Hilton Young, 1st Baron Kennet

The Right Honourable
The Lord Kennet

Hilton Young circa 1917
Minister of Health
In office
5 November 1931  7 June 1935
Preceded by Neville Chamberlain
Succeeded by Sir Kingsley Wood
Personal details
Spouse(s) Kathleen Scott

Edward Hilton Young, 1st Baron Kennet GBE DSO DSC* PC (20 March 1879 11 July 1960) was a British politician and writer.

Family and early life

Young was the youngest son of Sir George Young, 3rd Baronet (see Young baronets), a noted classicist and charity commissioner.[1] Sir George's paternal grandmother was Emily Baring of the eponymous merchant banking dynasty.[2] Hilton's mother, formerly Alice Eacy Kennedy, was of Dublin Irish Protestant background and had previously lived in India as Lady Lawrence, wife of Sir Alexander Lawrence, Bt, nephew to the Viceroy, Lord Lawrence. Widowed when Sir Alexander died in a bridge collapse, Alice returned to England, marrying Sir George in 1871.[3] Hilton was the youngest of three sons and one daughter (who died aged 14) born to the couple. The oldest brother, also George, would become a diplomat and Ottoman scholar. The next brother, Geoffrey (see Geoffrey Winthrop Young), became a noted educator and mountaineer. Their childhood was spent at the family’s Thames-side ‘Formosa’ estate, at Cookham, Berkshire. On visits to their London house near Sloane Square, Hilton would often play in Kensington Gardens with the children of Sir George’s friend, Sir Leslie Stephen.[4] In this way, he commenced a close friendship with his contemporary, Thoby Stephen, and became acquainted with Thoby’s siblings, Vanessa (see Vanessa Bell), Virginia (see Virginia Woolf) and Adrian.

At his preparatory school, Northaw Place, in 1892 Young took pity on nine-year-old Clement Attlee on the latter's first day at school, offering the newcomer jam from his own pot.[5] His secondary schooling commenced at Marlborough but incessant bullying saw him transferred to Eton where he joined the army stream which emphasised science rather than the classics. After two terms studying chemistry at University College London, he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge in October 1897, emerging in 1900 with a 'first' in natural sciences and having achieved the office of president of the Union Society.[6][7]

Early career

Post-Cambridge he read for the Bar and was called by the Inner Temple in 1904. However, after receiving few briefs and suffering a nervous breakdown, he transferred to financial journalism. In 1908 he was appointed assistant editor of The Economist, resigning in 1910 to become city editor of The Morning Post.[7] His 1912 work Foreign Companies and Other Corporations combined his legal and financial knowledge to examine the status of companies created in one national jurisdiction which operate in other jurisdictions.[8]

At Cambridge, through Thoby Stephen, he became acquainted with key members of what would become known as the ‘Bloomsbury group’. He attended the group’s early gatherings at Gordon Square and Fitzroy Square, and became attracted to Virginia Stephen, to whom he proposed on a punt on the Cam in May 1909, only to be rejected.[9] Another Cambridge friendship, made through his brother Geoffrey, was with G. M. Trevelyan and in Spring 1906 he accompanied the historian during a retracement of the route of Garibaldi’s retreat which became the basis for Trevelyan’s Garibaldi trilogy.[10] The second work in the trilogy — Garibaldi and the Thousand — was dedicated to the Young brothers and contained 15 photographs taken by Hilton.[11]

First World War

Enlisting in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 22 August 1914 and commissioned in September,[12] he served in a wide variety of theatres and actions in the First World War, including the Grand Fleet at Scapa Flow, Harwich light cruisers, Admiral Troubridge’s mission to the Danube, naval siege guns at Flanders, the Zeebrugge Raid in which, commanding a rear gun on HMS Vindictive, he was severely wounded, necessitating the amputation of his right arm, and, finally, in the Russian campaign, commanding an armoured train on the line south of Archangel. These experiences were all recounted in his colourful 1920 war memoir, By Sea and Land.[13] His war service also brought the awards of DSC and bar, DSO, Croix-de-Guerre and Serbian Silver Medal.[14] Another literary consequence of his war service was A Muse at Sea, a compilation of his poems earlier published in the Ducal Weekly (the Iron Duke’s newspaper), the Morning Post, the Cornhill Magazine and the Nation.[15] He also rendered other types of service to his friends Lytton Strachey and Clive Bell during the War. In 1908 he had bought a weekender cottage, the 'Lacket', at Lockeridge above Marlborough. During 1914–15 he rented the cottage to Strachey who drafted the first two chapters of his Eminent Victorians there.[16] Facing a tribunal hearing to determine his claim for conscientious-objector status following the introduction of conscription, Bell appealed to Young in June 1916 for a testimonial which was duly provided.[17]

