Socialist League and, after 1933, as its chairman, Cripps tried to rally Labour members against (among others) the party's national executive and the National Government. This led, in 1937, to the forcible winding up of the Socialist League and finally, in January 1939, to Cripps being expelled from the Labour Party.
The Second World War changed everything. He was not immediately accepted for service by the government so he embarked on a world tour with his colleague Geoffrey Wilson, visiting India with an unofficial remit from the India Office to explore pathways towards Indian self-government. In early 1940 he travelled to the Chinese nationalist headquarters in Chunking (Chongqing), spending time with General Chiang Kai-shek and Madame Chiang. From there he moved to Moscow, where he became the first British official to meet the foreign minister, Molotov, following the British ambassador's withdrawal in 1939.
Cripps returned to the UK via America in April 1940 and, while excluded from Churchill’s coalition government, accepted the offer of a posting to the Soviet Union. He served as British ambassador from June 1940 to January 1942, joined, in October 1940, by his wife and their daughters Peggy and Theresa. His time as ambassador was rocky, both with the Soviet authorities and the UK government. He was briefly recalled in June 1941, but returned to Moscow soon after Germany’s 22 June 1941 attack on Russia (Operation Barbarossa). Cripps was quickly able to agree on a mutual assistance pact with the Soviet government: a high point of his diplomatic career. He was recalled to London in January 1942.
Cripps was publicly hailed as the man who brought Russia into the war, which gave him political leverage. He was appointed Lord Privy Seal and Leader of the House of Commons in February 1942 and decided to expend his political capital on making the ‘Cripps offer’ to India, which was a promise of self-government via a constituent assembly, once the war was over.
In March 1942 he flew to Delhi to begin negotiations. The Muslim League was prepared to take the deal, as long as Congress did, but the mission was doomed by the intransigence of the British viceroy. Congress instead took up Gandhi’s Quit India campaign. Cripps' attempts to paint Gandhi as the reason for his mission’s failure soured the relationship further.
In November 1942, Cripps left the war cabinet and took the job of minister of aircraft production. At the end of the war, he re-joined the Labour Party and was appointed President of the Board of Trade, focusing on building Britain’s economic recovery by promoting austerity.
He remained interested and involved in India, and between March and June 1946 tried to broker an agreement for the peaceful transfer of power to an independent government, including accommodating the Muslim requirement for a form of self-government in any all-India union. Congress, and Gandhi, refused this constitutional arrangement. At the end of 1946 the impasse was broken when Prime Minister Clement Attlee appointed Mountbatten as the last viceroy and fixed a date for British withdrawal.
Cripps continued at the Board of Trade until 1947 when the fuel and convertibility crises led to a weakening of the Labour government. This induced Cripps to try and replace Attlee with Ernest Bevin. The attempt failed, and Attlee moved Cripps to the new post of minister for economic affairs, responsible for economic planning. Six weeks later, following the resignation of Hugh Dalton as Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cripps took on that role, in addition to his economic planning portfolio. This gave him an extraordinary amount of power in setting economic policy. His priorities were to boost exports and capital investment, with consumer needs a distant third. This gave him an even stronger reputation for austerity, which was bolstered in the public mind by his vegetarianism and teetotalism, which he practiced for health reasons. This austerity, while important for post-war recovery, grew less and less popular and on 17 September 1949, when the Treasury was forced to devalue sterling (which Cripps agreed while convalescing in Switzerland) his reputation was further damaged.
On 20 October 1950, Cripps resigned as chancellor and as MP due to ill health. He spent the final two years of his life in and out of treatment centres in Switzerland. He died on 21 April 1952.
Isobel Cripps (née Swithinbank) was born in Buckinghamshire in 1891, the daughter of Commander Harold William Swithinbank and Amy Eno.
She met Stafford while they were both campaigning for the Conservative Party in Wycombe in 1910 and they married a year later. They were close partners for the rest of their marriage, with Isobel remaining Stafford’s supporter through every career and political switch of his life. Isobel herself was not partisan, and was an able leader in her own right. During the Second World War she served as president of the British United Aid to China Fund, and was appointed GBE for her service in June 1946. That same year, she went on an arduous, 30,000 mile tour of China on behalf of the fund. She was initially the guest of the Nationalist leader General Chiang Kai-shek but then, after she pointed out that the fund was not restricted to Nationalist China, travelled on to Yenan as the guest of the Communist leader Mao Zedong. She remained interested in China, spending years as the chair of the Sino-British Fellowship Trust. She also took an interest in Ghana following the marriage of her daughter Peggy to Joe Appiah, a Ghanaian lawyer and politician.
In addition to her GBE, Isobel was awarded the Brilliant Star of China, and in 1946 the award of the National Committee of India as part of the celebrations for International Women’s Year. She died on 11 April 1979.
This biographical note has been adapted from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. The ODNB has full biographies of Stafford Cripps' father Charles Alfred Cripps, Lord Parmoor, stepmother Marian Ellis Cripps, Lady Parmoor, Sir Stafford Cripps, his wife Dame Isobel Cripps, their daughter Peggy Appiah and their son Sir John Stafford Cripps.
Other Finding Aids
Immediate Source of Acquisition
- 19th century
- 20th century
- Appiah | Enid Margaret | 1921–2006 | née Cripps | anthologist and charity worker
- Charities -- Great Britain
- Christianity -- 20th century
- Cripps | Dame | Isobel | 1891-1979 | née Swithinbank | public servant
- Cripps | Sir | Richard Stafford | 1889-1952 | Knight | politician and lawyer
- Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- China
- Great Britain -- Foreign relations -- Russia
- Great Britain -- Politics and government -- 20th century
- Labour Party (Great Britain) -- History -- 20th Century
- Catalogue of the archive of Sir Stafford Cripps
- Charlotte McKillop-Mash
- Language of description