In May 1915, while serving on the HMS Iron Duke at Scapa Flow, the first edition of his System of National Finance appeared.[18] Through further editions in 1924 and 1936, it remained the standard work on Westminster’s budgetary processes until well into the 1950s.[19] Also while on active service, in February 1915 he was elected unopposed as a Liberal MP at a by-election for the seat of Norwich. Post-war he started his rise up the political ladder in February 1919 when he was appointed parliamentary private secretary to H.A.L. Fisher, president of the Board of Education.[20] In April 1921 he was promoted to Financial Secretary to the Treasury. In this capacity he was the link between the government and the ‘Geddes axe’, the committee of business experts established by Lloyd George in the aftermath of World War I to undertake a fundamental review of government expenditure in the hope of identifying major savings.[21]

Post-war career

Out of office with the advent of Bonar Law’s Conservative administration in August 1922, he became Chief Whip for the Lloyd George Liberals and a Privy Counsellor. Losing his Norwich seat for 10 months during the political turmoil of 1923–4, he devoted the rest of the 1920s to furthering his personal and business interests, commencing with his 1922 marriage to sculptor Kathleen Scott, née Bruce, widow of Captain Robert Falcon Scott.[22] With the marriage he became stepfather to Kathleen’s son, the future naturalist and yachtsman, Peter Scott. In August 1923 Kathleen, aged 45, gave birth to their son Wayland Young, who became a writer and Labour politician.[23]

Speaking at the Gresham's School prize-giving on 13 July 1923, Young "...recommended the boys to go in for great risks and dangerous deeds. Let them have adventure, and the madder the adventure, the better."[24]

Through Cambridge and Bloomsbury, Young had a longstanding friendship with E.M. Forster. Suffering writer’s block while working on A Passage to India, the novelist was Young’s guest at the Lacket in early May 1922. Shortly afterwards he wrote to Young declaring, “an unfinished novel’s before me now, and sometimes I work at it with distaste and despair…You certainly have done more than any individual I know to help me by direct remarks. Your knowledge of the business of creating seemed to me profounder than that possessed by so-called artists.”[25] These comments suggest that Young gave Forster significant advice and encouragement at a crucial stage on work on the latter’s eventual masterpiece.

In the City of London, Young became editor of the Financial News, 1926–29, when he introduced an Arts page which was continued by the Financial Times when they were merged in 1946. He also joined the boards of the Southern Railway, English Electric, and Hudson’s Bay companies. For Westminster he became a peripatetic financial- and political-troubleshooter, undertaking inter alia financial missions to Poland (1922–3)[26] and Iraq (1925,[27] 1930[28]) intended to stabilise the financial positions of these countries, the former recreated and he latter newly created after World War I. The 1930 Iraq mission saw him recommend the establishment of an Iraq Currency Board to issue a national currency, the dinar, to replace Indian rupees issued as temporary currency when British forces displaced the Ottomans from the former Mesopotamia during World War I. The Iraqi government accepted Young’s recommendations in relation to the nation’s currency and he became the inaugural chairman of the Iraq Currency Board on 11 June 1931.[29] He also chaired the 1925–6 Royal Commission on Indian Currency and Finance (at which his friend Maynard Keynes was a key witness)[30] and the 1927–8 East African Commission on Closer Union.[31]

Young joined the Conservative Party in 1926 during his term as MP for Norwich. He served as a delegate to the Assembly of the League of Nations, 1926 and 1927. He became MP for Sevenoaks in 1929 and served as Minister for Export Credits from 1929 and Minister of Health between 1931 and 1935. The health portfolio also included responsibility for housing, including slum clearance and rehousing. Key items of legislation to which he contributed in this period were: the Town and Country Planning Act (1932) (which applied to all 'developable' land), the Housing Act (1935) (which laid down standards of accommodation)[32] and the Restriction of Ribbon Development Act (1935) (which sought to consolidate urban development and restrict ribbon sprawl along major highways).[33] He retired from politics in July 1935 and was created Baron Kennet of the Dene.

After politics

Away from politics, he could now resume his life in business. By 1940, Lord Kennet was either chairman or a director of eight listed companies, which apart from the Southern Railway and timber merchants, Denny, Mott and Dickson Ltd, were engaged in the financial services and property sectors.[34] In May 1940 he resumed his former role as chairman of the Iraq Currency Board when Leo Amery, who had replaced him as chairman in 1932, resigned on becoming a member of the wartime government.[35] His political and financial experience made him a natural choice to chair the Capital Issues Committee during 1937–59. Responsible for advising the Chancellor of the Exchequer “on applications to issue capital for any purpose anywhere”, this committee was particularly important during World War II when it had to approve all issues of shares and securities with face values exceeding ₤10,000.[36]

He died at the Lacket on 11 July 1960 and was succeeded to the Kennet peerage by his son Wayland.


  1. Williams, B. (1937) entry on Young, Sir George, Dictionary of National Biography, 1922–30, London: Oxford University Press, pp.926–8.
  2. Hall, S.M. (2006), Before Leonard: The Early Suitors of Virginia Woolf, London: Peter Owen, p.244,
  3. Williams (1937), p.928.
  4. Young, E.H. (c.1959), In and Out, unpublished autobiography, Cambridge University Library, Manuscripts Department, Kennet Papers (KP 82/1), p. 22.
  5. Harris, K. (1982), Attlee, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, p.8.
  6. "Young, Edward Hilton (YN897EH)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  7. 1 2 Young, W. (1971), entry on Young, Edward Hilton, Dictionary of National Biography, 1951–1960, London: Oxford University Press, p.1088.
  8. Young, E.H. (1912), Foreign Companies and Other Corporations, London: Cambridge University Press.
  9. Bell, Q. (1976), Virginia Woolf: a Biography (Vol. 1), London: Triad/Granada, p.144.
  10. Trevelyan, G.M. (1949), An Autobiography and Other Essays, London: Longmans, Green, p.31.
  11. Trevelyan, G.M. (1909), Garibaldi and the Thousand, London: Longmans, Green, List of plates, pp.xiii–xv.
  12. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 28894. p. 7092. 8 September 1914. Retrieved 30 April 2015.
  13. Young, E.H. (1920), By Sea and Land, London: Jack.
  14. Young, W. (1971), p.1088.
  15. Young, E.H. (1919), A Muse at Sea, London: Sidgwick & Jackson.
  16. Holroyd, M. (1995), Lytton Strachey, London: Vintage, ch.XI.
  17. Bell to Young, 6 June 1916, Cambridge University Library, Manuscripts Department, Kennet Papers (KP 5/2).
  18. Young, E.H. (1915), The System of National Finance, London: Smith, Elder (1st ed.) 2nd and 3rd editions, John Murray, 1924, 1936.
  19. Burrows, G. and B. Syme, (2000), Zero-base budgeting: origins and pioneers, Abacus, 36(2): 226–41.
  20. The Times, 20 July 1960, p.15, col. a.
  21. Burrows, G. and Cobbin. P. (2009), Controlling government expenditure by external review: the 1921–2 "Geddes Axe", Accounting History, 14: 199–220.
  22. Young, L. (1995), A Great Task of Happiness: The Life of Kathleen Scott, London: Macmillan, p.207.
  23. ibid., p.214.
  24. The Times, 16 July 1923; Issue 43394; pg. 9; col E
  25. Forster to Young, 10 May 1922, Cambridge University Library, Manuscripts Department, Kennet Papers (KP 28/10).
  26. Young, E.H. (1924) Report on Financial Conditions in Poland, London: Waterlow.
  27. Young, E.H., and R.V. Vernon (1925) Report of the Financial Mission Appointed by the Secretary of State for the Colonies to Enquire into the Financial Position and Prospects of the Government of Iraq, 1925 (Young-Vernon Report), London: HMSO, (Cmd 2438).
  28. Special Report by His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland to the Council of the League of Nation on the Progress of Iraq During the Period 1920-1931 (Report to League of Nations), Colonial No. 58, London: HMSO, 1931.
  29. Iraq Currency Board, Report of the Iraq Currency Board for the Period Ended 31 March 1933, London: Waterlow.
  30. Report of the Royal Commission on Indian Currency and Finance, Vols I-VI (1926), London: HMSO.
  31. Report of the Commission on Closer Union of the Dependencies in Eastern and Central Africa, Parliamentary Reports 1928-9, Vol, V, p. 6 (Cmmd 3324).
  32. Young, W. (1971), p.1089.
  33. Sheail, J. (1979), The Restriction of Ribbon Development Act: The character and perception of land-use control in inter-war Britain, Regional Studies, 13: 6, 501–12.
  34. Directory of Directors (1940), London: Thomas Skinner.
  35. Iraq Currency Board (1941), Report of the Iraq Currency Board for the Period Ending 31 March 1941, London: Waterlow
  36. Burrows, G. and Syme, B. (2000), p.233.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
George Henry Roberts and
Sir Frederick Low
Member of Parliament for Norwich
With: George Henry Roberts
Succeeded by
Dorothy Jewson and
Walter Robert Smith
Preceded by
Dorothy Jewson and
Walter Robert Smith
Member of Parliament for Norwich
With: James Griffyth Fairfax
Succeeded by
Walter Robert Smith and
Geoffrey Shakespeare
Preceded by
Herbert Walter Styles
Member of Parliament for Sevenoaks
Succeeded by
Charles Edward Ponsonby
Political offices
Preceded by
Neville Chamberlain
Minister of Health
Succeeded by
Sir Kingsley Wood
Media offices
Preceded by
Laming Worthington-Evans
Editor of the Financial News
Succeeded by
Oscar Rudolf Hobson
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Kennet
Succeeded by
Wayland Young
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